“We’re sorry, this thread can’t be replied to at this time.”
Rey stared, bleary eyed, at her computer screen as the message popped up above the text box. She clicked the message board thread’s title into a new tab, and there it was: posted just seconds after a short, littered with profanities post from Generally_Grievous.
From: LukeStarkiller (MOD)
Hey, guys, you know we love passionate discussion here in Star Wars General, but this one is getting a little heated. We don’t tolerate personal attacks and we will be sending warnings to some of the individuals involved. Please be more courteous. We’re all fans here. Xx
Rey chewed the inside of her mouth, scrolling up past the post and the half dozen others that had been posted since she started writing her most recent response. Some asshole with the incredibly creative username of VaderFan83 had been going off on a crusade about how Lucasfilm should not be allowed to write these characters anymore if they weren’t going to respect their legacy - bla bla bla. She didn’t actually know why she bothered posting on these forums anymore - especially with everyone still pissy over the Disney announcement last year. Mods locking the thread was a blessing in disguise, a gentle reminder that it was time for her to actually do her readings for class.
She was annoyed she wasn’t even being allowed to respond.
She refreshed the thread again, unsurprised to find to a little  at the top of the page, with its inevitable warning from the moderator. It was a generic two sentence slap on the wrist, which Rey assumed was due to her being rather mild on the “personal attacks” fronts. She had reeled back some of her harsher words in an attempt to keep it civil, but in hindsight, she wished she did call VaderFan83 an entitled gatekeeping monster. C’est la vie.
Rey pushed herself back from her flimsy desk, her ancient computer chair screeching in protest as she did, and chewed on her thumb nail.
Star Wars General, or SWG, (or ‘swag’, as Finn pronounced it), was just one small part of Gemini, a massive social media site launched five years ago. Frequently referred to as “Facebook for Nerds”, it was an effort to combine the classic structures of late 90s-early 2000s message boards with the more personal and streamlined approach of more recent social media sites. You could choose a different username for every subscription you were a part of, and choose which profiles you wanted to connect, and how much anonymity you wanted to possess.
Rey’s SWG profile was a throwaway, without the teeny-tiniest bit of personal information on it. She hadn’t even set the UK as her location. Her main account, ReyOfSunshine, on the other hand, had a detailed log of pretty much her every action of the last five years. It was also the best way to communicate with her, as she didn’t have any other social media and her phone couldn’t even text without self destructing. She was pretty sure her friend Poe only had a Gemini account so he could send pictures of his dog and complain to her about his boss.
With her unusual first and last name, and the hundreds of photos of her and Finn’s formative years (she didn’t have the storage space to keep them on her dinky old computer), she had kept her friends list low for privacy’s sake. The only people on it were people from school and a very small handful of trusted online friends.
She gave her laptop another cursory glance (a six year old, hand me down MacBook, that made disc ejection noises randomly like a persistent cough) and was about to pick up her battered psychology textbook off her shelf when another notification appeared on her screen.
Frowning, she clicked through.
[FRIEND REQUEST: VaderFan83, MESSAGE ATTACHED]
“It’s people like you that have absolutely destroyed the integrity of Star Wars.”
Following that was five more messages, altogether a rebuttal of her last few posts on the thread before it had closed down. He had definitely read her posts in detail, and seemed to take personal offense at her words - despite the fact she hadn’t ultimately ended up calling him a monster.
Rey’s fingers hovered over her keyboard.
Rose’s voice echoed through her ears. “Don’t give this guy the time of day,” she’d say. “He’s not worth the effort. Ignore it.”
Sound advice, Rey thought. Very sound advice.
She clicked “accept”.
snipsandsnails: mate r u fucking serious
snipsandsnails: do u really think im gonna read 8k of u calling me a moron for not hating everything like u do
VaderFan83: Apparently I shouldn’t have bothered, as you can’t even manage basic grammar.
snipsandsnails: clearly ur the 1 person on the internet whos had an english class
VaderFan83 is typing…
snipsandsnails: and im not gonna bother when you cant even manage human decency or not sounding like u dont have a stick up your ass
VaderFan83 is typing…
snipsandsnails: look at that i can type 3 responses in the time it takes u to type 1
VaderFan83 is typing...
Rey shut her laptop. She’d read his wall of text later; for now, she was going to enjoy knowing he’d be stewing over the snipsandsnails is offline notification he received. She plucked her textbook off the shelf and leaped into her flimsy bed, made almost comfortable by the three mattress pads she used.
She was scratching down notes into the free legal pad she had swiped from a table in the law school advertising Bar prep (as well as three handfuls of lollipops) when the door opened. Rose slipped in, rain flattening the strands of hair framing her face and soaking her parchment brown jacket.
“Hey,” she said, brightly. “I got new sponges. How’s your day been?”
“Good,” Rey said, using a dried marigold as a bookmark. “Some guy on SWG is fighting me on private message because I said Clone Wars has the best characterization of Anakin.”
Rose blew all the air out of her cheeks. “Yikes. Private message?”
“They shut the thread down, so he sent me a friend request. I don’t care; there’s nothing incriminating on my SWG account except my bad Tartakovsky fanart from when I was fourteen.”
“Whatever you say,” Rose said, sitting down on her own bed to tug off her boots. “I’m glad the Harry Potter fandom has calmed down since the movies finished. I don’t know how you stand it.”
Rose liked Star Wars, but had spent hours with a few buddies comping together a complete sorting quiz with every Pottermore question a few years back. The bookshelf the girls shared was half filled with Rose’s multiple editions - both the ones she brought with her from home, and the various UK editions she had picked up after starting university. The Gryffindor scarf she had made for Rey’s last birthday hung over their closet door.
Rey glanced over at it as Rose methodically shed her endless layers of clothing, and shivered. It was only September, but she was glad their landlord threw in heating in the winter for free. Like his tenants, he had spent a large chunk of his life somewhere much much warmer than England, and found it cruel and unusual punishment to make two broke uni students freeze to death just to be able to feed themselves. With Rey spreading her mechanic summer job earnings as thin as she could, she was grateful for every act of kindness.
Rey had, on her academic counselor’s urging, made the decision to focus entirely on her studies during the school year. But on nights like these - endlessly squinting at an old, water damaged textbook that had still been way too expensive - sometimes all Rey wanted was to get under the belly of an old car.
When Rey logged back into Gemini an hour later, VaderFan83 had logged out - leaving her just a single long message. She sighed and scrolled back to the very top.
He was intelligent, but in a completely irrelevant way, factoring in how obnoxiously smug he was about it. He was a prequel hater (surprise surprise) and waxed poetic about the importance of Vader’s character and how the emphasis on Anakin being an annoying little kid and a lovesick teenager ruined the “true impact of his villainy”. Vaderfan83 must have been an English or Film major … or maybe just a bored nerd with no friends and no life.
She decided it was time for some snooping. VaderFan83 was connected to the general account of KyloRen, a username she couldn’t even begin to decipher. There was nothing on Google for the moniker outside of his Gemini profile, either.
His general profile, unlike hers, was bare bones in information - he had only been on Gemini for about a month. His posts were all over the place - old car threads, threads about US senator elections, a few about internet security, and, bizarrely, one sole post on haircare.
What his profile did have was his photo, a tiny thumbnail tucked away like a grainy afterthought. His age she couldn’t quite pin down, but he had long dark hair, a big nose and plaster-pale skin. He was actually kind of a dead ringer for a young Severus Snape, which would give Rose all the more reason to dislike him.
He was … interesting looking, a descriptor that simultaneously felt unfair and too kind.
She didn’t think she had the energy to reply to him at that exact moment. Besides, it was more fun to let him continue suffering in silence. He was clearly dying for real conversation. At some point during Rey’s research, Rose had left the room and entered the kitchen, and Rey could smell something delicious cooking.
Rose had been a good friend since halfway through Rey’s first year at university; and when she had been desperate to find a roommate this summer, she had been an obvious choice - and that was before Rey found out Rose would very happily cook dinner for her a few times a week if she pitched in for groceries. Rose was as close to a perfect roommate that Rey could imagine - even with the cosplay supplies and wigs strewn across the flat and late late night calls to her family in the US. They both talked to themselves, which was only a negative in that they kept accidentally thinking their roommate was talking to them. Rey finished over her reading for the night shortly before Rose told her dinner was ready. She took hers back to her room as Rose continued doing her meal prep for the week, sneaking bites of her dinner between stirs and chops.
Rey sat cross legged in her computer chair, miso soup way too close to her keyboard, and started digging through SWG. The Clone Wars rumor thread was updated; someone had a friend of a friend of a friend who was saying the sixth season would be on Netflix next year. Rey grimaced, swallowing a large spoonful of soup; she didn’t even think of how she’d get a US Netflix account, let alone afford it.
Rey glanced up from her soup, startled, as her computer began ringing.
She had agreed to be a part of the Gemini video chat beta - because, why not, Finn was two hours away these days and her phone was garbage - but hadn’t tested it out. Hadn’t even known it was available yet. So who was calling? And where was the “accept call” screen?
There was a little window popping up on the middle of her screen, a dim video feed of a man sitting in a dark room, postured terribly as he hunched over his computer keyboard.
The video suddenly went to full screen, and Rey reeled back as the man glanced up at her and she recognized the strange sallow face of KyloRen. His face was barely illuminated, and the room behind him was impossible to make out.
“What is this?” he said. His voice was low, a faint murmur over her overworked laptop fan.
Rey ignored him, hovering her cursor over the fullscreen, searching for the end call button. Nothing. There was a small thumbnail of her own face looking back at her in frustration, but nothing else.
“Why did you call?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“I didn’t,” she hissed, pressing the esc key. “You called me.”
He shook his head as she continued slamming the esc key, more aggressively with each failed attempt. Her screen glitched out before eventually reducing the window size, but it still wouldn’t disappear, and there wasn’t any way to close out that she could see.
Rey shut her laptop, counted a full ten elephant count, and then reopened it.
The video tab was still open. KyloRen tilted his head. His expression was inquisitive, patient. “The site’s glitching,” he said, finally. “It must have tested out the beta by picking the most recent person in our message list.”
“That wasn’t my choice,” she spat. She could see a description bar at the top of the window now (Video chatting with Kylo Ren “KyloRen") which was as redundant as it was unhelpful.
“This also means you can’t keep ignoring me,” he said, raising an eyebrow, and Rey thought, like hell I can’t.
She found the drop down bar and opened Force Quit, killing Google Chrome, which finally, finally disabled the video.
She leaned back in her chair and rolled her shoulders in disgust and delayed frustration. Eugh. She was going to have to send a ticket to system services, because she was not going to want to see that snake ever again--
Rey startled and fell out of her computer chair. She banged her head hard on the underside of her desk, soup pouring down her leg and succulents flying.
“Has he done anything weird?”
“No,” she groaned, curled in bed. “He’s still just messaging me about Star Wars. Which I’m ignoring, obviously. But the call showed me his name, which means he’s got my full name, and I’m probably the only Rey Niima on the entirety of Google.” Not she knew that for sure - she very steadfastly avoided searching anything with her last name.
“Well,” Finn says, thoughtfully. “You said he’s American, right? So you’re good. It’s not like he’s going to suddenly show up in London.”
“I live with an American, Finn.”
“Just block him,” he says. “I mean, they can’t stop you from doing that.”
She sighed into her flip phone. “I looked it up after the call ended. The glitch is happening with a bunch of people. It’ll call people who were on your friends list even if you remove them.” Besides: watching him desperately type message after message just to get no response was the only joy she was getting out of this.
Finn let out a low whistle. “Maybe you should just say he was right about Star Wars and then the universe will fix itself in apology?”
“He’ll never leave me alone if I do,” Rey said. “He’s already way too eager to chat about this Gemini glitch and how it worked on my end and bla bla bla. I just have to wait it out until the site fixes itself.”
She heard Finn make a non committal noise in response, and wished for the millionth time he hadn’t moved away.
“I can message him on FN2187,” Finn said, referencing his own throwaway account. “If you need someone to get him to lay off.”
“That’s not necessary,” Rey said. “I can handle some pale noodly Vader nerd on my own.”
Finn hummed thoughtfully. “What is his name, anyway?”
“Same as his username: Kylo Ren.”
“Well, that’s not his name,” he scoffed. “Maybe your name just showed up as Rey-space-of-space-Sunshine or something. You’ll be fine, peanut.”
The following morning, she pulled on her coat, her laptop bag, and a steadfast determination to leave the whole thing behind her. She had filed an error report. It was fine. Thinking about it was only going to stress her out, and she had most of her classes scheduled that day. She didn’t have the time to think about it. She’d be fine. Everything would be fine.
First thing in the morning on Tuesdays was Ecology. She had picked it for her Science requirement as she loved learning things about the environment and plants - thus the little village of succulents living on her desk at home - and it being a mostly online class didn’t hurt. Her professor had turned on a video and instructed the class to fill out a quiz while they went. Easy peasy. Rey did, usually, keep one hundred percent focused on classes, (her scholarships wouldn’t allow for anything else) but as the video questions were a few minutes apart, she found her mind wandering. She had just loaded Gemini’s welcome page when she got an alert for an incoming call.
No no no, she thought. Not now. Her sound was already off, thank God, but she couldn’t force quit out of Google Chrome without losing her quiz process. She immediately minimized his video and sent a quick message to him through the instant message feature.
snipsandsnails: you have to force quit out of your browser
snipsandsnails: im in class!!
VaderFan83: I don’t want to lose my tabs.
snipsandsnails: then enjoy hearing about the water cycle i guess
snipsandsnails: also ofc ur the type to keep 100 tabs open
She tried, of course, to ignore him completely, but that was easier said than done. He wore a black high collared jacket, so it must have been cold wherever he was. Or he was just a weirdo. His video was brighter than it had the night before, so she could make out features she didn’t notice before - such as a scattering of moles across his face, the placement of each only serving to accentuate his extreme features.
His eyes caught her looking, and she pulled her gaze back up at the projector’s screen.
The rest of the day was a nightmare. When Ecology ended, she ended the call with another force quit - just for another call to start in Psychology. And Intro to Film.
By the fifth call, she had given up. Kylo Ren seemed quite content to virtually sit in on her classes. He even had the audacity to message her a correction on something her film professor said (which, when she googled, happened to actually be the right answer. But not the point.) What the fuck did he do with his time if he could find nothing more entertaining than mocking her Psychology professor for being a terrible teacher and a quack?
Eventually, at some point during her short lunch break, he must have gone to bed. (It was the middle of the night in the US - she wondered what time zone he was in.) With him offline, the calls finally stopped. While the iron was hot, Rey removed him from her friends list. Even if it didn’t stop the calls, the Star Wars bickering wasn’t funny when she literally couldn’t avoid the guy.
How long did it take for a website as big as Gemini to fix something like this?
She avoided using her laptop for all of Wednesday to eliminate any chance of having to deal with the asshole again. Rose kept an incognito tab open on her own laptop for Rey’s gmail account so she could keep up with any school emails - and more importantly, any responses from Gemini’s support team.
She had one notification when she checked her own laptop that night.
[FRIEND REQUEST: KyloRen, MESSAGE ATTACHED]
“If we’re going to keep calling, not being able to message each other doesn’t make sense.”
It had been sent to ReyOfSunshine. She ignored it.
Usually, Rey would end her weekends staying up way too late trawling through weird Gemini threads - such as the one where people talked about wanting to eat Tide Pods - but this little hiccup was making her be a bit more responsible than that. As obnoxious as this was, the upside was she was getting more revising done with the self-inflicted ban from her laptop. She had a psych exam coming up the following day, and was manually hand copying the study guide from the website onto flashcards as fast as she could, so she could shut her laptop and throw it into a corner for the rest of the night. The telltale ringing of her traitorous computer started a little after seven, and she didn’t even bother glancing up.
“I’d rather not do this right now,” she huffed, still staring studiously down at her flashcards.
“Yeah, me too,” came the response, still too soft over the roar of her laptop’s fan.
“Just quit your browser,” she growled, raising her gaze. “I don’t know whhhyyy ohhh my god why aren’t you wearing a shirt. ”
“Laundry day,” he said. “Again. Not the best timing.”
She covered her face with her hands - both in a display of frustration and to hide any sort of discoloration he’d make fun of, and then realized that was probably more obvious than anything her shitty webcam could pick up. He wasn’t looking anyway - instead focusing very hard on folding a black t-shirt. He was surrounded by black clothes, actually. She could see a lone pair of red socks in the background, but that was it.
As for the foreground… Rey swallowed. He was… okay, yeah.
Inexplicably, he was built like a brick shithouse. At least she had her answer for what he did all day - he must have been one of those assholes with a weight room built into his house. He seemed very focused on his laundry and Rey couldn’t tell if it was his attempt to be silently smug or if he was… trying to act normal. Which was apparently a Herculean task for him.
Just at the bottom of the screen, she could see a waistband with a drawstring. Sweatpants?
“Go back to studying,” he said, dismissively. “I can’t talk right now.”
Rey tensed her shoulders. Like she’d want to. “Why? Because you live in your parents basement?”
He gave her a flat look. “I barely talk to my parents.”
Rey bristled. “Oh, of course, you’re the type to completely cut off your family because they’re what, didn’t buy you enough Darth Vader action figures as a kid? Or because they’re snotty and pretentious about having a film degree?”
Kylo tilted his head. “You don’t even know anything about me.”
Rey gritted her teeth. “I know everything I need to know about you.”
Kylo seemed bemused. “Is someone having an opinion on Star Wars you don’t agree with enough for you to completely dismiss a person?”
“No,” she said, “but refusing to close a video chat because you didn’t want to lose your tabs or miss out on mocking my professors was.”
Kylo opened his mouth to say something, and then his head turned fractionally. “Shit,” he muttered. His door opened, and he straightened, yanking one of his earbuds out of his ear. A man with a complexion paler than Kylo’s and rust colored hair burst into the room, looking at Kylo with contempt that rivaled Rey’s.
“Here,” said a man, putting down a white basket. “Separate them this time.”
“I’m not doing your laundry,” Kylo said, voice flatter than a desert.
“We have a job for Snoke tonight,” the man said. “Do you want to be the one to tell him why I’m not prepared?”
Kylo glanced at him. “Fine. Leave.”
There was a tense stare down. Rey found herself wanting popcorn.
“No,” the other man said. “On second thought, I think I’ll stay.”
And then he proceeded to actually remove the clothes already in the washing machine and put his in instead.
“Who the fuck is that?” Rey whispered, almost impressed with how obnoxious he was, and her internet arch nemesis gave the screen a quick glance but didn’t answer. He reangled his computer screen silently, and Rey got the message: he didn’t want his ginger buddy to know she was there. Rey found herself agreeing.
The cord to an earbud twisted around dark curls, dark blue stark against his pale neck, and trailed down against his--
Anyway. He could hear her, but he couldn’t actually say anything. … Which was exactly what he had been talking about on Wednesday.
She groaned. Fine. Fine. He had a point. She switched to her open Gemini tab and found his friend request and accepted it, with great reluctance.
ReyOfSunshine: who the fuck is that
Kylo glanced at the man before typing a response.
KyloRen: His name is Hux. He’s my coworker. He’ll try to talk to you about every single relative of his’ military history if he realizes there’s someone else here. I’m sparing you the torture.
ReyOfSunshine: your coworker knows where u live?
KyloRen: He’s also my neighbor.
ReyOfSunshine: im not gonna lie, seeing you silently seethe is hilarious
KyloRen: I’m glad someone is entertained.
Hux shut the washing machine closed and stood. Rey found herself recoiling from the screen, like she was trying to avoid his gaze. He was … slimy, in a way even Kylo wasn’t.
“You’re a mess, Ren,” he said, grimacing at something out of her line of sight. “I don’t know why you insist on wasting your time on working online--” his sneer was audible on the word -- “when Snoke has offered you a full time position.”
“I’m not interested,” Kylo said, shifting, so she could see he was wearing pajama pants - not sweats. Huh. “And speaking of, I have work to do.” He turned his back on the redhead, and started typing aggressively. Rey surveyed the room while he did - he had adjusted his computer, so she could see more of the room they were in. The room appeared to be a barely furnished living room, with a expensive but uncomfortable looking couch that Hux perched on, sneering over at Kylo Ren. Kylo was sitting with one knee up, and he was ...
ReyOfSunshine: wait a sec. do ur pj pants have french bulldogs on them?
ReyOfSunshine: THEY DOOOOOOOO
KyloRen: It was all I had left to wear.
ReyOfSunshine: arent u supposed 2 b “working”
KyloRen: Aren’t you?
Rey rearranged her flashcards, feeling guilty, and caught the slightest hint of a smirk on Kylo’s face. She made herself to focus on revising - even after Hux left, and Kylo kicked his laundry basket against the wall. (Okay. She lost her focus momentarily that time.)
ReyOfSunshine: dude what did the laundry basket do 2 u
KyloRen: Sins of the father.
ReyOfSunshine: y’know, under all the pretentious gatekeeping ur almost funny
KyloRen: And beyond the prequel defense you’re apparently smart. Go study.
Rey rolled her eyes directly into the camera, but obeyed. She could hear his washing machine running in the background, but otherwise he stayed quiet.
Sometime later, the door opened. Rey jumped, feeling a bizarre spasm of guilt as she went to slam her laptop shut -- but the call had disconnected at some point while she was revising. Kylo - and his dog pajama pants - was gone.
Rose took one look at her and apparently found the answer written all over her face. “Oh, man, did it happen again?”
“Yeah,” Rey said, trying to find the words to form what the fuck had happened. She wasn’t sure she ever would. “Hopefully it stops soon.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Rose said. “Gimme your laptop.”
Rey handed it over, eager to see what she’d do it. Rose had assembled her own computer with bits and pieces and it could pretty much read her mind, but she had always said Rey’s Mac was a mystery to her.
“There,” she said, and pressed her thumb hard over the top of the screen. Rey took it back, and saw she had placed a thin strip of Post-it over the webcam.
“Oh,” said Rey, unable to hide her disappointment.
“It’s not much, but at least he won’t be able to see you now,” Rose says. “That’s what all the people who are paranoid about the government do.”
“Can’t blame them,” Rey says, pressing her thumb over the strip of blue.
“Hey,” Rey said, with a yawn, right as the call began. “It’s midnight. Bye.”
Kylo Ren, fully dressed again, and devoid of any ginger pests lurking in the background, peered into the camera, eyes narrowed.
“I can’t see you.” He tilted his head, picking up a black reusable water bottle to take a drink.
“I blocked my camera, because I decided I didn’t want to repeat your laundry mistake.”
Kylo suddenly choked on his water, and Rey burst out laughing.
“That’s the least dignified I’ve seen you,” she said, and he scowled as he wiped his mouth. “Which is saying something, for a weird Darth Vader internet nerd.”
“I think you’ve seen me more this last week than anyone else has in the last year.”
“So you are a basement dweller,” Rey said, leaning back onto her pillows.
“Most of the jobs I get are remote and computer based. How else do you think I’d get a complexion like this?”
Rey grinned involuntarily, and felt immediately glad her camera was off. “My roommate’s coming in. I’m muting you. Bye.”
Kylo Ren just blinked at her. After a week of this, he was probably just as used to tuning her out as she was.
Rose slipped in and gave Rey a sleepy wave before flopping onto her bed, face first, kicking off her trainers with the ball of her foot. Rey laughed and reached for the light. “Goodnight!”
Rose murmured a response and rolled herself into her blankets like a burrito.
KyloRen: It’s four pm.
ReyOfSunshine: not you, dumbass, my roomate
ReyOfSunshine: u seem to be a vampire, im surprised ur awake in daylight hours
KyloRen: Thus the darkness.
On camera, he gestured behind him at a blackout curtain. She had thought it was just goth decoration. Apparently not. This must have been a home office - she could see file cabinets, another desk, even another computer in the room.
ReyOfSunshine: oh ho ho. so r u and ginger ina vampire cult together?
KyloRen: If I told you I’d have to kill you.
ReyOfSunshine: uh huh. id kick ur ass. ive seen buffy
KyloRen: Hm. I would pay you to stake Hux.
ReyOfSunshine: id do it 4 free, who the fuck takes someones laundry out of the machine??
ReyOfSunshine: ok. bants w/ an internet stalker r great and all but i gotta sleep
KyloRen: One quick question...
KyloRen: What’s with the hair in the photos on your profile?
Rey had wore her hair in triple buns until she had gotten a bob haircut at sixteen. Sometimes - now her hair had grown back out - she wanted to wear them again. But most of the time, she just felt embarrassed Finn let her go out in public like that.
ReyOfSunshine: channeling my inner padme amidala
ReyOfSunshine: did you just laugh?
Three days later - a full week and a half after the calls started - Gemini announced that the glitch was fixed, and that the video feature was in its actual, official beta now. In apology, the team sent Rey 15 GBs of data and a surprisingly sincere email. The data was why she joined Gemini in the first place - they offered Google Drive type storage, and she had used it for storing everything from assignments to Bear McCreary soundtracks.
Of course, an email and free data didn’t keep thousands of people from making angry threads, but Rey didn’t care too much. It was a funny story she could tell Finn, and she treasured every one of those. She sent Kylo a heads up--
ReyOfSunshine: looks like u & ginger neighbor will get to live another vampire day.
--and decided to enjoy the fact she no longer had to live in terror of her own laptop. She spent the last week of September working on a paper and watching Rose eagerly prepare for an entire month of Halloween. When her laptop started ringing in the middle of her trying to rework her second body paragraph, it took her a full minute to realize she actually had to answer the call, and Kylo wasn’t just going to appear automatically on her screen.
She was greeted instead by a notification:
“INCOMING CALL (BETA) FROM TheHairOfMyFinnyFinnFinn. ACCEPT?”
(The username had been Rey’s idea.)
She clicked accept, feeling something bizarrely close to disappointment. Stockholm syndrome, maybe.
“Hey!” Finn said, grinning. And then he frowned. “Where are you?”
“Oh!” Rey said. “Oh, oops, sorry, hold on--” she tugged Rose’s Kylo Ren Protection Program off her webcam. “How’s that?”
“There you are! I thought the video calls were bugging again. Congrats on freedom from Vader Nerd Entrapment, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Rey said, solemnly. “It was all worth it to actually see your face.”
“Which has a big red paint mark on it, by the way.”
“Aw, man,” he said, and disappeared from the screen, reappearing with a hand towel. He meticulously wiped at the three red lines crossing from his forehead to his left nostril. “I’ve been working on commissions. Halloween rush and all.”
Finn had an online shop where he sold costume pieces and custom made props. Rose had actually know of him before she knew him - her sister had bought his Luna Lovegood earrings for her for Christmas one year. It was something he and Rey had usually done together - fastening earrings to their fixings and hunting down bits and bobs in goodwill shops. Her heart felt a little hollowed when she thought she wouldn’t be helping with the shop this October.
“How’s school going?” he asked, once thoroughly scrubbed.
“Great,” Rey answered. “Besides the crying from stress. You?”
Finn brow creased sympathetically. “Pretty well. I miss you.”
“Obviously,” Rey said, and found herself sniffling for no reason.
Finn and Rey were both Brits who had been tossed around the world before finding themselves - and each other - in British foster care. Finn’s travels had granted him with an American accent. Rey’s had kept her her accent, but gave her a patchy childhood memory and somewhat fluency in half a dozen languages. Ever since they found each other, they had sworn to stick together, and up until Finn had decided to transfer to a different university, that had been the case.
She didn’t blame him - he wanted to be a doctor, and she had picked her current school for its cost, not its pre-med program. And he was only two hours away. But the Finn shaped hole in her life hurt sometimes, and it ached now, seeing his warm and friendly face on her computer screen.
At least she still had Rose, who Rey thought might miss Finn even more than she did sometimes. Probably because Rose didn’t know Finn during his Naruto phase.
“You okay?” Finn asked, leaning into his computer’s camera so his face filled the screen, big and worried.
“I’m great,” Rey said, shaking her head and smiling. “Sorry! I think it’s the relief at seeing someone on my computer who isn’t lecturing me for liking Star Wars wrong.”
Finn winced. “Yikes. Yeah, can’t blame you for that.”
“When are you coming home?”
“Oh!” Finn said. “Oh, right! I’m coming by in a few weeks. Rose wants to work on Halloween costumes.”
“Really?” Rey said, face lighting up. “What are you going to do?”
“Probably Stormtrooper again,” he said. “But I wanted to do some fixes for the helmet. And I’ve been saying I’d help you with an Ahsoka…”
“Nothing could convince me to wear that much facepaint,” Rey said, flatly. “Not after--”
“Don’t,” Finn said. “Don’t say it.”
“I’m just saying,” Rey said, “that by sticking solely to Star Wars, I avoided all the embarrassing fandom phases.”
“I don’t wanna hear it,” Finn said. “Ah, crap, speaking of, this paint is drying up. Gotta go. I’ll take to you soon, I promise. We can call on Thursdays or something?”
“That sounds great!” Rey said. “Good luck with the nerd stuff.”
“Good luck with the school stuff,” Finn said, and gave a little wave before ending the call.
ReyOfSunshine: are you dead
ReyOfSunshine: or more dead than usual i guess
ReyOfSunshine: because I linked you to an article a week ago about TPM being a better film than Jedi and you didnt even got on a tldr rant about it
KyloRen: Actually, I got in a car accident.
ReyOfSunshine: oh. shit
KyloRen: Also, I thought you hated me.
ReyOfSunshine: i mean i do, but we’re like, survivors of a shared trauma
ReyOfSunshine: the gemini thing, not the ... car crash thing
ReyOfSunshine: you okay?
ReyOfSunshine: did you lose your limbs vader style?
KyloRen: No, just some scars and bruises.
ReyOfSunshine: are they gnarly? I wanna see
“INCOMING CALL (BETA) FROM KyloRen. ACCEPT?”
Rey’s fingers hesitated over the accept call button. She had messaged Kylo a handful of times since Gemini had fixed it’s glitch nearly a month ago, but mostly just so she could push his petty oversensitive fanboy buttons. He usually only replied if she managed to get him really riled up, which she considered an accomplishment. She had never called him, of course. She didn’t think she’d ever see his face again. But she did want to see the scars… and beneath it all, even if he was a weird, mean vampire Vader nerd, she didn’t like the idea of anyone she knew being in pain.
She accepted the call.
A gasp choked out of her throat before she could catch it, and she covered her mouth before anything else could escape. When he had said scars and bruises, she had thought like-- like when she would fall out of a tree. Not this.
One could grow used to someone’s face over forced video chats - even if it was an interesting one - and his bruises and scratches immediately looked wrong, like a glitching screen or accidentally putting on your roommates slippers.
“This is probably going to be a black eye,” Kylo Ren said, like he was describing the weather. “My lip split, and I got stitches on my forearm, but this is probably going to be the ‘gnarliest’.” He tilted his head to the camera, and Rey could see a long gauze bandage covering his right cheek, with another square patched up over his eyebrow.
“It looks like it hurts,” Rey said, her voice coming out a little too girly and soft, and she cleared her throat. “Are you sure you didn’t get smacked with the business end of a lightsaber?”
He started to smile, and then winced, bringing his fingers up to his damaged mouth. “Ow.”
“Now I feel guilty,” she said, grimacing. “It’s hard to think of you of a evil internet troll when you’re, like… a human being.”
“I’m fine,” he said, shaking his head. “I actually didn’t get banged up that bad. The stitches were the worst part. The Tie’s totalled, but at least I get out of work with Hux.”
Of course he named his car after a Tie Fighter.
“I am a little disappointed you don’t have a Darth Vader bandaid,” she said.
Wordlessly, Kylo tugged down his jacket collar and leaned into his camera - revealing one placed vertically across his neck.
ReyOfSunshine: what did u do with ur free apology gigs from gemini btw?
KyloRen: Nothing. I don’t need them.
ReyOfSunshine: well ok steve jobs
ReyOfSunshine: im using mine to store the restored versions of the films that guy did
ReyOfSunshine: the despecialized ones
KyloRen: I thought you’d love all the bad CG. Being a prequel fan and all.
ReyOfSunshine: im not a complete heathen
KyloRen: So you store all of your files on Gemini?
ReyOfSunshine: being a broke uni student means i have one barely working computer, let alone 5 in my home office
KyloRen: What if the site crashes? Or gets hacked?
KyloRen: Also, I have three.
ReyOfSunshine: oh wow my bad
ReyOfSunshine: the blackout on gemini last year made me rewrite an entire paper. at least its a learning experience.
KyloRen: I suppose so.
ReyOfSunshine: i have some bad news for you
KyloRen: Hold on, I’m working on something.
ReyOfSunshine: I thought you were off work?
KyloRen: I’m off work with Hux. But I’m still doing the computer work. I remotely work as internet security, programmer, radar technician, etc.
ReyOfSunshine: OH that’s why you were excited about the gemini glitch
KyloRen: I thought it was interesting. I’m ready for your bad news.
ReyOfSunshine: im gonna be offline all weekend
KyloRen: I’m crushed.
ReyOfSunshine: i know you are.
ReyOfSunshine: my bff is coming into town. try not to die of boredom w/o having someone to harass abou the death star’s virtues
KyloRen: Ha ha.
She swallowed. Right. He had her profile, and Finn’s name - and face, and bad inside jokes - were all over it.
KyloRen: Have fun.
ReyOfSunshine: thanks. have fun with the radar techniquing
Rey shut her laptop, rubbing her thumb over a Rebel symbol sticker, and then caught her reflection in the mirror with a brilliant smile on her face.
She got dressed in leggings and a thin raincoat, and went to unlock her bike from the bike rack outside her flat. Rose had class until five, so Rey was biking to the train station on her own. She hadn’t been on a long bike ride in forever - the trip to school was only about ten minutes - so the forty minute ride to the station was a treat, even if it was raining. The platform was busy, and Rey’s path was blocked by two parents holding each of their child’s hands, the girl occasionally lifting her feet off the ground to swing between them. Rey didn’t mind the slow pace, though the interaction brought a slow ache she didn’t want to think about.
She almost wished she had a brought a handwritten sign, like they did at airports in the movies. It had only been two months since she had seen him in person - but to Rey, it felt like eons. When the train arrived, she jumped up on a bench to see better, watching as people streamed out the doors in a steady sea - all knowing where they were going and who they were going with.
“Peanut!” she called, cupping her hands around her mouth, recognizing him by his beanie.
Finn tugged his bike behind him as he exited the train doors, the last to leave the car. He spotted Rey as she ran at him at full speed. He was wearing boots with the shoelaces tied around his ankle, like he always did.
Rey threw her arms around him as the doors shut, and he laughed and hugged her back. The bike dropped to the ground beside them.
“Oops,” Finn said, looking down at it with a laugh. Rey still held onto him like glue.
“I missed you too, peanut,” he said, bumping their foreheads, and Rey grinned so hard she could feel tiny tears in her eyes.
They picked his bike back up and recovered hers from the rack, and made their way back to Rey’s flat. Finn’s coat was packed away in his backpack, and he complained about the rain the entire way back. She could hear snippets of his grumbling catching in the wind as she flew down the streets, occasionally lifting her arms from the handlebars until Finn would yell at her for it.
“And here we are,” she said, manhandling her bike into the rack in front of her door and doing the same for Finn’s. The bikes leaned on each other like old friends. “Tah-dah!”
“Rey,” Finn said, frowning. “I helped you move in.”
“Yes,” she said, spinning her keys around her finger. “But it was unfurnished then.” She opened the door with a dramatic flourish, and Finn faked a gasp.
The flat really wasn’t anything special - teeny tiny, with a joint living room/kitchen and a bathroom the size of a supply closet - but she took the time to point out Rose’s army of Funko Pop figures on top of her dresser and her own village of succulents on her desk.
“This one,” she said, pointing at one with a perfect dome on top, “is named Artoo.”
“Oooh,” Finn said. “Damn, Rose really does have a lot of Harry Potter books.” He kneeled down to study them, skimming his fingers across the spines.
“Mmhm,” Rey said, tilting her head. Finn reached the end of the shelf, where Rose had a stuffed Hedwig sitting on her US hardback of Deathly Hallows. She had pinned the Luna earrings Finn had made into either side of it’s head, so it seemed like the owl was wearing them.
Finn smiled, and Rey grinned, too.
“C’mon,” she said. “I’ve got a bag of kettle-korn.”
They sat with their backs against the threadbare couch, watching Youtube on Rey’s laptop. Her laptop charger cable lay across the living room floor like a tripwire - her computer could barely survive an hour without it. Rey sat with her head on Finn’s shoulder, listen to him vent.
“Oh, and speaking of, you’ll never guess who’s trying to get back in touch with me.” He grimaced.
She shook her head, and then blanched. “No. Phasma?”
Finn nodded. Rey scooted a few feet away, so she could look at him face to face. “Why?”
“She asked me to come back to the US. Again.”
Finn’s foster mother - if you could even call her that - had never taken kindly to Finn completely dropping contact with her after he managed to finally transfer back to foster care in the UK. Rey had even met her, twice. The first she had pretended to be searching for her mum and asked the woman for help, so Finn was able to run out the back. The second time she had punched her. (Not something she wanted to repeat. The woman was a powerhouse. Finn’s years living with her was the one period of his life Rey didn’t know in detail, and she knew better than to pry.)
“We need to-- we need a restraining order,” Rey said, running her hands down her face. “Isn’t Poe’s boss an attorney?”
“Poe’s boss? The boss-he-hates-with-a-passion-boss? That boss?”
“Yes,” Rey said, squinting at him. “Haldo or whatever. She’s in the US, so she can give Phasma a restraining order. Or would it have to be a UK lawyer? I don’t know how this shit works.”
“I think you’re not properly grasping the hate thing.”
Rey waggled her hands dismissively at him. “Poe can get over it. Maybe she’s not that bad. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Finn gave her a look.
“Well,” she amended. “Some people do.”
Finn threw a popcorn kernel at her. Rey caught it between her teeth and grinned.
They both turned when they heard the sound of a key turning in the lock, and the door opened to reveal a surprisingly polished Rose, a few barrettes in her hair and a light layer of lip gloss on her lips. She was deep in thought, not able to see them from the doorway. She kicked off her trainers, gaze falling on Finn’s boots, and then her head jolted upwards.
“Hey!” Rey waved, starting to stand. Finn beat her to it. He rose smoothly to his feet, crossing the living room quickly in his socks. Rose met him halfway, grinning, and he grabbed her to pull her in for a hug.
Rose raised her hands to Finn’s face and kissed him square on the mouth.
Rey’s smile faltered.
After a second Finn kissed her back, a hand cupping her face and the other on her waist. Rey half sank against the sofa’s armrest, feeling dazed. Was she … when was she supposed to clear her throat, like they did in the movies?
It turned out that she didn’t need to. A moment later, they broke apart - Rose giggling nervously - and someone’s foot caught on Rey’s charger cable.
“Oh, oops,” Rey said, diving to fix it, a smile back on her face. “Sorry, sorry!” She unplugged the cord and pushed her laptop off to the side.
“No, I’m sorry,” Rose said, shaking her head, face flushed and pretty with joy. “I wasn’t looking. I gotta grab my bag and then we can get dinner.”
Rey nodded. Still smiling.
Dinner was … fine.
Rey never usually could afford to go out, so she was excited to order huge plates of Thai food that she could portion out into multiple leftover meals at home. And it was great, of course, to spend time with Finn, and Rose. It wasn’t like she was mad at them. No, she still laughed at Finn’s jokes, and asked about Rose’s afternoon class, and even shot a straw wrapper at Finn that accidentally went wide and hit someone in the next booth in the face. (She apologized, of course.)
But something was wrong. Hollow. Sometimes Finn and Rose would start talking about something, and a few minutes would pass before they’d even look at Rey. Not out of rudeness - they were both very eager people, who could talk over one another and finish each other’s sentences. But it made Rey feel like she was standing on that train station again, watching everyone leave together in a steady stream while she stood still. Alone.
She picked at her curry, and when Rose pulled out her phone to pick a pub for them to go to after while they waited for the check, Rey pulled a face.
“Shit, I can’t, I’m sorry. I totally forgot I’ve got a Ecology test Monday.”
Which wasn’t entirely a lie.
It was just more of a three question quiz. For ten points.
“Oh come on,” Finn said, shaking his head. “Come on, just for a few hours--”
“No, I have to,” she said, making herself look miserable. “I’m so sorry. We’ll hang out all day tomorrow. And this way I can take our leftovers home so we don’t all get sick by letting them sit out for hours.”
“Since when have you cared about that?” Finn said. “I’ve seen you eat pizza that sat on a counter for two days.”
“Food safety is important,” Rey said. “Also, your stomach hates you more as you get older.”
“True,” Finn said.
“Are you sure, Rey? It won’t be the same without you…” Rose tapped the cheque pen on the table’s surface.
“I really have to revise,” she said, picking up her messenger back. “I’ll make it up to you guys, I promise.”
They finally let her go, and she walked the mile back to the flat alone.
They’d have a better time without her anyway, right? She unlocked the door and exhaled, long and slow, before crossing the floor to put the Thai food bag in the fridge.
She picked up her laptop and cord where she left them and walked like a zombie into her room. She shed a few layers until her leggings and t-shirt could pass for pajamas and curled into bed, shoving her head under a pillow, and squeezed her eyes shut.
When that didn’t work, she stared at the wall.
When that didn’t work, she opened Gemini, and searched up fanfic.
She was a thousand words into a stupid, barely distracting Satine/Obi-Wan fic when an incoming message notification popped up on her screen.
KyloRen: I thought you were offline all weekend.
ReyOfSunshine: wanted to check my recent threads
KyloRen: So I can tell you how your post about the lightsaber fights being better in the prequels is bullshit?
Rey squeezed her eyes shut, and then gripped the edge of her laptop. Maybe she should just… sleep.
ReyOfSunshine: ha ha ha.
ReyOfSunshine: i’m not really in the mental state for it, tbh
KyloRen is typing…
KyloRen: Are you alright?
ReyOfSunshine: i’m having a bad night. its fine. i’m fine.
ReyOfSunshine: thanks for asking
KyloRen is typing…
KyloRen is typing...
KyloRen is typing...
Her chest was aching. Rey took a deep breath.
ReyOfSunshine: actually can i call
Her own face seemed ghostly on in her thumbnail, and she closed it, not wanting to see her own pathetic expression echoed back to her.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she started, giving a little laugh, and then burst into tears.
“Rey--” he looked terrified and confused and worried all at once.
It took close to twenty minutes of gentle coaxing - and her blowing her nose in big loud honks until all the tears and snot were out -- for her voice to return to an audible octave.
“I found out,” she finally choked out, swallowing hard every few words, “that my best friend and roommate are dating. I mean, they’re… they’re good friends, and I met the roommate through him, and, and, they’re a great fit, because they’re both cosplay nerds, but--”
She rubbed furiously at her eyes. “I don’t know, something’s wrong with me. I should be, I should be thrilled--”
“You like him,” Kylo said, gently.
“No,” she said, empathetically. “No.” She could hear the truth of when she said it out loud, but she had thought about it before. Before this evening. More than once. “Not like that. He’s my best friend. The closest thing I have to family. I guess it -- I mean, I never had a problem with the idea of him having a girlfriend, but now it’s the case…” she tugged on a loose strand of her hair. “I didn’t realize how selfish I’d be about it. He’s all I have. He and Rose are all I have, and if they have each other...”
“Then you have nothing,” Kylo Ren finished.
“Yes,” she said, lamely. “I guess this-- this is the point where you tell me I’m wrong and provide an anecdote about your own friendships…”
“No,” he said, cutting her off.
“I don’t have friends.”
Rey laughed, surprising herself, and Kylo gave her something that was almost a smile in return.
“I don’t think you’re selfish,” he said. “I don’t think you’re wrong for feeling like this. I’d be furious.” He shut his eyes, and Rey admired the color of his black eye - beautiful, in a terrible, sad way. “Which is exactly why I don’t have friends and instead argue with strangers on the internet.”
“That sounds a lot safer,” she said, curling up in her blanket.
“It usually is,” he said. “Sometimes they start crying.”
“Sorry,” she said. He shook his head a fraction.
She put her laptop down, beside her pillow, and curled up beside her, resting her head against her arms.
“I’ve never felt so alone,” she said, angling her head so she could still see him, the dim light barely catching her features in her video feed. “I still feel alone.”
His expression was tender, delicate, like if she stared too hard it would crack in half. “You’re not alone, Rey.”
“Well,” Rey said, closing her her eyes. “Then neither are you.”
Her laptop fan started up again, purring like a cat, and she curled up next to her keyboard.
She woke up a few hours later with a start, her laptop screen dark. She rapidly tapped the space bar - terrified she left Kylo with a three hour stream of her snoring - but the call had ended, and his video was gone. She found two message notifications instead.
KyloRen: And thank you.
The next time she woke, with sunlight streaming in from the window beside her bed, Rey was already feeling better. She glanced over - Rose’s bed was slept in, but she was missing. Before she could ponder that, the door swung open.
“Hey,” Rose said, hovering awkwardly in the doorway. “Finn’s on the couch, I just wanted … is everything okay with us? I know you left really quickly last night, and I know you and Finn have, like, never had a fight, so I kept thinking.”
Rey shook her head. “No, everything’s good.”
Rose looked skeptical. “Rey, you can tell me if ... I know that…” she swallowed. “Please don’t keep anything from me just because you want me to feel comfortable. I don’t want you to feel--”
“Rose,” Rey cut her off. “Finn and I are family. Don’t worry about it. I was just-- sleep deprived, from all the exam stress. We’re good.”
“Are you sure?” Rose said, her brow crumpled with worry.
“I’m positive,” Rey said, smiling. “Thank you.”
A wave of relief past across Rose’s face. She let out a huge breath. “Oh, I’m so glad. I’m making waffles from scratch for breakfast. You’ll have to wake up Finn -- he’s slept through everything I’ve tried.”
“Okay,” Rey said, grinning back at her. She glanced down at her still open laptop, sitting by her hip. “I’ll, uh, be there in five.”
“Okay!” Rose said, brightly, and then shut the door behind her.
Rey did a five elephant count and selected Kylo’s name.
[CALLING KyloRen (BETA)]
It took him a full minute to answer. Rey realized that she had probably made a mistake when the video showed him in the dark - only just barely illuminated by his laptop’s screen light. Based on his posture and the way his curls were arranged around his face, he must have been in bed.
“Is everything alright?” Kylo asked, right as the call connected. He looked half asleep, and his usually perfect hair was a mess - and Rey realized with a spasm of guilt her call must have woken him up.
“Oh, god, no, sorry, I just-- okay, this was super dumb.”
“I just wanted to apologize for last night. Er. This afternoon for you, I guess.”
He was shaking his head before she even finished talking. “You don’t have to--”
“Kylo, I bawled my eyes out to you because I was sad my friends were dating until I fell asleep on camera. Please let me apologize. For my own dignity, at least.”
He laughed, the sound coming off low and throaty in his tired voice.
“What?” Rey said, feeling suddenly self conscious.
“Nobody’s actually called me Kylo Ren before.”
Rey frowned. “What? No. I remember, Hux called you Ren - I thought it was, like… a code name, or something.” (She actually had been starting to think it was his real name, and now she was feeling a little stupid.)
“No, he called me …” he paused, looked directly up into the camera. “Ben. My name is Ben.”
“Well, it’s nice to properly meet you, Ben-not-Kylo.”
The ghost of a smile curved his lips. “Are we friends, then?”
“I guess,” she said, trying for funny, and then shook her head. “Yes. Yes, we are.”
He looked so sleepy that she wasn’t even sure he understood her, but she felt like it was important.
“So, hold on. Who -- or what -- is a Kylo Ren?” she asked.
“Good night,” he said, ending the call, and Rey snorted.
Good, Rey thought. That meant it was something embarrassing.
The rest of the weekend was, surprisingly, great. It was still weird seeing Finn and Rose doing coupley things, but the ache wasn’t as bad. Not by half. At the end, they both saw him off as the station, and Rose invited him back for a mini Thanksgiving the following month. Finn was stoked - it was the biggest thing he had missed about living the US.
Then, that Thursday, Rey opted on any parties but handed out candy to some cute kids. (There was a Vader. She messaged Ben about it. He told her he spent every year with the lights off and the doors locked, and she called him a Halloween Scrooge.)
Her classes got harder. The weather got colder.
Ben got funnier, less closed off. Still a massive nerd, but a more endearing one. He told her about his car accident, and his weird internet jobs, and his shopping trip to get Star Wars bandaids while literally bleeding from the neck. She knew very little about him - she still didn’t even know what state he lived in - but he was becoming the first person she told about her day. (Also, he was better at literature than she was, and she realized he would pretty much rewrite her thesis statements for papers just for fun ... It wasn’t technically cheating.)
The vampire theory was apparently not that far off. He was practically nocturnal - which meant that by the time she was done with her day - eight am his time - he was finally heading to bed. It took her too long to realize he fixed the problem by simply not sleeping. Which she gave him shit for:
ReyOfSunshine: arent uni students supposed to be the ones with sleep deprivation?
ReyOfSunshine: youre like. old. you need your beauty sleep
KyloRen: It wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t live several time zones away.
KyloRen: Also, how old do you think I am?
ReyOfSunshine: ah yes, lemme just scoot over the uk a little.
ReyOfSunshine: i think youre the immortal vampire everyone keeps mistaking for Keanu Reeves in old paintings.
… And so on.
November came to a chilly end, and Finn took an Uber from the train station to her flat, because he couldn’t figure out a way to bike there with his Mac and Cheese. (“You totally could,” Rey told him over Gemini video chat. “I mean, you’re gonna have to bake it here anyway.” “Presentation, Rey. Presentation.”)
After dinner, Rey stared at Finn and Rose - who, despite having been kinda-not-really dating since early October, had only seen each other in person twice - and pushed her chair back from the table. “I’m going to revise at the library,” she declared, and would not let them protest. (Not that they tried that hard.)
It was already late when she arrived, but she found a corner in the back and opened Gemini.
ReyOfSunshine: ha ha ha. theory confirmed.
ReyOfSunshine: that you’re ditching thanksgiving to be sad and alone on the Internet
KyloRen: Aren’t *you* supposed to be having dinner with Finn and Rose tonight?
ReyOfSunshine: hey, asshole, I did. now im giving them time alone, because, you know. they’re dating.
ReyOfSunshine: yeah im trying not to think about it too hard. can i call?
As an answer, she got an immediate incoming call notification.
“In regards to your interrogation,” Ben said, as the call connected, “with Cyber Monday, this is the biggest weekend I have, work wise. My parents understood.”
“Uh huh. You would have ditched them anyway,” Rey said, chewing on the soft plastic of her water bottle. “What are you eating for your sad not family dinner?”
“Take out, probably.”
“No!” Rey protested, earning a ssh from another library patron. She lowered her voice a smidge. “No, then you’re forcing some poor person to work on Thanksgiving!”
“... They’d be working anyways, Rey.”
She glowered at his image. “You know exactly what I mean. You’re making the world a darker place, Ben.”
“You’re British. Why are you so protective of a racist, American greeting card-created holiday?”
Rey jutted her lower lip out. “It’s a family holiday. … And I like food.”
“Ah,” Ben said, resting his head on his comically large hand. “That makes sense. You’re overhyping it, though. Turkey is awful.”
“Sure, but the-- the yams, with marshmallows! That looks so good! I tried to make Rose make me them but she had a--” she pulled out some air quotes, “tragic chubby bunny incident’ as a child. So that was a no go.”
Ben tilted his head. “So what did you have?”
“Really good mashed potatoes, stuffing, pre bought turkey. Ooh, and Finn made fancy Mac and Cheese.”
Ben scribbled something down on a notepad next to him with one of his fancy fountain pens. “You’re definitely enjoying the holiday more than I ever did. My mother used to host huge huge dinners - dozens of people, asking me inane questions, pretending they wanted to get to know me because they thought it would make my mother like them.”
“Ooh,” Rey said, making her eyes go comically wide. “So inane questions are Thanksgiving tradition for you?”
He glanced at her, and then sighed. “Ah. So this is an interrogation.” He sighed, resolved to his fate. “Go ahead.”
“I’ll start with the classic question. How did you get into Star Wars, anyway?”
“My parents. They met in line for Empire. They’re like Han and Leia, except instead of arguing about rebelling against the Empire they mostly just argue about me.”
She laughed. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Mom’s a Senator, and my father is … a lot of things. But he was a racecar driver for a while. I can’t tell if they liked Han and Leia because they saw themselves in them or they turned themselves into them.”
“That,” she said, “explains a lot about you, honestly. Especially all of the random jobs thing.” Ben grimaced a little, and she wondered if it was because of the comparison to his dad. “Wait. So were you named after--?”
“Yeah,” Ben said. “I’m lucky that I narrowly avoided Obi-Wan. ”
Rey rested her chin in her palm. “Why do they fight about you?”
“They’d fight about anything,” Ben said. “I’m just the most obvious subject.”
“They … like each other, right?”
“Somewhere,” he said, slowly. “Deep down. My uncles said it was more obvious before I was born. They even do the whole “I know” thing. Which has never struck me as being healthy, but what do I know, I guess.”
The resentment in his voice was obvious. Rey frowned. “They didn’t… treat you badly, did they?” She knew that all too well. Her last foster mother, Maz had treated her kindly up to her death, but before that…
“No,” Ben said. “Never.”
“Then why don’t you like them?” Rey said, at last, bafflement clear in her voice. “They worry about you, they want to spend time with you, they like Star Wars…”
“Why don’t you like yours?” Ben countered, voice flat.
“I love my parents,” Rey said, immediately. “Answer the question.”
Ben bristled - she could practically see his hair stand on end, but complied. “I don’t hate them,” he said. “They just don’t …”
“Get you?” Rey volunteered.
He scowled at the suggestion, but it had been genuine.
“They always cared more about their work than me growing up,” he said, voice noticeably quieter. “I feel like it’s only fair if I do the same.”
“That’s bullshit,” Rey said, ignoring another hissed shush from someone at another table. “If you were hurt by that, you should learn from their mistake.”
Ben made a frustrated noise, and cracked his knuckles with his thumb. “Why do you care?”
“I’m sorry I don’t want you to be a miserable basement vampire who doesn’t talk to anyone besides some random British girl on the Internet.” She scowled. “... and your coworker-neighbor, who is honest-to-God evil.”
He stared her down for a long moment - across their separate computer screens, across the sea - and then seemed to have decided something.
He exhaled, slowly. “I see them at Christmas. I answer their calls. It’s … easier. I’m the family shut in. It’s less difficult on everyone if I’m holing myself off where no one will know any better.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You wouldn’t,” he said, but not cruelly.
“Rey, I know who…” he cut himself off, studying the surface of his desk.
She blinked at him. “What?”
“Never mind,” he said. “I don’t want to fight with you. It’s Thanksgiving, which you apparently hold on a holy platform despite the fact you’re not actually American.” He ran a hand through his dark hair. “Any other inane Star Wars questions you wanted to ask me? My favorite planet? Favorite character?”
“Vader is your favorite,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I know that much.”
“He reinvented film villains,” Ben said, no hint of irony in his voice. “He’s one of the best characters of all time.”
“You probably guessed mine from my username.”
“Snipsandsnails ... Snips?”
His expression was still blank.
“Ahsoka,” she said. “Obviously. Wait. Have you not actually seen Clone Wars?”
“It’s a cartoon,” he said, looking uncomfortable.
“A good cartoon! You have to watch it. Re-earn your Star Wars nerd cred.”
“I told you, I don’t like the prequels--”
“It’s better than the prequels. That’s not an excuse. … Okay, the movie they released in theatres wasn’t that great, but it figures itself out, it’s excellent.”
She spend the next fifteen minutes explaining the correct episode viewing order to Ben, in as quiet a voice she could manage. She kept accidentally getting too loud when she got excited, and had to carry her laptop with her to a different part of the building to hide from a particularly unhappy library aide. Ben found it all very amusing.
She left the library around two - ignoring Ben’s pointless worrying about her biking home so late. She microwaved a small plate on leftovers, as she spun a tale of how she narrowed escaped two muggers and a drug deal on her way home. Ben didn’t find it very funny.
Slipping into her room, she found Rose and Finn curled up together, dead asleep, Finn’s feet sticking out from Rose’s tiny twin bed. (Thankfully she saw no more of either of them than Finn’s bare ankle.)
She opened her laptop again to send Ben a quick goodnight, and then fell asleep, full and happy. (And trying not to think about the fact she’d have to be up again in four hours.)
KyloRen: What’s your address?
ReyOfSunshine: are you going to irl stalk me now
KyloRen: No. Give me a PO box if you’re that paranoid.
ReyOfSunshine: im giving you my apartment address but if you kidnap me, you better feed me well with your rich computer programmer money
Precisely two weeks later, Rose dropped a small box on her desk with a tiny frown. “I didn’t know you had a Gemini friend from California.”
Rey popped out her earbuds, frowning. “What? How do you know it’s someone from Gemini?”
“‘Cuz they wrote your name as ‘Rey ‘Of Sunshine’ Niima.’”
A surprise laugh burst out of Rey’s mouth. “That’s weird, I don’t know who..” she picked up the package while she talked, and finally noticed the name in neat print in the upper left corner.
“I’m gonna go take a call in the living room thanks for grabbing this Rose, bye!” Rey said in a rush, sweeping up the box and her laptop in one arm. She closed the door to the sound of Rose’s baffled giggling. She opened Gemini and clicked to call KyloRen while she jumped up to grab her keys off the rack by the door.
“Where are you?” Ben’s disembodied voice asked, her camera pointing at her empty couch.
“Here! One sec.” She jumped onto the couch, placing the box into her lap, giddy with excitement. She snapped a photo on her flip phone of it, to preserve the memory of having “Of Sunshine” bestowed upon her name like a royal title.
“Wait,” Ben said, frowning. “Hold on—“
“I can not believe you live in California,” Rey said, tearing into the box’s tape with her keys. “My vampire narrative is falling apart. I thought you were in, in, I don’t know, Oregon or Washington or something. Not surrounded by surfers and palm trees. ”
“It’s a big state,” he said. “Very diverse. I’m in Northern California, so it’s not even-- wait, Rey--”
She cut through the box and ripped it open, tearing the flaps.
There was a little folded piece of paper - she opened it up. “Happy Life Day” was written in elegant letters, too fancy for the humble printer paper they were on. Rey grinned. Ben sighed.
“You’re not supposed to open Christmas presents three weeks early,” Ben muttered, and Rey blinked.
“Wha-- oh. Oh, shit, I didn’t…” she trailed off, glancing down at the already opened box. “Well. Too late now.”
She fished out a few layers of bubble wrap, putting it beside her to save it for later.
In shiny Star Wars wrapping paper was a small box, a little bigger than her hand. She admired the wrapping job for a second before ripping it open and discovering…
“An external harddrive?” It was used - there were some scratches and a worn Death Star sticker on top - but she knew it was a nice one. Crazy expensive.
“So you don’t have to store everything on Gemini,” he explained. “And internet stalkers can’t make fun of your teenage hairstyles anymore.”
She frowned at the little black box. “Can you use this to remotely stalk me?”
“No. Why are you so fixated on the stalker thing?”
“Hey, you just called yourself a stalker. But… this is so nice, Ben.”
“Well, your computer is a piece of junk.”
“Wow, thank you,” she said, in a deadpan. “And …. actually thank you. I would never be able to afford one like this my own.”
“I literally just had it sitting around.”
Rey snorted. “Try: “‘You’re welcome, Rey.’ Or: ‘I’m so glad you liked it, Rey’.”
“It’s really nothing.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s not. It’s perfect.”
He gave her one of his signature almost smiles, and then ducked his head to hide it.
She pretended to look annoyed. “Well, now I have to think of something for you.”
“Don’t buy me something because you feel obligated.”
“I’m not giving you anything,” Rey said, nestling into the couch. “I want a grand gesture, though. An expression of gratitude. I’d draw you something, but I can’t … actually draw. I give a mean backrub?”
“That’s very useful when we live an ocean apart.”
“I wish we didn’t,” Rey blurted, and then flushed, surprised at herself.
“So do I,” he said.
His gaze was heavy with loneliness and something she couldn’t quite read. Rey cleared her throat. “So your, uh, face is healing up.”
“Yes,” he said, shaking his head. “Uh. Yeah. Almost back to normal.”
Aside from a much thinner bandage on his face, there was really no difference from when she first saw him. He looked different, though, in a way that she didn’t quite have words for. It was like he had grown into his features without getting any older.
She realized she was staring, and then sharply turned her head away. “Oh, fuck, I’ve got class in fifteen minutes. Shit. I just--- I just wanted to say thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Ben said, that incomprehensible look still on his face, and Rey swallowed again. She slammed her laptop shut, and jumped up, running to get her boots on.
Rose poked her head out of their bedroom and gave Rey a sly smile that she pretended not to notice.
December was too damn cold.
Rey had been back in England for quite a while now, but living in a semi desert for part of her formative years had ruined her tolerance for cold. Her landlord had grumbled in agreement when she complained about it whilst turning in rent. He even gave her some milk from the goats he raised. (Which looked a little… green, in Rey’s opinion. She left it in the fridge for Rose’s superior culinary knowhow to contemplate.)
Halfway through the month, Rose took off for a weekend at Finn’s. Rey didn’t mind: having the flat to herself meant she could set up a stream of the Clone Wars film and finally convert Ben to the right side. (He complained a lot, of course, and called Ashoka annoying, and they ended up having a tiff about whether Anakin’s lightsaber or Vader’s was better, but overall, he seemed to actually be having fun.)
Rey was grateful for Ben in a way she couldn’t find words for - or at least, words that didn’t sound sentimental and lame when she typed them out. Despite having next to nothing in common on a surface layer, he got her.
And he was the only person who didn’t try to dissuade her when she decided to stay in for the night. (Possibly because it gave him a person to call and vent about Hux, but still.)
She wished, again, that she could get him something for Christmas. He was definitely well off - or better off than Rey was, for one thing. And shipping anything to the US was way out of Rey’s budget. These days she usually showed affection to Rose by beaning her in the head with a snowball; but that obviously wouldn’t work here.
Eventually, it hit her: she used his address, saved in her phone photos, and bought him a used copy of Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization off Amazon. Shipping was free in the US, so she only spent a few pounds on it. Even though her name was nowhere on the box, Ben suspected her the minute it arrived.
“Trust me,” she said, as he brandished the box with suspicion on camera. “You’ll like it.”
“Do you know what’s up with Finn?” Rey asked, Monday of the last week of class before break. “I asked him if he wanted to stay here for break and he hasn’t replied yet. Oh.” She blinked at her Actual Legal Roommate, and remembered what she had forgotten to do. “Actually, can Finn stay here for break?”
Rose looked at her, grinned, and then covered her mouth with her hand.
“What?” Rey said, frowning. “...What?”
“Look,” she said, talking rapidly like she always did when she was excited. “I know you and Finn always do Christmas together and I’d hate myself forever if I kept you two apart, and my sister works for an airline, so it’s like, no big deal, and I’ve already got the tickets from her, so it’s already all set.”
“I … Rose, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh!” Rose said. “Oh, I didn’t actually say the important part. You’re coming with me and Finn for Christmas in California. With my family!”
Rey blinked, a million protests marching through her head and then immediately getting shot down by Rose’s previous words. “I… okay,” she said, and then laughed, a huge smile on her face. “Okay!”
Rose squealed and hugged her tight. “I’m so so so excited, I can’t wait to bring you and Finn to my favorite restaurants and show you my high school and the park me and Paige went to when we grew up and and and we can go hiking because I know you always wanted to…”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Rey said, giggling. She opened her mouth, and then shut it. Thinking.
“How close does your family live to Northern California?”
“Like San Francisco? Not at all,” Rose said, frowning. “Why?”
“Nothing. No reason.”
Rose squinted suspiciously at her, and Rey forced an embarrassed grin.
“I wanted to see if we could visit Lucasfilm.” “Ohhhhh,” Rose said. “Oh, no, I don’t think they’re open for tours, anyway.”
Rey nodded, chewing the inside of her mouth, and then gave her roommate another brilliant grin. “Thank you so much, Rose. I’m gonna cry.”
“Of course,” Rose said, smooshing her with another hug. “I love you so much. I’m so excited.”
She wondered, leaning down to hug the shorter girl, if she should even tell Ben at all.
“I’m so tiiiired,” Rey moaned, leaning her head back so it was nestled under Finn’s chin. Rose was nuzzled in front of Rose, the three of them forming a Russian nesting doll of sleepiness.
“You can sleep on the plane,” Finn said.
“No way,” she said, bouncing. “I’m not gonna miss a second of my first plane ride.”
“You’re gonna stay awake the entire twelve hour flight?”
“I’m gonna try,” Rey said, pumping her fists. “There’s gonna be-- ocean, and mountains, and aeroplane food-- !!”
“Aeroplane food is infamously bad, Rey.”
“But that’s the exciting part! Finding out for myself!”
Too excited, Rey accidentally bonked the top of her head against his chin, and they both howled in pain. Rose made a tired noise of complaint as she was jostled away, too exhausted to even notice what was happening. They got a lot of looks. Rey didn’t care. She had been thinking about this trip every minute since Rose had told her, and she was constantly amazed about how she could only get more excited.
She liked airports, liked all the families nestled together as they waited to board, even liked the whole boarding process in general. Rose and Finn had generally given her the window seat, and she watched with her nose pressed against the glass the entirety of take off.
Finn and Rose nodded off an hour into the flight, Rose using her Ravenclaw scarf as a pillow on Finn’s shoulder. But Rey stayed true to her word and stayed awake. Planes were strange, sterile, a baby’s cry turning into an endless echo. Just about everyone else seemed to be traveling with family, and an unwanted memory of the last time she traveled crept in. Her throat went dry, and she sent the thought away.
She opened her laptop, connecting to the free wifi, and logged into Gemini. She was immediately greeted with a message.
KyloRen: You’re alive.
ReyOfSunshine: hey, thats my line
KyloRen: I’m borrowing it. Can I call?
Rey blinked at her sleeping best friends, literally shoulder to shoulder (to shoulder) with her.
ReyOfSunshine: uh not right now
ReyOfSunshine: im on a plane :o
KyloRen: Have you ever been on one before?
KyloRen: It’s awful, isn’t it?
ReyOfSunshine: not at all
ReyOfSunshine: just when i was thinking that you do not, in fact, hate evrything and everyone
KyloRen: Not everyone.
ReyOfSunshine: okay *besides* Vader
KyloRen: Right. Where are you off to?
ReyOfSunshine: rose’s family house for christmas.
KyloRen: Oh, that’s nice.
ReyOfSunshine: oh do you hate christmas too???
KyloRen: I was being genuine. I’m glad you’re going.
ReyOfSunshine: im really not used to you not being dry or sarcastic tbh
KyloRen: Me neither.
KyloRen: What’s the view like?
Instead of channeling her inner writer (she had floundered in all of her creative writing units), Rey awkwardly angled her laptop until she could take a Webcam photo of the view outside and sent it.
KyloRen: A big blue blur?
ReyOfSunshine: its looks better irl
KyloRen: I’d imagine. It’s hard to imagine anything looking worse than your webcam makes it.
She snorted, and Finn stirred beside her.
ReyOfSunshine: idk about that, the blur hides my spots p well
ReyOfSunshine: ok, my laptop’s struggling with this wifi and is already down to 20%. ill message you when i land.
KyloRen: Have a safe flight.
ReyOfSunshine: you too
ReyOfSunshine: I mean have safe flights in general I dont want to see your face covered in bruises again
KyloRen: I’ll try.
Her decision to stay awake the entire plane ride bit her in the ass once they arrived, and she ended up missing half of Christmas Eve day courtesy of her jet lag. Rose and Finn hadn’t had the heart to wake her, and she instead been woken up by the smell of Christmas cookies baking. Rose’s affinity for cooking evidently ran in the family, and Rey wolfed down cookies while Rose gave her the itinerary for the next few days. They would do typical Christmas stuff on the day itself - watch movies, drink eggnog, open presents - and on boxing day, explore Rose’s hometown together. The day after, they would be heading to Yosemite National Park. Which had glaciers. The other Ticos weren’t much for hiking (or nature), so it’d just be the three of them.
On Christmas, Rose’s sister, Paige, arrived, just in time for cinnamon rolls for breakfast. She was taller than Rose, and pretty, and started teasing Finn as soon as she met him. Rey liked her instantly. They opened presents in the morning - Rey only had two, of course, but they were both amazing. Rose’s was beautiful heather grey cape/poncho thing she had made by hand - Rey had no idea where she’d wear it outside of a convention hall or Halloween, but she loved it all the same. Finn had made her super cool rebel insignia earrings. She enjoyed watching everyone else open presents immensely, even if she didn’t get any of the Tico’s inside jokes as they opened gag gifts.
She opened her laptop when everyone was trying out their new presents, to find a message from KyloRen, sent earlier in the morning.
KyloRen: Merry Christmas, Rey.
ReyOfSunshine: *HAPPY* christmas.
KyloRen: Lest I ever forget that you’re British.
ReyOfSunshine: and happy life day!
KyloRen: Stir whip, stir whip, whip whip stir.
ReyOfSunshine: im having war flashbacks. hows the loneliest apartment
KyloRen: You’ll be pleased to know I did drag myself to my parents house today.
ReyOfSunshine: whoa WHAAAT??
ReyOfSunshine: omg how are you holding up actually talking to people?
KyloRen: Surprisingly well. I think talking to you the last few months has actually helped.
ReyOfSunshine: thats so nice
KyloRen: I mean, I’ll probably have to escape in the early hours of boxing day before I start throwing things, but I’m glad to be here.
KyloRen: I think this is the least sarcastic conversation we’ve ever had.
ReyOfSunshine: its christmas. we can be actually nice to each other for a day.
KyloRen: I’m always nice to you. You just pretend not to notice.
KyloRen: By the way: a picture of my parents dogs. (And yes, my dad’s is named Chewie.)
Pictured was a French Bulldog with his tongue sticking out, and what appeared to be a very small walking carpet. Rey could tell which was which instantly.
“What are you giggling about?” Rose said, leaning over Rey’s shoulder. Rey fought the urge to slam her laptop shut.
“These dogs,” she said, deciding on honesty. “That one’s named Chewie.”
Rose gave her a side eye. “And who’s dogs are they?”
“What?” Rey said, straightening. “No one’s. Some… someone on the Internet, I don’t know.”
“Boyfriend?” Paige asked, from behind her sister.
“No,” Rey said, as Rose answered simultaneously with: “That’s what I'm trying to figure out,” she said. She laughed at Rey’s outraged expression.
“They’re from a meme website,” Rey said, and Rose just held her hands up as she turned away.
“It’s like I Can Has Cheezburger!” Rey called. Rose walked away, still laughing.
It was late into the evening, long after Christmas dinner, but Rey was still wide awake. Paige and Rose were asleep in their childhood bedroom that they were sharing with Rey for the week, and she hadn’t wanted to disturb them. Finn was passed out beside her on the couch, but he could sleep through anything. She lay on her tummy in front of the Christmas tree, laptop fan whirring and her gifted hard drive humming pleasantly, warm to the touch.
She was keeping an eye on her friends list while she browsed everyone’s cute Christmas threads, and beamed when a certain username popped up in the “online” section.
ReyOfSunshine: i figured you were still gonna be nocturnal even on christmas
KyloRen: Guilty as charged.
ReyOfSunshine: santa isnt ever gonna get you one of those $$$ vader lightsabers if you dont sleep, ben
ReyOfSunshine: can i caallll
KyloRen: Of course.
It was weird to see Ben in a totally new in environment. She could see what appeared to be family portraits in the background, and cheesy Christmas decoration.
Ben silently rose from his chair to show off his heinous Christmas sweater, and Rey clapped with delight.
“My uncle literally wouldn’t let me enter the house without putting it on,” he said. “When I get home, I’m burning it.”
“Nooooo,” Rey protested, between giggle fits. “It’s cute!”
Ben’s ears went pink, and he rubbed his mouth with the palm of his hand. “You’re saying that to blackmail me.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Rey said, while rapidly taking screencaps.
“How’s your Christmas been?” he asked, tilting his head.
“It’s been lovely,” Rey said, smiling. “It’s been a long time since I… since I’ve had one like this. What about yours?”
“Not as awful as it could be,” Ben admitted. “I’m glad I got to…”
“Got to what?”
“Nothing,” he said, ears coloring again. They were like traffic lights for his mood. Rey understood why he normally kept them hidden under his dark curls. Someone (definitely not Ben) had braided back a portion of his hair, which looked surprisingly nice on him. She got a nice view of it when Ben turned away, looking at something offscreen.
“Is that her?” a male voice asked, and Rey’s view of a bearded man in his sixties was suddenly blocked as Ben shut his laptop almost all the way closed.
“No,” Ben said, automatically. And then, a second later: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The other man chuckled. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” And, apparently addressing to Rey, he added, “Be kind to my naughty nephew.”
Rey sat with her fingers covering her mouth, tremendously amused. It was another few moments before Ben opened his laptop back up again.
“In the spirit of Christmas,” Rey said, graciously, “I will pretend I went spontaneously deaf for the last few minutes.”
Ben’s ears were still pink. “That’s kind of you,” he muttered. “Why aren’t your--” he pauses. “Your roommate and her family conscious and ruining your reputation?”
Rey snorted. “You never had a reputation to begin with. Plus, I like seeing you like this,” she said. “You look less…”
“Like an anti-social vampire. I know.”
“Guarded,” she said, instead. Ben’s expression softened even more.
They both couldn’t sleep. Rey, because she was still in a totally different timezone, and Ben, because he didn’t so much sleep as “fall unconscious against his will” a few times a week. Rey didn’t feel like sleeping, anyway - they both kept finding excuses to not hang up.
“Read my present,” said Rey.
“Read it now,” she elaborated. “To me.”
He looked like he was going to protest, and then failed to think of one. He exited the frame of his webcam and came back with the box, still unopened. He used an x-acto knife to open it, and frowned when he pulled the battered hardcover out. “You bought me… a book version of Revenge of the Sith?”
She nodded eagerly.
He flipped the book over, studying the Vader illustration on the back. “Why,” he said, flatly.
He sighed, and removed the dust cover, flipping through the first few pages. “ The skies of Coruscant blaze with war…”
“Oh, no,” Rey said. “You gotta read the preface.”
Ben sighed again, turning back a few pages. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … really?”
“It’s what the movie started with!”
He gave her a wry look and continued. He didn’t pause again until the first mention of Obi-Wan and Anakin, and then he trailed off, staring down at the book.
“What?” Rey asked, chin cupped in her hands.
“... I didn’t think this would be good.”
Rey made an offended face. “Why would I send you a bad book?”
He shrugged. “Aren’t novelizations supposed to be like, fast books for little kids?”
“Some of them,” Rey said. “Not this one. It’s better than the movie. He actually throws a lot of the cheesy dialogue out, like, the “it’s only because I’m so in love” crap.”
Ben’s brow furrowed. “Really?”
A few hours later, she finally started to doze off. She didn’t stop him; his reading voice was low, and soft, and comforting, and she fell asleep to the sound of it.
Her dreams were bizarre that night. She dreamt of vampire teeth against her neck, gentle as a kiss, and ugly Christmas sweaters, and dogs named Chewie. Someone had covered her with a blanket and closed her laptop for her, and it made her worry that she had dreamed the entire call. The only evidence that she didn’t was a single message, sent at five am:
KyloRen: We left off on chapter six, by the way.
After she got dressed, she, Rose, and Finn all piled into Rose’s parents SUV. Rose was an excellent driver, and they visited her old haunts in town and introduced Finn and Rey to just about everyone they ran into. Everyone was incredibly charmed by Rey’s accent; it made Finn grumble about not keeping his.
In the late afternoon they snuck onto a playground they were definitely too old for, and Rose and Finn lept from the swings from their highest point like they used to when they were kids. Finn landed hard, and Rey felt a little guilty for laughing at him. (But only a little.)
After, they sat on the top of the jungle gym, looking out at the horizon.
“Is it weird being back in the US?” Rose asked, voice gentle.
“A little,” Finn admitted. “But Phasma is on the east coast, so I’m not worried.” He rubbed Rose’s shoulder. “Plus, I know you’ll protect me.”
Rose smiled, and rested her head against Finn’s shoulder. Rey smiled, too.
They got lunch at a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that made various weird Californian fusion food that Rose adamantly insisted on, and it turned out to be surprisingly fantastic. (Finn was less thrilled, but he still ate it, so Rose and Rey considered it a success.)
It wasn’t until they got home that night that they realized Finn’s ankle was swollen.
“Ow,” Finn moaned, trying to rotate it comfortably, and Rose’s face squished with worry.
“What happened?” Paige said, bringing in a first aid kid from under the sink.
“He sprained his ankle. We can probably take to him on the Urgent Care by mom’s office…” Rose gasped with a sudden realization, and turned with a pained expression to face Rey. “I’m so sorry, Rey, I know how much you were looking forward to this hiking trip.”
“No, it’s okay,” Rey said, holding her hands up. “Maybe I can--”
“I’m so so sorry,” Finn groaned, taking her hand. “I know how much you were looking forward to it. I feel like an ass.”
“I laughed at you when you fell,” Rey retorted. “I deserve it, karma wise. Besides, it’s no big deal, I can just go on my own.”
“I can take you,” Paige said. “Maybe?”
“Aren’t you spending the day with your girlfriend’s family?” Rey asked.
“She’d totally understand,” Paige said. “I don’t want you to go alone.”
“I can handle it,” Rey said, shaking her head. “I don’t wanna ruin your plans. I’ll be okay. Ask Finn.”
Finn, still grimacing with pain, sighed. “She’s done scarier stuff than go to a national park alone. Just please no stupidly dangerous hikes.”
“Of course,” Rey said, affronted at the accusation. “I’m not gonna get myself mauled by a bear. Or kidnapped,” she added, quickly, as Finn opened his mouth to suggest it.
He gave her a level look. A look that said, I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re making a bad decision, peanut. “Just don’t do anything stupid, please,” he said, at last. “Promise me.”
“I promise,” she said, empathetically, letting his hand go. He leaned back into the couch, no longer concerned - or admitting defeat.
She considered, while printing out the train and bus instructions, that some people would consider this “stupid”.
But it wasn’t, she assured herself, as she wished Finn and the Ticos goodbye. She knew what she was doing, she thought, as Paige pressed fifty dollars into her hands and refused to let her give it back, even after Rey had “stealthily” slipped it back into her pocket.
The counter arguments started coming in the further away she got from the Tico house - and Yosemite.
1. He didn’t know she was coming.
She started her morning on the train - it was more expensive then taking bus the whole way, but she wanted to take advantage of the lack of traffic while she still could, and the view of central California was beautiful. She made friends with a baby in the aisle next to her, and alternated between revising for her exams and reading some cheap paperback EU books she had picked up from a second hand shop in England.
2. He didn’t necessarily want her to come.
Around noon she got off the train and took a quick break before her bus arrived, and got a “California Burrito” - which was stuffed with guacamole and french fries. It made her feel like her arteries were clogging up, and was probably the best thing she had ever eaten. She sat outside, taking off her flats to wiggle her toes in the warm sunlight, marveling at how wonderful the weather was in late December.
3. She didn’t even know if he was home.
The bus passed through a town that smelled so strongly of garlic it pressed in from the windows. Rey pressed her head against the back of her seat, breathing in through her mouth and boggling at the events of the day. She was entering the sixth hour of her trip. She had called Finn at a payphone at a bus stop to assure him she was alive and well and not eaten by mountain lions. He did not seem to expect she was anywhere other than Yosemite National Park. Thank God.
This entire plan hinged entirely on Ben being too much of a shut in to actually spend more than a day or two with his family.
San Jose was a nice city. She arrived around sunset, to a lovely neighborhood that made her feel like she was probably, technically trespassing. Rey double checked the photo on her phone as she walked in, backpack heavy on her shoulders, until she found the one that matched his apartment number. She walked up the steps and rang the bell.
She rang it again, wondering if he was buried too deep in work to hear.
After eight rapidfire rings, she decided he probably wasn’t home, and sat down flat on her butt on the doorstep. A rust-red head of hair appeared out the corner of her eye, and she sank back as Hux stuck his head out of his door, checking that no one was ding-dong-ditching him. She realized as he slipped back in that he, of course, had no idea what she looked like or who she was - but it was too close of a call.
A few minutes past before Rey realized that she didn’t have an internet connection here, and couldn’t even message Ben to tell him someone may or may not be hiding out on his doorstep without prior warning. She opened her laptop - hoping someone might have set their wifi password to “password”- and found a list of networks:
… but none that were easily hacked.
It started to gently rain, but she was protected by the awning. She pulled Rose’s present out of her backpack and slipped it on over her light jacket, more for comfort than warmth. An old lady with an umbrella walked by and paused when she spotted Rey. She squinted at her.
“Hello, ma’am,” Rey said, in her politest, most posh voice.
The accent seemed to relax the woman, and her expression turned more curious than suspicious. “Poor dear. Forgot your key?”
“Yes,” Rey lied. She clucked her tongue sympathetically.
“You must be Ben’s girlfriend, I suppose,” she said, shifting her shopping bag on her shoulder. “You’re absolutely lovely. I suppose I understand why I haven’t seen you - he must not want you out of his sight incase someone snatches you up!”
Rey laughed, a touch nervously. “I, um. Thank you.”
“Hopefully he’ll be home soon,” she said. “If not, I live three doors down. I don’t want you to freeze.”
“Oh, I’ll be okay,” Rey said, smiling reassuringly. “Thank you so much.”
“Of course,” she said, nodding. “Happy holidays!”
“Happy holidays!” Rey echoed, waving.
She pulled her knees up and rested her chin in her palm, still waiting.
Wondering why Ben’s neighbor thought he had a girlfriend.
... Did Ben have a girlfriend?
No. She’d know.
… Wouldn’t she?
An hour passed. The chill of the doorstep started to bleed into her leggings, and she tucked her knees under the poncho for a little more warmth. She knew she should have gotten a second french fry burrito. She had half drifted off to sleep - twilight fully settling in - when she heard the roar of a motorbike chasing down the street. She watched as a broad, broad man wearing all black - motorcycle jacket, leather gloves, and a bulky helmet - parked across the street. There was no one else outside, and the street was only just illuminated by glowing Christmas lights. The man glanced her and did a double take that was obvious even with the helmet, and Rey slowly rose to her feet.
Maybe she could book it.
She should probably book it.
(Oh, Finn was going to be so mad if she got kidnapped by a masked weirdo on a motorbike.)
She was edging slowly down the steps as the man approached, just as hesitantly. He moved, suddenly, and Rey instantly dropped into a defensive stance, backpack sturdy against her back - but all he did was yank off his helmet. Dark curls fell into place around his ears.
“Rey?” Ben asked, stunned.
Rey froze where she stood. They both stared at each other.
“Hi,” Rey said, at last. “Shit, you’re tall.”
Ben stared down at her, his helmet clasped to his side. “You’re tiny.”
This, somehow, felt offensive. “I’m 173 cm,” she said, standing up straighter.
“I don’t know what that means,” Ben said, voice still very soft. He seemed to be in shock.
“It’s…” Rey trailed off, trying to convert it to feet in her head. “... It’s not short,” she said, at last.
“Okay,” said Ben, still staring at her with something that felt a little like awe. He seemed to snap himself out of something. “You must be freezing.”
“I’m from London,” Rey said, trying to sound superior and reassuring at the same time. Her incoming sneeze ruined her attempt at both.
“Come on in,” he said, reaching for her shoulder but changing his mind halfway through. Still, just standing close to him while he searched for his keys helped; he radiated warmth. Which was the final coffin in her vampire theory, she supposed. His black leather gloved hands were huge and moved with a strange sort of grace. He was really tall - especially in his big clompy motorbike boots. She frowned up at him, trying to match up this potential biker gang member with the image of Ben in her head. The scar was the same - thin and now fully healed, dipping beneath the collar of her jacket - as was the awkwardness.
Once they were inside, he helped her out of her cloak and hung it up behind her. She was too surprised to do anything but let him, but kept on her jacket while he fumbled with the heating. He kept sneaking furtive glances at her, like he thought she was going to disappear any moment.
“Should I take off my shoes?” Rey asked, tugging on a strand of her hair.
He looked down at them. She was wearing the same little brown flats she had worn to best get through airport security; she thought they were cute.
“No, it’s okay,” he said. “Your feet must be freezing.”
“I hadn’t realized that you were on a plane to California,” Ben said, slowly.
“I didn’t know if I’d have time to visit,” Rey said, slowly. “But then my plans for today got cancelled, so I took the bus andddd here I am.” She did a little ‘tah-dah!’ gesture.
Ben ran his hand through his hair. It was fluffier than she thought it was, and she tucked her hands into her jacket pocket before she mimicked him. His awkward was contagious.
“Because you’ve left your family’s house and are antisocial again,” Rey said. “And--”
“You’re being very social by ditching your roommate and her family.”
She squinted up at him. “I wasn’t finished.”
Ben shut his mouth. His posture was terrible; he bent like a vulture down towards her.
“And,” she said, slowly. “And I didn’t want to come all the way to California without seeing you.”
What Rey couldn’t quite tell on webcam was how expressive Ben’s mouth was. Standing in front of him, she felt like she could hold a hand up to his eyes and read his thoughts from his lips alone.
“And it was only a few hours drive, so I thought--”
“A few hours?” Ben echoed.
Rey exhaled. Might as well be honest. “Six.”
He blinked owlishly at her, and then rubbed his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”
“You’re not mad, are you?” she said, crossing her arms across her chest.
“No,” he said, empathetically. “Starting to suspect that you, in fact, are the stalker in this this dynamic, but no. I’m not mad.”
They still hadn’t moved from the entrance. Ben placed his keys on the hook next to wear he hung her cloak, but kept his jacket and gloves on. The helmet, he placed on a table.
His house wasn’t really furnished so much as it “contained furniture”. It wasn’t immaculately clean, but it was still cleaner than her flat had been since she and Rose first moved in.
“So ... a motorbike? Really? Even after all--” she gestured at his scar, “that?”
“My dad gave it to me a few years ago. After the accident I figured I should actually use it. At least it comes with a helmet.”
“... I guess,” Rey relented.
Ben exhaled. “I should… I should be offering you tea, or something.”
“Yes,” Rey breathed, relieved to have a reason to move. “Yes, that sounds great.”
“The wifi is ‘DeathStarPlans’.” Ben said, placing a steaming mug in front of her.
“Of course it is,” said Rey, laptop already open. He listed off a combination of letters and numbers for the password, which made her feel better about her unsuccessful hacking attempts. The kitchen was the only room in his place she hadn’t seen on his webcam. It didn’t seem to be very frequently used. Despite this, it smelled really nice - a smell she couldn’t quite identify. The entire apartment smelled nice - maybe Rose would have been able to pick up on it with her superior culinary skills.
With the tea, she was finally warming up, and she shed her jacket and hung it from her chair. Ben had finally peeled off his gloves to make her tea, and they curled in on themselves on the table.
Ben stared down at her phone. “Do you want me to charge that?”
“Sure,” she said. “But it doesn’t really do anything while I’m in the US anyway.”
It took a moment for this to sink in. Ben sighed. “Please,” he said, slowly, “message your friends before the police get involved.”
Rey obliged. She had four worried messages from Finn on Gemini, which she glanced over.
“Sorry,” she wrote into the Gemini messager box, but before she could write another word, she got an incoming video call. She accepted it.
“Rey!” Finn yelled, like she was at the opposite end of a tunnel, or under water. “Rey, is everything oka-- where are you?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Everything’s okay. I made a friend at Yosemite.”
The look on his face said wrong answer. Or wrong lie, really. She swapped it quickly, hoping it’d come off as a slip of her tongue.
“I met up with a friend at Yosemite,” she said. “We’re hanging out. I’ll be back soon.”
“When is soon? The busses and trains barely run on the weekends here.”
Oh, Rey thought. And Ben didn’t have a car.
Okay, yes, maybe Finn had correctly guessed that she was going to do something stupid.
“I’ll figure something out,” she said, brightly. “And I will call you at every possible opportunity. I’m fine. I promise. Just focus on your ankle.”
His expression was far from reassured. He looked like he was trying to study the room behind her. She was glad Ben was sitting across from her and out of shot, his expression about as wary as Finn’s was.
“I’m fine,” she said, empathetically. “I’ll alternate Ubers if I have to. Don’t worry about me.”
Finn exhaled slowly. “You’re gonna give me a heart attack.”
“Can’t,” she said. “You’re already busy with the ankle emergency. We’ll both survive this weekend yet.”
She ended the call.
“So,” Rey said, drumming her fingers on the table. “Um.”
“You can stay for as long as you need,” he said, automatically. “The multiple- Uber plan would cost a couple hundred dollars, by the way.”
Rey’s jaw dropped. “Jesus.”
“... Which I’ll happily front if you need to--”
“No!” Rey said. “No, you don’t…” she groaned, dropping her head to the table. “I came here because I wanted to see you... and I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to say no.” She winced, face still buried.
She raised her face slightly, so she could look at him over her arms. “Really?”
“... Because you kinda keep looking at me like it isn’t.”
He winced. “I don’t know how to … host. I think the tea is the only thing I’ve gotten right.”
“I came to a shut in’s house unannounced. If you had been a good host, I’d think you were a serial killer.” She grinned at him, scooting her chair out and standing.
“I still feel bad.”
“Don’t,” she said. “If I get you to watch one episode of Clone Wars, I’ll consider this trip a success.”
Ben hesitated, his gloved hand resting on top of a chair. “Is that why you’re here? Clone Wars?”
“No,” she said. “Well, it was in my general plan, but it wasn’t explicitly because of that…”
“What was your plan?” Ben asked. “Did anyone know it besides you? Because I had no idea, your friends had no idea...”
Rey tensed. “You said you weren’t mad.”
“I’m not,” he said, gritting his teeth. “But you didn’t even know if I was home, I might have still been in LA with my family…”
“Which you weren’t, because you’re viciously anti social.”
“And what are you, for leaving Finn and Rose to sit on a shut in’s doorstep?” He exhaled slowly. “I should have … I knew something like this might happen.”
Rey reeled back. “What does that mean?”
“I found the article about you, Rey,” he said, voice low. “About your parents.”
Rey’s heart drummed a rabbit’s pace. “What article?”
Ben’s eyes closed, reciting. “ English Girl found in Spain after Parents Overdose.”
Rey’s shoulders hunched up to her ears. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, fighting to keep her voice even.
“When you were eight years old your family took a trip,” Ben said, voice even, like he was reading from a textbook. “They left you behind in a motel while they died on hospital beds - after being found unresponsive an alleyway. The local authorities hadn’t even realized you came with them. You were -- you were listed as a missing person for years.”
Rey gripped the table. Not wanting to hear it. Not wanting to remember it. “What does that have to do,” she said, struggling to hold in tears, “with me being here?”
Ben mouth was a flat line and his eyes were dark. “You refer to your parents in present tense. You’re still looking for them, because if they’re not dead, that means they never left you. You’re looking for someone to rescue, because its easier than spending time with a real family and someone who chose someone else.”
A tear ran down Rey’s cheek, but she still opened her mouth to speak, even if the words were halting and heavy on her tongue. “Is that what you think you are? Someone to rescue? Are you so fucking self loathing that you never considered I might want to spend time with you because I actually like you?” She rose from the chair, viciously wiping away tears. “This is bullshit. I’ll hitchhike.”
Ben looked like he had been slapped. “Rey--” he exhaled. “I’m sorry. Stay the night, at least. I don’t think Finn would let me live if I let you hitchhike in the middle of the night.”
“Fine,” she said, letting all the air out her lungs. “Whatever.” She collapsed back into the chair, flipping her laptop back open.
They didn’t speak again for an hour.
He ordered them pizza and refused to take any money from Rey, much to her displeasure. The only thing that stopped her from insisting anyway was because she was still replaying their argument in her head. They sat on his uncomfortable couch next to the washing machine, while they ate, a person sized space between them. His copy of the Revenge of the Sith novelization was on the table, and his bookmark remained where they had left off.
It wasn’t anything like hanging out with Rose or Finn. It wasn’t even really like hanging out with him over Gemini. She didn’t know if that was because of their fight, or if he was just more awkward in person. They both didn’t seem to know what to do, what to say. At some point he took out leftover cheesecake from his trip to his family’s, and the way Rey’s face lit up when she bit into it broke the tension a little.
Her long day and lack of sleep was catching up to her, and she as nodding off around midnight. Ben scurried upstairs and came back down with a neat stack of clothes.
“You can sleep in these, if you want,” he said. “They’re clean.” The first item was a t-shirt for a band she’d never heard of, the second a familiar pair of French bulldog adorned pajama pants.
“Thank you. Do you have a spare blanket? I don’t really need a lot of pillows, but …”
“No, you’ll be taking the bed, I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Rey looked at him in disbelief. “I think you’re taller than that couch is long.”
He shook his head. “I’ll be fine.”
“I literally slept on the floor two nights ago, Ben.” And for the other nights spent in California, she had shared a bed with Rose. She almost made the suggestion and then immediately shut her mouth. No. Nope. No, she had read fanfiction. There lay the path to … a whole lot of shit she didn’t want to be thinking about right now, especially when she was still mad at him.
She accepted the offer without further complaint. She changed in the upstairs bedroom; the pants were XL and flopped past her toes and, tied loosely, revealed a solid inch of her underwear around her hips.
It wasn’t until she settled in - black sheets, black pillows, black comforter - and found herself drifting off to sleep that she realized the apartment smelled like Ben.
“Your shower is amazing,” she said, coming downstairs the following morning. She had dressed in a sweater top, her jacket, and jeans. Her towel was sloppily wrapped around her head. She had never managed to get it quite right.
“Do you want a hairdryer?” he asked. “There’s one under the sink.”
Of course there was, she thought, eyeing his perfect curls. “Good to know. How did you sleep?”
Ben studied the wall very intensely.
“You didn’t,” Rey answered herself. “Great.”
“It’s not your fault,” Ben said. “Insomnia.”
“I still feel guilty,” Rey said, rubbing her arm.
“Don’t,” Ben said, sternly. “When your hair’s dry, we’ll get breakfast.”
Rey almost retorted that she left the house with her hair still damp almost everyday, but figured she probably shouldn’t offend her host’s delicate hair care sensibilities.
When she came back downstairs, Ben handed her a helmet.
She stared at it in dismay, half an hour of trying to wrangle her hair wasted. And then it hit her. “Wait. We’re going on your bike?”
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, gently.
“I’m not afraid,” Rey protested, but she stared down at the helmet without putting it on.
Ben tilted his head. “Do you trust me?”
“Oh, don’t you Aladdin me.” She scowled, and then shoved on the helmet. “Fine.” She said. “Fine.”
“Are you sure?” he said.
“Yes,” she said, marching out the door. He locked it behind them. “It’s a challenge now. Besides. I like trying new things. And it’s just like a… big version of my bike back home.”
He didn’t look like he believed her. “Just yesterday you were lecturing me for it being unsafe.”
“Don’t make me think about it,” she warned, and then hopped in place and stretched. “Okay. I’m ready. I’m amped.”
He looked at her in barely hidden amusement and led her across the street.
She clung to him as they settled on the bike. She could only partially lock her fingers with her arms around his waist, but she trusted that more than trying to cling onto the back. She was glad she wore her boots, because she was pretty sure her flats would go flying if she put her feet in the wrong place. And maybe take her whole foot off with them.
“Ready?” he asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” she said, hoping he couldn’t feel the way her heart was pounding.
What Rey realized, immediately, that she was never going to be happy with her bicycle at home ever again. She laughed in delight into Ben’s neck and heard him laugh back as they flew down the streets. It was absolutely terrifying, but also tremendously fun. When they pulled into the parking lot of a tiny diner, just fifteen minutes later, she groaned her disappointment into Ben’s shoulder. He laughed again, and she reluctantly unlatched her arms from around him. He helped her off the bike, and removed his helmet to reveal untouched, still perfect hair.
Hers’ wasn’t, of course.
The diner had teal plush seats, and Rey settled into the booth as Ben sat across from her. He looked at her as she studied the menu, and then took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he said, slowly, as if every word cost him dearly.
She raised an eyebrow. “Wow. You’re really not used to apologizing.”
He gave her a hard look. She waved her hand for him to continue.
“You were right, about me being self sabotaging. Sometimes other people get caught in the carnage. I didn’t… I really hadn’t intended to hurt you.”
She sighed, shoving her menu aside. A man brought them waters, and she carefully tore the top of her straw wrapper. “I didn’t know you knew. About … me.”
His expression was already asking for additional forgiveness before he spoke. “I google everyone.”
She exhaled. “I didn’t realize that article was.. I didn’t know the…” she could feel herself starting to tear up again, and Ben flinched. “I don’t think about it much.”
“I understand,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was… that deeply buried.”
“Maybe you were right,” she said, squaring her shoulders. “Maybe I like projects. But it doesn’t change the fact I’m here. And, seriously, it would be totally crap if we waste the one time we’ll ever get to see each other in person fighting about something that happened ten years ago.”
He nodded, expression tentative.
“And you’re buying me the extra fancy Belgian waffles.”
This brought an actual smile out of him. Then she shot him with her straw wrapper.
Rey was so enthusiastic about his bike that Ben decided, impromptu, to drive them the hour to San Francisco. Rey’s entire body ached by the time they parked, but she missed his body heat as soon as she stood up straight and the bay breeze hit her.
It seemed that Rey got her wish to go hiking anyway; Ben warned her that parking was difficult in the city and they’d have to walk instead. The hills were steeper than she could have ever imagined, and her calves ached. They did all the touristy things; Ben said he hadn’t done any of them since he was a kid. She thought it was a waste. “When I went back to London,” she said, “I tried to do one of the big things once a month.” She gave him a wry look. “Then again, I ran out fast. San Francisco seems to be trying to pack one into every street.”
They ate Ghirardelli ice cream sundaes in a little patch of grass outside the store. Ben seemed to be paying more attention to her than his melting ice cream - which was very funny, especially when half of it landed on his jeans. She was the one who paid for both, so if he planned on wasting his she was definitely going to steal it.
“I wish we could visit Lucasfilm,” she said, wistfully. “Maybe if we tell the secretary about the fact we literally met fighting on the internet about Star Wars she’ll be endeared and let us in.”
Ben looked at her and sighed. “This,” he said, slowly, “is why you tell someone you’re going to randomly appear at their apartment in advance.”
Rey frowned, not following. “I thought they didn’t do tours.”
“They do when your grandfather worked there for twenty years,” Ben said.
Rey’s jaw dropped. “He-- you-- what?” She smacked her fist down on her open palm. “Oh my god, that’s why you were such an entitled asshole about Star Wars!”
“Thanks for the past tense,” Ben said. Rey ignored the sarcasm.
“This changes everything,” she said excitedly. And then she groaned. “You seriously could have gotten a tour?”
“Yes,” he said. “But I don’t think they’re open again until January anyway.”
Rey made a noise of agony deep in her throat.
“I guess this just means you’ll have to come back,” Ben said, leaning back onto the grass.
“I’d love to,” Rey said, surprised. Her heart was doing something weird, something floaty, before an arrow of reality shot it down. “... In about fifteen years. When I’ve saved up enough money for a cross continental flight.”
She rolled her head back to look at him, with a what-can-you-do-grin.
Ben wasn’t smiling back.
“I’m going to go get napkins,” she said, suddenly, and marched off back in the direction of the chocolate shop.
Rey’s feet were aching as they headed back to where they had parked. Her boots were fine but lacked sole support. In the final stretch of the walk back, she jokingly asked Ben for a piggyback ride.
Then he actually agreed. He kneeled and she clambered up, his arms hooking under her knees. The vantage up there was insane; she could see the whole city. She laughed as his swung her around, cinching her arms tighter around his neck.
She was becoming very familiar with the planes of Ben’s back. And what his hair smelled like. (Which was a weird thing to think about. What the fuck, Rey.)
They drove back to San Jose, hitting traffic hard. While waiting, she turned her face to look at the cars beside them, and removed an arm from Ben’s waist to wave at an owl eyed kid staring at them from a bright green Kia. She felt Ben jolt, concerned, and put her arm back where it belonged.
They parked the bike on Ben’s street and swung off. Rey stretched her legs, the combination of walking all day and then being cramped up on a bike for nearly two hours less than pleasant. She heard Ben swear under his breath and looked up to see Hux’s door swing open. She stood up straight, and Ben swept an arm towards her, like he was going to brush her behind his back. She ignored the arm and the sentiment.
Hux walked out to meet them with no ceremony nor greeting. Rey immediately noticed that, while he was still plenty tall, he was dwarfed next to Ben.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
Ben shut his eyes. “I am currently not working for Snoke.” It sounded like he had said those exact words many, many times.
“Like hell you’re not,” Hux scoffed. “You know what’s going to happen if you keep ignoring his calls.”
“Was that a threat?” Ben said, cocking his head. “I’d like to remind you that you were only hired because I refused to give him all of my time. He’s not going to threaten me, because he wouldn’t dare to do anything that would possibly leave him with just you.”
Hux set his mouth in a quivering line. He looked at Ben, and for the first time seemed to notice that they weren’t alone. He peered down at Rey. Or sneered. It could have been either; he had a sort of permanent stink eye. “And who might this be?”
Ben flinched, but Rey just smiled sweetly.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hux,” she said. “And I’m so sorry you’re going to have to start doing your own fucking laundry.”
Rey took him by the wrist and dragged him into his apartment. She had a vague feeling that if she opened the curtain in an hour, Hux would still be standing in the street where they left him.
“So,” Rey said, as they set the helmets down inside. “... Are you in the mob?”
Ben didn’t say anything. Until she made a “oh my god holy shit” face, then he winced and said, “No. Well. Not the mob, exactly. … I’m trying to quit. I’m in the process of quitting.”
Rey reshaped her expression into something that said more, ‘I’m vaguely horrified, but mostly intrigued.’
“What do you do?”
He winced. “Less than legal things.”
“Oh shit,” she said. “So… Are you the muscle of the operation?”
“No,” he said, immediately. And then, in a much quieter voice: “Not anymore.”
Rey was ready to laugh, and then she saw the expression on his face. “Oh.”
“It’s just hacking now,” he said, tugging on his gloves. “And hopefully nothing, soon.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I was hoping to avoid this conversation.”
Rey shrugged. “If you genuinely want and are trying to quit, that’s enough for me. I don’t care if you’ve done a hit on someone. … Have you done a hit on someone?”
He gave her a wry look. “Would that make you finally feel like showing up to the apartment of some internet stranger was a bad idea?”
“Probably not,” Rey admitted. “Actually, I like the idea of having a personal assassin. You can threaten my professors.”
They glanced out the window - Hux had left the street, but was loitering rather obviously on the steps outside his apartment. She exhaled slowly. “You really need to move.”
He sighed. “You’re not wrong. Do you want to watch Clone Wars? ”
Rey gasped in delight. “Is my evil plan working? Are you being converted?”
“More by Stover’s efforts than yours. I want to know more about Grievous.”
Rey felt wounded. “Stover’s efforts are my efforts, as you would have never read it without me. Speaking of ...”
She leaned over him to pick the hardcover off the table, and found the place where they had left off. She read clearly in her best teacher voice, giving everyone distinct voices. (She threw in a Jar-Jar impression as narration which prompted a laugh/cough fit that nearly had him coughing up a lung.) She read from the kitchen island, book corners secured by her elbows and chin cupped in her hands, as Ben cooked. He made a mean grilled cheese, and she ate hers sitting up on the island as Ben leaned against it.
“Please do not talk with food in your mouth,” was his flat complaint when she started to read again. She devoured the rest of the grilled cheese in three bites. He made her another.
He was smiling when she read Threepio and Anakin reunited, and she faltered for a bit before finding her groove again.
They moved back to his uncomfortable grey couch, and she leaned against him, still warm even without the heating on. He was in a grey sweater, the sleeves rolled up, and his jeans grass-strained from their impromptu picnic earlier. He reached over her to turn on a lamp. When he pulled his arm back, his fingertips tentatively rested on her forearm. She didn't move away; the feeling grounded her as the words began to feel like cotton balls in her mouth. She didn’t want to stop, though, and she liked the way he was tracing her wrist with his thumb.
When her voice grew hoarse, he silently plucked the book from her hands and continued on for her.
“The dark is generous, and it is patient, and it always wins,” Ben read. His reading voice was pleasantly low and soft, especially this close.
Once more, she fell asleep to the sound of it.
She woke with a start. Her entire body ached. “Worse than the floor,” she moaned. “Ben.”
He turned his head to look at her, clearly not having slept a wink. Only about of third of him was actually on the couch, the rest hung precariously off of it.
“C’mon, up,” she said, forcing herself to stand. She yoinked the blanket they were covered with, and he shivered. “You gotta sleep,” she said. “Sleep or die.”
He frowned at her, not getting the picture until she walked towards the stairs and tugged his sleeve, dragging his arm towards her.
“Rey,” he said, “I’m fine.”
“Couch is evil,” she said, words slurring. “I wanna burn it t’morrow. But first. We sleep.”
He gave her a long look, hair flopping over his eyes, and then sighed, dragging himself to his feet. They shuffled liked zombies up the stairs. Rey hadn’t realized it was possible to fall upwards.
There was no fanfic hesitation. At least, not for Rey. She fell face first onto the soft soft pillows and mattress that was ten million times better than hers at home. Ben was like a big hibernating bear next to her, and she curled into his abundant body heat without thinking about it twice.
Ben was still asleep when she woke. She wondered how well he had actually slept. She shifted so her head was propped up on her arm, on top of the pillow. They were both still in their sweaters and jeans, and Rey had lost a sock at some point. He looked somehow softer, like when she’d put on Rose’s spare glasses and peer around their room. She found herself mentally mapping out his moles like she used to do with constellations on summer nights with Finn, back when they were preteens.
It was a king sized bed, and a gentlemanly distance had been wedged between them, but Rey finding herself scooting closer to better examine his scar. His sweater had been pulled so it was halfway over one shoulder. She reached out a hand--
Ben’s eyes fluttered opened, and she shut her eyes and held her breath, playing dead. “Good morning,” he murmured. She ignored it.
“You have freckles,” he said, and she could feel his head tilt against the pillow.
A long moment passed.
“Rey,” he said. “I know you’re awake. People who are asleep usually breathe.”
Rey let out a breath slowly before cracking her eyes open. Ben was already sitting up, turned away from her.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Oh,” she said, disappointed. “I was kinda hoping me insisting on you sleeping here would help.”
“You thought your suggestion of me sleeping in my own bed would cure my insomnia?”
She huffed. “Well, when you put it like that…”
She let him shower first; she usually only showered every other day anyways. She was kinda curious about whatever black magic he did to make his hair like that, but part of her felt like it was a kinda “green ribbon around her neck” situation and she was better off not knowing. While he was showering, she decided to wash the clothes she had brought with her. She had only brought two outfits she had already worn. (Her backpack was small! She didn’t know the buses here sucked!) She belted the dog PJS as tight as she could to hide the fact she had to throw both pairs of undies she had brought in the wash. It was like tying a corset; she had to pull the cord with both hands as the flat of one head held the pants in place.
Something about doing laundry brought an element of normalcy to the weirdness of the weekend. She always felt calm while doing it, although she usually hopped up on another machine at the public laundromat and listened to music while she waited. She eyed the uncomfortable couch warily as she waited; and decided instead to wander into the kitchen. She couldn’t cook very well, but she could make toast and had a fifty/fifty chance of not screwing up scrambled eggs.
She opened her laptop to google the Gordon Ramsey Youtube video she usually used, and got an incoming call from TheHairOfMyFinnyFinnFinn. She clicked accept, and was greeted by Rose and Finn’s faces.
“Hi!” Rose said, waving. “See, Finn? I told you. Totally fine.” Her eyes narrowed. “And wearing a… that’s not your shirt.”
Rey’s hand went to her chest, blocking the band logo. (Not that she knew if The First Order really had any significance.)
Finn looked cautious. “You’re really okay?”
“I’m great. I went to San Francisco yesterday!”
Rose’s face broke into a huge smile. “That’s great!”
“San Francisco? Isn’t that-- that’s really far away, isn’t it?” He addressed this to Rose, who sighed.
“Finn. We’ve been over this. Rey,” she looked directly into the webcam. “I’m glad you’re having fun. Stay as long as you want. Just remember we fly out late Monday night.”
“Oh,” said Rey. “Right. Yeah, I’ll let you guys know when I’m on my way back.” She hadn’t realized it had gone so fast. “And Finn, calm down. I’m fine.”
“I’ll be calm when I see you in person."
Rey rolled her eyes, and heard the stairs creak. She flinched, not knowing what exactly Ben would be wearing exactly after a shower. (She got a sudden, random image of a sparkly gold bathrobe.) “Gotta go, bye!” she said, ending the call. She heard a peal of Rose’s laughter as it disconnected.
She turned to face Ben, who was … fully dressed.
She forced herself to recover quickly from her… not disappointment, no, but… surprise? That also seemed too strong. She stood suddenly, the chair scraping. Ben’s gaze dropped to her hips and then shot back up.
“I’m making toast and scrambled eggs,” she said, gesturing at the egg carton, butter, and milk in front of her.
“I see that,” Ben said, raising an eyebrow. “I’ll make bacon.”
Rey looked at him with love in her eyes, and Ben grinned, the expression transforming his entire face.
“Okay,” she said, leaning forward. “So I just… push down on this?”
“Yes,” Ben said, leaning down with his arms crossed. He was bent and twisted like a pretzel with anxiety. “How… how did you convince me to let you do this?”
“Jedi mind trick,” Rey said, beaming through the helmet. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
Ben dipped his head so it almost rested against her helmet; he heard him murmur something that almost sounded like a…
“Are you praying?”
He raised his head, so they were eye to eye. “Much to my own surprise. I haven’t been to church since it was and also with you.”
“I like that better,” Rey remarked, religion being an utterly foreign concept to her. Maz had been religious, but never really imposed it on her. “More Star Wars-y.”
“Just please be cautious.”
“I will,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Look. If I die, it’s my own fault. I will impose that upon Finn as a Force Ghost if I have to.”
“Why did-- why are you suggesting death?” Ben choked out, now paler than she thought humanly possible.
“Death by motorcycle accident is a pretty gnarly way to go,” she said. “I’d be alright with it. Okay. Let’s go!”
Ben threw up his hands, did a half turn, and then exhaled loudly. “Hold on.”
Rey was wearing his gloves and his jacket (both of which were far too big, but Ben had adamantly insisted on them and the condition Rey would only going down the street.)
“You’re just going to powerwalk it at first, okay?’ Ben said.
“Yes,” said Rey, impatiently. “Can I start it now?”
“Hold on,” he said again, and leaned over her, moving her hands slightly on the handles. She couldn’t tell the difference between the new positions and the old ones, and she thought, as he rested his head on her shoulder, it might have been an excuse to …
“There’s the engine,” Ben said, shaking her out of her thoughts, and she nearly head butted him by accident.
“Oh,” she said, and then began to walk the bike forward.
Even Ben had to admit she was a natural. She had tried to negotiate the helmet, once she proved herself apt, as she didn’t even own a bike helmet back in London. He just gave her a stony look, the expression pulling his scar to make it even more severe. She shut up.
She was babbling to him about her mechanics summer job as they headed back into the apartment for lunch, and he was nodding as she spoke, asking questions when appropriate.
“So your foster mother…”
“The most recent one. The one who set you up at the mechanics.”
“Oh! Yes, Maz.” She beamed. “She was my favorite. I-- that sounds weird, I know, but they always felt more like teachers than parents. She was a little crazy, but she was good to me.”
“What were the others like?”
“There was a couple when I first went back to the UK. I was…. I was acting out a lot, so that didn’t last very long. And then another couple -- that was how I met Finn, actually, as my literal foster brother. We kept in touch even as we got shipped off to different homes. Then Maz was next. She died a little after I turned eighteen.”
“I’m sorry,” Ben said, awkwardly.
Rey shook her head. “I’m just glad I had those years with her at all.”
“What about before?” Ben hesitated. “In… Spain? Who looked after you?”
Rey froze, leaning hard against the kitchen island. Ben grimaced.
“I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer that.”
“No, it’s okay, I just haven’t…” She closed her eyes. “Most of its gone. I don’t remember… I just remember it being hot, and speaking Spanish all the time, and ---” she hit the memory she had been blinding groping for. “Plutt. Plutt was the closest thing I had as a guardian. He was horrible.” She shivered.
Ben’s voice was soft. “What did he do?”
“He hit me sometimes. I don’t really remember much. Just that I hated him.”
Ben’s hand was hesitating again, hovering by her shoulder. Rey made a decision, Finn and Rose had made her very dependent on hugs. So she threw herself forward, and Ben enveloped her in his arms, like his body remembered the motion better than his mind did. It was stilted, either way.
“You’re really bad at hugging,” she muttered, utterly squished, and Ben made a comically worried face as he tried to adjust without knowing what he was doing. She burst out laughing.
“You really are a shut in.”
“I never pretended to be otherwise,” he said. His hand raised to tuck a wisp of hair behind her ear, and she realized as it brushed her cheek that it was shaking. The lack of human contact, she thought. Or something.
It was warmer today, and Ben was feeling weird about having shown her a city an hour away instead of his own, so they took a drive, stopping often. Rey had somehow convinced him to buy a new couch, and they alternated between actual furniture stores and thrift shops throughout the afternoon. They found one at a secondhand shop that Rey nearly fell asleep on.
“It doesn’t really match…” Ben said, hesitating.
Rey lifted her head up. “You barely have furniture. You can make everything else match.”
And so he agreed; and the store set up a delivery for that evening.
San Jose was - no offense to Ben - nowhere near as cool as San Francisco, but she liked hearing about the whole Silicon Valley history thing. And more than that, she liked hearing Ben admit he couldn’t quite leave his family behind entirely - he moved to the opposite end of it, but remained in California.
He had spent his childhood at Disneyland, in Hollywood, and in voice acting booths with his uncle. His mother had even taken him to senate meetings while he was still in diapers, letting him play with starfighters and tug on her hair. Rey couldn’t even comprehend the shape of it. Ben himself seemed disattached. The women of his family were all in the government, the men all in movie making. He was far too closed off for either.
Not that he didn’t have an ego; she knew that before she knew anything else about him. He had gotten into all the colleges he had applied to; he hadn’t made friends, but he had made good grades. He didn’t bother with grad school because he already had job offers.
They were very very different.
But they had the same barely repressed tempers, the same independency that acted as a mask for crippling loneliness.
And they both really fucking loved Star Wars.
She was admiring his lightsaber replica in his office, doing a few quick moves and stances, making the appropriate noises.
“Why doesn’t it light up?” she asked. “I mean, I’ve got a toy of Luke-slash-Anakin’s that lights up and makes noises. I’d expect more from your nerd cave.”
“Oh,” said Ben, casually. “That’s because it’s an actual prop.”
Rey nearly fell over; the only thing keeping her upright was the horror at the idea of crushing it. “Remind me to get on your granddad’s Christmas list.”
“Well, he’s dead,” Ben said, flatly. Rey gave him a look. “...But my uncle still knows a lot of people there. Maybe I can get a Jar-Jar head for you.”
Rey laughed so hard she had to put the lightsaber down and drop to the ground.
“It wasn’t that funny,” Ben protested. But Rey was infectious and after a few seconds, Ben joined her, both laughing uproariously on the floor.
“Oh my god,” Rey choked out, barely gaining her composure, tears in her eyes. “I could mount it on my wall.”
“Beware all ye who enter here,” Ben said, turning to look at her. He looked so so different like this - his hair a mess, his eyes alight.
“Ben,” she called, sweetly, softly. “I have a question.”
He tilted his head. “What?”
“... What’s a Kylo Ren?”
He groaned. “You’ve been biding your time with that, haven’t you?”
“Maybe,” Rey said, sing song. She suddenly swung forward, so she was sitting side-saddle on his stomach. He gave a soft oof, but her weight didn’t seem to make much of an impact on him. “ Who’s Kylo Ren?” she asked again, in her best interrogation voice.
Ben turned his face away and held a hand up to it. She realized by his ears and neck that he was blushing. “I don’t want to.”
She shoved him, poked him, and then - like a lightbulb had appeared over her head - wormed her fingers under his arm and tickled him. He howled in betrayal and laughter, trying to wiggle out of her grasp, but her perch made it impossible without him literally shoving her. She felt like he was considering it when he spoke.
“Stop! Fine, fine, just-- stop, I’ll tell you--”
She raised her hands, but kept her fingers poised. “Talk.”
Ben breathed shakily, trying to regain his composure. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“He’s my OC,” he said, with the gravitas one would expect at a funeral.
“Your-- wait, your OC? Your original character-OC?”
He went redder. “I came up with him in middle school.”
“Oh my god,” Rey said, in utter delight. “Tell me everything.”
“He’s… he was Vader’s protege,” he said, with a long, long sigh. “He had … I was really into swords into middle school, so his lightsaber had a crossguard with vents - kinda like three blades--”
Rey nodded, picturing it.
“... Anyway. He killed Han Solo. And Luke, sort of. It was complicated.”
Rey raised her eyebrows. “You must have been a very edgy middle schooler.”
Ben did not deny this.
“What about Leia? Did he kill her, too?”
“No, he couldn’t,” he said. “He almost did, but…” he ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t believe I still remember all of this. I can’t believe you’re making me tell you. I can’t believe you’re sitting on me. ”
“I’m very persuasive.” Rey nodded, and then her face lit up. “Wait. He’s evil Ahsoka.”
“Anakin’s apprentices! You made an Evil Ahsoka!
“I did not--”
“Our usernames match,” she declared, leaning down. Ben stilled as her hair slipped forward and brushed his cheek. Rey swallowed.
She shifted, so she was no longer sitting on him but against his side, arm across his chest and hand lying flat on the other side of him. “Kylo Ren is an Ahsoka ripoff.”
He glared at her. “He’s not. Ashoka didn’t even exist—“
“You can only prove me wrong by telling me more about Kylo, you know.”
He tapped her forearm with his fingers, thinking. Still glowering. “He wears a helmet he keeps in the ashes of his enemies.”
Rey whistled. “You really were an edgy middle schooler. It all makes sense now.
“You’re the one who asked. Now you’re being mean.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk,” Rey scoffed. “I’m pretty sure your initial Gemini messages counted as cyber bullying.” He was pouting; it flattered his lips. No longer pinned, Ben was shifting, pushing up with his arms, tilting towards her. Probably to get some sort of revenge on the sitting-and-questioning thing. He was leaning towards her now, his eyes half shut.
Rey’s heart was hammering in her chest.
Ben seemed to catch himself, and he reeled back. “Did … Did I mention he killed all the other Jedi?”
“Nope,” Rey said quickly, making herself sit up. “Tell me more.”
The moving truck arrived around five; Ben was helping two of the movers take it out, not even waiting for Rey to grab a side. When she noticed the arms of a guy who was a few years younger than her shaking, she took his spot. It was entirely worth it for how wide Ben’s eyes went when her head popped up on the other side of the box.
They shoved the old couch out of the way and got to work. Rey had very particular idea of feng-shui and ended up rearranging the entire living room set up. When she was finally satisfied, she grabbed her laptop and used Ben’s HDMI cable to set up on Clone Wars on his TV. (Mostly because if Rey tried to read from ROTS again, she felt like her voice box would go on strike and march right out of her throat.)
They were both exhausted and the new furniture was almost too comfy. Rey sat curled up against Ben’s side, his arm resting on the back of the couch. She really hoped she didn’t smell disgusting and sweaty after lifting it. (He just smelled nice.)
“When are you leaving?” Ben asked, as the credits rolled on one episode. She kept reminding him that the first season was a test run (like the US version of the Office ) and the rest was better, but he seemed pretty content as is.
“I’ll have to be on the train by tomorrow at ten at the latest.”
His face fell.
“My flight is tomorrow night,” she explained, not sure why she felt so horrible saying it out loud.
“I didn’t… I didn’t even consider that this was your last night here. I’d have taken you out somewhere…”
“What,” Rey laughed, “in my leggings? It’s okay. I’d rather stay in.”
He gave her a long, incomprehensible look. For a second, she thought it was another look-- no, another stare like they had in his office, and she tensed. But then his eyes went glassy, and she realized he was just thinking really hard about something.
“What?” she asked.
“Trying to remember if I have the ingredients for chocolate mousse. … That’s the fanciest dessert I know how to make.”
Rey put a hand over her heart, and gave a fake crying-sniffle. “You really know how to treat a girl special.”
He gave her a little grin - one that she only ever got glimpses on over Webcam - and then hopped up and over the back of the couch. His long sleeved shirt rode up in the process, revealing a swath of alabaster skin. Rey found herself staring very hard at the ceiling while he walked into the kitchen.
They were quieter the rest of the night than they had been since their argument when Rey arrived. Rey was grateful for the TV serving as a distraction. And also the mousse. Mmm. Still, though, Ben seemed like he was in an entirely different solar system. He paused the TV, turned to her like he had a sudden idea. “How did you fly here?”
He gave her a flat look. She blinked. “Oh. Rose’s sister works at an Airline, she gets discounts on tickets. I still feel like I owe her.” She winced. “Especially because I ditched her and her family immediately. … Thank you for reminding me of that.” She wasn’t being sarcastic (or, well, not entirely). She would have to figure out someway to make it up to Paige… maybe if she got some kind of job in spring…
“You really don’t like handouts, do you.”
She blinked. “Shit, do I owe you for anything?” She had bought lunch today - trying to make up for the pizza on night one - and scrambled to add up all the exchanges. “...Okay, I did kinda bully you into the couch, but seriously, it was necessary--”
“No,” he said, “no, that’s not what I…” he sighed, trailing off. “You made me leave the house multiple days in a row. That’s more than enough.”
“I can almost see color in your cheeks,” she said, poking one.
He caught her hand as she pulled back, turning it over in his much larger one. “How are you so freckled for someone living in gloomy London?”
“I make full advantage of sunny days.” He ran a finger across her knuckles, traced a scar across her palm.
“Ah,” said Ben. “I go on lockdown.” His touch was lighter, ticklish now.
She snorted, and pulled her hand back. She looked at the clock - eleven pm.
“I should look up train times,” she said, sinking into the sofa.
“I already did,” Ben said. “The latest train you can take and make your flight leaves at 9:35. I can drive you to the train station at nine.”
Rey gave him a sidelong look. “How about I drive?”
“I’m going to interpret that as a joke.”
Rey looked mock-offended. “It’s my only chance, Ben.”
“I’m sure you can and will probably cobble together some monstrosity of a bike from your mechanic’s job.” Rey snorted, and stood up, stretching. She crossed the living room, kneeling at the washing machine/dryer unit.
She pulled the band shirt and PJ pants from the dryer, still cozy warm. “When were you planning on going to bed? We’ll have to be up decently early.”
He shrugged. “I’ll probably sit here until-slash-if I pass out. Which might actually happen, for once. This might be comfier than my bed.”
Rey blinked. Right, right, there was no reason for him to… She tried to think of a way to suggest without being suggestive.
“You can’t sleep in here,” she said. “Your old couch will try to murder you in the middle of the night.”
She wondered (and not for the first time) if he was picking through her thoughts, because he just tilted his head at this.
“You’re probably right.” And he started up the stairs.
Ben in proper pajamas was a weird sight. She assumed that - like most guys she knew - he slept shirtless, but he wore a plain black t-shirt and plain black pajama pants.
“We match,” she said, “except your outfit is the boring one.” She was already sitting in bed as he crawled in.
“Well,” he said. “My mother’s dog and my high school band are not my favorite things to advertise.”
She nodded, sleepily. “Wait. Band?”
Ben pulled the covers over him.
“Band?” Rey squawked.
Ben kept ignoring her.
“Can I close the window? I’m cold.”
“Oh,” he said, dark eyelashes fluttering. “I always sleep with it open.”
She thought for a moment. She was tired enough to actually suggest it.
“Can I scoot closer to you, then?”
She pressed herself against the familiar planes of his back, his heat making an immediate difference. Her feet scrambled to adjust, and accidentally touched the bare skin of his ankle. Ben immediately let out a hiss.
“You are cold.”
“Sorry,” she said, pulling them back. Reconsidered.
And then she dug her freezing cold toes against the hem of his pant leg.
“Band?” she urged.
He shivered, but didn’t give in. “Good night, Rey.”
“How’d you sleep?” she asked, once she was conscious enough to do so. As soon as she opened her eyes, she set to waking him by shaking him violently by the shoulder. (She didn’t know how to be gentle. Finn pretty much needed a parade to be awoken before noon.) She leaned over him, propped up on her arms.
“Really well, surprisingly” he murmured, hair across his forehead. She was struck by the desire to brush it out of the way, to ask if he dreamt of anything, but…
But her train was in two hours. And they were already running late.
Rey showered, using his fancy shampoo and conditioner. She even tested the accocustics. A band, she thought. Oh, man.
Ben had rye toast prepared when she gets out - which he apologized for the simplicity of, which was dumb. She usually ate toast or cereal.
They managed to wrangle their schedule somewhat back on track, and leave the apartment around 7:40.
It was a gloomy overcast morning, a fitting one to be her last in California. He strapped on his helmet and she followed suit, locking her arms around his waist. Something that had been starting to feel familiar.
Maybe they’d see each other in line at a Star Wars Celebration in ten years and make awkward eye contact, trying to remember how they knew each other.
She pressed her chin into his shoulder. “This sucks,” she said, softly. Feeling like the words were too blasé. Feeling like her tone was too emotional and sappy.
“I know,” Ben said.
The train station was a half hour away. She’d already coordinated everything with Rose and Finn - instead of taking the bus, they would pick her up and make the two hour drive to her parents house. They’d have a few hours to pack and eat before Paige took them to the airport. There was a part of her that wished she was using every spare minute with Ben - but it was dumb, and selfish. She was subject to the train schedule’s whims.
Ben parked the bike in the lot and they made their way to the platform. Rey squinted at the screen for the ticket-buying machine… thing, glare blocking the word. Ben leaned over her so his body shaded the screen, and she gave him a grateful smile.
He didn’t smile back. The expression was like the one he had when she had cried to him about Rose and Finn dating mixed to the one he gave her on the grass outside of Ghirardelli.
It was hard to look at.
They sat together, studying the tracks, Rey’s backpack at her feet. Ben had stripped off his gloves and left them in his lap. It started to rain. When Rey shivered, Ben placed his abnormally warm hand on the top of her head.
“My dad used to do this for my mom,” he explained. “Does it help?”
She nodded. She felt like they should be talking, but she didn’t know what to say. It all felt silly -- she’d get to talk to him plenty when she came home, so what was she supposed to say now? Everything felt inconsequential.
“Rey…” he began, tone somber, lifting his hand off her head to take her hand instead.
She looked down at it. “Don’t,” she said.
He started to wrench his hand away, but she held fast. “Don’t be sad,” she elaborated. “There’s no reason for it.”
He bit his lip, nodded.
“We’ve got-- I mean, the internet is great,” she said, realizing she was trying to convince herself as she talked. “We’ll see each other on video chat.
“And in person,” he said, squeezing her hand. “One day.”
She exhaled, slowly. No tears. No tears. “Sure.”
“We will,” he said, adamantly.
“When I’m eighty and senile, and you’re even-- no, wait, you’re a vampire, so you’ll still look exactly the same.”
“Fair enough.” He tilted his head, amber eyes looking dangerously close to tears. She felt something slice through her heart. “But we will.”
They both turned as the train pulled into the station. The cars were empty - just incoming passengers walking it.
“Well,” she said, giving him a bright smile. “That’s my ride.” Ben slipped her backpack onto her shoulders and she gave him a big hug, which he more endured than reciprocated.
She pulled back, and gave him a thumbs up. “Um. Thanks.”
He gave her a confused thumbs up back, and she felt, for a second, like diving under the tracks. “You’re welcome.”
He walked with her to the edge of the platform, hand pressed against her back, just under the bottom of her backpack. She stepped up into the opening and clutched the frame of it.
Ben stood there, staring back at her, shorter than her on the flat ground.
It was fine. She was fine. It wasn’t like he was leaving her - if anything, she was leaving him. She saw a chasm breaking across ice; a door slamming closed.
She felt herself release her grip on the frame, she felt herself take a step forward and then leap onto the ground of the platform and she was up on her toes and he bent, arms out for a better attempt at his horrendous last hug, but she ignored them and just grabbed his stupid vampire face instead, her thumb pressing into his scar, and kissed him.
He reciprocated instantly, melting into her touch, and an arm wrapped around her waist and lifted her clear off her feet, his lips crushing against hers, and Rey didn’t know if it was a good or bad thing that they were both crying. She didn’t realize it was possible to feel so horrible and so wonderful at the same time. There were sounds behind her - sounds gripping at her shirt and tugging her back to reality - and she pulled away to glance back. How much time--
Ben pressed a kiss into the side of her jaw and she felt it again, that ache, like something ripping in half, like she was leaving half her body behind, and he pressed another kiss against the corner of her mouth, the tip of her nose, the--
“Rey,” he said, and she sobbed Ben deliriously back.
“Rey,” he said, louder. A warning. The doors were closing. Her eyes widened and she felt Ben release her - she half leapt, half fell into the train car just as the door slammed shut and the train began to move.
She clung to the row of seats nearest to her and looked out the window. Ben’s eyes found hers and held there.
She saw him on the platform, unmoving, until it vanished from sight. Already waiting for her to come back. To come back to sunny, sunny California, which already felt light years away. A tear ran down her cheek and she smudged it away before it dripped off her chin. She was in the quiet car of the train, and didn’t want to disturb anyone by crying like a baby. Over a boy. How pathetic.
She dropped into a seat and pulled off her backpack. She looked at her phone in a side pocket - even more pathetically useless than usual. What would she say, if she even could call Ben?
Hi, sorry I cried and slobbered all over you.
Hi, I realize now we could have done that all weekend and I wasted it, and also you’re a lot better at kissing than hugging.
Hi, I think I realized I was in love with you when I knew I’d never see you again. That’s fucked up, right? That’s gotta be because of my parents.
She used her backpack as a pillow and placed it against the window. Two more hours to go in this train. An hour more at the next. Two driving with Rose and Finn.
And every second he was further away.
Her transfer at the second platform had her standing in the pouring rain. She was grateful that Rose’s present had a hood. She didn’t know what city this was, if she was still in Northern California or not. No one really talked about middle California. Her mind boggled at that, a state stretched so far it could be split into two like all those states on the east coast but it wasn’t. Maybe it was easier; maybe people felt closer when they were in the same state. State of residence. State of mind.
She wondered if it was still raining in San Jose.
Rey had kept it together the entire second train ride, she had even managed to read her EU novel and not think about him. Maybe the whole thing was touch and go. People said that it took half the length of a relationship to get over it, and what was their’s? Only two days, if you were generous.
About a minute, if you weren’t.
She kept that thought with her - it’s fine, I’m fine - and almost missed her stop. She slipped out the doors and saw Rose, Paige, and Finn standing at the platform, waiting for her. Happy to see her.
And then she burst into tears.
They managed to coax it out of her in the car, a three headed beast of gentle insistence. Finn and Rose had the advantage of knowing her well, but Paige’s girlfriend was a therapist, which gave her, as Rose called them, “sneaky underhanded methods”.
“I think,” she said, finally, “I have a boyfriend. Had. Have. I don’t know.”
“No shit,” Paige said, and Rose gave her sister a smack on the arm. She was riding shotgun, and Finn was next to her in the back, so she could rest her head on his shoulder.
“Is it the goth Vader guy?” Rose asked, pressing her chin into the seat as she twisted around to look at Rey.
She gave a tiny nod, swallowing hard.
Finn looked at his girlfriend. “I thought she hated him?”
“I did too,” Rose said. “Then I realized she was calling someone all the time and it wasn’t you.”
“So…” Paige said. “You snuck off with him for a secret internet boyfriend rendezvous? You could have told us, Rey. We wouldn’t judge. Or, well, I wouldn’t.”
“I’m not judging--” Finn protested.
“No,” Rey sniffed. “It wasn’t like that. I didn’t… I hadn’t even entertained the thought. I just didn’t wanna leave the states without seeing him, and now I fucked it up because all I can think of is that, is that, that, I’ll never see him--”
“Nooo no no,” Finn said, grasping her shoulders. “Let’s not think about that. Okay? The day after tomorrow is 2014. We’re past that medieval times, middle Earth, across the stars stuff. You’ll be fine.”
“That was like, five different movies at once,” Paige said, hands spinning across the wheel.
“I can never afford to come back,” Rey said, raising her chin. “I can’t even afford a working phone.”
“Peanut,” Finn said, softly. “I’d sell all my Stormtrooper armor if it meant you wouldn’t cry anymore.”
“Ditto my signed books,” Rose said, seriously.
“You guys are nerds,” Paige said, voice warm with affection.
Rey scrubbed at her face. “I love you all.”
“I’m assuming that’s not aimed at me,” Paige said. “As we’ve just met.”
“No,” Rey said, smiling through her tears. “Especially you. You’re the funny one.”
Paige reached her arm back for a fist bump, and Rey pounded it and blew it up.
This time, she slept through the entire plane ride.
She wouldn’t open her laptop, wouldn’t even look at it until they were safely settled back in their little London apartment. This was making both Rose and Finn (who was staying until after the New Year) incredibly anxious.
Part of her really wished they would just get convenient amnesia and leave her alone - especially in the case that he didn’t actually message her -- or worse, apologized for kissing her or something -- but she knew that by letting them in it meant Ben was no longer her secret.
So Rose and Finn sat, clutching each others hands on the end of her bed, as Rey plugged in her laptop and waited for it to power up.
The notifications rolled in immediately.
KyloRen: Let me know when you get home safe.
KyloRen: Checking the train delays. Hope you don’t miss your flight.
KyloRen: Thank you. By the way.
KyloRen: For kissing me.
KyloRen: I mean, I’ve kissed people before, but no one that mattered.
KyloRen: Not *a lot* of people.
KyloRen: I really wish Gemini had a delete message function
KyloRen: I miss you.
Rey made the decision to angled her laptop screen away from Finn and Rose by the time she saw the word kissing, which made them both loudly protest.
“What are you going to say?” Rose said, leaning forward.
“I got home safe, Happy New Years Eve?”
Rose made a face. “That’s it?”
“What can I say? I’m not-- look, it’s not like we can really date in separate continents, I’m not fond of the whole cybersex idea.”
“Ew,” said Finn. “Ew. And also, you really need a new phone because it hasn’t been called cybersex since the 90s.”
“Just be honest,” Rose urged.
“I got home safe is honest,” Rey argued. “And I’m writing it. So.”
ReyOfSunshine: I got home safe.
ReyOfSunshine: Happy New Year’s Eve.
ReyOfSunshine: I miss you too.
January in London looked even drearier in the aftermath of California, but she supposed everything would. Her break had technically only barely just begun. It seemed liked she’d be spending the rest of it navigating her conversations with Ben like an asteroid field and trying to keep her shit together, emotionally.
“He’s gonna break up with you keep being mopey and distant,” Rose warned. But she wasn’t. She was still talking to him. She just didn’t feel the need to say you broke my heart before we even met by living a world away.
It was way too melodramatic. Instead, she just checked his most recent posts on Gemini several times a day and reread their old chatlogs while stumbling through their current ones. She wondered if this was the modern day equivalent of reading love letters over and over.
KyloRen: “Love can ignite the stars.”
ReyOfSunshine: is that your way of telling me you finished ROTS or you being sappy
ReyOfSunshine is typing…
ReyOfSunshine is typing…
ReyOfSunshine is typing…
KyloRen: Are you mad at me?
ReyOfSunshine: it’d be easier if i was.
KyloRen: If I send you mp3 files of my terrible high school band, will you stop ignoring me?
ReyOfSunshine: im not ignoring you. I just don’t know what to say.
KyloRen: The same things you always say.
She thought of his lips against her jaw. Ha. The next statement was probably prompted by left over New Year cheap champagne.
ReyOfSunshine: every time I try to insult you like I used I just end up typing “I miss you so much you’re a good kisser weh weh weh”
KyloRen: That’s fine with me.
KyloRen: I’m a good kisser?
ReyOfSunshine: youre passable
KyloRen: See? Insults. Back to normal.
ReyOfSunshine: ok. ill talk more after exams, i promise.
ReyOfSunshine: I want those mp3s tho
KyloRen: I’ve been thinking about something you said
KyloRen: A shut in computer guy can work from anywhere. That’s the point.
ReyOfSunshine: ok sure but even you have to go into an office sometimes
KyloRen: They’d probably rather not see my face anyway.
ReyOfSunshine: hey. hey. i put a lot of effort into putting color into that vampire face.
ReyOfSunshine: you better not be negating my efforts.
KyloRen: I didn’t realize how literal your username was. It’s gloomier without you here.
ReyOfSunshine: w o w
ReyOfSunshine: It’s winter.
KyloRen: Winter doesn’t exist in California. Thus the appeal of London.
ReyOfSunshine: its a nice thought but you’d still need to do meetings, wouldn’t you?
KyloRen: Gemini’s video calling is finally out of Beta.
ReyOfSunshine: is it really??
ReyOfSunshine: shit youre right. itll be february in two weeks. Wtf.
Five months since they started arguing on SWG.
KyloRen: Your address is still the same, right?
ReyOfSunshine: ben plzzzzz dont send me anything for valentines its fine
KyloRen: I wasn’t going to.
Rey kicked aside something that felt vaguely like disappointment, and reminded herself not to be stupid.
The end of exams brought heavy snowfall, and Rey and Rose spent the following weeks curled up in bed and drinking hot chocolate. The first Sunday of February, they both were curled into bed with the heating cranked all the way up, laptops propped up on their laps. Rose was still reeling over the recent announcement of a Harry Potter play and movie series - knocking her long dormant fandom out of retirement. Then JK Rowling made a comment about Ron/Hermione that was so catastrophic it had reached meme status in the Gemini threads Rey frequented.
“This is horrible,” Rose said, aghast. “I thought the Harry Potter ship wars were dead. We buried them! We put them in the ground.”
Rey made a sympathetic noise. “She can’t undo canon, at least.” There were rumors Disney was planning on doing just that, and all of SWG was shivering in fear.
“No, and Rose Weasley-Granger is still canon, and Harmony shippers can suck my …” Rose frowned. “Did you hear that?”
Rey tilted her head.
The doorbell ringed, followed by a loud knocking at the front door. Rey groaned.
“Are you gonna get it?” Rose said, wiggling her toes.
“No,” Rey said.
“No,” Rey repeated. Their landlord had a key to get in, and the mailman could just leave any packages on the step. No one else mattered. She glanced back at her open Gemini tab --
KyloRen: Do you just not answer your door?
Rey made a face. What the fuck.
Another heavy torrent of knocking on the door.
“Jesus,” Rose said, “are they trying to knock it down?”
ReyOfSunshine: do you have a drone outside my house???
She pulled off her eight layers of blankets, tucking her feet into slippers. She was wearing a thin robe and PJ shorts, no bra, her hair tied up in a bun and spot creme dotting her face. Whoever the fuck was out there was going to get a piece of her mind. She marched out the bedroom, across the living room - greeted by alternate hammer-like knocking and aggressive doorbell ringing - and unlocked it, flinging open the door.
“What,” she barked, looking directly in the face of ---
Of Ben, dressed in heavy winter clothes, nose and ears bright red with cold, his iPhone open to the Gemini app and their current conversation.
Rey shoved her hand into his face.
“What--” he sputtered, his face freezing cold against her warm hand.
“Just checking you’re real,” she said, and then flung herself forward into his arms. He stumbled back as he caught her, the cold immediately seeping into her skin, snowflakes falling into her hair. He swung her around, and she wrapped her arms tighter around his neck, kissing him hard, throwing every bit of resolve to get over him in a single instant.
“Why are you here?” she said, pulling back, rubbing freezing cold tear tracks off her cheeks with the heel of her hand.
“It’s good to see you too, Rey,” he said, drily.
She could have head butted him. “Why are you in London? Are you on the run? Did your mafia friends catch up to you?”
“I’m here to see you,” he said, in a that-should-be-obvious kind of tone.
“Without telling me?” she sputtered.
“You did it first,” he said, rubbing her hands between his gloved ones.
“Rey? Are you-- oh! You’re earlier than I expected,” Rose addressed Ben, poking her head out from the living room.
“You knew?” Rey said, indignantly. “How-- how do you even know each other?”
“Your friends list on Gemini. I figured WireRose was her.”
Rose shrugged. “He messaged me right when we got home. My job was to assure him that you were still crazy in love with him, despite your best efforts to say otherwise.”
“After…” Rey turned back to look at Ben. “When did you come up with this idea?”
“As soon as you got on that train,” he said, kissing her again, and she felt heat fill her entire body.
Which reminded her of how fucking cold she was.
“Inside, inside,” she hissed, dragging Ben in. “You’re from California, I’m surprised you’ve survived this long.”
“I’d have been here earlier, but this was the earliest I could get a plane ticket for,” he said, closing the door behind them. Rose was looking very smug in Finn’s oversized sweatshirt and Ravenclaw sweatpants, and wandered into the kitchen, tinkering around there and giving them some privacy.
Rey still could not fully accept he was there, even as her hands winded around his grey scarf. Oh god, the apartment was a mess… She tugged off his scarf, feeling an urge to tidy, and put it on a side table. “No, that’s good,” she said, kicking a bag of literal trash under the same table. “I mean, with exams and everything … I … how long are you here?”
He handed her his gloves, and she put them next to him. “Two weeks.” Rey bit the inside of her mouth. Two weeks. He had broken down all her walls in half of a minute, and she’d have to build them back up again … “I’m looking at apartments.”
Oh. “You weren’t kidding. About the Gemini video calls.”
He shook his head. “There’s a programming company who will even pay me a relocation fee to be here. And the weather suits me better, and you were right about me needing to get away from Hux, and…”
“I’m trying not to say that I would move to another continent for you,” he said, “because my father said that made me sound like a clingy stalker.”
“Oh, I already knew that,” Rey said, and lifted up on her toes to kiss him again. Unlike their first few kisses, this wasn’t a goodbye or a reunion, and neither of them, thank God, were crying. She had (shut up!) wiki-how’d kissing in the interim, and felt very confident she understood kissing, from a textbook standpoint.
A practical standpoint was something else entirely. Ben’s lips were tender and as warm as every other part of him, his teeth tugging at her bottom lip, his hands holding her waist. She realized he had never actually seen her in shorts before, and the thought just made her face flush and kiss him harder.
His hands slipped to her hips, and he jolted, pulling them away. “Sorry--”
“Nope,” she said, putting them back. “You had it right.”
“I’ve been thinking about your hips since you wore those damn dog pajamas,” he admitted, closing her eyes, and Rey pressed her face into his shoulder.
“Oh God. I didn’t think you noticed.”
“I definitely noticed,” he said, his thumb tracing her skin just under the hem of her tank top, and she shivered, tilting her head upwards to kiss him again.
He kissed the corner of her mouth and then tilted his head for the other - and then she shoved him back.
“I’m covered in spot creme,” she said, burning red. “Oh God. I didn’t even remember.”
He tilted his head, and then just leaned forward to kiss her all over anyway.
“Fine,” she said, “but I’m warning you, it taste awful.”
“Do you normally eat your cosmetics?”
She shoved him again, and then her eyes widened. “Are you bringing our couch over with you?”
“Of course. Oh,” he said, pulling something out of his black peacoat. “I forgot. Happy Valentine’s.”
He handed her a thin, see through CD case. “The First Order” was written beautifully in black sharpie.
“If it makes you want to break up with me, you have only yourself to blame,” he warned, and Rey laughed uproariously and kissed him again.