“I’m telling you, Rose, I know what I saw,” Rey Niima explained to her best friend.
“I mean, I know you think you saw Kylo Ren’s doppelgänger at the gym, but...” Rose Tico lapsed into skeptical silence.
“I don’t think I did. I know,” Rey insisted.
Rose sighed on the other end of the line. “Rey.”
“No one looks like Kylo Ren because Kylo Ren is a fictional character and no man is quite that perfect.”
“Well, this one is,” Rey argued.
“I think you’ve got fandom goggles on, babe,” Rose told her kindly, “I bet the next time you see him, you don’t even give him a passing look.”
“Oh, I’m going to give him all the looks,” Rey replied stubbornly.
She was a little annoyed that her best friend didn’t believe her. Why would she make something like this up?
“You do that,” Rose sighed again and Rey could tell from her tone that she was shaking her head, “you know, I did try to set you up with Poe. Remember Poe? He’s a nice guy.”
“He’s in love, Rose,” Rey muttered, rolling her eyes.
“What? He is,” she stated firmly.
“No wonder you’re seeing Kylo lookalikes at the gym. No one else can match your high standards,” her friend grumbled.
Rey rolled her eyes again. It wasn’t her fault no one that her friend set her up with seemed like a good fit. Rey wasn’t really interested in dating. She was too busy with school and her three part-time jobs. Where was there time for a boyfriend in the middle of all of that?
“You keep everyone at an arm's length,” Rose persisted. “How are you ever going to meet anyone with an attitude like that?”
“When I find someone who meets my high standards, it will be worth it. I’m not going to settle,” Rey responded agitatedly.
“Just don’t wait for Prince Charming too long. He might have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque,” Rose teased. “You know how men are. They never stop to ask for directions.”
Rey laughed a little, even though she was still a bit irritated.
“Don’t be mad,” Rose begged. “I’m sure he’s a nice guy - your doppelgänger - but he’s not Kylo Ren.”
“I’ll prove it,” Rey said suddenly.
“Next time I see him,” Rey informed Rose. “I’ll take a picture and send it to you. Then you can see for yourself.”
“Okay,” Rose replied slowly as if sensing there was no arguing with her.
“Tomorrow,” Rey promised.
“Alright,” Rose agreed. “But don’t forget tomorrow night is the Rebels’ party at Poe’s house.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Rey declined.
“Rey, come on. Can’t you just give Poe a chance? He was so nice last time.”
“Bye, Rose.” Rey ended the call with a press of her thumb.
She knew Rose meant well. Her friend had found love in Finn Storm, a guy who lived on the floor above them freshman year. While it was fun to hang out with them, Rey was careful not to overstay her welcome when the couple wanted to be...well, a couple.
The longer the two stayed together, the fewer opportunities there were for a trio to hang out. Last summer they had gone to an amusement park and Rey was acutely aware of sitting by herself on the two-seater options, as well as the empty spot next to her when they got on a four-person ride.
Being single didn’t bother her. Rey had been alone most of her life but it was challenging to be both happy for her best friend and to have to share her.
Finn was a good guy, one of the best in Rey’s opinion. He was always welcoming her to his apartment to join them for dinner and to any parties he and Rose were invited to. Which was how Rose got the idea of setting Rey up with Finn’s buddy, Poe Dameron.
Poe was the starting quarterback for the Rebels, D’Qar University’s football team. He was the typical jock, full of confidence, full of smiles, and full of himself. Though Finn and Rose kept telling her how great Poe was, Rey wasn’t interested.
Unfortunately, her disinterest spurred Poe on. Apparently, no one had ever turned him down before. The more she refused to be around him, the more he came around. Rey had been hiding away in the library all week. By the time the gym opened this morning, she’d nearly gone stir crazy.
She’d stepped inside, heading for her usual spot on the treadmill at the end of the line with the best view of the campus. Just as she reached it, Rey realized her sneaker was untied and bent down to lace it back up.
And that’s when she saw him.
Perfectly coiffed jet black hair, skin as white and smooth as marble, and eyes like the perfect cup of hot chocolate on a brisk winter day.
Her breath caught in her throat and she was frozen there, staring at him as if she’d never seen another human being before.
He was exquisite, like the blueprint for Adam himself. Rey was completely captivated, paralyzed by his perfection and unable to think about anything other than how unfair it was for a man to be so strikingly beautiful.
The only man she’d ever seen come close was...
Kylo Ren, who was a fictional character, was Rey’s standard for what a man should be. He was a complex character with immense intelligence. He was a dangerous combination of dark and light, wrapped around an emotional enigma. Rey had always loved puzzles.
He appeared too young to be a professor and they rarely used the campus gym, not wanting to spend any unnecessary time with their students. If she had to guess, Kylo’s lookalike was a senior.
Suddenly the idea of going to Poe’s party didn’t seem so terrible.
It would be mostly upperclassmen and clearly “Kylo” was athletic. She watched as he did a shoulder press, his back flat against the bench beneath him. A quick calculation told her that he could lift her over his head as easily as he was lifting the barbell.
Maybe Finn knew him.
She bit her lip wondering how to ask her friend about the doppelgänger when she noticed that his spotter, a redhead with piercing green eyes, was staring at her.
Rey cleared her throat, though they were too far away to hear her, and turned her attention back to her sneaker.
By the time she finished her run, they were both gone.
The next morning was Friday. Rey savored her quiet stroll from her dorm to the gym. Most students chose to have their classes later in the day due to ‘Thirsty Thursday’ routines but Rey had never minded early mornings. It was the best time for a good run, which woke her up better than a cup of coffee.
She wasn’t surprised to find that she was the only one who had woken up to come workout. The majority of the campus population preferred to sleep in but Rey didn’t have time for that. She was on a mission.
Rey selected a longer run from the preprogrammed options. As the warm-up segment began, she slipped her headphones on and fell into the simple calm that usually came over her when she ran. She lost herself in the vibrant forest imagery on the screen, imagining what it would be like to run there for real.
It wasn’t until the cooldown that Rey realized what time it was.
Glancing over her shoulder, she scanned the gym for the Kylo doppelgänger. Sure enough, he was back on the bench, lifting again. The same pinched-faced redhead was with him, but Rey didn’t pay him any attention.
Which was why she failed to notice the way his green eyes followed her as she made her way towards them. Rey wasn’t familiar with the rows of machines in the back of the gym, so she settled into one of the less intimidating looking ones. She studied the diagram posted, hoping she didn’t make a fool of herself, as she set the weight accordingly.
“Need some help?”
Rey gazed up to find the redhead smirking down at her. “I’m good. Thanks,” she returned.
“Are you sure? You look like you could use a spotter,” he suggested.
She bit her cheek from saying something smart. This guy thought pretty highly of himself. He’d probably hit it off with Poe.
“I’m all set,” Rey insisted.
His smirk fell away and he leaned down.
“Hux,” another voice interrupted.
Rey jolted in her seat, warily glancing over at where the lookalike was perched on his bench. His voice was just as deep and forceful as she had imagined.
“Knock it off,” the raven-haired man snapped. “I only have ten reps left.”
“Whatever,” the redhead — Hux — grumbled. He returned to the doppelgänger’s side and Rey snuck her phone out of her pocket.
She wasn’t skilled at taking selfies, but she figured it was her best bet at scoring a good photo of the guy.
Feeling silly, Rey held up her phone, pretending to search for a flattering angle when she was actually trying to find the right angle — the one that would get him in the shot.
When she finally got him lined up, she snapped a couple, not trusting herself to try again if this one didn’t work. As she lowered her phone, she caught his gaze. His eyes flickered to her phone, then to her face, then back at her phone.
Somehow, even in the middle of his workout, he’d spotted her.
Her face blossomed into a deep shade of crimson. Hand tight around her phone, she jumped out of her seat and headed for the exit.
Rey knew she should wipe down the equipment. It was hygienic, not to mention the gym policy but she was too mortified to go back. Instead, she took off running, feet pounding against the stone pathway towards her dorm on the other side of campus.
‘Stupid. Stupid. Stupid,’ she chided herself internally.
What had she been thinking? What kind of person creeped on a stranger and took a picture?
‘Apparently this creeper,’ she thought miserably.
She hoped it was worth it. Even in his gym attire, he looked every bit the part of Kylo Ren. Rose would have to agree with her. She had to.
Rey ignored the shouting. People screaming to each other across a college campus wasn’t anything new. Besides, it wasn’t like they’d be talking to her.
“You with the three buns! I’m talking to you!”
She spun around, startled by being called out.
It was him.
The Kylo Ren doppelgänger.
And he looked mad.
He was too big for her to take on, but she was quick. Speed was an asset, one she had learned as a child in the foster system.
She took off, heading down one of the lesser walled paths towards her dorm. There was a door at the back that usually was propped open for those who forgot their keys. She could slip in that way and hopefully avoid—
“Hey!” A hand clamped down on her arm, hauling her backward.
Rey yanked roughly, trying to free herself.
“Hey, I’m not going to hurt you,” he cried, releasing her instantly. “I just wanted to talk.”
“To talk?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yeah, I thought...,” he trailed off. His eyes scanned her up and down. Then he let out a sigh while running a hand through his hair. “Sorry, nevermind, it’s stupid. I thought you...I thought maybe you took a picture of me.”
Something shifted in his expression. The light in his eyes dimmed as if he was disappointed. At that moment he looked so innocent and pure that Rey felt like even more of a creep.
“I did,” she found herself admitting.
His eyes widened in disbelief. “Y-you did?”
“Why?” he asked, confused.
“Because you look like...,” Rey paused, biting her lower lip. She couldn’t believe she was about to speak the next words out loud. “Kylo Ren.”
For a moment, neither one of them uttered a word. Rey felt like dissolving into a puddle on the ground. She didn’t know this guy. He was probably like his friend and Poe, concerned about sports and drinking and whatever else those guys did on weekends. He probably had never even seen—
Rey stared up at him, shocked.
“You,” he said the word slowly as if he was afraid he’d scare her away. “You like Star Wars?”
“If you call mildly obsessed with the entire galaxy liking something, then yes,” she replied.
He let out a long breath then began to chuckle. “Seriously?”
Rey narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. He was just like the rest of them. He didn’t know anything about the film franchise or why it was so amazing and he probably thought she was weird for being interested in it.
“That’s what I thought,” she huffed. “Glad I could amuse you.”
Turning on her heel, she marched towards her dorm. Any lingering guilt was gone, rapidly replaced by anger.
“Hey, wait! No, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.”
His hand was on her arm again but this time she glared daggers at him, no longer feeling guilty for taking the picture. She stomped on his foot, surprising him enough to pull herself free and continue on her way.
“I’m sorry.” His long legs made it easy for him to catch up to her. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m a fan too. I just haven’t met many...um, girls who are into it,” he explained. Scratching the back of his neck sheepishly, he cleared his throat. “Actually, I haven’t met a lot of girls at all. I figured you were interested in Hux.”
“Not my type,” Rey muttered as she walked.
“Mine either,” he joked. “So, uh, you live in Ileenium Hall, huh?”
“Yeah,” Rey confirmed.
“I’m a Senior,” he told her. When she didn’t respond, he cleared his throat. “What’s your major?”
“Mechanical Engineering, you?”
“Political science with a minor in Art History.”
Rey blinked and stared up at him. She would have guessed he was a jock. He was massive enough to do some damage on the football field and tall enough for the basketball court.
“I’m not into sports,” he added as if he could tell what she was thinking.
“Me either,” Rey agreed, feeling some of her agitation leave her. “I mainly live in the library. Academic scholarship,” she explained. “I have to keep my grades up or goodbye college. Of course, that only covers the basics. I still work three jobs.”
“Your parents aren’t helping you out?”
It was a simple question with a simple answer, but Rey hated how people looked at her after she told them the truth about her past. She chewed on her lower lip.
“I didn’t mean to pry,” the doppelgänger hastily responded.
“No, it’s fine,” she waved him off. “I don’t have parents. I was in the system before I graduated and got accepted here.”
She waited for him to tell her he was sorry. She waited for the typical look of pity. Neither occurred.
“My parents are shit too,” the guy responded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Us survivors gotta stick together, right?”
Rey furrowed her brow, not sure what to make of this guy. One minute he seemed intimidating and completely in control and the next he acted like a shy boy. It was an interesting mix.
“This is me,” she gestured to the door, which was — as she suspected — propped open.
“That’s not really safe,” the lookalike commented.
“D’Qar isn’t like Coruscant or Chandrilla,” she remarked. “Nothing happens here. I think I’ll manage.”
“What if an overzealous frat boy follows you home one night?”
She quirked a brow at him. “Is that what you’re doing?”
His cheeks flushed and she caught a glimpse of his ears poking through his hair. She wondered if it was as soft as it looked.
“Ah, no, I only thought...” He trailed off and cleared his throat again. “Some of the guys on campus can be jerks.”
“I know,” Rey replied.
“Right,” he nodded. “You can handle yourself.”
“I can,” she reaffirmed, “but it’s nice to know chivalry isn’t dead.”
He cracked a smile then, a small, tentative one, but a smile nonetheless.
“Do you want a bottle of water for the walk back?” Rey offered. “Since I made you chase me down.”
“Sure.” He held the door open for her, letting her enter first before he removed the large stone propping it open and followed. “I’m Ben, by the way. Ben Solo.”
“Rey Niima,” she returned.
“Nice to meet you, Rey,” he grinned, as she unlocked her dorm.
“You too,” she grinned back. “I promise I don’t normally go around snapping pics of complete strangers.”
“I’ll believe you,” he offered, “as long as you believe that I don’t normally chase girls down.”
“Deal,” Rey held out her hand for a shake.
They laughed at their awkward meeting while she let him into her dorm. Rose was already gone, presumably to her first class, so Rey was saved from having to explain why she’d brought a guy back, not that her best friend would have minded.
She grabbed him a bottle of water from their fridge. “Here.”
“Thanks.” He opened it up and took a grateful gulp.
They stood in her dorm, wordless as they each drank. After a few moments, Ben tossed his empty bottle in the trash.
“I should be going. I need to shower before class.” He went to the door, letting himself out. “Thanks for the water, Rey.”
Ben paused in the hallway. “I’ll see you around?’
“Yeah,” she smiled. “See you around.” She watched him take a few steps before reason caught up with her. “Ben, wait!” Rey called out, as she slipped into the hallway to run after him. She had an idea, one that would make the picture she took irrelevant.
“Do you have plans tonight?”
“No.” His face broke into a grin. “Why?”
“Wanna go to the Rebels party with me? It’s not really my scene. I could use the company.”
“Sure,” he agreed instantly. “Pick you up here around ten?”
“Sure,” Rey felt her own smile growing. “And hey, if the party sucks, we could come back here, order a pizza and watch A New Hope .”
Rey held out her hand. “Pinky swear.”
“I don’t know, Niima,” Ben smirked. “Pinky swears are pretty serious stuff. Are you sure?”
“As sure as the fact that Han shot first.”
Ben’s eyes darkened. “Marry me.”
“Nothing. Nevermind,” he quickly stepped closer, ignoring her knowing grin.
When Ben looped his thick digit around hers, Rey knew they wouldn’t be at the party long. Just long enough for her to prove to Rose that Ben was the real deal.
And for Poe to see Rey with Ben.
Six months later...
“I don’t like this,” Rey muttered.
“You’re doing fine,” Ben reassured her.
They were at the campus gym like they were every morning. Ben had suggested she start adding some weight lifting to her cardio routine. Rey was still warming up to the idea, but Ben was persistent.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You need a teacher,” he agreed with a nod.
Rey narrowed her eyes at him. “Did you just—?”
“Yep.” He smirked.
“Monster,” she said with no bite in her tone as she attempted another rep on the machine.
Ben hummed, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “Your monster, remember?”
“Get a room,” Hux snapped from a side of them.
“Thanks, Hux,” Ben winked at his friend. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
“I’m moving out,” Ben explained. “Rey and I are getting an apartment near campus together, close enough for me to drive to Ahch-To and for her to finish her degree.”
“Mazel tov,” Hux replied sarcastically.
“Thanks, Armie,” Rey teased, knowing how he hated the nickname.
“And we will not be propping the door open with a rock,” Ben reminded Rey.
She rolled her eyes. Each time he came to visit, he still insisted on removing the improvised door stopper. She had to admit, it was kind of sweet how protective he was.
“Are you two going to Poe’s end of the year party tonight?” Hux asked.
“No,” Ben responded.
“Yes,” Rey said at the same time. Ben pouted. “Oh, come on,” she smiled. “It’s your last party as a college student.”
“Not really,” he muttered sullenly. “I’ll have to go next year when Rose begs you to join her.”
“We don’t have to stay long,” Rey compromised.
“Alright,” he relented. “Only because I love you.”
Rey smirked. “I know.”
Ben chuckled. “Did you just—?”