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The Trail Bride

Chapter Text

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

“Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

April 1849

100 Miles Outside of Laramie

 

 

There wasn’t time to properly sit at her husband’s grave.

And there was no way to go but forward.

Stones would have to suffice. Rolled heavy in a pile that would assure bandits would not rend his final resting place to shreds. The guide warned her of this. Though he would only take the shirt on his back to his next life; thieves on the trail would be looking for just that if they did not cover the grave properly.

It was a hasty funeral, on the wagon train’s schedule.

They even carried him five miles after he fell from his horse, dead on impact, to a spot up ahead to make better time so the women and children could take their supper by the river while their husbands and fathers dealt with the corpse.

At his recent widow’s insistence.

Rey watched with her hands on her hips, stern-faced, as the men in the party piled stones over his lifeless body. With all of them working, it did not take much time. If she was tired enough, she could have rested her eyes and lifted her lids to see the deed done, men wiping dust from their palms. But she kept them open.

She did not weep. Her sleeves were rolled as if to help, but Finn had placed his hands on her shoulders and shook his head. He was so bold as to take the shovel out of her hands. Had he not made her laugh a few times, she would have taken offense to the gesture.

“The least we can do for you is bury him.”

She had nodded stiffly, her sleeves still up around her elbows like she was going to roll out a pie crust on her kitchen table at home. She forgot to roll them down until later that night, sleeping alone on a bedroll under the wagon. They were inappropriately casual that way, for her husband’s funeral. She should have felt shame; rolling them down, undressing to her bedclothes and wondering if those men getting up to piss were looking at her body which would now sleep unguarded each night.

But her husband was buried in unconsecrated soil, perhaps dying of one of the seven ugliest sins, and God forgives.

She had only one request: they give her his boots.

The boots sat, empty but upright, like the man had merely gone invisible in them, at her side while she watched them work.

“I think it best we say a few words for those who remember Niima fondly,” the guide Poe lowered his hat from his head, bowing in a respectful way to the man’s widow, who seemed unmoved by the gesture.

This called for the young preacher, who was panting heavily from building the pile of stones, startled into action. He blew his flopping red hair out of his eyes, straightening with a tired whistle.

“A good man,” Hux nodded to them all, absently forming a circle and removing their hats when they realized this was it. The man’s funeral. “Good husband. Good friend.”

Such passionate words of grief.

Rey nodded along, not moving her face to a single descriptor of the lost man. She had given one frustrated wail on this day; not when he was pronounced dead, but when he was thrown from the stallion’s back and landed heavy and hard on one shoulder, the secondary impact straight to his neck.

She mourned earlier than most women would think to.

The party was too tired to decipher the difference of wailing then and not when the man was truly gone from this world.

A lame husband was as much use as a dead one on this trail, it was something like relief when she found out his neck had snapped clean and she would not be driving herself and him across this trail.

“And we ask our Lord for strength, and to bless this man’s poor widow, may he grant her the grace to complete this journey. Amen.”

There were a few mutters of repeated Amen.

Rey kept silent, her lips thin.

While she kept her face serene, she was already, desperately, trying to plan.

The womenfolk had not taken as kindly to her; Niima’s quiet, odd wife. So she would not likely be invited to share a wagon if hers was to be abandoned.

Women were supposed to find nice things to talk about. The weather, a pretty sky, a scrap of ribbon.

Rey was never gifted at that art, and was more resigned to live alongside them in their place in life.

One by one, the men who constructed the hasty grave paid respects and tilted their hats to her. No one had more to say than Hux, and were equally empty in their shallow pool of sentiment.

She did not know many of their names, seeing as the men typically led the train, or formed a border around it. Her own husband had become as rare a sight to her as their faces were, especially on her level, not on horseback above. With the dust that coated him, anyone could have rolled under their wagon to sleep beside her, demanding a kiss for his genius plan to head West, and she would have cared just as little.

Finn, boldly, as was their friendship on the trail, tugged the end of one of her braids affectionately, and she cast him a nod. He would go back to his wagon, and his young wife, and she already knew they were kind enough, but not stocked enough to carry her as their burden.

She shook her head slightly as he walked away, as though erasing that option from a blackboard inside her head. She was unprepared to greet the next mourner. 

A tall man tilted his black hat to her, the first to put it back on his head when the trailside funeral was done, so she never got a good look at the face underneath.

He was the last to leave, though she felt Hux edging at the far reaches of the path back to camp, waiting to speak with her. His presence made her fists clench. 

She’d throw a punch at a sermon right now.

The tall man didn’t say much in the form of comfort, but he pointed at the dirt by her feet, turning purple in the fading light.

“Best not forget those,” he warned.

The boots.

It was fair; she had the men dig them off her husband’s stiff, death-swollen feet. She had nearly forgotten them, in her planning. He was the first to notice the extent of her distraction, and not just demure by tragedy.

She nodded up at him, not meeting his eyes.

Not taking her word for it, or assuming her reaction was not one of hopelessness but of mourning, he bent carefully and lifted the shoes by the laces. They were once new boots for a perilous journey. They were in perfectly good form now, though a lot less shiny. It was better to bring them than to leave them rotting in the earth.

He dangled them in front of her carefully, brim of his hat tilted down, and she accepted the laces into her hands. Their fingers brushed, he flinched, and too soon pulled his hands away.

One boot dropped heavy into the dry earth.

“Apologies,” he muttered, whether her husband or the boot she did not know, and left her to fumble to pick the boot up on her own.

She bowed her knees to do just that, and clapped eyes on the grave like eyes watched her from it.

She stared at the tower of stone in front of her. This would be the moment to say goodbye to her husband for eternity.

Better or worse, she did not find they would go to the same place in the end.

At this, Rey almost began to cry. It was the closest to tears she could muster; only the breathing of it, her body quaking as her throat closed up. Because no matter the man: she was alone now.

Fool bought a stallion he couldn’t ride. Sold their home and dragged her out here. Got thrown off that horse he bought, idiot, at the first sign of it getting spooked because he never learned to control the damned beast before he relied completely on it.

And now she must finish his journey for him.

She spat into the dirt near his grave, her cheeks flaming with anger, her hands clenched in tight fists.

She had to suppress her bile when she was promised by many fellow travelers today that she could always go back. There was a mother in a wagon that lagged behind hers that had been told the same thing about a toddler that was bit by a snake the first week.

You can go back, build a proper grave…

She had snorted like the stallion that had thrown her husband each time, arms crossed, and hastily excused her manners being lost to grief with a completely stone expression until the person expressing those condolences went grim and wandered away with a cheap excuse.

When she twisted away from the grave, Hux was still waiting.

“My sincerest condolences, Mrs. Niima.”

She placed her bonnet back on her head, despite the growing dark, to shield her face from the warring thoughts inside her.

“I thank you for expressing them,” Rey gave him a nod, arranging her steps around the arena he had cleared for whatever he had to say to her, as though she had not noticed he had spoken at all. He took a few quick steps to keep up with her walk back to camp.

“It might be indelicate to breach the subject of marriage at this trying time...”

An adequate statement. The man had only been dead for three hours.

But one must always be practical.

“I am not so softened by sentiment in the matter as you would typically find a widow, Mr. Hux.”

He, in the inappropriate timing that he had initiated, seemed taken aback by her calm tone.

“To speak so ill of your own recently lost spouse-”

“I speak no ill of him, or of him at all. I speak only of my prime concern, that being the journey ahead. You may conduct your business.”

He stared at her, so surprised she was keeping up that he had become utterly lost.

“A woman on the trail should be protected.”

The fading light of dusk at least hid the way her lips twisted at that.

“Obviously, my proposal is modest. I aim to set up a small parish when we reach Oregon City, and I would like for a wife to help me settle into my claim, to open up the parish community. I would be willing to shoulder you as my burden, my bride, for the journey if you consent to the match.”

“I am not prepared to answer that question immediately.”

“But prepare you must, your future is in a delicate position, Mrs. Niima. Grief is a natural state in the face of this tragedy; but it may strand you here without options, burdening another wagon for help they should be giving themselves. Heaven helps those who can help themselves.”

He barely got spared her punch.

Barely.

She twisted her lips up in a false smile as she re-tied her bonnet strings. “And I have packed no mourner’s clothes for this journey. I will think deeply on your generous offer.”

There was no where, and no way, to go but onward.

 

Chapter Text

They would camp at the spot of the grave for the night. There was almost communal relief that there was a funeral to excuse an earlier night’s rest.

As much as many longed to do so, it was still early in the journey, too early to stop for rest for superfluous reasons.

Death was a step above superfluous, his was, at least.

Only barely. 

Everyone was too exhausted to figure out what to do with a woman and a wagon that had no man.

Rey could drive a wagon. It was possible. She was doing it when her husband rode. Still, everyone regarded her skeptically.

Which was unfair. If he’d been driving the wagon instead of prancing around on a prize, crazed stallion; maybe he’d still be alive.

“I will drive the team,” Rey insisted to the guide and the few men who expressed concern with her care, “for the time being. The horse can be tied behind the wagon.”

Until it could be sold to someone who could master it.

Or for its hide.

Rey did not feel strongly one way or another towards the thing.

She went back to the grave only one more time, before dawn.

Quietly, privately, she swept her hands through the dirt at his feet, gathering it in her fist. She filled a little cloth bag with the earth at his gravesite, for if all went well on their journey, she would never see it again.

She was resistant for the demand for a keeper for her. Finn checked on her occasionally, which was kind, Poe even offering some advice about pace and how to care for the animals. But she could do this alone, for now.

She figured she had a few days to think things through. And that’s all she did as she drove.

Figured.

She felt it in every muscle when they stopped to rest. The exertion.

But she could take it.

Thankfully, the rougher terrain meant she would have to hop down and lead the team on foot, guiding the two oxen at the head, but from the jostling in the wagon, she felt slightly sea sick. As much as she wanted to jump down and stretch her legs, she instead sagged into the seat for a few minutes of silence and stillness.

The man in the dark hat passed her wagon with his early on in the day, but she recognized him up ahead. Tall, so his knees bent angularly on the box seat. He traveled alone as well: without so many questions because he was a man. Hux was the only other party alone in one wagon, as though waiting to sweep in if there was an odd woman out, vulnerable.

There was a wagon of an entire set of bachelors, a shared one, so it was difficult to parse out who would offer up a spot.  

Rey was careful.

She never did anything without being careful.

As a wife she was allowed to be careful; because she wasn’t allowed to do anything. He did enough foolish things for the both of them. She, meanwhile, could be as careful as she liked, selecting the next color for the border of her cross-stitch after an hour of thinking it over. How it would look against the calico of their bedspread. How a red might make the blue dress she wore on Sundays look crisper, if he had a mind to take notice.

She had to think about these things extra hard. What else would fill the days? Anything less than all of her attention would leave her numb; it was never about blue or green thread being pretty.

She could think for hours on those things and do what was most reasonable; and he would come home one Friday with whiskey on his breath and his dazzling smile and tell her that there was gold in California and they would leave in two weeks.

He was not here anymore to be a fool. He was not here; on a horse too wild to ride and too expensive to buy, to make these choices.

She could now make them however she so pleased.

So she counted the wagons.

Seven bachelors. One of those seven had seven motherless children, the youngest only a few months old, which ruled him out.

Another was sixty.

Hux was a preacher and she found that he acted first and reasoned later, which was why she was so keen to refuse him beyond just temperament.

Poe only had a horse with him, as their guide, he camped like an frontiersman with just a pack of his possessions. He was not to be taking on an extra dependent.

Two single men shared a wagon and planned on sharing a claim once they reached the West; she felt unwelcome in their arrangement.

And the man in the dark hat. The one she knew nothing about.

As they rested, a brutal noon sun overhead, she watched him stretch out in his seat, leg propped up. The sun glinted off his black hair like crow’s feathers.

There was a rustling of motion at his elbow.

Those seven children -well, the six that could walk- had caused nothing but fuss since the start of the journey, and they were starting to throw rocks.

Rey sat up. Annoyance was not her concern; this could spook oxen and cause a stampede. Rey watched with her heart in her throat and a ready instinct to holler at them, but the man brought his boot down hard on the runner of the box seat, so loud even Rey heard it from her spot behind him, and they all jumped.

He bent low from his mount, talking quiet-like to the guilty looking children, his arm propped on his knee.

And she could feel that his tone was as dangerous as a rattlesnake hiss, for those children dropped their stones and scattered.

What a threat he must have made to them.

She felt as though the tension was lifted from her body and sagged back into the seat herself. Her face tilted up to the sun, and she closed her eyes, letting it warm her cheeks from under her bonnet.

The stallion was huffing behind the wagon. Cranky it was cooped up keeping pace behind the team instead of running through the prairie with a matching, hot-headed fool of a rider in his back.

She whipped around; mean as a viper herself.

“You’ll stay back there until I have a use for you,” she snapped at the beast, which snorted in response, tossing his head. Driving with this thing was like holding a lit fuse. She would have to trade it at the next town.

“Mrs. Niima?”

One of the seven hellions was at her elbow, a freckled face pointed up. The rest stood behind.

A handful of spindly purple throatwort nearly punched into her gut, thrusted at her by a sticky hand.

She fell back slightly in her seat, surprised.

The flowers stayed extended.

“We’re supposed to pick these for you. We’re sorry about your husband.”

She took them with soft hands.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

The children did not disperse. With an uncomfortable look, she did not know what they wanted from her.

A tip? For her to cry?

She settled the scrappy bouquet under her nose and sniffed politely.

“Pretty,” she said, like a mother pretending to eat a meal made entirely through mime by a toddler playing house.

The children scattered quick. Satisfied.

She felt funny for a moment.

Black Hat was watching her. When they locked eyes, he whipped back around in his seat.

She swung herself down from the wagon, checking the lead oxen was secure enough. And she made her circle through camp, flowers in hand. There still was a clumsy weave to her legs, shaky from absorbing the shocks and jolts of the wagon on rough terrain, but it was better to work it out of her system now then when they started up again.

The flowers helped hide what she was really doing. It made the walk seem like a contemplative promenade.

Not shrewdly scouting; which was what it was.

Her feet went still when Finn cast her a sad look, watering down his team.

She hadn’t left flowers on her husband’s grave.

They were outside of Laramie: but that didn’t mean much. She didn’t know where she was.

There was a soft, frustrated sound that came out of her.

She didn’t know how to act. She didn’t know how to feel. She had no idea where she was.

Careful planning. She just needed to plan carefully.

She swallowed down the fear and swept her way across the wagons.

Sixty year old was a Gold Rusher, like her husband, but missing teeth and too set in his ways for a bride now. It would be nothing but suffering.

She still considered it for longer than she had to, and felt embarrassed with herself by that.

Hux might not be that bad; but he unsettled her, and as practical as she was she had a sense in her gut that she never ignored.

The two bachelors sharing the one wagon drank plenty and drank often.

Rey did not need to marry into that again.

She walked her way to Finn’s wagon, smiling at Rose, who did not know how to fill Rey’s silences but was kind to her anyway. She propped her crossed arms on the box seat until Finn lifted his head from underneath the hitch he was adjusting to see who approached.

“Rey,” he smiled again, sadly, and Rey bit her tongue at the pity in his eyes. She turned her face away, towards the sun. Let it bleach the image of the trail out of her skull.

“Hux has made me an offer.”

Finn’s face twisted up. “What did you say?”

She sighed.

“That I’d think about it?”

Her tone, intimate, is that too awful? made him look sympathetic but queasy.

“I think you can do better on your own,” Rose said with finality.

“Who’s the other one traveling alone?” she leaned closer to Finn, ignoring his wife from her spot inside the wagon, attempting to make lunch for them.

It was rude: but Rey had little care for her own manners at the moment.

“Solo?” Finn’s face shifted uneasily. “He seems upright enough to me. He’s still a virtual stranger, Rey.”

“What’s his first name?”

Finn sighed, exasperated. “His name is Ben.”

“He has more oxen than Hux,” she mused aloud.

She had counted that, twice, and carefully, on the walk over.

Rose laughed awkwardly. “Rey, you can’t be seriously considering a man’s oxen shaping the rest of your life?”

“Ben Solo,” Rey poised quietly on her tongue, clicking her teeth.

Finn gave her a brotherly, annoyed look. She kept her pondering face mysteriously neutral.

“My team’s not what it should be, but you two are looking a little short yourselves. You want two more? I’ll take one set of oxen for my dowry, trade the rest. I’ll cut you a better deal first.”

Finn finally laughed, and she cracked a dry smile, even those Rose was staring, horrified, down at them.

“You find a place to give your dowry first, Rey, and then I’ll see what I can offer for that extra set for the team.”

"Mrs. Niima."

She turned abruptly. A black hat tilted in her face. 

A head bowed, in greeting.

But when it lifted, the face underneath was somber. More distinct than she had pictured, though it being hidden from her so much made her half-imagine it was just a shadow. His features were defined, where her mind knew he must have a nose and mouth, and eyes somewhat impossibly, with how low his wore his hat. But he had sharp features, contrasting pale skin with his black hair and dark marks.

He didn't give room for more introduction;

"That stallion looks mad enough to spit. Do you have a lead for it?"

Rey nodded, stupefied.

"It's in the wagon. I don't want it dragging me to kingdom come. It will hold steady until we reach Independence Rock."

Solo shook his head.

"It'll do far more damage than that if it doesn't get exercised."

Rose and Finn watched him with their mouths gaping open like river trout.

"If you lend me the lunge line, I'll give it a good run before we get going."

"The thing is a demon," Rey leveled at him, her eyebrows raised.

Solo looked unintimidated. 

"It's a fine beast. I can handle it."

She finally took a deep breath. 

"Men are made more dumb by a horse's beauty than a woman's," she quipped to Finn, and crooked her finger for Solo to follow her. "You stay off its back. It bucks."

"Not if you know how to ride it," he replied firmly, and her fists clenched. 

She didn't need everyone knowing what a bad rider her husband was.

She climbed into her wagon as he stood outside, stroking the horse's neck. It was ornery, tossing his head, dodging the gentle hand, but it clearly hated Rey much more when she crouched from the wagon bed to clip on the lead.

"Just a few circles," she instructed Solo, "do not defy my instructions. It is still my property, even if my husband cannot enforce that."

Solo just bowed his head and led the horse off. It was a slow pace, the animal did not like being guided, but by the time she was settled back in her box seat to have a good think; it was running in circles at the length of the lunge line around Solo through the open prairie grass.

If it wasn't so awful; she might have seen it as beautiful as her fool husband did.

She only let the image take her attention for a moment before she propped up her feet and focused on thinking.

Chapter Text

She dangled the boots by the laces from her fingers, the heavy weight of them turning the flesh of her digits swollen red as she walked.

Her first proposal barely was one, more a cluster of muttering, and she had been on the receiving end of it.

Her friend Jess got married a week prior to her engagement, and the Mister had always had a soft eye for Jess. It wasn’t until the party afterwards, where he was drunk and softer in the eyes: did he want to dance with Rey. 

It only took a few days for him to drag out an offer like a musty, old suit he didn’t want to wear.

But marrying was cheaper than renting in the boarding house, and she could probably control how his farmstead smelled when she was in charge of it, unlike the shared rooms with oily wallpaper.

Mornings after she wed she would sit in the kitchen while he went out into the fields, breathing serenely what some women would call satisfaction and she would call clean lungs.

Marriage wasn’t bad. She’d done plenty worse work since she was a little thing. It was a slight improvement, which she took with gratitude.

Marriage was just work.

Rey was never usually afraid of work.

She didn’t realize she’d been dragging her feet until she pulled up to Solo’s wagon in a cloud of dust, where he was quietly eating his supper, looking wary of her.

This was the only time she could do this before she lost her nerve.

Camp was lazy with rest at sundown; quiet enough she could express herself fully before dark became too intimate.

She positioned herself between him and the setting sun so he had to squint to look at her, so she wasn’t easy to size up.

“What size boot are you?”

He looked at the shoes hanging from her hand and then kicked up one leg, his plate still in his lap, with a foot that immediately showed that they would never fit him.

She chewed her lower lip.

That was about all she had to trade with that he might need.

“Stuff them with newspaper until they fit you,” he suggested, “I have no use for them. Don’t see why you can’t have new boots.”

She looked down at her shoes. Her husband had not thought of buying them for her in their hasty departure. She assumed the walking was what made her feet ache; but perhaps they were old boots even before three weeks of walking.

Now they were held to her feet by the laces at her ankles. Split in places. Worn thin.

He nodded at her, as if that was goodbye.

“Mrs. Niima.”

“I have a proposition for you,” she wished she could smile at him, like the man who sold her and her husband their wagon, or the friend of hers that was married the week before her husband begrudgingly folded and proposed to Rey.

But she could not easily soften herself. It wasn’t in her blood.

Solo’s eyes slid nervously up from the boots in her hand to her face. He stopped chewing.

Pausing for her to speak her mind plainly.

Her stomach churned.

At least he didn’t have that hat on and she could see his face.

But he looked so nervous she might have an easier time talking to a hat.

“I am not one for flowery language, and in the position we’re in; I do not find it would suit. I have found myself on this journey stranded without a husband, and before that was stranded on this journey with a husband who was a fool. I would not like to return to that place by merely swapping one fool for the other.”

His eyebrows were up with confusion. For some reason, when she looked at his face, she heard the sound of a kettle whistling in her head. High and clear and anxious.

She realized suddenly that she forgot to roll her sleeves down for this. She looked ready to do laundry: not gather up a proposal.

Too informal again for these men. As careful as she was, she was never prepared for them.

He still waited silently.

“I am a hard worker. I have some schooling, and had retested for a teaching certificate before our departure. With that I can seek employment when we reach California. I solve more trouble than I make, I don’t eat much or take up much space, I’m quiet, and I-”

He set his plate down on the seat next to him.

“What is this about?”

Rey bit her tongue, trying not to let a heady flush overtake her. This was humiliating.

But it was better than Hux.

“I am making you an offer. I have no male relatives, here on the trail or even living elsewhere on this earth, to make arrangements for me so I must act for myself. I’m sure that most men would like to have their affairs out West in order before taking a wife, and I know your first choice would not be some other man’s widow. But I am more useful than I look…”

“Why?” his voice was raspy, “why are you asking me?”

“Hux has made me an offer of marriage.”

At this, he snorted at her, which was a bit rude when she was frankly discussing her own personal affairs with him.

“And you’d throw yourself away.”

There was a bit of relief to have another party confirm that her feelings on Hux were accurate. Finn, now Solo too. But still. Ben had not accepted her, and looked more dubious towards her now than anything else: so she did not feel out of the woods yet.

Her cheeks flamed. It may be funny to an outsider, but the hopelessness of her situation blossomed into an acute fear.

“I’m exploring my options.”

He seemed dismissive of this information only seconds ago; but his eyes narrowed, then widened. Stupefied.

“You were going to offer me a pair of boots to marry you?”

They weren’t a pair of boots, they were his boots.

It was the first time genuine grief gripped her tight. It was hardly a love match, but it was the person she ate meals with and slept beside and worked with in a partnership for the past two years of her life. Solo could sneer at his boots all he wanted, the boots of a damn fool and even she knew it, but this was her life.

Maybe that’s why the first proposal...she had just accepted. Men like Solo could wait, he was clearly a decade older than her, and had waited for whatever reason that worked fine for him.

Women...it was not in the contract to wait for more than a season, more than a few years, more than was necessary to make a good match. She had waited, honestly, with Jess being the last of her friends from school married, she waited longer than anyone thought was a good idea. Niima had a solid claim, a charming smile.

She was hardly in the circumstance for the right one. Especially now.

She felt foolish, and sentimental, but the boots were meant to be the opening offer; the rest of her worldly possessions would obviously come with her if they were married.

She nodded, arms crossed. The muscles of her arms flexed in front of her, and she tried not to shrink them away when she realized she’d tanned dark in the past few weeks. It wasn’t considered pretty, especially the muscles, and while appearing so was low on her list of priorities, she was trying to coax this man to want her.

With a dead man’s boots.

He considered her carefully.

He didn’t seem to take notice of the browned skin of her arms. But it still chilled her. Back then she was pale and slender. Back then she wasn’t so muscular, wasn’t as cynical and cold. Wasn’t so mean.

Back then time didn’t feel as precious as it does now. Even when she needs desperately to be careful with it.

She felt more at ease with these things, assured, but did not know how to go into the business of being wanted.

This is where she felt most stranded. Not out on the trail, but here.

“That stallion is worth something.”

There, he sounded tempted.

And though she came here to barter; it still felt like a slap in the face.

“I want to sell the stallion at the next town,” she set her jaw defiantly, “and he throws anyway, so I’d better get him off my hands.”

He killed my husband she wanted to say, but she figured implying it would be enough for anyone who was not a complete idiot.

“I can ride him.”

“It’s dangerous-”

Solo shook his head, “It’s not the horse’s fault, you just have to know how to master him.”

Again, his insistence that it wasn’t all that hard that hit like a punch in the gut.

Maybe not sentiment, but pride, and her damn fool husband getting his neck broken by being unfit for such a powerful horse. It was quite the insult to injury; an injury the man died of.

Still, even if her heart beat, she would not show it. She would not cry in front of him.

Solo noticed as much pass over her face. He sobered significantly.

“I do not want a second husband dying the same way. But at that point; I would deserve it if I let it happen again.”

He went back to his food, his head bowed.

“You’ve already proving that you’re quite sufficient in the task of finding another.”

Rey held her breath instead of answering. Instead of reacting. He was digging his fingers into raw nerve, sinew, and fractured bone.

His eyes lit up with something sharp, but he looked away just as quickly.

“Right,” she said quickly, “my apologies. I will withdraw-”

He held up a hand.

“You seem to be limited to the view that it is me or Hux.”

“Narrowed down, yes.”

It was his turn to cross his arms.

“I don’t want a fool of a wife as much as you don’t want a fool of a husband. Nor do I want to engage myself in a woman entertaining multiple offers.”

“You haven’t offered.”

“But you’re scouting for one.”

“I don’t gamble,” she replied coldly, “And whatever game of chicken you’re going to play with me is unwise.”

He merely shrugged. “Refuse Hux. You’re looking for an excuse to. Final offer.”

“And you’ll...have me?”

“I’ll consider your proposal if you refuse Hux.”

Son of a bitch wanted to see her swerve first.

She didn’t like this in the slightest. But he was playing a salesman’s scheme; not vying for her heart. If she refused Hux, he had more to barter with because he would become her only option.

Rey knew that she was no prize; but here she was, offered up as plainly and simply as possible, and he was making it difficult. Her stomach turned at the thought of what he was making her do.

Sever her other chances to make her dependent on him.

She replied simply;

“Thank you, Mr. Solo, I’ll leave you to your meal.”

And walked away with a sense of resignation and finality.

Chapter Text

His voice echoed in her head for the rest of the night;

And you'd throw yourself away.

It ate at her.

Like she was wasting herself, and not just offering all she had to give.

Or that all she had to give…

Wasn’t just burdensome.

She couldn’t sleep over thinking it over a thousandth time.

He could have been bolstering her with a false promise. Or he was trying to keep Hux from acquiring the racehorse through marriage, what he really wanted, so a Rey without prospects would take whatever offer Ben would make for it. Then she'd be stranded without either prospective husbands. 

She accepts Hux. Becomes a preacher’s wife. Will have to not only be his homemaker, but that of an entire congregation in an uncertain place. Will have to smile and soothe and repent for things she doesn’t feel half bad about. Will have to listen to him.

She refuses Hux. Goes to Ben. Ben one way or another is going to leverage for a horse.

And after that was when the plan stopped dead in its tracks.

She didn’t know what Ben was going to do once he reached West.

Reaching West would happen before the end of the year. Only a few months.

She marries either of them. Sells the rest of her life for a few months.

The vow was "honor and obey" after all. She hadn't done her best at that the first time around. She didn't know the consequences of disobeying either man.

It made for good distraction to her for most of the night: except for each time there was a crunch of boots through gravel sounding too close to her head.

She had noticed these footfalls getting closer with each passing night.

But tonight she was too strung up to not notice the proximity shift of whoever kept passing her wagon in the dark.

A tighter perimeter.

Everyone knew she slept alone. It might be a tight squeeze to get under the wagon with her, requiring stealth, but she knew the feeling of being circled.

She knew what was happening before it happened. She had to. Her mind could only be calmed for the assurance it was just someone using the privy so many times before she would catch herself falling for what everyone wanted her to fall for.

Louder footsteps. Different footsteps from the wagon next to hers, directly moving with intention towards her.

She tried to listen to the former set retreat, but she couldn’t hear them over the closer ones closing in on her.

And then she remembered to be afraid.

The feet stopped. A scratching sound.

There was a rustle in the dirt above her head.

“Rey?”

She swallowed, her heart pounding.

“Yes?”

Finn’s clumsy fingers finally managed to light the match he held between them. A line of fire revealed his face, concerned, but kind.

“Rose was worried about you. She doesn’t like you sleeping out here by yourself. There’s a daybed in our wagon, she used to share it with her sister before we got married. I’ll sleep under the wagon bed, she doesn’t mind sharing it with you.”

Her heart was still hammering in her chest, even though she knew it was Finn.

“Thank you,” she choked out, embarrassed, but even someone as reserved as her felt safer for the offer, “thank you both. Kindly. I don’t want to put you out of a bed.”

“Don’t worry about it.” She watched Finn’s empty but illuminated hand reach for her. She grabbed her shawl, and her dress that was folded at her side when she slept, and let him help her out from under her wagon.

"You can take the bedroll, then," and he smiled gratefully at her and coiled it up enough to be easily carried to the earth underneath his wagon.

Finn and Rose were the one right next to her. It soothed her, that she’d be close by in case someone felt like raiding her wagon in the night. But they had always been so close.

She didn’t know why she didn’t believe…

Why it never occurred to her that they would help.

Rose had a lantern lit in their wagon when Finn helped Rey climb up.

Rey was still a little breathless, practically sleepwalking, when she stood, crouching slightly under the wagon bonnet, which was a little too low to straighten out to her full height.

“I don’t want to trouble you two.”

Rose shook her head.

“I can’t sleep thinking of you alone in the dirt like that. Every time someone gets up I want to take a rock and fight them. You do more to ease my mind being right here.”

“I’m just…” Rey crossed her arms defensively in front of herself, which was an odd front for a woman in nothing but a nightdress to try and feel tougher, “I’m just sorry to-”

“No need to be sorry. I just wish we could do more.”

Unsettled by the kindness, Rey climbed under the quilt Rose lifted. It was a tight fit. Rey hadn’t shared a bed since back home, since her husband. Listening to someone so close to her breathe was an odd sensation to be hearing again.

“Is your sister back East?”

Rose shook her head again.

“She worked in a mine since I was little, like any man could. It was just us two. She...a shaft, it collapsed.”

“Oh.”

Rey was silent as Rose blew out the lamp.

“I’m sorry.”

She could hear Rose clearing her throat, like it hurt.

“Finn, he was my best friend. Funnily enough, we never dreamed of being married…”

Rose trailed off, seemingly nervous about the topic. It made Rey confused for a moment until she remembered why.

“But we were good friends. He was there with me after her loss. I couldn’t have gotten through a single day without her if it had not been for him. I guess when we found ourselves...nearing the time that these arrangements happen, we were very happy to talk to one another. And it felt right.”

“That’s very sweet, Rose.”

Rey meant it genuinely. She liked them.

She just never saw the same for herself.

“Why did you and your husband decide to head West?”

“Hmm,” Rey let her head relax into the pillow. “Gold for him.”

“And for you?”

A sigh left her lips. It was so nice to be in a bed again. But she couldn't help but snort at Rose's question; as though she'd had half a say in it.

“Green,” she admitted, “he was a farmer. There was a bad drought. I had at least thought...I had at least hoped...I hear it’s lovely.”

It was the first time she admitted it out loud.

That maybe she now wanted this for herself too.

Her husband died not knowing it. Never cared to know it. She was just along for another ride with Niima.

A soft knock sounded beneath the bed. They both started, Rose yelping, Rey tensed like a rattler, but it was only Finn.

“No gossiping, you two. I can hear every word.”

“Finn talks in his sleep,” Rose announced loudly, “and he keeps his eyes closed for too long after you kiss him.”

“I do not!”

Rey bit back a mischievous smile. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but reluctantly, because they had been so sweet, she asked:

“What’s ‘too long’ to close your eyes for?”

Rose giggled next to her. “He just looks silly for a moment afterwards. Stands there stock still. Like there’s a spell on him.”

“Hey.”

“Or a sleeping cow.”

“Don’t make me come up there Rose.”

Rey got a grim nod in reply to the few kisses she gave in her life.

All to the same man.

And the threats of don’t-make-me-

While Finn’s was teasing, precious, and made Rose laugh like a schoolgirl, there was something about even the appropriation of that tone made her stomach knot. She squeezed her eyes tight and tried to control her breathing so Rose didn't notice.

“How did talking with Solo go?”

“As one would expect,” Rey said, as though this explained everything.

“Are you...engaged?”

“What?”

“You said as one would expect.”

It was flattering to hear, that Rose assumed she’d be successful. Rey certainly didn’t think it was going go as badly as it did, but she didn’t expect it to go well.

“He wanted me to refuse Hux first, then he might extend an offer.”

“Might?”

“I find it unlikely. Nor do I like being made to play games.”

Rose fidgeted next to her, like there was so much more to say.

“That’s...awfully cruel, to a woman in your position.”

“Oh.”

Rey had not really thought about this. That her feelings should come into play.

She was mostly frustrated that Solo had thrown such a wrench into her plans. But she never gave much thought to cruelty, it seemed a luxury to do so, when one often expected the opposite.

“I suppose...you’re right.”

“What will you do? Will you refuse Hux?”

“I don’t know yet. I don’t want to do anything too quickly. I want to think.”

“Hmm,” Rose snuggled closer. It was a chilly night, but Rey still felt safer for it. “Maybe if you think long enough, you’ll have reached Oregon without having to give either of them an answer.”

 

Chapter Text

Rey was up at before dawn. She sat in the box seat of her wagon, watching the plains flood with slow light rising like a tide to a levee.

She’d snuck her hand into the small satchel of dirt in her pocket. Sifting it between her fingers.

Thinking things through in the final moments.

But she couldn’t doubt her own choice now.

When she crept out of Finn and Rose’s wagon at first light, she saw that horse tied, watching her with big glassy eyes.

“You have more suitors than me,” she griped at it, hopping down into the dirt without anyone’s help.

She didn’t like the thing, didn’t want to get close to it. But since no one else was awake to tell her what to do, or how to treat it…

She approached cautiously in her nightdress.

“I remember when my old man brought you home,” she mused, crossing her arms.

She had not been happy: but what was she to say? 

That it was her money?

And risk a slap on a good day, or worse?

So she kept her arms sunk in the dishwater and asked the farmer Niima if he'd had a name picked out for the beast. She had given him no children. Perhaps this was their trade.

He could spend as much of her hard earned money as she wanted if it meant for no babies to raise.

She took another step, watching the muscular legs shift under a slick black coat. She focused on the white star on the stallion's head, holding her breath.

It would be beautiful if it was not what it was. 

The beast could not help what it was. 

The horse clearly did not like being tied to a hitch staked into the ground. There wasn’t a lot of lead room, she’d give the damn thing credit to his anger for that, but she’d hoped it would quiet after a few days.

“I was so mad I had half a mind to put a bullet straight through your head to show him what happens to that kind of money when you spend it on a racehorse. Right into that star," she tapped the vortex of white fur, "I didn’t think I could like you any less then. How wrong I was.”

His head swung to the side, a huff releasing from that big nose. It rushed against her arm, hot and muggy. She tried not to shriek with reviled feelings for the sensation.

Rey stepped back.

“Some good will come out of you yet,” she informed the beast, her jaw tight.

She had no control of this animal.

The last thing she needed was it getting upset.

So she dressed, climbed to the front of her wagon -almost striking her head on one of the rifles hanging from the overhead bows- and sifted through the dirt of her husband’s grave. Just touching it inside the bag. Working it between her fingers. Thinking.

She might have been awake first, but after she dressed and sat herself down; she was in a trance for the rest of the morning. She had planned to get this done early, so everything was settled, but Poe was whistling for everyone to get their teams ready to drive before she so much as stirred in that box seat.

She winced, now having to save the business proceedings of her day for noon, or later considering the drive.

“Poe!” she yelled, knowing it was unladylike; she did not know how to whistle yet. She should have called him Mr. Dameron, but that didn't travel as well as a shout.

Poe was a good enough sport to overlook all that and jog over to her, tilting his head up to speak to her from her raised seat.

“You need a few minutes, Mrs. Niima?”

“No, my team is ready.”

She took the reins in her hands to show him. She was ready in the general sense; her team was hitched and watered.

She had just been...caught off guard.

She didn’t like feeling this way.

“How far is the nearest town?”

He looked confused.

“We’re about three or four days to Independence Rock? Is there something you need? We can pool resources until then, with you being recently widowed.”

“I have all I need to get me there, Poe, I can handle myself for three or four days.”

She glanced down at her hands. There were red marks from the reins rising across her palms after several day's tight grip, slack, and pull. Her hands were used to work; just not this work.

Yet.

She closed her hands, then her eyes tight, and swallowed.

“I’m going to need to lighten the load once I get there. I can sell some things, right? It’s sufficient to trade?”

Poe nodded cautiously.

“You wouldn’t get the same price you would back East for it, but you’ll get enough that it’s not a blatant insult to your intelligence. If you’d like someone to accompany you-”

“I will,” she tried to drag back the sharpness in her tone. It took more effort than she had the energy for, the words came out jagged either way; “I will handle my finances privately, Mr. Dameron.”

He looked nervously up at her.

“There’s no shame in returning back East, Mrs. Niima. Especially in your circumstances. If you’d like help in the arrangements-”

“I’m not going back East.”

Her breath hissed out of her nose like that damn stallion’s.

She was fisting the reins like she was strangling the damn things.

“I’m not. Ever.”

Poe shut his mouth pretty quick. His eyes were fearful but his smile was impressed.

“Well, if it suits you, Rey.”

And she nodded to him, straightening her posture for the driving she would be doing. He jogged away to lead the train from his horse.

Rose was kind enough to walk with her for a few hours; Rey driving, Rose keeping pace alongside the wagon. Rose was a chatterer; but she didn’t seem to mind that Rey was not.

It was nice to have something she could option to listen to, even if her attention for the conversation wavered in and out as the day progressed.

That horse was still hitched to the back and causing a moment or two of annoyance from her by acting up, but when Solo quickly passed her wagon as he did every morning, he called out:

“You’re going to need to run him twice a day, or he will hurt someone.”

“That won’t matter once he’s glue.”

Ben had to keep most of his focus on driving his team, but his mouth hung open at her reply, neck craned back to look at her for too long, before he swung his head back around to see where he was going.

She saw a defeated slouch to his shoulders as he pulled on ahead. 

Rose chewed her lip, looking cautiously up at Rey.

At noon, there was the fortuitous chance of finding some berries. Poe checked the bushes carefully, tried them for himself, and told the party they were safe. The men were to take this opportunity to stop and rest, the women could go gather some for their families.

Rey was a wagon driver, like the men. But she was also a woman.

Though she preferred the option to rest, her arms were trembling with strain, when she sat for a moment too long on her box seat; it became clear no one would stop staring at her until she climbed down and picked some goddamn berries.

She grabbed a basket, grumbling, even though it was better not to waste the opportunity to acquire fresh food.

Joke was on them. She’d get to eat all the berries she picked herself.

She had half a basket before she was approached. She was vulnerably bent over to reach the ripest ones deeper in the branches, and he parked himself right by her backside to do so.

“Mrs. Niima.”

She straightened: snuck up on and quite pissed about that.

“Mr. Hux,” she held her basket in front of her, a move that was a little forced in how practiced and casual it was supposed to look.

He himself was posed too casually. Like he was coming a'courting and not leveraging her freedom for security.

The six hellions, baby excluded from the cluster, saw them talking and already exchanged giggles.

He turned a little red, not around the cheeks like Solo had, but on his neck. Sickly red. Blotchy. It made her uncomfortable to watch.

She kept picking: just so this wouldn’t be a complete waste of her time.

He took her hand. She did not like this, because he ripped it away from its task like it already belonged to him.

This wasn't something to change her mind, but it was something to gather her case.

Upon marriage; she was his to do with what he wished. 

There was no legal punishment for laying hands on a wife. She knew this.

Rey knew this intimately well.

“Have you given more thought to my offer.”

“Yes,” it was odd that she knew what to do; not how to do it yet.

“I thank you for your generous proposal. But I am not suited to being a preacher’s wife, and more intimate knowledge of my character under better circumstances would have made that very clear to you. I'm sorry to have misled you.”

He squeezed down on her hand. Hard. Enough to bruise.

She did not whimper and bend at the knee as he seemed to hope she would. She stared up at him gritting her teeth.

Break a damn finger for all I care, you bastard. It's all been done before.

“The Lord has mysterious ways of testing us, Mrs. Niima. Perhaps this is him reaching out to you for your true duties in life.”

Her nose wrinkled with a sour twist. She smoothed her apron, mostly to free her hand, but also just for something to do other than try to scramble for words.

“Be that as it may; you are the only judge of that at the moment, Mr. Hux, and I do not feel comfortable with a man as my keeper and my judge.”

“You will strand yourself out here.”

His voice lowered considerably, and he bent towards her in tense confidentiality, instead of lounging open-postured like a Miss Austen hero against the berry bushes.

He was threatening her.

She trained her tone into something familiar to her: something dumb, something ignorant, something that did not know what she was doing.

These were all lies.

“Heaven helps those who can help themselves, Mr. Hux. I could no sooner be a burden to you than to my neighbor.”

“Consider this my act of Christian charity.”

She drew herself up to her full height, practically snapping his nose in between her teeth:

“Or my act of saying God might as well dropped off of a racehorse and broke his goddamn neck three days ago, for all I care to think about him. I take my fate into my own hands: and if it must be the sacrifice I make to do so I will await Hell smiling.”

Hux gaped at her.

“You’re nothing but a viper. And you have signed your death warrant.”

He grabbed her elbow, and her voice came out loud and clear:

“Do not touch me.”

“Get off of her.”

A massive hand hauled Hux back by the shoulder.

Rey drew herself away with her full basket tucked in the crook of her elbow.

Ben Solo wasn't brawling on her behalf; he was too smart for that. But he did hold the preacher out of reach from her until Rey by herself was extracted, walking up and down the creek bank like nothing happened while Hux had his fit.

She snacked on berries as Solo and Finn, now joining the fray, admonished the preacher for grabbing her.

“Cool off,” Finn advised to the red-faced preacher, not giving much room to argue, “drink some water.”

Hux tore away to the river.

She did not like how this had gone for several reasons:

Hux’s reaction was unfavorable, but proved her instincts right.

She felt eyes on her. Clever eyes.

Rey looked back at the berry bushes, Ben Solo towering out of them like a black bear. Watching her. 

She burst a raspberry with her tongue, staring him down as she took her walk.

But Solo was far too happy with the turn of events.

There was something about Solo’s smirk that made her...very uncomfortable with how smug he was, leading Hux away from his sore ego.

His smile was radiant, and she knew she caused it, it didn’t feel like it was just because he won her.

And did he think he’d won her.

But he was glowing because he thought he’d won something better.

His assumptions irked her.

And gave her much to think about.

 


 

Someone was standing behind her, waiting to catch her off guard for the second time that day.

Dust coated her skin, her eyes constantly watered from it, her lips and tongue feeling like a dry tome in an ancient library. She felt dirty. Her hair, which she had plaited up to keep the braids out of the way, was frizzing out of her efforts to tame it and wisped around her brow and ears. Her hands were a mess of blisters and callouses.

Gloves. Not white little finger gloves for church or a luncheon; thick leather gloves. That was the first thing she'd buy after selling the horse. 

She felt as desirable as a sack of potatoes. And viewed the histrionics in camp over marrying her as now laughable.

One would think her a debutante by reputation only. 

When she looked over her shoulder, she saw Solo stroking the horse’s nose.

He hovered, almost shyly, in the shadows cast by the setting sun.

Maybe reluctant to make it obvious he was here to claim his prize.

Rey was busy building her cooking fire. She’d done it plenty of times by herself: it just got started much later than most people in camp because her husband would be the one tying up the livestock at the end of a long day while she got dinner started.

But she could do it. She could do both.

“May I help you?”

He stepped away from the horse, though she could tell it took him great effort.

“I think you already know it’s gone quite aways around camp,” his pace towards her was lackadaisical. He smiled easily down at her, like this was all so funny, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She focused on the kindling she was working. Filling the branches with enough of the stuff that caught quickly to try and make a hearth that would burn outward.

“I find it was not nearly as hard as I had anticipated, Mr. Solo.”

“Now that you’ve gotten that unpleasantness out of the way for me, I-”

Her head whipped around.

Rey was always careful.

She held her tongue until she dropped the lit match onto the waiting tinder.

She had been so careful; but right now she had never felt so good about doing something so dumb:

“Who said anything about you?”

 

 

Chapter Text

The fire caught quickly; it spiraled and unfurled in the circle of stones between them as they stared at each other in silence.

Solo hadn’t shut his mouth yet.

“You did,” he said quietly.

And her throat tightened.

She hardened her jaw to look up at him.

“You didn’t give me a counteroffer. You merely told me the circumstances under which I could return with one. I do not trust bartering with you when it is myself I must offer.”

Solo took of his gloves, holding them in his hands. Fiddling with them.

Pointedly not even able to look at her.

“You weren’t sure between the two of us. I remember that clearly from when you asked.”

He seemed...stunned.

And angry.

Her cheeks flushed red with her own anger in response.

“If I would rather be married to him, why would I go to you in the first place ?

Did that sting to admit. He was always the better option; quieter than Hux, a good driver, handy with livestock, he had more oxen.

But voicing her preference felt foolish now, when it was wasted, when he didn't understand it.

She couldn’t...hide her hurt pride as easily as she’d like to. She felt like a little girl giving a boy a bouquet of flowers that got promptly stepped on.

She had gone to him already desperate and ashamed; and he had asked her to crawl on her belly to prove it.

Such things, to any reasonable person, did not need to be proven.

He stared down at her for a long time. There was a span of about thirty seconds where the sun finally vanished behind the hills, and the chill entered her body the minute the shadow overtook it.

He was in the dark much deeper than she was, standing that far away from her.

“Then why aren’t we having a different conversation right now.”

Rey refused Hux. Why wasn’t she flying into his arms?

His tone was so...controlled. Quiet.

And not demanding an answer; because he clearly felt she couldn’t give a good enough one.

She poked the cooking fire instead of looking up at him.

“I do not like to be toyed with. It is unbecoming of a husband.”

She’d heard that phrase unbecoming of a wife tossed around many times in her day, often towards herself; it was actually a rush to pepper it into a criticism of a man.

Liberating.

So the sentiment was loaded with a meanness that he did not entirely deserve yet.

“We can’t all try marriage out a second time around to know these things.”

He deserved it.

Her chest shuddered, hands pressed into the ground. She tilted her face down and away from him, because it was swimming with pulsing blood. Everything, in grief, felt swollen. Her head felt heavy, skin about to burst right off the bones, and her eyes bubbled with tears she did not want him to see.

Which was ridiculous; anyone could tell by her breathing what her reaction to this was. She maintained no mystery.

Only solitude in emotions she did not choose to share.

This was the first fight she’d ever had where she ever felt like the wheels were turning, not helplessly sliding underneath her.

Most of the time, she knew her plan of attack, didn’t let slip her defenses:

We cannot afford a new buggy, we will get one in the summer if the harvest yields, I have checked and I’m not selling my locket just so you can-

This fight: everything poured out of her exactly as she was thinking it.

It scared the life out of her that he seemed similarly unable to control himself.

But the only thing in life that mattered to her was her ability to control herself.

When she looked at him now, she did not recognize herself.

And she did not like herself very much.

Sitting in the dirt, trying to explain, to justify, to this man that she felt better off alone.

It had been easy with Hux, but now the rashness of her hurt pride flickered between them. She sat back when she realized she was, in fact, sitting too close to her cooking fire.

Sparks had burned through her sleeve.

“If I have to vow to obey you, I am going to consider whatever could happen to me through those vows very seriously before I enter into them.”

He looked, to her shock, regretful.

His answer came out in a dry, confused whisper:

“I wouldn’t ask you to.”

“It’s part of the vow,” and she glared up at him, “and whether I meant it or not, how you treated me before I was your property was telling enough.”

“How can I respond to the coyness of your actions with anything but doubt? Sidling up to ask to be asked. I was going about my own damn business-”

She stood up, her hands balled into fists. Her voice lashed out, sharp and striking its chosen mark.

He flinched as she intended before she even finished the first sentence.

“I wasn’t offering for you to make me an offer. I was offering.”

His mouth closed.

But then he walked straight up to her.

He hovered his flat, wide hand inches in front of her face, between her eyes, so she couldn’t see him standing there directly in front of her.

She swallowed, her heart pounding.

This was the part where she usually closed her eyes.

She knew people were around, and she could yell, but she held her tongue.

She did not need to be known for provoking two men on this day.

Rey forced herself to keep her eyes open, his palm hovering flat in front of the bridge of her nose.

Not poised to strike.

“This is the range of vision of a horse.”

She craned her head back, but the hand followed, never touching her but making his point.

“What?”

He looked his angriest now, over the structure of a horse’s skull; which her own head noticeably did not have.

He explained very clearly, in the voice of someone finally cracking open how entirely livid they were:

“Their eyes of placed towards the sides of their heads. They can’t see as well straight ahead like we do. This is what their eyes can perceive in front of their own faces. When you put an animal like that behind something making constant noise and not enough lead line, they get anxious. It's acting that way for a reason. You’re torturing it.”

She blinked at him.

Of all the goddamn things she had to worry about, he was going to give her a hard time about this?

“I don’t know why you think you can lecture me-”

“Because when you treat something badly, it’s going to act badly for you. What the hell do you expect from that animal? And Niima, rest his soul, no disrespect,” his tone implied otherwise, “striking him, rode him too hard, didn’t care for him properly. No wonder he bucked.”

She held up a hand to warn him to stop. The glare he gave her showed he did it with significant, effective control of himself: showing off like he himself was chomping at the bit underneath his own strength.

Master and rider of his own will.

She was envious for a second.

Relieved for a second longer that she would not bear it.

“Don’t pretend to have a soft heart about this.”

Rey couldn’t look at him. Her fists were clenched so tight she was shaking.

So the man perceived those things as wrong when they were done to a horse.

She bucked the thought off just as violently as the stallion did her husband.

For the first time, reluctantly, she felt kinship with it.

“You treated me badly,” she continued coolly.

And saying it out loud, to someone, anyone, in the first time in her life, made her gut twist. Even her tone couldn't hide the offense she had plainly taken.

Her whole body absorbed the motion of her trembling hands.

Her chin, held high, quivered, her legs shook.

And her voice was quiet: even when she wanted to shout.

“I’m a person,” she choked out in her quiet anger, “I’m not a goddamn horse, and when he-”

Solo’s eyes flew wide open.

Not missing her meaning, even unsaid, for a second.

Rey froze like a rabbit caught unaware in the tall grass by something with sharp teeth. 

She had hoped she had not been offering herself to a fool, before. Ben Solo was not a fool right now. He understood her meaning immediately.

He knew Niima did not treat his property well.

But he had made so thorough a point of why her husband deserved to be thrown from the horse he mistreated, that he had quickly passed the point she had been making about him preferring a horse's well-being to her own.

Though in his eyes, she saw he that found it now, and was horrified. 

She saw things...everything...differently than he did. Like everything lurked behind a hand before her own eyes.

His entire body softened, he bent his knees to try and catch her eyes: but she was already turning away.

“Mrs. Niima…”

She waved him off as she went to the jockey box side of her wagon, away from the stallion, to pull her one stewpot down so she could finally eat when she got through the next task; cooking for herself, alone.

“I need to make it West. My fear that I wouldn’t made me...weak. And foolish. We were never meant to see each other again after this journey, Mr. Solo, I’m sorry that I ever tried to change that.”

"I..."

She had shut him out.

And they both seemed to be taking that moment of dizzy relief in a shelter from the momentous bullet they'd just dodged. 

 

 

Chapter Text

She wanted to scream out into the night when she heard boots crunching in the gravel.

Enough. Enough.

Finn and Rose repeated their previous offer, but Rey waved it off, too shaky to deal with the proximity to another person for the night.

She instead slept with a gun.

This would have been a good time to think things over: plan that last route, get herself out of this.

She was too tired to think anymore.

Too tired to sleep.

Rey sat up quickly at the sound of footsteps, clunking her head hard against the underside of the wagon. She cursed then, and regretted, in her anger, having been so flippant Rose and Finn’s offer to have her sleep in their wagon again.

Being alone sometimes meant there was no one to judge what you let happen to yourself.

She could feel a bump rising above her eyebrow as she scrambled out from underneath the wagon, her husband’s pistol in her hand, and she twisted through cold night as though sinking through it.

She found the source of the noise.

There was just enough moonlight to see it.

Ben Solo. No lantern.

Swallowing at the sight of the gun in her hand.

“What do you want?” she growled, her hair falling over one shoulder.

“You were sleeping alone out here,” he said carefully, as though she was being unreasonable.

Her face scrunched up with frustration.

She had half a mind to just pull the damn trigger and figure out why after he hit the ground.

He sparked impulsivity in her. Maybe that was reason enough he was better off dead.

“Checking on your horse?”

She listened to his footsteps, and they sounded the same as always. She had thought they were slow and prowling.

Now they just sounded cautious as he backed away slowly.

Maybe he still thought she'd use that pistol.

She didn't have the evidence for reason to.

Yet.

But she lowered the gun for quicker gathering.

He sighed.

There was a motion around his chest: she realized his hands were up, but he had lowered them in relief.

“I just wanted to know if you were alright.”

The gun weighed heavy in her hand, her arm swinging with the hanging weight of it by her hip.

“Fine time to come and ask.”

He turned as if to leave.

“I’ll leave you to rest.”

“You do this every night.”

It echoed through camp. Not loud enough to wake anyone, though it wouldn't be hard to if she wanted, but enough that if anyone was awake at this hour they would hear it.

He hissed at her to be silent, but from ten feet away it was hard to accomplish the control to when she was armed, alert, and pissed.

He pivoted back to face Rey, features wide and caught-looking at the lack of curiosity in her question. Even the moonlight could show that.

He swallowed.

“Yes I do.”

“Why?”

Her assertion before was strong: this was much more fragile.

It was a whisper between them.

Because if he were doing it for a bad reason, it would be obvious, and any other reason she could not understand.

“Because you are alone,” he said quietly.

The silence that followed roared in her flushed ears.

She was thinking so hard that the bump on her head began to actively throb.

She was glad she couldn’t make out the subtleties of his expression: because it meant he could not perceive hers in the darkness. She just knew his eyes were on hers in the moonlight.

“So are you,” she pointed out.

There was a quiet hum in response.

They knew why it was different for her, but he could pretend that she was his equal like a father pretended his daughter was a princess. 

She would dress up in Dead Niima's clothes to play a game. He would oblige her; broken toy that she was. 

Pity, but it meant she could speak to him frankly. 

“Why did you choose to go West?”

He swallowed.

“Financial reasons.”

Gold-chaser. They got the scent of it and assumed their lives were better left to uncertainty. No tenacity. No real grit. Strength was staying on your claim until your life and the life of your crops died as one.

Rey believed in honor.

But she had chased that same dream in Ben.

That he was to be mined like rich California ore: her choice motivated by survival and a conniving mind that made her mean as a snake and un-killable as a well fed fire. 

“And yours?”

She sighed.

“I did not choose to go West, Mr. Solo. My choice was not the assumption of his.”

He gave this a moment of thought.

“And you cannot return home? You said there was no one to represent you in a marriage proposal, but is there any way at all…?”

“Everything was sold. It’s gone.”

Crossed her arms and tried not to think about the farm she had quite liked. She could have died there. Waiting for it to be green again.

“Of course,” he sounded embarrassed. “That husband of yours...Mrs. Niima, by all means despise me for saying it, but someone should on your behalf. I am very glad he is dead.”

Rey took a shuddery breath and tilted her head back.

“You can say.”

“Should I go one further?”

“Do not dare," she found upon her lips an impossible smile. Small, but capable of being fed to grow.

But she hardened her voice when she remembered why she was awake, why she was talking to him.

Why he knew enough about Niima to hate him so thoroughly:

"But even he would find you lurking around his widow at night, scaring the life out of her, well worth tanning your hide for. And I'd agree."

“You heard me…?”

She heard him clear his throat, then hum, as if something clicked to make sense.

“You thought-”

“Haven’t been sleeping well, now that you ask,” she rested her shoulders against her wagon. It was hers now. She hadn't...grasped that fully: so eager to hand the reins off to the next driver.“I keep hearing the strangest noises, and I thought someone was going to-”

“That was not my intention.”

He rushed it out. Panicked.

“Then what exactly was your intention?”

“I’m sorry. I am plainly aware of my stupidity now. I’m very sorry.”

“Making your intentions clear would have solved that,” she felt harsh to overcorrect; but she had been a schoolteacher. And a farmer’s wife. And a seamstress, when money was tight.

He rested his shoulder on the wagon, leaning next to her. Facing her.

She was only in a nightdress; but it was dark. It was an allowance she would make for herself, she was hardly a virgin.

“And you make yours too clear, Mrs. Niima, if I may be bold enough to reply.”

She shrugged.

"If I were a man you'd have shaken my hand and thanked me for the deal I cut you."

"You have been keen on making me regret the past few days. I am sorry. I had intended to see to it that you were alright after a distressing week."

“Well, I am not alright,” she informed him, “you scared me, and I hit my damn head on the wagon bed.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again, more quietly.

Then she felt fingers curl under her chin.

She couldn’t even see them move to touch her, so the feeling of breath on her face, the obvious way he was leaning close, made him pretending to look at her injury all the more bizarre.

“Where?”

“Above my brow,” she said, her body feeling sleepy.

A finger brushed her temple, and then gently moved up over her eyebrow.

“Other one,” she told him instead of pulling away.

Why was her tone sulky?

"Ah."

"Do you pity me?"

For some reason that made her chest ache to ask. No one knew...no one ever knew before him.

Or pretended not to know. 

No one ever admitted they knew, so plain in her eyes, that this was what she bore.

It made her skittish: yet drawn to him as if for warmth.

And the gun at her side was for strength.

“Hmm,” the pad of his thumb came to rest on her opposite temple, sweeping up until it met the heated, throbbing skin, “you are going to have a bump in the morning.”

“I know that,” she grumbled at him.

"I do not pity you," he kept his tone clinical, which she appreciated. "But in your condition, I would feel safer knowing you were protected."

"You do now," she kept her tone very light, "you have your own eyes as proof to know that I sleep with a gun."

But he ignored her to brush his thumb over the swelling.

It felt unreal. He had every reason, most of all and most respected by her was pride, to hate her. But mere hours after their negotiation sank like a stone: he was touching her brow with the tenderness of a mother.

He thought she was a mistreated horse. He liked pathetic things.

He had clearly enjoyed making her feel pathetic for days.

But she felt warm.

Her eyes fluttered shut; the sting and the softness melding so completely that she didn’t know whether to whimper or sigh. His thumb on her bruise hurt; the right kind of good reawakening the rupture of bad. 

These things had a way of cancelling each other out.

"Am I sleepwalking?” she finally murmured, and she heard him grunt in agreement from above her.

“Yes, Mrs. Niima. I didn't think I should wake you. It'd be best if you go back to bed.”

 

 

Chapter Text

There was a bump on her head the next morning.

And maybe it was a nastier bump than she had initially thought; because she wasn’t sure what was said last night had happened at all.

Solo certainly wasn’t looking at her like it had.

Or looking at her at all.

They brushed past each other when there was a brief gathering, summoned by Poe, to make sure they were all primed for the rougher weather that might hit tonight. An earlier end to the day, more preparation and care before night fell, what was the best thing to do during rain. 

She was the only woman present; the only one responsible for herself, and Finn hovered protectively. 

Solo seemed to forget anything that was said, or ashamed of it, and when he wouldn't meet her eyes with her one attempt to she felt the bruise over her brow throb.

But it seemed better that way to her. Easier. He knew too much.

Still, there was the matter of the horse.

That morning, after speaking with Poe and the others who were in charge of their party's wagon, she tied it with more room to breathe; but she had the lead that she had and she wasn’t intentionally leaving it short to begin with.

She asked Finn for advice before breakfast on how to properly compensate for the horse's wrath, but Finn just shook his head.

“It can’t be ridden, Rey, and you’re selling it as soon as we reach the next town anyway. Just get it through the next couple days and make sure you count the cash you get for it twice.”

“You’re probably right,” she agreed, her shoulder up at her ear to try and fend herself off from when that horse tried to nip at her. She had to be right by his mouth to tie him, but it did not make either of their lives easier when it was so ornery.

“I don’t know why I feel terrible,” she told Finn while they walked away from it to the front of the wagon, as plain as she could she tried to express the uneasy feeling in her gut.

He looked at her like she was crazy.

“Maybe because your husband died four days ago?”

Rey rested her hands on her hips.

“Has it been?”

She stared out at the plains, squinting. The sun was crawling across the grass with the pace of a sleepy nuzzle.

“Rey?”

Finn was watching her carefully now. A worried furrow to his brow she wanted to poke like a little cherub belly.

So he’d laugh. She liked Finn. If only he hadn't been married when Niima broke his neck; she could see herself happy enough with him.

She rested her chin on the ledge of the wagon, looking up at him through her lashes like a guilty little sister. But he did not smile as was usually so easy to compel him to.

His tone was very grave; but it was hard to tell which one of them he was afraid of admonishing.

“Could you-”

Himself.

“I feel terrible for asking this, when you have had to learn on your own.”

“What?”

“Can you...teach Rose how to drive a wagon with you? Have her sit on the box seat, hell, even make her drive for you? She’s a fast learner, smart as a whip, she won’t trouble you at all. But when I think of leaving her alone in this untamed land on her own, not certain how to move forward…”

She felt her smirk come, and a single nod jerked her head up and down like a rancher’s. She was right to act soon to try and find a husband; already her precious femininity had melted uselessly in the sun and before Finn stood something as unwomanly as a soldier’s barracks.

“Don’t let her end up like me. Sure. Send her over. My hands need the rest. Just give her gloves.”

“It’s not because you are uncertain,” he still pushed it, like the issue was her enthusiasm for the task; not her agreement. “I want her to learn from you. My trust is in you that if anything happened to me, she would be helped and by good hands.”

Rey held up her blistered palms; as scarred as the hands of Christ after the crucifixion.

“You could find far better ones than these.”

Finn shook his head, tweaking the end of her nose so she smiled.

“I am convinced there are none better, Rey.”

He glanced up at the bows of her wagon; his eyes wide.

The armory, Rey realized, so nobody else knew about it.

The guns swayed under the bonnet in the light breeze; each with a weight like a hung corpse.

“Please check and make sure, before my wife is anywhere near this wagon, that each and every one of those guns isn’t loaded.”

 


 

Rose was a fast learner, and observant, and through her observations actually -to Rey’s chagrin- strengthened both of their understanding of how the schooner traveled.

She shouldn’t have been hurt when she was getting useful information from the help; but it did hurt to see that in her position, Rose would probably be coping much better with the technicalities.

“I heard voices last night,” Rose said quietly, after too long a silence was let stretch.

Rey liked those silences: almost like experimenting how long one could withstand the heat of a fire before pulling a hand away, but she grunted in response.

So perhaps it was not a dream, maybe it really happened.

“Soft voices,” Rose continued, “voices like sweethearts.”

Then it definitely had not happened.

“There are few of those on this train,” Rey down looked at her boots. The leather was peeling away from their own stitches. With a sigh, she kicked up her feet. Driving had spared them some in these past few days; but those boots would be about as useful as a dead layer of skin in what looked like a week.

She leaned back, Rose had the reins and a knack for pace, and dug into the wagon bed.

Those boots rested safe in the compartment under the box seat.

“What’re you looking for?”

“Boots.”

She tugged them up by the laces. They were heavier than she was used to.

But solid.

Rey tied the laces together and slung them over her shoulders so the boots hung down her chest like a muffler, then she twisted onto her belly to reach deeper into the wagon for newspaper.

She did not know why she waited until things with Solo were officially over to claim the boots as her own. They’d never fit him to begin with.

Her hand yielded something to stuff the shoes with-some old rags, but the tug that she gave to pull it from the crate caused what the rags held to crack on the floor.

Rose winced.

She was obviously uncomfortable about all the guns. Rey didn't know what to do about them herself; other than trade them. Just not within the party, and she was just as wary as giving them to Solo to persuade him to marry her.

Everyone on the trail had their own for hunting, and Poe had warned everyone about misfirings before they left on their journey.

Niima had just rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. And kept them all.

“What was that?”

Rey pulled back, rag and contents in her hands, before unraveling them in her lap.

“Oh.”

It was a saucer and cup from her wedding china.

They couldn’t take all of it, obviously, but she’d wrapped a few pieces.

Rose keened like one of them had sustained a deep injury. “Oh, Rey, I am so sorry-”

Rey looked to see if anyone was behind them; with two new drivers sharing this box seat they were dead last in the train, and Finn had insisted on that for their safety.

So Rey unfurled the wrap and let the porcelain fall into the dirt to the side of the wagon.

Forever left to the trail.

It felt oddly good to drop: the pieces had shattered further on impact. They would be nothing but dust on this well-trodden trail in a few weeks.

“About what?”

She could feel Rose holding her breath beside her. She went about tearing the rag into strips to stuff into the toes of the boots.

“You act funny sometimes, Rey,” Rose phrased delicately, and Rey shrugged as she worked.

“I do. Do you dislike me for it?”

“No!” Rose sounded horrified. “I just...worry.”

Rey reached over to guide a tighter grip to the reins; the oxen were getting too much slack. Rose complied immediately. She was clever, a good driver, probably better than Rey with some practice, but her attention span needed to be worked on.

“You need not worry about me,” Rey kept her voice very light, because it hurt to say. “I will make it through.”

“When you didn’t want to sleep in the wagon with us again last night...I hope I did not offend you by offering.”

“I should have.”

Rey couldn’t make much else of a face other than squint because of the position of the sun, nor did she feel the instinct to. Rose could speak frankly, even if her heart was warmer than Rey’s.

“I hope I also didn’t offend you by talking about your husband.”

“It is best to leave him in the dust,” Rey admitted, knowing her tone was too sharp; “but he was not like your sister, Rose. Your love of your sister is different. She sounded brave. I would have liked to know her.”

“He was not like…”

Rose straightened her chin.

Seeming to understand.

“Then you are free.”

“Perhaps,” Rey nodded to herself.

She wondered to herself, for the first time, what she would do with freedom. What she would have done if she had awoken today finding herself engaged. To either of them. 

She might not recognize herself now; but that was only one face she needed to come to know.

Not two. Not another's.

There was a guttural, pained noise from a few wagons ahead, and a rustle of pure chaos when a body dropped from a box seat. 

The wagon train cut in half; the tail of it skidding to a halt while the bodiless head trudged on. Oxen keened. Men shouted. Women cried.

Rey overtook the reins from Rose, stopping clumsily but more safely than Rose could manage with no experience.

The blisters burst from her hands squeezing the reins in her grip.

Rose was shivering with fear, already hiccuping with cries. It had been an awful sight, but Rey could not cry. She could only watch in horror.

As if on cue: Hux had fallen from his wagon, his face twisted and sick in the dirt.

Chapter Text

The dust hadn’t even settled by the time Rey was checking for injuries. She’d jumped down from the wagon before Hux had stopped rolling through the dirt.

She regretted it immediately: because now she felt she couldn’t just stand there. She had to do something instead of watching, slack-jawed, useless. Like everyone else was.

The fall could have meant he would not be able to be moved easily.

So she could be the person to figure that out.

Clinically, she checked to see if he was breathing.

Hux was breathing.

The smell in the air removed the need to breathe a sigh of relief.

Nothing seemed broken, but he was pretty bruised up.

He didn’t stir when her hands touched his sweaty face; but that was because he was out before he hit the ground.

There was something about the strain on his face, the exertion, that made her instantly very relieved that no matter who she was; she was not to be the wife of this man, currently making an oddly similar, sweaty expression than that of her husband when he would…

She really hadn’t pictured a wedding night with either option. Her mind was on other things at the time. But silver linings always reveal themselves at later and very strange times.

This one giving her an eagle-eyed view of what it looked like from afar: omnisciently above and not thinking of the children to be born below.

By the time she determined he was still alive, but the fall was caused by some terrible sickness, there was a hand at her back, someone hunching close to take a look.

Solo, using her shoulder to support himself to lean down low.

He coughed when he discovered the smell as well.

He snapped his fingers over Hux’s face, out cold.

There was a low whistle near her ear when Hux didn’t even stir.

His voice was low, amused, and he leaned close to Hux, closer to her, to tap -slap- his fingers to an unconscious cheek.

“I don’t know how you do it, Niima, but that’s another one down.”

“He’s breathing,” she hissed defensively between her teeth: but this was hardly her fault, so she wasn’t sure why she sounded so frantic.

But Solo was suddenly so friendly with her, companionably enough to joke:

“Listen, I have a list of names. Most of them owe me money. I’d like to see you put your newfound powers to good use.”

“Please.”

He gently squeezed her shoulder.

“He grabbed you. Said some very unchristian things about you; maybe the savior decided to strike him down.”

“Ben,” she hissed out, “don’t be awful.”

He went quiet; enough for the sound of hoofbeats to bolster their need to ignore each other to their own faces.

Poe was rounding the flanks of the train on horseback.

“What happened?”

“He fell!”

Rose shouted it from the wagon behind them.

Rose was holding the oxen well. They had not tied an inch further than she allowed.

Rey was impressed.

“He just dropped off. Nothing’s broken, but he needs to lie down.”

Poe leaned over to the wagon closest to him; full of perpetually useless bystanders, to give the order:

“Pass it forward. We’re stopping.”

There was a rumble of wagon-to-wagon shouts to stop. It would make its way up to the front eventually, in a ripple. It was how news traveled.

Rey didn’t seem to know what she was doing, but her hands were under Hux’s arms to drag him before Solo and Dameron even so much as moved.

“Damn it, help the lady," someone shouted.

"I've got it," she grunted, not sure why she suddenly needed to do this beyond obligation to care for the needy.

She'd have been a better preacher's wife than Hux deserved.

She’d gotten a rather tall man about ten feet across the dirt on her own, but Solo stepped in and pulled Hux’s weight into his own hands; expertly extracting a rather defensive grip from her.

She felt a swell of protectiveness, not of Hux but of her task, even if it was more efficient to have someone else handle the carrying of a man much larger than her. And the task was disgusting.

But Solo wasn’t stupid:

“Get his feet, Rey.”

 


 

Hux had dysentery.

He was unable to drive. Conscious again, but pointedly pretending not to be, because dysentery is as humiliating as it is unpleasant.

Poe was the one responsible for organizing the decision of what to do about the situation.

One wagon without a driver. What next?

As her wagon’s only representative; Rey had a vote.

First time in her life she’d ever had one.

Hux was noticeably absent, asleep on a pallet on his wagon.

“Castor oil helps,” Poe tried to talk down those who immediately insisted on pushing forward, “but it’s no cure and it only helps ease the symptoms. It won’t have him up and walking anytime soon.”

“We have a wagon with two men driving,” she could not look up as she spoke. “Would it not be best for all of us if one drove on his behalf?”

Ben caught her eye this time from across the circle Poe led. She glowered at him. 

Make up your damn mind.

He smiled to himself before he spoke, pinning her with his gaze.

“It would seem Hux has become more of a burden than Mrs. Niima ever was.”

His tone was so warm, light and teasing amongst some very grave men.

Her throat felt dry for a moment.

“I see we have been volunteered,” one of the bachelors sneered at Rey, not the man agreeing with her.

She held their gaze.

“I am the first person sharing sympathy with those who must take on this journey for those incapable of making it on their own,” she reminded him.

Today was just a parade of watching her previous options shatter like a porcelain cup.

All of them strong men who were supposedly capable of taking care of her.

Poe chuckled at her, placing a friendly hand on her shoulder.

“If a recently widowed woman can manage a team for the first time and we’ve maintained our pace with no complaint from her; you can drive a good Christian man’s schooner until his health turns. It’s the point of being a party. But if you wouldn’t like to be helped yourself in the same situation, by all means, go it alone. See how long you last.”

The man went quiet at Poe’s order. But his eyes were lit clear resentful of the situation. Angry to be volunteered.

Well, so was Rey. For all of it.

“Who will care for the sick man?”

She turned her eyes to Poe.

The guide whistled, narrowing his eyes in thought.

“Bet you’re glad you dodged that job,” he told her with a sly smile. As though she'd be combing her hair and knitting for the entirety of his illness instead.

Why did everyone have to talk about that now?

“I have a team to attend to, Dameron.”

No ‘Mister’ and even Poe seemed less rude than slinging his surname like a good punch to the jaw.

“That’s a known fact,” he nodded. He turned back to the party. “Well. I know for a fact a few of you unlucky bastards have a wife who was a nurse. Good luck sleeping next to the one who draws the short straw. Bring them all here. We’ll continue on in a half hour; wait for my whistle.”

Never had she felt so relieved as when she broke from the circle to return to her wagon.

It was odd, the glares she received. She was breaking to do the exact same task they were all doing: exempt by circumstance from the same task they were never even volunteered for.

Big boots next to hers matched her pace through the dirt.

“They comfortable?”

She'd only been wearing them for about an hour.

She wiggled her heel. He paused when she did.

She didn't look up at him yet. Him being so tall made avoiding his eyes very easy.

“Getting used to them,” she admitted.

“They’re better suited to you, if I may be so bold-”

She turned on him then.

The obvious dissatisfaction with him was why didn’t you even look at me this morning; but it was absurd to say out loud. She would not like to look as foolish as she felt.

“I wasn’t a burden,” she said instead, though she knew better than pretending that was what he had meant earlier.

His eyes fluttered. They were gentle on her face. 

Him looking was harder than him not looking. Though the whiplash of it all sharpened both sensations.

"I didn't mean..."

Somehow she already knew that. But it would have been easier for both of them if she was a burden. 

He could have caught her with a butterfly net if she ever was.

A tentative hand reached for her, brought his thumb onto the bruise above her brow.

It was different in daylight.

“I’m afraid I have made you into one,” he admitted, and as he split his path from hers, “forgive me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She wore those dead man’s boots when she came to him again.

“I have one more proposition for you.”

Ben clearly just wanted to eat his damn lunch, but he managed a small, side-twisting smirk down at her when she stood in front of his box seat.

His bent knee was very close to her cheek. The polite thing to do would be to adjust his position, but he let it lurk, seeing if she’d step back.

No such luck.

He looked down at the tin plate balanced in one large hand, his fork diving in for steady bites.

He at least swallowed before answering:

“Is it a marriage?”

She clenched her fists. Those blisters from the reins were getting worse: the pressure of her tight hands almost had them burst into her palms.

She bit back a cry of pain, but masked it well, for he had no reaction. Just a raised eyebrow, like a coy debutante entertaining multiple offers.

He could mock her all he pleased.

She shook her head.

“It is not a marriage.”

He went back to his food with a private chuckle just for himself, shaking his head.

“Good. Because I should warn you that I’m very superstitious-”

A very odd notion that he was trying to break her, one way or another, popped into her head. She turned her chin down, signaling for him to not trifle with her today.

“You’re not going to make me laugh.”

“Then I have half a mind that next thing you’re going to ask me for is a baby.”

She had meant to continue as she had forewarned, for his half-smile was annoying her, but she only listened as she already spoke so a second too late she faltered once she had begun her sentence.

“It…”

Horrified, her eyes went wide open and her words left her.

Even Solo seemed a little flushed by the forwardness of the joke.

They blinked at each other in silence.

“If you are done with that line of tomfoolery,” she snapped.

His flush was at least shadowed by a dark hat.

Her bonnet made her feel redder than humanly possible, like the center of a large target. With shaking hands, she untied it and pulled it down; for it made her seem ridiculous to herself when conducting business.

Then there was the issue of her hair, which no matter how carefully she sorted it out in the morning, was unraveling at the seams by high noon. She felt the dry wisps twist around her face, sticking in sweat, and he caught an eyeful of them too from the way he trailed her face.

She tucked a strand behind her ear; and then he saw her palm.

Winced sympathetically.

His pained look shoved her right back onto the path of her business:

“I...it would be foolish to not know the value of my own possessions. I will investigate a buyer for the stallion at the next town. This will take close inspection of all potential buyers. However, if you can...match the best price I get for it; it’s yours.”

He paused before his next bite.

“I can do that.”

She swallowed, feeling that he found this all too easy.

“I must warn you, I’m not dropping the price for you: just allowing you to match-”

“It’s not an issue,” he was talking with his mouth full, “I was planning to outbid.”

“Maybe...you say that like it is a sure thing you’ll win.”

He shrugged. Leaned back in his seat. Looked down at her like he was trying very hard not to be smug.

“It’s not an issue,” he looked at her like after all they’d been through, that he expected better from her. Which was an oddly intimate expression after only a few days, “You know that.”

Her look of confusion sparked similar confusion on his face.

“I don’t think I do…”

He paled considerably.

“There are just...some rumors…” he coughed, “most of them fake. Around camp. I thought you were responding to some.”

Rey raised her eyebrows.

“I wasn’t asking you because I thought you had some money.”

“So I see they haven’t gotten to you.”

He mumbled, looking at his hands as if ashamed.

Her stomach swam with anxiety.

Not just some money.

No wonder her offer, to basically line a working man’s pockets with her industriousness, did little to tempt Solo and even made it into a game for him. She had sought engagement to him as a workhorse when what he wanted was a stallion.

Of course.

She could not change this.

“You have accepted?” she choked out, trying not to think about paths that could not be taken anymore.

No way to go but forward.

“Yep,” he went back to staring at his plate. “Pack horses are selling around $25; but he’s not a pack horse. Riding ones start at around $75. You’d be crazy to not take under $150 dollars. Back East you could easily squeeze for $200 for a horse of that breeding.”

Rey closed her eyes.

That fucking bastard bought a $200 horse. Maybe the idiots who sold it to him didn't know what it was worth; but he still paid enough that it was like a knife in the gut.

How many of the entire school terms she had taught were folded neatly into that bill. How much time. How much work.

She was so happy he was not alive for her to hear that.

Her eyes were swimming over all that work, pissed away by a dead fool, and clenched her fists again.

There was a whimper that fell from her lips for she squeezed so hard her blisters burst.

Solo set his plate down like he was going to get up, but stopped himself as she stepped back. He was kind enough to not meet her eyes this time. It would have split her open.

“Thanks for finally doing business with me,” she bit out, trying not to let her throat constrict shut. It hurt to talk.

“Thank you for the opportunity to, Mrs. Niima.”

He seemed uncomfortable to call her by that name again.

But it was her name. It would be for the rest of her life.

She waved him off with a closed fist, pus running down her wrists, keen on returning to her wagon and bandaging her hands.

Thank God her sleeves were rolled up this time she did business. It took her a minute to realize she had gotten exactly what she proposed.

And there was no win in it for her. She had been so focused on doing this, she had forgotten that the only thing she got out of it were soothed feelings.

What an idiot she had become.

“Axle grease,” he called out quietly.

She turned back to him.

“What?”

“For those hands. Unless you have a balm, axle grease will soften them up.”

She nodded curtly.

"Thank you, Mr. Solo."

Her back was already to him. Walking away. Horrified. Humiliated. 

He had been planning to outbid.

She was a fool. She was a fool. Her fucking pride. All because she couldn't crawl because she was already down. She might have been seated on a plush couch in Oregon, eating cherries and embroidering all day or whatever the hell rich ladies did; because there were rumors about Solo that she had never heard and apparently they were true. 

He had probably bought a $200 horse before without driving a household to ruin.

On the trail, she would be lucky to $75 for a riding horse.

The only bargain she could make with herself was to let her face crumple when turned away from him, but it didn't feel better to cry, it just made her sink into her shame like quicksand. Her legs shook as she walked.

"Mrs. Niima?"

She had to find something else to answer to or she would go insane.

"Rey!"

That sounded better.

Something collided into her shoulder, her jaw, her cheek. A flat plane. 

Fuzzily, she realized it was the ground, before her head went dark.

 

Chapter Text

“This is between us.”

The first thing Rey heard when she woke up was accompanied by a strange picture: she first saw Rose, looking nervous, but it clearly wasn’t Rose who had spoken.

Nor was it Finn.

She glanced at her surroundings through half-lidded eyes. From the light, it was still midday, but filtered through a wagon cover. She was on a pallet in a prairie schooner, not hers, and not Rose’s, but one she hadn’t been inside yet.

Her face was wet.

A cool cloth immediately answered the question she was too dizzy to formulate about that, dotting her sweaty brow before dipping back into a bowl of water.

Quite the nursemaid, that voice.

“If it were anything more than exhaustion, you’d get no promise out of me,” Rose replied evenly. “And if there’s a turn for the worse, I’ll kill you myself.”

Something underneath Rey’s head moved.

It wasn’t a pillow under her head; but legs. Legs that came with the body that spoke, that dotted the cold cloth along her flushed face.

Not Rose’s legs.

A hand curled around her head, smoothing back her loose hair. Patient as a mother. When had her hair been taken down?

She could only feel grateful in the wake of her confusion. Her scalp certainly felt cooler for it.

And the hands felt nice.

“She’ll be fine. I just wanted a second opinion to verify it.”

“Funny way to get one, dragging her here, then running to the other side of camp for help. Very secretive of you.”

The voice above her head cleared his throat. She knew who it was; but looking up at him meant giving away the ability to have this conversation in front of her; so Rey would wait.

“They’d think she couldn’t handle the work of one man; she already proved she can do that. She’s just handling the work of a man and a woman, which is more than they could ever do.”

His large hand was not touching her for comfort anymore, he was petting her combed-back hair.

There was a cluster of worried voices at the outside of the wagon: Rose ducked.

Hit the deck and hid like it was a raid.

Rey almost sat up in panic, but locked her body instead because of Solo’s hands on her.

He seemed to notice the movement; but made no mention of it.

His hands did curl protectively around her skull, but he was so calm: they must have not been in any danger.

Why did she feel that way, her head in his lap, as though assured so by him completely?

“Where is Rose?”

Rey heard Finn’s voice.

She had half a mind to call out:  right here,  but the look Rose gave Ben, her tongue frozen by whatever exchanged between them, kept her silent as well.

Poe spoke clearly beside the wagon.

“She must have wandered off. These things happen. We won’t move forward until we find her.”

Rose looked pained, curled up under the seat of the wagon, but she didn’t end whatever game Solo was playing by revealing herself to her concerned husband outside.

Rey had never fainted before; did re-entering the world always feel this confusing after fainting? She could not make sense of what was happening around her.

“I can’t do this to Finn for much longer, even if I  am  safe,” Rose hissed.

A cool cloth pressed to her flushed cheek once more.

“Just buy her a little more time to wake up.”

“Why can’t we just tell Poe? He’ll understand that this is a lot for her to handle.”

“Because if she shows weakness, she is in danger.”

Rose did not look convinced, but clearly Solo had to convince her to get her to cooperate:

“Sometimes authority isn’t always right, Rose. It isn’t fair. We need to make executive decisions.”

“Didn’t you used to work in a  bank?”

“Never mind that. Just...imagine how much harder they will run her if they think she can be knocked off the road?”

“You’re showing an awful lot of concern, Mr. Solo.”

“I care more about this woman getting to Oregon than I do myself.”

Rose was quiet; hushed by some romantic sensibilities. She completly fell for it.

Rey wanted to groan. Chivalry made so many women weak.

There was a few minutes of silence, listening to the search for Rose intensify. But Rose was kind; it quickly became too much for her to bear.

“It looks like she's coming to. I can’t cover for you any longer, I’m sorry. I'll try and stall.”

Rose jumped out the wagon as though the lie itself was a blazing fire.

“Finn?”

“Rose?!”

“I fell asleep in the grass. Sorry. Were you looking for me?”

As she walked towards her husband, gone from their sight, her voice was high with the anxiety of lying.

But she kept their secret.

Rey felt Solo breathe easier.

“Isn’t it rude to eavesdrop?”

She went tense, head still rested to his thigh.

He was merely murmuring curiously at her.

She spat back:

“Isn’t it rude to talk about people like they’re not there?”

She swiveled onto her back. Her face still felt hot.

His fingertips brushed over her cheek.

“I do think this is sunburn,” he informed her gently, “I thought you were overheated.”

“Will you tell them that I swooned for you, Solo?”

What perfect blackmail. Her weakness for him to hoard. Information that was only his; when would he pull out that she was unfit for the trail?

She knew. Whenever it suited him.

He looked down at her, jumpy as a rabbit.

She cleared her dry throat. “Will you tell them that I am too weak to make it when I become too much of your burden?”

He couldn’t answer her. He just dabbed that water along her jaw, her cheek.

“You are a wild one, Widow Niima.”

“Just as long as you lasso me to drag me to goddamn Oregon…”

“I just want it to be your weakness to protect,” he said, staring down at her as she stared up. They both should have focused on getting her head out of his lap. But they did not; mutually.

His hat was off. She could see more of that face in the bright midday light, filtered so it in itself was not blinding.

“Rose...Rose took care of you. She will defend your side of things if you need to take this as an excuse to rest. No one has to know this happened, but she is there if you would like to tell them.”

She swallowed.

The sun trickled in from small gaps in the wagons bonnet.

“It’s our little secret,” she paraphrased, narrowing her eyes at him.

“Hmm.”

He looked away from her.

She sat up, and her eyes locked on a strange object stacked amongst his things.

So this was the inside of his wagon. His possession were sparse, utilitarian. But he’d planned well for the journey; packed in unsentimental fashion.

Except for an urn rested on a chest of drawers.

She pointed to it.

“Widower Solo?”

She didn’t know why her voice sounded so wrought in asking this from him.

Solo shook his head, following the gesture with slow, shifty eyes.

“My grandfather.”

“Oh.”

Her head swayed when she sat up. Poe was whistling from the head of the train, they only had a few minutes until they had to keep going onward.

“Rose is going to drive your team for the afternoon. Here, drink some water.”

She wanted to refuse; but could only nod with all the blood rushing out of her head.

She drank what he gave her. Water trickled down her chin. She was fuzzy, clumsy still, from fainting.

She felt like she'd been asleep a thousand years. 

“How long was I out?”

“Only a few minutes. You are exhausted though. Go easy on yourself.”

“Right, boss,” she took a sharp, angry breath, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Niima…”

She looked down at her hands, clawed into the wagon bed at the mention of the name.

She listened to him breathe, seated so close to her, and the filtered sunlight maybe the outside seem cruel and harsh in comparison to this cramped, dusty space. 

She back looked at him, to excuse herself for they had no more time, he made a curious gesture.

Granted, it was after a few moments of both of them staring, neither of them moving.

They both looked at each other for a long time before Solo lifted his hand and tapped his index finger to his lips.

Her breath came and went with his.

She stared at that finger tapping until she realized what it meant. 

And in a flash of motion that even surprised herself; she was lifting herself out of the wagon to leave him alone.

Still waiting for his kiss.

 

 

Chapter Text

He approached her wagon at sundown.

Not to be outdone, he was not empty-handed, just as she was the first time they attempted to do business.

Her shoulders sagged at the realization she would not have to cook tonight.

He brought food.

“Counter-offer:”

He stood there with a stewpot in his hands.

She groaned as she pulled herself away from the water she used for washing.

She had less laundry to do since her husband had died; which was nice. A definite perk. Mostly delicates and trying to get dust out of her bedding.

It went in a specific order; washing herself first, quickly, a rag passing over the parts that got sweatiest. Then the heated water was divided into two halves: the first left for her clothes. Then dishes.

But right now, she was on step one; and a quilt draped across the backs of two chairs was not enough to feel secure from the place she had crouched to do so. She always did this part quickly, one specific zone of herself at a time so not everything was out all at once. It was just her skirt lifted, stocking rolled down, to get her other leg when he approached.

Under her arms, her legs, her hips were still wet from where she had re-dressed. There were crescents of darker patches in the fabric of her dress, noticeably so under her breasts, but she wasn’t indecently exposed.

“I happened to be in the process of bathing, Mr. Solo.”

She wasn’t anymore. And even saying so seemed to drag it back to a topic they could have completely avoided if she had pretended it had never happened.

Her skirt was already back in place, smoothed down over her crouching lap.

She herself wasn’t sure why she even brought it up.

“Just a whore’s bath, Mrs. Niima,” he replied, and she whipped around on him.

Shocked again, by the things that could slide out of that shy mouth. Speechless. 

Even though that was basically what she was doing.

She was dressed. Why did he make her feel that she wasn't?

He kept at his winning streak: though she didn't appreciate his inability to ever quit while he was ahead. “Though even if you’re not naked, that’s hardly advisable unguarded.”

The goddamn nerve of this man.

Her teeth clenched.

“It would seem I’m out of options for that:”

She lifted the gun that had been rested by her foot this entire time into the air.

“And I happen to be armed, Mr. Solo.”

He smiled, as if proud of her.

“Glad to hear it. You never know who could sneak up on you at a time like this.”

He set down the stewpot and pulled something out of his pocket.

She glared at him as he held up a length of lead-line. Higher quality than her own, by far, but also longer.

A gift for the horse.

“I’ll trade you this if I get to run the stallion once in the morning and once at night until you sell it.”

The to me was tastefully omitted.

She stood all the way up, the quilt like the backdrop of a child’s personal theater around her waist, and crossed her arms.

“So you can steal it?”

“No.”

“So you can charm it so it’ll only answer to you?”

“No.”

His tone was too innocent. She blew her sweaty hair out of her eyes.

She should probably wash her face too.

“That’s not a fair trade.”

Annoyed, she dunked the cloth back into the water. It was going to get cold if they kept talking.

And if he must insist on being here.

She scrubbed the rag over her brow.

His tone was entirely too reasonable:

“It’s a good one, for you.”

She shook water out of her eyes.

“It’s not even a trade. I have to give you something.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Do you?”

And he looked at her for too long, and far too boldly.

Did she?

She stared back and hardened her jaw. Hair dripping like a drowned rat around her face.

I am not yours, Ben Solo. Don’t you dare.

She stuck out her hand first.

“If you insist on being cheated.”

“I must, in this case, insist.”

She jerked her head towards where the stallion was tied down for the night. Water whipped from the ends of her hair in the same direction.

“Your Christian act of charity for the night awaits.”

And went about scrubbing the back of her neck. Droplets slid down her back; that felt strangely good after a day of feeling overheated; by first exhaustion and then by Rose’s inquisitive stare for an entire evening of driving.

He slid past her as cool and calm as a snake:

“You’re thinking of the wrong man there. Again. May I?”

He motioned towards the stallion.

Looking at her for his permission.

The sun was close to gone now: the spots of her dress that still clung wetly to her skin made her shiver.

“You forgot flowers,” she blurted out instead of answering the question in his eyes.

He looked confused, at a loss, and like he genuinely believed he had forgotten something.

She mopped off her sweaty neck.

“For your sweetheart,” she nodded at the horse.

Solo cleared his throat as he stepped over to the massive beast.

He extracted a handful of oats from his pocket.

So he was a courteous suitor after all.

He was too busy coaxing the horse to eat from his palm to admit the state of his planning. But it was deliberate, and clear.

She waited patiently for him to lose a finger.

The thing bit like a wasp. Solo was plain crazy.

But oats were enough to tame the devil, apparently: make him eat out of the palm of Solo’s hand.

“Gentle as a lamb,” he declared, stroking that white star that Rey still had dreams about shooting straight through.

The stallion seemed to take to him.

Her stomach soured.

"Come here," he implored, not looking away from those large black eyes.

He stood further back than she expected him to just to feed it: to be completely visible, she realized.

Reluctant, she drew nearer. 

"He's still tied. You can come closer."

There was a heavy, dragon-like breath from the beast. She didn't like that at all. Instinctively, she moved closer to 

He took her hand by the wrist.

She tried to whip it free of his grasp, but he seemed an expert of gentle but unbreakable holds. He wasn't hurting her; but it scared her more that it was also clear he wasn't letting go.

"Just be gentle, go slow."

And he nudged her hand against the soft nose.

The warmth of the horse's breath tangled with her fingers. She felt sick, and afraid. It was several hands taller than she was. Her throat quivered, she almost yelped.

Solo had filled her hand with oats.

"He'll bite," she hissed.

Solo was right behind her. Interlacing his fingers with hers from underneath to open up her palm.

Her hand in his palm.

"Flat-handed. Careful."

His other hand curled around her elbow. She couldn't bolt if she wanted to.

She wanted to so bad.

That huge mouth nudged into her palm. She tensed up like a corpse; but Solo was right behind her, crooning to the horse-

-maybe to her-

- to be calm, and she swallowed down the panic if only to prevent the thing from rearing at the distressing noises and motion she wanted to cause by fleeing.

"He likes you more already."

"Let me go," she hated her quiet, mousy voice, "I don't like this."

Her palm was clean. The oats were gone.

"Flat fingers," he reminded her, "lower your hand."

And he used his hands to back her up slowly. 

She was shaking, vaguely remembering she had come when he asked and still not knowing why.

He was unspooling the lead line.

"You did well."

She pulled away from him, overcome. She did not want him to see her face. Still spiraling with her fear and her amazement.

Her trust in him violated. Her trust in him proven. Her trust in him not supposed to be there in the first place.

She as a woman had faith in doubt.

Kindness always has a price. As long as food and shelter did; there was nothing on this earth that was free.

Exhausted, she walked over to the stewpot rested in the dirt. There was a smell coming from it that she deemed edible. She served herself from the bowls and utensils in her own wagon. Her body feeling trembly and newborn from her wet skin.

Before she ate, she fetched herself a blanket to sit by her fire and watch that horse in the last of the light.

Draped it over her shoulders and dug in.

As a cook, she had honed her skill to the passable side of decent. A wife's cooking. Tolerable. 

He was about on that level: but the ways in which someone becomes deaf to their sense of taste when they are cooking for only one person. A little off on the amount of salt, of how long potatoes should be cooked.

Tolerated instead of tolerable.

It was fine. She wouldn’t spit it out.

She gestured to her serving with a spoon the first time he glanced at her since he made her touch that thing.

“Have you actually come to poison me?”

Solo merely furrowed his brow at her, confused, before he was distracted again. He wiped sweat off his brow, finally looking away from the horse trotting circles around him.

The damn thing actually looked happy. She didn’t know animals could. Dogs maybe. Smug, sleeping cats. But this horse was finally running, and she could tell it was nudging the line of what Solo could handle. His arms were tensed, locked, and he was being careful on how he maneuvered himself to let it trot that circle around him.

Satisfied, she went back to eating, knowing that he might have been bluffing on his own control of the beast.

Wouldn’t be her problem much longer.

She didn’t know how to feel when she finished her dinner. It was too dark for him to keep going. Too dark for anything else but talking.

But he didn't.

Solo tied the horse back up, and having done what he came to do for the night, took the dish and left the lead line and left her alone with nothing but a nod.

 


 

Just because footsteps could be Solo’s footsteps didn’t make her sleep any easier.

She sprung awake a fair number of times, waiting for him to reveal himself to her so she could get back to sleep.

But it wasn’t that easy.

It was near dawn when she finally felt her true right to be annoyed with him.

She’d had a husband: it was common courtesy to tell the person that you’ve woken up to go back to sleep and that everything was fine.

She was sleeping on her belly this time when she heard voices. Cussing, she pushed herself up on her elbows and promptly hit her head on the damn wagon bed again. Her eyes squeezed shut as she barely kept herself from yelping.

Another bump.

Cussing again, with more voracity, she slid out from under the schooner, pulled a shawl around herself, and stumbled blindly in the direction of the talking.

Gun in hand.

Bold of her.

She really must have thought herself some grand hero, extracting herself from safety and thrusting herself in the direction of the noise.

But no good conversation ever happened at this hour.

She kept her pace quiet, slow, and careful: no one needed to know that she was awake too.

Hux’s wagon held a flickering light. A candle, not a fire.

She wasn't surprised by this. As much as she didn't like the man, it was unnerving to have a member of the party so ill. Rose had whispered to her it was likely he would not make it. Death hovered around his schooner like a living thing, a snake squeezing around the little source of light until it was choked out.

Maybe it was just the unlucky woman who was volunteered to nurse him. Still awake, making conversation with a dying man.

Perhaps his last rights.

But it wasn’t.

She saw him even from a distance.

She'd know the odd slant to his shoulders when he spoke to another person anywhere.

He never could have stood upright in that wagon, he was too tall, but he stood on the ground looking in, his face illuminated.

She could not hear much. His voice was too thunderous and soft for great distance.

Hux had a voice that moved like a knife, never victim of that problem; and it pricked her for stepping too close.

“As sweet as it is to watch you develop tender feelings for the first time in your life, you’d better watch yourself around the girl. You watch yourself or she’ll have poisoned you too.”

Rose had implied it, with the mention of sweethearts whispering in the night.

He himself had implied it, to Rose.

His hands had implied it.

Now Hux: who couldn’t notice anything further than the nose on his own face.

His face didn’t betray any emotion in the dim light. But the threat felt more for her than it was for him. Even if Hux thought she slept unaware in the lonely wagon across camp.

Shivering, she stepped back. Away from the conversation as if away from the source meant away from her fear.

Those oversized boots crunched in the gravel.

Solo’s eyes followed her.

As would her fear.

She almost tripped when those eyes landed on her face.

His expression didn’t move. He kept very still; gave no clue that he had seen her.

But her soul knew it.

He looked down at the dirt.

Thought carefully about his next words. Seeming to sense they were for her benefit.

“I don’t need some other man’s woman,” he said finally, his eyes flickering up into the schooner as if to say this was a conversation between men. 

Shutting her out.

The sentiment still traveled to her just fine.

It shouldn't have hurt. She knew as much; had said as much when she offered herself to him.

But it still hurt. Even if she didn't want to let it.

He looked back at Hux as he said it without flinching.

Excusing her to the privacy of darkness to slip back into; her face burning.

 


 


The noises in the night only yielded one answer:

She sensed those boots crunching towards her not long after.

She was not asleep.

She would not be for a while.

Rey was thinking; but it didn't seem to yield a single thing to do. Because it wasn't a problem one could solve by doing anything.

She wasn't sure it was a problem at all.

The night was so silent they could have been the only two people on earth. It was easy for her to hear the voice clear itself when it was just beside her wagon:

"Sometimes we lie for the things we want, Niima."

And the soft admittance curled around her neck and constricted.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was hard to decipher what Solo could possibly want.

She knew what a man could want from her.

Her usefulness. Her ability to work, to earn.

None of those things Ben Solo needed; secretively moneyed as he was.

She also knew what one would not want.

Her coarseness. Her stubbornness. She wasn’t a virgin: if a man weren’t married yet he’d hardly get excited about going to bed with her every night.

She knew what her husband wanted. It was easy because she'd never be able to give it to him; sighing Jess into her hair as he rutted into her.

The rest was simple. Dinner on time, for her to earn more than she spent, and no complaining.

Sometimes it felt like all that he wanted was to make her feel small.

She gave that almost willingly, to make it easier, to swallow her pride and fold down and let him have this if he needed it so much. He was not a smart man, not enough to prick into the reaches of her mind to see himself how she saw him. She carried that like a flame inside herself. He wouldn't see through the ash.

Solo kept wanting to. Kept poking the embers. Kept commenting on the spark. Was it to take that last piece out of her grasp, have her offer it up willingly, to stomp under his boot and do what a lesser man could not?

What the hell did Solo want from her?

Did it matter to her if she ever knew?

 


 

There was not much time to wonder about Solo after the wagon axle cracked in a clean break.

That became all Rey could think about, amidst everything that happened, before she cried out again for the first time since her husband fell from the stallion.

Snapping his neck in the same kind of clean break as the support under the wheels.

 


 

It was almost too easy a day.

It happened, well, it happened when they were resting too. Of all things.

Solo was off running the horse. She was eating in the grass with Rose and Finn. Feeling like she could breathe for a moment.

And the fucking children were throwing rocks.

Even though it was only the six of them involved: they were always the seven brats to Rey. Spiritually branded for all eternity, even though that last one was in a cradle in a wagon gurgling at nothing but its own motherless existence when this happened, she would curse that seventh child along with the rest of them with every breath she took.

The seventh for killing its mother.  So she wasn’t alive for those children to mind them to prevent this from happening.

Rey cursed the baby and the other six and the father and was going to c ut off his goddamn cock in his sleep for siring that seventh that killed the mother of the six others it had made so this day of her accursed life could go straight to hell.

But she was pretty much numb to anything but her cursing when she stared at the broken wagon axle in front of her.

Snapped as easy as her husband’s neck.

The break was of course, caused by her resting oxen charging off because some six motherless children, mother killed by the seventh, sired by a fool, and not minded by that same fool and same dead mother, had been throwing rocks again.

She wanted to laugh.

No matter how careful you are. No matter how strong you seem.

Your wagon was still purchased by a fool and can snap apart like anything.

Nothing is promised. Not by God.

Just death.

She sifted the dirt of her husband’s grave in her pocket as the wrecked wagon spun tipped, useless wheels. Stuck in a gully.

It all happened so fast. Before she even knew it was her wagon. The oxen made a break for it, scared by the children, and the wagon tipped.

Those spinning, belly-up, moving wheels now mocking her.

Now that the oxen had wrecked, things were quieter. Everyone was in shock. Finn and Poe were wrangling the team. Helping her. Trying to: helpless thing that she now was.

"You could have been killed."

A hand cupped the back of her neck. She felt a gentle push, like a curling motion, and turned to meet the chest that took the impact of her fury willingly.

Solo held her so no one would see her tears. Shushed her as the panic set in.

"I wish I had been," she said it in a way that she believed it to be just a thought, a terrible thought, but he stirred like he was in her mind with that awful thing she said.

He was so massive, his body made for good privacy.

She felt him swallow, stroking the back of her neck, and pretending she was not sobbing. She let those tears fall, cuddled under his arm.

They were only know by their touch against the skin of his throat.

 


 

“I often wonder what curse has beset upon you, Niima.”

She was sitting at the edge of the gully. Alone.

The first time she felt this way; it was almost a relief. Her husband was gone. She would move forward on her own terms, could move forward. Did.

She had watched the upturned wheels for long after they eventually stopped spinning.

The train would carry her to the first place they could leave her; just like he husband’s corpse.

She couldn't even look at him.

“Hush,” she dug her heels into the dirt, staring down the slope underneath her.

“What are you even doing up there?”

She closed her eyes and tilted her face up to the setting sun instead of facing him below.

“I’m thinking.”

He seated himself in the dirt beside her.

They were both empty-handed.

“About what?”

She squinted her eyes shut tighter. She rushed out her response so flatly that it was clear it might have been a lie:

“I’m just thinking.”

It felt like a lie. Her mind was racing, but thoughts weren’t building into plans. They were just racing. Seven children. Men and their stupid cocks. The fucking oxen.

He cleared his throat.

“I’ve done some thinking myself.”

She tried not to let tears fall.

“You hitch a ride with Finn and Rose to the next town. Liquidate. Get yourself ready for the next train to pass through, beg for passage alongside them.”

She swallowed.

It felt good to let him do the thinking. Just anyone else for once.

“Maybe they take you on. You continue the trail with strangers.”

Rey nodded.

“Maybe you have to wait a while until some guide agrees to. A single woman alone, many would be skeptical. By then, if anyone takes you on, it will be dangerous going; if you leave much later it’ll be close to winter when you arrive.”

She kept nodding.

“Or,"

Rey actually sighed. She wasn't sure why. She wasn't thinking. Her brain was moving to fast everything was burning up inside it.

"From the next town, you go back East.”

She shook her head automatically. There wasn't anything back there for her.

Solo cleared his throat.

“Or, by providence of God, you stay on with us.”

His tone was too casual. He waited a beat too long.

“Please don’t mock me,” she whispered finally.

He nodded in turn. Seemed satisfied to have her full attention.

All the nodding might have made it seem like she wasn’t even listening at all.

“You marry me.”

She closed her eyes. Took a deep breath.

He tried again, clearing his throat:

“Would you like to marry me?”

She opened them.

Instead of answering:

“I keep going. I get there on time. You have your horse.”

There was something so bleak about that. After all that work; she would begin the journey exactly how she started it. 

And yet, her tired body screamed to be carried. Just this once.

In the end it did not matter what Solo wanted from her.

She’d give it just to get out of here.



Chapter Text

Nobody made her watch when they righted the wrecked wagon for her.

Making it ready for her to dig through for her belongings in the morning.

No one thought Niima’s burial would be so painful that she couldn't watch. And it wasn’t.

This was.

Rose distracted her by making a molasses stackcake for breakfast. Finn snuck out and organized the effort so she wouldn't have to know what they were doing. She had not seen so much as a child’s foot or finger in the last twelve hours.

Sedated by plenty to think about for her impending nuptials: she had been somewhat able to sleep in the daybed next to Rose the night before.

Not sleep. Not easily, as a newly-engaged woman.

But her brain was occupied.  

And she was half convinced she was going to pace a ring into the earth instead of sleeping that night.

Lying still was enough. 

And there wasn’t much left to think about: she and Solo would be married at the next town.

The preparations for the wedding were hasty; and the wagon her husband bought would be left for scrap on the side of the trail.

Hux was still too ill to perform the ceremony, and Rey was half-suspicious he would have them married to a set of oxen instead of each other with his schemes; they would wait until the next town. They had to do so anyway for their union to have the paperwork sent back East to be notarized.

Making it all legal and proper.

The eyes of God didn't bother her so much. She had a few words for him.

She didn’t know who the legal binds were more uncomfortable for, her or Solo; but were mutually insisted upon.

It would be much time. Spending her days with Solo and her nights under “careful” watch of her married chaperones until they wed.

Rose implied to her that, for matters of business, she would not limit their privacy.

But her knowing smile implied any matters. Which was unnecessary.

Had they all forgotten Rey was hardly a virgin?

Ben himself helped her pack up her meager belongings from the wagon before setting off. Poe gave them an hour; very generous.

It was careful going with a split axle under her feet, a rupture through the floor, but Solo stayed in one place and lent out a balancing hand when she needed it.

She allowed him to raid the supplies, but when he dug through the equipment her husband had packed, he snorted to himself as though laughing.

She was elbow deep in the few remaining saved pieces her first wedding’s china set; her jaw tense.

There wasn’t one thing she really felt like salvaging: it just felt wasteful not to look and truly ask herself one last time.

She almost broke a plate in her hands at another breathy laugh from him.

“What?”

The laughing irked her: even though she knew firsthand what a bad planner this man had been. She knew they were ill-prepared.

Already, she knew what Solo was thinking.

He shook his head. Clearly, with the state that she was in, he was feeling obligated to be polite.

She would not hold her tongue.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s a bit big for a schooner for two people,” he observed dryly, “A lot for the team to carry.”

“I’ll fit into yours,” she was sorting possessions like she was a maid, packing things that did not matter to her, for a different woman with a different life.

It all felt meaningless.

He considered her.

“How much you want to dump, how much you want to sell?”

“Whatever you feel like carrying,” she shrugged up at him.

He propped his arm on one of the overhead bows, his head nudging the wagon bonnet until he crouched.

“I have very little with me, Niima. Whatever you want. Even just to see what price you can get for it.”

She set the plate down pathetically.

Maybe she was curious about that much.

“That would suffice.”

He nodded, going back to silently judging her husband’s wagon. She bit back the defensiveness that rose her hackles: she didn’t buy any of this shit.

Ben suppressed the next sound, but he couldn’t control his face from going very pale and grave at the number of guns hanging from the bows. As though the count finally registered.

He was horrified at the discovery.

“Did he plan on blowing your head clean off?” she heard him mutter, and she shivered.

“He liked them.”

“These could have misfired.”

She closed her eyes, her throat tightening. When Finn made her check if they were loaded…

Some were.

She couldn’t speak.

She had survived closer calls, but the fear in Ben’s voice made her blood run cold.

This was her fool. Her God damned fool.

May he rot in Hell.

“What’s done is done,” she thinned her lips, the chest of drawers in front of her suddenly wildly fascinating.

She took a deep, steadying breath and held up a pale green dress from the bundle of her first trousseau. It was sparse then.

And now-

This poor man would have a better outfitted bride if he wed a scarecrow.

“I was saving this for our arrival in California. If you would like me to wear it for the wedding, I can oblige you.”

He barely considered it. He was busy taking the bullets out of a pistol that rested had under the bench seat at all times. She assumed he’d do the same with all the rifles.

Rey kept digging with her free hand into the drawer, shaking the dress she held up in the other one in a clenched fist.

The poplin fluttered in her hand.

“New dress. Do you want me to wear it to the wedding?”

He shook his head. Such a casual choice for him. “Save it for California.”

“Alright.”

She was so glad he cared.

“Where’d he get the cash for this kind of armory?” he wondered aloud.

She did not want to talk about this.

He was staring at her like he wouldn't stop until she did.

Rey placed the folded dress on her lap. Something tickled her fingers inside the drawer, she tilted her head in wonder at-

-there it was-

She then held up a lace camisole, along with the rest of a set of folded underthings, a relic from her last wedding.

“I haven’t worn these since my first wedding night. They were too fine for any other occasion. I was saving them...I didn’t know what for.”

There was the undercurrent of an offer there, and one that was not lost on him.

Solo finally looked away from the guns and at the fluttering sigh of lace in her fist.

At least the worried expression melted off his brow.

It took him a moment to respond. Wet his lips first.

“You wear those and I’ll buy you even nicer ones when we get there.”

She tried to hide the puff of pride his gravelly tone inspired from her.

“That settles it.”

As if on cue, the six little brats erupted out from under the wagon, giggling madly.

Maybe they caught a glimpse of camisole. Or heard adults talk about dirty things.

She was wondering why the Hell they were anywhere near her…

Ben has hanging half out of the wagon, bellowing:

“I’ll whip all six of you if even one of you comes near Mrs. Niima again.”

Solo looked like he meant it when he withdrew back into the wagon.

She just shook her head.

He was on the better side of a foot taller than her. Threatening children on her behalf. She had been a schoolteacher; if he’d seen what she’d done to some young men’s knuckles with a ruler she was sure even he would look cowed.

And her impossible amusement dropped what might had been a laugh, a series of soundless, breathy shudders. Like she was laughing with them.

As modest as she was, even Rey found this a bit ridiculous. It wasn’t like they all saw her breasts.

He just looked so grumpy.

"Your late husband-"

He tried to continue.

“Now that the children have gone,” she found herself saying. It was an abrupt tone. He furrowed his brow.

She tried to keep her features calm. Smooth. Relaxed. 

She dared not say pretty; not of herself.

Looking up at him from her seat on the floor. Folding the lace set into a neat square.

He missed her meaning.

“I’ll chase them down if you like.”

“Ben,” she found herself shaking her head. “Come here.”

He wobbled over the bad axle, crouching beside her.

She gestured to her lap. He'd liked them from far away. She lured him closer.

“These were actually pretty cheap when I bought them,” she fanned out some of the lace. “Schoolteacher’s salary. But they're nice.”

He cleared his throat.

“For your wedding?”

She nodded.

She didn’t know why this wasn’t a conversation she saved for that night; God knows she wouldn’t know what to say then. She felt odd, like she was wasting something she had meant to say later, at a better time, but also testing the timing of right now.

He just stared at the fabric in her lap. Hands twitching to move. She took a deep breath and took his hand, flattening it over the lacy strap. Pushing so hard that it did press into her thigh, unintentionally.

That made her flinch. 

He shivered, lifting his hand enough to be considered a gentleman. But less so when he strung that strap through his fingers.

“Just this over your shoulder?”

She swallowed. Her throat felt dry.

“Yeah,” the schoolteacher in her came out, made her correct her grammar, “yes.”

“What game are you playing, Niima?” he wondered aloud.

“Just...there’s not much here to excite you. Figured I’d need to keep you from changing your mind.”

He dropped the garment. Lifted his eyes from the lace to hers.

“I know you’re scared of me getting cold feet.”

He looked...strange. A lot of emotions. Like she had led him, knowingly, straight into a wall. Like he was dizzy from impact.

Angry. Mad at himself for falling for it.

Oddest of all: trying not to be angry at her.

Like she couldn't help but be what she was.

Whatever that meant to him.

Instead; reasoning with someone unreasonable. Someone scared.

Or like an animal he was trying to calm.

She kept silent.

“A lot hangs in the balance, doesn’t it?”

She flinched away. Cursing her own tongue for flirting. She’d never done that before; why was today the day she started?

She might never try it again.

If it meant she had to live up to the heat in his eyes right now.

She’d teased the bull.

He kept talking in that spooky, soothing voice of his. He didn’t need her answer. He read her pretty well on his own.

“But you didn’t answer my question.”

“What?” she finally replied faintly.

There were a lot of questions she had just answered.

He cleared his rough throat.

“The Armory.”

Oh, he saw right through that.

Damn it. Waste of a good diversion.

She sighed. Tossed the camisole into the pile of things to keep. Even if he ruined it.

Her excuse was petulant:

“He had money coming in. We had no children.”

Ben kept staring at her. Not letting her cut this off.

“What was his trade?”

“Farmer?”

She wished she didn’t say it like a question, but it was more like they wondered if he was one than he was one. Fools do not make good farmers. It was not a fertile marriage, in many respects.

Ben looked even less convinced that it was unspectacular for him to be so armed than before. Rey went about pulling her husband's clothes out of the dresser. They wouldn’t fit Ben, but maybe some socks and undershirts would be worth saving. She set the piles apart; what might fit and what definitely wouldn’t.

It felt better to be doing something as she told him:

“I worked even after the wedding. I was a schoolteacher…”

He was a banker, of course he knew a school teacher’s salary wouldn’t finance all this.

“I did sewing for a shop on weekends. I sold goods. I…”

Rey lowered her voice, “I did this and that. You know. For pocket money.”

“You sure lined his pockets,” Ben mused, un-cocking a shotgun and removing the shells from the chamber.

He thumbed the silver engraved action under the hammer. Custom. Expensive.

She'd paid for it.

“How long did you know I was trying to distract you?”

What a clumsy, vulnerable, stupid question.

He regarded her kindly.

“Why else would you flirt with me?”


 

Chapter Text

This was supposed to go the other way around.

Men were supposed to hover in the distance while the wife bedded herself down and waited. Men were supposed to stall and enter into the space of the bride, hunker down, and begin proceedings.

Brides were supposed to be lying there and ready.

Ben Solo instead lay alone on a bedroll in the mud under his wagon, waiting for his bride, and she was standing in the dark with a shawl thrown over her nice underthings because she did not know how to begin this.

Not ready.

Something came before the wedding.

Made the wedding night, the least of her concerns, become infinitely more terrifying.

She fisted her hands in the white skirt of her nightdress.

Rags were keeping the material from soiling.

But rags couldn’t salvage the evening she was supposed to spend with her husband.

It was not supposed to happen like this.

There was the practical side of her; and then there was the side that just didn’t like unpleasantness.

The obvious one usually won out. She had no room in her life for squeamishness. Rey had a high set of standards for unpleasantness: and there wasn’t much she couldn’t just grit her teeth, declare a nuisance, and bear.

That side was involved in the timing of the wedding.

And cursed her with the timing of her courses.

When she woke up the morning of with blood between her thighs; her squeamishness won out. She wanted to pull the covers of the daybed over her head and never come out.

Enough to almost make her bolt like a horse. If that stallion was any tamer she’d be on its back now, riding far away.

 


 

 

The wedding itself was a busy, unromantic day in Independence Rock. She and Solo had talked over their business dealings on the two days of driving over there. There was a plan they drafted together.

Her stomach turned for most of the day, but she could pretend, maybe it flattered him to pretend, it was nerves.

He was good at haggling. She had a price she had initially wanted, discussed carefully with him, and he managed to goose it up from their plans every time. Rey was so used to just trying to have things be fair when they would never be she did not appreciate the showmanship of a good salesman, and Ben Solo could barter.

It distracted from the knife-like sensation burrowing into her gut.

Maybe he meant to show her he was not careless with money, in his way. But they had a stack of bills he asked her to keep safe by the time they were ready to be married.

"You hold on to this," he had pulled her behind the small grocer's shop in Independence. She almost gasped when he pulled the money out in broad daylight, whipping her head over her shoulder to see if anyone saw, but he was slipping them carefully into her hand as if he was just giving her a love note.

She glared up at him.

"Don't lose it," he advised her, as if that was in any way a means to calm her frustrations. 

She bent to lift her foot out of he boot.

Put the bills into her sock.

And off they went to get married.

Scheduled like an afternoon appointment. Which it was, in a way.

She felt almost too dizzy to stand up when the vows were being exchanged in the afternoon. Half her life bundled up and sold even before then, whatever they could carry going to vendors and locals, and then the rest signed hastily over by contract to Ben Solo before they were supposed to be back to camp at sundown.

He had offered to put them up in an inn: and she might have taken it if not for her fear of ruining a night he had also paid for with her monthly spoiling things.

She did not need to worry about that as well.

It was like signing over a deed. A lot of paperwork.

In a way; that’s all they were doing. The legal holdings of the rest of her life.

Ben did give her one wedding present. A verbal one, at least.

It was a cold-faced judge who saw them, his nose upturned and his stomach swollen.

Ben took him on a short walk away from her as through to bribe him off to the side of the courthouse hall, citing nerves from Rey for false privacy. But his voice was loud and echoed clear for her to notice:

“...I’m a lifelong bachelor myself, and she’s been married before and knows how to run her own household. I’d feel like a damned fool for asking her to ‘obey’. Hell, I might even laugh that vow right out of the room, if she doesn't. She’s a wily one, you understand how they can be...”

His tone was companionable, bashful; so easily so from such a shy man that Rey felt her stomach knot.

Another salespitch.

He put on that act very well. Friendly, glad-handing. I know it’s a nuisance but can you?

She wondered about that all through the vows. The easy charm; like he'd knowingly turn it off the whole journey.

The word she feared most never came up.

That was all she could think about when he leaned down and kissed her. The judge omitted, at his own request, the vow to obey Ben Solo. 

So she never had to make it.

 


 

Outside the wagon, Rey rubbed her hands together. It was too cold to do this. She just didn’t know how angry he was going to be when she crawled in next to him and asked to reschedule. She was hardly sweet enough to soften the blow.

Ben, darling, my love, please don't hate me for asking to do this when I am out of my feeble condition...

“Niima?”

He'd been pretty patient. But even this wait for a virgin would have been concerning.

She shivered. That was enough to duck her head under the wagon bed. At least she'd be warm having this conversation.

“That’s not my name anymore.”

Solo was resting his head on the pillow, looking surprised she even showed up, a lantern glowing behind his head.

“Oh.”

She clambered down onto her knees. Stone-faced. If she tried to run away: he’d know by now. She gave away the element of surprise.

“But you call me Solo,” he seemed to wonder aloud, his hands on his belly splayed casually. Like they needed to be where she could see them.

He was Solo.

But now so was she.

He was still in his clothes.

"You going somewhere?" she bit out, raising her eyebrow.

He gestured to her nightclothes, worn with her boots.

"Are you?"

She did not break.

He sighed.

"I sleep with them on. Force of habit."

Rey nodded. Conversation. She could maybe regale him with her stellar conversation skills all night.

"You can come here now."

She took a deep breath.

“I am sorry...”

He seemed to take a deep breath at her tone.

“I am sure you are overwhelmed,” his tone was dry, as it was mocking of her emotionless face, “by feelings. If you would not like to do anything but sleep-”

She practically growled at his doting tone.

What if he dragged her back to the courthouse in the morning and said she couldn't uphold her end of the deal? Where would she be then?

She clenched her fists.

“I want this consummated, and legal, just as much as you do.”

He whistled, staring at the wagon bed about a foot above his own face.

“You temptress, you.”

“You would not want me tonight,” she looked at the spokes of the wheel instead of him. “That I can guarantee.”

He sat up a little. Intrigued.

“Is it a full moon? Are you transforming? When do you turn back into a human?”

“Ben.”

She glared at her own knee, her legs crossed in front of her. She couldn’t sit up, her head bowed, brushing the wagon bed above her.

Her throat swelled as she tried to find her answer.

For the first time she thought of her body.

Her sex felt tender. And yet it wasn’t a meek tenderness.

It was like just thinking about it soothed the cramping.

This was new. And she did not like it.

“Why do you think I wouldn’t want you?” he coaxed.

She bit down hard into her lower lip. Unable to look at him.

“It’s my monthly, Solo.”

If she died of shame at least this would all be over.

His brow furrowed for only a second. To his credit he smoothed it out for her.

“Lie down.”

She trembled for a minute until he took one of her tense hands, pulled until she gave an inch, and laid her out next to him.

From the way she came down onto the bed, her face was at his throat. His lips near the crown of her head.

“Rey,” he murmured quietly. Pondering.

She shut her eyes tight.

“Are you in pain?”

She shook her head.

“Good,” he rubbed a soothing hand over the curve of her hip. “You need anything?”

“I’m an adult woman, Solo.”

“I know, Solo,” he gave right back with a chuckle, “and it’s just...it’s just blood, correct?”

She lifted her face up at him.

“‘Just blood’?”

“I don’t give a shit about blood,” he was laughing to himself, not her. “It won’t hurt you?”

“No.”

She’d never tried it, but-

-the thought of something sliding inside her had those aching muscles arching like a cat craving a pet-

-he was tenderly touching her face.

"You are a strange man," she told him honestly. A little in awe. 

He shrugged.

“Let me kiss my wife,” he whispered, “let me see how she feels.”

She was his now. She obliged accordingly.

He might have made her skip the ceremonial vow but she knew how this worked.

He rolled on top of her, gently, and laid between those legs. She flinched.

“I- just-

He lifted off of her. She adjusted the rags underneath herself, the hem of her petticoat rested at her hips.

“It’s less work to wash them than the bedding,” she explained hastily. Then she pulled him back down.

Her boots weren't even off. She'd have to wash the bedding anyway because of those.

Why was she rushing?

Because this wasn’t law until he was inside her?

“Just blood,” he reminded her, “and I don’t care.”

“How much blood did you see working in a bank? -uh-”

Her eyes snapped shut when he rocked himself against her.

He had freed his cock from his trousers. Brushed against her more gently than she had anticipated. 

Those inner muscles bore down on themselves at the soft touch; tender, messy, and lush like rotting fruit.

She shivered when his lips met hers.

The kiss to seal their union had been dry and quick. He was slow now. Breathing into her. Opening her up.

“Feel good?”

“Huh?”

Her face flushed. This was too much attention. She did not want to have to do this much work for him.

“I’m not a virgin,” she reminded him, “it’s not going to hurt.”

He went still for a second. Seemed to contemplate telling her something.

Opted out.

She wasn’t sure if her fried brain could handle whatever he was going to say.

“Trust me on this one. We’re warming you up.”

“I’m ready.”

“Maybe I’m not,” he hedged back, opening up her thighs.

When that was done, he slipped the remaining edge of the shawl off her shoulders.

Just a lace strap over each one. Her breasts soft and shaped to the way she lay to the earth. Flat and puddled softly at her ribcage.

He kissed the strip of lace rested limp on her shoulder, slithering down to her neck.

“I like this,” he tugged the material at her waist. “You look so pretty.”

She went tense underneath him.

“You alright?”

Could he not allow her a moment of privacy while he made love to her? The lamplight made this unbearable.

“I’m fine,” she dug her heel into the ground, kissing him to distract, “stop asking.”

He didn’t return her kiss very easily. Maybe because her lips were too tight and her mouth didn’t give him much room to move. He’d been lusher; like he was licking the batter off a spoon.

His fingers went to unlace the strings at the bust of her camisole.

Her hands flew up to stop him.

“No.”

He drew away. Looking like a little boy told to stay inside on a rainy day.

“Why not?”

“I don’t like it.”

She was unmoving underneath him. She didn’t care how much it made her look ugly, and awful, or make him feel that he would rather bed a corpse.

He didn’t focus on convincing her otherwise. Because she wasn’t lying as still as she’d hoped.

Her ribs were seizing with anxious panting that was chuffing out of her nose.

“Alright,” he soothed. He went back to kissing her shoulder. Backing off.

“Stop trembling,” he finally sighed, sitting up off of her. “I can stop if you damn want me to.”

“Don’t you dare,” she snapped back at him. Mean.

Meaning it.

He lowered himself back over her. Nuzzling her throat.

Grunted.

“You have to help me here a little bit.”

“Huh?”

He sucked gently at her throat. “It’s got to be hard for me to put my cock in you.”

Rey just gaped at him.

“But when you look so enthralled by me, how can it not be ready?” he mused aloud, dipping to suck her earlobe into his mouth. "I know. I'm sorry."

She shivered. Closed her eyes and tried to relax. 

A sigh left her lips as he kissed on either side of the lace at her collarbones. 

That, that prodded him against her. Stiffer.

But he then groaned, eyes furrowed in focus.

She took a deep breath. Had hoped she would not have to do this again in her life.

But she was a married woman again.

“Rey,” he shook his head while her hand slid between them, “I was being a jackass, ignore me-”

His face fell into the curve of her shoulder when she wrapped a hand around him. He went back to sucking her skin in succession with his soft groans.

Him shaking so above her as she touched him...was kind of sweet.

At least Solo acted grateful for it.

“It would not suit to pretend like we are not married,” her hand worked his cock dutifully with half-hearted strokes, “we are married. We might as well act like it.”

He grunted when she rubbed his cockhead against her.

He was hard now.

“I’m not a virgin,” she looked up at him, wincing when she felt her blood slicken the feel of his cock against her, “but tonight, at least it’s easier for you to pretend.”

Deeming him ready, her heels dug into his ass to press him inside.

Ben looked dazed for a second, his open mouth hanging above hers.

She took him to the point she was used to. He was wider than her husband. Maybe her unenthusiastic touch to both men made that easier to ignore when he was in her hand. She shifted her hips to adjust.

The cramps did feel a little better; maybe she wasn’t crazy.

“You alright?” she volleyed back, and he looked pale-faced down at her.

“It’s not all the way-”

“Yes it is?”

She was stunned by her own defensive tone.

Her face flushed. He had to be bluffing.

His cheeks reddened.

“It isn’t-”

He pushed forward slightly, testing-

Something inside her cracked.

A surprised yelp escaped her lips. They had been so hushed up until this point that it was loud enough to spook them both.

And rang out obviously throughout camp.

She slapped her hands over her mouth, crying into her palms. Her entire face reddened.

Solo didn’t seem to know what to focus on. He dove for her, his hands in her hair, his lips on her tear-streaked cheek. Holding her close pushed him deeper inside, which made her whimper into her hands. The quieter she tried to be, the more she failed at it, and the worse she felt.

She was still trying to think of a damn soul who hadn't heard what came out of her mouth.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” he kept kissing her flushed skin, “Rey, please, please don’t be embarrassed.”

Her face twisted up. She could practically feel everyone wake up, alerted to her wedding night and her own goddamn cry of-

-what she wished was pain-

-and her husband was pleading with her to calm down like she was a maid having a conniption over her first cock.

"It's okay," he soothed, "I'm sorry."

It would have been so much better if this was pain. She could blame him for that.

She could only blame herself for what was making her shake underneath him.

Why was this lasting so goddamn long?

He tried to be reasonable with her, cradling her as he pulled out to thrust:

“Everyone here knows what I’m doing to you tonight.”

At being as practical as she was, Solo was merciless. 

He thrust back in. She took the same length of him as before, and he twisted awkwardly above her.

“It’s all the way in,” he said, kindly.

She stared up at his face in contempt.

He was obviously lying.

He had choked on telling her before to now be merciful.

She didn’t push it this time. Even though she wished that he would just pick one.

He seemed uncomfortable atop her. After her simpering, pathetic noise, she didn’t want to touch him any more than she had to, and he didn’t seem to want to make her. But his next awkward thrust nearly knocked her head into a wagon axle, so she had to cling onto his shoulders so his pelvis wasn’t just roughly shoving her through the dirt.

That made the roll of his hips slide just a little better against her.

Gently, to balance herself, her hands slid under his shirt.

Splayed themselves against the warm skin of his back.

When her forearms started to ache from their locked position, she slid them down, cradled at the base of his spine.

The touch did something to him.

He froze.

“Rey,” he pressed his lips to her temple, “Christ, Rey.”

She had never heard her name sighed so sweetly.

She flattened herself to the bed again. Closed her eyes.

Solo didn’t seem to know what to do. His eyes roamed her face, his thrusts slowing.

“Rey?” he repeated, “Did I do something…?”

She shook her head, hot tears flooding her eyes.

"What's wrong?"

He stopped. She cursed when he stopped.

“Um, please, not inside,” she mumbled. It was not why she was upset, but it helped to pull the focus from her own goddamn head.

She should have been smarter about that.

He blinked at her.

Sleepy looking.

Frozen in panic.

Trying to stop an oncoming train for her.

"Ben," she snapped, to jar him, "you can; just not inside."

He nodded, "Right, you're right."

Her hands slithered and wove together at the nape of his neck.

"I don't want a baby on the trail."

He nodded against her throat, dipping close.

"Touch me," he pleaded, "my back again."

She swallowed and ran her hands soothingly up and down the planes of his back. His pace stuttered.

From the way he buried his face in his shoulder, sucking her, he liked it.

That was good to know. To make this go faster next time.

Her stomach dropped.

Next time.

There was an intense pressure inside her, almost painful, when he rocked a few more thrusts inside her. But the heat of the act soothed that same burn. 

Then it was gone. 

She was empty again.

Something foreign wet against her thigh.

Not impossibly foreign. 

She shouldn't be surprised to see him pull out and spend onto the rags between her legs.

Maybe because it was against such a soft part of herself, or she herself was so swollen.

But she shivered without wanting to explain it to herself.

Solo went limp on top of her. Kissing her neck. Then along her jaw. Her lips, curiously, investigating.

She did not have the energy to kiss back. 

"Did you..."

He did not seem to know what to say.

She swallowed. "I'm fine."

That wasn't what he was asking.

"Did I hurt you?"

She shook her head. That much was true.

His weight pressed her down. Somehow, the sensation of being pinned soothed her. She stroked his trembling shoulders absently, sleepily. 

"I can do better-"

"There's no need," she lifted the rag from under her to wipe up the mess. Hesitantly, she rubbed the clean side of it over his soft cock. 

It was just blood; but it helped that he had not been disgusted in her. Anything else that happened tonight paled in comparison to that fear.

He nuzzled her, his face seeking the warmth of hers, as she cleaned them off.

She could feel shame radiating off of him like a fever. She didn't understand. She had shouted to alert half of camp when he was inside her; what did he care of how he performed to just her?

He protested when she climbed out from under the wagon to dispose of the rag scraps, fetching fresh ones. 

In the very still, quiet night, she knew she was not going to cry.

And that surprised her. She just felt calm.

Settled.

A little achey.

He lay, still and alone, on their bedroll when she returned. 

"Did you?"

"Did I what?"

He blinked at her. She took her place beside him.

He didn't cuddle up to her. Seeming to sense he should give her some space.

"Did you achieve...your pleasure...was well?"

He asked like he knew, but he foolishly wanted to hear it from her. It was obvious to her why she didn't. What the hell was he thinking of?

She reached to turn off the lamp. 

"I don't know what you're talking about. Women can't do that."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She ached when she woke up.

Solo, bear-like creature beside her, snored softly, peacefully, warming her face with every noisy breath.

She stared at the wagon bed above her in the hazy light.

Rey had not missed sleeping next to a man.

But she did sleep peacefully with one at her side.

Maybe because he stayed put instead of prowling around her wagon all night. Or the soft snores drowned out the sound of footsteps.

Solo’s lips filled the shell of her ear at the very thought.

“How do you feel?”

He was still sloppily half-awake; clumsy and soft.

“Married.”

She lifted her shoulder to nudge his face away from her. It felt funny when he did that; the raspy sound of his sleepy voice, the way an arm came around her stomach.

He sighed.

Swallowed.

Eyes sliding from her annoyed face, down her neck, and settled on her chest.

Her breast, firmer in the morning, had slipped out of the neckline of her camisole.

With a quick gasp, she lashed out to cover it back up, but Solo -Ben- was quicker. Caught her wrist with his big hand.

“Didn’t let me see them last night.”

His tone was awfully inquisitive. He kept his eyes on hers.

She still writhed to be free, to cover up. He didn’t take the hint.

“Yep,” she replied, as though he was asking confirmation if it had happened. Which he clearly already knew. Not the obvious question there: why?

Rey’s jaw set in determination, struggling to free herself. There was no give under his grip.

He raised his eyebrows. Shook his head, “I’m not looking.”

Like he was a gentleman, and this was between her and her own breast.

His eyes bore into hers fierce enough to flood her skull.

Cupped her chin with his free hand. “I’m not looking. We’re just talking.”

“Kind of seems like you’ve got a gun on me, Solo,” she jerked, her temper rising only in a flush that stained her cheeks.

“Same goes to you, Solo,” He kissed her cheek, nudging back up to her ear, “But you like it right here, only when I’m soft with you.”

His teeth kissed the edge of her lobe, making her shiver. She tried to struggle again.

“Not gonna touch you if you don’t like it,” he pulled away, whispering softly. “Just let me see.”

Shame-faced, arm flung over her eyes, she lay back. Not the whole curve, but her nipple, exposed in the sunrise.

She felt him breathe as heavy as his snoring. She covered her face in her hands, peeking through her fingers when he moved suddenly.

He propped himself on an elbow, hovering over her and her naked breast. There was a shift down of his free hand, not touching her, but himself.

Looking at her.

Stroking his cock.

Very gently looking into her eyes first.

She braved a glance down, he was hard. Already harder than he was for most of last night. She held her breath, waited for him to part her thighs and roll on top of her, but he made no move to do so.

In a lightheaded realization; she figured out he was going to find his satisfaction with his hand.

Had she been so awful last night that he-

“Just want to look at you,” he seemed to read her mind, “so pretty. Look at that flushed little nipple. You blush there too.”

She didn’t mind this, actually. Less work for her. He seemed plenty satisfied.

There was a quiet few moments of just that. Looking at each other. He would glance occasionally at her chest, but then back up...and then those looks just in her eyes got longer.

Even if she was just confused underneath him.

His breath would stutter intermittently. Brush over her skin.

“Why don’t you like it?” he inquired, sliding his eyes back down. Her tit jiggled a little she she shook her head. She couldn’t look at him after the feeling of it, at the sound that came out of his throat.

“Hurts,” she muttered.

He stopped.

“This?”

“No, just hurts,” she let out a gruff breath, “usually.”

“Haven’t had a man be nice to your breasts before, Rey?”

Again, her own name caused some kind of violent reaction; resistance and submission flying in opposite directions full speed from her own mind. He didn’t seem to mind her conflict. Solo looked like he was enjoying it.

“Don’t need one to.”

He then seemed to focus on going back to pity her. Maybe she shouldn't have married the man who knew what he knew about her.

"I'm not going to touch."

"Just looking?"

She cast her eyes back to his. He shuddered, hunched around his own fist.

Glad to offer assurance. It was an odd place of power to put him in.

"Until you want me to."

She read that as until he was tired of waiting, but if it meant not this morning, she'd take it.

“In my experience,” he looked away, his own turn to blush, “in my experience, women like it.”

“I am not most women,” she felt soothed by saying something she knew as fact in the wake of so much that was mysterious to her.

He shrugged, looking up at her with a sly smile.

"He rough with them?"

Her face was on fire.

"Mhmm."

"Not supposed to be rough with tits like those. They're sensitive. Got to be careful with them. Soft. Like those pretty ears of yours. You liked it when I kissed those-"

"You lie like a rug, Solo."

The noises from his hand over his cock sounded that he had increased his pace.

"I only intend to keep you blushing."

"You don't need to woo me," it came out more fragile than she intended. "You already married me."

“Good of you to keep me tethered to you. Otherwise I’d be halfway back East by now to dig up that bastard husband of yours and snap his neck again-”

“What ‘experience?’ ” she blurted out at the same time, unable to contain her horror.

He stopped again. She wasn’t sure when he started up once more.

But he was clearly faltering now.

With a frustrated sigh, him too hard and stupid to know how to explain himself, she lifted the hem of her petticoat. So he could aim for the rag. With a whine, he took in the shape of her thighs, quivering from her own ache, and hunched further over. 

Just looking.

She watched this time, his pleasure take over him. His lashes fanned over his cheeks. The redness at certain parts of his skin. His lips hanging open.

It was not as stupid a face as-

She pushed the thought from her mind. He still looked helpless, and lost. 

The thing about his cum was how warm it felt to her on her skin: how her swollen cunt seemed to ache for it when a few rogue spurts kissed against the juncture of her thigh, sliding down to her lips and ass.

He was catching his breath over her. She didn't understand why he had to pleasure himself on top of her, at the sight of her. Rubbing it in maybe, what she said the night before? Teasing her?

"What experience?" she repeated, her tenderness fading with the wake of his orgasm.

He searched for words, looking guilty. 

“Nothing much,” he shook his head. He looked almost boyish, embarrassed. “You know. Getting taken to the whorehouse as a young man. Some of ‘em were...pretty kind.”

She bit back the bile rising in her throat.

“How recent?”

She didn’t think to cover herself when she sat up on her elbows. He was still half-hushed over her, looking beet red.

“It’s been a while,” like that was more humiliating for him to admit. “You get into a group of men and they take it upon themselves to make a man out of their youngest member. They were all married and wouldn’t, couldn’t-”

She understood this much, clapping him on the back while they drank in the parlor and gambled. The proximity to sin was sometimes enough-

“-make it look like they were there for the women. So I was the excuse, I’d get my girl, you know,” this at least he seemed too shy to say, or too tactful, to his new wife, “ and then have to wait around for them to get done after they made a game of pretending they just couldn’t and then go upstairs anyway.”

He looked annoyed at the past, a little used by it.

She touched his cheek, still so mystified by him.

Rey hadn’t given much thought to his virginity. It was different for men, and she was hardly one either. She had expected him to be biting a bullet to marry her.

He implied as much to Hux.

But clearly he liked women who weren’t virgins just fine.

“So while I was waiting around, the girls in the brothel...sort of made a pet out of me. I didn’t like that one bit. But they were sweet. Talked to me.”

“This happened often?”

“Not since I was younger,” he looked away from her. “Once someone younger than me needed to be made a man out of, I stopped going.”

She lay back. Nervously, slipped her breast back into a decent, covered place. 

Wasn’t sure how to feel about that. He was only hers for less than a day; she couldn’t exactly be mad about him not being hers back then.

She wasn’t his either. Still, it gave her an uneasy feeling. His past was a black shadow, one she actually felt better never being given the light to navigate. She had to keep pushing onward. Not working backwards from where she stood to understand him. 

There was no such thing as traveling in two directions.

"It's in the past," she supplied, and he looked relieved. 

"It is," he picked up the rag, and like she did with him the night before, wiped his spend off of her body, "it's behind me."

She flinched nervously at the gentle touch of it over her sex. Just cleaning her.

It felt like an itch.

She’d surrendered when there wasn’t a choice. And he wasn’t the worst one of her options.

But that didn’t mean she knew this man at all.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rey suddenly became much more popular.

“Can you hold this bowl while I stir? Thank you Mrs. Solo!”

“Rey! I need help folding this sheet!”

“I thought we could have a little talk, just us women.”

She grit her teeth every time. Clenched her fists. Helped anyway.

But there was a scheming smile exchanged with every passerby, seemingly intentionally over her head, like as soon as she said yes, and Ben paused to let her go, they stopped wanting to be so friendly to her.

And she’d fold the sheet in silence, and they’d magically extract yet another thing they needed help with out of thin air.

She wanted to say no. Every single time. Expected everyone to break their smile with a larger one and say ‘just kidding’ and go back to their work without her.

And it always happened when she had a moment alone with her husband.

Not that she sought that out. When Solo had free time, he was working the horse. When she did, she was usually with Finn and Rose, trying to avoid questions about how she liked being married to him.

When they ate together, they talked about the pace of the day, the weather, what they hadn’t sold of hers being worth the save. There hadn't been much more touching when they went to bed every night, occasionally a muffled "goodnight" crooned against the skin of her ear; but she didn't know if he wanted her to roll him over or if he was making fun of the way it always made her shiver.

So she did not have much time alone with her husband. And when they were together, they talked practically.

Mostly about boring things.

So when she heard the real reason for her rise in camp-wide popularity; she was livid.

“Shivaree.”

Ben was resting in the grass beside her. She, domesticated little wife again, was mending an undershirt while they had stopped. He was sweaty, the horse was sweaty, she was...simmering with rage.

Someone had just asked her, as soon as Ben sat down at her side, to help mind the accursed six (seven including the one that was napping).

She’d had half a mind to kick them all into a gully.

“What?”

The grass tangled in his dark hair. He didn’t even open his eyes. Breathing.

“It’s a bit of a game between newly married and older married couples. They want to drag us apart, make a nuisance of it; because it’d be pretty damn funny if you were helplessly in love with me, sulkily helping out thy neighbor when you really just wanted to...swoon.”

She snorted.

“Takes more than a pair of pretty eyes to get me to do that.”

He blinked one eye open.

“Hmm. True, that seems to involve your ears.”

Rey bit her tongue, focusing on pulling her needle through the fabric.

Pretended not to hear him.

“I still think it’s rude. Some people just want to be left alone, why do they have to make a joke out of that?”

“It would be funnier if you’d given them something to interrupt. Now they’re the only ones laughing.”

“But they think if I’m not with them, I’d be with you. Maybe I want to be alone sometimes.”

She had never said that out loud before. She went still. Wide-eyed, looking out at the swaying grass.

He opened both eyes.

“Not all the time,” she added, wondering how angry he was going to be at the jab, “but sometimes. Now, I don’t get a choice in it at all. I was asking Poe that question about the weather tomorrow and I couldn’t make it across camp without eight people asking me for things because they thought I was running straight back to you. You had the stallion, so you wouldn’t have even wanted to talk to me.”

Ben said it would rain. She disagreed: having gotten her hopes up by enough false promises of rain to know what a fake one looked like. He told her that he was right, and told her not to ask Poe.

She went to Poe to confirm.

Rey was right.

But he didn’t have the stallion now. He tied up the horse and chose to seek her out where she was doing mending.

He grunted beside her instead of answering.

A sore loser, she was learning.

Marrying Solo was like entering a marriage as one does the idea of it as a little girl.

She had a husband first. The outline of one. One who stood at her side a head taller and had arms like a man and shirts and pants.

“Someday when I get married and have a husband…” Jess had said to her, in play, as a little girl, “and he will take me to the theater and let me throw lots of parties and my china pattern with have gold rosettes.”

And then, as though making it up as she went, which she was:

“He’ll be handsome and strong and give me everything I want.”

And the details all filled in from the cutout. Like she was marrying the not-cut-out-part of a magazine page: the hole around the thing she wanted instead of the picture she snipped out.

Jess had a wedding, and a husband, and a gold china pattern, and parties.

Jess had a husband like a hole in a page you could stick your fingers through.

Jess was not happy.

And Rey was stuck between two people withering away because they would never have what they really wanted.

Rey had a husband. Had two.

One had not made her happy at all.

And the second was fluttering like ideas off a little girl’s tongue:

He’s strong...and...he likes horses...and...has big feet.

About as substantial as air, so far, for the first few days. Smoke.

“Rey!”

“If you try to take my wife away from me at this moment I will whup you,” Solo bellowed in response to the caller, and whoever came to the clearing of grass to fetch her scattered.

She didn’t like yelling.

But his was almost toothless. Unsubstantiated. And meant to make her laugh.

She bit back a smirk.

“Chivalrous.”

He lay back in the grass.

“You’re my wife.”

“So chivalrous that I may swoon, Mr. Solo.”

“Should I leave you alone then,” he looked cautious, “if you want?”

She murmured, focusing on her stitches; “You don’t distract me much.”

“High praise.”

“When you are quiet.”

“Ah, there it is.”

A little flutter of a breath exhaled just out her nose.

A snort.

He seemed to take it at more value than she did.

“Well, since I’m already down here.”

He was oh-so-practical, teasing her constant tone, and she bit her lip.

Focusing on how if this stitch was off, it would pock the fabric, and her eye would be drawn to that snare of a mistake every time he wore it.

“I am not...soft…” she looked down at her knees, abandoning the stitch, “as I am sure you are well aware.”

"And asking for what you want is hard."

She made no answer to this. 

Knowing what she wanted was hard. She hadn't ever given that much thought. Even as a little girl, winding the chain of a rosary around her ring finger with Jess, the only silver thing she had, witching up a husband from just words and thin air: 

A husband who...is clean? And nice?

"You can sit with me if you like," she replied blithely. 

“If this is you pleading...” he sat up.

She flinched. 

His sarcasm was hard to read because it could sometimes just sound like flat displeasure. He seemed to sense her reaction, gentling his expression.

Brushed some of the hair out of her face with careful fingers.

She always looked like a tumbleweed. When the details of him solidified, as they were slowly doing since she married him, he came across as much more refined than her. She was a fool to approach him first. 

But it wasn’t her face that tempted eventually him; it was one of a literal horse.

“...then I won’t let them take you from me.”

 

Chapter Text

The horse certainly thrived more under their marriage than either of them did.

Within a week, it was eating out of the palm of Solo’s hand. Cantering with a spirit that was almost grateful.

Tame enough to be brushed, for the first time in a long time.

“A handsome investment you made,” Rey deadpanned, trying not to look twice at the gleaming coat and her husband braved a look at those hooves.

She watched from the wagon. She was supposed to be baking something. Johnnycakes? Popovers? What had she offered before she was staring at him, legs dangling from the back of the schooner, laughing and lightly gasping with the narrowness he dodged the stallion’s struggling kicks?

She half expected to be a widow again by noon from the way the stallion tried to kick out of his grasp.

Solo was quicker, and better at dodging, not even dropping the limb that thrashed as he worked a hoof pick.

She could tell he was trying very hard to hold his tongue towards judgement of her. He may have succeeded at holding it, but not hiding it.

“I couldn’t get close to it.”

He couldn’t glance up at her; the damn thing was thrashing.

Even she couldn’t deny the change in the animal. She still didn’t like it, but weeks on the trail had made it look dingy and scraggly. Now it was glossy and clean, the dark coat smooth enough to show how muscular and strong the beast was.

Niima thinking he could ever conquer it honestly made her laugh to herself.

“You have to name him.”

Rey wrinkled her nose. Solo was backing away slowly, having finished his work, breathless as he clean the mud off the pick with a rag.

“It’s yours.”

He shook his head.

“That’s for you to decide.”

Rey’s lightness of spirit slipped through her like water between her fingers. Of course the horse was his. Every court of law in the country would declare it his property. That’s why he married her.

“Well, I don’t want to.”

He seemed to laugh at her, to himself, a moment of privacy that she felt needlessly excluded from. It stung.

“You will.”

She had probably told him johnnycakes. He had been excited for them.

So she got up to make popovers.

 


 

“Do you have any newspaper?”

Her boots had been bothering her all day. Whatever wadding she had shoved in to make them fit was all ragged and worn down from the walking, so now she was feeling a blister form.

Her palms were healing nicely from less driving.

But it was always something new, with her, and she wanted to prevent disaster.

Purging the contents of her wagon had gotten rid of clutter like that. She had seen some folded up be the daybed in Finn and Rose’s wagon.

Finn was nowhere in sight, but Rose was stretched out in the sun like a sleepy cat.

She drove today. She had waved proudly over at Rey as they passed, obviously excited to be observed driving, while Finn beamed with pride and a lazy sense of satisfaction from the seat beside her.

Rey dug her toes into the dirt, trying to tamp down the padding in her boots. Rose sat up from her spot laid out on the box seat, wilted from heat, and quickly crawled inside her schooner.

“I’ve got a little bit. Some stories I was reading from when we left. I’m too tired now to even look at them.”

“Thanks,” Rey took the bundle from Rose and propped up on their box, untying her boots. “I need to make these fit or I feel like I’ll lose a toe.”

When she lifted her aching foot out of the boot, she remembered the neatly-folded bills she kept tucked at her ankle. She still had them.

Solo had not yet asked for them back.

Rey paled. Reminding herself it was not like she had not lost it.

It wasn’t like she lost it.

Maybe that was fine. That was all good, resolved, it hadn't vanished. 

But it was hidden.

But she now must retreat back to her husband and apologize for her smoking gun.

Rose looked down, her cheeks flushed from the unseasonably warm day.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Rey replied quietly. She hid the roll of money in her palm.

A tight fist. God himself couldn't pry it free. 

“How is being married again?”

This had to be sorted before she knew for sure.

“The same,” she blurted out. She didn’t really mean it, but the feeling she was currently having made it seem that way.

Rose’s face, red from the sun and exertion, managed to go white.

Rey realized then that far too many people knew far too much about her, in her opinion.

Before being held for questioning, she turned on her heel and hurried back to the wagon.

 


 

Her stomach was churning when she walked back to the wagon.

She’d had more of a spring in her step walking to her husband’s funeral.

For obvious reasons.

Ben was resting at the box seat, his long legs stretching, when she walked like a sinner to her confessor.

He sat up, perking significantly at her arrival, but a worried furrow parked between his brows when he saw her expression.

She held up the money first.

Waited for him to respond.

He said nothing, his brow narrowing further.

The silence stretched for a very long time. 

“I...forgot,” she said.

Hoping her admission at least softened that she had hidden money from him, even unintentionally.

Husbands don’t like that.

His expression smoothed out. His back hunched. She had to stand between his knees to press the rolls of bills at him again.

He didn't take them.

He merely looked passively at her.

Waiting for her to get to a point.

But she’d made it. His response was the point.

His expression was as unreadable as always. Clearly, he took some odd pleasure in her offering.

Was it cruelty, a joy to be placed in this position above her? Pleasure that she brought it back, she did the right thing with her mistake? Or he forgot about the money as well and this was a joyful reminder.

A hundred and thirty-four dollars.

“It’s all there,” she rushed out, “the bills of sale too. It adds up. It’s here, Ben.”

At this he blinked at her.

She almost never called him Ben.

Solo, as he was, looked down at the dirt under her feet, laughing to himself.

“Yes, it’s right there, sweetheart.”

She pinched the roll of money and papers in her fingers, shoving them practically under his nose.

Take them.

Just take them off her hands. She didn’t want them.

“I…”

Her voice cracked when he leaned forward from the seat and kissed her knuckles instead. Slowly.

Eyes on hers even as he bowed his head.

She felt at her most frantic in that moment. She felt her pulse under his lips.

And his eyes were so calm. Like he didn’t understand her panic at all.

Or he did. And he just found it very silly.

He wouldn’t take the bills out of her hand. She fisted them tightly and shoved her knuckles into his chest. He still didn’t lift his hands to take them.

“Ben,” she hissed, as though every eye in camp was on her. Even alone, in a forest of white wagon tops, as invisible as humanly possible. It felt like she was causing a scene, and she may as well have been. Whispering with tears in her eyes and punching a fistful of cash and receipts into his chest while he looked on, stone silent, his eyes glimmering like he was watching fireworks.

“You want me to take them back?” he said finally, licking his lips.

She nodded.

“After I specifically  asked for you to hold on to them?”

Her chest shuddered, she didn’t understand what he was playing at. The best case scenario she had pictured was he would get annoyed, take the money and put it in his pocket. The worst would be he took the money and then off came his belt.

She had no idea where this fell between those options.

She just shook her head, the tears collecting at the corners of her eyes starting to fall down her cheeks.

His expression darkened.

“Get inside the wagon,” he said, when she tried to tuck the bills under the collar of his shirt and leave them there. Like a child insistently pulling his hair. Needy.

Please just take it.

He grunted when her fingers brushed her neck.

She almost scrambled up there.

Obedient to this language, almost exultant to something, even this , being familiar.

He was climbing in behind her just as quickly. 

"Lie on your stomach."

She almost had her skirt up around her waist, her chin against the wood floor, before she remembered he gave no other orders.

The wagon creaked when he climbed in. She listened to him carefully step around her.

She was still too proud to apologize; and part of her had longed to see this from him.

Hate in a language you understood was sometimes more tempting than love in one you didn’t.

He straddled her legs. Pulled down her undergarments. 

“I know there’s fight in you.”

The world dropped out from under her as he raised her skirt higher.

“You show it to me every day.”

The air, once suffocatingly still, breezed across her ass.

His hands covered each cheek, rubbing in careful circles.

Soothing. Like he was calming a pony that bolted.

“I need you to listen very carefully to me, Rey:”

The wagon creaked again as his massive body leaned back.

“I’m not gonna fucking hit you,” he said in the weight and gravity of a man who will only say it once.

Meaning it forever.

Then what was he doing to do?

Then there was a soft nibble against one cheek of her backside.

Rey gasped, hard.

Life had gotten so bad at surprising her.

And then it sent him.

She covered her mouth with her hands to prevent a surprised yelp from slipping out when he kissed her flesh. Horrified, she burrowed down under the wagon seat.

Solo almost laughed behind her. Continuing to press kisses up the back of her thigh, rounding the soft curve, loving on the sensitive skin.

This had never been done to her. Horrified, disgusted, twisting with something she did not recognize, she hid her red face in her folded arms.

"It's alright."

He was crooning at her trembling body.

"Better than a spanking, right?"

She nodded weakly. What the hell was happening to her that she didn't squirm away, thrash underneath him?

He just stroked her bare skin with his hands and open lips until she felt half-mad. 

“Here.”

Something dangled over her head. She glanced up.

A crop.

Again, at the sight of it, she felt like she was falling. Solo moaned behind her, kneading her bare ass in his hand while the other still extended the whip for her to take.

She squirmed, shame-faced, at the attention his mouth was giving her.

“Take this. Bite down on it.”

She shuddered as he thumbed the seam under the curve of her ass, the bit of upper thigh that was so sensitive she was shaking.

"And," she heard a soft, self-deprecating laugh, "so you have a weapon, if need be."

Rey made a mad grab for it.

Half of her screamed to throw it as far away from them as possible.

The other knew it was exactly what she needed.

She took it into her mouth.

Clenched the neck of the leather between her back teeth. Whimpered as he sucked her skin, hard enough to leave a mark.

“Hmm,” she spasmed on the floor of the wagon, gagged by his whip. Outside, the sun was shining, all was peaceful, and inside this warm little wagon she felt like she was going to shatter into pieces. Solo groping handfuls of her ass with surprising tenderness. Kissing the base of her spine.

Purring as she bucked underneath him.

He brought her up on her knees.

She had never been more exposed in her life.

“You have a very different husband now, Rey.”

Are you fucking crazy, she wanted to scream, but instead bit down on the length of the crop so hard she thought it was going to snap in half. She clung to her skirt, which was now all but around her neck. 

His tongue dragged up from the back of her thigh, riding the hill of her ass and then falling, his head diving around her hip to suck on the jutting bone at the front of her pelvis. She arched towards him, hunched over her.

"You're so good," he crooned, "you couldn't be bad if you tried."

Had her mouth not been filled she would have yowled.

His hands flattened under her navel, holding her still and her legs open, to nuzzle the crook of her hip from the outside. His hair tickled her skin.

She spat out the crop.

“Why?”

It was the only word she could form when he latched his lips to the curved flesh of her ass and sucked. His cheeks hollowing. Air popping through his lips at the force of it, sounding obscenely through the wagon.

He lapped at the skin, which felt reddened and tingling, when he chose to let her go.

He kissed the cheek of her ass like the hand of a girl he was courting. That kind of delicate and purposeful.

“Because I don’t have to hurt you.”

He dug his thumb into her raw skin.

He could part her legs, thrust into her, have his way with her. But he didn't. 

He didn't penetrate her. She kept waiting for it.

Like a child does a present. 

“Because I don’t want to.”

 

His thumb did rub a circle around on her inner thigh, as though noticing something.

A wet residue. 

It was from he body, she realized, and she bit into her wrist in shame. And to smother the sounds that wanted to come out.

Slick running down from her like a whore.

His dark laugh rocked through her.

"That's not how I treat things that are mine."

Suddenly Rey completely understood the meaning of a firm hand.

It wasn't about the severity of the beating. A weak hand could still use a whip. Weak hands often did.

Solo bore firmness without having to raise a finger against her. He just had her expose herself and lovingly made his point until she was wrecked underneath him, sobbing, trembling, begging for mercy in a form that she had not known before. Effective. Meticulous. 

She had underestimated her husband. And now his power was terrifying. 

She wanted to see him be a brute, and he was certainly being one. Kissing her, cooing at her, ghosting breath over her thighs teasingly.

It hit cool and intense against the wetness coming out of her.

Solo sat back.

"Don't ever look at me like I'm no better than Niima."

Blearily, she waited for something to happen. The way her body was shaking: something was supposed to happen.

She just didn't know what.

"And don't try to give me that money again."

He seemed done.

She didn't feel finished with this.

Sweaty, strained, and humiliated, she gathered herself back up.

Her weight rested on her palms. She tried to catch her breath first. Then she had the sense to pull her skirt back down.

“Is that how you p-punish me.”

Her teeth couldn’t stop chattering, she was shaking so hard.

But now that he’d stopped; she felt much worse than before.

Keyed up. Confused. Bitter.

Solo pulled her up onto her knees and rested her back to his chest, then curled her delicately to the side. Cradling her.

It was odd, he was gentle with her before, but this was a different kind. Nurturing, where his kisses all over her skin were hot and teasing. She thought being married once before meant nothing would feel new this time, down to the strike of a belt. 

But she was learning. 

It felt better to just go limp in his arms and let him do what he needed to do.

He shook his head. Just kept looking into her, like he was deciphering his own conclusions from this experiment.

"It's not about punishment."

Right in her fucking ear.

It made her hate him, flaunting that knowledge now.

She shivered just the same.

Relief made her bold.

His curiosity towards her, sparking like fire, made her bold.

His kisses to such an intimate place, so used to violence, made her bold. 

Her words were hiccupy and dry like that of a crying child: “d-do you want me to mind you...or d- disobey, when you do that to me?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After what happened in the wagon: they melted into an easily shared physical space.

They didn’t really kiss, but he would put his hands on her to guide her out of the way if he was stepping past her. Objects being passed back and forth would not be held at the opposite, far ends to prevent hands from touching. They wouldn’t sit stiff on the box seat, flinching when they bumped against one another from the uneven roads.

It was a little easier, the companionship, but also harder, the things she felt then that she didn’t know how to describe now.

One morning, when she woke up before him, she laid awake and thought of his soft goodnights in her ear, so low and stirring that they always made her heart race before he rolled over and fell asleep so easily.

She would lay up for a long time.

Hammering inside.

And she rolled onto her side, and curiously parted his hair from his ear.

The one thing she knew she had the courage to try.

“Good morning,” she whispered against his exposed ear; higher and breathier than she meant to.

Her lips clumsily brushed over his skin.

He woke right up.

“Hmm,” he actually smiled a little bit. Stretching, leonine, along the length of her body. His muscles tightening like a coiling snake, then unspooling. “Good morning.”

Even when he was inside her, his muscles hadn’t been felt by her like this, engaged, working.

She looked down the length of his body, higher than hers by mass, broader than hers too, and tried to see the way he saw. Inches above her on the ground.

Fit tighter underneath the wagon.

He was gruff, letting her move; whether nuzzling closer to his ear or farther away, neither of them knew her first step because she hadn’t made it yet.

She slowly threw a thigh over one of his. Flexed her legs around it. Working his body against hers. Curious.

Falling asleep with his breath in her ear, sending her off for the evening, had made that strange slick a constant in the morning for her. She was deeply embarrassed by the dewiness at first. But she sometimes thought about those kisses all over her ass when they fell into silence, and felt it bleed out of her once more.

So much so she almost welcomed it, because it was so secretive. 

He seemed too nervous to move, his leg tense between her thighs, for fear of spooking her.

She tried to shift some focus back on him.

“Your ears are…”

He grunted: for once she had made him genuinely uncomfortable.

But she kept looking, her hips came to a halt, demanding an explanation for the response.

A thumb came up to brush over her own ear, contemplating his answer while she shivered.

“Can’t say I have the same fondness for them that you do your own. But that’s coming from how often a grownup would grab me by the ear to drag me to kingdom come. They were an easy handle.”

She actually found herself laughing softly. Staring at the skin flush red, as though at the memory.

“Were you a naughty child, then?”

“I wasn’t that bad,” he turned towards her, his eyes warm and fond from memory. “A little.”

She tried to picture it. He was just so large; it was hard to shrink down into a child in her imagination.

“My mother would yank me back by the ear for even thinking what she thought I was thinking. I believed she could read minds until I was seven. She always knew. The woman was a real pistol--kind of like you.”

He was waiting for her to pull away. Such examinations bothered her; even kind ones. Especially accurate ones.

She did and didn’t, resting her chin on his chest so her facial expressions had privacy, but not rolling over and pretending they never woke up.

His lips ruffled against her hair as he spoke:

“Were you a strict school teacher?”

That felt so long ago.

She liked it. The little schoolhouse.

The children had readers, lessons, spelling tests. Lists of mathematical problems to solve: seated by age and grade so she just managed their private learning row by row in hushed, hot-breathed silence. Sticky hands and slate pencils and recitations.

Quiet. Blissful quiet.

And the occasional giggle, which she hadn’t minded all that much.

“A little,” she admitted softly. She didn’t think anyone other than a school board and her students would wonder what kind of teacher she was. “With the older boys. I never had to whip anyone but there were a few passes with the ruler. You can get certified so young, in farm towns, some of the boy students were older than me.”

“And you managed them.”

He sounded impressed, but not surprised. Like they were as bad as a team of oxen, or a demonic stallion.

She shrugged off his implication that it was hard.

“They all graduated. Gave me a lot of trouble along the way.”

“They were probably sweet on you.”

She tilted her head back, up towards him in surprise.

“What?” she said faintly.

He touched her cheek with his thumb. Along the freckles that were darkening no matter how much she wore that stupid bonnet.

“You have trouble hearing me, Solo?”

He liked using her new name.

His.

“A little,” she found herself murmuring so softly.

“I said, those boys were lucky to ever pass a test: thinking of you and your ruler and your body under your clothes every day.”

She searched for a single thing to say to that. He was looking down at her so wickedly that she couldn’t only imagine him at the desk, those ears sticking out of his hair with him waiting for her to yank when that mouth got the better of him.

Her hips dipped forward, thigh tightening around his. Rubbing a little.

That same slick from before coming back.

Did he feel it?

He groaned, cradling her, giving her an arm to work back against when she rocked but pushed her no closer.

It felt good.

But she needed words.

Other words.

The only thing she could think to say:

“So you...don’t...like having your ears touched?”

She wanted to bite them. Lick the flushed red flesh until he whimpered like she whimpered. Maybe if she heard him the same way, she’d let him hear it again.

He looked incredulously down at her. Just as Poe’s whistle sounded, camp stirring, waking up at his alarm to start the day.

She could hold back an exasperated moan, even a laugh, when he was the one laughing first.

He held her close a moment longer.

“Of course I do. But if I liked it as much as you did: we’d never get out of bed.”

 




“Rey!”

The voice that summoned her actually sounded tired, unlike all of the ones trying to get her attention for that stupid prank.

She followed it to the side of the wagon it came from, not immediately familiar to her, just because the sound made her feel sad. Even though it was dusk, and she should be getting back to the wagon.

“Mrs. Niima -Solo,” the older woman’s eyes looked tired, ringed around like an old tree, so Rey was willing to chock it up to exhaustion. She was blinking frantically like someone pulling up short of information. 

She also couldn’t remember her name.

The smell hit her before anything else could be thought of it.

“Would you please-”

Oh.

Everyone else had gotten their turn with the fouled, rotting Hux. Every woman, at least. Except her.

And she was married again, not driving, so there went her perfectly good excuse.

“I just need,” the woman swayed on her feet, “a few minutes.”

She did look dizzy, and she had two children and her husband must have volunteered her for this, so Rey took pity.

Rey sighed, already stepping back so the woman could hop down.

“I’ll watch him. Please let my husband know-”

“Yes, of course,” she was already leaving a cloud of dust in her wake.

Rey grimaced and hoisted herself up into the wagon.

She wasn’t that selfless. She still whipped out a handkerchief and rolled it up to tie over her nose and mouth.

Hux groaned at her, as if to express annoyance.

“You want to sit alone in the dark?”

The power was rare, and strange, with him on his back and her looking over him.

He was still sick, the bachelors switching off his driving duties still. She’d been busy navigated the tricky course of her new husband to get any details on the preacher’s condition.

But he looked waxy and unreal from his sickbed.

Hux was in bad shape. 

His entire face was bugging with swelling. His throat chorded. Fever laced over him like a veil.

She tried to feel pity.

She just intimately understood men like him.

Her body dropped into a crouch on the floor beside him.

They just looked at each other. Neither happy to be in this position.

“Why did they send you?”

He tried so hard to be intimidating when the sounds of his stomach were squirming like a nest of snakes.

“So you don’t choke on your own tongue. I can shove a wooden spoon in there if I don’t suit your standards. But you hardly seem to be in a fit spot to complain.”

She was muffled by the handkerchief; but there was no way in hell she was taking it down.

“Rey?”

“In here.”

She didn’t feel the need to look up from Hux as she shouted back.

Her husband hovered in the wagon opening, his face shadowed as he peered inside.

Hux snickered.

“Such a pair, you two are. Made for each other, in my opinion.”

“I’ve got dinner on, Rey.”

A lie and they both knew it. She spared him an annoyed, confused glance.

Hux took advantage of her distraction:

“I can’t imagine the mongrels he’s going to fuck into you and leave-”

“Rey, come here.”

That was the first real order he had given her. The business in the wagon a few days ago was merely a pressured suggestion compared to how low and dangerous Ben sounded now.

She did not like it: but was eager to exit the wagon.

He gave her a hand to hop down, and she took it even though she didn’t need it.

“Should we just leave him?”

She ripped the handkerchief off her face, so glad to breathe clean air.

Ben wasn’t satisfied with her just walking alongside him, he took her elbow, gently, but effectively, and kept a brisk pace he intended for her to follow.

“What’s wrong?”

“He’s very sick. Probably contagious. I don’t want you near him. He looks like he’s not going to last much longer.”

She slithered out of his grasp with a shove.

“Do not lead me like you don’t trust me to walk with you.”

Her tone was pure spit and venom.

His expression was stupefied, then soft.

He took a few deep, frustrated breaths, glancing around camp instead of looking at her.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out, his cheeks red even in the dim light.

“Why is Hux saying awful things?”

It wasn't really about why: he was a bastard. But some bastards have motivation. 

She examined him carefully. It felt so much more loaded against Ben than it did her. She'd get why he hated her as her own entity. For once she did not mind what was said. If she was merely his woman, an extension of himself and property; everything against her was not personal anymore.

“He hates me because I...won you,” he seemed to hate saying it, cringing at her expression as her face fell.

What a winner he was. Both a horse and wife he couldn’t ride.

“Things had to fall quite in your favor for that to happen, Solo,” she said coldly. “Do not ever forget that it was down between you and a wagon axle.”

He looked completely unafraid of her anger.

Not because it didn’t scare him.

But because he felt that he deserved it.

She walked on her own back to the wagon: where dinner actually was started.

This not being a lie surprised her.

She’d only been over with Rose for a few minutes; Rose enjoying recounting the newspaper stories now stuffed in Rey’s boot more than reading them for the millionth time. They were tales well told, when recounted by Rose.

Rey’d thought they were of the Good Christian Heroine variety; but Rose liked crime. Heists. Murder. Courtroom Theatrics involving widows and fainting.

“I feel bad for complaining, don’t feel bad,” Rose practically whispered it, “but I managed to give you one of the only ones I hadn’t read yet.”

It was too late now; those unread stories were molded to Rey’s toes after days of walking.

She hovered guiltily as Ben went to the fire to stir. She really hadn't been gone that long: he didn't have to start it like she was never going to-

“I...shouldn’t have kept you waiting...”

This clearly irked him more than her barbs did; going back to the role of a wife.

“I can make a damn pot of stew when you want to talk to your friends. I became no more helpless than you did just by marrying you, Rey.”

The name, when not said in a tone of concern, still made something in her spine straighten out.

He looked at her, sad in the eyes, and guiltily curled an arm around her waist.

He spoke, low and unafraid, right in that ear that her arch for him. 

“I know it was the wagon that decided things. It was a rock. But maybe that’s all in the world I have to be grateful for.”

Self-conscious, she curled her arms around him.

She hadn’t known who to be for him. Something sweeter. More tender. More sensual.

He seemed fine for her to remain herself.

 




Solo must have been gifted with prophecy: in the morning, Hux was dead.

 

Chapter Text

They didn’t speak of her at Hux’s funeral.

But they looked to her.

Her hands in tight fists: this man’s funeral well-attended if only so many of the women stuck with him in their care could satisfyingly see the body lowered into the dirt.

Ben was protective of the difficult position she was in. The person to refuse him openly before he fell ill. The person he showed the most open contempt for.

The person who, through the power of polarity and opposition, they might as well blame.

She had the fortune that someone else was watching him when he died, at least, she was assured of that, and Ben went to Poe to say Rey left Hux alone for that time on his orders. That it was his fault.

Her husband tried to shield her. 

And it meant too much for her to be able to speak aloud. 

Ben snuggled her in his arms for the funeral, his chin on the top of her head effectively dwarfing her, which helped her look small and chagrined and guiltier than her face could ever convey.

He was masterful at that. Playing her innocence against them all.

She'd have to ask him sometime about how good a liar he was.

He brushed words that must have looked like condolences into her ear.

They were pointedly not.

Ben was at bad at helping himself as she was:

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry him? You’d be a widow again already.”

She kept her face composed in her usual seriousness. She had been a schoolteacher that it would take more than that to break her.

“A man has died, Ben.”

“Is your curse bad men, or the avoidance of them, Rey?”

She kept her chin bowed as a hymn was sung around them. Odd, that the funeral run by a bunch of campers was more holy and respectful than the one Hux performed for her husband.

“It is not so easy. Bad men are everywhere you go, Solo.”

It felt odd to say that, so tenderly cradled to his chest. Didn’t make it less true. Just odd.

“Then I am glad I might walk free of this yet.”

“You shouldn’t say that, as my husband. It took some time for the first to come to a bad end.”

He laughed so gently.

She shouldn’t be shivering as a body was being lowered into the ground. But Ben was unyielding, holding her close, allowing no focus for her but on him.

His breath in her ear.

“He’s just lucky it was before I ever got my hands on him.”

 


 

 

She didn’t know why it hedged at her that he had not come back to the wagon for supper.

He didn’t linger often, he was as focused on the next day as she, and she could rely on so little of him in their marriage but to be prompt.

He had told her from the start to not wait for him and to eat for herself first; he would eat when he needed and she could do the same on this journey. And as he had proven, could start up a meal if she was occupied.

But when she cooked he didn’t tarry or leave her waiting alone by the fire himself, he usually served his plate a few minutes after her; and made the process of serving easier because she was already tucked in and quietly cleaning her plate. It wasn’t about juggling herself and him.

She’d wash the dishes she used, he’d wash his as she was done with the water. So it was never about late, it was about gracefully layering the timing of their meal together.

But tonight, she found herself waiting, slowing her bites, pulling the spoon out of her mouth with more tension and purpose, flickering her eyes to the corner of the wagon like he would round it at any second.

She usually ate like a savage before he sat down; but she liked the moment when he appeared and she took a deep breath and waited for him to serve himself and join her.

A meditated pause in the meal.

Eating alone, her food actually mostly uneaten, cold, and picked at, was a strange loneliness. She didn’t like that she felt that was, was now trained into feeling this way. She almost got up to pet the goddamn horse she was so itchy for companionship.

Rey was drawing circles in the dirt to pretend she wasn't waiting.

She should eat to keep up her strength. She should eat because it was a waste of food.

She should eat because this should not bother her.

Instead Ry tossed her tin plate into the dirt with a feral growl and was walking before her brain knew where to go.

She crossed camp with her fists clenched. She didn’t know why she was so bothered.

“That lady is the witch,” she heard a soft murmur in the semi-darkness.

Two out of the seven.

The second oldest and a little one.

Older one had said it.

Without a second thought, her boot met the seat of a small pair of pants. She didn’t have a ruler, but you can’t land a little one’s chin in the dirt with just a ruler.

“Boo,” she snapped.

This move she learned as a younger child, a brawling one with no parents and ugly clothes, and it brought her as much satisfaction to hear the outraged shriek that followed now as it did then.

She kept walking. Following a din of chatter at the edge of camp.

She found the source of the voices, hopefully her husband amongst them.

They were in a graveyard of dead man's things strewn around. Like vultures in a pile of bones. Her husband holding a black book of Hux's. The man's bible.

Like he even needed it.

The bachelor in his sixties spoke first:

“It seems your young bride has developed a crush on you, Solo.”

The chorus of laughter had her vanishing into the dusk, her face flaming.

Only one thing mattered when she decided to leave.

He had laughed. The bastard.

“I’ll only be a minute, Rey,” he called after her, and even then, she heard him trotting away from the pack of them to catch up with her.

She turned on her heel to keep walking. He almost made as though to follow her.

She just moved quicker.

His footsteps came to halt when she vanished into the darkness.

"Rey?"

A different voice, more casual, like it was happy to be running into her:

“Rey!”

She waved absently in reply at Rose, who was also eating her dinner alone.

“Rey, are you alright?”

She took a deep breath. Maybe she should take a minute to cool down. She hadn’t exacted her revenge before now on those children: and the way she did was the most graceless and messy way possible.

She found herself hovering at the edge of light from Rose’s campfire.

“It’s going to be just us women for maybe an hour more. The men are consolidating Hux’s possessions amongst the party. Personal effects to shipped home, supplies, animals.”

Rey just stood there.

How are you liking being married again? You said it was...the same?”

She wanted to slap her own forehead. That was stupid. That made for closer attention, more people meddling.

Rey shook her head, a little quiver. “That was badly done. Solo is a smart man. He…”

With a deep breath, she entered the circle of light from Rose’s fire and clenched her fists. This was going to be humiliating.

But it felt like there was no one else for her to ask.

There never had been anyone for her to ask.

“He seems convinced, from our more intimate conversations, that a woman can...that I should...it seemed rather silly of him to insist.”

“Insisting?” Rose took a sip from her cup with a furrowed brow, “well, that’s not getting anyone anywhere. That kind of pressure won’t help you along at all. Finn and I found out by accident, it was frankly rather embarrassing, but I think us being so young and blind about it made it bearable when it did happen-”

“Do you mean to say,” Rey took a deep breath, “we...as women...can ...?”

If she was her own student she’d be urging herself to use her words.

Rose’s eyebrows shot up.

“Oh…” and then a pity Rey could not tolerate filtered into her voice, “Oh. Rey, I thought-”

Rey had her fists at her side. Sometimes it felt like all she had was her fists at her sides.

“We have currently been in conflict over this matter. I did not know. How stupid of me.”

“Rey, it’s alright. Finn and I didn’t know either-”

“Goodnight, Rose.”

She was weaving clumsily through the night, praying to not bump into anyone else.

But Rey was cursed, not lucky.

Ben seemed to catch her between the wagons like a monster in the woods. She kept walking, even with his hand sliding down her arm, catching her wrist.

“I’m sorry.”

His deep, serious voice rumbled through the night. "It was...cute. How big your eyes were when you came looking. I couldn't...I adored it."

She extracted herself from his grip with a motion of lashing out.

“Do not laugh at me.”

He didn't follow when she tore off.

 


 

 

Rey tried to sleep on her stomach, facing the wheels, with her face still flaming from earlier.

The nerve. She had food growing cold that she was hoping to cover before flies got in; camp she wanted to pack up before it got too dark, and here they were, loading her arms with false sentiment about if her husband was paying attention to her?

She wasn’t needy.

She didn’t have a crush.

And Rose telling her she could, even though she couldn't, as if she needed anything else wrong with her. 

She hated her body. Hated it.

She could hear his boots crunching towards the wagon from a mile away. Even before they were married.

She heard his tired-sounding breaths or preparation until he too crawled under the wagon. Ready for bed. She’d kept the lantern on, because she didn’t need him killing himself trying to get to down there beside her, but she was rolled over so tight she might as well be in complete darkness.

He gave a little sigh when he saw her.

“Rey,” he said quietly, settling onto the earth beside her. She kept herself very still, the second before the rattlesnake moves, hoping that maybe the illusion of sleep or even the stillness itself would keep her husband from speaking again.

“Roll over,” he said, his voice dry, the command whirling through her gut in a torrent of rage and confusion. Did she dare disobey her husband? Were the jokes with the men she had interrupted about doing just the same things he was entitled to do to her; and her searching for him made her convince him of eagerness?

Seeking it out…?

Her body was shaking as she warred with her options.

“Face me, Rey,” he said again, firmer, and she let out a sigh and hardened her heart for what came next.

She rolled over, her cheek resting on her arm, and looked into his eyes.

“I thought perhaps you’d like-”

“Hmm?”

She pressed her lips together. Panic struck like a fracture through her.

He had not tried again, save for some nuzzling and cuddling. Not since the first night; which had legal precedence.

Legality wasn’t exactly on her mind tonight, with those eyes on her.

Beside her, Ben made a quiet, rumbling noise. He kept staring at her, as though doubting himself.

“But maybe I was wrong.”

“I am tired,” she squished her cheek into her arm, keeping her body tense to dissuade him.

He raised his eyebrows, confused.

“I thought perhaps you’d like a kiss.”

“Oh.”

She glanced up at the lantern. He stared down at her, taking a moment to watch her face until he rested his head beside hers.

“I…”

She closed her eyes. Waiting.

“Rey.”

“What?”

“You need to answer me.”

Just as she had trained her face to be serene; a dragon-like breath whooshed out of her flared nostrils.

The goddamn nerve of this man.

She swiftly nodded her chin.

“Hmm. What was that?”

Her whole body tensed, agonized. He spared her one moment of mercy in her life and then gave her no respite ever since.

“Kiss me,” she finally growled, her voice dark and dangerous.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was finally easy.

He pressed his lips to hers. Her chest settled against his, but they were both on their sides, so it was only her movement that made it so. 

The fact that she wanted to get closer.

He gave her a kiss.

They’d unconsciously gotten used to casual forms of entwinement. Seated next to each other while he drove. Feet looking to warm themselves against each other in while bed. Hands brushing.

This was just a kiss.

His lips pressing carefully, plushly, against her own. It was gentle. Courtly.

And she didn’t know how to move.

He pulled back.

She felt slapped by the gesture.

Was it that bad?

He swallowed.

“More?”

She nodded.

“More.”

And he pressed her shoulders into her bedroll, his body coming slightly over hers. Hovering. His hand landing near the other side of her head to hold himself steady.

There was a warm lash. His tongue, brushing against her mouth.

A tongue was never as soft as one expected. She’d had one in her mouth before, and the rougher texture of his had her recoil slightly, at first, but he moaned. Surprised, her lips slipped open.

He was tasting her, lapping into her: it was all so clumsy and strange but she might have been so unresponsive he was just accommodating her rigid body. Then she tried to swallow, and her tongue seized her mouth, caressing his, and the slide of them together was a matched set of softness.

They both groaned that time.

She tilted her head; she felt like a corpse with it rested straight and flat on her pillow. He shimmied closer and propped himself more carefully over her. The weight of the gesture lifted off of her. Her neck felt better.

Then they went back to kissing.

It still felt filthy to take his tongue into her mouth; not the act itself because she’d taken the same tongue in her mouth for two years, but the newness of the act with him. It wasn’t his saliva, his taste, it was just a new man’s taste, so when her tongue colored with unfamiliar touch she chirped nervously.

But when he tried to withdraw his tongue from her mouth, she sucked on it as though to make it stay. And then he purred, and pressed closer, but not as oppressively, as before. The two-steps forward, one-step back approach seemed to complement both their levels of confidence.

Once one flinched back from a test, they could go again, gentle, soft. Treading lighter.

Something between her legs was humming, steady, even she knew it was a wanton arousal.

It happened between Finn and Rose; who were the most respectable, respectful married couple she knew.

Good to each other.

Maybe it wasn't wrong. Maybe her new husband wasn't just a philanderer. Maybe she should have talked this through further with Rose first.

To see if Rose was as much of a shameful mess as she felt right now.

Ben kept kissing her. She tangled his hands in his hair, tightening her grip as he sucked on her lower lip. That skin, like...like when he was kissing the flesh of her ass, was more sensitive from the pulls of his mouth.

Readjusting, it was his turn to smack his head into the wagon bed. Not as hard as she had those past few times; but hard.

The wagon reverberated with the blow, the wheels trembling by her side.

She snickered.

He didn’t seem to think much of her response until she gasped a slapped a hand over her mouth.

Then he raised an eyebrow.

Brushing some hair off her brow thoughtfully.

“You liked that?”

There was no malice in his tone: she found herself answering honestly.

“A little.”

He dotted a kiss along her lower lip at her admission.

“Hmm,” he considered and a slow sigh.

And then did it again. This time the whole wagon shook.

A pained groan spilled from his lips.

He shut his eyes tight, lowering his head, and Rey cupped the side of his face. Hissing in sympathy.

But unable to put a lid on the laughter bubbling out of her. Dry, snickering, like a child in a schoolyard.

This time she wasn’t so sure it was an accident.

Had he done it, sincerely, to please her?

Her thighs shifted against themselves.

His pained face was mildly dear to her.

Though she wasn’t going to let him do that again tonight. He had to drive the team in the morning.

He opened his slitted eyes at her soft, dry laugh.

“We’re figuring something out, aren’t we, sweetheart?”

It wasn’t an accident. He did it for her reaction. Which was pleased, purring almost, smiling up at him.

He liked her like this. 

And she liked him in pain. 

A little bit. 

She felt so entirely seen by him at that point. Not shoved onto her back, struggling. Not pinned and nervous. Hovered over, managed, protected maybe; but this face was searching hers for whatever made her laugh so sweetly.

Even if it was at him in swift but unobtrusive pain.

“I think you deserved that, a little,” her voice was soft. Sweet almost: but not in that fluttery, girlish way that Jess told her was how to flirt.

Maybe it was just affection.

His tone was grave:

“Yes Solo, I did.”

There was something beautiful in that. She knew his eagerness to rid her of Niima’s name, her own to fling it off of herself. But the way he called her Solo was like she took his name from him, that he had given it to her.

She ruffled his hair. Dug her fingers in and stroked his scalp until she found the swollen, knocked-against flesh.

He hissed, but didn’t lose her eyes for a minute, when she prodded, then stroked the sensitive bump.

“You’re going to have a bump in the morning,” she informed him helpfully.

He lowered his hips, where they had been straddling hers.

He was harder than he was on their wedding night over a bump on the head.

She grabbed his ears and bowed his face inches over her breast. Kissing the crown of his head. Not where he hit himself but the gesture was like a baptism of her kinder thoughts towards him.

She felt his breath rush out over her neck ins surprise.

He looked dazed when he lifted his head.

And kissed her lips. Without the confusing orchestration of tongues. Without her worrying about how to slot her head.

Just his lips parting hers and giving, pouring in slow like a drip of honey, the wet touch of two mouths opening both forbidden as sin and natural as breathing.

He lifted his lips from hers.

“Where do you want your kiss?”

Like he hadn’t given it to her yet.

How hard did he hit his head?

Even though she whimpered where his lips rested, liking it right there, he traveled a touch just to see.

He moved his fingertips along her cheek, her jaw, curving around her ear. His lips took the trail he mapped.

She felt her heart stammer as he brushed her hair behind one shell, bending low to suck it into his mouth.

He’d teased her ears before: this was very different. A wet, hot mouth sucking the sensitive flesh. Her body almost convulsing with the timing of every suckle.

“Anywhere you want,” he continued, touching her neck with his fingers, and closely following. Trapping her with his mouth on her skin. “Here?”

She slapped her hands over his.

It was just her sternum. Just his chin resting on her breastbone. But she nearly slammed him into the wagon bed like a brick wall.

Too close.

He caught his breath for a moment.

His lips looked ruined red, his hair falling into his eyes from her hands treating it rough.

“It’s alright,” he soothed again, “not until you want it.”

“Maybe I never will.”

She sounded more disturbed than she should be. Her threat seemed extreme, even from her mouth. It was an unpleasantness, not the worst of her husband by a mile. But if this is the wall they’d hit that he couldn’t get over, it felt stupid to just let him through.

“That’s a damn shame,” he sighed.

She lifted her shoulders. Unsympathetic.

He just stared down at her.

“Were you really embarrassed?”

At the suggestion, she flushed, even if she didn’t know over what. Her eyes twisted away from his.

She had also not expected him to drop it that easily.

“Hmm?”

It was higher, more feminine, than her voice had sounded in a long time.

“Earlier,” his dark eyes glinted in lamplight. He hovered over her like a hawk about to swoop. But his voice was restrained, very quiet, and vulnerable. “Were you really that embarrassed?”

“You...mocked me.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“And you all laughed at me for...wondering where you were.”

And wanting him to be with her. So she wouldn’t eat alone.

Genuine regret crossed his features. He dipped his head low so only hair covered his face.

“I thought you were ashamed of me.”

She quivered from head to toe, his lips shyly dipping across the bridge of her nose.

“Why did you think that?”

“Well, why’d you marry me?”

She thinned her lips as he kissed her brow. This was still his definition of a kiss? One?

“I… you asked?”

He laughed to himself. Bitterly.

“I meant why you asked first.”

There was a bashful glance up into her eyes. Her head was swimming.

He was distracting her on purpose. Something was going to tumble out, but what? It didn’t even feel like the topic of their engagement, something greater, a pleading impulse for him to slide his lips against her once more.

In more mysterious places.

He went still, as though the question seized him after he spoke it aloud.

“I...I…”

Rey did not know how to answer with him hovering over her like that. She scrubbed her brain for something that would suffice.

Nothing came loose.

“You said once, that you chose me over him. I know the man was vile--”

“-We buried him today, Ben-”

“-but why.”

She let out a soft breath.

He wound her up for this. Why she would choose him; as though he could never believe it. She was not in her head. She was existing, pooling like a steady drip, in the slick between her legs that had been running for too long. Overflowing. She'd say anything like this, and he seemed to know it, and she wasn't sure what lies he wanted from her.

“You had more oxen,” she admitted sternly.

Solo leaned back carefully. 

He reached above her and turned off the lantern.

The deprivation of light made the deprivation of his body heat at first both hard to perceive and more abrupt.

But his lips were on hers. Chastely. Back from his spot beside her.

Like the kiss she thought she was going to get. He wasn’t just a once-naughty boy.

He seemed to intimately enjoy it.

“Goodnight, Rey.”

She lay there, quivering like a plucked guitar string, her mouth gaping open.

He lay there, perfectly still, and the man could fall asleep at the drop of a hat.

This night, she was not done. He was not leaving her like this. It was intolerable. With a little, frustrated sigh, she rolled onto her side. Shielded away from him.

She listened to his breathing even out. Tried not to lose patience first. 

He seemed asleep after about ten minutes.

Curious, she drew up the hem of her nightdress. She had to move at a snail’s pace anyway, but his breathing was calm.

First daring a glance around, she then combed her fingers through the slick.

At how wound up she was, she was shocked to feel herself respond immediately.

The inflamed skin sung for her, her body pleading intrusion like her monthly-sore cunt had done on her wedding night.

There was a need to be filled.

She shivered at the thought of a man lying beside her, ripe to pluck with just a coo and a tap on his shoulder.

But he’d been leading her astray for weeks now.

He left her like this.

Her fingers parted the lips of her sex. She’d had to wash before, she wasn’t a complete idiot, but there was nothing sensual about it.

Then again, she’d never felt like this.

She was flushed and hot; her pulse beating against her fingers from the tender skin she probed.

With a guilty swallow, like a prayer before jumping into cold water, she dug her fingers inside herself.

Her hips shuddered into her hand, grinding.

It felt nice.

Nicer than touching any other part of her body. That slick was coating her fingers, making them slide in easy with a little twist.

Should she thrust them, like a cock? She grit her jaw, annoyed at the implication of being more like a man for this, grinding her teeth as she shallowly pumped.

Her hips snapped into her hand.

Awed by her own reaction, unlike one she’d had before in her life, she rolled into her own touch.

Sighing before she thought the better of it, next to her sleeping husband.

She was actually keeping quiet pretty well, her face dug into the pillow and her breath controlled through her nose…

“Word of advice…”

She froze.

She’d quite literally poked the sleeping bear. With her elbow.

Drawn back too far and nudged her husband right in the gut.

Next to her, he was laying on his back. The position of his body implied something relaxed, almost passive and bored, like stargazing; but in the darkness she could scarcely perceive his closed eyes.

“I’m going to tell you about how to get a penny out of a drain.”

His voice was so dry.

“A nice woman I knew in my youth told it to me. She was a good friend. My time with her was spent teaching me a lot of useful things.”

She couldn’t move.

He cleared his throat:

“You don’t just stick your fingers down a drain, do you, Rey?”

Her breath was hissing in and out of her nose.

“Rey” he drawled.

“No.”

She felt him nod beside her.

“That doesn’t do anything now, does it? You tease it over to the right spot against the inside wall of the pipe and then you crook your fingers up to coax it out.”

Her head was spinning. What the hell was he on about?

“You crook them,” he repeated. “Let’s say towards the front.”

His thumb casually tapped under her belly button. Almost touching her fingers from where they were inside her.

She shivered.

His only explicit hint that this wasn’t about a pipe.

She didn’t want him to know she was shifting her fingers, doing just that, but--

She fell back, her shoulders half on to his chest. A little breath left her lips.

“Oh.”

“Found it?”

“Y-yes,” she breathed, feeling relieved when he rolled onto his side to pull her flush against him. Otherwise, he didn’t touch.

“A friend taught you this?”

“A prostitute. After so many times you get sick of them pretending to like you for your money.”

“Poor thing,” she drawled, her humor coming much more naturally with her soaked fingers tickling inside. She was getting the mechanics quick enough; as much as she didn’t like it, the squirming was a good sign, and her fingers acted quicker than her head did.

“I was a piteous creature,” he breathed, pressing a hard cock against the flesh of her ass. Then, efficiently, he crooked a hand under her knee and raised it.

Her spread thighs made the touch go deeper, easier, and the strokes to herself smoother. Her free hand had to cover her mouth to stop a gasp.

“Penny’s almost out,” she grunted, her hips pressing back against his hot length. That felt good. Promising. “For your alms…”

“You saint.”

She wanted to do this alone, to spite him. Even if that had taken all night.

But she wasn’t fighting this; breathing in her ear, coaxing her along, holding her open.

If he took her hand away to do it himself she’d probably kill him, though.

"How is it?"

"I like this," she muttered, her hips dragging against her hand. 

"I thought you said it was impossible."

"I said 'impossible with a husband.' You must have not heard me."

"You minx."

His fingers teased the hem of her nightdress up to bare her hip, squeezing hard. She sighed again. 

Her fingers quirked a little faster. It was a lot of help, the guidance. Otherwise she'd be quite literally stabbing through the dark.

"You couldn't even cum for me. It had to be for yourself. I suppose that's fair."

That felt good to hear.

Not for him.

For herself. 

Enough that she felt her inner walls seize around her fingers in a vice.

It wasn't...

She'd seen men cum. 

They were out when it was over. She didn't feel done, even as it was just starting; as though at the peak of the mountain she just wanted to be going up further. 

But that slick made sense when it warmed her hand. It felt good, good enough to have her slump against him, twitching, her body knowing more than she ever gave it credit for. Her legs seized and her feet stretched out. She felt like the sun was out when her eyes shut; not secluded in darkness with her mysterious husband. 

He kissed her ear.

It took a few minutes to be aware of him, his words:

"Know you were shy. Know you were scared. Good girl. So proud of you."

She rested against him. Wound up and exhausted all at once. 

"That was it?"

She just wanted confirmation she did it right.

Ben laughed darkly.

"Not enough, sweetheart?"

She didn't know whether to nod or shake her head. She was tired. She felt good. 

She should probably sleep.

But she could keep going.

And was endlessly curious to.

“You know what the craziest thing of all is?”

“What?”

She felt his massive hand creep around her bare hip. At first caressing the hipbone, then diving possessively to cup her apex.

His other clever hand had slithered around her mouth before she could cry out.

His fingers felt so different from hers. Bigger, less tentative.

Meant to dive through her slick lips.

“Nod,” he kissed the back of her head, “or shake.”

She nodded. Humming into his palm.

“The craziest thing about a soft little pussy like yours; is you can do it more than once.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben played Rey like a fiddle.

If she wasn’t flat on her back, draped over his body while his fingers worked hard and fast inside, crooking much more efficiently than she had: she would have bitten him.

And her mouth was already full of her own fist, trying not to cry out into the night as her thighs shook around his hand.

She was tired in places she didn't know could be tired. Her toes ached from curling with pleasure. Her fingers from clinging to his arms. 

After every time it happened, she felt like she should stop him and finally go to sleep, but his fingers teased inside, slower than before when she came down, and the only thing her racing mind could think for was faster.

And his throat bared, and his deep voice grunted, if she turned her head and said so:

“Faster.”

He'd keep curling those fingers, at one point switching hands, both of heir breaths coming hot and matched in rise and fall. At some point he rolled her over, onto her back, and crouched over her like a shield. That felt good. She'd needed some careful work to be able to look into his eyes while he did that. It had her panting hot against his neck. 

Boldly, she sucked his ear, larger than her own, into her mouth and teased with her teeth. She was clumsy, and unpracticed. But he was lying. 

He liked it enough that he was never going to let her out of bed. His fingers went still inside her, and she stroked his bare back like she did on their wedding night, and with a nervous sound, he apologized and pulled his cock out with his free hand. 

"You just-" his teeth were clenched.

She actually laughed. "Take as long as you need."

A few strokes had spend filling over her belly, puddled on her skin, and she gasped softly at the hot splash of it. 

She stroked two fingers through it.

"Put those in your mouth," he pleaded, "and I'll buy you a gold ring. A pretty one. Whatever one you want."

It was odd: the subject of gold never came up between them. Not really. It was ambiguous but logical they both saw themselves in California. Half the country did with gold at twenty dollars an ounce. But he'd never treated it like...a part of their future, their marriage. Gold lust.

She had insisted on just keeping her old one and Solo was so accommodating he didn't want to anger her in wasting money by replacing it. So his offer was odd to her.

She raised her eyebrows at him. Even if he couldn't see it, she felt him stiffen in the dark, afraid of her power. 

"Don't offer me a ring. Ask me just because you want me to." 

He took a deep breath.

"I want you to so badly, Rey."

"Hmm," she hummed, considering, and popped the cum-soaked fingers into her mouth. She removed them, clean, with a loud suck. 

She had never in her life done something so wanton. But this wasn't about her. 

Ben was able to get her to do anything like this, and it wasn't because of his power over her. He'd kneel at her feet right now if she asked. 

So a little salt on her tongue was nothing in comparison to his trembling. 

He let out a sound like a dying man and collapsed on top of her, his fingers springing back to action that her arching and writhing. Her thighs came up around his hips. Half regretting she provoked him, but so proud of the results as she melted like butter around his fingers. 

"You needed this," he informed her gravely, "what a waste of a creature like you to have to wait so long. Niima will never know what it's like to have you cum on his hand. How tight and sweet and wet."

"P-prostitutes taught you to speak like that-?"

"No, sweetheart, you did."

Sleep did not come quickly that night.

Solo appeared to be making a point.

 


 

Morning was not as sore as the morning after their wedding.

Not exactly.

The way she felt was going to be much harder to ignore than just an ache worsened or even hidden by the presence of her monthly.

This was a bearing down, swollen, confusing kind of ache: one that meant she was going to carry the thought of her husband between her thighs with almost every move.

They didn’t speak when they were both awake. He just looked at her and raised his eyebrows, and she nodded, and he rolled over and went to check on her with the comfort and care of a nursemaid.

He examined the flush of her sex as one would a bruise, nodding to himself.

Dipping his fingers in the slick and drawing them into his mouth with a soft, savoring sound, like he was tasting something sweet. 

“Am I going to live, Doc?” she found herself muttering when he stared for too long without saying anything.

"Hmm," he agreed, "with plenty of diligent care from your husband."

Oh, that promise made her feel like the world was going to drop out from under her. Ben looked tired. His pretty eyes were ringed with dark circles; like she was sick all night and he had stayed at her side the whole time tending to her. 

She remembered the fever in her sex. Perhaps he had been.

He ducked his head and kissed a swollen lip. Her legs jerked. It felt like far too much. With a whimper, she pushed his head away from her sex.

His eyes flashed with concern.

"I'm alright," she said quickly, cupping his cheek soothingly, "it's just a lot."

He nodded, but the guilt didn't leave his eyes. She wasn't sure why. He hadn't given her a damn thing that she hadn't asked for.

“How do you feel?”

She arched her neck, staring up at the wagon bed instead of him. That, after how many times she was shattering apart in his arms last night, seemed the most uncomfortable part.

“When you were small,” she cleared her throat, “and it was night, and you got it into your little head that something was going to go wrong. A monster, or bandits, or night itself was going to get you. You’d listen and like a miracle, you’d hear your parents talking in the other room. Maybe about a plow, or a pig. You couldn’t hear the words. But the sound of their voices would make you go right to sleep, safe?”

Solo quivered over her like a stuttering flame burning a split wick.

“Yeah,” he said gravely, and the person who looked more raw and broken was somehow the only person who could probably walk today.

“I feel like I can go to sleep and nothing will get me,” she whispered.

It had been a long time since she had felt that way. It took everything out of her now to say it out loud; a tribute to the state of her under his careful hands. 

He rested his weight over her, her rucked up, ruined-feeling self, and slid his lips over hers indulgently. This was the best morning of her life. So she greeted him as such.

They kissed each other good morning.

 


 

That day after was a slow one: from the ache between her legs. She should have shrugged him off sooner than she did, but she’d gone this far in her life without knowing this feeling, and he seemed eager to make it up to her.

Rey was tired on top of it. He’d really wrung everything out of her; she didn’t know how she’d have gotten a thing done in her life in this was what pleasure felt like. Even on her own.

She slumped against her husband on the box seat as he drove.

He was polite enough not to mention it.

But he wouldn’t be Solo if he wasn’t still the devil himself about it.

She squirmed away from a few teasing touches that made her whole body flinch up and clamp down. It was a lot to take. He really could have been gentler with her in his teasing; she was new to this.

But his laugh was so pleased when she responded to a pinch to her thigh, an occasional breath down her neck, she couldn’t help but be curious.

 



Nights that followed couldn't be the same as that last first one.

But it was still sweet: just calmer. He didn't have to wrestle with her brain for twenty minutes to get a kiss out of her. Shakily, she learned how to please him completely with her hands, not just a few strokes to coax him inside her. 

She liked stroking him after a while: his soft lips, the quiet sounds of his moans, the way his crow-black hair would tremble around his neck. She liked pleasing him more than she would admit. How little things like a few drops of cum on her tongue made him lose all sensible thought.

That's all they did, just with hands, and not every night. That would be impractical.

She often thought about his lips kissing her sex that morning, and found herself more curious about it that she could stand. Did he really like the taste of her? Could his tongue reach that spot? Was it silly to ask?

So she kept that quiet, but sometimes the churn of the wagon over a bump, his hand on her, and the thought of it all at the same time prompted a whimper she knew he would merely smirk at in the moment; then store in his head all day to try and get out of her that night.

There were a few nights in a row where she was so tired she pushed him away with a groan. 

He accepted her rejection with a laugh, cuddling his face into her hair, muttering of how deeply she wounded him. He was fine to hold her all night instead.

Sometimes he was too tired. 

He would never say. But she'd sense it, feel it in the slump of his shoulders or a tremble in his neck, and just be content to kiss him until whatever frantic energy inside her calmed. 

Once or twice she tried to wait until he fell asleep and do it herself. Sometimes he let her. Sometimes he didn't let her do it alone, rolling over with a grunt about how selfless he was to his young bride. But he never, ever, just slept through it, no matter how sure she was he was asleep. If she sneezed from across camp he'd be up to say 'God Bless You."

He seemed grateful to not have to live up to that one experience every time. They had both lost control of themselves.

 


 

Rey had never been resigned to death; but the morning Solo announced he was getting on the horse for a ride she came pretty close to feeling like dying.

She didn't feel like she should beg him not to, or maybe that she could not; but that's what was going on inside her head. He'd never hear it leave her lips, but it was there somewhere, being said, in that fortress she kept most of her tenderer self. Kisses and pleasure could not make her weak when he was just going to get himself killed.

"I'm not riding it the rest of the way," he insisted defensively as she just kept chewing her breakfast. "But it's time."

Her thoughts were moving so frantically, it must have been thirty seconds since he made this announcement and she had been silent for all of them, begging in her head, because when you feel like you're going to die time stretches so much longer.

"I can't stop you," she snapped defensively, "it's your horse."

Ben placed his fork down. 

Johnnycakes untouched since he had told her.

"No it's not," he whispered quietly. "I never bought it off of you."

She snorted, "Don't be thick. You married me."

"That's not how I see it."

"It's how the law sees it. Don't pretend to consult me, you'll do whatever you want."

"Then we'll just sell it in the next town, if it can't even be used."

Ben was calling her bluff. She had not expected this. It felt...cruel. Her eyes watered. South Pass was close. She should feel relief. Some extra money; and she'd finally be free of the thing. 

And yet the night before, when he was done running it, he coaxed her to feed it from her hand again. This time he didn't need to hold her by the elbows and drag her to do it. It wasn't an altogether pleasant experience. But it wasn't awful.

He guided her fingers to stroke her knuckles along its warm nose. He let her stroke a softbrush over his back, held carefully, so she wouldn't be hurt. 

The solidness of the beast as she brushed it was strange. She expected any touch would make it go wild. But he held steadily as she groomed him.

She could sense his calm. It informed her own.

And Ben looked at her like she amazed him.

Did this crazy, untamable thing trust her husband? Trust her?

It had been to show her how far they'd come. Her. The horse. How safe he made them feel.

And by morning he was leveraging it against her.

"Ben?"

He stared at her, waiting for her to break. She stared down at her plate when his gaze became too much.

She only just stopped hating the thing. And he was leveraging that against her.

He was sacrificing a lot to win this argument. He seemed to know it. He knew, intimately, how much this was going to hurt her, and he stood his ground. He could tame the horse; or he could tame her. 

Maybe it was pride; between both of them. All she had to say was I'm not ready or I don't want you to die. But that was too obvious to ever have to say.

Maybe something more tender. Something she couldn't put words to.

It might end me if you die.

He was risking a lot this morning. More than his life.

That he had something here to lose too made her feel dizzy. So she came to her decision.

"I can't watch," she informed him, and got up to go to Finn and Rose's wagon.

She had gone in hopes they would cheer her up. She was twitchy and distracted, so they both acted with the necessary concern and it didn't take long for her to admit her stress. She brushed off their worries at first. But when she heard murmurings from outside that Solo was riding the damn thing, crazy bastard, she had to lay on the daybed with her head in Rose's lap and Finn holding her hand, crying like she knew she was going to die. 

What if she had asked him not to, for her? What if she had been brave enough?

Why did he need to force her to in the first place?

Rose was the only person gentle enough to handle her like this. She just stroked her hair and told her that even the happiest of marriages had fights, oh Rey, men are so stubborn.

Finn even agreed to those faults on behalf of all men; and that's how Rey knew she was really in pretty bad shape.

"He's not going to die, Rey. He's a much better rider than Niima was."

The placations didn't calm her, but helped her cling to the world instead of leaping backwards into the rushing thoughts. Someone could tell her at any moment he broke his goddamn neck. 

Ben had hitched the horse back up by the time she felt calm enough to go back to the wagon. Like it never even happened. He was sweaty and tired, like he always was when he'd been running it, but it was clear this time that he had done more than work a lead line. There was already a buzz all around camp over the sight of him and that deathwish horse. 

She had known what had happened. It resisted him mounting at first, was hard to steer until he let it run, then he did three laps around camp.

Just enough to prove someone wrong.

He looked happy, relieved even, to have Rey back when she did return.

She took his kiss like it was a knife twisting in her wound. She could tell it broke something in him to have her flinch when his lips touched her cheek.

The touching stopped after that.

They slept like strangers.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was almost easier to ignore a man that you lived with. their rhythm made sense. There wasn't a demand for a change in routine. 

Marriage was work.

Solo had been playful, in the beginning. So much so she had gotten used to it against her better judgement. The games he made out of touching, the way he looked so pleased by her, the way she felt pleased by him. It made her forget herself, what this was, what was expected of her.

Remembering that made it easy. The days stretched out naturally. They spoke of the journey. They didn’t stay up half the night touching each other. they skeot with a careful distance between their bodies.

It was only an obvious strain between them whenever he went out for a ride. Otherwise they carried it in themselves, separately. She busied herself during that time. Horses were expensive, to buy and to keep. Ben had put in the effort to care for it: it was a waste of a practical tool to just drag it behind a wagon the whole way.

And the stallion would mind him, as much as she hated to admit it. He had clear skill with these things. He would probably not die.

She never let herself get comfortable thinking that. The minute she did he’d get thrown just like the first.

Ben was trying, with her. Not physically, he did not have her bear his touch any longer. But he tried to get her involved, to coax her back to not resenting the creature, or himself.

He tried to trod on soil too freshly dug up on many occasions.

Asking for help grooming it. Offering to let her pet it.

Once, to her utter horror, he had extracted a cluster of flowers he had picked on his short ride, the stems tucked down his boots, and offered them grandly to her like it would solve everything.

Periwinkle-blue Bachelor’s Buttons.

Her response to feed them directly into the horse’s mouth was perhaps too hasty. There was pain in his eyes that was not entirely his own fault as the stupid thing chewed them into mush.

Still, she shied away from him and his intense gaze whenever it set upon her.

She didn’t know how to vocalize what bothered her. He didn’t treat her like her last husband did. She had thought that robbed him of his ability to hurt her. But it didn’t. This hurt like nothing she ever knew, when in passing, she’d glance out into the grass when the train was stopped and see him trotting on that thing that already killed one husband of hers.

The man seemed to want both. Her trust. And control.

So she avoided his eyes because he was trying, deep inside, to tell her something.

To wonder what on earth he was even thinking hurt far too much.

 


 

Someone had a fiddle. Someone had time to think of anything other than dust and sweat. A few more people had a tension furling, going taut inside them.

Maybe all of them did.

Rey heard music before she knew these things: and wanted to ignore it, but there was such a cry from the strings at the center of camp she couldn’t keep herself away.

Curious, Ben not back with the horse yet, she wandered over. Relieved to find Rose and Finn doing the same about halfway there. Everyone curious. Looking for distraction.

“Finally,” Rose murmured, her elbow at some point linked through Rey’s as they watched members of the party dancing with each other. Most of them married, but some parents with their children, or family that had grown close pairing off their offspring to another family’s around the same age in optimistic matchmaking. “I was going to go crazy.”

“Go dance with your husband,” Rey nudged her off with a melancholy smile. They both obeyed her gratefully, Finn with a secretive smile and slight bow to his wife. She was happy for them, even though she was currently unpaired, and she took a spot with her arms crossed at the edge of the crowd.

It was odd, remembering what it was like to be a wallflower. She almost missed it. It gave her time to think.

"You could pass your whole life by, out there, Rey," Jess had told her once. "You could have had the whole world circle around you before you ever made a first move."

It didn't matter. Jess was gone now. 

Rey listened to the quivering fiddle.

“....most members will likely split from the party at Fort Hall. Getting to California these days seems worthy of the risk.”

Dameron was crouching in the dirt with the sixty-year-old bachelor, his face grim in response to what the old man said.

“But it is a high one,” the guide reasoned.

“Just thought I’d tell you,” the old fool grinned at him, “you may not have much left to lead North when people are only thinking in twenty dollars an ounce.”

Men were always such idiots about gold.

She twisted away from the empty threats Dameron was trying to deflect from an old man; who could not get to Oregon, let alone all the way across the perilous California Trail, without their guide. Such stupidity couldn’t make itself true, some people didn’t have enough oxygen going to their brains to keep a fire alive.

“Rey,” Rose collided with her, spun-out and breathless, “I’ll loan you Finn.”

She tried to shrug off the offer. Even if she was married, her husband wasn’t present, and a friend willingly loaned a husband; it was a bad idea for a few reasons.

But Finn had her hands in his. 

And it had been a long time since anyone offered. 

Keeping a straight face while dancing with Finn was harder between them than it was between siblings. They broke a few times, twisting around the few other couples who had the energy to dance this far into the journey. That seemed the intent of the gesture; to make her laugh.

“Rose was kind to share, but I should let you get back to her.”

She was having fun, and for some reason, that made her anxious to make her excuses. 

Finn laughed.

“You have to stop guarding yourself so much against having a woman friend. She wouldn’t let me sleep at night when you were alone under that wagon until I got up and brought you over to us. She cares about you, Rey, not just because I told her to.”

Rey’s chin ducked down. Ashamed. She knew Rose didn’t mind spending time with her. She just had been reluctant to call her a friend because her last close friend was Jess…

When men treated women like comparable prizes, acknowledging that worth amongst themselves was often a biting kind of pain.

“Does Rose feel terribly slighted by me?”

“No,” he shook his head, “she understands.”

Rey wasn’t sure she did herself.

They were her friends.

And that, her softening heart realized, was enough for her.

 


 

She wanted to duck out before Ben got back, but the sun set so quickly that she was still on her loaned dance with Finn when he returned and investigated the noise himself. He probably came back tired, to an empty campsite, and found his wife…

Twirling like an uncoordinated child with her friend. If that bothered him; he could do less to bother her.

He waited out the rest of their song, his arms crossed but a sidelong smirk on his face, until self-consciously, she pushed Finn slightly to return him to Rose.

She shivered as she the crossed the throng of travelers to go to him. Feeling exposed. Not sure what she was going to say, or do, or if he would talk first.

It was chilly, now that it was darker.

Ben looked tired. Waiting for her to speak.

“I’ll…” her tongue stalled, looking into his eyes for the first time in days, “I’ll...get dinner on. I’m sorry.”

As though he had never proven to her that if she was busy and he wanted it; he was fully capable of doing that on his own.

Rey bowed her head and brushed past him before he could answer.

She heard him take a slow, calming breath; he was irritated.

Not about dinner.

And she left him to enjoy the music while she went back to the wagon without a thought of if he had even wanted to dance with her.

 


 

Their bed had been a surprisingly affectionate one, for a short while at least.

Now it was as glamorous as when she had to sometimes share a bed at the boarding house with other single women when lodgings got too cramped.

But she did find that this way, with the way things were, she missed him.

There was something quite sad about how she turned towards his body in the night, every night, and how she woke with his massive back like a wall between them.

Maybe he’d soften when they reached West? If not by Oregon, maybe the cozy trip South to California? Maybe when all the men fleeing West without brides, or with brides at home, reminded him he at least had a warm body in his bed that smelled…

Rey sniffed the strap of her nightdress.

She would smell far better once they had their own claim.

Would he regret her?

Tentatively, she reached for his shoulder. Patting it chastely. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to perceive it. Maybe it just made her feel better to pat his shoulder like they would get through this rough patch.

In such a short time, she did forget his body was about as mysterious to her as Niima’s was. But that was from brief but interested glimmers of Ben compared to a dead, disinterested stare whenever her first husband bathed or had sex with her.

She had slid her hands up and down the planes of his back; it pleased Ben greatly and he always worked up a gratified sound for her when she did it. It was such a sweet touch between them, the thought of it making her tremble now.

It wasn't fair. She had made herself softer. She had yielded to him as much as she could. And he still pushed. 

And she was miserable over it.

She rubbed a little circle on one blade, creeping towards the high center. He was so solid. Would he be beautiful, naked? His skin was nice against hers, not as rough as a few seasons of drought had left her body.

Was the pale, pretty skin women were supposed to have more enviable on a husband? No one had ever told her of that. She’d press her face to that soft skin if he let her.

Her fingers moved to the back of his neck. Dipping under his shirt.

His sleeping body seemed to soften, but not wake, from her touch. That was interesting. He'd be awake for her touching herself, but not him.

It was a good opportunity to observe him, unfettered. 

He was so warm. She stroked a comforting circle against his skin. Maybe if her touch could say anything, it was that there was so much worse she’d survived than whatever fight they were having....

Her fingers stilled as she met scarred flesh.

She hadn’t seen this part of his back before, he was usually over her, or behind. It felt like an old burn, but there was a strange design to it…

Rey carefully inched up, her elbow on the pillow, to peer down the collar of his shirt.

Granted, she did not know a lot about her husband. He worked in a bank. He wasn’t afraid of blood. He was good with horses, somewhere between a learned master or utterly clueless with women, mean and practical as she was, but surprisingly gentle…

Or maybe she truly did not know anything about him at all.

It felt that way, in the deepest of ways, when she looked upon the space between her husband’s shoulder blades for the first time and saw a wound that was still angry and red after what could have been years. She knew it would be there forever. 

Someone had branded him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rey gave him a scare of her own.

Maybe she wasn’t thinking clearly. But it was a sweet idea of revenge until she was in the very midst of it.

If the stallion scared her enough when she was on the ground, she had not considered greatly what it would feel like to be on his back.

One minute she was staring at the scarred back of the stranger beside her.

The next she was riding.

She wasn’t sure at what point she had gotten out of bed and managed to climb on the horse. Or what she planned to do when she got up there. But she was up there now. Making a second, sloppy circle of camp at the crack of dawn.

Just waiting to see what would happen next. That's how Ben seemed to do things. Bitterness had been tightening like a vice inside her for so long. Now, she just felt light. Like a wisp on the back of the stallion, a fallen petal, something it might not have even noticed. 

She was probably going to get herself killed.

Wouldn’t that be the twist in all this. Her curse’s third kill was herself.

The stallion didn’t particularly like having her up there. But on the scale of not liking things: he wasn’t bolting or trying to throw her.

Yet.

He was a little faster than she liked, but at least he took direction…

Not well at all.

She couldn’t really blame him; he was bareback and bridle-less, another lapse in judgement from her haste.

The horse was still being a bit of a bastard. But she had asked for this.

After the first lap she was surprised, ashamed even, to notice camp was still silent. No one even knew she had left, with her sloppy circle around the perimeter.

She could still jump down. Cut her losses. Maybe turn the thing loose and go back to bed like she had no idea what even happened...

But when she finally spared a glance at the wagons: silence did not mean she went unwatched. There were a lot of people watching now.

The silence was from horror.

She caught the motion from the corner of her eye.

Finn was inching along between the wagons, looking ashen, following her circle from the inside as though he was trying to find a way to extract her from the situation. This trot was a little too bouncy, she wished she could get it together enough to communicate an escape with him.

No one was making any noise because she was on a horse that would probably buck if it got scared. And she was on that horse. In her nightdress.

So anxious to spite her own husband that she got on it in her nightdress like she was sleepwalking and trying to frame him for her own murder at the same time.

Then she saw him.

Saw Ben.

She saw the glimmer of it. The longing to be as scared as she was that first ride he took written plain on his face. And utterly silenced because he couldn’t scare the horse because she was on the horse.

But if he felt so safe on it, could he really feel so badly with her there now?

If he had so many secrets, could he fault her keeping her mouth shut for a minute when he was being a fool?

“Rey,” it carried, low and even, so not to startle the animal, “you’ve made your point.”

She swallowed, her fingers tight in the stallion’s mane. She'd hardly mastered it, but it took...general directions from her. Too fast. Much too fast, that was still an issue here.

She straightened her back and rode on like a queen. An unsteady rock under the hooves startled it, not terribly, but it did twist off-course enough to challenge her delicate balance. 

She clung on, biting her lip. 

Though eventually the horse stirred again from the sound a clicking tongue coming from camp. It looked like this exercise was cut short.

Ben had oats. And the horse obeyed one thing only.

His stomach.

It carried her right up to her husband, an equally well-muscled beast, who was clearly shaking at her.

While it chewed from his hand, Ben fisted his free one in the mane above her fingers. Holding steady. Slightly threatening. 

And looking up at her like she had better come down it he might kill her himself.

"Enough," he said quietly, calmly, but like she was something he needed to tame quickly.

She sat up there. Her breath coming and going in short bursts.

She could feel her nostrils flaring, his were too, but neither could look away or compose themselves.

She didn’t think it was possible to hurt him like he hurt her. But the way he was looking at her was begging her to come down. With a desperation she had never seen from him.

“Rey,” he tightened his hold on the mane before dipping his head to press a reassuring kiss above her knee. Even if he was bargaining with her, she saw the way he tensed when the horse took a step forward, no longer baited by him. “You could get yourself killed.”

He was keeping his voice as low and even as before.

Tears pricked the corners of her eyes.

"You seemed to think it was safe enough," her tone was light. She didn't know what depth from her this came from. 

The stallion did not like all the hands tugging on it. It jerked sideways slightly. Ben followed. Rey clung on. Almost shaken off, but recovering.

Her shoulders trembled. It only seemed real that she was really up there at that exact moment.

How had she done this?

"It's different--"

“It doesn’t matter when it’s my husband?” she didn’t want to sound so childish. Her voice was weak.

But his eyes flashed up at her.

“You were right. I was a cruel bastard and I will kiss the ground you walk on, if you would just get down now.”

He had the bridle over one shoulder, he stepped away to maneuver it on the horse before he lost control. She did heave a sigh of relief when it was secured behind the stallion’s ears, bit clamped in between the teeth.

It wouldn’t stop the horse from throwing her, but the effect of Ben’s reign of it was immediate.

She had done enough.

He, reins in hand, was at her side again. Offering a shoulder, a hand, for her to climb down.

He was looking at her like when he had said he wouldn’t hit her; he hadn’t imagined she’d do something like this.

Like he had never anticipated how much she could hurt him.

"Come here, my love, come here," he said in a low voice. 

She felt like stone when his arm slipped around her. 

"Show's over!" she heard Dameron yelling in the distance, "everyone go about your day."

She had no clue what hers would bring; though the tone of their guide made it clear that it involved whatever her husband deemed fit for her.

 


 

“You’re acting mighty strange.”

She was trembling in the wake of her ride, and his understatement of the century. He seemed to be barely containing himself. His tone too casual.

Camp was...avoiding them. It was the only way to describe it. They were all given the hour to calm down, and their wagon was marked as if by a plague. Neither of them spoke until he had started to safely tie the horse up.

She was surprised he had broken the silence.

“Hmm?”  

She lifted her eyes to his in the first time in what felt like weeks. It had only been a few days, but when he looked warily down at her, she realized how unaccustomed she had become to that sensation even in that time.

“More than usual,” he drawled, almost to himself, carefully tying the lead to the hitch on the wagon.

He did not know what she knew.

She kept quiet that morning.

Rolled over and laid still like she had never seen the burn.

It was almost as if she didn’t feel she had to right to ask.

She knew of her husband as much as she had when she married him; it wasn’t entirely his fault she found herself here.

Confronting him on what she had seen seemed hasty.

The next thing she knew she was on a spite-joyride of what felt like the real Mrs. Solo.

So she maybe had been acting funny all morning.

He stepped closer, searching her apprehensive face.

“Scared me half to death, though maybe I did deserve that.”

“You did,” she held her chin high, but he wasn’t looking at her. He tied to stallion to the hitch and blinked to himself. Deep in thought.

“Now that that’s out of your system…”

She wondered how he'd finish that.

Crop, or open hand?

“....does that mean you’ll let me kiss you?” his tone was so quiet that she could hear it melt into the dewy grass, unable to sound any farther than where it fell at her feet.

He looked hopeful, for a minute. As tired as he always did after those rides he took himself; the stallion was taking a lot out of him.

She’d seen animals branded. How they struggled. Smelled the burning flesh and blistering skin.

How many people did it take to hold down a man of Ben’s size to take the iron out of the fire? Was he smaller then? A child?

Who did he cross that marked him?

And why, when she should be afraid, because he was marked like an animal by someone, did she only feel protective of him now? She had pictured it would feel good to hurt him with her ounce of power: it wasn't a lot but you can hurt with a little and some good aim. These days, an ounce of gold was worth over twenty dollars. Her ounce of him felt invaluable. 

She wished she could forget about the burn. That it didn't rub her raw with the gentle way he was looking at her now.

How could someone hurt him that badly and he still was capable of forgiving her?

Maybe because he was still trying to be gentle to her. Even after someone hurt him that badly.

“I’m not ashamed of you,” she blurted out. Not answering his question.

Maybe this was an apology, or forgiveness itself offered, it was unclear who was angrier at who at this point after days of letting absence lapse into offense. Maybe the kiss was more business in the wagon, balming over her skin, but she couldn't let him do that when she knew he had scars that she would someday have to lay her heart as a balm over, she was not ready, and she knew she would never get it back. She could not take his perverse, beautiful scoldings when she knew what she knew. 

He raised his eyebrows. Somewhat in doubt.

“I’m not,” she repeated firmly.

Maybe the ride, for both of them, was about the spectacle it would cause. Rey panicking, him showing off, sweeping her into a heroic kiss when he tamed the beast that killed her first husband and made her his. Ben frightened, made into a monster, and her finally knowing the man she was looking at by forcing him into something familiar that he just wasn’t.

“Alright,” he stepped closer, “alright, Rey.”

He seemed keen on letting bygones be bygones. But there was a nagging, under the surface...

“I’m not good at...letting other people see,” her arms came around herself, like she was bruised, “and I don’t want a lot of people to see that I’m different with you.”

“Different how.”

“You make me,” she swallowed, shaking her head. He knew this.

One brow now poised high above the other, goading her on.

“You know,” she choked out, “and I’m…”

He was practically pressing her into the side of the wagon.

“Rey?”

“Stop torturing me,” she growled at him.

His eyes fluttered open and shut several times. Startled.

“I…”

“If Niima knew how to hurt me how you do I would not be alive right now, “ she snapped at him, her teeth bared.

His hands flew away from their comfortable rest on the wood at either side of her as if burned.

He looked horrified. His voice was low, like he was trying not to spook her.

“I never meant…”

He never wanted to hurt her. But Niima often used his power to make a point, and badly, as Ben had sometimes done with pleasure. His tools might have been different, preferable, and Rey wasn't stopping him from using them again. 

But it was still a matter of trying to break a thing from what it was. A taming of a thing appreciable because of how it existed naturally. If Ben was trying to train her, she'd just be another piece of property to him. 

He could have simply just loved her instead.

She didn’t flinch away.

“That’s how I’m different. That’s how I changed.”

He seemed to know he shouldn’t speak.

Or he couldn’t.

“And I have to make this journey with two strangers now. I do not know myself anymore. So if that horse you insist on taming throws you; you’d better have the good sense to die, Ben Solo, before you have to face me.”

Was this what she couldn’t say that morning? Was this what he had wanted her to say?

“Rey,” he grabbed her hips, even with the venom on her tongue he responded like it was the most passionate of love declarations, pulling her tight up against him. “You little wonder.”

He was kissing her neck, breathing like he was the one who was relieved, and she felt so much more confused, but relieved, also relieved.

He just kept talking, low and soft:

"You scared me. You scared me to death this morning."

"Well, now you know how it feels-"

She tried to bring up her shoulder to draw him away, to talk, but his lips were frantic over her skin, and her knees were giving out.

“My Rey,” he whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry.”

“I’m still angry with you,” she grit out of her clenched teeth. He kept kissing her skin to get her hips to roll into his. This was leaving her hands quickly. Seeking instead something her needy cunt had been missing. “You could get yourself killed.”

“I can ride it, sweetheart. I promise I’m in no hurry to leave you. Ever.”

She grunted a little when his greedy hands came around her sides, fisting her skirts and lifting them slowly. She glanced around for onlookers.

“That’s right. Keep watch,” Ben ordered in a pleasure-leaden drawl.

He seemed distracted then.

“Ben…”

He dropped to his knees.

“This is just for you.”

And he covered himself in her skirts like he was doing a vanishing act.

He was so massive it hardly looked like that to anyone but him, but cupping a hand around the back of his head with her skirt over it was a peculiarly naughty sensation. Her nightdress looked obscene tented over him.

He parted her gently, she felt the bite of his wicked smile.

“You’ll like this,” his voice came up from between her legs. She clung to the schooner and bit back a groan. It was just disembodied enough to feel like he was speaking from inside her.

His mouth was against her cunt.

Though she wouldn’t have been able to bear it the first morning this had happened; she so regretted pushing him away then. With his tongue slithering between her lips, drinking from deep inside, her rising on her toes to flinch away but then pinned up there with shaking legs from the way his whole body followed her body drawing back.

She felt like his.

“Good?”

“Yes, Ben,” she hissed, praying no one would stumble upon them. They were in a pretty good spot, as long as no one came around the side of their wagon. And it was pretty clear they were being given ample privacy to work out whatever issues they were having this morning.

Still, they had a schedule to follow, and she wasn’t sure how much longer it would give them until someone came looking...

She was supposed to be looking out for that, but she felt just as helpless to stop it as anything.

“But p-please, hurry.”

He was muffled by the fabric over his head:

“I know. Anyone could catch us in the open like this. At any moment. Your husband’s mouth on your sweet pussy. Vulnerable. Wanton…”

“Ben.”

He changed the passage of his tongue, all at once confusing her when it lifted from her opening and teased above, outside it, running towards a spot there she felt the flesh give way and with a jolt--

A shudder of sensitivity had her hands clasped over her mouth. He had found something---

That shot sparks through her, hot and fast, her body practically folding over him.

“I take it you like that?”

“Mmm,” she whimpered as he sucked it into his mouth.

His fingers were inside, home inside her again, crooking…

Her legs buckled. She could do nothing but hopelessly rock for friction against his face. The climax after so many days of misery and tension had her limp, he had to blindly find his way out of her skirts and scoop her up in his capable hands when he stood.

“Quite a lot of attending, my wife needs, this morning.”

He kissed her with her bitter taste on his lips. She took it. Melted into him.

“You wounded her,” she reminded him.

His shiny lips turned downwards. “I’m sorry, Rey. I didn't mean...”

"I didn't think you knew what you were doing either. But I'm not a horse."

He shook his head sheepishly. "Can't fault me for sticking to my guns."

She shook her head and put her arms tight around him. 

"I find that I still can."

But she said it so he laughed softly.

She almost, almost, nudged her fingers against the burn to ask. But it didn't feel like the right time. He was a bit of a mess, his fear coming to life in her arms now that all was safe, trembling.

He truly was afraid for her.

She kissed his shoulder when he said it again;

"My love."

She didn’t even know who this man was in a past life.

Just that she was his and that it was far too late for her.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Tell me...” the question trailed off.

She didn’t know what he would tell her. There was too much she didn’t know that she didn’t know what to ask.

“You’re beautiful,” he supplied simply; as if that was anything near what she was digging for.

She elbowed him, hard.

But that didn’t make it so he didn’t mean it. It was an odd day, after her morning ride. He didn’t seem to like her straying far anymore.

She ducked her face just the same, a blush rising over her cheeks.

“Tell me about the prostitutes.”

“Oh.”

He down looked at the reins in his hands.

That was a very different matter.

She liked to watch them, his arms under his rolled-up-sleeves, while he drove. It made the ride go smoother for her, at least when they were in good temper together. This was a better way to get a good look at the mysterious man in broad daylight.

He gave her a lot. Just not a lot of himself.

“Do you really want to know about all that?”

All that made it sound rather daunting. She bit her lip.

“You kissed them...there. You learned that from them.”

He sighed. “So the idea could strike me to use it on you someday, my sweet lamb-”

“I’ll skin you, Ben Solo.”

She stared at the ground that vanished under the box seat. He could be that way.

This was hard. Hard enough she couldn’t compare to his previous lovers, she was now a wife up against his appetites sated by probably many, and--

“It wasn’t much. Just a lesson here or there. Where to kiss. You just…”

“I just don’t get it?”

Her tone was defensive. There was a lot he though she wouldn’t get, obviously.

Though not so obvious to him. Because he didn’t know she saw the brand. And she didn’t ask when she did.

“No,” he seemed to sense her residual anger, “It just wasn’t you. It’s different, with you.”

She hadn’t really considered this.

“It is?”

“Do you think it was my life’s plan to drop everything mid-voyage to marry you and spend every night of this perilous journey either making you cum or sleeplessly worrying about you?”

“Christ,” she hissed, her hands gripping the seat when a bump jarred them both.

“It was a real son of a bitch to discover,” he kept his tone light and casual, “that I liked you. Cared about you. Didn’t know how to tell you without making you bolt back East.”

“Too late for that now,” she drawled, taking on his usual casual tone.

He snickered in spite of himself.

“Ben.”

“Hmm?”

“I find myself at quite a disadvantage that you know everything you need to know about me and I find myself looking at a specter.”

He faced her, even while driving.

Looking fairly impressed.

“You just have to know where to look,” he told her simply, and his eyes filled hers again.

She leaned forward to kiss him -and claimed that smart mouth with a bite.

 


 

Ben got better at talking. He wasn’t great at it, neither of them were natural conversationalists, nor did she need to break him to fill a silence. She liked silence.

But he did give her more.

He was good with her because he gave good reads of most people. He knew where to look. Rey flung enough into his lap for him to work with. Some of that information was accidentally found. Circumstance. Tear-stained.

But he’d rest in the grass with her after his rides, like that afternoon they were finally freed from the practice of shivaree.

“Who taught you to be so good with horses?”

“My father,” he admitted, tickling her with a piece of grass.

“Were you raised around them?”

“Before he married my mother he was more involved with them for work. Then it was more of a hobby, it kept him away for a long time.”

To Rey, hobbies were whittling or piano or collecting rocks. They weren’t things that took people away from their families.

She never asked much about the bank. Bankers were dreary people who rejected loan applications. Her only experience with one was secondhand, through her husband, involving their property in the midst of the drought.

So she had no ample curiosity for a banker.

“Any siblings?”

“None. What about you?”

She actually found herself laughing, his head rested on her belly. He twisted to try and decipher the odd tone to her laughter.

“I honestly have no idea. I’ve always been alone.”

He fidgeted, like that bothered him, but was quiet.

“Don’t sulk,” she laughed again, combing a hand into his black hair. “Before you.”

At that she felt his neck relax and his eyes went closed again.

They weren't alone. Not anymore.

 


 

“Who was your first kiss?”

The wagon bounced her, so she paused a moment too long before answering.

“I don’t think it was my first husband,” she narrowed her eyes in thought.

Her current husband snorted to himself.

“Must have left some impression.”

“I was fifteen.” She chewed her lip, trying to think of a name. “He was cute, I remember. I didn’t think it was going to happen. But it was nice.”

“Nice is good.”

“Nice is fine,” she agreed, slipping her arm through the crook of his. If he felt pleased by the absent-minded contact, he didn’t have too hard a time of hiding it for once.

Playing it very cool.

“How was yours?”

“Neighbor girl. A dare. Didn’t like it.”

“Hmm.”

She sounded dubious. His eyes flickered nervously onto hers.

“Men aren’t thinking of first kisses, they’re thinking of next ones.”

“Accurate,” she raised her eyebrows, laughing to herself. “Alright, what about the woman who took your maidenhood?”

He shook his head and pretended to focus on the oxen. She rolled her eyes at him.

“Oh, come on. We have to do something to break up the boredom.”

“You are a little menace.”

“But she taught you things, important things, that you were saving for me, your true love, to ravish-”

He pinched her backside scoldingly, and she jumped a little.

“This was years ago,” he reminded her, “and it was a paid bed. There wasn’t much to remember at all.”

This surprised her. Ben was a fairly simple creature with sex, at least, as much as they’d done. They’d fooled around a lot after the wedding night, and he seemed to enjoy everything they did, even if they hadn’t attempted to put him inside her again. She assumed it would be satisfying for him, but the way he was flushing red right now…

“You didn’t like it?”

It never occurred to her men couldn't like sex. It was what they wanted, wasn't it?

He shrugged.

“I know it makes me seem soft. Maybe it was the gang of men waiting for me downstairs, clapping me on the back, making jokes when it was over. It was a lot of...pressure. I got very drunk afterwards. I wasn’t...comfortable.”

She didn’t want to tell him like this. But his eyes were sad, and she came pretty close to revealing what she knew about his body.

Did he have that brand then? Were prostitutes too shrewd to say anything, so he went to them?

“They don’t sound like a good sort of friends,” she said gently.

Ben nodded without looking at her.

They were so close...

But he seemed too fragile for it now.

“Well,” she said simply, instead, “it’s good they’re all back East.”

He shivered for a second.

“Yes,” he agreed.

Only half-believing it.

 


 

She was not aware that they would all face a choice at Fort Hall. It took as far as South Pass to learn that.

Maybe she heard so by accident to begin with.

It was an accident. She was badgering her husband, with some reluctant playfulness, about purchasing supplies, her shoulders rested against the posts of a porch railing. And he gave her a present.

Gloves. Leather gloves; soft and brown and perfect.

Rey had not idea where he got them from.

They were so tight on her hands, perfectly so, not one finger too long or too short. Light as air.

She glanced up at him.

“So I’m driving the rest of the way? I’m grateful but what a way to tell me, Solo.”

Meeting eyes with her husband was strange enough when he knew what he could wring out of her with two fingers crooking inside. Or devastate with just the threat of selling a horse that she hated.

But having him read how much this meant to her so plainly on her face, his own throat chording because he didn’t know what to say either, was such a massive undertaking that when Poe walked up, she hadn’t even seen him coming.

Broad daylight had her frozen in front of him every time like a rabbit in front of a snake.

She was supposed to be going to shopping with Rose. Talking about some old bandit stories, while they listened to everyone at South Pass obsess over how the price of gold was over twenty dollars an ounce and people were finding rocks the size of their fists in California.

They had seen a family of six tear off in a solitary wagon because they had heard a different train was going to Sacramento left an hour beforehand, trying to catch up and beg passage with them.

It was all anyone was talking about at South Pass. Seeing as the trail split at Fort Hall, the next town between the Oregon and California Trails: a lot of travelers had second thoughts about the presence of gold.

It was almost like no one could hear themselves. Sure, the trail to Oregon was safer. Sure, a stagecoach would take you South from Oregon City in six days once everyone was settled. People brushed the mention of The Donner Party under the rug like dust by a lazy housewife.

She’d been brushing off the foolishness in town around her like flies. Focused, as always. But time went slow as she tried on her gloves, smiling to herself as her hands flexed.

“I like them.”

“They suit you.”

She examined the detail of the stitching on the thumb.

“Should I scare you more often then, I wonder?”

She dared a shy glance up, hoping to make him laugh about the events of the other day.

But Ben stuck her with such a look, like a knife through a dartboard, that when Poe approached she did not leave the men to discuss business.

And Ben did not send her away when Poe trotted up to them outside the grocer.

“You’re heading to California, correct?”

Dameron would only ask Ben, for obvious reasons.

She absorbed Ben’s journey as her own when she became his.

That stung to think about. Cut off so short.

Her edges hadn’t healed yet.

“We are,” Ben said, his voice honeyed, “eventually.”

As though thinking of that life in California.

With her.

What a balm on that sliced-up soul of hers.

“I have been clear about our destination, as you know, and I can promise safe passage to Oregon. I know Niima was planning a winter up North and then a second passage in the spring.”

Rey was surprised to be included by the guide.

“It was advertised as the safest way to go, even if he was a bad planner,” she spat out automatically.

Dameron already looked like he was retreating.

“The winter is supposed to be bad. Half of you were going to end up there eventually, with all the gold coming out of the walls. There’s been some talk of splitting up at Fort Hall. I’ve been open about how the California Trail is not one I’ve done before, but at majority vote of the party I’d risk it. But I figured I’d leave everyone the option to split with a new guide, should the vote not reflect your wishes either way.”

She wanted to spit. Of all the reckless, dangerous-

“How often do people start this trail without knowing where they’re going?”

“That’s the thing about strange lands, Mrs. Solo, you never know where you’re going either way. I’ve seen it decided by coin toss.”

“Sounds like you know that gold is at one of those places,” she grit out.

Ben put a hand on her shoulder. She wasn’t being out of line, their guide was being hot-headed over some talk of gold, a frantic trend, and so she shrugged him off.

Dameron had a fever for it. She’d seen that itch in so many men. It made them stupid.

Their guide was changing course. She didn’t care if she would end up in California with Solo regardless. She didn’t trust a guide who said he’d take you one place and you’d end up in another.

“It is very common for people to move down to Sacramento from Oregon. The Stagecoach from Oregon City takes six days,” she’d researched this. Used it as careful leverage, factored it into their budget, and spent weeks pleading for it from Niima.

To be fair: Ben had not shared a word with her of if this was his plan as well. Another thing she felt she could not be angry for yet because she hadn’t asked. He could be taking her to South America for all she knew, she’d still have to go now.

Ben put a hand on her shoulder; probably because she looked like she was going to claw Dameron’s face off. Men were infuriating.

“Rey, either way, he’s taking us where we’re going.”

“But it’s unprincipled! It’s hotheaded, and dangerous. People are expecting you to lead and you are taking advantage!”

“Everyone will end up where they want to go. Everyone wants to go West, Mrs. Solo, and I will get them there. Your husband was discussing the option of the California Trail with me since the beginning.”

Rey shut her mouth.

She didn’t want to.

But saying anything else would make her hysterical; which she felt well in her right to be.

That did not matter though, in a conversation amongst men. They just see angry tears and her words would melt into harpy shrieks.

Ben looked carefully upon her face. Like Dameron wasn’t even there.

“You can leave us, Dameron.”

He looked pleased to have stirred the pot.

“When were you going to tell me you planned to leave the fleet, Ben?”

“Soon,” he replied lamely.

“Don’t panic yet,” the guide’s voice was far to measured, “no one’s decided anything now. We’re just exploring out options.”

Poe looked at her boldly, with appreciation. He was safe to, without misunderstanding, with her being married now. Which was a whole new set of irony to her. Once she was settled back in, no one cared what she did. It was Ben’s job to care. “And I had thought that perhaps you were lacking in some of the necessary information.”

She always had been. It would have helped to know before now.

Ben looked caught between two loaded guns; unarmed himself. Perhaps it was no accident Dameron spoke like she wasn’t even there at first.

So she could be in the figurative room.

But also so she’d be mad at Ben instead of him. Sneaky.

“Thank you.”

She meant it anyway.

He tipped his hat.

“You have my help up until Fort Hall, Solos. Then we all have some thinking to do.”

There were no thoughts of anything but the gold these days. Perhaps the core of the fantasy was all that could sustain the journey, everyone was getting too tired and desperate.

And he wisely left them with Rey wound up, fuming, and ready to fire.

She closed her eyes and rested her head back against the post. Ben had one of her gloved hands, rubbing it in slow circles between his own.

She slit one eye open.

“Why do I get the distinct inclination that you make everything up as you go?”

He let out a sad laugh, shaking his head.

“You’d be right, Solo.”

She didn’t have the...energy to be angry, or perhaps wasn’t the hair-trigger kind of wife they expected her to be. She was much angrier at Dameron.

“Is it a mistake to trust you, my husband?”

She squeezed his hand just harder than could be considered affectionate. He squeezed back.

“I will not see harm come to you.”

Both eyes flickered open. He meant it, more than any vow he had made on their wedding day.

“Rey,” when she was not swayed, ““What was your plan, before me? What was your plan after him? When you could do anything?”

“It did not feel that way then.”

It never felt like that to her.

“Well it should have been. Feel it now.”

She tilted her head back, annoyed.

“Ben…”

“What do you want? I’ll give it to you. Bear this journey with me and you can have it.”

She dropped her hand from his and thought hard.

Somehow she had pictured this before, maybe even on that horse a few days ago. It was clear and soft and actually made her heave out a sigh when she pictured it.

“I want a little claim. I want privacy. I want to hear myself think for five seconds. I don’t want crops dying as I pick them. I want gold, Solo. I know I shouldn’t. But I want to stake a claim and mine the earth, if it means things can be easy for a moment.”

After how angry she was with Dameron, maybe she felt like she was the last one to break on the matter of why they were all here. Sure, she had escaped a drought. But if Ben was successful, she’d never have to be a farmer’s wife, or a seamstress, or a schoolteacher ever again. And during this journey, and all this work, that was maybe the most tempting thing of all.

“Under the circumstances you had to accept me…” he tilted his head up at her. His eyes unsure. “I didn’t want to make you...if we got there, and you did not want me, I would not hold you to-”

Her eyelids fluttered. Stupefied.

“You would leave me when we got West.”

He was trying to hold himself steady beneath her on the steps.

“If you wanted me to.”

She crossed her arms.

“Don’t be thickheaded,” anger rushed over her, blinding, searing. “Ben, you’d leave-”

“I didn’t want to. But I didn’t want to force you into keeping a man you chose in desperation.”

“You bastard.”

“I am trying to be noble.”

Heat rose up in her cheeks as her hands balled into fists.

“You goddamn bastard. How many times do I have to say it, Ben?”

“About a hundred more, or for as long as you vowed to marry me, and if that bothers you it would be a good time to send me packing--”

She shoved her lips up against his. In broad daylight, on a busy main street of South Pass. There were whistles from inside the grocer’s, for God’s sake.

She yanked him back by his collar when he got too comfortable against her lips.

“Don’t ever speak of abandoning me again.”

His arms snaked around her waist, “that’s not what I meant. I'd feel cruel if I didn't offer you your freedom at least once.”

She swallowed.

Even if it hurt, there was kindness there.

Trying to make her happy.

"You'd really let me go?"

He nodded, even though it looked like--

It looked like it might kill him.

"If you wanted. I don't want that. If it matters at all."

He bowed his head.

She took a deep, slow breath. 

“You were being stupid,” she nodded, her brow fiercely pressed against his, “I have chosen you, Ben Solo. I will go with you West. My only demon has a broken neck right now. I left him outside of Laramie where he will forever remain. I will not stare in the living eyes of one of yours.”

Whether that be doubt, or something more solid.

He nodded up at her. Looking, at least, grateful.

“I love you, Rey.”

She still gripped his shirt.

“You didn’t tell me about going straight to California because you thought I’d be scared. That was your first mistake.”

His eyebrows perked up.

“Oh?”

“I don’t want to spend my winter in Oregon City living some dead man’s plan. I want to spend it lazing like a cat in a cabin you build me. You spoiling me rotten after everything you put me through.”

“I promise,” he squeezed her hips. “We don’t even know how the rest of the wagon train will vote. This argument may have been for nothing, and you can remind me of it the whole stagecoach ride from Oregon City.”

She found herself smiling in spite of herself.

“Dameron wanted me to fight you instead of him.”

“Well, you’re in bed with me,” Solo grinned, “I’m better equipped.”

“I want us to figure this out together, no matter how this goes. Even if our guide sells us down the river because there’s gold in the bed of it. Because you’re what I want too.”

He actually laughed. “You warmed up to this quickly.”

She felt herself go soft in his arms.

“If I found out at Fort Hall, I might have set the wagon on fire. But no matter what happens, I will survive this,” she believed in herself as she spoke the words. “We will survive this, Ben Solo. Together.”

 

Chapter Text

She didn’t have to buy herself gloves.

At random intervals during her shopping, she looked down at her leather-cradled hands and smiled. It was a perverse sort of pleasure to think it.

Her husband took care of it.

“You look like you’re going to run over and melt,” Rose said at some point during the afternoon as they went through the few shops in South Pass.

Her cheeks flamed.

She must have been insufferable; moony and pathetic. She tried to train her face to hide it. But her fingers twitched in her new gloves and her whole body would tremble with ever-taut, restricted motion against the leather.

She wove around a cluster of about a dozen children -including six of the seven accounted for- pressed up against a candy display in the shop. There wasn’t a lot of that rationed out on the trail, so young ones from various wagons bonded quickly over the absence of sweets in their stomachs, each trying to beg a penny off any adult that would pass by.

“You like him,” Rose amended, sensing Rey’s silence as discomfort.

It was fair: she didn’t take of the pair of leather riding gloves since he had given them to her, like a child with a costume, when night fell she might just sleep in them.

“I do,” she replied, examining the shopping list they’d compiled for her purchases with Rose.

Rose was waving the shopkeeper over, “I’ll get two scoops from that jar,” her finger pressed against the glass “aaaand three peppermint sticks.”

“You shouldn’t spoil the children,” Rey, who had not had much candy in her life, shot a rare imperious look at her companion.

Rose laughed.

“It’s not for them; it’s for my husband.”

Several children looked like they were going to wilt with devastation.

“Finn likes candy?”

“A lot,” Rose smiled at the shopkeeper when he handed over the paper bag of her selections, “and flour was cheaper here than in Independence, so there was some room for it in the budget. This should last him...”

Rose expertly considered the weight of the full bag in her hand, “until the afternoon.”

Rey laughed softly, examining the shine of twisted sugar under the glass. Finn would devour that. She could picture it easily. 

Her eyes locked on the swirls of red.

Ben had a pretty mouth. The crook of a peppermint stick between those lips was an odd image that had her looking twice at the display.

Rey had some of her remaining money -not the cash still in her boot, but given to her by Ben for a few more needed purchases- sliding around her pocket. With an idle hand, she moved some of the coins around.

Rose watched with a wise smile.

“Ben have a sweet tooth?”

Her response was brazenly unromantic:

“Ben takes what I give him,” and yet Rey wondered aloud, “he has made no preference clear to me.”

Impulsively, foolishly, she dug a few pennies out of her pocket.

“Half a scoop,” she instructed the shopkeeper, as grave and as fierce as if she was buying a gun.

Rose was laughing at her, kindly, her own stick of candy between her lips while Rey paid.

She claimed as they exited the shop she had to eat hers fast before Finn got his hands into it; though Rey was getting suspicious Finn had to fear the same from his wife's quickness.

“That saloon has lemonade,” Rose pointed across the dirt road towards some shadowed swinging doors. “My treat.”

Rey had her own candy now pressed on her tongue. It would get them away from the six children tailing them, hoping for even a breath of sweets. She glanced at the clock at the South Pass chapel; instructed by Ben to meet him there at four.

They had time.

“That sounds nice,” she hefted her cloth sack of groceries behind her, weighted heavy in her arm. It would be nice to sit down for a moment; not on a wagon, not in a low crouch in the dirt. But in a proper chair with lemonade. "Will they permit us?"

Rose shrugged. "Paige would..." 

Sadness crossed her eyes in the afternoon sun, "...Paige would go to these places. After working in a mine, she'd punch coal-blackened marks to anyone who tried to keep her from a drink. She'd earned it. Nobody stopped her."

Rey raised her eyebrows, approving, enjoying the picture in her head, as Rose bravely led her up the steps.

There was no tearoom, or proper lady’s lounge in town, so they would be seated with men if they were going to drink even lemonade. The propriety of the East hadn’t managed to drift here yet, stuck in a low tide where their travels had taken them too high out of the pool of familiarity. Even Rose, as plucky and easily friendly as anyone, seemed to glance nervously around the dusty and dark gathering place in the presence of men.

They had made each other brave, doing this, together.

A woman in a silk dress sat near the barkeep, but she wasn’t there for long. A few coins from a weary traveler crossed the path of her palm and she was up, holding those pretty skirts out of the way as she led the man who gave her the money upstairs.

It didn't take long for Rey to decipher what was happening.

Rey wondered if Rose noticed. Rose was looking into her glass like she was planning on diving through it.

Rose noticed.

Rey’s own eyes wandered up and down the blue silk barely holding all those curves in one place. She had never given much thought to prostitutes before Ben, outside the realm of Christian charity in the they must be pitied or loathed.

She tried to picture him doing this. Was it with the confidence, resignation? Or was he jollier? With that spring in his step she often saw when she had sent him to sleep after a good orgasm from her hands?

Ben seemed to like the prostitutes from his past with genuine fondness; spoke more of them as his boyhood companions than any other boys or men alike.

She was curious to them, never giving the profession a deeper understanding of sex than her own sheltered one. But Ben knew much more of sex from them. Enough to make her wonder what they knew that she didn't.

That door closed behind the blue dress and her curiosity was left to the remaining contents of the bar in this early afternoon. Rose relaxed next to her, as though the debauchery out of sight was now safely out of mind.

This still felt slightly bad and dangerous, and for some reason, Rey liked it that way.

She bit back a smile in every sip she took. Her first husband would drop dead to see her at a high seat at a bar, even with nothing stronger than sugar and water. She pictured him running into her there on the nights he’d be out.

Too dumb to even utter a word at the look of her now.

She looked at the faded print of her skirt with a sad smile to herself.

“How long have you ladies been traveling?”

The barman was smiling, friendly-looking enough, but Rose was stiff at Rey’s elbow.

“Since March,” she replied anyway, obedient like a pupil to a teacher. The kind of reluctant polite that forgets one does not have to share or be honest, even when prompted, to just anyone.

Rey did not have many answers for strangers.

“Been hearing your party’s led by one Poe Dameron,” the glass he was cleaning glinted in afternoon light. Rey watched his hands instead of his face. “We don’t get much news in town, so you hear who passes through every now and again. Good guide, Dameron, for a Northern passage. Been hearing he’s asking around about California.”

Rose kept quiet, sipping her drink. Rey never spoke to begin her. Let herself be the dumb, mute one, as unfair as it was for Rose to carry the conversation, her friend was smart enough to not rush into a reply there when there was none.

Rey wondered if Rose knew yet, that the men were voting on changing course. Ben cared about her vote. She was sure Finn cared about his wife’s; but she wasn’t sure how the balance of power in either marriage would tip with a dissenting opinion.

“We like him,” Rose finally said carefully, “we’ll keep him. He’s cute.”

There was a moment where Rey was impressed. Brushing off the topic skillfully, playing dumb.

“Is there a Mr. Hux in your party? Tall? Red hair?”

Rey froze with her glass at her lips.

“The name doesn’t strike me,” she replied carefully.

Cutting Rose off before the turn. He did not need to know.

Something inside her, a prickling distrust, told her to not readily supply information to strangers.

Rose was still at her side. Squeezing her hand, under the counter, once in understanding:

“Our husbands are missionaries; we do not speak to anyone not traveling with our congregation.”

And Rose lifted her glass off the bar and drank. Rey tried to bite back a laugh.

“Makes for lonely campfires,” she added, and Rose kicked her under the counter. Gently. Not mean, but in a we’ll laugh about this later kind of way.

But Rey wasn’t sure she was going to feel like laughing about a strange, rude, nosy man. It just made her uncomfortable.

And odd.

Like she was hiding something.

They had to be safe from this line of inquiry now. Hux was long dead.

“Speaking of husbands,” Rey slid a dollar out of her pocket. She’d use one from her boot to replace it for Ben, “mine must be parched. Are you selling that bottle of whiskey?”

The barman was silent. He pocketed the dollar without any questions.

He clearly thought them too silly and dumb to get what he wanted to know out of them. But his eyes were on Rey anyway.

She straightened her jaw. He'd find nothing. Just freckled cheeks and female titters of silly laughter.

Still, that bartender looked at her far too closely when he wordlessly slid the bottle across the counter to her.

 


 

Ben kissed her cheek when she returned to him at the chapel at four.

"My husband could see you," she found herself hissing, and he was confused before discovering the joke in her eyes.

She found herself odd in that moment. Giddy on her afternoon with Rose; no husbands, no chaperones, and no one demanding that they behave. 

His smile was sweet. 

"Then you'd better make this quick," Ben warned with that dark, whispery voice of his.

She took his next kiss with heavy-lidded eyes.

He had his own purchases, mostly hardware for the wagon and the team, but he still carried her sack of groceries for her when they walked back to camp together.

She almost forgot about the candy until she was digging out his change and brushed the paper bag in her pocket.

They were going to start dinner soon, it was a rushed chore, but the cramped quarters made it fun to brush purposefully up against each other with thinly-veiled attempts to touch instead of get organized. 

Shyly, she pulled it out into her hand when she caught his eyes on the bulge in her pocket.

They were in the wagon, packing things up so everything could be accounted for and in order to leave the next morning. She hid the whiskey; a surprise for another time.

But they were hunched close, both too tall to stand upright under the eaves of the wagon hood, and Ben’s bent form drew his eye naturally to the contents of the candy bag.

“I...I didn’t know if you’d like any,” she admitted, “I never did, much. But I…”

He had gotten something for her, and she didn’t want to show up empty-handed.

Ben’s eyes were purposeful on hers.

“I’ll have a piece.”

First, she took off her gloves and stuffed them in her other pocket.

Then she dug with shaky fingers for a peppermint. Speaking in a rush:

“I should have asked, I’ll pay you back, Rose said flour was cheaper here so we covered it in the grocery budget…”

He was drawing her bare fingers towards his lips instead of taking it from her with his fingers. Ben pulled the peppermint free from her grasp with a single suck, tucking it aside in the pocket of his cheek, and then tasting the sugar instead from her finger.

The candy clacked against his teeth as he sucked her.

Her feet felt stuck to the floor. Ben kept licking her hand anyway. Dutifully cleaning the stickiness off of her.

“You want to try it?” he offered softly, watching her watch him.

“I want you to enjoy it.”

“You’re my wife,” he brushed some of the hair out of her face that always clung to her brow, “what’s mine is yours…”

She nodded, mouth dry.

She hadn’t had a piece of candy in years, hadn’t thought about one in just as long. She had the whole bag still in her pocket for her own piece.

But she wanted.

None of the logic mattered.

She fell out of her crouched position in front of him onto her knees. He knelt too, settled into the wagon bed, hands coming to clutch her hips.

And the spit-softened peppermint pressed into her mouth by his lips.

She moaned softly, her tongue taking the candy inside her mouth, the sugar coating her lips getting a personal examination by her husband’s tongue.

She almost swallowed it whole, forgetting how one was supposed to eat candy. By savoring.

He reminded her, his lips on hers, not letting her jerk away when she felt nervous.

Why did she feel nervous; this man had already bedded her--

“Hmm,” she found herself moaning into his mouth.

She’d tried weaving the braids up around the back of her head this morning, to keep her hair off her neck, but with a few touches from him the only thing the hair seemed woven to was his fingers.

He laughed softly, cradling her skull.

“You like it, Rey?”

When he tried to pull away she whimpered. Those long fingers came down around the back of her neck and kneaded.

That felt really good. She had to hold herself rigid all day long so her head wouldn’t snap back and forth with the impact of the wagon wheels. Her muscles were tight. She’d never thought about how that shock affected her body. But Ben did, his fingers gently working from her spine to the softest part of her throat.

Her throat contracting under his fingers with slow sucks on the peppermint.

“I bought it for you,” she protested, the sugar dissolving into nothing on her tongue. She heard the bag crinkle, his fingers filling her pocket to dig for another piece before this one vanished.

“This is for me, sweetheart. I like filling your mouth.”

Ben lips moved along her jaw with the bite of a proud smile.

She felt the hard sugar prod her wet lips again, and she accepted his fingers with a shudder. Remembering his words, and emboldened by her afternoon doing something that her first husband would find, described in the most flippant and tame understatement, naughty, she smiled and wrapped her lips around his thumb.

Tucking the candy aside to suck on him instead.

For balance, she had a free hand over his folded knee, the other around his wrist, and she felt him tense when her lips sealed tight around his thumb.

Like he showed her, on her own hand.

“Rey,” he murmured, awed, “oh, fuck, Rey.”

She hummed happily to hear him curse.

Her eyes flickered up at his. The sight of him was her undoing. When she was done with him; Ben was clearly going to eat her alive.

She thought of it: an act she had shunned to the dark part of her brain as soon as she first heard of it and ignored until now. Because it was too scandalous.

Ben wanted to replace his thumb in her mouth with his cock.

Panicked, she dropped him from her lips, a wet line of spit still connecting them.

She hadn’t thought of it that way before, wanting it, relegating the act for someone like the blue-silk-clad form she saw weaving up a stairwell in the saloon. Fallen. Ruined.

It wasn’t for a woman like her.

Was it?

For a husband like Ben?

He had placed his mouth on her sex, was he coaxing her towards reciprocating it? She was too afraid to show the man her breasts; was this the necessary glue to keep him there? Interested?

She liked his cock, she liked having it in her hands or rubbing against her skin.

She thought of her first wedding day, of Jess’s mother taking the role of her matron when she had no family to represent her. Of already married Jess, looking too red-eyed and miserable to meet her eyes.

Of words like sacrifice and duty.

Of her teen years where Jess joked openly about her wedding night until she had one: and then never wanted to speak about it again.

Rey hadn’t anticipated liking a man so much. Enough to consider it.

With a shudder, she licked her empty lips. He had one hand on her waist, and could feel her heavy breathing. Arousal and fear.

Ben looked ready to shove his thumb back in her mouth, but at the shiver that prompted, he seemed to restrain himself.

Sensing her turn to fear.

“Shy, suddenly?” he observed, stroking his thumb instead along the shine of her bottom lip. Awkwardly, the melting sugar furring against the inside of her cheek, she swallowed and nodded.

Still clutching his wrist. Squeezing until her fingers turned white.

She couldn't be naked with him. 

But neither was he, with her. 

And instead of fearing that, she was quickly formulating the plan to suck him so he could leave his branded back covered, and her chest bound, and--

“What’s wrong?”

“Just thinking,” she murmured, and to dismiss the thought from her mind, pressed her lips to his.

He accepted the kiss for only a moment; not taking her methods of distraction lightly.

“About what?”

“How much I like your mouth,” she answered honestly, and he smiled.

“Then why did you look so scared?”

Because he didn’t know what she had decided to do to him.

She shook her head with a coy smile.

“Because I clearly didn’t buy enough candy…”

She extracted another piece from the bag in her pocket and nudged it to his lips. He raised his eyebrows, not entirely believing her, but trusting her all the same.

This time he sucked on her thumb the same way when it chased the candy into his mouth, hollowing his cheeks so she could feel the wet warmth inside. She shuddered, her face pressing into his shoulder, and knew why, if not how, this would please her husband and his cock from her lips and tongue.

Even if she thought it was wrong; she’d try it if he kept looking at her like that. Such a mix of tenderness and oddness between them made her bolder than she ever was.

She pushed her curiosity aside for the moment. Nuzzling his hair aside from his ear.

“It seemed like you needed something sweet.”

He popped her thumb free of his lips. Kissing the wet pad before he dropped her hand.

“Thank you.”

He meant it. Even novelty. Even a game. 

He was thankful.

“You got me something first,” she swallowed, her tongue empty of her second piece of candy already. It had dissolved away. Funny how sweet things like that didn't last long at all. Maybe that's why she didn't like them very much. "And I...wanted to give you a taste."

 


 

Confused, she woke in the middle of the night when she realized she forgot something.

Her eyes flipping open immediately.

She and Ben both fell asleep without incident when the real world filtered back in to their schooner. They were kissing for too long to be considered decent: treating boiled sugar and syrup like it was divine nectar and acting not at all like adults. If she gave herself to Ben then, there would be nothing but candy again, and that kind of softness would not get them to California.

Dinner had to be made. Rest needed to be had.

But she was thinking about her newfound curiosity. Too scared to act on it. Too scared to mention it; her husband either thinking her too wanton or cracking like porcelain if she proposed...he take her mouth. 

An offer she had no clue if she could execute properly to begin with.

With that on her mind, the strange question from the afternoon filtered into her memory, waking her in a surge of panic.

“Ben?”

“Hmm?”

He was not awake when she spoke, but as usual, he was up as soon as she needed him to be. He rolled towards her sleepily. Seemingly unbothered by a single thing that could have possibly crossed his wife's mind.

She swallowed. Feeling foolish for the dramatics over a memory so small, but she spoke readily, in a rush;

“Rose and I went to the saloon for lemonade when we were done shopping. The barman…”

Her eyes fluttered.

Ben must have understood her tone. He was kissing her hand comfortingly, urging her to continue the thought:

“He asked after Hux by name. It made me feel...strange. Like someone was waiting for us, all of us.”

She heard Ben swallow. Stuck still for a moment.

The silence reverberated between them until it could almost be palpably felt.

She didn't like inviting this into their bed. 

"I didn't tell him anything," she found herself confessing. Like she could have done anything wrong by telling a stranger a party member was dead. "Rose and I, we didn't say anything."

Her husband's body softened towards her. Approving, soothed, proud somehow.

“Thank you for telling me that,” he said in a low, crackly voice moving through darkness, his lips curving around the heel of her palm.

He said nothing more, and she felt herself falling asleep too fast. 

Like her worries were over. Ben knew. Her husband would deal with it.

It has curious, his response. If she wasn't so tired, or immediately soothed by his capable tone, she might have still been up wondering about it.

He had sounded grateful.


Chapter Text

Rey had never felt the comforts of having a husband to handle things: before Ben she only had a husband handle them badly.

But Ben properly shouldered her burdens.

He was careful with money, something that used to keep her up at night.

He converted the horse she wanted made into glue instead into a purposeful tool; he could carry more food back from hunts that he could on foot when it was a reliable ride.

He was not harsh or cruel with her. He tried to be better when she felt like he was.

And in turn; she trusted him.

When the decision came to split or go to Oregon; Rey merely smiled when Ben came back to the wagon and told her that they would not have to find a new guide in Fort Hall.

Dameron would be leading them South to California.

 


 

She thought about his cock -even when it was fully wrapped in her hand, like it wasn’t even there- much more intimately than a woman like her would care to admit.

Before the tomfoolery with the candy; she hadn’t given it much thought at all. Outside of the necessary ins and outs. It was what she must take to consummate their union, or what she must stroke to get his mouth to make the sounds that she liked, or where the cum that heated her skin came from.

It was a part of Ben, not a wildly important one after it was so hard for her to take the first time, but a part that was joined with his pleasure, which he deserved in exchange for hers, in the very least. She didn't want babies, she didn't really want to risk them for one more time.

She was scared to think about it.

She would watch him on his rides and feel it down to her toes in the way his thighs flexed, the way his chest moved. He was a newly sensual creature to her that had her sputtering and shy when he looked at her. This was so terrifying and foreign. Even the touches they shared before seeming utilitarian as scratching an itch.

Now she wanted indulgent and sweet and more.

Nakedness was an easy avoidance on the trail. Bathing was quick and private. Sleeping was done under a wagon with only the barrier of darkness. She had seen so little of her first husband by choice, that when she found herself using what little she remembered from the shape of his organ to inform some of the mystery of Ben’s; her entire brain went sour in her skull and she spent the rest of the day too ashamed to meet Ben’s eyes.

How did you explain curiosity for the man you had married? Especially as a married woman once before?

After South Pass the course roughened the terrain under their feet. A day in the wagon would have Rey feeling bruised, the shock of the oxen pulling had Ben’s hands jerking, seizing, with phantom tension long after he stopped driving in the evenings. They slumped together, usually too tired to play a little before sleep, and certainly much too exhausted to face the massive undertaking that was Rey’s mounting curiosity.

They just cuddled like a nest of kittens and fell right to sleep. As content and as comfortable with that as beings sired in the same litter.

So deciding her next move came down entirely on a piece of dust.

 


 

She cursed out loud; her steps next to the wagon faltering.

Ben glanced down from his spot above her at the box seat, the reins tight in his hands. She had been walking along with the oxen. The pace of the day had been slow and she badly needed to stretch her legs.

There was a gasp from a passing wagon; not from her injury but from her language as she stumbled back.

Ben was already pulling up ahead of her after she stopped dead in her tracks, craning back with an expression of worry.

“Rey? Are you alright?”

She had her thumb dug anxiously in the inner corner of her eye, her face already red and crumpled up. It was probably only dust, and she had already faced a whole lot of it on the trail, but this fleck had hit against her eye in such a way that she couldn’t move forward until the pain was dealt with.

The wagon churned past her. Ben couldn’t reasonably stop; but she could tell by the way the wheels were stalling that he was trying to.

She winced when her finger found it. Trapped under her lid, it was still in there, and it hurt like nothing else.

“I’m fine,” she blinked as hard as she could to control the flow of hot tears trying to loosen the offending object. Calling out so he would keep going without her.

Some dust, maybe a small rock.

Ben jumped down from the wagon, the oxen unguided and slowing to a stop.

“Ben!” she was hunched over, digging a finger carefully against her lid, and more distraught that he was being foolish than her own body being in pain.

“Don’t worry about it,” and the wagons behind them dealt with the block in their path as well as they could, leaving the Solos in the center of it all. His fingers were untying the ribbon of her bonnet, trying to get it out of the way so he could look at her face.

He brushed his hands clean on his trousers. “Look up at me.”

Both eyes watering, she cast her gaze towards his face, but the frantic blinking made it too hard to focus on him.

A firm hand took hold of her chin. She clutched the fallen bonnet to give her fingers something to do other than swat him away from her eye.

She winced as he stroked a thumb down the arch of her nose, then to the inner corner of her injured eye.

“Try and hold still, please,” his tone was gentle, his eyes focused. And he delicately brushed the pad of his thumb outwards across her lid. She tried not to tense up, tears slipping fast down her cheek, but he only worked slower and more patiently the more settled his touch became on such a sensitive place.

“Am I hurting you?”

“No,” Rey swallowed down the anxiety of having her eye prodded at by someone else’s fingers.

Ben was helping. He was taking care of it.

And he truly wasn’t hurting her; as she had anticipated. He was being very gentle.

She chewed her lower lip, the tears slowing as he worked the piece of grit out of the flesh in the corner of her eye.

She felt it scratch against the bridge of her nose when he finally freed it. The flow of tears sent to dislodge the rock stopped abruptly.

And then the pain was gone.

She heaved a soft sigh, her chin -though still held in his other hand- bowed in relief.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

He shrugged at her with a mild-looking smile.

“Have to keep you in one piece.”

Shyly, her arms crossed in front of her. The bonnet whacked against his arm, as if pushing him away. He was already stepping back, though still looking straight at her, to reclaim control of the stopped team. 

She really had caused a mess. But he could have just kept driving. She should be frustrated he didn't just keep driving.

With a shaking hand, she drew the corner of her apron up to mop the tears off her cheek.

He was looking because he could feel how clearly she wanted to speak to him.

She swallowed again.

“You’re not half bad, Solo,” she was breathless as she said it, “I think I’ll keep you around.”

As if there was a choice in the matter. They were thrown together by impossible circumstances. She was desperate when she selected him; even worse off when he extended his offer. Helpless.

But it meant a lot to her to tell him if there was one, if life had given her the choice she’d never had; she’d still choose him. Some women never got to step back and think that about their husbands. And died thinking about that first impossible choice.

He looked down at the ground instead of her, a proud smile and a red flush creeping up across his face.

“Please,” he replied quickly, stepping back towards the box seat and the reins he should be holding. For the life of me, Rey. Please d o.”

 


 

A little piece of dust decided it. In the way just thinking about his cock couldn't.

It wasn't his cock; it was him.

He was gentle. Tender. Better to her than her first husband by as many miles as they’d managed to travel away from his grave.

Progress between them marked with every passing day.

She lay next to him that evening, the lantern still lit as he pulled off his boots with tired, slumped shoulders.

“Can I...kiss you?” she asked first.

Ben actually snorted as he tossed the boot aside.

And then looked mortified when her own face recoiled in surprise.

“Yes,” he blurted out, “oh, Rey, yes, I didn’t mean-”

She snorted back.

It was ridiculous to ask; with everything that had passed between them, he should expect her to be more comfortable than that formality.

It was a kiss. She could take it if she wanted.

“I know,” she curled her fingers under his chin, trying to calm down his guilt-ridden panic, “Ben, I know.”

He groaned hopelessly when she did kiss him then, her shyness ebbed away by a shared humor in the situation. His laugh was relieved when she did. Emboldened, she pressed him down from his position half over her body, which had already been laying down. Until she was half over his.

She folded herself over him instead.

There was a ferocity, an insistence and preference in her kiss that had never been there before. Thinking of his fingers taking care of her eye. His burned back. No one would take him. No one would hurt him.

Not as she breathed on this earth.

She nuzzled his cheek, his jaw, his throat. She felt him lose his breath as she sat back on her haunches, unbuttoning his shirt to explore.

Her crouch dipped further back as she raised the hem of his undershirt over his belly. Baring his chest.

“This is quite unexpected,” Ben mused, his voice leaving him in dry cracks as her lips sought his shuddering chest. His skin was beautiful.

Marked forever, charred, between his shoulder blades. She kissed to keep the bitterness off her tongue, the secret safe inside her that she knew about it. Someone had blistered his skin with a hot iron like an animal.

He was the finest example of a man she had ever met. She tried to show through her kisses.

Ben was panting under her. Her husband. He belonged to her.

She nuzzled the trail of hair down under his navel.

He obviously seemed to think this chosen path of hers an accident up until that point. Then, with a gasp, his hand tangled meaningfully in her hair, and the muscles of his stomach jumped and trembled when she began opening up his trousers.

She nosed the coarse hair at the base of his cock, her heart pounding in her throat as she tried to work out what she’d even do to him when she got there.

He was bigger than she had anticipated this close up. No wonder she had struggled so much to take him.

“I…” she swallowed.

He was rucked up, undone, looking ruined already underneath her hovering face.

“I had thought that only prostitutes did this,” she closed her eyes.

Losing her courage for a moment.

His eyes fluttered shut, his elegant face upturned in the lamplight. They should probably switch it off, but she needed it to see what she was doing.

Trying not to show what he was anticipating for fear of startling her. But very clearly wanting it as badly as he could.

He combed his fingers into her hair soothingly.

“Only prostitutes have, to me. I still liked it.”

She took him in her hand.

This she could do. Had done. Often.

She focused on the familiarity of the strokes, but a little too fast, and Ben sensed her sloppiness as nerves.

“Do you want to fill my mouth?” she murmured, glancing nervously up at him.

His muscles tensed at her words.

“Rey. Only if you want-”

Her lips crested open at the very tip of him. Sliding him inside curiously, just against her tongue.

His hips arched up. She saw his fist at his side. Clenched bone-white.

“Hmm,” she mused aloud, her tongue licking over the soft tip of him.

This wasn’t bad. It honestly felt...sweet. Not in taste, but in how it felt like she was just kissing him on the part that would please him so well.

But she felt him move under her. Fidgety. Like this was just a tickle, not...what he could do to her, if he wished. Not at that all-consuming depth.

He actually grunted, as if in pain, when she lifted her mouth from his cock.

“I’ve never done this before.”

“I know,” he stared at the wood about his head like it was a coffin lid.

She sighed. His thighs tensed under her hands as the breath moved over his skin.

His cock twitched upwards, towards his belly.

“Suck,” he said, his eyes shut tight. “Like a candy stick.”

She opened her mouth to protest, to give her something, anything, to work with other than that.

Then his thumb stroked over her bottom lip. Automatically, she wrapped her lips around it.

Her expression was annoyed, even with her mouth plugged. Feeling coddled. Childish. This was so far removed from the real thing she felt like a little girl being made to play house.

He’d already had her practice this on his thumb.

“Suck,” he repeated, the humor gone from his voice.

Finish what you started.

She remembered his cheeks hollowing as his mouth covered her own finger. With a swallow, she did the same.

Until he groaned in approval.

“You’ve got it,” he murmured, lifting her hair out of the way after he withdrew his thumb the moment she had the hang out it. His fingers were twitching impatiently.

Now she just felt rushed.

She lifted her eyes back to his.

“There’s a prostitute back at South Pass, maybe you already know her-”

“A man can only take so much teasing-”

His throat was chording, staring at the wagon bed like he was being tortured.

She slid the tip easily back into her mouth.

There. Not teasing.

He let out a huffing breath, she saw his body melt down lower to the ground as the air left him.

Suck was her only instruction, so she did.

Wetting the skin under her lips. Making it easier to slip her mouth further down.

Again, her cheeks burned at his hasty explanation of the mechanics working; her mouth had to be wet like it was a candy stick because it would not slip easily back and forth dry. It also helped with the element that confused her the most; dealing with her teeth. The way she position her mouth, like it was candy, kept them safely out of the way. 

The relief gave her some little confidence. 

She adjusted her tongue under the head of his cock, letting her mouth salivate enough to slide him back in deeper.

And sucked.

He bucked into her mouth, almost knocking her backwards. He apologized, cursing, until she shoved his hips down in the dirt and pinned him there.

He was going to have to make it easy for her for this to work. He swallowed as she glared up at him.

Nodding at her. Silently promising to be better behaved.

Tentatively, he cradled her head, like he didn’t know where to touch.

She was fine, as long as he didn’t get in the way.

Going back to her work. Focused. Hollowing her cheeks, like he did around her thumb.

To keep the length of him in one place, she wrapped a hand around the base of his cock. Absently, readjusting her mouth, she squeezed with her fingers, and he moaned helplessly.

So he liked that. Her eyes flickered up at him suspiciously. It took a minute to realize why she wasn’t speaking; her mouth was full. Stroking him with her hand, she popped him out of her lips again.

He looked half-ready to strangle her.

“Is this the same for you as when I use my hand? It’s much easier to just use my hand.”

“Did my mouth feel the same as my hand?”

Ben had a lot of patience. An almost saintly amount with her; he may not handle her well every time but he at least did it patiently.

He did not look patient now.

She swallowed. Feeling guilty.

“No,” she almost drawled.

His mouth was another story.

“Then,” his chest was heaving, as though from exertion, “use your hand if you’d rather. But. Fuck. Rey. Your mouth.”

"You like it?"

"When you're not stopping," he growled low, but she took the compliment that was hidden there.

Still, her reservations raised her hackles:

“Does it take a long time? To finish you this way?”

He shook his head. Actually laughing, finally understanding that she may have rushed them into this; but she didn’t know any better. Pleasure, not even Niima’s, was not a thing explored in her cold first marriage bed. Her obligatory strokes to him on their wedding night should have tipped him off. She’d never pleasured before.

She wasn’t even sure he really liked it, from her.

“It won’t take long,” he promised. Stroking her hair, his obviously tense, jumpy hands trying to be tender. “You’re doing so well. Less time than it takes with your hand.”

She hadn’t thought of it that way. She was worried the act, between man and prostitute, would take hours.  Was the point of it to take longer, a luxurious experience? Would that have been why he liked it? She knew so little of the transaction of it and how it compared to an unpaid woman, a wife.

There was cum collecting at the tip of his cock. Dutifully, she licked it up like the sugar melting off a candy stick.

Different taste. Same principle.

Wetting her lips again, she slid him inside.

“Move it in and out,” he murmured. Freezing, worried his guidance would further dissolve the tension they were failing at building back up. Her eyes flickered up to his. His cock filling her mouth. With a furrowed brow, she slid him deeper. Then slightly back.

“You’ve got it.”

She repeated the action; smoother this time. He sighed. A gorgeous sound.

Further back, and then sliding him out. A few more times.

He was beautiful underneath her. So lost and soft.

Deeper--

-her throat seized-

She slid him so his head was against her tongue. Shuddering.

His thumb stroked her cheek.

“Are you alright?”

She was trying not to cough.

He leaned up on his elbows, bending slightly to kiss the crown of her skull.

“I’m sorry.”

She minutely shook her head. Determined to keep going. Taking him deep again and sucking. Her spit making the process of sucking, bobbing back and forth, faster. Once she could find a steady rhythm -she thought the act was about flourishes, not rhythm, like in her own body- Ben reacted like she had the night he had given her the first piece of advice.

She did like it.

His muscles were tight under her hands. He made soft, rich sounds. He glanced up at her like she-

-had mastered him.

Which was insane, she wasn’t very good at this.

But that didn’t seem to matter when it was her hand on him. When it was just kissing. When it was her cunt and his mouth.

It didn't matter what she had or hadn't done. Even with this.

With an exhale through her nose, she tried to remember what had grown between them. This was just a part of a many-faced monster between them. It wasn’t the final form, or the end. She wasn’t going to get dragged to a pit of hell for women who ruined themselves. It wasn’t the deepest depths of her depravity.

It was something he liked; and she liked him.

She was doing this to make Ben feel good, which was why it was so hard to do, because she was too practical and this had felt entirely too accommodating until now. That used to be such a stupid reason: so your husband would feel good.

Her first husband took. He spent her money. He did whatever he wanted to feel good, there was no room in her survival to concern herself with foot rubs or offering up her mouth.

Ben was a different husband.

At a certain point, she lifted a hand from his stomach. He grabbed on to her hand, white-knuckling, folded half over her and quivering as she sucked.

She hoped she was taking his reactions -which honestly seemed kind of pained- as a clue that he was enjoying it. When she pulled back to check, he slid her back down with a hand on that back of her skull. Shaking his head.

Don’t stop.

“Please,” he murmured, and she hummed her consent, stunned to feel it reverberate against the organ in her mouth.

He cupped the back of her head, arching into her mouth. He hit that fleshy part of the back of her throat again, and was spilling inside her with muttered curses raining down over her hair.

When he let go of her, she was coughing, but she felt more relieved that he was finished. She was starting to feel self-conscious. But it was in less time, excluding the distractions, than it took with her hand.

“That wasn’t bad,” she was smacking her tongue, trying to adjust to the amount of spend in her mouth. Swallowing frequently.

Two fingers swiping through his spilled cum had the taste dissolve quickly.

This was a lot more to deal with.

Ben was breathless underneath her. He looked like he had been hit by a train.

She sat back, still hovering over him, her bare hands in the grass on either side of his bedroll. Feeling silly and loose and soft.

The strap of her nightdress slid down one shoulder, and he was staring at it like it was the deepest temptation.

“I know I wasn’t very good.”

He bit back a laugh; but he was sleepy and warm and clearly ready to just roll over and cuddle her. So he didn’t hide it well.

But there was... love, in it.

Her cheeks reddened. It was there. She never thought someone was rough as her would be able to perceive it.

But now that she had, she saw it plainly and knew what it was, it meant more than words could. That she could see his own love on his face.

“What you lack in skill; you make up for in commentary.”

She laughed at herself too. She’d finished him. It wasn’t great; she could tell by how kind he was trying to be in the afterglow. But at least she'd succeeded in that.

She wanted to kiss him, but her mouth-

He hooked her under the chin with his fingers, always reading her mind, and leaned in.

She placed her hands on his shoulders. His body felt so soft. Relaxed. Leonine and strong. The muscle lurking tranquil under the surface of his skin like a beast in the depth of an ocean. Gentled for her.

“You don’t-”

“I don’t care,” he was laughing warmly against her salty lips.

And kissed her.

Because he felt good.

 


 

Pleasing him was a hotter sensation than her own pleasure. Now she understood why he woke at every shudder or whimper from her, his fingers and lips ready to work. Why he watched her so closely when they were touching. Why he seemed to love reducing her to a mess.

It was a drug; her veins were rushing and warm with it. A fearsome addiction that took hold on the trail.

She wished she could do more to sate it.

She couldn’t do a lot of things. 

Couldn't be naked. It still scared her, and she knew from him that he would not be either.

She couldn’t get all the dust out of her hair no matter how hard she tried. She couldn’t make herself smell any sweeter. She couldn’t soften her skin for him to enjoy to touch.

Her muscles were chording up, more defined and sharp, with every mile. Her skin, no matter how religiously she wore her bonnet and kept to the shade, was browning and dotted with freckles. 

Ben claimed to like the freckles. Kissing them often.

But they were unseemly.

She had maybe one worldly possession that could make the difference, and it mattered to her to use it.

She had one more dress.

Her wedding dress was the same thing she wore the day her husband died. It was dingy and faded then, and in much worse shape now. She had imagined herself in her second dress, saved for California, like she would be a new person when she put it on.

She wanted to be that person now.

Ben was cleaning up his plate after dinner. He was much more prompt being there since the night it was declared she sought him out over a crush. His punctuality was sweet, but there was still an eclipsing element to when dinner started and he arrived. It couldn’t be helped, and she did not take it personally.

Usually she sat with her empty plate in her lap until he was done eating. But tonight, she was cleaning up after herself quickly, lighting a lamp and climbing into the wagon while he was still swiping a biscuit through gravy.

She was digging around for that dress, cagey in her escape, because she had wanted to surprise him. But she just knew -it was Ben, she could have just said- so she didn’t have much time, and only a lantern, and now there were purchases from South Pass in the way of her trunk as she dug through their things-

-Hux’s bible.

Her fingers froze when she touched it.

She’d had a steady inventory of their possessions. Books were heavy. They had to be selected sparingly and were the first thing that got dumped. Even as a teacher, she wasn’t much of a reader. Ben didn’t bring any; didn’t bring much of anything in the means of personal possessions outside of his grandfather’s ashes.

It was odd that Ben would take this. He wasn't much of a Christian. She thought as much the night she saw it in his hands; but she had chalked it up to a final show of disrespect to the dead man he had beaten for her hand. Hux twisted something odd and vengeful in Ben, she had thought it a bigger part of him from first impressions but that aspect of his personality had all but vanished after Hux had died.

She pulled the book into her lap. Flipping through it. Wondering what is was worth to her husband. Wondering what passages were Hux's favorite.

That was odd.

The pages, the pages of a bible owned by a preacher, were unmarked. The verses were there, it was a functional bible, but not one that seemed owned by the person who possessed it. He had masses to do; he'd have something here or there at least underlined.

She flipped to the front cover, looking for an inscription, any evidence a preacher’s bible had even been cracked open once in a while-

She went perfectly still. 

It had been opened.

Written in.

Just not for prayer.

“Rey?”

She had thought there would be time to hide what she was doing from her husband; both her purpose and her present actions, but her Ben's illuminated face was at the end of the wagon, looking in at her.

Book open on her lap.

“What are you doing?”

“I was,” she wet her lips with her tongue. “Looking for my green dress. I feel...shabby. I want clean clothes.”

It was foolish. Thinking she could ever be another person by changing her dress. She'd still look like a mess.

It sounded so hollow spoken aloud; something she never would have admitted if her mind wasn’t racing from the drawing in her lap.

Ben was unconcerned with her admittance. His eyes held a deeper understanding, a look of being caught.

He knew what she was looking at, even as she stared into the velvet blue sky, watching sparks from their campfire over his shoulder vanish up into it.

“Ben, what is this?”

Staring at the book, the route her fingers were tracing.

“My love, it’s a map.”

She flipped through the pages, but other than the rudimentary sketch; it was just an ordinary bible.

“I can see that.”

She closed the hard front cover, raising her eyebrows at him.

“What’s it a map of?”

Ben was looking curiously at her. Barely breathing.

He swallowed.

“A shortcut.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“A word of advice:...”

Rey dropped the lid of the trunk so it whisked shut with a thud.

Ben flinched at the sound.

She kept her voice even, her outburst contained to a mere slam:

“...you’re going to think very carefully about what you’re going to tell me before you say anything at all.”

And she sat on the seat she made for herself.

Her husband paged through the book as though it had more to say than a drawing of a map and the will of God. He was crouched at the other end of the wagon, shadowy and dark, his hair covering his face.

His fingers were shaking.

He had been dead silent since he told her of the shortcut.

His first words were weak:

“You are a good wife to me,” his voice was dry as ash.

Rey wiped it away like the dust that it was. 

She crossed her arms. Her fresh green dress discarded on the wagon floor.

Her focus on vanity already long forgotten.

“Clever: but we were talking about the map.”

He swallowed, searching the map itself for a way out of this conversation.

She straightened her jaw.

He was supposed to talk. He was supposed to fill in the silence she left, then ramble, and then she could bless this argument with a resolution. 

Her silence was her power.

But he wielded silence better than she did. Like he did now. Not making excuses, placations, or apologies. Things she could work against and leverage.

She just watched his nostrils flare in the lamplight. Thinking.

Fiddle music sounded in the distance.

Another dance they weren’t having.

They had never danced, as husband and wife.

Would he be deft with her? Lead her with the skill that led that untamable horse? Or clumsily? Like the person whose map, whose schemes, landed like a dead bird in her lap?

He’d spin her, she knew that much. Spin her and spin her until she didn’t know up from down.

And he did not need to dance with her to make her feel like that.

That didn’t matter now, that they didn't dance. She was twice married. The ceremony of the occasion lessened for a woman like her.

Another man’s woman. As he had referred to her, to Hux.

The one with the map.

She bit her lower lip.

His silence was more powerful than hers. She broke.

“Where, Ben?”

He cleared his throat.

“The last leg through part of California. We’ll end up just North of Sacramento; but it’s still gold country, and not where everyone else is going. It’ll shave off a couple of days.”

His tone was casual. Forcibly. Just a couple of days.

“Has Poe agreed?”

He was silent.

The contents of her stomach turned to lead. She read his eyes like a book, and felt no better that she knew this man so well that she could do that.

“You have not told Poe. You will do this alone.”

She felt dizzy. 

“I will.”

Rey choked on the lump in her throat.

How long had he known? How long had he kept this quiet?

His tone was abrupt, not making excuses, and there was something in his eyes like he wanted her to be enraged by this. To push her to make a choice for them that he couldn't finish.

“What are those days worth to you?”

She stared at the lamp. Like numbing her eyes with the harsh light would lift her out of the shadows of this world.

He crouched at her knee.

“More than I can explain,” he touched his fingers to her cheek, “Rey…”

“Are you in danger?”

He shook his head.

"Not anymore."

She thought of the brand. He was just running. Just running away from whatever it was that did that to him. 

"This is the last stretch-" she licked her lips, trying to find the words.

“You do not have to go with me.”

Her eyes lifted to his.

This silence she would not give to him. Her horror was curling around her like hands ripping up from the earth to drag her down, deep into the eyes on her own sins. 

She was not ready to face those yet. She still had work to do in this world, more pressing. 

Like figuring out how to belong with him.

It didn’t take long for him to figure out what made her tremble like someone who'd suddenly broken through the icy surface of a lake. He tried again.

“I will not force you.”

“Ben,” she snapped like a mousetrap on the lightest stirring. “You’re saying you have to? That you will; whether I come or not?”

He kept his face trained to an even, slow observation of her.

“I will not force you. I will have you seen safely to where I can meet you in California. You can travel with Finn and Rose, and I will fetch you from Sacramento”

He said this like it was better. He sounded so gracious about it. Like he was setting her free.

“You’re going to leave.”

“Sweetheart, no I will come back for you. I promise. I promise, my love. I will only be parted from you for an instant and the rest of my life I will be yours. Forever. I promise.”

Her hands fisted in her skirts for something, anything, to hold on to. He flinched, hands hovering over hers, as though he wanted to drop his fingers into hers until she clutched them instead of that ratty, faded fabric. He actually whined in the back of his throat like a kicked dog.

“Why do you have to go this way?”

“Rey,” he squeezed her knee under those massive fingers. “My love. I will not abandon you. I’d sooner cut off my hand. I’ll give you anything to prove I will come back for you. You can take that-”

She lost her breath when he pointed to the urn of his grandfather’s ashes, his whole body trembling, “take it. If you don’t believe I’ll come back for you, which I will, even if I have to crawl. Take that and wait for me to come get it.”

Redistributing his possessions was not a sound way to soothe her.

Her eyes didn’t betray any tears, but she sacrificed too much dignity to spare that because her nose ran instead. Messily, like a child’s.

She swiped it away with the back of her hand. Sniffling.

“I don’t get a say?”

Even her voice was childish.

His eyes lifted to hers, never leaving her, even if it meant devastation from what was found in her gaze.

“Of course you do.”

“I don’t get to go?”

Then his eyelids fluttered.

“I did not think you would approve of such a crazy idea.”

“Ben.”

He looked down.

“I would not ask it of you. The sacrifice of time means rougher terrain, and we’d be...we wouldn’t have much help but each other.”

“And that's better somehow, alone? So you’d be willing to cart me off with someone else and risk your own neck, so I won’t even have a body to bury when you rot out there?”

“I don’t want to risk you-”

“So you can’t lose me, but I can lose you? What’s so fair about that, Ben? You just get to decide for me if I can survive that?”

She didn’t like what she was saying, or the way that she was saying it, so she was almost grateful when he interrupted, speaking low and full of bitterness:

“You’d found another husband easily enough before.”

She slapped him. Hard.

She could practically feel the blood pulsing as his lower lip grew fat and swollen in the aftermath. She had never in her life been insulted so deep, cut right into the core of her, as she had by this man just now.

She had never hit Niima back when he hurt her so. 

“I love you,” Ben said in a low voice, restraining a broiling anger with poison on his tongue, “but don’t you ever handle yourself like he did. You’re better than that.”

She was too mad to see the reason in that.

“Take it back.”

He halted, his brow furrowing in confusion. He dug his tongue under the corner of his mouth that had caught her hand. Clicking as he worried the skin to check for blood.

Maybe he bit himself.

“You are resourceful. Intelligent. Stunning. The only thing wrong with you is the fear in a man to see his own strength dwarfed by yours. I mean it as the highest praise that you would have more options, better options, in California; and that’s only if I don’t manage to make it across the desert in any way I can to lie with you again. Which I will do.”

She shook her head.

“I don’t want to hear about that part. Take. It. Back.”

“Why?”

"Because it isn't true."

"Isn't true that your resourceful enough to make it on your own?"

"Because you're not him," she choked out, "I didn't mourn him because he was nothing like you.  What if I don’t want another husband? What if I can’t survive you? And what if...I go with you?”

Both of them were breathing hard in the lamplight.

She had whispered the last words as if ashamed.  

Ben’s fingers brushed along her cheek.

“It was madness to ask it of you.”

She had to give him that; he probably did think better of her than her decision.

“I’ll go.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“You will protect me.”

“I will,” he swallowed, as if convincing himself, “I will.”

She leaned forward and kissed him.

He moaned into it, surging forward with so much passion he almost knocked her off the trunk. His torso shoved her knees apart, trying to keep his body as close as possible to hers as his tongue filled her mouth in a lusty claiming.

She had to cling to his shoulders to keep her balance.

And to shove them hard to get him to finally pull away.

“I will not be left by you, Ben Solo. You will not dishonor me be breaking vows, even for a few weeks, to then plead your return to them in California. You vowed forever.”

He nodded obediently.

“Whatever you wish.”

She glared at him, sliding the book into her lap, “my wish is you not break from the trail at all. Shall you really comply with my wishes?”

“My wishes,” he cleared his throat, “is to suck your pretty tits in my mouth and have you twitch on the floor of this wagon until you agree to go any which way I place you; even if it’s over my lap with my cock inside you on the box seat from Fort Hall to Sacramento.”

The only tell she gave him was an eye flutter she couldn’t control; but it was enough for him to sit back with a huff of satisfaction.

That this wasn't about getting what they wanted. 

She flipped through the map instead of responding to his prodding about her breasts. She could tell he wanted her to. Not even because he thought he was right. But because he thought that it would work to get her to open up to why she could take three fingers in her cunny and not let him touch a breast in all the time they'd been together.

Had he proven he wasn't Niima, if she couldn't let him? If she didn't believe he wouldn't let it hurt?

His plan backfired. It clearly didn’t make her explain herself, with her face hovering over the map like the free-handed sketch spoke to her at all.

“Show me the trail,” she ordered, her voice low, “we’re planning this journey properly.”

She’d like more time to think about it, but there just wasn’t any. She trusted Ben’s mind. She hated to admit it. Sharp, assessing, she almost trusted him to plan this all without her help. Where had that part of herself gone that would rather drag him by a rope the proper way to California instead of let him do this?

Apparently gone.

She felt better about applying two sharp minds to the road ahead. If she couldn’t get the time to think that she wanted.

He nodded and traced the route his his long fingers, his low voice explaining to her the breakup of time, the days saved, the things they’d need. She wasn’t entirely soothed, but it was clear he had done his research.

Why. Why had he done his research.

He bristled whenever she opened her mouth to ask. Managed to chew through the ropes she tried to catch him with to make him explain.

Tell me what you're running from.

So maybe not everyone got their wishes.

 


 

 

In a lot of ways, marriage was communal resignation.

Neither of them were entirely happy with the course they’d chosen. Both for the other to be in obvious danger. But they accepted their disappointment together. 

The passing days were cordial. At times, affectionate even. They couldn't look each other in the eye without going soft, both of them accepting their ruin, so the grudge was shaped around them; almost isolating and intimate. They didn't let others into their chaos. She didn't go running to Finn and Rose over her frustration. It was a private matter, between them, and it would stay that way. And through that they curled around each other, dovetailed by the conflicts no one else understood or deserved to know.

Whenever she dreamed; a second husband died.

She would be watching the God-like body of Ben Solo ride in his black hat from her usual spot in the grass. She’d feel the blades of it against all of her skin, like she wasn’t wearing any clothing. 

But it wasn't that kind of dream.

He’d be trotting on that horse. Both of them as one. And she's watch from the distance like it was the first time.

It happened as if triggered by nothing at all. As though he urged the horse into it. His will exerted over the animal to throw him. It would buck, and she would see the same image all over again.

It would happen to her once more.

She would always wake up at the moment his head would fold under his shoulders as his neck snapped on impact.

 

 

Chapter Text

The nightmares didn’t stop.

She'd had more husbands dreamed up with broken necks than she'd had husbands. 

Rey was skittish around the horse in a way she hadn’t been since before they were married. While she didn’t air out their fight with Finn and Rose; she was suspiciously always present whenever Ben went for a ride.

She couldn’t explain the dreams. Not to them.

And not to her husband.

He was attentive to her noises at night as he was...back even before they were wed. Whenever she felt guilty about her coarseness, she did cut herself some slack that at least she gave the man some relief in a subject that greatly concerned him. Instead of hovering around her like a specter outside her wagon, he could sleep at her side and calm whatever obvious nerves he had over her. Because whatever happened to her at night mattered to him immensely.

When she woke from that same bad dream, Ben was comforting her. Kissing her skin softly. Coaxing her to speak about it. But she rolled over, her voice gone, and didn’t move until he cuddled reluctantly around her, pleading with her to tell him what was wrong until they both fell asleep.

Rose seemed anxious to not be let in to these troubles this time.

“Are you feeling alright?”

Ben made another pass by their wagon on horseback. It wasn't something she couldn't bear to watch anymore; but she froze like a rabbit, as though she'd spook the still-unnamed stallion, until he was out of sight again.

He slowed the trot around her on purpose. Trying to catch her eye. 

She didn't throw it.

Rey smiled at Rose, squeezing her knee comfortingly, and went back to the mending she was working on in her lap.

“I’m fine.”

Rose’s face twisted, flickered from her sympathetic expression to one of her own pain, and Rey straightened.

“Are you?”

“I’m fine,” Rose repeated back; secrecy thick on her lips and her tone forced as a flexed muscle. She shook her head, as if clearing it of a bad thought, but her mouth was downturned in pain. "A little queasy."

She wasn't looking at Rey, which clearly meant she wanted the subject dropped. Rey bit her lip and kept sewing. Evidenced by her own marriage, she was never one to pry. 

Rose slipped something free from her neckline; a pendant shaped like a crescent moon.

Shyly, she caught Rey’s inquisitive eye about the charm. But this she wanted to show.

“I think all the men are getting a little stir crazy. Finn was weighing this in his palm yesterday to try and figure out how much it’d be worth.”

Rose shook her head, a protective hand over her stomach.

“Not that I’d ever sell it.”

Rey leaned closer to examine it. After all this travel, she was shocked this was the first time she was seeing real gold.

“What is it? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“From my parents. My sister had the other half.”

Rey could see that the pendant could slot into its mirror to make a whole circle of a moon. A half that would never be recovered.

She sighed, sadly, appreciative to Rose’s loss.

She wasn’t good at speaking placations.

But Rose’s dark eyes flickered; understanding the depth of a loss was sometimes better than properly acknowledging it happened.

“When this is all over,” Rey licked the end of a thread to pass it through the eye of her needle, “we need to celebrate in a saloon. A proper drink.”

Rose giggled.

“I...won’t be able to for a little while more after we reach California.”

Rey’s fingers went still. Dropping her needle.

“Oh.”

Rose covered her cheeks with her fingers, which were flaming red.

"Oh god. I told you before I told Finn.”

“Rose!”

“It just slipped out. I wanted to know for sure but-”

Rey was on her feet, about to race off the grassy knoll beside their wagon. In her haste, her bonnet dropped off the back of her head, dangling from a ribbon around her neck.

This was beyond even hiding from her husband; even if Ben did deserve it. She needed to leave those two alone for this.

“Go tell Finn.”

She was laughing as Rose tore off, her steps light and mischievous.

“Rose?”

Her friend stopped.

She couldn’t help but smile. This was happy news for them. Even if it wouldn’t be for herself.

She was scared. But Rose was so happy, she could be happy too. Rose and Finn loved each other. It was different than with...

“Congratulations.”

Rose bit her bottom lip and beamed with pride.

“Thank you. It’s been a long time coming.”

Rey laughed and turned on her heel. Rose and Finn deserved some privacy, and probably a break from her. She wasn’t throwing all her problems at their feet anymore, but they sensed her surly energy. It dissipated, as needed, with the happy news.

But something panged deep in her gut.

Rey had been hoping, maybe to see if they were interested first before she offered, to have them come along. She hadn’t told Ben yet. But it made her think of a best-case scenario; an extra team, two extra sets of hands, a stronger group.

It was odd; valuing them too much to do the same as she had asked from herself.

She couldn’t inflict that on a woman expecting a baby.

She and Ben really would be alone on this journey.

 


 

 

Rey woke with a startled cry.

It was the dream again. The sound of the neck-break was so sharp her ears rang with it even after she woke.

And then he was on her.

Alive, alive, alive.

Ben’s arms tight around her waist, his hips burrowed between hers, and his lips working reassuringly down her throat.

Soothing.

He had just been on the ground with his neck broken, and then there he was, breathing harsh and rough against her skin. She had woken him with this dream before; but she’d never cried out.

Ben sensed that she needed him, his body crushing down on hers.

“Shhh, I’m right here,” he crooned, while her lungs still shuddered with the breaths that the nightmare shortened. “Rey, sweetheart, what is it?”

Her shaking hands found purchase on his shoulders, where he himself was slightly trembling. She clung to him.

"You died. Just like he did."

He made a soft, sad noise in the base of his throat. Kissing the tears off her cheeks. Licking them.

Tasting her. 

"No. I'm here. You're not losing me, if I have anything to say about it."

Those big hands gripped her thighs, easing her hips open for some kind of reassurance. He dipped back slightly, maybe he was intending to do that thing with his mouth on her cunt, but she grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him back up to meet her lips instead.

But it wasn’t stopping him. Her other hand snaked down, and hiked up her nightdress, and his hands followed her lead while he parted her bare thighs.

She didn’t want to wait. Neither did he, but she felt it sometimes, like any other time; the tremble of obligation as another weight rested on his shoulders. Ben carried it for her. He took deep breaths and waited instead of having the thing he wanted.

It was so gentle, the way he nudged her entrance. So cautious and thoughtful. Rocking back and forth.

“Ben,” she hissed.

She was wet. His fingers could verify, she practically felt the drip travel from her skin to his. 

That was all the instruction he needed.

It still took all of her air when his cock entered her. But it didn’t take any slow rocking to ease him in; it was one fell swoop. She didn’t cry out any harder than the already scared tears were making her cry, face wedged tight in his shoulder as he rocked her gently with his hips against hers.

“Am I hurting you?” his hair brushed against her cheek in the darkness. He seemed too frightened to move, and she was definitely in the same state. Just fuller. “like the first time, does this hurt?”

“No,” she gasped out, her eyes screwing shut, though she saw the same thing with them closed as they were open. Just the black of the middle of the night.

She couldn’t tell who was more surprised.

His hips thrust slowly back and forth. She was speared open just like the first time. Filled like she’d never been filled.

But it was so different.

It was Ben she was letting in. Her Ben. Her Ben who was alive, she trembled over the bright sun of that dream bleaching his falling body into her memory, but this man was folded over her and fucking her tenderly like they’d never struggled their way through their wedding night all.

Dimly, she was aware of him relenting to her protest that she had taken all of him that night ; she clearly hadn’t, because she felt him now. All of him.

And all instead of a little felt so much better like this.

He still seemed so unsure, frightened to death of her dreams and of hurting her. She had to...make this right. In her own way. 

Her heel dug into the dirt beside the bedroll. Anchoring herself. She rolled her hips tentatively against his.

"Ben," she tucked the whisper right into the shell of his ear. He jerked against her, moaning low. "I love this."

"Yeah?" his hips drew back, and he pushed back in. 

She felt her cunt clenching down, and wrinkling up her face with the efforts, squeezed the cock inside her as hard as he could. 

She knew the moment his breath left his throat. 

"I do," she crooned, kissing his cheek. 

“I dreamed about this,” he murmured in her ear, his hands holding her hips steady for him to rock into. Slickness was pooling out of her cunt. She’d be embarrassed if it didn’t feel so good rippling against the way that he filled her. “Even before you would marry me. Fucking you so gentle and slow. I wanted you to like this. Do you like it?”

Rey loved this, as she had just told him that, but she sensed his need for confirmation. 

She nodded, trying to place a time where he would have decided to want this with her.

Her brain wasn’t very useful with the roll of his hips making her see stars.

“Did you think it would change me?”

He didn’t answer. He just kept kissing her temple, making her shudder and whimper with his cock prodding all that tender muscle inside. The length of him seemed so rigid and unforgiving in a place that only comfortably housed his clever, sneaky fingers. But he belonged there. Making their argument so null and void from both sides: they belonged together, just like this.

“You needed this, Rey,” he combed her dirty, sweaty hair out of her face like it was an angelic halo and kissed her dewy skin. “It is my honor to oblige you.”

With a sigh, her hands gripped his ass to bring him closer.

“Yes.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said it like a threat, and her body spasmed around him because she took it as a promise, “I am never leaving you behind.”

 


 

 

“When would you want babies?”

Rey groaned, but Ben was undeterred. His head resting on her belly.

He had to good sense not to take his ride today, running the horse briefly instead to accommodate her harsh reaction to her nightmare. She finally told him about it after they made love last night.

He was more sympathetic, apologetic, than she expected him to be. Even she felt silly to ask of him what he offered to do. He'd take a break from the rides, running the horse instead like before, to see if they went away. 

"He minds me well enough, sweetheart. But he does need a name. Maybe you can take a few days to think of one, and that's how we say you're ready for me to ride again."

She hadn't given the name a moment's thought when he gave her that excuse. 

Instead, during the hour to rest for lunch, they ate quietly in the grass. Him with his head on her stomach, her body curled catlike on her side under his shoulders.

She’d made him pull out again the night before. She hadn’t given it a second thought since his cum hit her skin and he bowed himself over her to clean it off with his tongue.

That dark head of hair tilted back so his eyes could look up at hers now. They were dark and curious. Sensitive.

She pulled her gaze to the blade of grass in her hand. Looking at him made her feel too open.

“We don’t need any babies on the trail. Even if they end up born after we get there. If you think it’s a lot of work to handle me, imagine me swollen and round and grumpy…”

He swallowed, and she realized he was picturing her swollen and round and pregnant.

Ben clearly liked that; with his look like a hungry dog.

She looked up at the blue sky instead.

Tried again. Sifting her fingers into his black hair.

“I’ve got my hands full enough with you, and your deathwish, do you honestly…?”

Her voice cracked and found no strength as Ben rubbed a big hand in a circle over her hip.

Soothing her.

It was those eyes. Coaxing.

There’s no need to be afraid.

Until she’d eat out of the palm of his hand.

“Not ready?”

Her answer pulled from her automatically:

“No.”

She heaved a relieved sigh after it was said aloud. Was it that simple? The truth?

Finn couldn’t keep the secret long; he “told” Rey and Ben the evening of the day Rose told her in the morning. She feigned surprised well enough for her friend, but Ben snickered and worried aloud about his wife, the obvious liar, when Finn was out of earshot.

It was clear though, despite his joking, Ben’s mind in the lingering mist of sex was on babies.

Wasn’t that what women thought of?

“Do you want a baby?”

Of course he did. He wanted more Solos. Her first husband seemed the exception to the male desire to reproduce, and then only after Jess.

But they were both in horror after Jess; so it was maybe the one thing sacred between them.

He glanced shyly away from her.

“I want you to have my babies. Someday,” he cleared his throat, “I would like that very much.”

Babies. 

This was going to be an undertaking. 

She squirmed, trying to calm her breath, thinking of belonging to herself again. With babies, that would never happen. 

And it was madness to fear that, because she was already twice married and knowing what that entailed both times. 

“Did any of your…” whores, when he shared an obvious affection for them, and she had now participated in many of those same activities, seemed too harsh, “lovers bear fruit?”

He shook his head. “I was around them enough that I’d...know. If that makes sense. And this was years ago, I tried telling you this.”

“What made you stop?”

She watched his Adam’s apple tremble with a thick swallow.

“Loneliness.”

That was an odd thing to say.

“But you went to them for company.”

“Paid company,” he swiveled onto one side to look up at her face. Temple pressed firm to her belly. “It was different. I was so ashamed of myself that I haven’t had a woman in years.”

“Until me.”

“And your,” he buried his nose in her dress, peeking shyly up at her with one half-lidded eye as though he knew his joke was going to earn him a smack, “remarkable skill for sucking cock.”

A gentle one, on the shoulder, more of a place to put her splayed hand for when she laughed. The half of his face that wasn’t hidden in her dress was crinkled with his own amusement. She’d never imagined a husband being so saucy with her. He was like a naughty pupil; and for a brief moment she worried what a life outside the trail would do for him. What he’d be lie when he was bored and unoccupied.

Running a team was the equivalent of handing him a piece of chalk to do lines in script on the blackboard;

I will not tease my wife mad

I will not tease my wife mad

I will not tease my wife mad

The journey gave them both purpose.

What would they do without it? Have a lot of babies to keep them similarly busy? Tamp down this razor-edged intimacy with distraction? What would they do on their own, without even Finn and Rose to comfort her, when there was no one to look at but each other?

Would she have anything left of herself then?

Her heart felt like it was going to burst in her chest with the realization that Finn and Rose were a part of her she would have to lose.

This was the first time a husband was going to carry her away from something she didn’t want to leave behind.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The soft muzzle filled the palm of her hand. Worrying the oats back and forth to shovel them into that mouth.

She once feared losing a finger while doing this. But another pair of hands grasped her waist, an impossibly large wall of a chest snug behind her back so she couldn’t run even if she wanted.

And his lips were on her shoulder, watching carefully even as he worried her collarbone through the fabric of her dress.

“Maybe he likes getting his ears rubbed, too,” he teased in a low, urging voice, and with a beleaguered sigh Rey reached a tentative hand up at scratched the twitching, furry ears of the stallion.

Who was eating from her hand, nuzzling and filling her palm with a warm breath.

“As much as he likes flowers,” she cut back, her voice low and soft.

She was still terrified of startling it.

But her husband had made a little game out of these things. He liked when his wife was brave. So he presented these little things, small offhand proposals, to do something for him.

Most involving the care of the horse that gave her nightmares.

She knew, practically, why. He wasn’t going to let it follow behind the wagon for the rest of the journey. They had to be reasonable.

But it was in Ben’s nature to try and coax her instead.

Sugar-coating it.

She spooked when the stallion’s head pressed into her stomach. The flat of the nose hard as stone.

Ben held her gently, calming her with such a quick instinct for it; “He’s not a ram. He’s not trying to charge forward. If he was going to hit you with his head; he’d swing sideways from the neck. He just wants to nuzzle.”

She swallowed.

Rey could be brave.

Her hands collected together under the jaw of the beast. He cuddled his head into her arms like he was a baby.

She wasn’t breathing. She just felt the press of the horse’s head from her chest to her gut, rocking slightly as though he wanted a scratch. His skull was the size of her body.

Ben was soft behind her, adjusting her stance, attentive. She just...had a feeling. That this was going to fine.

For the first time in her life.

“He likes you,” Ben urged, a smile in his voice. Dropping another kiss on her shoulder, right on that filthy dress she hadn’t changed out of. “It must be all my flowers you feed him. Look at you two.”

“What was the name of the girl who took your maidenhood?” she scratched the stallion’s ear as she wondered aloud, emboldened, “maybe that shall be this one’s namesake.”

Ben snickered, goosing his hands into her waist so she trembled slightly.

“I look forward to what I can do to that smart mouth of yours in a few weeks, just us two.”

He lowered his voice as he threaded his fingers in the stallion’s halter, holding him steady for Rey to step safely aside.

The  fingers of his free hand strummed along her belly, where the horse had nuzzled her gently. His touch left chills through her.

“Maybe I’ll nose my way between those pretty breasts myself.”

She hissed through her teeth, almost holding her breath.

Rey stepped away, back towards the wagon. Worrying the buttons at her throat, as though his words would make them fly open against her will.

He dropped the subject. Tied the horse safely to the wagon.

Poe whistled in the distance to get started for the day. Rey felt relieved. Relieved to trudge on. Relieved to start another cycle of exhaustion. Even, she couldn’t believe it, to hear the six of the seven brats that could hop down from their wagon to start their daily march, making trouble.

Ben did kiss her mouth. Wove his hands in the wound braids at the base of her skull and pressed a soft one to her lips.

She wondered this sometimes; if she kissed him much less than she wanted to, always wanting to, and he simply did whenever he felt like it and just wanted to less.

Was that what made up the amount of times they kissed? Ben didn’t seem to deny himself what he did want.

Had her need for him grown to overwhelm his for her?

His eyes opened; gold at the edges, black as sin at the center.

No .

“I can’t wait to have you all to myself.”

 


 

Rey had a taste of a few different lives while on this journey.

Even her teaching days hadn’t granted her as much freedom as she’d had after Niima broke his neck. She had a team, livestock, property to dictate and plan. It was scarcely any time to be so independent; but it had mattered to her greatly in the end.

And he second husband understood this. Solo didn’t marry her until her affairs were properly in order. He helped, but it seemed to matter to him that it was done without him acquiring it all first. Which was, as she appreciated, very practical. She was more use to him knowing these things.

Odd how many men did not also find it useful to treat their wives like a partner in business. Made things in the marriage bed much simpler. 

But it was odd how little she regarded herself as a married woman even now. So little felt different. Maybe if she and Ben had met at a church social back East -an idea so absurd she actually snorted at the thought of it, but it was the only scene she could place them meeting in their old lives- and after a brief courtship he would have had no real control of her until he got her into his own house, his property, a less mutual melding of resources, things would be different. But on the trail, the way they were smacked together, it wasn’t normal. She went from sleeping under a wagon to sleeping under a different wagon. They split the chores evenly. If she ever wanted to argue to him, she could.

That was more than she’d ever had before.

This was not her past-married self.

Maybe he would alter her behavior with more attention when they were homesteaded. But now it was like a mix between courtship, independence, and marriage; and Rey was not quite sure what parts she could keep and what she would have to part with once they reached California. She was starting to get nervous that she would lose the parts of herself she would have wanted to keep.

She didn’t much regret Ben. Freedom in itself was burdensome.

However, when a motherless child fell sick: she wasn’t excused from the draw to care for it this time. She was a woman with a husband now, and that was enough for Poe and the men to offer her up to the drawing of straws. And over that she was furious with Ben when he came sheepishly back to the wagon to inform her that in two nights she’d be the one to watch the seventh, cursed little brat, who was currently trembling with a fever.

“I didn’t volunteer you,” he said defensively, shoveling stew onto a plate while she glared at him from her seat in the dirt. “It was a random drawing. Rose got him tonight.”

Rey pinched the wrinkled bridge of her nose.

"That father cannot be so useless that he can't care for it himself?"

Ben shot her a look she'd easily declare her desire to never see on his face again. "He's got six others to care for as well."

“That's hardly my fault he can't house his cock somewhere where it won't make trouble. It’s not our damn baby.”

She had a hard enough time letting him know that right now she didn’t even want their damn baby. They had been going to careful lengths to make sure they didn't make one along the way. 

She knew it was possible and had little sympathy for how this man killed his own wife getting to seven.

“Well, just be glad it’s not Hux this time,” Ben shook his head as if to clear away the smell of that memory, “You were driving a wagon on your own back then. You’re not alone anymore. It’s part of being on a train. We won’t be for much longer."

"Can't wait," she grumbled, staring at her scuffed boots. 

Ben sighed and crouched at her feet. 

And oh, could she ever sense a change in tactics when his eyes got big and loft in the orange light like that.

“It’s one night. I’ll miss you terribly, not by my side,” he swallowed when it was clear this would not get her to smile.

She just chewed her food with a glare, firelight dancing across her sullen features.

He took a slow breath, “If it even lives that long.”

She wasn't entirely cruel towards those children. The past few weeks they had all kept a respectful distance, the seven and her. She knew practically that babies couldn't throw rocks. Maybe even if that baby hadn't killed its own mother; she wouldn't have prevented that nonsense with the wagon and the rock.

Yet Ben had said this like he didn't want to tell her because it sounded like a waste of her time. 

It did hurt, a little, that he had to be right she'd feel this way: and here she was, instead feeling a profound sense of dread. 

She stopped chewing.

“Is it that bad?”

Ben shrugged. Toying with his food with a twirling fork. His eyes flickered up to hers.

“It doesn’t look good.”

She didn’t know how to feel about that. She supposed of the seven, the baby was the least culpable of all of her troubles, though she had lumped it in with the rest.  

“Ben,” she stood up when it occurred to her, which he seemed surprised by. “Rose is expecting.”

He didn’t seem to understand her tone. He raised his eyebrows. 

“And even she’s doing her part.”

He followed closely, like a loyal dog, as she started to clean up. But more useful than a dog; taking plates from her hands, grabbing the bucket of dishwater. Trying to help when she had gathered up these things to give her frustration something to do.

So she didn’t feel any less frustrated when the tasks halved themselves with his help before her eyes.

"Troubling other people with a lost cause," she ground out, bitter and angry, "getting other families sick."

“Rey,” he lowered his voice. Gentle. Leveraging, not pleading, and her chest flamed with the burst of pride that his respect meant to her. Even now. “Do this...and I’ll teach you to shoot.”

Agreeing was clearly more important than doing it. He could be asking for this or he could just say Rey, trot, and he just wanted...

To see if she'd mind him. That was the game, oftentimes, with Ben. Not making her obey.

Getting her to want to.

Her lips thinned as she pressed them firmly together.

She did not want to admit the appeal of this offer. And how it intrigued her.

She could do him one better than agreeing. Wanting. She could make him regret asking.

“I’m not...letting Rose do this,” punishing the husband who could not stop her from having to act as his wife, who would miss her, “I’ll take tonight.”

 


 

Her hot head had gotten her into this one. But she was flickering with protectiveness towards Rose. To the baby in her belly instead of the one on this cursed earth. She was blinding sailing to Finn’s wagon, too determined to see past her aim, to stop her friend.

Rose looked up from the lamplit daybed, a small cradle on the floor by her feet. Passed off like a child left in a basket. Unwanted, when ill.

“The other six are as wily as untamed cats,” Rose let out a soft laugh, reading Rey’s concerned expression. “Their father cannot corral them. So someone has to sit with this one. My heart cannot help but break for them all.”

Rey had not had a mother; and she had been just fine. Her chin was set firm and unsympathetic.

“I would rather you not be so close to someone sick, even small, in your condition. Please let me take him to our wagon tonight.”

Rose’s expression softened.

“You do not have to. I don’t mind. When separated from the rest, he is a sweet little thing.”

Rey was completely unpersuaded. Finn, at this point, heard their conversation, and rose from where he must have been by their dying fire.

“I would take her offer, Rose. I voiced my disapproval but the draw was out of my hands.”

“Do this,” Rey remembered those first few days after Niima had passed, “do this to ease my own mind. You will not sleep tonight. I will not sleep with fever so close to you. Let one of us rest easy.”

Finn climbed into the wagon. There was a firmness, a fatherliness, that Rey both appreciated and feared as he lifted the cradle. Rose clearly wanted to protest.

But her husband made the final decision.

It was passing off a wooden box, in the end. With a baby inside.

The first sign of life was the warm mist of a pathetic cough rising from the blankets.

Rey realized then she knew nothing of babies.

She looked up into the wagon.

“What can I do for it?”

Rose, who was more prone to tears by the day, was first overwhelmed by Rey’s offer and close enough before she had to share this.

She burst out crying.

“From the looks of it; there’s nothing we can.”

 


 

Of course Ben would not let her be alone.

That would make it easy to be angry at him. Nursing a child she had already stated her principles to hate because some men drew straws. Assigning the task to a pregnant woman, the barbarians. Giving Rey no choice.

She took a bedroll and spread it awkwardly between all their possession. It was cramped, and a little folded, but if she and Ben could lie on their bellies and do God-knows-what in this wagon she could rest for a night with a tiny cradle there beside her.

The lamplight made those baby cheeks, radiating with fever, glow terribly bright. She found herself not on her bed, but seated on her trunk, watching the little thing try to breathe.

Rey had never given babies much thought, of love or hate, but watching the one while it was so sick was awful enough to make her sweat off them. This was bad enough when she didn’t love it.

She pretended the itchiness making her blink her eyes constantly was just tiredness.

But the baby would not betray her secret.

Ben’s face first appeared once he had put out the fire. Checking on her.

“There’s no room for you in here,” she tried defensively, but that was because of how she had arranged her bed, not because it was impossible to house three. Or maybe he'd see she was so bad at this act of mothering and go looking for his own second marriage. 

He sighed and settled himself into bed, alone.

She heard him settle into his bedroll, alone. Heard his breathing while the infant rested, when the coughs died down.

She didn’t know what to do for it; Rose had somehow validated her hopelessness, but it still stung to be tasked with such a useless task. But the fact they thought she was suited to this task because of her sex; Rey had no mother, no family, her only children were pupils and only assigned responsibility came in learners from a school board. 

This felt hopeless and sad to her. That she should be doing something, but not knowing what.

She heard Ben sigh again. Felt the rolling of his movements underneath her. So close yet so far away.

In an odd way, she found she missed him too. The current situation between them was so odd, just as she did not picture herself as a wife these days, she also forgot she would never be parted from this man. He would be in her bed the rest of her life.

She had sworn to these things, even wanted them, during a time where nothing was guaranteed. And yet not everything was.

But she was only faintly tethered to the world, sleep clouding her eyes, when those motions somehow found him standing at the end of the wagon again. Looking in.

“Scoot down on the trunk,” he instructed softly, and with a sigh, she did.

She was sure he calculated the exactly square footage of their wagon three times before he worked out the few inches she had to move over to accommodate him. Just to be sure. 

That opened up a seat for him.

That she had now obviously denied him before.

He settled at her side with a tired grunt, peering curiously into the cradle.

“We’ll get our practice in before dawn, that’s for sure.”

Caring for a child? Losing a child?

She closed her eyes. Tears finally falling down her cheeks.

But he may have been sparing her by not noticing, or just too focused on the little face in the cradle. Given the circumstances, Ben still seemed excited, eager.

His big fingers squeezed her knee comfortingly just the same. Sensing her hurt.

Then, as if the silence that followed was too much to bear, he leaned forward and picked up the bundle himself.

He was not this child’s father. She was not it’s mother. His only living parent rested across camp in a nest of his own bad decisions. This one wrenched his way into this world by wrenching his own mother out. And he was here because it seemed more sound to have a strange woman care for him than the man that was his father.

And now a strange man was holding the baby. Her husband.

“Ben,” she hissed, but he was resting the baby’s head against his chest, and as if he needed the right position to be comfortable, sighed when the infant’s weight settled against him. Satisfied.

She could not look at it. Or him.

“Is this your way of saying you want seven?” she pinched her eyes shut, “I’ll cut your damn cock off before it ever gets that far.”

But he was not shaken, pressing his shoulder gently against hers as to to try and make her notice something.

Ben clicked his tongue. His voice soft and dream-like.

“Like thinking about it. My baby in your belly, your arms. Latched to your breast, drinking milk that my seed gave you.”

Again, at the subject, she hissed as if in pain.

He swallowed thickly. Rubbing circles on the little back as it shuddered with a cough.

“But not until you want me there first. Drinking nothing but your pleasure.”

Rey chewed her lip raw.

As if allowing him to go further, her curious fingers stroked the chubby little hand furled in his shirt.

It was soft under her fingertip, and so small.

But she could not speak yet.

Ben regarded her carefully.

“That first husband of yours. Did he hurt you with his mouth or his fingers?”

His question was firm. He was trying to make the this or that nature of the inquiry be the easy way to deal with this. All she had to do was pick one. She did not have to delve into the depths of her memories.

Her mouth squirmed shut.

“It just hurt,” she couldn’t look at him. “Always hurt.”

Her entire face felt sour, the muscles under her features ticking with the tension of her expression. 

The baby’s breaths were so unsteady. She sensed a flush on her cheeks match that of the fever; but at least she knew that it was no germ that caused hers.

She heard Ben curse under his breath. It was a lot of muttering; but she could pick out “kill him” in his quiet exhalation.

No sense that would ever make. The man was long dead.

"You are too late for that," she said sadly. She would love to see her Ben get his hands on her old man.

There was so much anger in his eyes, even as his hands were gentle on the infant. 

Ben steadied the baby against himself, and spoke firmly as though he was not so close to something so innocent.

“Sweet titties like yours need gentle touches,” he murmured softly, his own voice cracking at his impossibly low, meaningful tone. “From your husband’s mouth. And hands. I’ll treat your nipples like candy. Until you come from that alone. I would kiss every precious inch of you if I had things as I want them. I wish there was a way I could have you fully and achieve my aims.”

Rey was tired. Her body was weary. There was a slow death in her husband’s arms and nothing to do to stop it.

And she was wrong. Just wrong. Her body was melting, it felt like her cunt was splitting apart as a hot knife rent it open for him; but the pleasure and longing darting her tits hard and needy against her chemise terrified her to her core.

Maybe it was a game, because he was resigned to win this. It wasn't about obeying. It was about wanting to obey.

Hopeless tears finally bubbled out of her lids. She squeezed her eyes shut.

She took the baby from his arms and cradled it. Trying to feel like she could do something, fix something, and be less wrong herself.

The wrongness had always been something she could balance out. She could be more useful, could keep it a secret, could hold it far back and away from anyone who would notice it. Because that wrongness had only ever affected herself. She had never burned anyone. She had never hurt anyone because of what was wrong with her.

Ben demanded to see the wrongness because to know it was to know her; and that terrified her. Ever since that glimpse she had never meant to give. She was Niima’s mistreated wife to match his mistreated funds and his mistreated horse.

Ben had better use for all of those things.

His lips came to the shell of her ear.

“You should rest. There is nothing you can do for him.”

He was right. He maybe even wanted babies more than any man could, and even he seemed to know that what was happening in their wagon happened to most children before they turned two. Children were delicate and the world was cruel.

His father wasn’t even here because he already had six more to care for.

The warmth in her arms made her chest burn. She tried to swallow to soften her aching throat.

She suffered through her pain to find the strength to speak without crying. A single shake of her head at her husband's gentle suggestion. That she was human. That these things happen; even to soft babies that are nice to hold.

“But there is no regret in being kind to him; even if it will make no difference in the end.”

 


 

“Rey, you’re going to be alright.”

Was that ever a doubt? She wasn’t sure.

She couldn’t open her eyes.

“Rey,” it was her husband. The one she ended up liking. His lips hovering over her ear.

She was struck by the dual impulse to curl into his touch and to twist away.

His hand cupped her cheek. His fingers were so cold. Like death.

She shuddered at the touch of his skin.

“There’s a doctor in Fort Hall. I just need you to give me a day, sweetheart. Give me a day and I’ll give you anything. Rey. Please.”

Was he cold, or was she hot? She struggled uselessly under the blankets. Everything felt weak.

His thumb stroked soothingly against her wrinkled brow.

“Please,” he repeated, and she realized her eyes were already open. The things they saw just spun wildly out of her mind’s ability to understand them.

She hadn’t ever had a fever like this.

His lips kept working out words, but no sound came out.

Ben Solo, the man who held his fate like reins in is hand, was praying over her like it would make a lick of difference.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Open for me, please, my love.”

She felt her lips respond, the bowl of a spoon flattening out her tongue as it pressed down and then tilted, before something bitter poured into her mouth.

Her expression squirmed in protest.

The act of being fed her vile medicine was maybe the only thing she woke up able to remember while she was ill. The taste was so sharp she could not forget it; only to fall back asleep when it faded from her senses.

Little things anchored her to those moments where time was gone. Ben’s fingers curled gently under her chin. The kisses all over her sweaty face. His soft, crooning voice.

“I know you don’t like the taste.”

There were fingers in her hair. Sifting through the strands. Cradling her skull.

“But you have to get better for me. Please.”

Sympathetic, he pressed his lips to hers, dipping his tongue inside to swipe up that nasty, bitter taste to share it with her. Nothing short of coating his own taste buds. She shuddered at feeling the muscle of his tongue twitch with displeasure against hers when he too had to savor the burning flavor of whatever oil he was given to treat her.

His mouth pulled back so he could speak again:

“I’ll do anything. Anything you want.”

Her bones always seemed to melt when she heard that plea; taken at whatever dosage that smelly bottle told him to medicate her. It was part of the treatment.

“I am not a good man. There is a lot of punishment coming for me someday. But please, not you. Give me time. When we get to California, I swear you will never lift a finger. We will have enough gold that I will give you anything you desire. You don’t have to mind a single thing I say; not that you ever did before. You don’t have to give me a single thing in return. Just you. Just give me you and be my wife for as long as I live.”

She couldn’t speak, but she moaned in agreement against his lips.

She felt his chest shudder against her own.

“Is that a promise, sweetheart?”

Rey dimly wondered that as any of this was happening if she had even managed to open her eyes. She could never remember.

 


 

 

Before she realized she was awake, she was thinking about a place she actually missed that she never imagined she’d ever miss.

“When we reach California...I want to make a cake so big we never finish it.”

Ben laughed, his lazy arm around her, his gloved hand squeezing down on the reins as it did every time she made him laugh.

It was their driving game. Talking about what they’d do when they finally get there. It was usually silly. Find so much gold they could build a house with it. Sleep for a week. Hunt a bear.

Sometimes, with Ben, those promises were filthy. 

It didn’t seem real that it would happen. Bears, or what his tongue was going to do with her spread out on their kitchen table.

When we reach California…”

His voice halted, like it did when what he meant to say would be misconstrued.

She elbowed him gently.

“You’re finding another wife first thing?”

He had laughed. Nudging her ear with his nose.

“I want to give you a bath.”

She scowled.

“I know how I-”

He shook his head. Adjusting to reframe his meaning.

“I’m as ripe as high heaven myself. That’s not what I mean. I just want you in a bath with me, all clean and naked and warm. And I want to look at you. Finally get a good look at my wife.”

She straightened her neck. Watching the wagons around them rock like a fleet through a sea of grass.

“Do I not satisfy you without nakedness?”

Her mouth turned down as she looked away. When her enthusiastic, passionate efforts would not be enough; that was when her affections scared her deeply. When she thought about when he'd ask for more.

He took her hand and squeezed.

“It’s not about what I want to look at. I just want you to feel free.”

Would she miss that impossible, uncomfortable seat next to her husband, with his long legs taking up too much of the seat that none of his frequent apologies could do much help about? Did she miss it now because she hadn’t left her bed or would she miss the closeness, the camaraderie, the same way when they finally reached their destination?

She stared at the wagon bows and wondered if the bonnet would cradle her as comfortably as it looked like it would if the world turned upside down.

 


 

 

When she did wake, not just for medicine, for the first time, she felt like she was floating.

The bonnet fluttered above her eyes. The light was yellowed, hazy, and it was hot out.

Blindingly hot.

She scrubbed her brow from fever but it came away clean. No sweat. Her fingers prodded her cheeks. It was not her body that caused this burn.

It was the dry, arid air outside. Like a hand pressing her down into her bedroll.

Rey sat up, squinting in the light, and the wagon underneath her rocked as if mounting a bump. The front wheels took it first, and then the bed settled, and then the back wheels in a second round of impact.

The second round knocked her against her trunk. She swung her hand out to catch herself, and lighted upon a box.

Her fingers curled for purchase, but the metal rattling inside gave her pause.

Her flung-open fingers lighted on a box of bullets; one among several. Stacks of them.

It was unlike Ben to have so many lying around.

She stared at them stupidly for long minutes. Connecting dots.

Rey was almost afraid she wasn’t in her own wagon. That Ben had given her to another family and gone on from Fort Hall without her.

But he couldn’t have; the urn of his grandfather’s ashes rested on the stack of supplies-

Her weak stomach dropped.

He was going to give her the urn if he parted from her.

She shot to her feet, her weak legs buckling as she stood for the first time in what clearly was a long time. With a grimace, she clung to the bows to move to the end of the wagon.

Wrong end. There was nothing but desert, when had they reached desert, stretching out behind the progress the schooner made.

If Ben was gone; it was too long gone for her to go after him.

With a low groan, she grasped the bow in retreat to the driver’s seat.

His black hat and long hair tipping her off. It was him.

Her weak lungs heaved a grateful sigh of relief.

“I thought you left me.”

Ben yanked the reins back and looked over his shoulder up at her with wide eyes.

“Rey.”

He hadn’t successfully stopped the team, only pissed them off, so he had to fumble to a complete stop while also trying to climb into the wagon towards her.

“Rey. My god.”

She stood in her nightgown in the middle of the lurching wagon.

“You weren’t here when I woke up and I saw the ashes and I thought-”

He frantically shook his head, scrambled in to comfort her.

“Ben.”

“You’re awake,” he sounded awed. “I’m so... Rey. Thank you.”

He fell to his knees at her feet. She was dressed in a sweaty nightdress, her head bowed under the low bows of the schooner, her hands too weak to properly hold him as he banded his arms around her thighs.

He swore to himself, kissing her clothed belly. She curled around him, half-needing the support.

Half-wanting it.

“Ben,” her fingers tried to curl around his shoulders. The only thing she could remember from before Fort Hall was his mouth so close to her face. “Why did you kiss me so damn much? You could have gotten sick-”

“Didn’t care,” he gently pulled her down into his lap, kissing her hard, “Never will.”

Her legs splayed on either side of his hips. She’d never been in his lap like this. Or anyone’s, really, the way their groins rubbed softly together as he kissed her.

Her body trembled as he laid her down on her bedroll.

“You didn’t leave me. I thought you’d leave me when you got the doctor.”

“No.”

He was kissing her throat, shaking his head intently, his hands fast and frantic over the skin he was revealing.

“Should we-?”

“Don’t worry about a thing,” his fingers were pushing inside. Crooking until a few tender pulls had her soaking him. Her thighs twitched around his hand.

“Oh,” she gasped out. Her hips pushed into his capable hand, “yes. Ben. Yes.”

This was a lot for her weak heart to take.

They were a mess together on a nest of sick bed sheets.

Her mouth fell open. She was still woozy; but this made her feel more well than walking or moving had. She felt almost normal; but her dear husband was doing much of the work for her.

Yet her mind cleared for only a second. Fear has a way of making sure it is never lost. Her hand clutched his. Eyes narrowed as he leaned up off of her.

“You don’t get to seed me just because I almost died.”

That gave him pause. His eyes fluttering. Looking at her. He stopped trying to gather her into himself and just looked at her.

“Rey, no. I would never-” he was actually choking on his words. “ -I’d never do that to you unless you wanted it.”

Feeling safe, she nodded then. Pulling his shirt open with trembling, almost useless fingers. He helped along the way. She moaned just at the touch of his skin.

And she wanted this. In her fever, in her own absence, she missed him.

He rolled her onto her stomach, taking a place behind her that the low wagon bed would not have allowed him.

She wiggled her bared ass up, closer to her husband, trying to make sense of this very good dream she was having. What the white, floating canopy over them really the clouds? Was all that sunlight in fact divine? Had she died?

Her hands clutched her nightdress around her waist. The straps were falling down her arms.

"Can I...leave it on?" she pleaded. 

He sat back behind her. 

"Anything you want," he promised, swiping a thumb through her folds, "you will have anything you want, my love."

Ben greedily tongued her opening. She slipped forward a bit, her cheek squashed to her pillow with a little smile on her face.

It was time to let her husband take care of it.

He held her hips up to take his tender licks. He was whispering into her cunt, like the prayers she heard over her sickbed:

Mine.

Rey.

Please.

Love.

Home.

Please.

Please.

Please.

She wasn’t good enough to make it to heaven; so she couldn’t be dead right now.

His hands smoothed over her hips. Then clutched tight.

“You don’t even have to move. I just need my little wife. Need to be inside her. Thought I’d lost you.”

She was trying to make sense of her surroundings. She should make sense of them. But the world came back slowly, and then too quickly to stop.

She wanted him. Wanted this.

So she just let him take.

His cock had never filled her at this angle. Her jaw practically unhinged to let out the low moan that came out of her. Animalistic, teeth snapping, when his thighs came in contact with her as she took him fully. She was shaking.

The hell she didn’t need to move. She needed to fuck back against this.

Ben’s hands curled around her ribs. A thumb nudged the underside of her breast, just a little test of boundaries, and she actually snarled at him.

Almost dead didn’t mean different.

He retreated the touch carefully at her waist.

“You’re acting rough, Solo.”

She nodded at his observation. Hair loose around her face. Her fists in the sheets. Arching her spine.

She was still woozy. But her finally-awake limbs wanted to stretch and flex. Her muscles were itching for anything; this was a welcome change from what felt like years of sleep. She’d be a naughty patient whether he insisted she sleep more or if they did this. Rolling around in bed until he let her walk free.

This was so much better.

“Am I hurting you?”

His thrusts were slow and steady. But they were also purposeful. Meaningful for her to feel every single one as the act of him entering her.

Leonine muscles felt warm and alive.

She shook her head.

“I like it. I missed you too.”

He whined and buried his face in her filthy hair.

“You are so much to lose, Rey.”

Her spine arched, feeling him fill her up so nice, like he was trying to fuck the heat of his words into her body.

“Too much,” he continued, his breath stuttering across her shoulders. He pulled her hips rough into his, grinding against that spot inside until her vision whited out. “I could not survive it.”

She did nothing but purr in response.

What a reason to stay on this earth.

“We should have burned your husband,” he growled, tilting her head back at the neck to bite her. Hard.

There was something unhinged about this Ben. His frantic whispers. His slow but building rough pace.

Good. So so good.

But new.

Her limbs trembled as he licked at the bite.

She felt everything from him she never felt from her first husband’s passing; pain, terror, and profound grief. She should have been mortified, felt brutalized, but his mouth was so good she merely writhed for him and those teeth.

And let him keep talking like a sinner.

“Put him in an urn. Placed him on the mantle so he could watch me fucking you right now. Every time.”

“B-Ben,” she shook underneath him, feeling wicked, but blossoming in that wickedness. Like a very healthy, poisonous plant.

She’d take that over a frail rose any day.

“Did his prick ever treat you so right, Rey?”

“Never,” she grunted, her walls clenching around that perfect cock. She keened at her own clever muscles tightening their hold on him like a coiling snake. They both moaned together.

His fingers dug into the freckled cheeks of her ass. The place he could have beaten black and blue if he so wished.

And instead, he once smothered with soft kisses and swore he would never, ever treat her so. He wasn’t even punishing her now for almost leaving. From what she could tell: the single cruelest thing she could do to him.

He just loved her instead.

It warmed her like the sun,

“I want that bastard to see just what happens when you treat Rey right.”

He pressed her up by her belly, flush with her back to his torso, and Rey sobbed out with pleasure.

His thighs against hers. The hinge of her knees just a little too hard for her to balance on; so he took her weight into himself and fucked her like a little toy. The bouncing was driving her to madness. Both of them kneeling like they were one body. This was a fever dream.

But then there were blessed, beautiful touches of breeze over her skin in the open air. Ben moaning in her ear. The flexing and relaxing muscles rolling under sweaty skin like waves of a restless sea.

It was wild; but it was the most loving act she had ever endured. Ben inside her. His reverent hands on the skin she allowed him to reach. Palms, as through her, were pressed together, in prayer.

His thumb spun a little circle around her swollen clit. Her legs seized, unable to find purchase, her body so soft from sleep and little from being held by his. Her hand cupped the nape of his neck to arch herself into him and hold herself up.

“I will give you anything if you cum for me now, sweetheart. All the gold you can think of.”

Her head fell back over his shoulder.

“Yessss,” she hissed as her body spasmed for him. Not for gold. For him.

Reveling. Writhing. Laughing softly as she heard him grunt out his losses, his surrender, to the way she made him feel when she looked so blissful.

He was slower on her body then; when it came time for his worship of her to end and his release to begin.

She had not teased her husband in what felt like years. There was so much relief in that now. In feeling like there was time to...

“You...you don’t mind your grandfather watching us, then?” she panted out.

His pace slipped, stuttered inside her.

“What?”

She pointed shakily to the urn.

Ben set her back down on her knees on the sheets. She was half-afraid she’d stop.

Understanding, he slammed his hips into hers quickly; a means of distraction.

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

Rey’s head spun, but Ben was good at diverting her attention with his fingers working her wetness through her lips to make sure her little clit never felt neglected for a moment. She must have embarrassed him.

Talking, it seemed, had made him say something stupid. So he ended that real quick.

Impossibly, her body was going to wrench another orgasm out for him. Or he was, from her body. 

She let it happen. She let him take. 

The quiver inside her and the lighter, higher sounds she made seemed to be what he needed. From wild to soft from only the same cock, the same capable hand taming her. Ben let out a low grunt and she watched his cum splash against the wood floor of the wagon.

Hit by sunlight for the first time in her eyes. 

She almost laughed at that. She had sometimes seen it in lamplight, or the shadowed glow of a sunrise, but this was a straight beam. Unabashed. Open. 

Almost free.

The wagon was dead still while they caught her breath. He was petting her sweaty hair, kissing her face occasionally; but both had expelled all energy on how frantic the joining had been. 

It was...too quite, even. 

Rey sat up. Blinking at the light. Dry. Arid. She was wondering how much progress they had made.

Rising to her knees, she looked out at the desert. 

There was not a single other wagon in sight. She knew this, she had done this shameless thing with her husband somehow knowing this, but it only struck her so profoundly that he had taken them on the shortcut. And they were alone.

Maybe she never questioned where they were because she had assumed his decision would be right. They had to make time. Would she, in his position, try to soldier on?

But a shortcut when someone was ill felt...equally ill in planning.

Ben was kissing her bare hip, mouthing his love for her while on his knees. She didn't know this sinking feeling. This man could not have disappointed her. Niima did, often, in a way that put an anchor on her hopes and expectations, and he would disappoint even those low-flying ones.

With Ben, it had to be impossible to feel that way. He was so good.

She blinked at the empty, dusty earth and the plateaus in the distance. She'd never seen dry, red land like this before, even in the drought she'd lived through. It was like she had fallen upwards into the sky. Not flying, but falling. If she screamed, she knew no one would hear. 

"You should drink some water."

Ben nuzzled into her shoulder, standing behind her now, his lips worrying the skin of her arm. It was animalistic, a little impish, and sweet. But she knew it was a little too innocent in how he was trying to soothe her fear. This was dangerous. He just wanted her to trust him.

And she had to.

There might as well not have been a single soul in the world except them.


 

Chapter Text

“Rey…”

Her heel twisted in the dirt. Her own heavy steps coming to a halt.

Ben’s cautious voice had drawn her to silence. Even the wagon seemed to stop moving.

How could she pretend she was not upset: with her on the ground, walking ahead, for the third day in a row? Oxen were slow, she could manage it for a few hours at a time, and it was that or a few hours of needed rest on her bedroll inside the wagon.

She could at least give him the credit that what they were on was a trail. But it wasn’t a trail like Poe’s had been; oft-traveled, full of signs of recent disturbance.

The settled dust of this road was soft, trackless, like it had been lost to ages.

She felt his attention weigh heavy on her shoulders. Upset that she was not at her seat beside him, which she was avoiding; much to his chagrin.

“Sweetheart…”

“I’m not angry.”

Her breath came quickly. Every time he tried to get her to talk about it she was just more anxious.

She’d been walking for too long; on this third day alone with her husband when she was only just recovered. Sickness was a bedfellow he was more comfortable with than she.

The kisses he tried to steal reminding her of his mouth against hers to chase her medicine: how reckless and stupid that was, how sick he could have gotten-

His only response when she had chastised him was a smirk, and a whisper.

“All the better: if you die I die.”

With his smug smile; as if he knew that would not happen and was laughing at God.

Those boots on her feet were peeling at the seams.

“Rey,” his tone was warning as she heard him flick the reins. There was little she could do to anger this husband; but lying was one thing he did not rest on.

She stopped dead in her tracks and allowed him to roll the wagon up to her side. It took a short while. She stared at the red canyons as he approached from his high seat above her.

“You’re angry.”

Ben was patient. Tolerant. Accepting.

But he did not accept lies.

The straw from her bonnet was itching the back of her neck something fierce. She had gone so long without having to wear it, it felt good not to wear it, and now she wanted to strangle herself with the ribbons that tied in a bow at her throat.

With a wild curse, she yanked it loose and tossed it into the dirt.

She heard the wagon finally slow to a stop beside her, and Ben jumping down.

Chivalrous man was probably going to fetch the damn bonnet for her.

Instead she felt slightly-heated felt slip over her ears.

Her hands flew up. His hat settled on the crown of her head, a little too big, blanketing her brows.

“Suits you better anyway,” he tried, his hand falling to her shoulder; and then Rey burst into tears.

It was the last kind act of hundreds he had tried since she woke up. Try after try in all this time alone together to make her ease up on him.

“Finn and Rose,” she said finally, hot tears spilling out of her eyes. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Her husband sighed and kissed her tear-streaked cheek.

He seemed more relieved to finally know what she was upset about with him.

“Sweetheart. I’m sorry. There was no other way.”

“Why,” bile rose on her tongue, “why was there no other way?”

Tell me about that fucking map.

She felt thin, and tired, and dirty; he just looked at a loss. Still glimmering in the gold light around them. At peace in this wild place. Just lost with her.

Ben sighed.

“I gave them...means to reach us. Contact you. When we get settled. We will hear from them again. I promise.”

A cool trickle of relief laced through her veins. Had he thought of her, and made plans with them, because he knew it mattered?

She was still robbed of a goodbye.

But there was something to look forward to. Ahead of her. The only direction she could go now.

“F-fine,” she grit out, her pain tamped down. For now.

She wiped away her tears with a rough hand. He tilted up the brim of his own hat on her head to see her face.

“Now let me kiss you.”

“I’m angry with you.”

“And you bite when you’re angry and I kiss you,” he rubbed the bridge of his nose against hers, “and I like it.”

His arm secured around her waist.

“Ben…”

His lips covered hers. She did bite. And he did like it. His kiss was hard, almost like he was making her take something of him inside herself, and he didn't let up until her knees were weak. It wrestled between two strong wills. He didn't stop when he had her pinned; he stopped when she stopped trying to pin him.

And she did feel calmer when he did stop. His arms snaked around her.

"Better?"

She huffed against his mouth.

"Still pretty pissed off with you."

"I know," he pressed his brow to hers. "I'm sorry."

The arms around her tightened.

A brief nod accepted the apology. 

“But to keep you from exhausting yourself; I’m holding my wife firm in my lap to keep her from running off.”

“Ben,” she gasped as he lifted her up around her waist. “Ben, you can’t be serious-”

She was over his shoulder, squawking indignantly, as he hoisted her up.

“The things I do for love,” his voice was somber, but she felt the smile leaking out at the edges.

She punched the center of his back, and he barely flinched, but managed to swing himself onto the box seat without setting her down. Resting her astride his lap and clicking the oxen onward.

She growled at him, fingernails digging into his shoulders.

“Bastard.”

“Hmm,” he smiled mildly at her and plucked one button open, just at her throat, to attach his lips to her neck. Her fingers carded into his hair. “You’re so much noisier when no one else is around. You sing on my cock like a little bird.”

“You’re deceptively sweet today,” she murmured, tucking her chin over his shoulder anyway. Her thighs squeezed around his hips as he coaxed her closer to him.

He shrugged mildly. 

She was angry.

She wanted to see where this was going.

It could be both at the same time.

He ran a lazy hand up and down her spine.

“Some music should help us pass the time, no?”

She felt an odd surge of pleasure when, out of the corner of her eye, the wagon wheel crushed the damn bonnet into the dust.

“Ben…” her voice was higher than she liked as he lifted her skirts round her waist. Clinging to him. “Don’t you have driving to do?”

She knew he was a clever man; he’d figure something out.

However, there were still some mad grasps at her modesty. Needing him to ensure her that this was alright.

“We might as well be the only two people on earth, Rey. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Y-you’re just lucky I trust you.”

He crooned comfortingly, settling her down by widening his stance to rub his cock up against her.

“We’ll play a little game. I’ll stay perfectly still; and the wagon will bounce you however you’re meant to go. That way I can focus on driving. Sound good?”

He’d threatened this before, when they were arguing over the map. She had not taken this ridiculous threat so seriously then.

Very good.

She adjusted herself on her knees. They’d never…

This way, looking down into his eyes, was new. Her thighs tensed around his hips. It seemed nice. A little scary.

She kept her glare even and cold, so he wouldn’t know how sincerely she was taking this idea to heart.

He grinned up at her. He knew anyway. He saw right through the steely eyes.

“If I fall off and break my neck-”

He kissed her. His teasing yielding a greater reward than he had anticipated.

“Never.”

She held her own skirts up this time, rising to allow Ben to free himself from his trousers. She settled the tip of his cock against herself.

Wet from the idea of it.

She remembered he teased her sometimes, more often than not actually preparing her to take him properly with an act that in the moment annoyed her, to soften her cunt to an intrusion by running his head back and forth against her clitoris. Curious, she rubbed herself against the length of his bare cock; and he hissed like a rattler in response. Testy, coiled, ready to spit.

Teased back for once.

But to be a bastard, to act unaffected, he reached around her to properly urge on the team to pick up the pace. She thought of those efficient, gloved hands on her skin.

She moaned softly as the increased speed bounced him underneath her; quicker than the occasional dip or bump.

She wet the length of his cock with herself, rubbing in her hand to get it thick and long enough to take inside.

“That’s it, sweetheart, play with it for me.”

Her lips pursed, doll-like, and she pressed soft little kisses to his cheeks and neck. Wetting his skin in the hot sun.

It was much cooler to have her dress open at the throat like this; if he didn’t mind, and no one else was around, she might wear it like this in the heat.

It was a relaxed indulgence to slide herself onto his prick. They both ground out a joint moan that they hid in each other’s necks; trying to seem unaffected at the same time.

“Can you continue on,” she wiggled her hips back and forth, taking amusement on the fact he could not lift his face from her shoulder. “Li -i- ke this? Or should we stop to rest a while?”

“I can keep going at the pace we’re at,” he sounded insulted. One arm banding around her waist, his face lifted from her dress.

A bump trounced both of their smug mouths. Rey keening, digging her knees in the seat to feel him shove roughly up inside her. Ben grunting, utterly lost, while trying to guide her out of his line of vision to the trail ahead. If anything, most of the motions of the wagon had caused a slight quiver inside her; but he was so big that these tiny motions made her focus on how she couldn’t help but feel everything.

Ben practically vibrated inside her, causing her to huff and wiggle impatiently. He kissed her hair, laughing as his hat fell from her head as he carefully placed it behind them inside the wagon.

“At least one of us should be wearing that,” he teased.

"Shut up and fuck your wife. The wagon's showing you up."

 


 

 

The days went by easier; confined to two lives. Much easier, when those lives were joined.

Little progress between them was easier because they set aside the time to make progress. No other demands to make them stop talking, no shivaree, no children. 

She was too afraid to ask about the wagon train. The seventh hellion. What she missed before they were parted. 

There was no use in worrying about it. And Ben made sure she was distracted.

One morning Rey awoke to feel little kisses in the inside of her knees. With a pleased grunt, she kicked open her legs for her husband to lie comfortably between. Sometimes he liked to start the day by pleasuring her; a habit she wouldn't discourage.

He lifted her nightdress up over her belly. But his mouth didn’t settle right in between her thighs. Even though her sex was wet from being strummed by him so expertly through the night. now that they were alone, he liked her howls to fill the black sky like a coyote.

He kissed gently above her navel instead.

And then slid his lips slowly upwards to her ribs-

Her hands landed hard on his shoulders, a cry escaping her lips.

Ben went perfectly still.

Swallowing thickly. Looking from her breasts to her eyes.

“No fingers,” he promised with a light breath, “no mouth. I just want to nuzzle around against them.”

Her shaking hand wound tight into his hair.

She nodded.

He nosed around her belly for a few more minutes. Waiting for her to take deep breaths.

She didn’t relax, exactly, but it made her settle into the reality of the situation.

“Over the nightdress first,” she instructed, having been given that time to think it over, and he shivered as if in pleasure over the idea.

He crawled up over her slightly. Dragging his nose over the tight arch of her left breast.

He didn’t move until she stopped holding her breath. When it slowly let out, he followed the sink of her ribs down.

He ignored her nipple; which she appreciated. His cheek pressed down over her heart. Listening to it beating. And his hand comfortingly cupped her ribs and stayed chastely there.

She didn’t want to have to come to terms with experiencing all of this at once.

With a satisfied sigh, his head dipped between her mounds, nuzzling her bust in a soft, animalistic way. Cuddling her there because that’s where she was softest.

“Not so bad,” he whispered. “right? I love you. Let me love you here.”

No fingers, no mouth.

Not so bad.

“You are...the craziest man I have ever met,” she said finally.

He glanced up at her, eyes shining.

“No risk, no reward.”

He ran his brow along the underside of her breast. It was just soft. She didn’t relax just yet, but she stopped fighting it privately, in her own head.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“Stop if you goddamn feel like it,” she answered in a low voice.

His eyes flickered up to hers. A smile in them.

“So you don’t mind if I stay here for a while?”

He rested his temple on the pillow of one breast. She did arch a little then, nervous as the weight of his head trapped a hardened nipple between them.

Could he feel that?

Would he listen to that, instead of her words?

But he didn’t move an inch, settled there was if resting onto a freshly-plumped pillow. a soft, sleepy sigh left his perfect lips.

His hand wandered down from her waist, cupping her bare sex.

She arched into his touch, but her eyes clamped tightly closed. She was wet. But it was from his gentleness, and if he was looking for a sign to go faster, he might-

He sighed as he stroked through her wetness.

“What are you-”

His sideways head tilted on her breast to look up at her.

His answer was simple:

“You’ll call me selfish for this if you don’t cum,” and her back arched as his fingers filled her up.

 


 

 

That morning the stallion nipped at her apron strings when she tried to bring him water.

Rey cursed wildly, her cheeks red, but as she spun away the horse held steady with his teeth so she merely unraveled to knot holding the apron around her waist.

She stared. Surprised it hadn’t bitten her.

It had taken a few nips this week at her black hat, Ben's hat, but she supposed that was more of a smell thing; of a universal wrongness that she be wearing an item associated with the horse's favorite person.

The stallion, capable of killing many, didn't bite her.

Just her skirt, like a child searching for candy.

“I don’t have anything, you big baby,” she snapped, but an oversized nostril was nudging her pocket. “I don’t...”

The soft nose shoved her hip, sending her a few steps sideways.

Her head tilted back in the blaring sun; a shocked laugh actually leaving her throat.

“Brat,” she stepped back, “I don’t have any treats for you.”

As single-minded as her husband, the horse crept closer. She was about as good as lying to it as she was Ben.

“You mean this,” her flat, oat-filled hand crept from the side of her body opposite the pocket the stallion was nipping on, “you dumb baby?”

The flat of his head pushed into her chest first, than the sloppy, soft mouth filled her palm to munch on his treat.

Surprising even herself, she nudge her nose to the white star at the center of his head.

“How can Ben concern himself with children when we’ve got our hands full with you,” she was actually talking to it without rage. He responded too, nudging her, letting him pet him. "I'll knit you a blanket he can swaddle you in a sing a damn lullaby. Should be done by the time we actually get anywhere."

She’d dare call the thing completely tame. She just couldn’t entirely doubt it, with her tone so light and airy like she was talking to a kitten.

“That’s the third time now that you’ve called it your child.”

Rey gasped and saw Ben peering smugly down at her from the inside of the wagon.

“You love him.”

Her face flushed, and she stuffed her slobbered-on hand into her pocket.

“Stop it.”

“He’s your baby.”

“Ben,” her tone was like death, but her husband merely laughed it off. “He’s our only baby if you don’t knock that off.”

That spooked her husband off of teasing her right quick; her tone made it pretty plain she meant in. He made himself busy with something on the other side of the wagon.

Rey actually laughed, going back to the stallion. It was not like she had much more company than her man and her horse.

Her boys.

“You like that,” without the persuasion of treats, the stallion still tolerated her petting him, “you’re our baby?”

A wicked smile crossed her lips. She lifted the hem of her skirts to skip over to her husband.

“Ben, I thought of the best name for your beloved.”

 


 

 

Baby shifted underneath her; but she tried not to let it frighten her. That was the first thing Ben had told her not to do.

And he was right behind her. His gloved hand curled comfortingly around her hip.

She held the reins in her gloved hands, the novelty of getting to wear them making something scary more exciting. Her husband’s cleverness sometimes snuck up on her; it was a smart move to get her such a perfect accessory for a ride.

They’d found a canyon that hid the wagon successfully out of sight from the rest of the valley; so they parked the team there for the afternoon to accomplish one task.

Getting Rey comfortable on his back.

Again, his cleverness struck her. In order to have her allow him to ride, it would be much easier if she was fine doing it on her own.

She let her spine relax into his belly. Even though she held the reins, it was clear how much work his body was doing to control the stallion.

Baby.

"What's that?"

Ben lifted his head behind her to peer over her shoulder, a falcon-like gaze over the valley.

"Looks like a wagon."

"Oh," her stomach dropped.

He clicked Baby onwards. 

"Ben!"

"It's empty. Anyone in there is either gone or dead."

She swallowed, clutching the reins until Ben gently but firmly guided them into his own hands.

"Don't worry. I've got a pistol."

He had recently started wearing one. He had made it make so much sense she forgot sometimes he had it; her arms would flinch when she put them innocuously around him and she nudged it with her bare skin.

Of course he had it. He meant to protect them.

She stayed on Baby, which was a difficult task, when he hopped down to investigate. 

He peered in. Looked back at her comfortably; nothing too hard to turn away from.

"It's just a lightened load. The axle's busted. Come look."

He was laughing.

She hopped down and gently led Baby to his side. 

It was busted, and empty, and no sign of whoever left it all behind.

In the middle of the wagon sat a tin washtub.

Rey found herself weak in the knees at the idea in her husband's smile.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You’re crazy.”

He nodded to himself as he hitched the barrel of water to drag behind Baby. Rey sat on his back, staring down at her husband, who had been working like a methodical madman since they’d found the first useable source of water for the tub. A creek, he was concerning himself with a bath and she was just softening her panicked heart with the thought of a creek.

She at least felt comforted by its proximity to their camp for the night.

The tin tub sat by their wagon about a half mile away. She could see the canyon it was tucked behind; could see if anything came and went, and still she felt wary.

But they were almost there.

 


 

 

“I still think-”

Ben himself seemed to settle into this idea, not that the tub was full, the water inside it heated and tested under his hand and just right.

He fidgeted as if nervous himself, too.

Why were they only allowed to talk about why she was anxious about being naked, if he was too?

Rey sighed and stroked the surface of the water. It did feel nice against her dusty skin.

They were both fully dressed still.

“I know it’s crazy,” he looked at her with that withdrawn look he had in the place of things like humility, or bashfulness. “But I’ll keep watch. I promise.”

She knew he would, but it was weird to sense him...lying to her.

They both had a problem. It was still broad daylight. It was obvious he wanted her positioned in the tub first so he had control of how he approached it when he himself would bathe. She’d be drying off when he’d take his turn.

His back protected from her sight.

With a sigh, she started to unbutton.

He perked up.

“Rey? Really?”

She shook her head.

“We both need it. You’re getting in with me.”

She raised her eyebrows at him.

He hesitated.

With a sigh, she turned her back to him and stepped out of her dress. Then her petticoat. Then her chemise stripped off…

And carefully, she picked her apron back up out of the dirt and folded it over a few times. She secured it around her bare chest with the strings.

Two could play at this coy game.

And her boots, then her stockings, came off before she stepped easily in the tub. The tub was deep and he’d filled it generously. The water was up to her neck when it was displaced by her body.

She actually heaved a comforted sigh. Her head fell back.

The pressure of hot water all around her was such a stranger to her weathered skin that she could do little more than shiver in pleasure for a few minutes.

“At least make yourself useful and hand me the soap-”

Two large hands pressed her shoulders forward.

She breathed out as she inched towards the front of the tub along with his gentle push, her knees bending to her chest.

When he entered the tub, water overflowed from the sides into the dirt, and he let out a low groan of pleasure as he settled in behind her.

This was alright. Each of them with their reasons that this had to be done just so. Their joint wrongness.

Her husband unwove her hair from the messy braids at the nape of her neck. Then he took a damp cloth and rubbed the dirt from her throat.

And kissed it as if it were delicate enough to wear nothing but pearls.

She leaned back to be caged in his limbs, her shoulders against his chest.

Soon her hair wasn’t dirty anymore. She wanted to weep with relief when he massaged soap into her hair. She’d always been in a habit of throwing it up in whatever style kept it out of the way. But

He kissed as he bathed her. Her slick, steamed skin. She felt pink and clean and new.

And good.

For the first time in a long time, good.

Ben mouthed at her shoulder with a little smirk, squeezing her hips.

He rubbed the cloth against her sex.

She would be crazy not to anticipate this. She took it with little shock when he began to caress her.

“I want you,” he cleared his throat, “to look at what I’m doing.”

This surprised her. She looked over her shoulder, up at him, and his thumb just kept petting until she relaxed back into her slouch under his chin.

“Okay,” she acquiesced quietly.

He just kept stroking back and forth until she sighed through her nose and tilted her face down where he instructed her to look.

She never examined herself this closely, and his thumbs were pulling apart her lips to show the heat-flushed pink inside.

“Look at yourself. You’re so pretty,” he told her gently, his finger dipping to circle her entrance.

Her thighs twitched and tensed between his.

“I…” a lump rose in her throat, “that’s not true.”

Ben, ever patient, painfully gentle, kept touching her.

“What makes you say that?”

Oh, that was so much worse than just him flat out denying it.

She shrugged weakly.

His lips crushed against her ear; trapping a low whisper.

“I want to hear you say why.”

She clutched his knees until her fingers turned white.

He didn’t stop stroking her, lightly pinching her lips, dipping the tips of his fingers teasingly inside, working little swirls around her clit so she’d jump to attention.

“Y-you didn’t have much of a choice,” she shook her head, “to find someone else. Before you settled down. You're happy with what you get until there's optio-oh.”

He nibbled her earlobe. His fingers dancing gently; but dangerous.

“Don’t look away.”

“What?”

Two fingers sank inside and crooked against the right spot.

“Oh,” she gasped out, the wet fabric clinging to her chest constricting seizing, harsh breaths.

She obeyed, looking down.

Through the water, she saw herself spread open for the first time. Usually his hands, her hands, of his mouth were in the way. Her swollen clit peeked out to be teased by his fingertips. Her lips open and flushed.

She had seen herself as brittle and dry. Unwomanly. Wrong.

Beauty had not mixed into her concept of sex. Dogs could fuck. Cows. Pigs. Beauty had nothing to do with that.

There was no correlation, in her mind, that Ben wanted anything more than the tingles they caused each other. It didn’t take a great beauty to suck a cock. And he’d probably had greater beauties-

Her voice came out in a croon to see him tease her pink cunt.

She looked lush from under his coaxing fingers. His touch made her eyes kind.

She squeaked as Ben hooked his hands under her knees to arrange them over the edge of the tub. Opening her up, trapping her that way. She couldn't close her legs and hide even if she wanted to.

Her feet dangled down, dripping with bathwater and her wet toes wriggling with pleasure as he sank his two fingers deep inside.

It was a less hindered view. It should have made her shy.

Instead, she found that she liked watching her sex part to take them.

“Beautiful,” he murmured, “just look at you.”

She cuddled her face into his throat, stealing less-than-guilty looks at her pussy being taken by his hand.

“Ben,” she pressed her lips to his cheek, “thank you for not choosing to be alone anymore.”

She had wanted to say thank you for choosing me; but this made more sense once it was out in the open.

His bent forward, focused-on-his-task head actually fell back with a groan and his furrowed brow went smooth.

“You were right. There wasn’t a choice. There was never a choice when I really knew you.”

 


 

 

After lazy in watery sunshine for a few minutes of limp-limbed bliss, Rey turned around in his lap.

Her husband was still a little too big for the tub. His poor knees were high up, crowded to his chest. But it felt god to be settled between them; their bare skin touching intimately. 

“I want to get you clean,” she drawled when he quirked a curious brow at her.

He smiled.

The soap pressing into her hand.

She smiled and got a better look at his bare chest. It was glowing and pale with the water slicking it.

Her face was downturned, shy, when she pressed the bar to his sternum and rubbed gently to create suds. The pearly bubbles slipped down his breast and spread out on the surface of the bathwater. She licked her lips, watching him harden his muscles and tremble under her gaze.

He asked for no appreciation of his body like he had given for hers.

That thought hit like a bruise in her skull.

He saw her mouth twist, but said nothing.

“Your skin is prettier than mine,” she said finally. Abruptly.

He snorted out a laugh. Not expecting that.

Her fingers danced over his muscles. Curious.

“I don’t know if I’m supposed to find you…”

“You don’t have to think me handsome,” he shook his head, “the whores warned me; it’s a difficult face-”

“-but I want you,” she cut him off with a firm, ferocious expression. Suddenly, for the first time, very angry with these women if they picked at him so. It was a fragile subject still, clearly.

Her anger seemed to surprise him.

He was silenced.

She touched the ends of his inky black hair, excited to get to wash it. She ran the suds through the strands, and he moaned into her touch. “When I look at you. You’re beautiful too. To me.”

He cracked an eye open, soap sliding down his cheek.

“Can I…” her chest was actually heaving over the ridiculousness of asking him this, “can I touch your nipples? I want to see why I’d like it.”

He gaped at her. She’d spoken it rushed, so maybe it was incomprehensible, or not even in English...

Stillness passed between them for too long a pause, Rey was about to apologize, and then he jerked as if struck by lightning.

“Yes, my God, yes.”

Relief she was not being rejected made her bolder. Less vulnerable.

She placed a hand on his pectoral. He shivered.

She felt his nipple peak like hers did when she was cold, or when he breathed on her neck, or whispered her name.

Curious, she circled her palm a little bit to rub it under her skin.

He was breathing, affected, and she crawled closer.

Her thumb nudged it into the pad of her pointer finger, and then her pointer finger into the pad of her thumb.

A flush was creeping from his neck to his chest.

“Can I,” she licked her lips, glancing up at him, “can I kiss it?”

“Please,” he groaned, “please, Rey.”

“Hmm,” she bent down, pressing her lips to it. Pulling it into her mouth.

It wasn’t what she thought it was going to be. Either the most heightened version of stupid or arousing.

But a few swipes of her tongue had him react with heightened arousal, his hips bucking under her. Fascinated, she lathed more intently. Too curious to feel stupid. His thumbs stroked her cheeks to urge her on. How maiden-like, his breathless loss of composure with his tit in her mouth. She hummed in satisfaction. He seemed more lost to this than the steady progress they’d been making with his cock in her mouth. This seemed to absolutely ravish her firm, dark husband.

He clung to her bare shoulders. Breathing heavily under her mouth; she could feel every seize of his chest. She gave the red bud little kisses. Testing pressure with her lips.

From his groans, Ben liked rougher.

Her mouth quirked in satisfaction.

She had thought their bodies foreign objects to each other; but he reacted much closer to how she seemed to think he expected her to in this position. Breathless. Red-faced. Squirming, close to begging.

Trying to get out of begging.

Begging-to-not-beg.

She lifted her mouth like she was going to say something about her findings. He looked at her eagerly. Waited for her to speak.

And then she silently lowered her mouth to his neglected, cool, pale nipple. To make it red and hot under her mouth just like the other one.

“Rey,” he protested. He whined in the back of his throat. Curious, she caressed the stimulated nipple that had left her mouth with her thumb.

He groaned, lying back in open want when she did.

Her free hand wrapped around his cock under the water.

“Is this what you’d like to do to me?”

Her husband nodded frantically underneath her.

The fabric around her chest felt like chain. Trapping her tight inside herself.

She stroked him thoughtfully.

“Will it feel as good for me?”

“Better,” she guessed she should not call her husband pretty, because husbands were not supposed to be, but the flush on his cheeks was very much so, “so much better, sweetheart. Please.”

She looked at him with that determined look that, from his expression, he clearly knew by now meant trouble for him.

He smiled down at her anyway.

“Shoot, Solo.”

She felt a flush rise up her cheeks.

“That thing you did for my eye.”

He looked a little concerned, guilt crossing his features.

“Are you alright?”

“Fine,” she bit her lip. Her eyes flickering all around him, like she was watching a fly buzz in all directions around his face, “I was thinking about it. How I thought it was going to hurt.”

He was already bending down, tilting her up by the chin to look. She let him. Even though it was weeks ago and she felt fine.

“If you’re that gentle…”

She balled her free hand, the one not currently on his cock, into a fist.

Looking at his flushed, pretty chest. Shining from bathwater and her spit.

Ben went from searching the corner of her eye for an affliction from weeks ago to looking pupil-to-pupil with her.

A smirk quivering on his lip.

She swallowed.

He wasn’t going to move until she said it.

“If you’re that gentle,” her voice pitched lower, “you can...touch.”

The bathwater clouded from underneath her.

She let out a surprised yelp, Ben’s limbs locking underneath her as the very promise of her tits made him cum.

 


 

 

She wore a blanket over her shoulders, her undergarments underneath, and watched her husband stoking a fire.

Rey knew it was indulgent and stupid; but the barely-dressed nature of it felt like a treat, like not changing out of pajamas until the afternoon on Christmas day.

Ben was fully dressed.

She forgot how cleverly he had choreographed when they got in the tub; he was much clumsier and cagier getting out. The man could lay out with his prick in her mouth for eternity but acted like a nun about his wife seeing his naked back. She knew why.

So that may have wrenched the offer she made out of his hands. Not by her.

He dropped it.

But when he peeked up at her from his crouched position in the dirt, sparks dancing between them: he tried to tell her with his eyes that he remembered.

Fear fluttered in her chest. She had said so, in the moment. She had thought he’d rip the wet rag of her apron clean off her chest and suckle from her like a baby right away.

He was making her initiate it instead; sneaky devil. She always got more righteous to get the things she wanted from him, so if she had to work for it, she’d get it before she realized if it was what she really wanted.

“You’re beautiful, you know,” she repeated, looking down on him from across the sparks.

He raised his eyebrows.

She twisted a little back and forth, kind of like a dance in front of him, under her blanket.

“Strong legs,” she continued, surprising herself when her lips pursed to peruse him, “your arms too. Your hair is beautiful. I heard no less than three girls on the wagon train whisper that they wanted hair like yours.”

His lips curved up, and he leaned back on a low stool he sat on to eat. Nodding her on.

“I can see I’ve made you vain,” she cracked a smile, but his amused eyes gentled. A little embarrassed, like he though she mocked him completely from one joke in a nest of a hundred praises.

She swallowed.

“You know how you used to have to...warm me up with your fingers, or kiss me, to get me wet enough to take you?”

Ben nodded obediently. His full attention, with nothing in the world to get between them, was so much.

She could hold it.

“I am...so ready just by looking at you. Beyond anything I can control. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s not wrong,” he whispered

“It feels wrong,” she shifted, looking up at the starry sky. Night fell so quick. “I should belong to myself, and I don’t anymore. No one ever had me like you do.”

“Rey.”

With shaking hands, she dropped the blanket.

She’d put on her chemise and petticoat quickly, hastily, but they were so cool and the caress of open air made her glare at her dirty dress with utter loathing. So the garments dried awkwardly to her skin. 

Ben, who knew her better than anyone on earth, knew she was not done yet.

She dropped her petticoat first. Her bare legs twisting through night as she walked towards him.

She stood between his knees.

They just looked at each other for a long while. Breathing, yet unable to breathe. The air moved through their lungs, but never gave them oxygen.

Rey tugged the strings binding her camisole closed so they opened. And dropped the straps from her bare shoulders.

The garment fluttered down her body to her feet like a white flag.

Ben tried not to drop his eyes from her face, but he did, and then looked guilty. Like she had not just invited his gaze.

She touched his cheeks.

“You can-”

He groaned and dropped his brow to her sternum. Her unbound breasts moved freely as he nuzzled; it was an odd, slightly embarrassing sensation for her, but his arms slithered around her to hold her so sweet as he nosed around against her breasts.

“Tell me to stop if-”

“I will,” she combed her singers into his clean, soapy-smelling hair. It was so soft and pretty after a wash; enough to make her knees weak from that alone. “But you can use fingers. And your mouth.”

He looked up at her, chin on her breastbone.

“Rey.”

“You can,” she urged gently, “gentle as the rock in my eye, alright?”

“I can be more gentle,” he promised, his lips tracing feather-light across the curve of the top of her breast.

She actually found herself laughing.

“Ben, then I’d hardly feel anything-”

A tongue darted across her nipple. Just a flash. She felt the lingering wetness grow cold on her pebbled skin more than she felt the touch.

“Oh,” she sighed softly, pulling his hair.

“Why didn’t you like it?”

She closed her eyes.

“Kiss a few times, and I'll tell you?”

He did, the soft underside skin, the pink around her nipple, the tight bud itself caressed with his lips.

She whimpered, caught, before she spoke;

“It wasn’t all him. He was never much of a lover. I just...didn’t like it. I’d have to be on my back with him on top of me. And he was...he was rough. It always hurt my chest.”

Ben kept talking as his tongue darted out to lick her nipple until it was stiff enough to burst.

"It was all him. He was an idiot. You were scared. You were perfect. Still are."

She could feel the strength of his body shift under her hands; enraged, vengeful, violent. It scared her a little, but he took a deep breath and went back to kissing her after he gentled himself.

“It wasn’t one thing he did. I thought there was something wrong with my tits. It was just...it hurt.”

“Does this hurt?”

“No,” she swept her fingers back through his hair to cradle his head to her breast. “It aches a little, but-”

“Aches?” his thumb rubbed a light circle on the underside of her opposite breast, “Rey, aches how?”

She bit her lip. The concern in his voice was so real, so earnest.  It was more embarrassing to admit this now than to just say she hated it, she wanted to stop…

“Aches like when I want you to fill me. Aches like I want more.”

He sucked her nipple into his mouth with a groan, and then froze when she cried out.

The bud popped out of his mouth like a child caught sneaking candy, “Shit. I’m sorry, did you want-”

“Yes,” she groaned, pushing his head back to her chest, “Yes. More.”

He sucked her nipple into his mouth, plying it with a soft, wet tongue. The sensation was slippery and shivery and strange. But it felt so good.

It wouldn’t have felt this good any other moment but now.

She had known all along that he would be gentle. She’d seen him with the stallion. With the sick baby. With her.

It wasn’t about not liking it, or hurting this time.

Or even wrongness. The wrongness was not her breast. It was her head.

It was about being ready to part with this last piece of herself.

 


 

 

He held her across his lap, covered in her blanket but naked underneath, her sated head on his shoulder.

Teasing breasts isn’t inherently satisfying, but he had a mouth and fingers to chase the sensation to completion as he had done skillfully tonight. So she didn’t mind the addition to their lovemaking. It was pretty nice.

They’d be fine.

“Can I see…?”

He looked up at her like a ship’s navigator finding the star to guide him home.

Giving him everything had made her brave.

But she still had to close her eyes and choke:

“The...mark on your back?”

The expression that crossed his face was twofold: that he wondered how she could have known, and that he was ashamed to not have realized she had always known.

His eyes shut.

He pressed his brow to her shoulder.

Her husband, her strong, brave, capable, good husband was trembling.

Tears fell freely. She’d cry for him willingly.

“How did you...?”

She had never heard a human sound so hopeless.

She cradled him as gently as possible.

“Please show me.”

She lowered her voice to his ear, as though there was anyone else that could hear her, “I showed you.”

Ben looked at the dirt under their feet.

“I am not the person they marked.”

She cupped his face to look at her.

“I know, Ben.”

With a sigh, he began to unbutton his shirt.

“You’ve already seen it, then.”

She nodded, “I didn’t see much, just the scarring.”

He dropped his shirt behind him. She stood up.

She touched the burn, kissed it, before she read what it said.

 



KYLO REN

F.O.

 

 

It was somehow worse than she thought. Efficient, not a sloppy cattle brand, but mean to mark a human. Her mouth went dry, and she stared at it until the silence was too terrible that it almost felt like mercy to ask:

“Is Kylo Ren...the one who did this to you?”

Ben was shaking. He might have been crying; but she decided to leave him some privacy for that when she was already pulling so much out of him. She did grab one of his hands and squeeze as hard as she could.

He squeezed back.

Harder.

He was always so gentle; careful like she could break. This was the first time he touched her like he needed her not to.

"Yes," he said finally.

“Why did they brand you?”

His head hung down, ashamed.

“So you know there’s no escaping. Not really.”

Her brow pressed between his shoulders. He would live with this mark forever. Angry and red on his perfect, pale skin. He couldn't run from this burn. Pity swelled her chest, and indignation, and fierce affection.

Fearsome love.

“Did you think I wouldn’t care about you if I found this?”

He gave a shaky nod. She could hear him sniffling in front of her.

“Ben, I fell in love with you after I saw this.”

Her arms banded tight around his waist. He let out a sound of grief and pain she had never heard from a person before; but she understood it so well.

“Say it again.”

“I love you. While knowing this was there. This cannot stop me from loving you.”

He twisted around and kissed her, needed her, and she let him kiss her until he knew it could hold him to this earth.

It was a proud proclamation then.

Proud and very stupid.

 


 

 

They were being followed.

The lazy, happy journey had to end at some point. It was too easy; a shortcut. If shortcuts worked so well, everyone would take them. 

Still, sunshine with Ben through the canyons felt unreal, like heaven or Eden. Unbidden by these restrictions; most significantly the ones they put on themselves. Her husband was still shy; he didn't want to talk about the brand, but there was a huge relief in him that she could sense that she knew.

They rode Baby together. They made love constantly, enough for Rey to accuse him that the shortcut would take just as long if they didn't get a hold of themselves. 

But they also were making good time. 

It was too good to be true.

Camp was packed up, morning growing hotter by the second; and the valley so massive and empty that it was impossible not to hear the rider in the distance.

It still happened too fast. They were alone, until they weren’t.

Rey tried not to panic. Maybe they were in need of help, or were from a camp of travelers nearby, or lost…

The gait of the horse unnerved her. Swift. Purposeful.

The pace of an ambush.

“Ben?”

She didn’t look away from the rider. There was something about the pursuit that made her go still like a rabbit in the grass. “What do you suppose he-”

A bullet cracked through the sky; the air it displaced curling at the edges like a blister.

Baby was on his back legs, whinnying in harsh, scared cries. Rey took firm hold his his bridle, and shockingly, the stallion stayed put, calmed even by her hand on his nose.

Then she realized she was clear in the line of gunfire.

But there was no second shot.

She’d be grateful if there wasn’t so much else happening at once.

The rider’s horse twisted off its path, despite his master’s harsh hold on the reins.

But it didn’t matter.

The stranger was already falling backwards from his horse with a bullet tucked away safe in his skull.

Ben’s pistol was back in his holster by the time Rey had the sense to turn around to see the source of the shot.

He was as still as a statue.

Rey had not chosen him to feel like she'd married a fool. She had not picked the wrong man once before to be stranded out here with a fool. 

Now she herself just felt very foolish.

They both met eyes, and were too smart to pretend anymore that this was the expert shot of a banker.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Ben?”

Her frightened tone made her even more scared. She didn’t recognize herself; and that made her feel more alone.

She hated the sound of her voice. The way it turned to Ben to make it right. Implying his answer would change things.

That it even could.

More than she could even help herself.

Her husband just shot a man in the head, his ankle was caught in the horse’s reins and his dead, bloody body dragged through the dirt after it had fallen backwards.

So a man would fall off his horse as the dreams predicted.

Her husband could not fix this; and she desperately wanted him to.

“We can’t trust anyone out here, Rey. It isn’t safe.”

Her knees felt weak.

He’d killed that rider before she could even utter a question about him.

The horse loosened the foot caught in the bridle. The body stopped moving as the horse ran on. It disappeared, riderless, as Ben and Rey looked upon the corpse he’d made.

That shot. Where had he learned to shoot like that?

Rey trembled as she took a step towards the lump of a man.

Ben’s fingers curled around her bare forearm.

“Sweetheart. Look away.”

“Why’d you have to shoot?”

He crouched down; already busying himself with rolling the body over.

She was still reeling. Ben was as efficient and calm as ever.

“To protect you.”

“Why did you shoot him?”

“Because he was going to hurt you. Don’t look.”

“Ben.”

“Don’t look.”

The man’s face was gone.

Rey turned to the side and retched.

She had not reacted so badly to even her husband’s death. But Ben’s beautiful skin was getting coating in blood.

She was on her hands and knees in the dirt while Ben stripped the body of belongings. Searched pockets. The lining of the vest. Shoes.

His gloved hands danced over his task as gracefully as ever.

Rey heaved into the dirt until her stomach was empty and nothing came up.

Drool slid from her tongue and connected in a thick line from the dirt to the corner of her mouth. No matter how she spit she couldn’t break it.

Both of them were now crouched over a head blown to pieces. It was the bloodiest, most violent thing Rey had seen at this point in a very violent life.

People who were desperate and afraid and so lost that their pain could not be carried in solitude. She carried the pain of so many others until it eclipsed her own.

But not like this. Not like a man who shot knowingly, without anger, with the intention to kill.

She pushed off her hands to rest on her hip; away from the smell of her sick that was cloudy her nostrils. She felt putrid.

“You said he was going to hurt me. Ben, how do you know that?”

Ben didn’t even look flustered, or scared, or hurt by his own actions. He was just searching through pockets.

While he was busy, something flared dark and deep in the pit of her stomach.

Distrust.

He pulled out a piece of paper. Swore to himself at a sealed insignia pressed into the wax. Like a proper businessman.

This dead, faceless man looked too rough to have an official wax seal on his letters like that.

Her husband pocketed the letter like he knew what it said.

Or that he knew who it was for.

“Because I know this man, Rey.”

“Stop touching him.”

“I just need to-”

“Ben,” she gripped tight to his suspenders, “tell me what’s going on.”

She didn’t know she was shouting until the echo reached the top of the canyon.

Ben looked at her like she was the one scaring him.

“Then listen carefully. He and I…we robbed a bank.”

 


 

 

Her hips swayed. She never knew a woman who’s hips swayed. Jess’s mother used to tell the girls it looked loose. An unladylike walk.

She remembered blue silk-clad hips moving their way up a set of stairs; a man reeled steady and close by their predatory sway. She could see them when she closed her eyes to the blaring sunset.

Ben followed similarly, her hips back and forth like a hypnotist’s watch, his eyes just as enraptured. But afraid.

Because his wife had broken into the whiskey bottle.

Ben had gone off, leaving her with the body, on Baby to wrangle the stranger's horse. While he was gone, stupid of him even though he stripped the body of clues she could search for, he had forgotten one small thing.

She carefully lifted the bloody neck and peered under the dead man’s jacket and shirt.

And tried not to panic when she saw the name over the same F.O. seared into the skin.

That was hours ago. She refused to speak, walked on foot, and broke into the whiskey. And that was all that passed between them until sunset began. When it was getting time to make camp, and Ben jumped down to try and wrangle her in for the night.

“Rey…”

Another pull from the bottle. They had gone like this for almost three miles now. Her, backwards. Ben, leading the team on foot, watching her, unable to explain.

Baby behind the wagon with the new horse.

She wasn’t naming this one.

“When were you ever going to tell me?”

He was a mystery to her now. A complete stranger. And she did not even recognize herself to give herself the comfort of company in all this.

She took a sip, knowing the answer already. He was hoping to never have to tell her.

“I had hoped-”

“You bastard.”

He went silent.

She took another drink.

Her eyes caught Baby; poking out from behind the wagon like a child pleading for his parents not to fight.

“Start from the beginning,” she growled. “Where is the map headed?”

Ben kept pulling the team along, his other hand outstretched to her.

She didn’t stop for it to reach her.

He took a deep breath.

“It takes a lot of moving parts to execute a robbery that elaborate. I was the one who worked the bank...”

She snorted, as she did whenever she had fallen upon his not-lies. He had worked a bank; everyone assumed he was a banker. She could see it. Using his charm. Using his shyness. Mumbling something hard to hear with a few words people could pick out. Then let them make their own story from it.

When she herself had observed the oddness of a banker’s strong stomach for blood; he said nothing at all.

“But the getaway was not my part in all this. I would not see a penny of it until every phase is complete.”

He took a deep breath.

“There is a mine about thirty miles from here where my cut is stashed-”

Her blood turned sour.

“You fucking bastard.”

“-where I was headed before I even met you, before this all happened. I gave you the chance to go on your own.”

He phrased it as if it was more than fair. 

She spat

“By lying. You did not spare me this from happening. You didn’t even tell me.”

He stopped. The team halted when he stilled the leader.

He looked down at his gloved hands.

It was a good thing they had a tub to scrub all the blood off earlier.

The breeze sifted through her hair. It felt so fluffy, so soft, from the washing the day before.

Weren’t they supposed to be clean now?

“This was the last job,” he began very carefully, flinching at the rage and distrust in her eyes, “I mean it. I knew that when I met you. But when the barman asked you about Hux, I knew I couldn’t just duck out with you. It was too dangerous. they'd fine us. He was a contact, Rey, and The First Order has eyes everywhere. I have to go and face them.”

So Hux was involved.

Hux was dead, and that didn’t seem planned, so maybe there was a massive hole in this phase to begin with.

He was dead. It was too late to give it much thought because he wouldn’t be getting in the way anymore.

She shook her head.

“You should have told me and then walked away. you still can. They wouldn’t miss you. The only thing you’re walking away from is the money. As I see is a gang of men more than happy with splitting your cut.”

Ben shook his head, a genuine fear in his eyes.

“It doesn’t work that way. If you run, they’ll find you. I had to face this down on my own.”

Her face reddened.

“You brought me with you.”

He actually cracked a soft, curious smile, “Remember when you accused me of making this up as I go along?”

She shook off his soft reach for affection. For something intimate that only they knew, between each other, to laugh about.

“What does F.O. stand for?”

“First Order,” and from the look of shame on his face, she knew that if Rose was here…

Rose would know what that meant, and where his shame came from.

Rey felt like an idiot. She had guarded her husband’s secret, his shame, from the one person who would have probably slapped her upside the head and gotten her out of where she was now. But instead, she have kept it secret. Between them.

She did not have Rose here now to tell her some of the crimes The First Order had committed.

But knowing Ben, his eyes told her this was bad. “The Gang. We were the First Order.”

“Who runs the gang? Is it Kylo Ren?”

Ben...hesitated.

And now that she couldn’t trust anything he said, she knew how things were dire.

“Not exactly.”

“Who is he?”

“Nobody,” his eyes flickered to the dirt. “He’s nobody.”

“He’s your leader?”

“He’s not,” Ben did shake his head, eyes open and earnest in sincere. She couldn’t trust the truth to leave his lips; but they both seemed to be realizing she did know him enough to tell what was true and what was false.

It couldn’t make him tell her. But it could keep her trying to ask the right questions.

It was like her bad students. Constantly quizzing.

Did you really study?

You did?

You went home and you went over the lesson in your learner?

You tried?

And just watching the nods starts fast, and get slower, and lose all power and purpose when the lie stretched too thin.

It wasn’t a satisfying victory for anyone; not even Rey.

Not trusting someone just made extra effort on her part. It’s what made her first marriage a curse of endless burdens. She already felt the work she had let slip slide out from under her like a thin mud.

“Then who is?”

This felt too massive a question. Too risky and open and there were a million things to land on that would only lead her further down.

And it felt stupid to ask; because she seemed to still trust him enough to catch her.

“Snoke.”

He said it like the name was bile spewing from his lips.

“How did you find yourself all tied up with him.”

Ben’s expression soured. He seemed to want to give her everything until it was all the bad; he wanted that clean slate in her, he could feel it.

Yet she had to dredge up every awful thing, every bad memory. He knew more of her than anyone else did since the night she first rejected him.

They had been trying to see the same way ever since and he had plucked out one of her eyes.

“I was very lost, and young, when he found me. The First Order made me strong. I was...spoiled. Sensitive. I was weak. Like my father.”

He shook his head as if to dissolve a memory growing solid and clear in his head, “I didn’t want to be anyone’s son. I wanted my own life.”

"I don't really want to hear this. I find I don't care at all how sad your life was before you turned to robbery, and murder-"

Rey had never, ever made her sadness the burden of another person. Her pain. Ben took her on as a burden, she would never deny that, but she kept damn well to herself and tried to prevent him from knowing everything he wrenched out of her. 

But she didn't steal. She didn't hit. She didn't-

Because it hit her now, plainly, in an ebb to her initial shock; he killed today like he had killed before.

"I am trying to leave that life now," he explained carefully, his cheeks flushed with defense and shame. 

“Then why barter with me, instead of refusing me? Why involve me at all?”

There was a tired shadow under his eyes. She hated that her heart went to places of concern for the strain he showed.

She hated her heart.

“A man can’t want a decent racehorse?” he tried gently.

A sob ruptured her.

He had maybe, more clearly than maybe, thought her distrust of him would make it harder to hurt her. He cursed, trying to reach for her, but she batted him away and choked down another pull of whiskey.

“I didn’t plan it Rey. Something in me, against everything I know to be true, makes an exception for you. I meant to buy the horse off you to ease your troubles. I meant to help you. I meant to give you a chance to split from me and be freed from myself. But I was softer to you, and I thought…”

He shook his head.

"You were going to leave me."

She stopped dead in his tracks.

She saw his throat chord.

"When you were self-sufficient enough. You had your own money. You never needed me."

She didn't know what was worse: that he had trapped her or he had almost left her instead. 

"So why?"

He looked helpless. 

"I loved you too much."

She shook her head. 

"Stop."

“I didn’t think. I was selfish. But I believed, and still believe, we can get through this together.”

Tears poured down her cheeks, flushed from the whiskey. Her whole head was pulsing and hot.

She still wore his black hat.

He saw them as together, even still.

She saw herself as alone.

And she knew the moment he saw it too; and it was like something died behind his eyes.

 


 

The dead man’s brand had said ‘The Executioner’ above the First Order initial.

Not Kylo Ren.

Rey had thought of Kylo Ren as a phantom evil, a man made of shadow, unknowable.

She thought he was their leader and seared his name into his subordinates. That every brand was the same.

But the dead man went by The Executioner.

And call it blind faith, or her last tie to Rose. When she finally stopped walking, and Ben started to set up camp for the night, she sat down and reached for the wadded-up paper in her toe.

There wasn’t much left to read.

But an act of God, by chance, by chance in the paper Rose had not read, what was left with her was the paragraph seeking the arrest of heartless murderer Kylo Ren.

About six feet. Long black hair. Expert horseman. And a brand on his back bearing his own chosen name for The First Order.

The paper was wadded and bleeding. But it was enough. 

Kylo Ren was her husband. He wore it burned into his back not as a means of someone's ownership; but to say proudly what he was.

And cut off there. The paper ripped and smudged at the edges.

Rey did not have to be an idiot this time. She stared at the big, empty boots and the scraps of paper on the ground. Ben glanced at her. He was more suspicious that he'd ever been before.

Holding her breath, she carefully tossed the papers into the fire.

She couldn’t say now that her first husband had never given her anything.

Ben looked away from her, leading the dead man’s horse away from camp and muttering to himself.

She didn’t think much of it when Ben and the stranger’s horse went behind a boulder so it would be unseen by anyone on their path.

She didn’t think much of what he could be doing back there.

She was too numb to hear the gun cocking; though ice shot up her spine when she heard the shot through the growing darkness.

She didn’t have to see it to know the spare horse dropped with leaden weight into the dirt.

Baby panicked, though properly staked down for the night, and she had to go to him and soothe him before he escaped. 

Her heart was hammering in her throat when Ben came back. She was still comforting the stallion.

His gun was in his holster so she wouldn’t have to see it.

He circled her slowly. She stared at the fire; her body twitching with fear.

Baby nuzzling her hip; still looking for a treat.

“Rey,” Ben said softly, and she thought he was going to say he loved her, it was dripping from the tone like honey, “when this is over...I want you to know that you still have a choice.”

He cupped her face gently.

The whiskey was setting in. So she let him.

It felt good and vile; like succumbing to your own weakness often did. His voice gentled her to surrender yet again:

"but right now I can't have you running away."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kylo rested his lips to her cheek.

“I’m going to ask you gently. Now give me your boots.”

After the start of that sentence; Give me your boots should have been a comfort.

He’d just shot a horse, and before that a man, straight through the skull. She was stuck out here with him. 

"I can and will take them if I have to. But why don't we start nice?"

She remembered something he said to her, with a dying baby in her arms:

I wish there was a way I could have you fully and achieve my aims.

There wasn’t.

He could not have both.

He knew it back then too.

Now Kylo whispered like a suitor in her ear because he was going to take her shoes whether she let him or not.

There was either the lover or the tyrant: not both. 

She was not weak or stupid enough to allow him both.

She stepped back.

And the first thing that flew out of her mouth was:

“But...they were my husband’s.”

His nostrils flared.

He had been so calm before she had said that.

His steps followed her. Predatory.

“I need your shoes, sweetheart. Because you’re going to try and run and the only thing I want more than money is to deliver you unharmed to the city lines of Sacramento. I can’t do that if you’re lost in the desert.”

“Funny then, how you still chose money over that.”

His hands circled her waist.

“Lift your foot, beautiful.”

She shoved him back. Hard.

He glanced off Baby’s shoulder, and the horse whisked himself away from the man jostling it with a whinny. Kylo fell back further, his weight shoved onto the horse then left off-kilter as it fled underneath him, but righted his footing sooner than Rey was banking on.

Not a great head start to tear off into the darkness.

There were rougher ways to grab her; quicker and more efficient ones.

But he was still trying to have both.

Control.

And her love.

He gave chase until his arms closed around her. Like a vice. No hair-grabbing, no bruising to her limbs. Like she was deadly and grabbing her wrong would lead to harm.

She kicked out her legs chest-height so he could not get a hold of the boots on her feet with his free hand.

She had felt the ground under her booted feet. Rough. Painful, even with shoes on. 

This was his thinking.

He did not have to tie her up and drag her.

He just had to take her boots. She couldn't get very far without them.

She could feel the wheels in his head turning; if they could do this, if they could compromise, he wouldn’t have to be bad.

And a different woman might have accepted this.

Or the same woman.

Still Rey.

But from before.

Her expression hardened to one of steel.

“Take it then. As you've always been taking. Whatever you want.”

She felt the oxygen evacuate his body. His ribs against her spine flinched inwards.

They both knew this was not what he was doing. He wasn’t going to touch her.

There was something so sacred as gold and blood between them that could not be broken; even Ben, or Kylo, or whoever she’d married knew that. The line that could not be crossed back from.

Still, the implication that she saw his soul as so ugly that he ever could broke something between them maybe less vital, but still delicate.

He rested his chin on her shoulder. Arms around her waist.

“I’m going to lower us down now, Rey.”

With a doctor's calm.

He dropped elegantly into the dirt, right on the seat of his pants, and tried to reach for her feet.

She kicked his hands away.

The man behind her took a slow, deliberate breath.

Reached again for her feet from behind her.

She twisted in his arms, the one around her waist not enough to hold all of her that was writhing.

It was strange she wasn’t entirely escaping, or even repulsed, by his touch. That wasn't so easily reversed when things were so uncertain.

But he was not getting her shoes.

He rolled her onto her back with the grace of wildcat.

“I’m sorry,” he grunted, shaking his head while he struggled with her kicking feet like he hated this more than she did. “Ah, Rey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

His hands lighted on her boots. One hand curled around her ankle.

She pushed out from under him. Sliding upwards, which was a risk because her feet would have to pass before his face to get away-

He grabbed her skirt, pulling her down so he hovered over her belly, and tugged the shoelaces with a clumsy, frantic hand.

And she kicked.

As hard as she could.

Under his eye.

Rey felt the edge of the heel of Niima’s old boot catch into a curvature of his face so deep it was not even in skin; it was embedded in bone. She felt it swipe from his brow into his cheek as he tried to shield his face from her blow and, for her force, it ended embedding into his collarbone.

She felt the animalistic groan of pain in waves over her scrambling body. She wasn't sure if it was a pain reaction or an attempt to trap her that his weight collapsed on top of her, his trembling hands clinging to her as tightly as possible.

She needed to get out.

She couldn’t run away at night.

She couldn’t run away in this desert and expect to survive.

She couldn’t run with just the clothes on her back.

This land ensured that. Stronger than a promise. Stronger than trust. Stronger than a rope tying her to him.

Ben, bleeding.

She shut her eyes as she crawled backwards.

Not Ben. Kylo.

“Shit, Rey.”

He caught the boot by the laces. She fell to the dirt when he yanked.

This didn't feel like wrestling between them anymore; one thing that meant everything. He had pushed her to show how far she'd go. As many lengths as he would take to not hurt her; she'd go to hurt him.

He accepted it. 

Somehow the fight left her. After the price he’d paid for these boots.

Properly acknowledged, she put down her sword. 

Blood was pouring down his brow. Down his cheek. Thickly across his neck.

He ripped them off with a grunt.

Rey lay back and looked at the stars above them while her stranger husband bled and cursed, clutching the shoes like they were all he had now.

They might as well have been.

“But...” she said weakly, her last protest, “they were mine.”

What had mattered most, and what broke her now, was all that she had suffered to earn those.

She closed her eyes. you don't earn things for suffering; as suffering never ceases.

His shoulders were heaving, she suspected in pain, and yet they both knew he couldn’t be angry with her.

He knew her. He couldn’t blame her. Not for being what she was.

He pressed his bleeding face to her knee. Like a child to his mother's skirts.

“I promise,” he was panting, his fingers bone-white where they pinned his most hated trophy, her boots, to the ground, “when this is over, you can have them back. But I can’t have you run. It’s too dangerous. I'm sorry I did that. I'm sorry for everything.”

He rolled onto his back, next to her in the dirt.

With shaking, blood-spattered hands, he tried to knot the laces of her stolen boots together.

Very slowly, like the reverse of a chunk of ice melting, growing hard and fuller and more cold by the minute, Rey rose into a new form.

She pulled the ring from her finger.

“Take this, too.”

Ben was already down. Kylo. Kylo was already down.

Kylo was bleeding and out; even if he had won.

Too costly a win for either of them to stop pretending didn't even happen. Lying under the stars was easier.

He looked at the ring, saw it was her wedding ring, and stared at it, struck dumb, instead of taking it.

“I wanted to get you a new one.”

She just held it away like it was burning her.

“I don’t want a new one. I want to give this one back.”

And she dropped it in the dirt beside his ear.

He sat up. Draped the boots over his shoulder by the laces like a boy heading out to the lake with his ice skates.

“I...I...no one cared about you like I did,” he informed her darkly. 

It hit like a punch in the stomach. Her muscles tensed until she realized that she could not take this like a physical blow. Not like how she was used to.

She didn’t know how to take pain like this.

Tears fogged up her vision. She couldn’t even look at him as he made her cry like this. Just up at the night sky.

She would have been married to Hux if it weren’t for him. She would be begging at a hastily assembled trail stop for help. She would be stranded, alone, working like a dog to get where she was going.

She would never have known pleasure like him, even given to herself by her own hand. She would never have lay in the grass with a man she loved and cuddled him like he was an Adonis; even with dirty clothes and dirty hands and filthy, beautiful hair.

She would not have known the honest depth of herself.

Ben looked at her like saying it hurt him too. Like he was too kind to let her know this about herself. Like if he had to separate her from the whole world to make her his; he would.

“That’s not true.”

It just flew out of her mouth. What was said was between her and the crescent moon.

His eyes widened.

“You know that it is.”

His tone was soft. Like she was just making it harder for herself.

A growl tore out of her throat.

He flinched back as she sat up in a righteous rage.

She could name them all now.

There was Finn. And Rose. Who couldn’t sleep until she was safely under her wagon with them while Ben was prowling around in the darkness keeping secrets. There was Poe, hinting around that her husband was hiding dangerous choices from her. There was a baby clinging to life that was probably buried in an unmarked grave outside Fort Hall who just wanted to be held somewhere quiet; who wanted a mother as much as she had. There was an impossible horse who was mistreated by the same man.

Nothing was impossible and she was not wrong and Ben was not the only good she’d ever have.

They were her friends.

And he took her from them.

Her hands balled into tight fists.

“It’s not true,” she bared her teeth at him, “people cared about me. I was never alone like you were. I didn’t choose this life.”

Even without shoes, she would walk.

She never chose to lose anyone.

He did.

He looked distraught as she stood up.

“Not like how I cared about you,” his face was so openly hurt by her insistence. “That’s different.”

Her throat burned.

They could both be right.

Most problems were made by two people believing completely different things was that they were both right in their own ways.

“And now I have to lose that. So that’s what you’ve done to me. I can’t thank you enough.”

The immature thing to do was deny all feeling; but they were both too old to pretend anymore. She was on her second marriage. She was not a child.

The crueler thing was to remind him he had given something that could not be taken away, even if she wanted to drop it like a dead snake into the dirt. She had to hold on to it until it rotted inside her. She had to transform the love he gave her into decay.

Instead, she handed him her apron to mop the blood off his face.

He flinched, taking it into his hands and holding it in his lap.

“Thank you,” he said first.

She shook her head as if to say don’t mention it.

He stared at her in the darkness. “You’ll never lose that, though. I will always care for you.”

She shook her head again; with both the same and different meaning.

Don’t mention it. Ever again.

He tentatively dipped the apron to blot his brow, like it was sweat. Like he didn’t want to get it dirty.

“We can build something better, Rey. Take the money and start over in California. Let me spend every moment of the rest of our lives making it up to you. So long as we both shall live, we vowed that, Rey. Please.”

She stepped back, shaking her head.

"I didn't vow that to you. I vowed that to Ben Solo."

"I am the same-"

“No. you lied. You just want me to stew with you in what happened to me. It gives you every advantage if I feel like I’m broken by what went wrong in the past. You are trapped by the past, Ben, you’re not going to be free from it just because this job is done. Snoke won’t let you.”

He scrambled to his feet. She watched the dangling boots hit against his arm.

On the same level, it was clear how badly she had gotten him. His face was wrecked, split open, possibly requiring stitches neither of them knew to how to administer.

She just stared at the blood crusting over the features she had grown to love.

Forever changed.

She would never see him the same way and he would never look the same way.

She had marked him as permanently as the First Order had.

“I will tell him it’s over. He doesn’t get to decide my destiny. Neither do you.”

Rey’s eyes closed. How she went from relief over one husband’s death to fear now, even now she feared losing him, astounded her. 

She just couldn’t fear losing him as much as she feared losing herself.

“Rey.”

He intruded on the distance she had kept between them.

“You are not mine. You are Snoke’s,” she kept laughing; the only sounded that could come out of her lips instead of screams; “he’s marked you pretty well.”

He tried to grab her in an embrace, but she twisted away. She walked on like a spooked horse in the opposite direction of him. He followed.

“Rey. I cannot stand to remain tied to this earth if you and I pass as strangers on it.”

She actually laughed in his face.

“We always were. I never knew you at all, Kylo Ren.”

 


 

 

He didn't sleep under the wagon beside her. 

He slept up against Baby's stake, so if she tried to take the horse, he'd feel it. 

Kylo didn't have to say these things -it was easier to pretend Ben wasn't doing these things, was never real, if he had always been Kylo- and he didn't have to.

What he did say, watching her pull her bedroll down from the wagon, not fetching both like she did when she felt like being his wife, was this;

"I know you will not know peace until you are separated from me. But this terrain is rough. There's rocks, rodent holes, rattlesnakes. A horse's leg can break very easily, Rey, especially in the dark. Please. I can take care of you if you're with me."

"I don't want you to take care of me."

She heard his try and swallow the lump in his throat.

The warning was enough. He didn't have to sleep with his bedroll in the dirt, amongst the rocks and rodent holes and rattlesnakes, to keep her from taking Baby. They were too far away from civilization, it was too dangerous, and like it or not someone wanting to keep her alive, no matter what allegiance, was better than nothing. 

But he had no claims to her when she had a choice; and that was an irreversible burn on both of them.

He slept in the dirt because they both couldn't face what she would say if he tried to sleep beside her ever again. 

That night two strangers slept alone.

 

 

Chapter Text

He did not lay a hand on her again.

He did keep the shoes, though.

The next morning, when she rolled up the mat she slept on, she resigned herself to the truth that the sooner they finished this journey, the sooner she could leave him.

Rey waited, seated on the ground, while he watered the team. He had insisted she keep off her feet in case she stepped on something; though if he feared for injury, he could have

When he was was ready to head out, he walked over. The sun was glaring down on them.

She was wearing his hat, because it was starting to hurt.

The stranger stood over her.

And held up the folds of bills from selling most of her possessions on the day of their wedding.

“This was in the boots,” he said quietly.

She narrowed her eyes at him. Glaring at them, dangling jauntily down from his shoulder by the laces.

“It’s yours.”

He shook his head.

“I told you it’s yours.”

She shook her head back.

“Wives cannot keep separate property from their husbands.”

He actually laughed to himself. At something she didn’t understand about what she just said.

She set her jaw and looked bitterly out over the desert.

Kylo sighed.

“You just don’t know...my parents.”

He looked at his black boots. Idly kicking a rock across the dirt.

He was right about that; but it didn’t stop it from adding insult to injury.

“I do not.”

She didn't know anything about him.

His face twisted with discomfort.

He clearly hadn’t meant to twist that knife.

He dropped the folded bills so they landed in the nest her skirt had made from her crossed legs.

“Kylo?”

He flinched at the name, like he did every time she said it. She glanced up at him.

Her eyes went wide.

His face looked like it had been split in two; swollen, bloody, a gash with a thin bandage plastering the edges together.

“Shit, I really got you,” she breathed.

The features of his face shifted uncomfortably. He had probably not seen the effects of her boot in a mirror, perhaps only the small looking-glass she had tucked away somewhere in her trunk, but not the full extent of the damage.

Up close, it was bad. It was really bad.

Her own face twisted in an attempt to shrug off how her brain tried to imagine the pain of what he felt. As if taking her own boot to the cheek.

And his eyes were wide and hurt; not because she’d done this, but because he saw horror now when she looked upon his face.

He cleared his throat, his expression suddenly cold.

“You were going to ask me something?”

“Are we even married?”

His eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

“Rey.”

“Your name is Kylo Ren. So are we even legally married?”

He brushed his fingers through the dirt. Sifting through it thoughtfully. His hair covered his face. His head was too bowed for it to not be intentional; covering up the scar.

He spoke in a whisper;

“Ben Solo is my real name. First Order has you pick a new one, to distance you from...the past.”

"You chose your real name as your alias?"

He glanced up at her. 

"A lot of things that Snoke orders are not what I'd chose. He keeps enough true information that traitors...never prosper, to put it lightly."

"That's what I thought the brand was," she looked away from him, "I thought my brave, bank-working husband was held down and tortured for...information? Maybe a shipment of banknotes overtaken by the outlaw Kylo Ren. You chose this. You did this to yourself."

She covered her mouth with her palm.

"There is a bounty out for Kylo Ren. Not Ben Solo," he looked hard at her, trying to get her to understand. "The initiation was...the thing I regret the most in my life. But he chose me. There was purpose in that."

She didn't want to hear this anymore.

“Alright.”

His expression was sheepish.

“Alright?”

“Yes.” she stood up and climbed onto the box seat. She waited while he stared at the space she emptied beside the wagon.

The money sat in her pocket.

Alive as itself like kindling.

There was nowhere else for her to go now.

 


 

 

Suddenly Kylo wanted to talk about himself.

Ben, actually. Kylo wanted to talk about Ben.

Nothing of consequence. According to his own lips; he’d had a childhood of no siblings and horse auctions. Now he, man of few words, suddenly wanted to elaborate. His father was an expert horseman, but cursed to fill his time in his less-than-stellar talent for trading them. His mother an affluent Governor's daughter who had a shrewd mind for business, so her philanthropic work was beyond that of the usual socialite which Rey was familiar; mostly wearing fashionable hats.

She watched him talk, from as far away as she could sit from him on the same seat. His cheeks reddened in the sun, she could practically watch them grow dry and burn, but he never took his hat back from her or complained.

“You came from wealth,” she said finally, her throat dry.

He looked uneasy by this.

“My mother gave away more than we ever settled ourselves on. But we were...comfortable.”

Rey had never in her life been comfortable; so she assumed that was how one would politely phrase that they’d never had to struggle in their lives.

Her face vanished under the brim of her hat.

“Rey?”

It was so odd. The way he was looking at her, like she could possibly still have the power to bring him shame.

“So, do all comfortable people turn to a life of crime?”

Kylo swallowed thickly.

“You meet...unsavory characters at horse auctions. Who really invests in an animal like that, needing something fast, and durable? People with money to burn...or people who burn the world. I was young, uncertain.”

She almost, almost softened for her husband, the naughty pupil. The affection in her breast started warm and then seared to the touch. Painful.

He looked out at the landscape.

“So you meet these older men. They want to buy you a drink. They want to pay for you to see a whore. They convince a boy that he is a man already by making him as cold and ugly as they are.”

Rey watched his gloved hands twitch as they tensed around the reins.

“Snoke did all that?”

Kylo nodded.

“And more.”

Rey felt a quiver of disgust rise through her body.

“When he sent The Executioner after you-”

He swiveled in the seat to look at her.

“You checked his-”

Of course she checked his brand. That's how she knew they weren't all marked by the same nefarious Kylo Ren.

“Yes,” she crossed her arms and looked out at the canyons, “I’m not stupid. Was he sent to kill us?”

He sat back in his seat. His eyes swimming with how much...how much Rey was was doing to figure this out on her own.

He had not anticipated her doing her own work to figure this out.

“He was sent to deliver a message. I panicked over what message he was going to deliver back to Snoke.”

The letter.

“So Snoke doesn’t know about me yet?”

Kylo actually pulled the team to a halt. Rey tensed up, vanishing almost backwards into the wagon because she thought he stopped driving to express anger at her question.

But he was hunched over, breathing heavily.

“He knows about you,” he lifted his chin not to raise his eyes, but to breathe the air and not smother himself in his knees as he had been doing. “I hope to convince him that you are safely on your way to Oregon with the train I split from.”

“How is that going to work?”

The wagon was still stopped dead in the desert. She had never felt as alone with someone else as she did now.

He, under only the most extreme patches of his sunburn, was pale and shaking.

“Because it has to,” he said finally.

Kylo killed his messenger because he felt he had to stop Snoke from knowing about her being there. 

Enough was enough of him keeping secrets.

“Let me see the letter,” she ordered quietly.

And Kylo Ren obeyed.


Ungrateful cur,

I once told you that the it is the ugliest dogs that are the most loyal. I do not want to be proven wrong by the likes of you. Congrats on your recent nuptials. I hope you’re enjoying her more than you were as that sobbing mess of a boy I paid some whore to turn into a man. But since you have a job to do, your business is always my business. I am sure you think yourself clever, a man of great promise, in bringing in the end of this mission one man short. You are no man. You are a child if I still need to instruct you so plainly. Leave the industry to me and stop playing around in that empty head. Hux was my man for the job along with you; if I thought you capable of doing it alone I would have assigned the task to you alone in the first place. Let me remind you; you are replaceable. And replaceable things are worthless.

I send my warmest regards until we meet again,

Snoke.

 

Once, during a tea that Jess had hosted with a round belly and thin lips, her rich paper-cut-out husband came home.

Rey, in that big fancy house, was little more than a mouse in the room where he was concerned. He did and said things like they had no consequences. Like she was so meek and little that she would not see.

Rey saw. And carried it with her forever.

The things he said faded away; because Rey knew Jess. Jess was funny and wild and romantic and kind. Jess was not worthless, or stupid.

He said these things to her like she did not matter. Like neither Rey nor Jess mattered.

Niima would say she was worthless and stupid too.

Rey was not worthless, or stupid. Rey wasn't much; but she was useful when she could be nothing at all. She paid off the debt to Niima’s claim each month from her own earning. She kept food on the table, she stretched resources, she solved more trouble than she ever made. She was clever and brave and she never stopped trying.

Ben was not worthless.

Her soul fractured in half.

Ben was kind to mistreated horses. And mistreated widows. And bodies that didn’t know how to be loved anymore.

She was protective of Ben-

Kylo.

She had nothing to say of Kylo.

Rey handed the letter back to him.

“He pushes hard first, and then he lets up,” Kylo made excuses, like she had made excuses. He seemed embarrassed, and she was clearly embarrassed for him, to be spoken to in such a way, even through letter. “I've already displeased him, and then Hux died. He just...he just sees things differently than most people. He’s wise, he wants to improve me.”

“The man I met,” she closed her eyes, “the man I married didn’t need to be improved like that. I saw the good in him.”

Kylo started up the team again.

“Everyone needs to be improved. Elevated. Snoke can do that for people.”

“That’s why the man I married wasn’t real,” she agreed finally.

She bent forward and pressed her face to her knees.

“Rey?”

“I miss Ben.”

And she began to cry.

He didn’t know how to touch her anymore. She felt his hand hover over her shoulders.

She gave a pathetic nod.

And he lowered his hand, patting her back gently. It wasn't much help. Her stocking-feet squirmed on the runner of the wagon. 

“I miss him too,” Kylo said quietly.

 


 

 

Dinner by the fire that night was a quiet affair. No wrestling and kicking.

Her moves were too dirty for him to try and claim a rematch.

They sat beside each other, there was little other place to go.

“Hux wanted to marry me,” Rey blurted out suddenly.

Kylo raised his eyebrows, uncomfortable, and nodded. Looking dejectedly down at his plate.

“Why?” her nose wrinkled, “was he pretending to try and make me into a preacher’s wife?”

Kylo focused on chewing for longer than needed.

“You’re not going to like it.”

She shot him a look.

He shook his head.

“Your husband did leave you a really, really expensive horse when he died…”

She dug the heels of her hands into her eyes.

“Baby always had more suitors than me. I get it.”

It was easy to go back to her food because of how embarrassing the information was, but she paused after a few chews.

“What would he have done if we were married?”

“Skipped out,” Kylo looked much less uneasy about this. His answer was automatic. “Kept the facade going and then we would have split up as planned.”

She glared at him, because she couldn’t glare at Hux.

“Then why ask in the first place?”

He lifted his eyes to hers.

“Because he was not a good person, Rey.”

His tone was even, cold, and if Hux’s grave was in front of them right now she’d bet her last dollar Kylo would have spit on it.

She did not lose his meaning. 

She tucked back in to her food.

“You still married me, and lied, like he would have.”

“I had planned,” he sighed, “to offer for the horse first, in cash. Then when it came down to when I got to ask you, I meant to set you up a little more safely than he would have. You’d have been high and dry in Fort Hall with him skipping out on you.”

“And then you...decided…instead you were going to...?” She circled her fork in the air vaguely to get an answer out of him.

He sighed.

“I only felt awake when I was with you. I’d never felt like that before. I decided I wanted to feel that way at whatever cost. Then I realized how badly you’d been hurt, and I wanted to fix it…”

He shook his head. “You are asking me for a good enough reason that this all happened. There isn’t one. My feelings for you made me weak. It was in conflict with everything I’d built my life around. I should have been stronger.”

She stared at the fire with her eyebrows raised.

“You’re right-”

He straightened up.

“-that wasn’t a good enough reason.”

He sulked over his plate.

She chewed thoughtfully. Watching him eat like a petulant child, scolded at the table.

“I actually never thought much of marriage.”

She got another accidental look right as his cut-open face, and froze, her eyes lingering as if caught by a fishhook. 

Kylo flinched. At her words and her look.

“I’m sorry to live up to your expectations.”

“Luckily I didn’t have high ones. Niima used to call me ‘Jess,’” she tilted her head and sighed, “Hux wanted the horse. At least you wanted me. I’d never had that before.”

Her tone of finality was supposed to be the thing he’d pay attention to. She knew that would sting.

She had never told Ben her husband this. She felt that...it was too much. It would devastate such a soft, gentle man.

Kylo could hear it.

He’d have to.

He went dead still in the seat across the fire from her.

“Rey…”

She shrugged. She’d never told anyone this before. It felt sort of good. Like leaving something nasty in a place you'd never return to.

“Jess was my best friend. She married a rich old man and broke Niima’s heart. So he married me instead."

“Not only would he hurt my breasts, he’d call me her name and he’d cry into the pillow like a hopeless virgin every single time. And he hated me because I saw him shame himself so often.”

“Intimately?” Kylo was pale, as pale as one could be with a nasty sunburn, and with a stupid expression in his wide eyes. He honestly looked sick, “he’d call you-?”

She felt herself nod.

It used to be the worst thing in the world. She recoiled at her own name sighed from the lips of a man she cared very deeply for. She felt wrong. She always felt wrong.

Was she just saying this to hurt what was left of this man? She didn’t know what she was doing. Playing the victim. Playing the torturer; with Kylo still so reluctant to cause her pain, she could dig in to remind him of the circumstances of the person he was hurting.

That the pain he added built up on a cracking foundation of it.

Ben knew what she was doing. Ben was still in there; and she was punishing him.

His hands were in fists. every muscle in his body seemed tensed.

He looked like the only thing that held him back from her was chains; but his own will demonstrating the strength of them.

"Let me hold you," he said dangerously, "let me make it better."

She had never heard desperation like that. It gave her a perverse, smug sense of power. His request was blind and stupid, fueled from need, and she got to remind him so in her rejection. 

"No."

"Rey. My Rey, is that why you'd flinch when I'd moan out your name?"

"Don't call me that."

"Rey. Let me touch you. If only if it's the only way to make you feel-it's the only way I know how to make you feel better-"

"You will not," She set down her plate. "Not ever."

His breath was rushing in and out. He was searching for a single other thing he could do. She wanted, impossibly, for his body to crush against hers and fuck this anger out of her. He'd done it so well with her previous bitterness. It could be easy. To place herself in his hands and trust again that he would take care of it. 

To sigh and shrug and think her husband would handle it. 

She would be soft. It was too late to return from this change in her. Maybe because Ben had seen her softness in her all along.

But she would not be so stupid anymore. 

Because as she danced on the wire for him, he knew the story was not complete, her act was not yet finished.

He stared at her with a dark expression crossing over his face. 

“What happened to Jess?”

He asked like he already knew.

She was laughing.

There was a method to this; and Rey had lost it. She was not in control because she was laughing now at the most horrible part of the story.

Kylo was leaning forward, his voice low and soft for her like it was for Baby when Baby was just that stupid horse.

“Rey, what happened to her?”

“A happy occasion.”

She bit her lips between her teeth and shook her head to clear some of the words about to pour out of her mouth.

Her tone made him squirm. The stare he leveled at her face made her squirm a little too, losing confidence in the story.

Those shoeless feet in the dirt curled up, and Kylo actually hissed as if burned to see her do that.

Not so happy. He’d be an idiot to miss her meaning.

Marriage was a trap. Even if there was love in it. Ben had tried to set her free by chaining herself to him because he saw himself as free and thereby her solution. He tried to prove her wrong.

He had failed.

“And...did she die in childbirth?” Kylo guessed carefully, his expression so grave and sad. As though he was, or still could be, coming to understand her.

Pretty good guess.

“No,” Rey shrugged it off, “she hanged herself.”

 


 

 

They slept separately, but that night, he hovered again.

Like before.

It was not as though she was really sleeping after that. Her throat was swelling up in anger and pain. Niima, taking everything he wanted to fill the hole of the one thing he’d never have. Jess, giving everything she could possibly want but not allowed to take the one thing she actually did.

Rey, in their way, sucked into their vortex; forced as a third and unwanted partner in this tragic dance that always ended on the same harsh notes.

She had been lying on her side, unmoving, for the entirety of the silence that stretched between them.

“I’m not going to do what she did,” she finally growled into the late night. Annoyed he would change the way he thought about her from this. "I promised myself I never would. If for nothing else, for Jess."

The anxious pacing halted.

she could practically hear him exhale for the first time in hours.

She pressed her cheek into her hands.

“I don’t have a choice. I have to keep going. No matter how bad it gets.”

He sat in the dirt only a few feet over from her head. If the wagon was out of the way, it would almost be like how they used to lay out in the lush grass.

Luckily, the wheels obscured him. He seemed to want that.

Masked proximity.

“I-I never wanted to take care of you because you weren’t capable of doing it yourself,” she heard him sigh, “but I saw your soul as unrestful, like mine, and I wanted…”

“You wanted me to know peace for once.”

There was a grumble of agreement. Ashamed, because he had executed this so poorly. 

She closed her eyes.

Laughed to herself. Softly. Just a murmur of it.

She heard a pathetic whine in the back of his throat, like a kicked dog.

“I’m still not calling you a saint for this,” she reminded him.

His hand, in the dirt, crept towards her.  

She stared at it.

“I’m sorry about your friend.”

She sighed.

She’d never dealt with the anger.

Niima...he was a right bastard even before that happened, as he would always be a bastard. Rey would always be wrong for the part of his wife, and maybe not losing Jess would have made him treat her the same way just the same. Maybe he’d eventually treat Jess the same way…

There were never any guarantees. She had to work backwards from the snarl in the yarn: but paying attention to avoid that one snarl wouldn’t have promised a perfect finished product. It was just one thing that could have been avoid in thousands of stitches that could have gone wrong.

There were always mistakes.

She was beginning to doubt that men even could treat a wife well. She’d never had a high opinion of marriage-

But that made it sting particularly badly when she admitted that from Ben; those hopes were dashed.

Rey had hopes she didn't think possible anymore. She'd let them creep up on her like a fool.

She placed her fingers over Kylo’s hand. When he squeezed, she felt the unrest in his soul.

"I will survive worse than Ben Solo," she promised him with a dry throat, "And Kylo Ren. I always will."

The peace, now, wasn’t his to give anymore.

It was hers.

 


 

 

The graves would not have so obviously been graves if they had not been disturbed.

The valley that contained them seemed overwhelmingly empty.

But the plots of dug-up earth were paced so neatly. There must have been many laid to rest here.

But not resting anymore. Disturbed.

Rey remembered the pile of stones over her first husband; to keep graverobbers out. This party had clearly skipped the stones. Too tired? Too close to winter?

Too many dead?

They had still tried. They had still had families lay them to rest. Only for someone to come along and rip them out of the earth.

Out of their peaceful rest.

At the end of each plot, a set of bare feet stuck out of a hole in the earth.

Someone had ripped the boots off the resting dead. 

Shoe thieves.

Just like her.

It was windy when they passed the graves. The loud kind of windy. Dust was coating her eyes, the crying making wet tracks darken down to her cheeks.

She didn't know when she jumped down from the wagon, the soles of her feet stinging, or when Kylo jumped down to to try and guide her away from the visual.

She could pretend the howling was from the wind, not from her.

This was the world they walked through. This was the world where Ben and her were strangers. Where not even last rites were sacred anymore; where people who were dead were violated, the shoes taken off their feet.

She could hate the people who desecrated these graves; but hadn’t she held onto a man’s shoes, taken them off his dead body, and tried to trade them for her own aims?

Was she any better than them? Just a scavenger?

Was Kylo any better than her first husband?

Was anyone good?

She cried herself dry amongst the feet of all those corpses. Her husband hovered protectively, but with space, to allow her to do so. 

"You did it because you had to, sweetheart. Rey. You're not like them. You did it all to survive."

There was something, still, after all this time, weighing heaviest now in her pocket. 

It had dragged her down this entire journey. 

Rey took the bag of dirt from Niima's grave and let it scatter to the wind, drifting over the bare feet of the unresting dead.

If he knew what it was she was doing, he didn't say.

When she was done, kneeling empty amongst them, Kylo quietly removed her boots from his shoulder and untied the laces.

He placed them on the ground beside her.

Giving them back to her without another word.

It was not enough. It was not nearly enough.

But it was something to cling to.



 

Chapter Text

Rey had to watch as, over the next few days, her husband began to vibrate like a  plucked string.

It only intensified over time. Kylo had a nervous energy at his core that had him fidgeting through her calm storm.

While he shook; she turned to stone.

She was reluctant to call their truce amiable. He sought her eyes just as frantically as she avoided his. He could talk endlessly about his past; but he never touched on Snoke and she could start to hear the way he would actively wind his stories around the mention of the old gang leader so they never brushed on the topic.

In the future: she would regret the hours she didn’t listen to this information of himself given freely.

The closer they got to the mine, the more Kylo seemed to buzz from the inside.

It made her anxious. It set her teeth on edge.

All for his plan.

His knee would bounce between them on the box seat, perched on the ball of his foot and shaking the wagon more than the terrain and the oxen combined.

Half of the gesture was bossy, or an end to her madness. The other half was something she did not want to name.

She dropped her fingers to his knee, holding his leg steady without a word.

The grunt he emitted made both of them go still.

He glanced nervously at her. She was touching him. She had not chosen to do that since they touched hands.

His stomach caved inwards as he curled forward. His sincerity, his open desire for her, was radiating hotter than the afternoon sun. She’d given his hat back and had instead taken his shade when his cheeks started to blister. He burned; she merely freckled if she leaned the right way into his shadow.

He was trying to hide-

Misinterpreting by trying so hard to understand.

Desire didn’t leave a body so simply.

Rey swallowed and looked away. She swallowed again, like a doubled blink to try to erase a sight before one’s eyes, but the lump in her throat remained.

Her hand lifted as if backing away from a nest of snakes.

His cock was still hard in his trousers, straining up like a hand raised to be called on.

She kept her eyes on the horizon.

“What if I promised,” he was not bartering for this; not for the sake of his hard cock now, but possibly forever, “what can I promise you? Would you like to live like the Queen of Sheba on a mountain of California gold? You roll your eyes when I offer, but you’ve worked so hard, Rey. All your life. I want to give you the choice you never had.”

She sniffed.

“Luxury? I don’t need that.”

He shook his head. His hot blood at least could flow to somewhere other than his pants when he ran that mouth like he did.

“Freedom.”

“Ill-gotten means,” she sniffed, and leaned back in her seat.

His eyes cast sidelong at her, slightly coy, as if realizing that his girl would play again. He’d lose; but she’d play.

“If it is for freedom: the ends justify the means.”

“You’re not free,” she swung her legs, letting her weighted boots stretch the soreness out of her muscles by dangling down from the wagon, “you have a master. He calls you a dog and everything.”

Her lip quivered. Ashamed for him.

Kylo looked deeply embarrassed. His tone was abrupt when he answered.

I will be free.”

But he sounded unconvinced.

His words, from long ago, spoken and then crushed under this very wagon, crept between them.

“I thought you were ashamed of me.”

She cleared her throat.

“Tell me about this job. What happened?”

Kylo looked at his gloved hands. She wore hers too; it seemed insane at first when he did it, but it kept the skin from drying out and cracking in the desert wind.

“I’m a useful shot,” his tone was flat, “and a good rider. But I prefer...cracking open vaults.”

This was quite the surprise. She actually laughed; loud and incredulous in the desert sun.

“Cracking safes?”

He nodded sheepishly.

“Good deal of mechanics to that,” he wore a subtly fond smile, “Dexterity. Careful listening.”

“How many people died, Ben?”

It flew out of her mouth before she meant it to. He responded to it even more strongly than her touch.

He let out a breath like he’d been holding one for days.

But her question still stood.

“You don’t...ever know. In the moment,” he lowered his voice, “I shot a few men. I was a good shot. Snoke had a code about these things; his men would not be taken alive, never betray him so we shot to make sure we escaped. Rey-”

He closed his body off to her for the first time in a long time. She could feel him slip away.

His eyes were pooling with something hateful and angry; but not at her.

At himself.

“-he expects complete loyalty.”

“And what, pray tell, does that entail exactly?”

The question clearly agitated him, like her asking was the first time he’d thought it through himself.

“If you make me sit here and recount every sin: your soul will be more weary than mine.”

He pulled the team to a stop.

She stared at his tense, bare forearms.

“It’s too hot for them,” he explained weakly, his face hidden under the brim of his hat, “they need more water.”

“Go easy,” she warned in a low tone, “we have to make it last.”

He nodded to himself.

“We’re almost at the mine.”

He spoke as if of death itself.

 


 

 

 

Ben never struck her as a sentimental creature. As sincere as an animal that needed to mate or a critter that needed a warm burrow for the winter. He was sweet when cold, warm when lonely; but there was no great sentiment dripping from his sweet words.

Appreciation, maybe.

But not heavy sentiment.

But his favorite driving game was now could have been…

If they had met sooner. If he had never met Snoke.

He clung to Ben Solo tighter than she did. He had slipped through her hands, too elusive and painful to try to summon between them. But Kylo waved Ben in front of her like the hips of the whore in the saloon. He talked of cabins, and rivers overflowing with gold, and big breakfasts.

She did not take his bait. She did not play.

His dreams were persuasive; hers were dashed. And she would not, in weakness, board the same vessel that had sunk her boat.

Trust was not negotiated, it was earned.

“If I hadn’t been Kylo Ren, would we ever make babies?”

She twisted water out of the sheet she was washing. She couldn’t use soap, because the oxen were drinking straight from this bucket when she was done rinsing dust out of the linen.

She almost tipped the bucket straight over on accident.

“Of all the things to say,” she muttered, kicking the largest rock in the circle surrounding their fire. “You are Kylo Ren; should we not leave it at that?”

“Your friend,” he looked at his boots, “I didn’t want you to if you…”

She flung the sheet out over the laundry line he hung for her.

This was a ridiculous conversation: none of this was happening or ever would happen.

“Teach me to shoot,” she said briskly, on edge.

He stared at her.

“You promised,” she snapped, as though she considered a promise of his worth anything anymore.

Kylo looked at her and sighed.

“That I did,” he agreed finally.

And he unhitched Baby and motioned for her to come.

 


 

 

 

“You’ve shot before,” he observed, impressed, as she loaded a reassuring six into the chamber of the pistol.

“Squirrels,” she sniffed, a habit formed by the dust in the air “other animals trying to eat the crops. Never to hit much.”

He grinned.

“But you can, which is a good start.”

The cactus twenty yards ahead was a fine start to the lesson. She glanced a few bullets off the dirt surrounding it; but her aim was not true yet.

He stood behind her to guide her hands. She tried to shrug him off, but again, he took it as a firm stance to prove he was bigger and stronger than her. She tightened all her muscles when he curled his body against her back.

“The trick is to not act too soon,” he advised softly, “You think slow and steady but you act quick. You can wait forever until you decide to shoot, but then you blow it as soon as you’re ready.”

“Hush,” she tightened her jaw, “I didn’t ask for the psychology lesson.”

“I’ll give it for free,” Kylo absently kissed her shoulder, “because I know you.”

The smug voice that passed his lips was not the devil she knew, but the one she missed.

It sounded like Ben. Safe and secure in his teasing. None of this awkwardness. Confident love.

He bent so close to her, his hot breath flooding the skin of her neck, his lips brushing her ear. Hot shame swam inside her as her body melted against him like he was a second sun.

She hated him.

“After everything you’ve done-”

“The past doesn’t matter. I will reform for you.”

He said it like it was easy.

He stroked his hands up and down her sides. She forgot the gun in her hand. So did he.

“It does matter,” she whined under the hot sun, his lips dancing up and down her throat, “Even if we had met sooner, it still doesn’t change what you have done in this lifetime.”

How she wished they had met sooner. Before her first husband ruined her. Before the memory of Jess turned babies into the most terrifying thing in the world. Before he’d ever raised a gun and taken a life.

But would they have known how to love each other without being exactly what they were?

He looked like he cared little about that when he looked at her.

Accepting the life that both of them had led.

“I do not care about a future where I am robbed of you.”

Rey let her eyes close.

No one would ever know her so closely ever again.

"Not when you're mine..."

Not if she could help it.

His big hands closed over her belly, and she jammed her elbow back into his gut, hard.

And raised her pistol to his head as he doubled over.

She brought the hammer back with a sickening click.

“No.”

Her face was tight and angry.

“You don’t get to know me anymore.”

His stomach may have hurt from her blow, but he kept his eyes on her gun like he knew how close she was to firing.

She would change herself, make herself a stranger, if it meant not being under the thumb of this man who knew the taste of every last drop of herself.

Her boots felt so good crunching into the gravel and sand as she paced backwards to Baby.

“Rey!”

She swung herself onto the stallion’s back and they were both off.

Baby may have liked her now; but he did not know her well as a rider.

That was Ben’s specialty.

Baby responded to a heel digging into his ribs from Rey, but he did not know her orders and commands, her hold on the reins, her pace.

Baby liked her for treats, and pets, and to nuzzle. He liked her rides because they were easy and he didn't have to work hard.

But Rey had not mastered the stallion like her husband had.

The terrain was, as Kylo warned, rough.

And she was panicked.

And she was uncertain.

And then she was thrown.

Baby started at a sway in a patch of brush; maybe a frightened desert hare bursting into a run. As predicted so long ago; he bucked.

Rey could still hear Kylo hollering as Baby spooked like he had right at the start of this trail.

She could still hear him hollering as she fell.

 


 

 

 

Everything hurt; but not enough to kill her.

Just enough to make life painful.

"Don't move."

She disobeyed, because she never vowed to.

She at least fell flat, so no one place took the impact, but the whole left side of her body was shot with pain. She grit her teeth when she did try to move. 

Hands slid around her neck first. 

"Don't move," he hissed this time, and she braced herself for another death on Kylo Ren's dirty gloved hands, but he was instead probing gently with his fingers. Checking to see if it was broken.

She hadn't lifted her head from the dirt yet. 

Ribs next. She growled in pain when his hands slide carefully over them, but he resumed his examination in a way that implied nothing there was broken either.

Kylo was scrambling to lift her up off the dirt.

“You really didn’t expect that I would plan to escape?” she ground out, her bruised, heavy head on his shoulder.

Kylo’s mouth was set in a firm line.

Baby was on his hind legs, dancing around in a panic, and Kylo dragged them both forward to fetch him.

He caught the loose reins in one hand.

If he had been trying to prove himself strong enough to take her before: he was cursed now to carry them both. He seemed fully aware of the irony of his current state.

He was breathing hard as he held her and soothed the horse at the same time.

“I would not love you if you didn’t try.”

He hauled them both onto Baby’s back and proceeded slowly back to camp. 

 


 

 

 

It was just bruising; but Kylo kept looking at her like she had shattered.

“I thought you were dead when you hit the ground.”

She couldn’t fully open one eye.

“I’ve had that dream. Hurts, doesn’t it?”

He sighed, cursing darkly, before reapplying the wet cloth to her bruised cheek.

“Gonna take my boots again?”

He shook his head, checking the swollen, purpling flesh.

“No.”

He looked dead in her eyes and dared her to argue. Because those eyes told her with deep pits of anger he would not.

“And by that, you are redeemed?” Rey straightened her shoulders. Her whole body ached.

"You're the only person for which that matters to me."

He leaned back to consider her cold eyes. And then shrugged, as if to say why not?

She could think of a few hundred offhand reasons why.

She started with the simplest:

“I cannot save you.”

Kylo swallowed thickly and looked away.

“I am not good like you,” he said finally, rising slowly out of his low crouch and stepping away from her seat.

She stared at his back.

“What’s the plan, when we reach the mine? Do we talk to Snoke, you tell him you want out, and what? He waves his handkerchief as we ride off into the sunset?”

He looked down at the cloth in his hands.

“Am I ending this for you or not?”

The world went still. She blinked the one eye that would work at him.

“Excuse me?”

“Are we going to be together if I walk away?”

The nerve of him bartering now honestly made her feel like her eyes were going to bleed.

Her deathly glare made her wince. She was lucky to escape that fall just in the pain she was currently in; but she wasn't thinking about lucky as it throbbed through her nerves.

“You lied to me. You stole me. And when I ask you to get yourself out of a criminal organization-”

“-it’s a gang, we don’t need to throw fancy words around-”

-in the very least to get me to trust you again, you’re going to split hairs about my terms?”

He combed a hand nervously through his hair.

“It's much more complicated than that. I want to know what I’m entering into before I leave. If it’s nothing, if I am no one to you, and I've destroyed this beyond repair, well, shit...”

She was not going to sweep in, bow to his threat, and insist he had earned her heart just because the alternative was more painful. 

She sat still as a stone and did what she did best. She waited.

He cleared his throat.

“Rey…you’re right about me. And so is Snoke. I’m not good. And I’m not...strong enough. To do it without your love.”

She went very silent and cold. It hurt more than falling off of Baby.

He looked at his fisted, gloved hands.

“I’d still help you,” she said hopelessly.

She hadn’t had time to even think about her love returning.

His expression was grim.

“There is a reason, above all else, that I want to enter that mine having already earned your forgiveness.”

She looked down at the dirt.

“You’re joking.”

What if it did mean death?

His expression let her know he had considered that option. A new sense of urgency filled her.

"It is not too late-"

"I know what I have to do, I just need the strength to do it."

He was very carefully cleaning his pistol.

“The plan is: I go back to Snoke, beg pardon for disobeying him, while you and the team cross the remaining trail to Sacramento. There are enough supplies in this wagon to last you until then, especially just one person. We part as strangers. We finish this voyage how we started it.”

Her face was always flushed under this sun; red and freckled and sweaty. She closed her eyes and felt her blood pulsing in the flesh under her cheek as it swelled up.

“There really is no hope for you.”

“This is what you wanted,” he finished lamely. "I tried to figure out a way out of this for both of us and that's not how Snoke works."

He grabbed a satchel out of the wagon. There was a rattle as he lifted it: boxes of bullets inside.

Her eyes went wide.

“You tell me this today? ” she finally choked out after several minutes feeling like she couldn’t even breathe. “You made it sound like we’d walk out of there cleansed like a Sunday Mass. You’d give it up and rest yourself at my feet.”

Kylo knelt down in front of her again. Strap crossed over his chest.

“Making this up as I go, remember?” he shook his head slightly, “I have been working this out in my head since the day you asked me to be your husband. I couldn’t give up on it. Not for a minute. I just sat and worked and worked for the way that you could be mine and I could be yours and we were both free.”

“By turning your back on Snoke,” she insisted, not even knowing how she could possibly still want what she was now pleading for.

There was something off about him. Like he was pretending to be worse than he was.

Making a choice for her, deliberately, efficiently, and coldly.

His eyes were sad;

“The backs that turn on him get a round of bullets plugged in them. We’d never be...I couldn’t make you live like that. You have felt unsafe enough in your life. Veer around this canyon,” he gestured to the outcropping of red rock in the distance, a few miles away, "I should be able to buy you enough time to pass unseen. Don't worry about The First Order. But keep going. Don't turn back for anything. The trail will lead you home."

Home was not past tense for Ben, it never was. It was ahead.

And it was a place without him now.

“Ben,” she shook her head. He had been so easily selfish, so quick to endanger them, so sure that things would turn out in his favor. But now he just looked like he had a bad hand and was ending the game broke, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I cannot be selfish anymore...”

He leaned forward and kissed her brow.

“...and you can’t save me.”

He got up and walked to Baby.

Her chest was shuddering from the useless, shallow pulls into her lungs. The pain from the fall was dulled considerably by how this was breaking her.

Ben, and Baby, she could not lose them both.

"What if he kills you?"

Kylo shook his head. 

Not like he was denying the possibility; but like he didn't want to think about it anymore.

“You should have let me dream this week, Rey, dream with you.”

He put his hat on her head. She couldn't look at him. 

When she violated all sense, when she endangered herself so desperately just to get away, when it was his spouse thrown from the horse this time; he lost her.

And she was losing him.

Rey was silent as death.

He smiled sadly. 

“I’d have liked us to think on what we could have had together. If just for a little while. Even if it was impossible.”

So the sentiment was just that; wishes. He knew what they couldn't have all along. He had just wanted what sounded nice to pass between them before they parted.

He reached into his bag and pulled something heavy out.

The urn. His grandfather’s ashes.

He tossed it into the dirt at her feet.

“But I dreamed of everything you could do with this; and it’s worth it. All of it.”

Battered and bruised, she bent forward to pick it up as Ben rode off.

The minute it was in her hand she knew why it was left with her. Not as a sign he would return. Not as a symbol, or a promise.

It was much simpler than that.

She twisted off the lid.

It was heavy as a brick.

Because the urn was stuffed up to the brim with gold dust.

 

 

Chapter Text

She couldn’t help but laugh with the gold clinging to her fingers like fairy dust; not when it couldn’t grant her a single one of her wishes like everyone had promised her it would.

The oxen were unsteady, anxious, tossing their heads and Kylo bolted off with her horse.

That bastard always had something up his sleeve.

That bastard.

Her bastard.

She tucked her face in the crook of her elbow, letting the horrified laughs come.

Rey knew one thing in this world, and that was survival. She did that for Jess. Keeping her head above water. Swallowing the pain down like a treatment to raised expectations. Setting her pace and following it until her boots wore thin and her body was lean to the point of snapping.

Rey was built to survive.

She broke every instinct, every habit, and everything she knew before now to do something stupid and completely reckless for him.

The world was upside down and she would do the opposite.

She searched the wagon; it yielded one more pistol. Ben had left her a box of bullets.

She put the bullets and urn in a sack and the gun in her belt and that was all she took when she went after him on foot.

 


 

 

 

There was a roar coming from the mine. A single roar of life in a vast, empty desert.

The sun was caught up behind the high stacked rocks, but it was easy to just follow the noise through the shadows. The climb was tiring, especially with the bruising from head to toe on one side of her body.

It was a slow ascent.

But she knew when she got herself there.

She saw Ben first. He didn’t look like a man who went back to everything he knew.

“We never heard back from The Executioner. Would you tell us of his fate?”

The voice came from a man circling Ben with slow, deliberate steps. Rey shifted behind the formation of rock in front of her.

This was the hard part. Making herself known. Rocks slid out from under her feet, making stealth quite difficult.

She could do it. Her legs were strong. Her pace was patient. And she was always quiet.

Better at listening than anyone gave her credit for.

Listening and planning with as much time as she was given.

“My brain feels like it’s boiling down to cornmeal mush,” Jess once lamented of married life, “it’s so boring here, Rey, it’s like I’m dissolving.”

She could not vanish.

Not when she was the only one carrying them. Jess. That motherless baby. Even Niima.

Ben too. She saw him in the rock, beginning to dissolve, Kylo dissolving, everything she knew and loved dissolving, as he melted into a man who could not be turned back from the stone he was forged into.

She would carry Ben, even the memory of a dead man, with her until her dying day.

Rey fought back. She thought hard and she considered carefully and her brain may have become as twitchy as a cat’s tail but it was also sharp and sound.

It was how she thought she’d fill forever instead of melting backwards through it.

And it would be how she filled every moment until her last breath.

Ben had given her something. He had given her his last chip. There were pounds of gold in this urn. Surely that was something to barter with to Snoke -

To set him free.

She settled into the sharp rock and got a better look at her husband and his leader.

Just in time; there was a jerk of motion between them, a brown patch appearing on Ben’s downturned cheek, dripping down the chin of his hug head.

The man spat directly in her husband’s face and he just took it.

Snoke, as he so clearly was, was tall. Taller than Ben, if possible. He wore a gaudy, mustard-yellow coat of some odd shiny fabric. Gaudy. Ostentatious.

Ben wasn’t alone with Snoke either; other members of the gang were clearly hard at work with the stash in the mine.

“Keep the dynamite here. We’ll blow out the canyon when this is all done. Gives ‘em nothing to trace.”

She saw Ben subtly wipe his cheek as Snoke stepped away to address his other men.

She felt his shame, connected through the core of her. She remembered the arms she wanted to bury herself in the first time her husband came home after a pleasure cruise to the bottom of a bottle and smacked the taste out of her mouth.

Faceless, fathomless arms to keep her warms.

She was not weaker for wanting to be those arms for Ben as he wiped away an insult in a bubble of dark phlegm. She was not less of herself for being the arms to someone who needed them.

Rey couldn’t look away from Snoke as he barked orders, prolonging Ben’s humiliation by putting it on hold for more important things.

He had something off about his face, but she was too far away to put her finger on it.

“Never saw him. We were warned the trail was treacherous. When was the last outpost he had been seen?”

“It’s like you know I was next going to ask of your delays, Ren.”

She didn’t like how Ben was standing. Like a dog taking a scolding.

When she scolded him like a naughty pupil, he never broke his eyes, a slick smile pulling up one corner of his mouth. Maybe he folded slightly as a sign of respect. Maybe he disengaged when he had wronged her.

But he never stood like this: like a dog waiting to be beaten.

“Ungrateful cur. Ugly dogs are supposed to be loyal.”

It was clear Snoke was not letting an insult unread also go unsaid.

And Rey had read that in the letter; but it was clear now that Ben had heard it so many time that is was nothing but pure reason.

Her somewhat trigger-happy husband was calm.

“I followed orders. I am here to collect, and to hear of my next assignment.”

“And I am supposed to assume from your word you were capable of following my orders and these two missing men just weren’t up to the task?”

“A man’s word means little,” Rey held back a laugh, even though it probably wouldn’t be heard, for Ben’s supreme understatement, “I’m here, aren’t I? Take me at my actions. I’ve returned to you.”

“And where is your blushing bride?”

Ben kept his chin raised, but squared off.

When had her husband become a bad liar? He wore his discomfort as plain as a bruise under Snoke’s cold eyes.

“I took her. I fucked her. I left her in Fort Hall with only my dead name and a stack of bills in exchange for warming the bed for a while.”

“A shame you didn’t bring her for us to-”

Her gun was in her hand.

And she fired.

The bullet whipped too far left to do any damage; half on purpose and half a true example of Kylo’s observation of her shooting far too soon.

Her breath released from her nose after she fired when it should have gone before.

That breath would have given a moment to think this through.

Snoke was stumbling back, but Kylo’s eyes found her like he knew exactly where she was.

She saw the same man in those eyes.

She saw Ben.

He saw death; quick and immediate. But not alone. That conflict would stay with her for the rest of her life. How little he wanted her to be here in this place. How much he needed her to be.

She clutched the urn to her belly with a white hand and the other cocked her gun for another shot aimed clean at Snoke’s head.

"It would have been a shame for us not to properly meet."

“Rey.”

She could not look at Ben.

“I am here to buy my husband’s freedom,” she stepped slow and careful towards the old, tall man twenty paces away from her. He did not move even one pace back, nor look all that afraid of her drawn weapon. “and it’s a very generous offer on my part because I’m much more willing to take him by force.”

Snoke laughed, exposing narrow, crisscrossed teeth. 

“Did you teach this woman to thieve, Solo? Who made her think that announcing herself with a trifle before taking a man’s property was a good way to conduct business?”

“He doesn’t belong to you,” Rey grit her teeth, her brow furrowing down over her carefully-aimed gaze, “he belongs to me in the eyes of the law. More than he ever will to you. This gold I’ve got here is more than five times the bounty you’d get for just turning him in.”

A wild guess, but Snoke didn’t laugh at it, so she may have had a point.

“Maybe I don’t turn my men in. Maybe The First Order demands loyalty.”

“From everyone but their leader, it would seem.”

Snoke had bright blue eyes, and she focused carefully on those, because up close the discoloration on his face was uglier and worse than what she had imagined.

Burns from his neck to the crown of his bald head. He may not have even been old. It was on his hands too: Rey suspected the full mass of his body was disfigured with them.

He burned his men. He disfigured them. Clearly it had to do with whatever happened to him.

She didn't have to look to know there were two guns trained on her from Snoke's men.

She swallowed her fear.

“So. Take. The Goddamn. Gold,” she grit out, “I don’t want it. I want him.”

She heard it. The hope and despair in Ben’s voice.

“Rey…?”

She kept her uneasy eyes on Snoke.

“Because I’ve already lost one husband, and it’s a hell of an inconvenience finding another.”

The leader of the gang laughed darkly.

“He’s easier to break than you are. Ren, have you no control of her? I’ll ignore the mystery that brought you here two full men down, but the disrespect of sending a woman to do a man’s job, negotiating, means you’re more helpless than I thought.”

“Don’t talk to him like that,” Rey yelled, and a hand clamped down hard on her shooting arm.

A bullet glanced across the dirt under their feet as Ben meticulously wrenched the pistol from her hand.

She yelped high-pitched like a dog with a stepped-on tail.

She could feel him breathing when he took her gun from her.

But she couldn’t look up from the crater left by her bullet in the dirt.

He lowered his mouth very carefully to her ear.

“Why didn’t you run?”

Her throat went dry.

He was deadly serious. And afraid.

“He couldn’t hurt us both if you had run.”

 


 

 

 

When your face is in the dirt, the only true disgrace is to just lie there.

A kick swung out and glanced off her bruised ribcage. She yelped, fell back down into the dust.

You get back up.

“Go easy,” Ben intoned from a few feet away. She didn’t know how she knew it, but his back was turned to what was going on with Snoke and his two men. “She’s harmless. It’s a wasted effort to do anything than leave her to the wilderness. That’ll silence her.”

Everything was a blur from when Ben wrapped an arm around her waist after he took her gun, declared his stupidity to Snoke for marrying such a sad thing, and then another pair of hands wrenched him away.

It started to fog the moment she was yanked out of his grasp and his eyes widened and her husband, who had everything under control, seemed to realize that he never had any to begin with.

She was in the dirt. A boot was pressing her down.

“I’m sure you found that sufficient enough, but you know we weren’t leaving her alive. I have two men going after your wagon as we speak. Wonder what they’ll do when they have to burn it empty.”

Ben was silent.

She could not fight them herself.

You get up for Jess.

She shoved back, twisting to one side to knock one of Snoke’s men off his balance.

A hand clamped on her shoulder.

“But first, I’m going to remind our Ben here, as he has lost his name Kylo, how I mark my property.”

Rey pressed her cheek in the dirt.

This was it. She felt the hiss of red-hot metal.

“Such a shame, he lost the name I gave him. He’s forever going to be branded as Kylo Ren and doesn’t even deserve to be called it.”

It was vile, it was sick, that he gave them names he could take away so it was like the devil in Ben did this to him.

There was a boot crunched in the dirt next to her squashed cheek.

You get up for the man you couldn’t save.

“The names I give my men are aspirational. Kylo Ren is everything that simpering, weak Ben Solo was not. A fighter. A man. He will forever wear that mark to remind him that he was too pathetic to achieve my vision for him.”

The heel of the boot rose as the man crouched down over her.

“He is nothing without me. He’s nothing.”

The tension inside her snapped:

“That is not true,” Rey felt her voice blister with the ferocity of her scream.

The only sound was that of hot iron and her defense of Ben echoing through the cavern.

Snoke spit again: splatting hot and thick against her upturned cheek. She tried not to gag as she declared it:

“Kylo Ren is not real. He is a man that you could pass through like a mist. I married Ben Solo.”

You get up for yourself.

“Earn your name back,” Snoke growled at Ben, “in my eyes you have lost every ounce of strength I put into you. But you can claim it.”

She pushed up onto her palms.

“You can belong to yourself again, Ben,” her hands turned to fists in the dirt,  "if not to me, you can-"

Snoke swung down with the hot brand.

The worst of it was the pain. Then the smell of the burning flesh. Then looking at the back of her hand and just knowing it would never be healed.

The fearsome pain on her skin was not the true task of branding her, it was too sloppy, it was a warning to be silent from Snoke. It burned her, but it didn’t mark her just yet.

That was a more precise exercise.

“Where next?” Snoke was breathy and excited, lascivious for suffering, “Neck? Flanks? Maybe make up for what she’s done to that pitiful face of yours.”

She saw the black-gloved hand reach out over her head.

“I’ll decide for myself.”

Ben secured the iron with a firm hand. Taking up the task himself.

Sweat was coating her skin, she could unclench her burned hand, and if her ribs weren’t broken before they certainly were now.

Rey looked up over her shoulder.

This was his manhood on the line.

Then this really was the end. She was as good as dead with no one to mourn her but herself.

I loved you, she wanted to scream, I loved you and held you and never spit in your face, never called you worthless; and you still think this is what made you strong?

Get up.

The iron hovering above her prickled her skin with heat. She clenched her jaw and waited.

“I am thrilled by the initiative you’ve suddenly shown, Solo. I’m down two of my best men for crossing just your need to fuck. I don’t know if I should kill you myself or shake your damn hand. You could inherit this business from me yet.”

Rey pushed herself back up onto her knees while Snoke had distracted her husband, rising until Ben grasped her shoulder in one limp, defeated hand.

Holding her steady.

“I’m so sorry, Rey,” Ben said quietly, stepping so his feet were on either side of her hips. “But it had to be me.”

And then he pivoted so easily to shoot Snoke clean through the skull.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Rey hadn’t yet fallen to the ground from shock or pain by the time Ben was already over Snoke’s body with the hot iron: pressing down.

Loose strands of black hair fell over one eye as the searing metal bore into the dead man’s face. He looked grazed as he singed through flesh and bone, his sizable power and the heat taking from Snoke what Ben could never have taken in life.

Watching her husband, silence with horror, it occurred to her that whatever Ben was doing; he saw it as fair for what had been done to him.

She was sure the man was a corpse, and did not feel it, but Ben was a man possessed.

His shoulders were shaking as he pushed hard enough to sear to the bone.

She smelled the flesh burning like her own hand had. But worse. Snoke was toying with her, building her up to the real pain. Ben held nothing of himself back when the brand reached his hand.

She was too afraid to even gag at the scent.

“Ben,” she put a hand on his arm, shifting out from between his feet to try and push him back, “you can’t make him more dead.”

“What he did to you,” he was trembling, spit flying from his mouth as he spoke with clenched teeth, and she didn’t know how to make it stop. "To me."

She swallowed.

“There are not fires hot enough for how I wanted to burn Niima, but you can't-”

A stray shot whipped through the stones right by her knee. She felt the spray of the shattered rock against her leg.

Snoke’s men.

“Ben!”

He was the only one armed. Snoke had taken her pistol.

She saw him spring out of his trance and he lifted his gun in front of him and then--

He let it drop.

Right into her waiting hand.

Before diving for the pistol of hers Snoke left in the dirt.

His gun filled her hand as comfortably as his palm did. It was warm from his grip.

There was no time to think on how they got there, what they had done to each other; the only ally they would have to get out was in each other and they wasted not even a moment to think that over.

Because, as she was trying to tell him, you can't change it.

She didn’t wait before she fired: and her aim was true enough. That breath he had advised her to take might have made this one shot to kill, but it had hit the man in the red bandana in no mild way right in the shoulder.

Ben’s shot rang out seconds later.

“He sent three men after the wagon. They’ll be rounding back when they hear the gunfire.”

Quick shot that she was; Rey was not one to waste a bullet. She grit her teeth when her next shot went too far left.

“Reckon there’s time to reload?”

He pulled her to her feet, cradling her body into himself and shielding her from the fire, safe under his shooting arm.

“That’s never scheduled, sweetheart, but you still find the time to squeeze it in.”

She expected him to herd her to somewhere they could both seek shelter from it; instead the crazy bastard seemed intent to stay like this. She growled and hauled him towards a boulder for cover.

Once they had cover, her spine pressed into his as she dug through her dress for a box of bullets. She filled her gun, then her pockets, and then tossed it to him.

He reloaded with more grace.

“If we die-”

“Don’t say that,” he cocked his gun and she heard a groan in the distance that sounded like one of Snoke’s men took that next bullet to his grave.

“-I want you to know that I don’t know what else I could have done for you.”

She reached for him, a hand resting comfortably on his thigh.

He glanced down at the contact, but she was already using the leverage to hoist her opposite leg up onto the boulder to get higher ground for the approaching two men.

“You’re not the first woman to tell me that,” he looked at his gun instead of her, their spines, their bodies losing contact as they surged forward with complete trust the other could handle this.

To live with whatever would go unsaid from this moment on.

 


 

 

It was over in a haze.

Dead men. Dead horses.

One of Snoke’s men threw her to the ground to put a bullet in her skull. He’d glanced one previous shot off her arm. Looking up the barrel and snarling out what she thought would be her last breath distracted from the sting.

Ben fired.

The man took the bullet and fell into the dirt beside her.

She later jumped up to do the same for him and the man who’d cornered him into the stone.

“Ben!”

He glanced at her, despite it being unwise, and knew to bend back to make way for the shot she took. In his honor, there was one steadying breath preceding when she pulled the trigger.

And the last man dropped because she hit her target exactly.

There was nothing but gun-smoke pulling into lungs desperate for air.

“That’s all of them?” she grunted, looking down at her bloody arm. She was only beginning to feel the ache of those bruises, those burns, and those bullets as the air was still with death.

He was staring down at Snoke again. She couldn't look away. 

“They were short one after The Executioner. Lucky I killed him when I did.”

Ben attempted to cross the clearing towards her, a smile gracing his sweaty face.

She stared back.

He couldn’t really find any of this lucky.

She glanced over at the mine.

“Baby!”

The line of tension between her and her husband was dropped on her end as she raced over to the stallion, trotting out from one of the canyons as if returning when all was clear.

His big nose filled her hands, cuddling like a kitten. She pressed her lips to his white star.

“Hello again.”

She’d never thought she’d miss this one.

A firm arm wrapped around her waist and spun her into a broad chest.

It was too soon after a gunfight, and a lot of frayed nerves. Rey cried out and pulled back, startled, but Ben was already cuddling his face into her throat anyway.

The sun was setting, puddling into the horizon with a blazing orange burn. Her husband held on tight. Content to have them be the only two people in the world again.

“You came for me,” his voice was dry, “My Rey.”

They were both so bloody and sweaty. She didn’t know how to hold him back. He planted kiss after kiss to her throat over the thrum of her stuttering pulse.

“We should...stop,” she warned, her head swimming with exhaustion as his lips sucked the skin of her neck. She pulled back, but he crowded her against him again.

“We can be together again. You came back for me. You love me.”

“I…” she stepped back with a shove to his chest. “Ben. It was never about--”

Her heart stopped for a second as she looked sadly at what they were amongst. A nest of bodies, Snoke’s charred skull, a mine full of whatever Ben chose to endanger them with in the first place.

It was so much more terrifying stuck in the empty space for things to be said.

“--It was never about that. I will always love you.”

He grasped her chin, smirking down at her, dipping low for a kiss, but she pushed back again.

“But that doesn’t mean that what you’ve done…Ben. We have to be practical. We have to think--”

Trouble was not always in the absence of love; but in the incorrect placement of it.

His eyes were steady.

“You didn’t want me to die.”

“There’s a lot of room between those things.”

“Not for you. You never shed a tear for Niima. You fought to the death for me.”

“I did,” she sighed, letting him have his kiss. Conflicted. Gnashing her teeth and softening her lips and moaning and sucking her man’s tongue into her mouth.

“I love you wild,” he soothed her when she bit him and then regretted it, withdrawing.

Her pulse was racing, mounting, her whole self trembling after what she’d done. She did not know herself. She’d killed men today.

Ben coaxed her back.

“Keep kissing me. Don’t think about it.”

At this she shoved again, enough to finally wrest him away.

“That’s how we got into all this,” she spat.

She felt dizzy. Kissing him was all she wanted to do when she wasn’t doing it. When they were kissing; all she saw was death.

He shook his head, fetching a black hat from the dirt. It was the one she wore to come rescue him. He placed it on his own head like rightful order was restored.

She didn’t think that felt fair.

“I’d like to clear out of here before anyone catches wind of the skirmish.”

He was all business, despite a warmth in his eyes like he knew she would regret her own change of pace. He’d give her serious, and then his wife would long for soft again…

She had no clue as to his meaning until he lifted an empty bag from Baby’s saddle and proceeded towards the mine. She looked at some of the things her stallion now carried. There were sticks of dynamite bound together, wicks entwined, in another bag; placed there by Snoke’s orders.

On the back of her sweet Baby.

Nothing was as it should be.

“Ben...no. Leave it.”

“We came all this way for it. Snoke is dead. It’s ours now.”

He didn’t even turn around.

She clasped her hands under her chin. Suddenly, after all she had done today, feeling very small.

“It’s dirty money, Ben, I don’t want it.”

“I am giving you the life you deserve,” he snapped at her, spinning on his heel and turning on her so fast she lost her breath. He looked enraged. “After everything I have been through: I have earned this.”

The way he looked at her. He did not just mean the money. He meant all of it.

Snoke’s Heir Apparent.

She took a step forward to shout right back at him.

“Snoke mistreating you doesn’t make this right. Didn’t you tell me to not be like Niima? Didn’t you say I couldn’t hurt you just because I’d been hurt?”

He adjusted his gloves.

“I’m not hurting you.”

She shook her head. If he couldn’t see it-

“Yes, Ben. Yes you are. People died for that money. We’ll keep what’s in the urn. There's still my money. That’s more than enough. I didn't save you for you to do this.”

"You saved me so I could be free."

He shook his head at her.

She couldn’t breathe.

Killing Snoke didn’t change him one bit. It had just freed him an opportunity.

She didn’t think.

She just acted.

In an instant she was at his feet, her arms around his neck, her lips pressed to his.

He went still, surprised, but smiled and nibbled her lower lip teasingly. Those teeth against her flesh only felt dangerous now. Even when he melted so easily into her body.

His hands on her lower back were so sure. He did not feel broken from killing like she did. He was not awake to his crimes.

She cradled the base of his skull gently. Black hair folding between her bare fingers. 

She let them go.

“All of this felt like a fever dream, and I keep thinking I’m going to wake up in California with my banker and roll back over in bed because nothing bad ever happened to us.”

He was purring into her mouth like nothing had changed at all.   

“Yes, my love, you're very persuasive. But sweet-talking me isn’t going to-”

He went still at the sound of a match lighting. She fisted a hand in his hair to keep him still.

The entwined wick of all the dynamite hissed and furred around its own spark.

Rey held him too tight to pull away and stop her. Her grip was a vice while she tossed the lit match into the dirt and looked at the mouth of the cave at the dip in the canyon. The rock hung low, the obscured entrance making for a good hiding place.

“I love you, Ben. I can only think of one way to save you.”

And she tossed the dynamite into the mouth of the mine; dragging him back to duck and cover as it and the vision of blood-soaked gold ignited and erupted into flames.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rey woke in no better state than him.

Neither of them were moving; only breathing. Her face littered with tiny burns. His injured brow rested in the red dirt.

The world still rattling like a teacup in a saucer held by a shaky hand.

He was considering the bullet wound in her arm. His thumb gently tracing the freckled skin underneath it, as if wanting to touch to soothe even though he could not risk hurting the place that was actually harmed.

She pictured the gold first: ripping through the earth underneath it as though it tore through a single bedsheet, collapsing into hell from where she sent it away.

“Are you going to kill me?” she asked in a low voice. It was raspy and dry. She didn’t crave water, she needed it.

Ben’s face was very calm. He didn’t look up from the bloody gash in her skin like he just couldn’t yet.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“Hmm,” she let her eyes close, “just make it quick.”

She heard him try to wet his dust-covered tongue. So much for the recent bath: they were both bloody, sandy messes now.

There was a short, agitated breath out of him.

“I’m still deciding.”

“It’s an important decision to make, killing your wife.”

His thumb tapped under the scar that would form on her muscular arm.

"Brought you all this way. Saved your life a good too many times to just kill you now."

"I sense you have some regrets about that. Might as well make it right here and now."

“Rey,” his voice lacked any of his humor, “I could have given you everything.”

She opened her eyes.

“Everything, Ben, starts from inside yourself. Not from what you’re willing to do to other people. You might have killed for me. But you never told me the truth. And that is as much from your own selfishness as your own crimes.”

He looked back at her. Unashamed and unafraid. 

“You sneer at the person who would have gone to the ends of the earth with you, freely?”

Rey had come a long way. She had lost everything. She had lost things she didn’t even have when she started it. She had lost what was left of her old life as it wore away into something unrecognizable, unusable; this cast-off self like an old rag.

There was no use clinging on to it. 

She was not the same person who started this path. She was new.

But she had not taken this journey alone.

Even without him.

“I gave you everything, Ben. Everything inside me. There’s no more left to give.”

Ben gave a mournful, pitiful groan.

Rey rolled onto her back beside him and stared up at the still-blue-sky. It felt wrong to not reach for his hand.

They both held on very tightly.

“We can start over. We can move on from this if you forgive me. If you just let go.”

Tears were like blood: as warm outside of the skin and they were the inside her of body, making it feel wrong to be dripping out in open air. They pooled with that odd feeling down her sunburned cheeks. The force of her cries contorted her face. Next to her, Ben was shaking with them as well. 

“I am empty,” she added sadly.

Jess could never say what marriage had done to her. Before Ben, Rey could not say it either. She didn’t think it was done, to assess, there was only the lifetime to endure.

But she could lie beside her husband now and tell him and hear him cry and cry herself because this is what they had become because of each other.

There was no kiss that could properly share this bitter taste. Instead they both sobbed.

“Rey,” his nostrils were flaring angrily as he stared at her face. “What do you want?”

Her eyelids fluttered. She was so thirsty and swollen and bruised. In the distance, she watched a hawk circling the bodies that had piled up from this afternoon. Corpses they had made together. 

She wanted to cut her heart out with a hot knife so her body would heal a cavity in herself to walk along without it. She wanted to cut away this pain so she didn’t have to feel it again, even if it meant never seeing him again.

She wanted to turn onto her side and kiss those ears that she loved until she was nothing but liquid seeping into the earth.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, “but I just want to belong to myself again.”

“What do you want from me?”

A life, that was all she had wanted for him. A real life. A life where he didn't have to ruin, or take abuse, or kill. A life where he could care for horses, live safely on his own land, and come home to a wife that he loved. 

But that did not mean sacrificing herself as Jess had done.

They could talk about this all they liked: some things were earned, and talking before the first step did not ensure a safe journey.

“To start over as an honest man.”

He took her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles.

“I just...I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”

Her bruised heart skipped a beat.

He’d be so willing to inherit the business that had ruined and abused him.

"Why?"

"Because I don't deserve forgiveness. I can't run from it."

She sighed softly. 

“That’s why we’re here. Because you are the one who can't let go.”

In the ruins of a stash of stolen gold. 

Ben continued to caress her filthy hands, hands that have now killed, with his pliant mouth.

“We’re here because you made this choice for me.”

She laughed, gravelly, her voice practically blown out from all the shouting. “Don’t forget some of those choices that you made for me.”

He looked grimly into her eyes. “That’s different.”

“I know,” she said, and it was like a death sentence: “I’m just the wife.”

And men made the meaning of that word for themselves. She’d had two husbands; she’d learned that much. It didn’t matter what kind of woman she was.

It wasn’t her decision to make.

Because that was what being a wife was.

An object acquired and carried along for the journey.

 


 

 

She didn’t realize they had fallen asleep in a dust warmer than their marriage bed.

It was foolish.

But both of them were fools now. Her head was on his chest and his bruised body was curled around hers.

They should have gotten up to water Baby. They should have gone to see if Snoke’s men had found the wagon, if they left any oxen alive. There should have been attempts to treat their wounds, pack up, keep going.

There should have been plans for what two lives would be led from this spot.

Instead they slept in each other’s arms and ignored it all.

Ben stirred first; she had opened her eyes for the second time in this spot in the dirt and not moved for what felt like hours. But she felt him awaken at her side.

His lips and his breath sifted through her dusty hair.

“You’ve tricked me into pretending this time,” she snuggled closer, holding to him like the mast of a ship passing through the waves of a storm. He was so strong, so warm. He could not hold her forever, but they could dream he could right now.

He glanced up and swallowed.

“Rey.”

“What?”

His jaw was tense and he didn't even open his mouth to whisper:

“Don’t move.”

Of course then she did, startled, but he put his hands on her and pressed down into the earth and hissed: “Don’t. Move.”

She obeyed. Every muscle in her face tensed as she tried to determine what he was looking at, just out of her line of sight.

“What is it?”

And then she heard the distinctive rattle right above their heads and her blood went cold. She couldn't even move to look.

She knew from the expression on her husband's face that it was tensed to strike.

The rattlesnake was quick; but Ben was quicker.

It would have jumped straight onto her throat had he not moved in time.

To place his arm in the way.

He merely cursed, a pained breath washing over her trembling face, when the venomous fangs sank deep into his forearm.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ben was of much more use than she was for the first few minutes.

He’d seized the creature that was currently biting into him under its head and pulled it free with a calm hand, breathing evenly, as his wife choked on her horror underneath him.

He was efficient: she was still not convinced it was truly happening.

He grit his teeth and yanked the fangs out of his flesh. She saw a glisten of something sparkle from the rattlesnake’s teeth: it was not a dry bite.

But he was still focused enough.

“There’s a knife, sweetheart, in The Praetorian’s belt.”

He was talking very calm and even, like she too, if frightened any more, would bite.

Rey did not know what he was talking about until he nodded to one of the dead men. She swallowed. She hadn’t thought of them all with their own brands...bearing false names Snoke had chosen for them...leaving behind their old lives…

“Get it for me,” he breathed steadily, the scaly length of pure serpentine muscle in his fist fighting for another bite.

Nor was there time for thinking on all that now. She crawled through the dirt as Ben held the twisting snake steady as it tried to writhe free of his grasp. She heard a crunch: and knew without looking he had brought a rock down and crushed the skull of the rattler before it could do any more harm, tossing it aside like a length of limp rope. She focused on obtaining the knife.

The corpse she rifled over was bloated and starting to stink. Her nose wrinkled, but she did not hesitate.

By the time she was crawling back to Ben with the knife in her fist, he was already sweating and getting pale. But he kept himself cool under pressure for her, looking deep and steady in her eyes.

“You’re going to like this part. You get to cut me open,” he gave her a wan smile, “I deserve that, at least. Come here. It’s okay. Carve an X right through the wound.”

She poised the blade and faltered.

“Ben?”

“It’s going to be okay, sweetheart. Just listen to me.”

“What if I…” it was finally hitting her in words, not just blind instinctual panic, that he could die, “what if I do it wrong?”

He squeezed her hand.

“I’ll be on my back, helping you along. Sucking--” Ben Solo tilted his head back with a breathy, delirious laugh, “--now is not the time for that joke, I’m sorry Rey.”

That gave her the tenacity of will to break the skin at least.

One line. Then another crossing it.

She stared at it, blinking, as blood bloomed at the center of the X.

Did she do it deep enough? Long enough? Was it too large a wound: would he risk bleeding out even if she even got the poison out of his veins?

His free hand cupped the back of her head, fingers woven in her hair.

“Don’t think,” he assured her, “just do as I tell you. If you do it wrong: it’s because I led you wrong. It’s my own fault.”

“You…”

He had put himself in harm’s way for her. He’d rejected her. He’d loved her.

She had found this hardest when he was a liar; but she was wrong then.

This was at it’s hardest when they were both naked, completely themselves, in a world that would not admit them to be.

She lowered her mouth to the cross-shaped cut and filled her lips with his blood. There was a sour taste on her tongue, an unknown substance, she almost gagged, triggering an almost swallow, and the first spit of the venom out from her mouth did not travel far and instead dribbled defeatedly down her neck.

She began to sob.

His thumb brushed her cheek.

“You’re doing fine. You have to act quickly.”

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she obeyed. The next mouthful of his blood was less bitter. She spat that into the dirt and pressed her lips down again, turning her head to breathe and spit in a rhythm like she was swimming as she replaced the mouth of a serpent with her own again and again.

She did exactly as he told her.

So they would both be to blame. He tried to take at least the entirety of it from her if she failed.

But she would always know what she had done.

 


 

 

“Do you think you can ride Baby?”

Ben hadn’t tried to stand yet. He took her offered hand and allowed her to pull him up; but the act was more difficult than she had anticipated because he did in fact need the help. Once on his feet, he was weaving, swaying.

Dizzied.

“Fuck,” she cursed, and he actually hid a smile under the brim of his hat because the word was so rare from her lips.

“As a child--would have paid money to see my school teacher utter that one just once,” he said dreamily, a finger pressing to her lips, and she withheld the curse that wanted to rise again merely from terror.

“I will handle Baby,” she glanced around the canyon. She tried to think practically. There was water at the wagon. That seemed more important than pure speed: they wouldn’t make the journey if they died of thirst and Ben’s condition probably was worsened because they’d been without drink for so long.

For good measure, she tore the sleeve off of her ruined dress and tied it off over his arm above his elbow. Would that even help? Or was she cutting off circulation to a salvaged limb?

She stared at her work, heart pounding. His forearm was swelling up, but he had told her to stop trying to suck the poison out.

There wasn’t time to think.

So she grabbed the reins and made her way back to him.

He was holding the urn. Unmoving.

He was looking at her like he was scared to ask for the help.

She took a deep breath. Baby followed her like a lamb did a shepherd, but it was a tough slope on foot back to the wagon even without the added weight of a man like Ben.

She shoved the urn into a saddlebag.

And then she tucked her shoulder under his good arm to brace him.

“Should we keep…”

Trying? To suck all the venom out? She would never know for sure if she had done any of it right, and Ben seemed less and less sure of the specifics the more questions she had tried to raise.

He pressed his nose against her cheek, shaking his head. She was dubious when he told her to stop sucking the venom out: but from the amount of blood that had passed through her lips, it did seem likely that it was either gone or circulated through his bloodstream out of her depths to leech back out on her own.

It was slow going out of the canyon indeed, with shale slipping under her feet making determined, quick steps nearly impossible. His weight rested on her more and more with every foot. She wished she could put him on the stallion, but she was nervous that the incline would make him fall straight off of Baby’s back.

She would have to bear him until then.

“You wanted to take the evil out of me,” he sighed into her sweaty neck, ruffling her hair.

She did not know if he meant the snake venom or something more elusive and unchangeable.

 


 

Snoke’s men had not left a single ox of their team alive.

The hopelessness of the sight, a whole team of them with slit throats in the sand, was still haunting when she came upon it.

The only blessing was, instead of this quick death they had been given, had she returned to the wagon with Ben in this same state she would have had to leave them to this wilderness to die because Baby was faster and they didn’t have time for anything else.

Still, she stared at them with Ben slung half-over her shoulders. What if she had been in that wagon? What would have happened to her if she hadn't gone after Ben?

“Rey.”

Ben’s faded voice was still urgent.

She was filling whatever closed container they had from the water barrel to bring with them.

“Yes?”

“Get the bible.”

She lifted her head.

“I do not think God has much to do for you now, Solo.”

He was hunched against the wagon, breathing heavily.

She looked down at the arm. It was so red and swollen. Had she not done enough?

Her hands began to shake helplessly.

“The map,” he told her slowly, “there’s an address. In Sacramento. That’s where...we would have met again. If we had parted. That’s where we were going. And it’s where...where Finn and Rose were going to go find you.”

She filled a cooking-pot with water for him to drink from and then tossed aside the lid of the barrel for Baby to finish off before they departed.

“You’d better drink as much as you can,” she said, and was too afraid to take any water for herself. Even to wash the blood and venom off her tongue.

 


 

Everything in the wagon was left behind. It didn’t matter anymore.

She had the map, he had his stupid urn, and they had each other. She consulted the compass he used to drive them, asked him to hold on tight, and took the reins.

And they were flying.

She had never gone this fast in her life: on her own two feet, on horseback, on train.

They were going so fast she realized in about a half mile that she had forgotten to breathe.

Ben’s labored breath fogged warm and slow against her neck, his heavy body hunched over hers. The weight grew harder for her to handle with every passing mile. But clearly he was not able to bear it himself.

“Rey,” she felt hands squeezing her waist, “we should probably think about what’s worth saving right now.”

“You are worth saving to me,” she hissed into the wind and blistering desert heat.

“Maybe the debate isn’t about worth anymore,” his heavy head was rested in the crook of her neck. “It’s about possibility.”

“I am not giving up on you.”

He laughed sleepily into her ear.

“To just hear you say that...it’s enough. Now leave me behind.”

“Shut up,” she snapped at him, kicking Baby to run harder. “Our pace is increased now."

"--rough terrain, it's dangerous to go this fast--"

"It’s not as far when we don’t have a team to worry about--”

Ben wasn’t listening.

“My ferocious wife. I am so glad you were mine. And my only.”

“Remind me to kill you for rubbing in my previous marriage at a time like this,” She dug her heels into Baby’s sides again, “but first, we have to make sure you live. Your life is mine Ben Solo, you vowed that to me. So don't you dare waste it.”

 


 

 

It was a journey not likely to be successful even if everything went according to plan.

She had overworked herself and Baby. There were more viable sources of water but she had surpassed them in haste. Then it was still, muddy water, fine for the strong stomach of a horse, but too risky for them to drink.

Her back was coated in sweat, as was Ben’s front where they were pressed together, soaking through their clothes. Every inch of exposed skin was burned, but because of his face hidden in her neck, she was given the black hat back.

When they stopped to drink what whatever little they did have for Baby to be given the chance rest a moment, she immediately handed the canteen to him, which he was too sick not to take, but he drank sparingly and pushed it carefully back into her hands. His expression regretful for taking any.

“Don’t waste it on me, it’s not good if I-”

Her teeth clenched. She was tired. She was dirty. Everything from the gunfight yesterday hurt. She was risking losing him, and herself, in this desert.

And nothing made her more angry than his constant requests to just give up on him after all this way.

“Shut up,” she growled at him, taking a drink to steady herself. She didn’t want to be selfish, but the moment it touched her lips, she was filling her belly greedily with water that should be carefully conserved.

Horrified, she wrenched the canteen away from her lips, ashamed, and he put his good arm around her as she whimpered pitifully.

“It’s alright,” he murmured gently, his lips against her cheek, “drink, Rey.”

She accepted the canteen when he pressed it to her lips. She might as well. She drank until she felt sick.

This was so hopeless in the best of conditions.

It would not stop things from getting much worse.

 


 

 

Like him or not, Rey was surprised to find merit now in her first husband for one thing. He had picked a good horse: maybe even better than he knew. Niima couldn’t have known his purchase would be tested like this.

Baby carried them both, and ran hard. He listened to her commands, even when his coat was beginning to get slick with sweat, lines of salt weaving out of his coat underneath her legs. It was too much, and he still took it.

Because they had escaped Niima together: and she and the stallion were the same.

They were running. They were going. They didn’t know how far, no one knew how far, but she and the stallion could not give up now.

They understood each other. They survived the same man. It was that fight for life that connected them.

Her Baby was too good for what was going to happen to him.

They were running. They were flying.

Then they were falling heavy, Rey hitting the ground before she even knew what happened, Ben’s body crushing her into the sand, as they slipped off when the body underneath the pitched.

A few paces ahead Baby’s leg folded underneath his body completely mid-step and the whinny that came out of him when he hit the ground was a scream for help.

“Shit,” Ben’s face was in the dirt as he struggled to push himself up. “Rey, stay back…”

She was crawling towards the stallion writhing on the ground.

Get up. Get up.

“It’s broken, Rey.”

“It’s always been broken,” she screamed, turning on him, “we keep going. We always keep going.”

“Rey,” he dragged himself beside her and touched her arm, “not like this. This isn’t about you.”

“He can get up.”

“No, Rey,” Ben swallowed, blinking his eyes. She could see it now; just how bad a shape he was in. And how it killed him just as much to see this happen, “He’s suffering.”

She knew what had to be done. She just couldn't accept it. 

So again, Ben told her what they had to do, so she could listen to him and blame him for whatever happened. He took that on himself. 

Her face wasn’t just hot. It was smoldering. It was liquid pounding underneath her skin like a volcanic eruption. She was screaming out tears like an infant.

“I didn’t have to care,” she finally let it out at him, “about either of you. This was your doing.”

He gave her feelings that he couldn’t take away.

He tried to push himself up to sit, but there was impact taken to his ribs in the fall that hindered that. His whole face seized up as he tried for her anyway.

She had a sizable limp herself, but she did not notice it.

Instead she went to the saddlebag and took out the pistol.

“Rey, I’ll do it.”

She ignored her husband’s plea.

She had made that mistake too many times. Taking up that offer. Letting her husband deal with it. That trust is what had led them here.

“Y-you can’t even stand up,” she spat at him.

Then she cocked the hammer and took five paces to look what felt like death itself in the face.

“Rey,” he warned in a low voice, “you might want to reserve at least one bullet.”

Her voice cracked through the empty sky in a high, hysteric laugh. There was nothing but dust and rock for miles.

“To protect us from what?” she snapped at him bitterly. Worrying about bullets before she had to do this, “We might as well be the only two people in the world.”

He swallowed.

When she realized she had missed his meaning her heart turned to stone.

“No, Rey, save one for...save one for the worst. For you. I’ll die as slowly and painfully as I deserve. But I don’t want you--”

She looked him dead in the eyes as she checked the chamber of the pistol. Six rounds.

She unloaded five shots in quick succession straight into the sky without ever lifting her eyes from his.

Leaving only one left in the chamber.

And then she went to her horse.

If she had never kept the horse, they wouldn’t be together.

If she had never loved Ben, she wouldn’t have chosen to go along with him.

If she had never held that motherless baby the night that it died, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten sick and even been here now.

But she would not have been the self she could have proudly faced in death if she had not done these things. Not because they happened: but because of how they changed her.

Rey was no coward. There was no regret in mercy. There was no regret in loving. And there was no regret in kindness.

She looked into Baby’s eyes. She felt his pain, because she was not too weak to avoid taking it into herself. She was not too afraid to know that part of her that loved would have to suffer terribly for it.

Those glassy, frantic eyes knew it too.

They were the same.

“Thank you,” she whispered after a deep breath, and her soul felt touched by the same act of love in return. Then she fired into the centered white star as if shooting through her own reflection in the sand.

 


 

Ben tried to reach up to lace his shaking fingers into hers, to comfort her, but she pulled away. She didn’t feel the impact of the fall when it happened, and she still didn’t now, but her husband clearly did.

He had to have known she accepted her fate with him by those futile shots into the sky. Denying him whatever honor code that she be put out of her misery quicker. They would do this together. 

It didn’t mean she was going to cuddle up with him just yet.

She blinked hot tears down her face bitterly. She was sure when a buzzard pecked out her dead eyes: they’d be curled up together as corpses, finally settling into peaceful love through decay.

She felt transparent, as if the wind through the sand could sift her into fluttering pieces, as if she was floating along it like a ghost.

Because she had just killed a part of herself. And now she was going to mourn.

They were still unmoved in their silence when a shadow came out of the horizon.

Drawn by the sound of the gunshots, a figure on a horse appeared in the distance.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She did not trust the man who rode up to them.

But he rode directly like he was keen on finding them.

“I d-don’t think I’ve ever stumbled upon a s-scene quite this bleak.”

He looked shiftily down at them from underneath the brim of his hat.

Rey didn’t want to boil over just at the fact that he was right: but even with Ben bloody in the dirt and a dead horse a few yards away, her tongue was hard and bitter in her mouth. She was at least simmering from it.

Stating the obvious was no way to endear oneself to her. Especially at a time like this.

The stranger had a way of looking but not looking: both through and around, like he was surveying the entire scene with everyone in it instead of giving a person respectful attention. It was the twice-cloying sensation of being examined and ignored. It unsettled her deeply.

Rey’s hands were in fists.

“You’ll b-be needing help getting out of this one,” the rider observed.

She wanted to scream at him.

“Hopefully we’re in luck,” she replied, her eyes narrowed, and the rider doesn’t move from his horse.

He had a twitch about him, like the lingering sparks of a lightning strike flashing. Like he himself was a mirage. It wasn’t quite a stammer that sliced through his words, no nervousness or trouble with a certain letter, but like the flickering of a flame.

“Rey, be careful,” Ben crooned, far too late, his face upturned to the blazing sun. Welcome help or not: without it he was as good as gone.

The rider was armed. Rey was so tired, so dehydrated, and so without options she couldn’t even begin to think of what if about those five bullets now.

“The r-right price can get you anywhere,” he lit a cigarette, in this dry heat, as another show of smug comfort that made her eyes practically bleed at the sight of him. “And that price goes up for what you’re willing to pay.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. Tobacco was burning at the edges of his words, landing on her dry tongue and making her gag.

“We’ll pay what we can.”

She was not a fool. She was not revealing something worth murdering them over.

But she had to act fast. The stranger was toying with her. He was using the urgency of time to make her squirm. And it was Ben’s life: she was squirming like a nest of snakes inside.

No matter how much that squeezed her bruised heart. She was doing everything she could.

Something glittered under her eye, breaking their game. A flash, a little spindle of familiar metallic.

A leather cord was wrapped around the rider's wrist. And it was hitting the light, a bronzy charm that was not quite crescent, not quite sickle: a half that had no other to complete it and become whole.

She'd seen this before.

Rose’s charm.

Rey's hands shot out and yanked the rider’s gun out of his holster. He fought her for it, but she was more desperate and feral, she slugged him clean in the mouth and pulled it away as he tried to stay upright on his horse.

But she wasn’t going to fire on him just yet.

“Rose?”

She took another shot straight into blue sky. A flare.

“Rose!”

Her voice filled the miles of sand: there was nothing else but them and her screams.

She aimed the gun at the rider.

“What did you do with my friends?”

He held his hands up innocently. But limply, like he would not commit to surrender. Or anything else.

“She g-gave me this as the price to find you. I found y-you.”

Rey almost screamed in frustration, with Ben pleading quietly in the background for her not to fire just yet in a low, sort of uninvolved whine as he lay in the dirt.

And then faint, in the distance, she heard it:

“Rey?”

She had been taken away from a great deal.

Ben didn’t understand that.

She had been taken away from her friends.

Her broken heart soared at the sight of a wagon and a modest but solid team pulling in from the distance. There was a short and now particularly round figure standing on the box seat and waving frantically at her.

She fell back a few steps from the man on the horse, her heart pounding harder than it ever had in her life.

Not even Ben…

Not even Ben had ever made her feel like she did now. It was unparalleled: the truest love she’d ever had.

She and Ben couldn’t love unselfishly. They needed too much. Both of them. Broken and bruised together; leaning desperately in hopes the other could bear weight and yet pleading the other to give them more. It was a collapsing love, a love of no control, a love that expected things back.

A love to lose yourself. 

This was a love in her heart that was solid, was steady, and was kind. 

The sand tossed over her feet and purifying tears leaked from her eyes as the wagon approached: slow and sure as a sunrise.

“They came back,” she whispered across the sand.

Something she never believed anyone would do for her.

 


 

 

The scene descended into chaos.

Rose whipped past the rider in a sprint, Rey lowered the gun, she was lifted off her feet in a crushing hug, Finn was shouting, Ben couldn’t even move at this point and lay like a dead fly in the sun, and it was all capped with the mysterious rider quietly stating: “I found them” to seemingly nobody and everybody at the same time.

Rose’s hands cupped her face, her full belly flush against Rey’s even though they stood apart now. Rose contained life now: it made Rey’s heart pound and her eyes go wide.

She had thought the world ceased to exist when she and Ben had left it together. It had gone on turning.

Finn was at her elbow, practically growling at the sight of her husband in the dirt.

He held her like she had come back from the dead.

She felt safe, found.

“Let’s get you out of here, Rey.”

“Finn?”

He wrapped a hand around her arm and gently pulled.

She locked her limbs; he couldn’t move her and inch.

And her friend looked upon her face like she slapped him.

She needed them. But needing one thing was desperation; it felt surprisingly whole to ask for both.

She would go with them. She would bring Ben.

“We can’t,” she insisted.

“Rey, he took you.”

“He married me. He took what was his.”

She needn't remind them of legal rights now, but her friends' love of her had found horror in the eyes of the law.

“Rey.”

Rose’s tone was low and disturbed.

“We need to get you out of here,” Finn was a voice of reason she needed: but she had come too far to let Ben Solo die, no matter what he truly deserved.

“I won’t leave without him,” she pulled herself from Finn’s grasp with the ease of a ghost. Maybe because she already felt like one.

She went to her husband and crouched at his side. She heard arguing from Finn and Rose. Finn sounded angry, Rose reasonable and appealing. They whispered fiercely but Rey didn't listen to any of it.

Her hands settled on her husband’s chest.

“Ben, we have to go.”

“My mother,” Ben said quietly, his eyes looking soft into her eyes, “keep the book and use it to find my mother.”

Rey nodded frantically, but a smile cracked her lips after he paused as though this was the end.

“We’re not leaving you behind, you know.”

A smile cracked as his eyes fluttered shut.

“I can’t make any promises to you. I wish the life that I vowed was yours would last a little longer, sweetheart.”

She kissed his sunburned mouth.

"Do your best for me."

Finn got behind her as if to guide her away. He pulled gently on her shoulders. Almost ready to carry her away if he had to.

The second any space came between her and Ben: she began to scream.

 


 

Ben’s sunburned face was in her lap in the bed of the wagon as they rode on. He was in bad shape: but even bringing him along took some arguing.

Rose stared distrustfully at her as she stroked her husband’s hair. Her belly was swollen with her baby. It would be soon. Very soon. And she came all this way to help her.

Rey had a hard time looking at her. Remembering the fear in Rose’s eyes, the firm line of Finn’s mouth, when they came upon Kylo Ren, the horse, and Rey.

“I do not trust your guide,” Rey said in a low voice, for the man called DJ rode behind and she did not want him hearing. But she also had to voice this to her as it made her uneasy.

Rose was swollen as a tick at this stage of pregnancy, her belly stretching under her clothes.

“We didn’t have many options out West,” she was puzzling through Rey’s observation, her eyes narrowed, “we only thought of our mission to find you.”

It occurred to Rey that she did not seem, to Rose and Finn, a sound source of judgement on who to trust. 

Rey closed her eyes, feeling like a fool with big, mean Kylo Ren snuggled in her lap like a puppy. She held his bible to her breast. A woman without God still found a place to put her prayers: and she gave all of them shape in the form of the gentle man she had once known.

Who kissed her awake and said good morning. Who wanted her to learn what pleasure meant. 

She felt complicated now: but forgiveness and not wanting Ben Solo to die were two different things and everyone tried to shove her onto opposite sides of it. 

She stood firmly in the middle. She needed to save his life before she'd wonder what to do with it.

“Thank you,” she said instead to Rose, for she was still saved first and foremost by her friends. Not her husband.

Rose faltered. Her confusion hurt. Rey was not acting like herself, she knew this; the Rey that they had found was not herself.

“He stole you,” Rose said quietly, as if finally mentioning the scene where she and her husband rescued her only for her to beg a hysterical pardon for her own captor. “Poe and Finn almost had to tie me down themselves when he split from our route with you. Even if it’s a man’s right by law: doesn’t make it right to take a sick woman away from everyone she knows to certain death in the wild.”

“We are both quite alive,” Rey said, assured, and Ben groaned and sleepily nuzzled into her lap.

It felt hollow: and a bit stupid to say before they knew for sure what would happen to him.

“Rey, do you know who this man is?”

Stunned tears fogged her eyes.

Rose’s tone was a careful kind of disgusted. Rey could read all of it. The plan in it slowly unravelling. That she and Finn had made a mutual decision to save it for a better time when Rey was not a screaming mess in the sand, hunched over Ben as life slipped from him, passed between the glance of eyes only spouses could understand. That plan to be reasonable, to bosom their cards, and wait until Rey could handle hearing this.

Rey had broken this dam and Rose looked on her with pity as the water all flowed away.

There was no hiding anymore.

Rose knew. Rose had figured it out. Maybe she saw it in a newspaper. Maybe she remembered it like a lost key the moment the dust vanished from Ben’s wagon as he whisked Rey away.

Rose was no idiot.

Rose knew that her husband was Kylo Ren and came searching to rescue her. Because Rey would need to be rescued from an outlaw like that who had kidnapped her.

Only to find Rey couldn’t bear having to leave.

Finn was ready to leave him behind to die: Rey wouldn’t allow it, wouldn’t even let them mention justice when they reached the nearest town, only a healer. She begged them to take Ben to a doctor: that arm was not looking right, they were speaking of his crimes and she thought only of a snakebite.

“Yes,” Rey admitted into the quiet of the wagon, telling Rose in fewer words than necessary that she knew exactly what man he was.

Rose looked at her, her own eyes full of tears, when Rey came face to face with the hardest thing she’d ever confessed.

She knew who he was.

And she loved this man in a way that couldn’t be reckoned with.

The resignation in her friend’s eyes drew away as though exposed to open flame. A whisper of a sad sigh escaped her lips. They could both pretend pregnancy had made her more sentimental, but hopeless tears fluttered out as Rey felt Ben pushing against her lap, too weak to roll himself so his burned cheek was rubbing against the dirty fabric of her dress, and Rey helping him with gentle hands into a more comfortable spot.

“You have been through many hardships, Rey. But do you still think this husband is an improvement on the last?”

There was no answer that felt honest or good enough: and there are only two in a yes or no question.

“If one must have a husband.”

Her friend’s nostrils flared.

“You don’t have to.”

Rey sighed, her fingers in Ben’s hair.

For the first time in her life, she felt like she truly didn’t. But wasn’t that something more glorious: to not need, but to choose him?

She’d never had that luxury.

Rose reached for her, and they locked hands, both of them crying.

"The law is after Kylo Ren, Rey."

She didn't see Kylo Ren anywhere. Just this cuddling, sleeping man in her lap.

But she knew where to look: and angry red burn on his back.

Ben could never escape Kylo Ren.

“Will we ever know peace, Rose? How doomed are we?”

Rose wiped tears away before answering.

“It won’t be easy. Not a lot of men can match that description, and they are looking. I can’t as your friend tell you otherwise.”

She cradled him defensively. Hours ago: he was all she had.

But the world reopened slowly and she couldn't be clinging to him forever if she didn’t have to. That felt foolish.

That wasn’t who she was.

“What do I do?” she whispered.

Rose looked at her feet.

“It is your secret to tell, Rey. You have our loyalty through that, even if we don’t understand it. You saved his life today. You alone decide what we do with it.”

Ben’s eyes fluttered open. They were dark and unfocused under the bonnet of the wagon.

How many times had she woken up in a wagon feeling the delirious way he did now?

“Rey?”

She didn’t know if he too mirrored that question. He seemed too delirious to know to tack his own curiosity onto Rose’s inquiry.

“Solo?”

Rose stirred uncomfortably at the use of what she must have thought was a fake name. Maybe it was.

She looked at his purple arm: maybe she’d never know these answers. Never get the chance to.

Never know him beyond his sins and his love: the mysterious gray between.

They had never had the calm to figure it all out.

What would Ben Solo do with a fresh start? Who would he be? Who would she be?

“What are you going to do?”

She sighed, brushing his sweaty hair out of his face. The second pair of eyes on them made her bristle: but even like this, even with someone knowing, she no longer felt shame over her tenderness to him.

Her lips pressed to his: and she saw from the corner of her eye Rose squirmed in horror. He groaned low and needy into her mouth: lost to everything but her.

She answered two questions in one answer: the skill of a good thinker.

For she knew what she had to do.

“Something one of us should have done at Forth Hall.”

 


 

Rey would come to remember little of the day Ben Solo died.

They reached California with the resignation of a soul that does not need to rise from bed for anything but their own restlessness. The sky was gray and dark. It was early.

It did not feel as accomplished as one would think. It felt scary. As if there was no pretending to journey anymore. They had to be someone again.

They entered a hospital for Ben’s poisoned arm.

And then Rey walked out alone.

A pair of stolen boots in her hands.

She didn’t think. She just acted. Standing over the foot of her husband's hospital bed and shucking the shoes off his body like a madwoman. Finn and Rose slumped in chairs, exhausted and asleep, and she drifted away from them all like a ghost.

Finn and Rose would have their baby. They would want her to live with them. 

But she couldn't. She couldn't face the pregnancy, the life Jess couldn't live with, would never have. She couldn't impose herself on their happiness. 

So she left.

It was the newness of the place, how it was constructed. The new frontier was built hastily to house the spill of new life. The buildings didn’t seem real. The dirt still looked fresh around the edges, there weren’t generations-old trees outside of historic banks and no place boasted of the men who walked through it before.

It was a new place.

Eerily green.

A place of rebirth.

She was anyone as she walked through those streets: her thoughts as foreign on her tongue as a whole new language.

The boots dangling from their laces wrapped in her fist. She had his bible. She had his map.

And his shoes.

She’d done this once before, as a different woman. This time she didn’t drag her feet and didn’t kick up dust. She moved forward with peace and purpose.

Rey went straight from the hospital to the county clerk as if sleepwalking. The doors hadn’t even fluttered shut behind her before she began to conduct her business.

“I need to report a man dead.”

The clerk looked up at the this woman standing before him: spectacles slipping down his neat little nose. He looked afraid. She didn’t know why. She was calm.

“What man?”

She could tell there was a procedure to this that was escaping him, everyone, in the room at the sight of her. Dirty. Sweaty. Bloody. A sleeve ripped clean off her dress. Her hair drooping out of what was once a braid.

The feral look of hunger and grief i n her eyes.

“My husband,” she paused and licked her lips, for the first time saying it out loud, “both of them.”