When the quietly beautiful IT technician from the eighth floor comes into his office, the last thing Ben expects is for her to burst out laughing. But then he thinks about it, and really, he would too if he hadn't been dealing with this garbage on his screen for weeks.
"Yeah," he says. "It's bad."
Spilled across his browser window are a number of in-line ads and even a pop-up — how did anyone pull off a fucking pop-up in 2019? — of some absurd hentai game that's goading him about how long he can last.
"It's been a constant stream."
"Has it?" she asks, eyebrows raised. She's got an accent, but he can't quite pin it down on those words alone.
He steps away from the desk chair to make room for her before — "Shit." He laughs at the joke too late, rubbing the heel of his palm against his forehead. "Yeah."
He keeps saying that. He's speechless for something more meaningful. It's just embarrassing. He'd expected somebody gruffer. Uh, maler. Is that sexist? Definitely less pretty. (Shit, that's definitely sexist.) She catches him just as he's admiring her hair, which is pulled into three knots at the back of her head, twisted out of her face. Utilitarian, for her. But unique to him. All of her is.
"So can you fix it?" He asks, clearing his throat. That's what this is really about.
"I could probably have fixed it over e-mail," she told him, "If you'd just been honest about the problem." But he'd been embarrassed and unsure how to describe that on company servers. So he'd called it an intrusive maybe-virus.
Rey's at his desk maybe five minutes, poking around in the Chrome settings by the look he gets over her shoulder. Meanwhile, he fidgets with everything in his office that he can get his hands on. He doesn't want to hover. But he loses his grip on his paperweight. Thunk.
"All finished," she says as he recovers gracelessly.
"Already?" That was fast.
"Mm." She gets up. "Easy fix."
"Who do I thank?"
"I mean, uh." Was that creepy? "I'm Ben."
She's smiling at him, so either she's endeared, or ... "Rey."
Whatever Rey did works like a dream for two weeks, and then they're back. Worse than before. He puts off emailing her directly (he'd found her in the company directory) for three days, until Hux was in to look at an estimate and ahegao noises squeaked out of the speakers. The email is short and sweet: Help.
She's in his office early the next morning.
"I don't know what you did before, but it was all fixed after I logged back into my accounts, and--"
"Cleared your cookies."
"What?" He squints for a double meaning that isn't there.
"I deleted your browser history and cleared your cookies," Rey said again, clearly biting back laughter. "Ben, these are targeted ads."
"That doesn't make sense, I don't—"
She sits down with him, clicks the corner of an ad to dismiss it. The marketing information pops up in an alert, along with an option that says 'don't show me ads like this anymore' and 'I'm not interested in anime - hentai.' Ben's face feels like it's on fire. Holy shit. No wonder she'd lost it when she first came in to see his screen. This woman, this insanely beautiful, capable, clever woman, thinks he's been browsing tentacle porn or loli shit on his work computer. For weeks. The arm of his shitty desk chair breaks off with the force of how tight he grips it.
"I'm not--" He starts and stops. "I don't--"
"Whatever you're looking at is your business, Ben." Rey holds up her hands. "But if you want the ads to stop on this computer, you have to stop looking at it while you're at work."
"I'm not!" When he looks up at her again, panicked, eyes wide, he realizes that she's still trying hard not to laugh. God, it's worse than that. She feels sorry for him. And why wouldn't she? How pathetic does he seem right now? "I swear."
Rey looks skeptical. Several creases deep in her forehead skeptical. He might as well some reddit bridge troll trying to convince her that the Earth is flat skeptical.
"Do you share the office with anyone?" He gapes for a moment, then shakes his head. This is the Assistant Director of Design's office. Of course he doesn't share it with anyone. "So someone's been ... what, sneaking into your office just to look up naughty anime school girls?"
It sounds even less believable when she says it, but Ben responds with an emphatic, "Obviously."
He found his balls. There they are. His voice even sounds deeper, more authoritative for it.
"Well?" He asks.
"You're IT. Help me find them."
At least it's not the first time she's laughed at him.
"I'm a tech. Not a detective." After a pause, she looks all too pleased with herself, "A de-TECH-tive."
He could kiss her and suffer the civil rights suit, but then who would fix his computer?
"Focus," he says.
"Say that someone did want to use my credentials to look at inappropriate material--"
"If you're going to be looking at it, you should be able to call it hentai."
"I'm *not* ..." It doesn't matter. "Fine. Someone wants to use my credentials to look up 'hentai.' Could they do it?"
"You mean short of breaking into your office?" She looks around. It's sparse. The knick-knacks are mostly company gifts. Clearly she's doubts he'd notice.
"I don't know. Remote access, I guess."
"It's like I said. I could have solved your problem via e-mail. As long as your system's on, I can use our servers to pop over and take control. Do you leave your computer on overnight?"
"I'll take that as a yes." He doesn't want to admit it. She's looking at him the way his mother looks at him after he hasn't called for three months. "How long has it been since you shut it down completely?"
He can't recall, and she flinches, bodily, when he tells her as much.
"Well, there's your fix." She gestures to him. "You're welcome. Clear your cookies, delete your browser history, and actually shut the machine down. You're welcome." She looks around his office. "I don't suppose fixing your problem comes with a bonus."
"It does." He says automatically, not because there's any money in the budget for that, but because he wants to keep her here. It occurs to him only now that he'd never seen Rey before his problem, and once it's dealt with, he'd likely never see her again.
"Great," she turns for the door.
"But you're not done." It's an incredibly stupid gambit. But he's already talking, so as soon as she looks back at him, he pushes onward. "I want to know who did it."
"It's a stupid prank," she says with a scowl. "Are you really going to get someone fired over that?" She'd been willing to keep it quiet when it was him. Obviously she disapproves.
"It's against policy," he says because a fool is operating his mouth now.
"Fuck policy," Rey says.
"Whoever's been doing this apparently wants to fuck a lot of things," Ben replies.
She looks at the door, then his desk, then back at him.
"Solo. Like Han Solo?" She shakes her head. He's used to people who know his father being disappointed in him. It hurts more when it's her, but he doesn't flinch. She'll be the one to give. Han's name is on the building. She won't chance it.
"I'll ... yeah, I'll dig into it."
"There have to be logs, right? Some kind of access history." She frowns and he says, "Send me those."
"They won't tell the whole story," she warns him.
Suddenly he's sure it's Dameron and she's protecting him. If it were Hux, the attractive tech wouldn't keep it quiet. But Dameron has that way about him. She's known all along, maybe. (Maybe he just needs to visit his therapist about the paranoid delusions inflicted by his anxiety again.)
"I don't care about the story. I care about who's been doing it."
Rey draws a deep breath, nods, and stuffs her hands into her company issue blue windbreaker.
She's gone, then. And Ben can't help thinking that his aggression has driven someone else away. He can't get comfortable in his chair, and he doesn't manage to get any more work done that day. That feeling stays with him.
The email rolls in around 4:30 PM.
The logs, attached as an exported excel spreadsheet, are so convoluted as to be impossible for him to digest. After some scrutiny, he gathers that the employee numbers are matched to access dates and times and computer serial numbers.
He isolates his machine, and the only employee number that isn't his own. Then he places a call to Rose Tico in HR to find out who the other belongs to, explaining briefly that it's related to an investigation.
"0786?" She asks.
"That can't be your problem."
"I assure you that I can read," he tells her, voice steely. "Who is it?"
"Well, it's Rey Erso." Rose laughs. "I know her. She's IT. Probably you just got a glimpse of her checking into it."
He says nothing.
"Were there any other IDs you wanted me to check?"
He hangs up.
Rey Erso had accessed his machine over two dozen times in the past two months. Before he'd ever emailed IT with the original problem. He sifts through the logs, trying to make sense of it. Was she fucking with him? Was she just that bored? Was she a sociopath?
He gives up staring at the wall in his office and the wall of text on his screen and heads for the eighth floor. IT is a maze of cubicles, but he catches her eye across the department immediately because she's standing up talking to the department lead, Cee.
She has that look in her eyes, like she wants to run. But instead, she smiles at Cee and says, "Sorry. I was in Mr. Solo's office earlier to fix an error. Could you give us a moment?"
"I hope you'll reconsider," Cee tells her.
"Reconsider what?" Ben asks when Cee leaves.
"If you're here to fire me, you're wasting your time. I've been working on my resignation letter." She's clearly worked herself up to being tough in saying this. Her face reddens slightly. "I told Cee already."
"I worked at Jakku before, they'll take me back."
"Why the fuck would you go back to Jakku?" She flinches at his sharp tone, but he sees no need to curb it. "Do you really hate it here? You did this because you're planning to leave? A middle finger to my parents?"
"No!" She chokes. "I love Han and Leia. I love this job."
It doesn't make sense.
"Then why would you--"
"I thought you could take a joke!" She blurts it out, incredulous. "I thought you'd laugh, we'd laugh, and we'd talk, and it'd be funny. I just wanted to talk to you. But I obviously couldn't have been more off-base."
She's out of her goddamn mind.
Or he is.
"You want to talk to me?"
"I did." She bites back. "Believe me. I've revised my opinion."
"What kind of person hunts someone down over a prank like this?"
"What kind of person pranks someone with tentacle porn?!"
"You're not who I thought you were," she insists.
"Glass houses," he replies coolly. An understatement. But she turns into her cubicle and packs up the contents of her desk. It's narrow. She hasn't even been here that long. The guilt sets in. "Hey, stop."
"I'm not going to fire you."
"You wanted to earlier."
"I didn't know it was you."
She meets his gaze and asks, "You would if I were someone else?"
He doesn't have an answer for that. Not one she'd like, anyway. She packs more. He grabs her arm, and she pulls it away.
"No one is going to fire me. I'm resigning." She enunciates it clearly.
"Don't be stupid."
"Don't call me stupid," she replies hotly.
"I realize I'm fucking this up," he says. Because he knows the feeling well by now. "But you don't have to make it worse."
She looks like she could kill him for that one. Later, he'll have to thank his father for all the grace he has with women. Ben holds up his hands.
"Just tell me what you want me to do."
"Nothing," she answers plainly. "It was my mistake."
Ben sighs, annoyed, and says, "Look, I don't care if you've been watching tentacle porn on my computer."
Other people in the IT department have started to stare. This might be the oddest workplace (couples'?) feud they've witnessed. It's at least top three for Ben.
Rey's face goes bright red and she seethes through her clenched jaw, "I wasn't watching it!"
"That remains to be proven," Ben says because he can't dig himself any deeper at this point.
"Don't quit," he adds plaintively. "Don't resign. Don't leave."
"Why? You cared an awful lot before you knew it was me."
"It's different if it's you." He glances around. "Do we have to do this here?"
"Does it make you uncomfortable?" she asks.
It's her job on the line. He really can't complain. It strikes him as odd that he's trying harder than she is to save her job, but somehow it's even more endearing, her anger. Familiar to him.
"It's different if it's you because I'm glad to know that I could make you laugh like that, even if it was just ... at me." He sounds lame. His dignity can't take this. "I don't make many people laugh."
"I can see that," Rey replies.
"Don't throw away your work here because I'm an asshole," he says through his teeth. "Give me a chance to make it up to you."
"Is that an all-or-nothing deal?"
"I have to give you a chance if I stay?"
Offense turns to hot anger, popping off under his skin, and he chews on the inside of his cheek. Then he hears it. Laughter. Not Rey's, this time, but the man in the next cubicle down. He covers his mouth with one hand.
Ben gives Rey another look.
"You're mocking me?"
"You don't have to make it so easy," she tells him. "Sorry if it made you lose your train of thought. I think you were at 'because I'm an asshole.'" Some of the anger has ebbed out of her, replaced by snide satisfaction.
"Does this mean you're staying?"
"I don't know. The boss's son is a real asshole, and they let him get away with anything. Intimidating employees. Watching porn at work. Can you believe it?"
"Lax leadership," he agrees in monotone.
"And he's no good at apologizing."
"I'm sorry," he says finally.
The department has grown quiet. Others return to their business as voices soften.
"I'm sorry for teaching you about hentai," Rey replies in a way that she obviously considers magnanimous.
And it's actually kind of adorable. Infuriating, yes. Inscrutable in a way she has proven to be. But ultimately charming. He actually kind of hates it.
"I give presentations with that computer."
"With your audio on? Ben." She sounds like she's scolding him. "Do better."
"Teach me," he invites. This time, the flush in his cheeks is entirely his fault. The vulnerability isn't some awful mistake of targeted ads. It's welcomed, on his own part.
"About computers?" She asks. She stops boxing up her things. "Or about ...?"
This time, Ben laughs.