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Cupcake Wars

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Rey: Did you do something to the oven?

It’s Rey’s day off and it’s not working. She wants to be baking something—anything—and the oven won’t preheat. She’s turned it off and turned it back on again for the past hour. She’s even unplugged it and plugged it back in. It’s just not heating up.

Bebe’s reply is immediate.

Bebe: No?

Bebe: Text the landlord.

Rey does, and the reply comes from Boba twenty minutes later.

Boba: Repair man coming Thursday.

Thursday.

That’s three days away.

Rey doesn’t think of herself as a particularly melodramatic person. She doesn’t think that she’s over the top. She’s good at waiting, she’s good at being patient. Except three days without baking feels interminable right now. Especially since that’s what she wants to be doing.

She doesn’t know why she texts Ben before she texts Finn. She knows Finn’s oven is terrible, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t use it. But it’s Ben she texts, not Finn.

Rey: Can I bake at your place today? My oven died.

He replies five minutes later.

Ben: And how do you propose getting into my apartment?

Rey: Don’t you have a spare key you keep somewhere?

Ben: This isn’t suburbia. This is New York City.

Ben: If you swing by the 28th street site, that’s where I am today. I’ll give you my key.

Rey: Thanks, I’m on my way.

It’s crowded when she arrives. Tables are occupied—mostly by students, or so it seems. People on computers, a few women sitting around a table with coffee, tea, and cupcakes. There’s no sign of Ben, though.

Rey: Where are you?

“Rey?”

And she jumps out of her own skin because he’s standing right behind her.

“Jesus,” she groans at him, her heart pounding in her chest.

“Sorry.” He doesn’t sound particularly sorry. He digs his hand into his pocket and produces a keyring. He takes a single key off it and hands it to her. “How long will you need the oven for?” he asks.

“Not sure. Might be a while.”

He nods. “I’ll be home by seven. If you’re done before then, let me know so we can do a key exchange.”

“Sure,” she replies. “I’ll see you later. And thanks.”

She’d been planning to bake brownies, maybe, but the second she’s in Ben’s apartment she changes her mind. It’s been a long time since she’s made bread, and especially if Ben’s not going to be back until seven—and it does seem like a waste of time not to stay until then so she can fuck him to thank him for the oven—she’s got time to make something with a long proving time.

It hadn’t occurred to her until she’s digging through his cabinets that Ben is a baker, too. He has really nice baking implements—a lovely rolling pin, good sized bowls, pans that gleam as though they’re new. She and Finn both only have things they’d picked up from thrifting, but these are lovely.

It’s been a while since she baked bread. She hasn’t worked in a bread-making bakery since college, and even then, they mostly had her run the cash register and not actually bake the loaves. She’d forgotten how much she enjoyed kneading dough. Ben has a Kitchenaid with a bread hook, and part of her wants to try it, but she also likes feeling the gluten form between her own fingers.

By the time she’s loading her loaves into the oven, she feels calmer. Better. Because baking makes her feel better.

It always has.

Rey’s always liked things she can do with her own two hands—she likes building, and taking things apart just to see how they work. Baking is just that, but with the added component of then being able to eat your creations. And that’s just the proverbial cherry on top.

Ben’s apartment smells like bread by the time he texts her.

Ben: You still there?

Rey: Yup.

Ben: I’m about to knock.

And he does. Rey opens the door for him and he freezes in the doorway, blinking as though he’s been struck dumb.

“Everything ok?” she asks him.

“Yeah.” He’s still standing there, blinking on the threshold of his apartment. Rey stands aside and he sort of drifts in. “That smells amazing.”

“Thanks,” she said. “You can have one if you like. I made a few.” And he freezes again, looking down at her—this time with narrowed eyes. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Not nothing, you’re acting weird.”

“You don’t know me well enough to know when I’m acting weird,” he replies.

“Which is why you must be acting really weird, then,” she points out, hands on her hips, “If even I noticed it.”

“What kind of bread were you making?”

“Nice try,” Rey says, narrowing her eyes now.

They stand there for about thirty seconds, just staring at one another. “Fine,” he grunts out at last, “it was just this really fucking domestic moment of you opening the door to my apartment and it smelling like freshly baked bread, ok? Jarring and weird for someone who’s hatefucking me.”

“Yeah, ok,” Rey says and she turns away from him to go and crouch down by the oven. His oven isn’t coated with years of oven grime—it’s practically new, like he never bakes in it, not even to reheat stuff. The loaves need a few more minutes. She glances back over her shoulder and sees Ben going to the table by his bedroom door, where he chucks his wallet, his keys—

“Here,” Rey says, digging the key to his apartment out of her pocket and walking over to him.

“Thanks,” he says as he takes it from her and fiddles with it until it’s back on his key ring.

“No, thank you. I—thanks for donating your kitchen.”

He shrugs. “You seemed in need. What was up with yours?”

“Oven’s broken. Landlord can’t get a guy in for a few days.”

As if he hadn’t just told her how domestic it was to come home and find her there. As if she wasn’t likely going to give him a blowjob in a few minutes or something as thanks.

“Do you always bake on your days off?” he asks.

She sighs. “Not until recently. They took me off the kitchen to do stuff your dad used to do and I don’t get enough baking in now.”

“And they won’t put you back?”

Rey pauses. He’s looking at her with sharp, intense eyes.

“It’s a promotion,” she tells him.

“Sounds like you’re not happy with it.”

“Yeah, but it’s more money and I can bake—”

“Be careful,” he tells her. “They like doing that—telling you to be someone you’re not and then acting like you’re crazy for not wanting what they say you should want.”

“Yeah, but I’m not their son, so stop projecting,” Rey retorts. Immediately, she wonders if she’s crossed a line because his jaw tightens, his eyes harden.

“And they’re not your parents, so how about you stop idealizing,” he retorts.

“Go fuck yourself.”

“As if you won’t be fucking me later.”

“You like this, don’t you? Making me angry so I’ll hate you when we fuck.” But even as the words drip out of her mouth, even as he opens his to reply, she remembers the look on his face when he’d come home and his house had smelled like bread.

“You hate acknowledging the truth,” he shrugs. “And what I’m saying is the truth. Not my problem if you keep lying to yourself.”

“Except that you keep trying to get me to stop.”

That catches them both off guard.

Because if he didn’t care, he would stop, right?

He blinks at her and she blinks right back.

For one wild moment, she thinks he’s going to kiss her. Or cry. Or start yelling.

Instead, she gets, “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. She turns to look around the apartment, her eyes landing on his bookshelf and—

She bursts out laughing.

“What?”

“You have all the Harry Potter books.”

“Why wouldn’t I have the Harry Potter books?” he asks her, sounding confused as she goes over to the bookshelf. “I am a millennial. It’s like part of our blood?”

“You have them in Latin?” she practically screeches.

“Gift from my Uncle,” Ben mutters. “Why is this so funny to you?”

“You don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d like Harry Potter is all.”

“And what kind of guy likes Harry Potter?” he asks, crossing his arms over his chest. He seems deeply affronted by all this, as though Rey had struck a nerve.

“Sorry,” she says. “No—it’s just. You’re big and tall and rude and don’t talk to your parents. Who knew you had a soul?”

“Thanks,” he said dryly. “I seem to recall you knowing nothing about a soul by your choice, not mine, given that you’re the one who’s been insisting that we’re not friends.”

“We’re not,” she says.

“Look, everyone likes Harry Potter, ok? It’s not like…a sign of personality or whatever you’re so afraid of my having.”

“But you still have them. And in Latin, which your much detested uncle gave you. So you must really like them.”

Ben takes a deep breath. He looks deeply harassed, which is oddly endearing. “Look, he had a family that didn’t like or trust him, stuck to his guns and came out the better for it. He got me through middle school, just like however many other millions of people. I like Harry Potter.”

It’s as though he’s confessing a deep love for her, or something, the defensiveness in his voice.

“What’s your Hogwarts House?” Rey asks at the same time that he says, “Oh just don’t.”

“Did you want him to end up with Hermione?”

“Listen, Ginny was the right choice, no matter what Rowling says.  Death of the author is real,” he snaps and Rey looks up at him, wholly delighted. And he looks dazed again now, like when she had opened the door to his apartment, smelling like bread. “Ginny innately understood his trauma,” he says quietly. “She shouldn’t have—they had different backgrounds. And then she got possessed and she just got it. And she held it together so—” he takes a deep breath. His eyes drop to her lips, and all Rey can think is oh. “—well.”

“Just a regular crusty bread,” she tells him, and immediately he looks away and she turns on her heels to go back to the oven. “And I also made a honey loaf. You can have one of either. Or both. I made a lot of bread.” They’re ready to come out, so out they come, thank god.

“That sounds good,” he says and he’s looking away, his hands are jammed in his pockets.

“Should we have sex now?”

“Sounds great,” he replies at once.

And maybe Rey’s imagining it, but this time’s…well it’s different.

It’s slower, for one thing, and almost…no she won’t call it sweet, because he’s still fucking her raw, but there’s something almost electric between them, as though the distance between their skin creates sparks, as though the way they intertwine on his bed, in the apartment that smells like bread she’d just finished baking, is magical somehow.

She cries twice, and after they’re done, she lies there, sweating and breathing and staring up at his ceiling, not quite wanting to acknowledge anything because if she acknowledges it, it’ll shatter.

Except that rankles.

“I don’t hate acknowledging the truth,” she tells him.

“Liar,” he grunts.

“I just take a while to get there sometimes,” she says. “It hurts.”

“Yeah,” he agrees and his voice is gentle and he’s rubbing the backs of his fingers against her arm. “Yeah, the truth almost always hurts.   And not everyone’s a masochist.”

“You’re a huge masochist,” she snorts.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t,” he replied.

“Good, because the whole I like fucking someone who hates me thing is really telling. You should talk to someone about that.”

“Believe me when I say that my therapist has more than enough content to keep his job for the next fifty years.”

Rey takes a deep breath. “Do you really hate them?”

Ben swallows, his jaw working as though he’s chewing something. “No,” he says at last. “I hate what they made me believe of myself.”

This time, when Rey cries, she knows exactly why.

Rey is waiting for the train down to Ben’s one day when she feels a hand press on her shoulder.

She twists away from it, her hand tightening on her purse, and is met with a, “Careful now. I don’t want to hurt you.”

She recognizes the man at once. It’s hard to forget his height, the scarring on his head, or the way his piercing blue eyes seem to see right through her. She doesn’t like it.

“What do you want?” she asks brusquely.

If he had eyebrows—which, she notices now, he doesn’t—she’s sure they’d be twitching. Rude. She doesn’t much care. He put his hand on her shoulder as though he knew her. This is New York City in the twenty-first century. You don’t just do that.

“Rey, is it?” he asks her.

“What of it?” she says, squaring her shoulders a little bit.

He nods.

“Snoke,” he says, holding out a hand. Rey stares at it for a moment before taking it and giving it a quick shake.

“I feel as though we know one another already,” he says with a smile.

“Do you?” she asks. Does Ben talk about her at work? Does he talk about her to Snoke?

“In my own way,” he says. “Ben’s private, but anyone who distracts him quite as much as you have done…well, I feel as though I know you. I know him, after all, so I know what makes him…tick.”

Rey blinks. Behind them on the platform, the C arrives. She wishes it were the A, although knowing her luck right now, he’d get on the A with her. “Do you?” she asks at last.

“I do,” he says. “I know him very well. He’s like a son to me.” He smiles at her. She glares at him. She doesn’t care what Ben says about his family, Snoke doesn’t get to just pretend he’s his father. Not when Han Solo still loves his son, doesn’t want him to know he’d had a heart attack because he’s worried Ben will blame himself. “I want what’s best for him,” Snoke says.

“And what’s that, exactly? Isolating him from his family?”

“He chose that road himself.” She hates that sanctimonious smile. She hates how he hasn’t stopped smiling once since he appeared on the platform next to her. “Surely you’d want him to make his own choices? As his…friend.”

“What do you want?” she demands. She doesn’t want to play this game any second longer than she has to. “Surely you had a reason for coming over and talking to me?”

“Can’t a man make small-talk with an acquaintance?”

“Are we acquaintances?” she asks.

“We could be more,” he says simply. “I was thinking—come work with me.” Her eyes widen in shock. “It will be a fine opportunity for you to spend more time with Ben, and then he won’t be so distracted when he’s working. You’ll be there, as will his work. All his life, right in that little—“

“I’ll never join you,” Rey hisses. “I’d never leave them. And you don’t get to control his life.”

“I’m not controlling his life. I’m trying to make it better.”

“Are you really worried about him being distracted?” Rey flares, “Or are you just worried he’ll care about something you can’t control?”

The A arrives, screeching into the station before Snoke can reply and she pushes her way onto it, through the crowd, burying herself amongst the passengers.

She sees Snoke on the platform through the window, watching her again with his clear, cold, blue eyes. Had he really just offered her a job?

So that she’d stop distracting Ben?

The thought of it gnaws at her stomach.

She doesn’t like it—not at all.

She doesn’t break eye contact with him until the train pulls out of the station. Only then does she realize she’s trembling.

Finn: I should get her something, right?.

The text is innocuous enough, and without details, Rey has trouble remembering what it’s in reference to.

But Finn has always been able to read her mind and he clarifies almost at once.

Finn: Rose’s housewarming.

Finn: You’re still coming, right?

Right. Right right right. She’d been preoccupied with the oven replacement—it’s new and chrome and perfect—and then with double checking all of the orders that Han had noted before his heart attack to make sure they were exactly right because high summer and wedding season—and then there’d been Ben, and the weird way that his eyes were starting to get bright when they had sex like he was going to start crying. Rey had joked about it once, told him he was forbidden. Only one of them was allowed to cry during sex before it got pathetic. She did her best not to think about how she was starting to joke with Ben. As if they were something they aren’t.

Rey: Yeah. Saturday, right?

Finn: Yup.

Finn: Should I get her something?

Rey: In addition to the sweet, sweet love?

Rey: I can bake her something and we can say they’re from you.

Finn: That’ll do.

This time, when Rey makes the rose and matcha cupcakes, the balance is perfect. And she boxes them up in her old tupperware, and goes with Bebe to the train, where they find Finn.

Rose is living with her older sister in an old loft apartment. It’s mostly decorated, and mostly unboxed, and Paige’s friends are already drinking heavily and talking loudly. It somehow doesn’t surprise her to see LCJ standing there, laughing loudly as someone begins chugging their beer. It does surprise her to see Ben there, but there he is, looming large over the rest of the crowd, looking like he’d rather be just about anywhere else.

The second he sees her, his face changes. An oh thank god reaction, or maybe even genuine excitement to see her. But she gives him a look as he begins to make his way across the room to her and he freezes where he is.

Then she texts him.

Rey: Finn doesn’t know.

She watches him frown as he reads the text, watches as he shrugs it off and turns back to LCJ and she wonders if there’s a droop to his shoulders or if she’s making that up.

“Hi,” Rose says to her as she makes her way over to where Finn and Rey are taking off their shoes.

“Happy new home!” Rey says with a smile. She hands Rose the giant tupperware full of cupcakes.

“Thanks!” Rose says at the same moment that one of Paige’s friends lets out a drunken shout of pride at having finished his beer. “Sorry,” she says, “It’s…a little louder than I want it to be already. Paige’s friends drink a lot.   And I swore off alcohol after Lando’s party.” She makes a face.

“That bad?” Rey asks her.

“Well, not entirely,” Rose says and she gives Finn a shy smile. Finn returns it and tentatively reaches for her hand and Rey—

Something in her stomach does a thing. It’s like Finn is reaching away from her when he reaches for Rose. Like something she’d thought she’d resolved just…

He’s happy. He’s not going anywhere, she tells herself. But as Rose leads Finn to the counter to get Rey’s cupcakes set up, Rey decides that now is the time for alcohol.

And, if she needs it, adding the bathrooms-in-which-she-makes-Ben-fuck-her count go up to three.

“Rey, Rey, darling Rey,” Lando says, coming up behind her as she pours herself some whiskey. “How lovely to see your face again.”

“And yours,” she smiles up at him. “How do you know Paige?”

“Finn invited me,” Lando shrugs. “Seems to think I might match off well with his paramour’s sister.”

“And might you?” Rey asks, glad to think of anything other than the way that Finn is leaning close to Rose to make sure she can hear him. Bebe is chatting happily with Poe as the other two put the cupcakes on plates. Rey could be over there with them.   She could be. But she’d feel a fifth wheel. Like she doesn’t belong. Like she doesn’t have a place in the world they’re pairing off in.

“I’m considering it,” Lando shrugs. “She’s got a nice smile. Nothing like a nice smile.”

Rey tries to give him a smile and his gaze flickers. “Oh Benjamin, I think you’re wanted.”

“I’m—“ Rey cuts him off, but Lando’s already turned away from her to make space for Ben.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asks. His jaw is tight, and he’s standing a little weirdly, like he’s trying not to get too close to her. Why, suddenly, does she feel repulsive to everyone? She’d told Ben to keep his distance at least, but maybe she shouldn’t have. Maybe that’s why she’s feeling all weird. Feeling like Finn’s leaving her behind when he’d literally invited her to this party because he wants her here, because he wants her at his side as he tries to forge a new path with a girl he likes.

She takes a sip of her whiskey, filling her lungs with oxygen as best she can. She looks up at Ben.

And a moment later he’s taking her hand and leading her into one of the bedrooms, closing the door behind them. For a wild moment, she thinks he’s gonna throw her on the bed but instead he just wraps his arms around her.

Which is how Rey realizes she’s crying, because she is. She’s crying into his shirt and clinging to him and why is she crying? She’s not that upset. It’s not that bad. It’s not—

“It’ll be ok,” he tells her, and his hand is cradling the spot where her head meets her neck, holding her like she’s delicate, fragile—so unlike the way he holds her when he fucks her. “It’ll be ok.”

“I know,” she manages at last. “It’s just dumb. I’m just being dumb.”

He doesn’t say anything, he just keeps on holding her.

He’s warm. She’s always known that about him. From the moment she met him, he has been heat in her life—first in that overhot convention center, then in his bedroom, in his kitchen baking bread. She’d never really thought of heat as comforting before now. But as she hiccups her way towards calm, she realizes that it’s the steady warmth of him that’s calming her down.

Oh, she thinks, not for the first time, and probably not for the last. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

And she starts to cry harder again, her hands tightening in his shirt, as though afraid he’ll disappear because, horrifyingly, she’s realizing she is afraid he’ll disappear.

“What happens if I don’t hate you?” she asks his shirt.

For a moment, she wonders if he can understand her muffled mumbling.

She knows he does though, from the way he stops breathing. From the way the steady pumping of his heart jolts a little bit faster.

She knows what this is. Fight or flight. He’s going to run. Or maybe just be an asshole.

Instead he whispers. “Want to get out of here? Find a place to talk that’s not…” As if the party had read his mind, Rey hears someone shouting loudly on the other side of the bedroom door.

She nods against his chest and slowly, carefully, he unwinds his arms from around her. He presses a kiss to her forehead. “It’ll be ok,” he whispers to her, but it sounds more like he’s telling himself. Then he takes her hand and leads her from the room.

They don’t say goodbye.

She feels a little too numb to even react to the fact that Finn doesn’t seem to notice as she puts her shoes back on and disappears into the night, hand-in-hand with Ben Solo.

Half an hour later and Rey finds herself on Ben’s couch, wrapped in a blanket.

She doesn’t know why she’s wrapped in a blanket, but Ben had insisted on it. She’d spent most of the cab ride to his place half-crying, and hadn’t been able to let go of his hand. He’s making her tea in his kitchen and she’s staring at him.

Her eyes are tired. She’s cried more than she’s cried in years tonight. Sex crying doesn’t count. That’s just—it doesn’t count. She feels tired. She feels worn. And when Ben hands her a cup of mint and chamomile tea, she takes a sip and almost immediately feels better.

“You don’t strike me as a tea guy,” she says quietly.

“Or a Harry Potter guy. Almost like you make bad assumptions about me or something.” He says it gently enough, with a quirking smile. He’s trying to make her laugh, but all she can think about is that first time she’d met him, when she’d yelled at him that he worked for a snake and he’d yelled at her right back.

“Why is Luke a hypocrite?” she asks him.

He goes still, clearly surprised by the question. “He just—” He runs his hand through his hair. He has such good hair. Rey likes holding it when he fucks her. “He just is,” he says at last and he looks at her and there’s nervousness there. Like she’ll spit in his face, or tell him he’s lying. She reaches for his hand and he squeezes it.

“You don’t hate me?” he asks her.

She shakes her head. No, she really doesn’t. But she needs to drink her tea now, and stop crying because how many times has he seen her cry and she’s said it was nothing?

“My uncle,” he bites out at last, “spent all my youth telling me what to be. Telling me how to be it. You’ll take over the family business one day. You’ve got a natural talent for this. An aptitude. But god forbid the natural talent and aptitude also include business acumen and the second I try and actually use any of that talent and aptitude to make us competitive again, he tells me I’m overstepping, that it’s not going to work, that that’s not how we do things. So I’m sitting there—the heir to this cupcake empire—and I’m wondering—why? Why can’t I contribute in any way other than what they say? Back when I left,” he looks away, glaring at his kitchen for a moment, “They were all surprised. Why would you go and work for Snoke? Maybe because Snoke never told me that I’d fail before I’d even tried to succeed. And look what I’ve done for him.” He looks back at Rey. “Look how much he’s grown in the past five years. He may grind me to the bone and I basically have no life because of him, but his success—he couldn’t have done that without me and he knows it. That could have been Naberrie, but my uncle wouldn’t ever fucking listen to me. And now he thinks I’ve gone and betrayed him. No—I didn’t betray him. He pushed me out.”

Rey sits there, staring at him. He isn’t looking at her, but his gaze does drop down to their hands. “And my parents sided with him,” he says quietly. “He’s my dad’s best friend, and the sheer number of times I’ve heard them call each other a jackass to their face. But no. No, this time it was Luke knows what he’s talking about, Ben. And my mom—” he cuts himself off and now he’s the one blinking back tears. Then he shakes his head. “Anyway. Nothing quite like realizing they want a dream of you more than they want what you actually are. Snoke’s not the best to work for, but at least he sees me for what I am, and actually tries to foster my potential, rather than quash it.” Vividly, Rey remembers from the first morning that she’d woken up in his apartment, him complaining about Snoke taking credit for his work, mining him for ideas. Still more vividly, she remembers Snoke on the platform, telling her he thought of Ben as his son. He wants to control him. Every part of him.

She opens her mouth to ask him about it, but quite another question drops out of her lips.

“So you cut them out?” Her head’s hurting a bit and her throat is dry, and she thinks she’s a little dehydrated. But she still doesn’t understand it, and this she needs to understand. Somehow, she knows that if she asks him about Snoke, why he’s working there if he’s unhappy, he’ll ask why she’s still at Naberrie if she’s unhappy and she can’t quite bear to confront that question just yet. And she senses that if she were to tell him about that conversation on the platform, the way that Snoke had seemed to be trying to tighten his grip…somehow she doubts he’d listen. If anything, it might make him cling to his supposed independence that much more tightly.

“I spent the first six months after I quit getting phone calls from my mom,” he says. “She kept telling me to come back, to think about it, that I was overreacting. That they loved me. What that was—that fuckery they made me think I was—that wasn’t love. And I didn’t need that kind of love in my life.”

“But never talking to them again,” Rey begins but she doesn’t know where she’s going because there are tears in her eyes again. She just doesn’t understand. She just—“Do you really think that they might not listen to you now? If you tried?”

“I saw my dad a few weeks ago,” he says and his voice sounds hollow. “I saw him at that event—the one where we fucked the first time. Pretty sure that the reason I thought it was a good idea to go fuck a stranger in the men’s room was because he and I fought about it.   He wanted me to come home.”

“And you thought he was lying to you?”

“If they don’t acknowledge that I hurt, what’s the point? That’s just going back to something that’s going to hurt me again.”

“And if he knows you’re hurting?” she asks. “What if they all know you’re hurting?”

“You think they care? Just because they care about you?”

“How do you know they don’t if you haven’t talked to them in five years. I get you’re afraid—”

“I’m not afraid,” he interrupts. But he doesn’t say anymore, and Rey cups his cheek.

“You are,” she says. “You are so afraid that they’ll crush you. That you’ll break again and again and that everything you’ve tried to build for yourself isn’t anything at all.”

“Is that what you’re afraid of too?” he asks sharply and Rey goes still.

“I’m not afraid of that,” she says quietly. His eyebrows twitch and he opens his mouth, clearly prepared to argue with her about it, but she cuts him off. “I’m afraid of everyone leaving me behind like my parents.”

Whatever words he’d been planning to say die on his lips. And a moment later he’s tugging her into his arms, pressing her tight against his chest as tears start falling again. “Is that why you were crying earlier?” he asks quietly. “Because you thought I’d leave?”

“No,” she says. “I thought Finn was leaving me behind. And I know he’s not. I know it’s just a girlfriend. But it’s different now. Like this. The two of us. I don’t know. It hasn’t been the same since I got promoted. I thought it was the promotion, that I wasn’t baking enough, but maybe it was that I wasn’t seeing Finn enough. And—and—” And it’s stupid. It’s stupid. People leave jobs all the time. Poe’s working at a hotel now, and they’re still friends with him. They don’t see him every day but he’s around, and they text and—

Ben’s hand is stroking her hair as she cries.

“I guess I was crying because of you too,” she mumbles. “Because—”

“Because what happens if you don’t hate me,” he tells her, and he kisses her.

That’s when she notices he’s trembling. He’s shaking, and clinging to her.

She’s very used to crying around him at this point.

But she’d never thought she’d see him cry. Not once. He’s holding her like he’s drowning and she’s keeping him afloat, like he wouldn’t dream of leaving her behind.

They kiss, and kiss, and kiss some more. The desperation in his lips fades, eases into something steadier, something softer. His hands cup her face as she cuddles into him on his couch, and his touch makes her smile for the first time that night, makes her laugh because she’s kissing him. She wants to be kissing him, so she’s kissing him. And he wants to be kissing her.

She doesn’t think she’s ever really noticed his lips before. They haven’t kissed much, in all honesty. He’s sucked on her neck, she’s sucked his dick, and they’d kissed sort of in passing, but never really intentionally. Kisses because their lips were present, and in decently close proximity.

This is his lips against hers, his breath mixing and muddling with hers, his tongue parting her lips and twining with hers, and his lips are so soft. So, so soft, and she likes the way his nose is rubbing against her face, the way his hands are cupping her cheeks, massaging at the base of her skull as though trying to sooth—her? Himself? She’s not wholly sure. Both of them, probably.

She pulls him closer, wriggling out of the blanket he’d wrapped her in a little bit to pull herself closer to him. She holds him as tightly as she can and she swallows and he swallows and his eyes are really bright.

“Bed?” he asks her and she nods and they get up and make their way to the bedroom, hand in hand. Clothes—which so frequently shed themselves when the two of them are together—come off slowly. Ben kisses every inch of her skin as he helps her strip down, and she sucks on his shoulder, his chest, his stomach as he strips out of his own. Her hands brush across his skin—always so hot—and he groans and when he pulls her onto the bed, it’s on their sides, her leg hitched over his hip, his cock brushing against her.

But he doesn’t press into her. He takes a few breaths, steadying himself, she thinks.  Because getting someone who hates me to fuck me makes me feel as though I might actually be worth the energy spent hating me.

Has he ever fucked anyone who actually wants him to fuck them? He’d been a bit unpracticed, if enthusiastic, when they’d started. Did he ever think he’d find someone who would cry at the idea that he might leave, would press her face into his chest when she’s having a bad night because she knows he’ll try and make her feel safe?

And she’s crying again, her lips finding his, and clinging to him. She puts as much as she can into that kiss as she can—that she’s here for him, that he’s here for her, that they’re here right now and—and—

His arms tighten around her, his fingers digging into her hair, his tongue dancing along hers and his breath shuddering in his chest. She feels something wet against her nose and almost laughs amid her tears because he’s crying too. She’d thought it would be pathetic when she’d joked about it earlier, but it doesn’t feel pathetic. Or maybe it is, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t feel pathetic for crying if Ben’s crying too. If the idea that she’d want him as much as he wants her is—

“You never hated me, did you?” she blurts out.

Ben pauses, his breath shaking and she reaches a hand up to brush the tears from his face. He licks his lips nervously, and his face twitches and she knows he’s about to say something brutally honest that she doesn’t want to hear, something that will make her cry more, or get angry and she doesn’t want to be angry with him right now. And she can tell from the way he licks his lips again that he’s afraid of saying something that will make her angry. So she kisses him, and she can taste it in his kiss—that he’d never hated her.

She can feel it in the way he is sighing against her, feel it in the way his hands are locking themselves in her hair, from the way he is brushing his feet up and down her legs, as if trying to just make her feel wanted in every way he can.

They lie like that for a long while. It’s probably the longest they’ve done this without being connected at the hip, but she’s lost in his lips and he’s lost in hers. Her hands—already so familiar with the contours of his back and his chest, memorize the lines of his face now as her tongue familiarizes itself with the taste of him, drinks it down until she forgets what her mouth tasted like without Ben’s tongue.

When her hand does, eventually, drop down between them to caress him, he makes a noise in the back of his throat and pulls away slightly. His eyelids flutter closed and his fingers slip between her legs and start to rub too. His touch is slow, light, gentle, all the things she’s unused to in bed with him.

Which is maybe what leads her to roll him onto his back and straddle his waist. She eases him into her and bends down, her hair falling into her face as her lips hunt for his again. He lifts his head slightly before his hands brush her hair out of their faces and he just cups her face while she starts to ride him—slow, and gentle.

She cares less about him being inside her than that he keep kissing her right now. She cares far more about her tongue in his mouth, than whatever it is their hips are doing. Their hips are doing something, but it’s an odd afterthought, and Ben—

Ben doesn’t seem to care either. He keeps holding her face, humming into her lips and every now and then taking deep shuddering breaths.

She doesn’t really know when she starts crying again. Long before the orgasm. Possibly when she notices that Ben’s crying again. Possibly when he whispers that she’s not alone, and she whispers back that he’s not either. All she knows is that by the time her body is flooding with heat, and pleasure floods her mind, her heart, her everything, her face is a red puffy mess again and Ben’s is too by the time she collapses forward onto his chest and lets herself listen to his heartbeat. It’s steady, his heartbeat. Even as he’s groaning and coming with a gulp. Steady and quick, then steady and slow—just steady. Steadying.

“Want to know a secret?” Ben asks her as she rubs her face against his chest. His hands are running up and down her spine, leaving shivers in their wake. She looks up at him. His eyes are still a bit red, still a bit bright, but his face is the most relaxed she’s ever seen it while he’s been awake. She nods.

“The icing,” he says slowly. “It wasn’t even originally Padme’s. She couldn’t tell anyone where she got it because she wasn’t supposed to be seeing my grandfather at the time, but it’s his mom’s icing recipe. Shmi Skywalker’s.”

And Rey starts to laugh, because it all suddenly just seems ridiculous and how lovely it is, to laugh with him, to feel his chest shaking underneath her as he, too, starts to laugh.