Benjamin is not fond of rocks and is oblivious as to how to drink tea.
Thanks to skyeryder01 for beta reading and for those who encouraged this.
I know nothing of the inner workings of the White House, and that is painfully obvious. Just roll with it. Also, I feel like I read somewhere that Michelle Obama put an Oushak carpet in the Oval Office, and I just kind of went with that.
The rest of Ben's first day working with Leia was much more of the same. Every time he rounded a corner, he found little bundles of fragrant herbs or Miss Byrne herself. He'd decided not to call her Rey; it was too familiar for a person he had no interest in being familiar with. And the decision had seemed to rankle her. Leia, on the other hand, loved Rey. In the rare moment when she wasn't being briefed by someone or signing something or posing for a photo, Leia positively gushed over the…herbalist? Ben wasn't sure what the woman's title was, or if she even had a title. A little note was made in his to-do list to be sure the tax-payers weren't funding…whatever it was she did with the plants.
On his second day at the White House, Ben found more plants. And gods-knew-what else. He sighed through his nose as he picked his way around little bowls filled with salts and flower petals, and nearly dumped his coffee all over the carpets when an unearthly screech startled him.
He dumped his coffee all over his second-favorite suit instead.
"I'm terribly sorry," Miss Byrne said, appearing from behind a desk, "but you nearly broke the salt line."
"The salt line?" Ben asked faintly, before looking down. The toes of his impeccably polished black oxfords were a hairsbreadth away from touching a line of coarse, white salt that lay outside the Oval Office. Leia's office.
There was salt on the original Oushak carpet. In the Oval Office.
"Miss Byrne," Ben said sternly, trying to catch the coffee dripping down his front with his hands while still balancing the now-empty mug in his hands, "you can not put salt on the carpets! This is a priceless antique!"
"Well Mister Solo," she said, emphasizing the title and peering up at him. Her hair wasn't braided; this time she had it up in a messy knot that looked more like a birds nest than hair. He was fairly certain he saw twigs poking out from between the flyaway hairs. "Your mother asked me to rid the White House of his energies." She apparently refused to say the old man's name too. Interesting. "And I've cleared her office, so I'm making a line to keep any more negativity out," she said brightly, no longer looking at him but crawling back beneath the president's desk.
A faint thunk sounded from where she was now hidden beneath the expanse of mahogany.
Minding his coffee-soaked shoes, Ben tried to take a step forward into the room and promptly tripped over the edge of the Oushak.
Swearing loudly as he fell to his knees on the old rug, Ben lost hold of his mug and it went flying across the room.
"Honestly, Ben, mind the Oushak." Leia's voice sounded from behind him.
"What - I - she -" Ben spluttered, leaning back on his heels. Kneeling on the floor as he was, he was nearly eye-to-eye with his mother. The lower vantage point sent his mind reeling back to decades earlier, to Leia sobbing over their scarred kitchen table with Han's arm slung over her shoulder, sliding a mug of tea over to her.
"It's because I'm a woman ," she hissed into the mug, shaking with her angry tears. Younger Ben watched through a crack in a door, being in awe of his mother's ability to take such a beating in her work as a Senator but still putting on a brave face each and every day and returning.
Another thunk from beneath the desk broke Ben from his reverie, and Miss Byrne appeared once again, rising with a large basket in tow.
"Madam President," she said, and…curtsied? "Good morning." When she rose from what was definitely a curtsy, Miss Byrne appeared to be wearing a slightly less horrendous outfit than that of the previous day. She wore an off-white lace dress, that came halfway down her calves with daisies tucked randomly into the gaps in the lace. Around her neck lay strands upon strands of beaded necklaces, some with chunks of rock dangling off the sides. Her arms were similarly stacked with jewelry. A faint tinkling sound followed her every move as she exited from behind the desk, and the scent of gardenia and mint hung in the air.
"Rey, dear, you really must call me Leia." Leia held out her hands to the woman and Rey, no Miss Byrne, deposited her basket with a heavy thunk right in the center of the Oushak before reaching out to take Leia's hands.
"I can feel a change already!" Leia exclaimed. "It feels so much lighter and brighter!"
Ben was about to point out that the curtains were drawn and the windows were open to the breeze, but he was cut off by Miss Byrne.
"I rearranged the configuration beneath the desk, but it still doesn't feel quite right. I'll talk to Maz and see what she has in stock. And I'll recharge the ones from yesterday to see if that will make it right."
Ben was rather surprised to hear such technical-sounding speech emanate from the wild-looking woman's mouth.
"Excellent!" Leia said. "Which did you use today?"
"Mostly just quartz," Rey said, turning to rummage in her basket, "and some malachite too."
"What's the malachite for?" Ben asked without thinking. Quartz was used in computers and clocks, he knew, but malachite?
"To absorb any lingering negative energies that might sneak inside," Miss Byrne answered while turning slowly in a circle, looking up at the ceiling.
Ben blinked at her and leaned forward to peer into the large woven basket. Inside were nestled dozens of rocks in a rainbow of colors.
"The malachite absorbs negativity," Ben said deadpan, not asking a question.
"Of course, Benji," Leia said, as if she had any idea of what she was talking about. "Now help Rey with those crystals."
"Help? With-" Ben gestured blankly at Miss Byrne and her basket.
"With the crystals, Benjamin." Leia removed her glasses from her neckline and perched them on her nose to peer at Ben. "Are you feeling alright? I don't normally have to repeat myself with you." She crossed the few steps between them and reached up to try to feel his forehead.
"I'm fine, Mo- Madam President." He leaned down so she could feel his forehead.
Leia rolled her eyes at him.
"Call me Mom like always, Benji. And you do feel a bit warm and sweaty. Go with Rey, and she'll fix you up with a brew she gave me yesterday. Will you, Rey?"
Ben refrained from pointing that he was hot and sweaty from outrage that the odd little woman put rocks on the Oushak . There was no arguing with Leia Organa, even over heirlooms. So Ben sighed and gritted his teeth before scooping up the basket, which was much heavier than it looked. Miss Byrne must be stronger than he thought for her to be able to cart it around so easily.
Miss Byrne was nodding absently at Leia, but she was stepping closer to Ben and rummaging in her basket. Only the basket separated them, and she was much closer than she'd been in the brief moments he'd encountered her previously. Her faint scent of gardenias and citrus and black pepper and mint wrapped around them. Up closer, he could see the faint blue veins spiderwebbing over her eyelids as she cast her eyes down into the basket, searching for gods-knew-what.
"Aha!" She announced triumphantly as she wrenched her arm from the depths of the basket. In her hand was clutched a small black stone that she thrust forward at Ben.
"Uhm," Ben felt his eyebrow quirk upward in question as he jiggled the basket in his hands.
"Right," she said, smiling at him. "Here you go." And the woman leaned forward and gently slid the translucent black stone into his pocket.
Immediately, Ben felt his face burn at her touch. How dare she touch him! And- and she put a fucking rock in his Armani jacket pocket.
Ben scrambled to remove the rock and, in doing so, promptly forgot he was holding the basket. It fell between them, landing with a crashing thunk right on one of the only uncovered patches of hardwood in the Oval Office.
"Shitshitshit," Ben swore at the same time Miss Byrne said,
Together they reached for the basket of rocks and their hands met on the handles; his on top of hers on one side and hers on top of his on the other. An electric shock coursed through him where their skin touched. For a moment, his hands felt frozen, and he peered down to where his hand engulfed hers. Her hand was tiny beneath his.
Then he realized what he was doing and jerked his hands away.
Miss Byrne ducked her head so that the wisps of her bun tickled his nose and hoisted the basket up on her hip.
"Come along, Benjamin," she said. "I've got a brew for you." She winked. She actually winked. Who did that?
She turned on her heel and headed out the door, white lacy skirt swishing around her legs. Ben felt a prod in the vicinity of his kidneys and turned to look back over his shoulder to where Leia smirked up at him. Go on , she mouthed at him. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, but did as he was told, moving quickly to catch up with Miss Byrne, who was nearly at the end of the long hall.
When Ben thought back on the moment later, he couldn't quite figure out why he'd followed her.
Rey Byrne's muscles were straining, but she kept the basket hoisted high on her hip and a smile plastered on her face because she was at the White House by special invitation from the president . So she would work hard and earn her rather exorbitant salary.
When she'd met Leia Organa at a small street fair, Rey had recognized the older politician immediately but had only offered a nod and a smile and an offer of help. Leia had mentioned that she liked the scent of Rey's lavender and mint tea infusion, and when Rey had extolled its calming properties, Leia had immediately purchased a cup. The two women had conversed easily over the tea, and Leia had eventually asked Rey about her crystal earrings and the rest was, as they say, history. Eventually, Rey began to share more and more of her work with Leia, and it turned out that Maz had saved them both, at one point or another.
So when Leia had called Rey at four in the morning on what was to be her first day in the White House, Rey immediately began gathering the supplies she'd need to cleanse the space of…him. Unfortunately, she thought as she carried the basket to the office that Leia had declared was Rey's workspace, she had sorely underestimated the severity of the situation.
She hadn't considered Solo.
When she'd first seen him, she'd been tempted to give him a calming draught right on the spot. His face looked pinched and angry, and she'd felt the urge to push him backward into a chair, climb into his lap, and smooth out the furrow between his brows with her thumbs, and if that didn't work, she'd bet a kiss planted right between his eyes would make him lose the scowl that seemed permanently etched on his face.
He was a tree of a man, and Rey loved trees.
He was also, unfortunately, in possession of some of the most snarled, complicated, sad energy she'd ever felt emanating from a person. His aura was smoky black and grey. It was why she'd searched through her entire collection of crystals for the one she'd placed into his pocket. She'd never tell him that she'd chosen it specifically for him after meditating and searching for hours to find the jet black crystal that seemed to mirror his feelings.
But she'd felt a hint of light in him, and when their hands had touched, light exploded out of him and she'd nearly gasped aloud.
The same as when she'd held the crystal before a flame and seen the tiny pinprick of white at its very core.
And now he was scowling behind her; she could feel him stomping along behind her as they walked to her "office". Once inside, she gently placed the woven basket on a corner of her enormous desk and plugged in her electric kettle before pulling open a drawer and pulling out two misshapen mugs which she placed on the desk beside the kettle. Solo hovered outside the door, seemingly uncomfortable to enter her space.
"Well, come on," Rey said, grinning at him, "I don't bite… much." She winked up at him, and he just stared down at her and sighed.
While the water in the kettle heated, Rey located her oversized canvas bag and rummaged around in it for the tin of tea Leia had suggested for Ben. She'd tweaked the recipe multiple times since Leia had first tried it, and she'd since added hops, chamomile, and a hint of lemon. Finally, her knuckle brushed against the battered old tin and she pulled it out just as the kettle's automatic shut-off clicked. Carefully, Rey measured out two teaspoons of the herbal tea into the strainers in each mug, then she poured the steaming water over each.
She chose the darker, less lop-sided mug and handed it to Solo, handle first.
"Let that sit for a few minutes, then you'll be all set!" she said brightly, turning her attention back to her bag.
"Ah," Solo said.
She'd thought he had left.
"Yes?" Rey asked, not turning away from her bag.
"You might try a coaster. That's antique mahogany." Then he stomped down the hallway to his own office.
Ben carefully carried the steaming mug of…plant matter…back to his office, making very certain that he didn't spill a single drop on the carpet or on his desk. He aligned his ever-present coaster perfectly with the upper right corner of the desk before gently placing the mug on it and promptly forgetting about it.
Several hours, and roughly thirty phone calls and three-hundred emails later, Ben turned away from his computer to see the now stone-cold mug before him. What the hell, he thought, before drinking it as quickly as possible. The flowers and chopped up plant-bits stuck to his teeth and left a horrible bitter taste on his tongue. He thought the taste wouldn't be unpleasant if he weren't drinking leaves.
Ever the polite politician's son, Ben decided to wash the mug and tiny metal colander that had held Miss Byrne's weird moistures of leaves and return them to her. When he stood, his head felt…light and strange, but he carried himself onward to the kitchen and completed his task before wandering back down the hallway to Miss Byrne's office.
"Miss Byrne?" he called from down the hall before he arrived at her office. He was suddenly very warm, so he removed his jacket and folded it over his arm. He called her name again as he neared her office. But he saw that her lights were off. Normally, Ben would never do such a thing, but he was suddenly so tired and lightheaded that he let himself slump against her doorframe before letting his eyes drift closed.
Ben grunted and tried to swat at whatever was bothering him during some of the best sleep he'd ever had.
Now the thing was prodding his shoulder.
" Solo ."
He rolled away from the voice and its prodding hands.
"Benjamin Calrissian Skywalker Organa-Solo."
That woke him right up, and he cracked his lids.
A pair of hazel-green eyes ringed with dark lashes greeted him. They were nice eyes.
The eyes blinked.
"Thank you?" Miss Byrne's voice said.
Had he spoken out loud?
Ben came back to himself in a rush.
Miss Byrne knelt before him in different clothes than she'd been wearing earlier. For some reason, she'd changed into a tiered olive green skirt with a dark sweater that clung to her upper body and had sleeves that were so long they reached halfway down her fingers. She'd cut holes out for her thumbs, and her nails were painted a glittery shade to match the skirt.
"Miss Byrne, I brought your mug," Ben said weakly.
"So I see." Her lips quirked into a smirk, and Ben found himself thinking that if her eyes were nice, her lips were nicer.
He shook himself. What the hell had been in that tea she'd given to him?
Unfolding his legs, which he now noticed were tingling and bloodless, Ben rose awkwardly to his feet.
"Were you here all night?" She said in her lovely accent.
"Yes," she said. "It's Wednesday morning."
"Shit!" he yelped. "What time is it?"
"Shit!" He said again.
"You said that already," she said helpfully.
"I have to go!" He was already turning to race down the hallway when she spoke again.
He paused, feeling slightly panicked.
"You're a bit…mussed."
Ben looked down. Dammit, she was right. The dry cleaners would have a hell of a time getting out slept-in wrinkles, and there was still a coffee stain on his shirt from the day before.
"Thanks for telling me," he said, then raced toward his office instead of Leia's. Thank the gods he'd had the foresight to keep a change of clothes in the small adjacent bathroom. Ben ripped off his shirt, not caring about the buttons popping off and flying in all directions, and pulled on clean underwear and slacks, and was trying to simultaneously brush his teeth and use his electric shaver over the sink when a knock sounded from his outer office.
He tried to say come in, but his mouth was full of toothpaste. Whoever it was seemed to have understood and entered anyway.
"You left this." Her voice was much closer than he would have expected, and Ben whirled around to see Miss Byrne not in his office, but right behind him.
A pretty blush crept over her cheeks when she saw him, and Ben felt its mirror image cross over his own face.
"Sorry!" She said and threw a wad of fabric in his direction before bolting back the way she'd come.
When he retrieved the object she'd thrown, which was his jacket, an object clattered to the floor. It was the small black rock she'd given him the day before. Shrugging, he pocketed it and finished dressing before running to his meeting.
He was only three minutes late.
As the week progressed, Ben found himself making excuses to drop by Miss Byrne's office. It was to be sure that her multitudes of candles weren't dripping wax on the hardwood, or that she hadn't spilled her oils everywhere again. But he found himself wondering what, exactly, she was doing to him.
Because ever since she'd touched him, he could think of nothing but her.