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(I Want to See You) As You Are Now

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“Ben, c’mon, you promised.”

“I’m sorry.” His voice is slightly tinny over the phone, without that pleasant rumble that accompanies so many of his words in person. “Some stuff got moved around in my schedule today. I’ll still be there, just later. Sorry I can’t drive you.”

Rey huffs, phone awkwardly pressed up to her ear with one shoulder while she scrubs at the dishes in her sink. “Fine. I can see if Finn can come get me. There’s no way I’m hauling three trays of lasagna on the bus. Also, who the hell requests lasagna for a party?”

“Poe Dameron. The inscrutable fuck.”

“Mm. Well, I’ll forgive you if you promise to go to brunch with me tomorrow. No matter how hungover we are. I already want waffles.”

“You’ve got it.” Ben’s voice is going even thinner over the line; his connection must be getting worse. “I’ll see you tonight. Good luck with the lasagnas.”

“Jesus. See you, Ben.”

She hangs up and takes a deep breath and stares at the dishes now nestled neatly in her drying rack. See? She did fine. Not even a single butterfly this time. If she just keeps trying, she’ll eventually be able to actually convince herself she hasn’t been head-over-heels for Ben Solo for the past six months.

Occasionally she lets herself suspect he might like her, too. The way he looks at her, sometimes—but no, going down that line of thought never helps. Rey re-focuses, punches in a quick text to Finn to see if he can pick her up to take her and the lasagnas to Poe’s place.

The foil trays of lasagna are keeping warm in the oven, and the dishes are done. When Finn’s confirmation text comes in, Rey hurries to finish getting ready. A quick shower to get the sweaty baking-multiple-lasagnas-in-her-tiny-kitchen-with-no-AC-in-August funk off herself, a speedy application of a little makeup, taking her suppressants, throwing on a sun dress and shoving a cardigan in her bag in case the night gets chilly. She does an excellent job of not thinking about Ben until she slides into the passenger seat of Finn’s car, three trays of lasagna stacked carefully on her lap, and he grins at her and says, “Ready for the inevitable shenanigans of Poe’s birthday?”

On the outside, Rey grins and says, “Yup. I plan to get half-stupid on cider and eat a whole tray of this by myself.”

On the inside, she’s reminded that Poe’s birthday last year was the first time she met Ben.

 

——

 

Nobody has to tell her Ben is an alpha for her to know. It’s obvious, when Poe introduces him as his childhood friend and Rey shakes his hand. He’s tall as fuck, broad-shouldered and solid-chested, and she can catch a whiff of his scent. It’s faint, but the tone of it is definitely alpha.

He must not be on blockers—there’s no trace of that vague chlorine-like scent that always signifies blockers—so the faintness of his scent must mean they aren’t particularly compatible, biologically. That’s good, at least. Keeps things simpler.

“Nice to meet you,” Rey says, smiling up at him, because his eyes look very soft even if his face looks nearly stony. She recognizes something in that softness, though she can’t quite name it yet.

“Likewise,” he says, and his voice is a pleasant low rumble.

She loses him for a while, hanging out with Finn and Rose in the living room, laughing with Paige and Tallie in the kitchen, peeking at Jessika’s cards over her shoulder while Finch unsuccessfully tries to win this hand of poker. But eventually she wanders onto the back porch for some air, and he’s out there.

Ben’s not standing with the circle of smokers off in the grass. He’s sitting on the porch steps, head craned back.

Rey plops down unceremoniously next to him, just a bit spinny-drunk. “Whatcha doin’, Solo?”

The corner of his mouth quirks in the ghost of a smile. “Finding constellations.”

“You know constellations?” He’s kind enough not to laugh when her tongue is a bit thick to form the last word. “Show me?”

His smile broadens, though still tight-lipped, and he lifts one arm and points up at the sky.

 

——

 

They get there a bit early, only a handful of folks already there. Rose, of course, since she and Finn had arrived together before Finn came all the way back out to pick up Rey. Nix, Finch, and Paige are setting up the drinks table, Tallie is running a vacuum (she briefly shoots Rey a can-you-believe-this look, but Rey isn’t surprised Poe didn’t think to vacuum), Poe’s little red-and-white corgi Beebee is following her at a safe distance and watching the vacuum like it’s going to attack any moment, and Snap and Jessika are out in the back yard with Poe, trying to set up a net for—Rey’s first thought is badminton, absurdly, but it’s probably volleyball. That’s new.

Over the next few hours, enough folks will trickle in that eventually the place will be packed, but for now, it’s nice. Airy, even.

“Poe!” Rey hollers out the open back window. She hopes he’ll close that and turn the air conditioner on before too many people get here. “Should I put these in the oven?”

“The lasagna!” He’s all boyish delight, abandoning the net (Jessika throws some choice words at his back) and bounding up the back stairs, bursting into the kitchen. “Rey. Rey Johnson. Angel of the noodle, goddess of the sauce, patron saint of the cheese. I’m so glad you’re here.”

She rolls her eyes but can’t help smiling. Poe’s very good at making people smile. “You don’t need to butter me up. I already brought them.”

“Oven is fine, until folks get here. Or for the whole night. What d’you say—you and I sneak back to the woods and eat it all ourselves?”

“Ben would kill you,” Tallie quips, walking by with the vacuum in tow. “He loves Rey’s lasagna.”

Rey turns to the oven, ducking her head and letting her hair fall over her cheek to hide the flush she feels blooming. It doesn’t mean anything. She knows everyone loves her lasagna. (And she loves feeding it to them. Food, once she could access it reliably, quickly became her love language. Food means you’re safe and taken care of, and she wants her friends to feel that way.)

But part of her whispers, you make him happy .

An even smaller, quieter part of her whispers, you make your alpha happy .

No. Shoosh. Shut up. Rey takes a deep breath. Ben isn’t her alpha. Won’t ever be her alpha. Because she doesn’t want an alpha, and even if she did, he doesn’t want her. And she can barely smell him. And he’s her friend. A whole litany of reasons to absolutely not think in those terms.

“So. Cider?” she says, once the lasagnas are in and the oven set to warm. Because the sooner she gets some alcohol in her, the sooner she can stop thinking about Ben in all the wrong ways. She hopes.

 

——

 

Rey’s heats last four days, like clockwork. Her suppressants have managed to regulate them somewhat, for which she’s unendingly grateful. The first two days are… bearable, as heats go. Which is to say she’s feverish and miserable and constantly masturbating to the point of soreness, never feeling satisfied no matter how many times she comes, lying in cool baths to try to take the edge off, carefully sipping ginger ale and eating nothing but oranges—the only thing she ever wants, for some reason, during heat—to not make her stomach rebel. Itchy and cramping and too constantly wet and squirmy to stand leaving home. She hurts , and her own efforts aren’t enough to make it stop. But at least her mind is clear. She tells herself it’s no worse than a flu, just different symptoms. (This isn’t really true, but it helps her get through it.)

The third day is the day that makes her absolutely hate being an omega. She usually sleeps a little, the night of the second day, a bit restlessly and too hot, but she sleeps. But then she snaps awake, before dawn more often than not, absolutely burning up from the inside out. Shaking and dizzy and scared. She knows the only thing that fixes it is a knot, and her reliable knotted dildo helps soothe the heat and pain a little. But if the forums are to be believed, toys are nothing like the real thing. Which might be why she ends up spiking feverish again, over and over, crying into her pillows and begging someone who isn’t there to help her, to take care of her, to take her. She can hear herself, begging and whining and weeping. It makes her feel alien to herself, but she can’t stop it. No matter how many times she comes, she can’t stop it.

The fourth day is better, but only because the worst of it breaks. She still can’t sleep, and she’s exhausted from the roller-coaster of hormones, muscles tired and aching from the strain of chasing so many never-good-enough orgasms. She can’t even think of eating or drinking on the third day, which leaves her feeling fully hung-over the fourth. But she puts an ice pack between her legs and lies in bed, sipping ginger ale even more carefully. Dozing, no longer feverish but wrung-out in a whole new way, still aching to be—well, to be mounted, knotted, and impregnated. That’s what heats are for. But by the fourth day it doesn’t hurt as much, and she’s so tired and the fire has burned so long she just lies there, her body always wanting something she’s too exhausted to give it, and waits for it to be over.

She tries to be grateful. Before her suppressants, every day of her heat felt like that third day. It’s better, now. The edge is taken off, just a bit. Just enough. But it always still leaves her stupid and mewling and vulnerable and spent.

She refuses to let anyone see her like that. Least of all someone she actually likes.

 

——

 

Rey does, in fact, pace herself. Poe’s parties tend to run late, and she doesn’t want to get sloppy if she can help it. She plays a round of volleyball, kicking her flats off into the grass and getting way more into it than she should in a dress without shorts underneath; she dances with Rose and Pammich in the living room for what feels like a solid half an hour, giggling and cheeks flushing; she means to go upstairs for the bathroom up there, since someone is in the downstairs one, but sees Kaydel coming down and ends up sitting in the middle of the steps with her for a while, because Kaydel just got some houseplants to try to freshen up her place and everyone knows that Rey, with her army of ferns and parlor palms and pothos, is the resident house plant expert. “Oh god, get rid of the snake plant,” she says earnestly. “You have cats. Give it to me, I’ll trade you one of my peperomia. They’re cute and won’t make your kitties sick.”

She’s flopped on the couch, drinking her third cider with her legs flung over Finn’s lap while they talk aimlessly, when she realizes she hasn’t seen Ben yet.

“Um.” She breaks into one of the brief lulls in their conversation. “Did Ben get here yet? I don’t think I’ve seen him.”

Finn’s brow furrows. “I don’t think so. I haven’t seen him either.”

“He said he’d be late, but I thought he just meant he wouldn’t be here for setup.”

An eye roll from Finn. “Maybe he’s off having a temper tantrum at some cashier who forgot to ring up his pack of gum or something.”

“First of all,” Rey says, carefully, “he doesn’t get angry like that very often anymore. Only when he’s all—you know. Alpha-y.” If her cheeks flush, she can, at this point, blessedly blame it on the cider. “And second of all, even when he does get all testosterone-ragey, he never yells at customer service workers. It’s one of his best points.”

Finn snorts. “Of course you’d say that,” he says, but not unkindly. “Since you’re all in love with him.”

Oh. Her face gets hot in a way she definitely cannot blame on alcohol. “First of all,” she says again, much less carefully, “rude. Second of all—I am not in love with him.”

Finn looks at her with something very nearly approaching pity. “Hon. There’s no way you’re still in denial about that.”

“I,” Rey says, “am going to put my foot in your face if you don’t shut up. And I was barefoot in the backyard. There might be Beebee poop on my toes.”

“Gross.”

“You were rude, I am gross. This is why we’re best friends.”

He breaks into a smile at that, and thankfully, he lets the thing about Ben go.

 

——

 

“This is…”

Rey is in Ben’s apartment for the first time, and she’s immediately wondering if it’s a mistake.

It’s very clean. But there’s broken glass on the kitchen floor and a shattered table lamp scattered across the living room carpet, both of which she can see from the rug in the entryway.

Ben isn’t meeting her gaze, like he hasn’t since he opened the door. “I told you it was a bad time.”

“Um.” Rey holds out the glass bowl in her hands carefully. “Well, I brought the stuff like I promised. The—uh, the rice is nice and fluffy. And the tofu is in a sweet chili sauce.” Why is she babbling about the dish like some kind of living menu? “The thing about tofu is—it’s nice, because it has such a neutral flavor, you can make it taste however you want. And since you’re new to it, I figured, why not highlight that with something bold?” Yet apparently, she’s going to keep going. “So I hope—I hope you like—sweet chili…”

His back is almost completely to her. “Thanks.”

She isn’t sure if she should joke. She tries anyway. “The bowl’s glass, so, you know, be careful of those butterfingers.”

Ben doesn’t laugh. He reaches up and rubs the back of his neck, carefully keeping his fingers away from his scent gland. Rey tries not to stare at the size of his hands. Recently she’s been noticing how big his hands are. How nice they look. She’s not sure what to do about that.

“It wasn’t butterfingers,” he says. His voice is flat, but he can’t hide the emotion in it. He’s embarrassed, she realizes. “It was rut.”

“Oh—oh.”

“Not that that’s an excuse. I don’t get to be an asshole just because my hormones are fucking with me.” He turns just enough that she can see his profile. There’s a tight, humorless smile making his face look hard. “It took me a lot longer to realize that than it should have. I’m glad you met me five months ago instead of a year ago. You wouldn’t have liked me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

He makes a small noise. “No. Maybe not.”

Rey shifts from one foot to the other. “It’s not the same thing,” she says, softly, “but I know how it feels. Being at the mercy of your biology. Becoming—not like yourself.” A heavy pause. “It sucks.”

Ben takes a while to respond. Eventually he nods. “Yeah. It does.” He turns, then, and holds out his hands. Rey gives him the bowl of food, and he almost smiles at her. “Thank you.”

 

——

 

Two pans of the lasagna are gone and it’s pushing close to nine when Rey chances a glance out the front window and sees Ben’s car pulling onto the street. Her heart leaps. “Down, girl,” she murmurs to herself, taking a deep breath and centering herself.

He seems to take forever to make his way into the house, but Rey makes sure she’s drifted into the living room, within sight of the front door, by the time he finally comes in. Even across the sea of people she can see his shoulders are tense and his brow is furrowed, but that’s nothing new. It’s a little strange that his eyes are darting around like that, but maybe he’s just—

Oh. Oh . It hits her, sudden and warm and wafting, a deep, thrumming note hanging in the air. Not in sound, but in scent. It’s rich and smooth and rolling over her and it’s Ben, oh fuck it’s Ben —it’s his scent, the scent she’s noticed before so small and faint, but now it’s bigger and firmer and making every single nerve ending in her body spark.

Rey swallows. Her throat is very dry. The same can’t be said for other parts of her anatomy, just now.

And then he sees her staring at him. Her heart pounds, stutters; but then Ben turns away, ducking off into the dining room, but not before Rey sees his ears burning red behind his hair.

She takes a deep breath and plasters on a grin and follows.

She catches up to him in the kitchen. “Hey! You finally made it!” Her tone only sounds a little forced, which she’ll take. “I was starting to worry you’d—um, you know. Forgot. Or something.” Fuck, she’s having trouble thinking straight, between being so caught off guard (since when does Ben Solo smell like this?) and the way his scent is making her legs wobble and her belly twinge.

Ben shrugs. “I had some… issues.”

And Rey is struggling to think what to say next, to pretend she’s not half-dizzy from him out of the blue, when Poe sails in, eyes and smile shining, saying, “Solo, you made it—” and stops, balking, leaning in to dramatically sniff Ben (which is rude, but Poe is drunk) and instead saying, “Dude, why aren’t you on your blockers?”

“Blockers?” Rey hears her own voice come out a bit faint.

Now Ben’s cheeks are flushing, too. “I missed—I didn’t call in my refill soon enough, I’m—”

“You’re on blockers?”

“Well not right now, obviously,” Poe snorts.

“You can’t be on blockers. You never smell… like a swimming pool.”

Ben opens his mouth to answer, but Poe jumps in. “You know Solo. Good job. He can afford Barripro.”

Ah. High-end blockers. Rey’s never known anyone who uses them—or so she thought, anyway—and she’d always figured the claim they don’t leave any trace blocking scent was an exaggeration. Apparently not.

She really, really wishes she’d known. Because incredibly embarrassing things are starting to happen in her underwear and she’s at a party, for fuck’s sake, in a sundress, and the last thing she needs is to soak her own lubrication through her skirt in front of everyone—

Ben’s gaze snaps to her. He inhales sharply, involuntarily.

Rey sees his eyes dilate.

His scent grows fuller and richer.

Oh no. Oh fuck.

Oh fuck .

“Have you tried the lasagna?” she tries, desperately. “I put extra—”

“Can I talk to you?” Ben’s voice is low. Poe is watching them, gaze ping-ponging back and forth between them, but Ben’s staring at Rey, hard. “Outside? For a minute?”

“Um. Sure.”

And he reaches out and lightly, very gently, touches her elbow, to turn her and steer her toward the door, but it makes her stiffen and sends an electric thrum up her entire arm and she shivers visibly and this is the most mortifying thing and thank god for the fresh air outside, heavy and warm though it is, because being in a closed-in room with him was starting to make her—

Rey leans away from his touch and skips down the stairs. The smokers are not out here in their circle right now; everyone is still inside. “So. You—normally are on blockers. Didn’t—didn’t know that.”

He’s keeping his distance, hands jammed in his pockets. His jaw is very tense. “Didn’t you—didn’t you wonder why you couldn’t scent me?”

“Well, I could. Just—only a little. Faint. It was, um, it was nice. But faint. So I thought…” She isn’t looking at him now. There’s a park at the back of Poe’s neighborhood; she can see it through the trees if she stares hard enough, and she’s staring hard enough right now, so she doesn’t stare at Ben. Who is her friend. Who isn’t into her (except just now, apparently, because her scent had to have spiked just then in the kitchen, and he clearly smelled it because he clearly got aroused and oh shit oh fuck this is a nightmare).

“What?” Ben’s voice is very soft, now, behind her.

“I figured we weren’t compatible. Biologically.”

“Considering that once you smelled me, your scent spiked enough for me to catch it full in the face through your suppressants, I’d say that’s not accurate.”

She whirls around. “Please don’t be a smartass right now. I’m—I’m really embarrassed.”

“Why?”

“Because!” Rey gestures between them helplessly. “We’re friends, Ben.”

His eyes are dark in the night, in the yellow glow from the windows. “Friends are allowed to be attracted to each other.”

“But it’s not—it isn’t me ,” she finally manages to say. It hurts, twists in her throat, but that’s the point, isn’t it? “You’re not attracted to me, you’re attracted to my scent. And I hate, I hate being attractive as an omega, not as a person. I hate it, Ben, and I couldn’t stand it from you.”

He doesn’t answer her right away. The crickets are loud. There’s a burst of laughter from inside the house, over on the dining room side. The thrum of the music is audible, if muffled. Rey wraps her arms around herself and stares at the ground, feeling her cheeks burning.

“Rey.” His scent shifts. Rey looks up; when did he get so close? He’s staring down at her, gaze heavy, brow furrowed. “You think I’m only attracted to your scent?”

Her lips part. She feels her own brow furrow. A quizzical pair, the two of them, goggling at each other in confusion in Poe Dameron’s backyard. “Aren’t you?”

Ben’s eyes fall closed, and he swears softly. “Maybe we should talk.”

 

——

 

Poe, Paige, and Rose slide into one side of the booth without even discussing who’ll sit where, and Tallie slips right in up against the window on the other side. Rey’s next, has to be next, because Ben is behind her and she’s not exactly going to make a scene about where she sits.

But before she can climb into the booth, a steady hand curls around her wrist. “I’ll sit in the middle,” Ben says in his easy rumble, holding Rey in place as he steps past her.

Is—is her face getting a little warm? She shakes it off by crinkling her nose at him teasingly. “You’ll never fit in the middle, you tree.”

He looks down at her with a small, easy smile. “You hate sitting in the middle.” And before she can even reply, he folds himself up in middle of the bench next to Tallie.

She’s never said that. She’s never once said out loud that she hates sitting in the middle. But she does. And Ben noticed. Her heart squeezes up into her throat a little, and she sits down slowly, feeling different, suddenly.

Ben is way too tall to be in the middle, with how narrow the booths are at this diner. His legs keep bumping Paige’s under the table, which makes him frown a little. (He’s always very aware of his size; “I’m too big,” he had told her once, quietly, while driving her home from a big friends’ dinner at Jessika’s for which she’d made a pasta primavera that had half her friends nearly swooning. She had held the empty bowl in her lap while Ben explained, “Most of the time it feels like I take up too much space, like there’s nothing made to fit me,” and she knew he meant friendships and relationships and emotional regulation, not doorways or roller-coaster seats, so she had forced her voice bright and light when she said, “Don’t say that. You’re just the right size.”) Rey notices his discomfort but doesn’t know what to say. He’d insisted.

Poe debates with Tallie over which of them should get the trash hash (as the diner affectionately names their mess of fried potatoes, sloppy joe meat, bacon, and jalapenos, all topped with full squares of melty yellow cheese) and which should get the hotcakes, since they both want both and plan to just eat off each other’s plates. Rose quickly settles on an omelet and folds her menu cheerfully before asking her sister what she’ll get. Paige, who just came off her heat and still has dark circles under her eyes, answers Rose’s inquiry with “Oatmeal and the fruit cup, I think. Tea sounds good.”

Rey means to be reading the menu, but she’s hyper-aware of Ben trying to keep his legs off Paige’s. She realizes it’s partly his discomfort with his own size but partly—she realizes when he spares a furtive glance at Paige—trying to be nice. Trying to give her space. To not be some alpha all up in her business.

That makes Rey’s heart squeeze again, but deeper, in a way she decides she’s not ready to examine.

Eventually he shifts his weight, adjusts how his legs are sitting. His right knee bumps up against Rey’s left knee and stays there, and she takes in a little gasp of breath at the contact, which frankly surprises herself.

He glances down at her, and across the table, Rose furrows her brow. “What’s up, Rey?”

They’d heard the gasp. “I just noticed,” she says, pushing her voice bright. “They have waffles with peanut butter stuffed inside.”

Ben inclines his head closer to Rey’s. “Dark chocolate chips and whipped cream on top? If you don’t order that, I’ll order it for you. I’ve never seen anything more Rey.”

The warmth spilling against her neck from his breath only makes her shiver because it’s such a contrast to the diner’s air conditioning. It must be. But she can’t think of a similarly convenient excuse for why the sound of her name in his voice, now, all of a sudden, after months of friendship, is setting butterflies loose in her tummy.

He made sure she got the seat on the outside.

Rey, of course, orders the waffle.

 

——

 

Ben says they need to talk, but then he just… stares down at her. Goosebumps prickle along the back of Rey’s neck, along her bare arms, even though the night is warm. His gaze is dark and heavy. “Are you drunk?” he asks, softly. A gentle question, not an accusation.

She shakes her head. “I was a little bit earlier. It’s pretty much gone now.”

“Okay.”

And he still doesn’t talk about… it. Them. Whatever he wanted to talk about. He swallows noticeably and his hand twitches at his side. Rey is trying to figure out how to start this conversation, but he’s standing close to her and his scent is all in her nose, in her eyes, in her hair, it’s like he’s everywhere and the way he smells matches the way she feels about him and it’s too much. Both her heart and her body are freaking out, and that makes it harder for her brain to get a word in edgewise.

She tries anyway, flinching when her voice pitches up into nervous squeakiness. “So you did say you want to talk, right? Because you’re currently doing a very good impression of… of someone who doesn’t talk.”

Ben snorts. “That was not your best quip.”

“Well pardon me, it’s hard to think straight when you smell so good.”

“I know,” he says, quite softly. “Me too.”

Rey’s breath comes a bit thin when she replies, “You can’t think straight because you smell so good? Narcissist.”

His mouth twitches sideways into half a smile. “That was a better quip.”

“Thank you. I tried.” One side of his face is illuminated in the warm glow from Poe’s back windows, but the other side is washed in the moonlight. It falls softly on his dark hair, his dark eyes, his pale skin, his full lips. She takes a slow breath in, then pushes onward. “So you… were you implying you’re not only just attracted to me because of… how I smell?”

He shakes his head slowly. “You… are an amazing person. Everything about you is attractive.” He glances upward. “Although I’m a little mad your suppressants work so well, if you smell this amazing too and I’ve been missing it all this time.”

Oh that’s not even fair, the way that makes her breath catch, the way it makes her heart flutter. But she can’t—she doesn’t want to—“Do you like me?” she asks, needs to hear him say it clearly. “Not as an omega, but as a person?”

Ben leans in closer. The moonlight looks right, on him. “I like you. As a person.”

“I like you,” she nearly whispers. “As a person.”

And then his eyes flutter closed and he lets out this huge sigh and he brings both hands up to gently cradle her face, his forehead leaning down even lower to rest against hers. He doesn’t say anything, just holds her face and breathes softly, hands warm against her skin.

Rey lifts her own hands to rest her fingers lightly against his cheek. Ben shivers at her touch. Rey can feel the thin sliver of space between their faces, can feel the electricity of it. “I really want to kiss you,” she says, “but I’m worried it’s not a good idea.”

“Kiss me anyway,” he murmurs, “and tell me why it’s a bad idea after.” Her fingers shift against his cheek. “Please.”

And how could she refuse, when his voice breaks like that on the last word? Rey closes her eyes and cups his face and finally, finally, finally kisses Ben.

His lips are warm and firm and pliant, moving perfectly against hers, responding to every touch. Rey’s core shivers and tightens, and her hands slide back to weave fingers into his hair, and he hums against her lips, his thumbs brushing her cheeks, and god, her heart feels so full she can’t feel a thing that isn’t Ben.

Then he parts his lips against hers, and when she opens her mouth for him, everything goes hot and swift.

The soft kiss turns hungry. His scent—it’s not just his, but hers, too, both of them flaring as Ben’s hands (good hands, large hands, steady hands) move down her sides to her hips, to curve around her back and press her closer to him. The fabric of her sundress feels paper-thin, the heat of his hands searing against her, and he leans in even closer, craning her neck back, and Rey curls her fingers hard into his hair and moans against his mouth.

Ben’s scent spikes, his fingers press harder into her back, and he makes a low noise that’s almost a growl and oh, Rey’s legs start to shake and the sharp twinge in her core amplifies until her cunt clenches and she feels the slow drip of slick down her thigh—

She pulls away, gasping. Ben stares back at her, eyes wide and wild, lips and cheeks flushed, chest heaving. “I’m—” Rey shakes her head and takes another step. He smells too good. She can’t—“When will you be back on your blockers?”

And his face crumples in the most horrible way, sad and hurt and ashamed, before he draws the familiar stony curtain over his features. “Tomorrow.” (His voice is still too hoarse for the stony-faced tactic to work, especially since she knows him so well, knows what it means.) “I can pick them up first thing.”

“I just—” She needs to make sure the sadness and the hurt aren’t what she leaves him with. “I need to be able to talk about this clear-headed. You know?”

And she’s pretty sure he doesn’t, based on the way his gaze is lingering on her lips, the way his hands are clenching restlessly at his sides, the dark shine in his eyes that’s betraying his attempt at not showing what he’s feeling. She’s pretty sure he wants to throw her over his shoulder and take her upstairs to the guest room and show her how he feels instead of telling her. But that’s exactly why she needs to wait.

“Okay,” Ben says.

She doesn’t step in closer, but she does take a deep breath, letting her shoulders relax, trying to wipe the tension from her own face. “I want to talk about it. I just need—I need a clear head.” And she can tell he still doesn’t understand, but she can’t get her thoughts in order enough to explain it, which is the whole problem. But he nods, although his gaze drops away and he starts his tic where he moves his jaw, mouth pressed tightly closed. “I think I’m gonna head home. But you can—when you have your blockers, you can stop by tomorrow, if you want.”

The invitation to her place is the best she can manage at the moment to help him understand she’s not rejecting him. It seems to land as his face clears a little. “I’ll text you,” he says, and Rey nods.

Then the back door bangs open and Jessika comes out onto the porch, Finch and Ronith in tow with packs of cigarettes and lighters already out. “Fucking finally,” she says with a grin, staring at the two of them, and Rey remembers with a hot rush of embarrassment that the kitchen windows look straight out into the back yard.

She feels her face go bright red as she mumbles, “See you tomorrow,” and hurries inside, past Ben, away from the cloud of his delicious, overwhelming scent, to hide in the bathroom to clean herself up and call an Uber home.