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Argument of Periapsis

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Rey checks her phone, glancing at the time and noticing she has five minutes before her Intro to Archeology class begins. The smell of cherry blossoms permeate the air and the weak spring sunshine feels nice on her skin after the long winter nights. It’s the first day of spring quarter of her sophomore year at Coruscant University. She hitches her backpack higher on her shoulders as she crosses the quad, on her way to the liberal arts section of campus.

It feels good to be almost done with her second year of college, one step closer to graduating with an aerospace engineering degree. Her schedule’s chock full of calculus and thermodynamics classes, but there are still additional requirements she has to comply with; including a humanities credit.

Rey opens the door of the building as she heads to room 106A.

It’s not so bad, she thinks. It could be worse, she could be stuck in a creative writing class, something she’s not particularly good at. At least archeology is interesting, something fun to take her mind off the mountain of homework from her other classes.

The classroom’s already mostly full by the time she arrives, students staking out the choice seating spots, and all that’s left are the very back and front seats. Rey deliberates a moment, deciding that at least upfront she’ll get a good view of the teacher’s notes, noticing the old-school green chalkboard that takes up the whole front wall. Her chair squeaks slightly as Rey slides it out, taking a seat and opening her backpack to take out some paper and pens.

She’d checked Dr. Holdo’s reviews on the rate my professor website before signing up, and the consensus seemed to be that she was a tough but fair teacher, thorough in her teaching materials and willing to accommodate office hours. Rey wasn't wary of hard work, she’d taken the most demanding classes in high school just for a chance at making it into an engineering program. And once she’d been admitted, she’d not only managed to keep her grades up, she’d been excelling in most of them. She didn’t think Dr. Holdo’s class would be any different.

The bell rings then, high and tinny, but the professor is yet to arrive. A couple of students shift restlessly as the clock keeps running. Some of them check their schedules to make sure the lecture hasn’t been moved to a different room, but it seems to be the same. Rey wonders what could be keeping Dr. Holdo up, from everything she’d read about her, Holdo likes running a tight ship.

Someone swears out in the hallway, loud enough to be audible through the classroom door. It swings open and an older man comes bustling into the center of the room. Everyone jolts to attention as someone who is decidedly not Dr. Holdo turns to face them.

“Alright, I’m sure you were all expecting Amilyn—I mean, Holdo for Introduction to Archeology today,” he takes a glance around the room then continues, “But due to an unfortunate emergency she can’t be here today, and until she’s well enough to return you’re stuck with me as your professor. I’m Han Solo, but you can call me Solo, don’t need any of that Mr. stuff,” he says, voice gruff.

Rey can’t stop staring at him.

Han Solo, famed archeologist and pilot, is in her classroom. He’s in her class and he’s going to be her professor for the foreseeable future. Her heart’s beating a mile a minute and there are goosebumps on her arm.

Solo is one of the biggest reasons she got into aerospace engineering in the first place. When she lived in the orphanage back in England, sometimes they’d let them read old magazines. She’d seen his face on the cover of National Geographic, gazing out at the red-tinged horizon, hand on the engine of a Cessna 155. In it, he’d given an interview about his exploits in the field of archeology, all the places he’d traveled to—from Thailand to Bermuda—and his skills as a pilot.

To Rey, a child who’s world until then had consisted of the grey walls of Unkar Plutt’s derelict orphanage, the magazine had been a sunlit window into the wonders of the outside world. Han Solo had come from obscurity, an orphan from the streets of Corellia, and through some stroke of luck or fate had ended up one of the most prominent faces of archeology. And he had the freedom to go anywhere, do anything, with nothing but his skills and his trusty plane.

It had seemed so wondrous to Rey, the freedom of the sky. And, maybe, she’d be able to find her parent’s that way, search the world over for them. For many years it kept the flame of her hope alive, that if her parents couldn’t come back for her, she’d go to them.

But as the years passed, and the time when she’d age out of the system grew closer, Rey’s dreams of piloting dimmed. Even then, she found herself still interested in planes and how they worked. In high school, math and physics came naturally to her, and when she learned there was a job that could combine her two loves into one, she knew she wanted to do aerospace engineering.

Her parents never did come back, and Rey still has nights where she dreams of a beat-up old Ford driving away from the moldy motel room where the authorities found her as a child. But her love for building things remain, and the man who inspired her to pursue her dreams is here.

Rey takes a deep breath as Han Solo continues speaking, handing out the syllabus and going over the quarter’s required reading.

The rest of the lecture passes in a blur, Rey working to focus on the class, which is simultaneously easy and hard to do. After going over the basics of what the class will entail, he goes straight into the day’s lesson. He has a way of explaining things that are quick and to the point, making it easy to follow along with. But Rey’s still in somewhat of a daze at having him there.

They’re just wrapping up the lecture when the clock sounds, announcing the end of class.

“Any questions before we wrap up?” he asks the class, who are already shuffling to leave. “No? Alright, see you Wednesday then.”

Dismissed, students begin to put away papers and pens in earnest. No one seems aware that their substitute professor is anyone other than a run of the mill faculty member. Rey guesses that since it’s an introductory class it’s mostly made up of lowerclassmen from various disciplines looking to fill their humanities requirements.

She debates leaving without saying anything, but in the end decides against it. There’s no harm in letting Han know he was a big inspiration in the decision to pursue the degree she chose. Rey makes her way over to his desk.

“Hey kid, you got any last-minute questions?” he asks, glancing up for a moment from the papers he’s rearranging.

Rey shakes her head, “Not really. I just wanted to say I’m excited to be taking this class with you. You were a big inspiration to me when I was little.”

He looks at her for real this time, eyes sizing her up.

“What’s your name kid?”

“Rey. Rey Johnson,” she answers, sticking her hand out for him to shake.

He takes it, grip warm and firm as he shakes her hand.

“Let me guess, archeology?”

“Actually, no,” Rey says, smiling. “Aerospace engineering, second year.”

Han gives an appreciative whistle, letting out a wry grin. “That’s more math than I’m comfortable with, I’ll be honest. But that must mean you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. What made you get into that?”

“You did,” she answers. “Or, well, sort of. I read one of your interviews as a kid. Being a pilot seemed amazing. It’s what I wanted to do for a while, but then I found that a plane’s engine is just as exciting as flying. And here I am,” she finishes, shrugging.

“Important to have good engineers,” Han says as he reaches for his leather jacket, the rest of his supplies put away. “And you like it? What you’re doing?”

Rey takes a moment to think about it, but it’s an easy enough question to answer.

“I do. I’m good at it, and it feels like what I’m meant to do.”

Han nods, “That’s good. So you’re taking this class as an elective?”

“Yes, I’ve always had a soft spot for archeology,” she answers.

The corners of Han’s eyes crinkle up as he answers her, a tendril of amusement curling through his tone, “You and me both. I’ll see you on Wednesday Rey, it was nice meeting you.”

“Same to you professor,” Rey says, walking beside him as they exit the classroom. She waves goodbye as she walks away, heading for her next class.

Intro to Archeology quickly becomes one of her favorite classes. The necessary readings aren’t too heavy, and whenever they do have a good chunk of text to be read it’s usually interesting. Class is engaging, and Professor Solo despite his seemingly gruff exterior, looks to care about what he’s teaching.

Rey submits her first essay and gets back a good grade and helpful advice written in the columns. So yes, overall archeology is a fun class. Rey knows she’s doing well, so it surprises her when Professor Solo asks her to stay a moment after class one Friday afternoon four weeks into the quarter.

It’s almost the weekend, so the rest of the students practically stampede their way out once the bell rings. In no time at all, it’s just her and Han Solo left.

“Something the matter professor?”

“Now don’t look at me like that Rey, it’s nothing bad. Just wanted to let you know sometimes my wife and I host dinners for our former students and mentees. You’re brilliant in class, I wanted to invite you over for dinner on Sunday. It’s nothing formal, and the food’s good,” he says.

First, he’s her professor, and now she’s getting invited over with his wife for dinner?! Rey fights the urge to pinch herself.

“And of course you’re welcome to decline. Or wait until the quarter’s over if that’s better for you,” he says, interpreting her silence as a rejection.

“No, I’d be more than happy to go. This Sunday works for me,” she answers. Even if it weren’t Han Solo inviting her over, the offer of food would be enough to cinch the deal. Rey had gone hungry enough times while growing up that she knew better than to decline food when it was available.

“Good,” Han says, nodding, something like satisfaction glinting in his eyes. “I’ll see you Sunday then, Leia will love to meet you.”

Rey can’t wait to meet the rest of his family.

Chapter Text

Calling her shoebox apartment spacious would be a gross over-exaggeration, Rey thinks, as she navigates her way through the absolute chaos that is her living room; stepping over textbooks and sidestepping errant pens. If she must choose a descriptor though, she much prefers the word cozy. Sure, the faucet leaks all the time, and the air conditioning breaks down at the most inopportune moments, but luckily she's an engineering student and it's nothing she doesn't know how to jerry-rig back together. The dozens of vibrant plants—snake grass, succulents, ferns, and orchids—that line her countertops and windowsills help make up for the dreariness, transforming the inside of her apartment into something green and alive.

 

Besides, scholarships and grants will only get her so far, and after tuition is due there's not a lot left over for housing costs. It might not be the most glamorous place to live, but the rent is cheap and it's what she can afford on her student budget. And this is including the money she makes working odd hours down at Teedo's repair garage.

 

It’s enough to live on, but just barely.

 

And for once Rey wishes she had more room in her budget to spend on clothing, as she stares down at the clothes strewn haphazardly across her twin size bed. There’s the faux leather jacket Finn got her for her birthday two years ago, her two pairs of jeans with something suspiciously like grease stains on them, and the pile of t-shirts with university club logos on them. Most of them she’d snagged for free while attending those beginning of year meetings when all the clubs are giving out free merch.

 

She knows Han said the dinner wasn't formal, and that she didn't have to worry about dressing up or anything. But even then she can't help but feel a tendril of anxiety at the prospect of showing up underdressed. Eventually, though, she manages to find a pair of black pants at the bottom of her closet that don't look too stained, and a coral blouse she bought from H&M when it was on sale for fifteen dollars. Rey doesn’t bother with makeup, only pulling her hair up into a half ponytail which does a decent job of keeping it out of her face. She takes one last look in the mirror before heading out the door, grabbing her keys and wallet on the way out.

 


 

The Solos' two-story brownstone house is beautiful; with an ornate roof and delicate white trimming around its windows. There are already cars parked all along the street and in front of the house when she arrives at five-thirty. Laughter and conversation drift through the open windows of the house.

 

She stares at the house, imagining for a second what it must have been like to grow up here, in this residential neighborhood with all its stately houses and manicured emerald lawns. It looks like something out of a movie; lazy Sunday mornings spent indoors, backyard camping with the neighborhood kids, a loving place to come home to. It’s a world away from the grey and dreary London of her childhood.

 

Shaking herself out of her melancholy, Rey makes her way up the driveway and to the front door, knocking soundly against the mahogany wood. It feels like a small eternity between when she knocks and when Han answers the door when in reality it's been at most a couple of seconds.

 

Han recognizes her and does that half-grin she's seen him do in class when he's particularly pleased with a student's answer.

 

“Glad to see you made it kid,” he says, swinging open the door and ushering her to come inside.

 

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she answers, stepping in after him.

 

“I was just helping my wife Leia finish up with dinner,” he explains, leading her down the hallway and towards the kitchen.

 

“More like you keep eating the dinner,” a woman says, turning away from the stove to face them as they enter the kitchenette.

 

The first thing Rey notices about Leia, because who else could it be, is the older woman’s eyes. They’re a dark brown that seem incredibly welcoming, yet have a steel core running just underneath their surface. She’s simply dressed but carries herself like a queen; upright, back straight, with her silver hair done in a neat bun.

 

“You haven’t kicked me out yet Princess,” Han retorts, satisfied and not the least bit repentant.

 

Leia rolls her eyes and sighs, but it’s clear in the lines of her mouth she’s not seriously upset.

 

"Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Solo," Rey says, stretching her palm out to shake Leia's hand.

 

“It’s Organa actually, but Leia will do just fine,” she answers, pulling Rey down into a warm hug instead, her grip surprisingly strong around Rey’s shoulders.

 

She doesn’t receive hugs often, not since she came to the states and Finn stayed in England to do his bachelor’s in social work. It’s unexpected but not unwelcome, and Rey takes a moment to appreciate the warmth with which Leia receives her.

 

"Han's told me about you. The bright young woman who's majoring in aerospace engineering, right?"

 

Rey feels inordinately pleased with the knowledge that Han’s mentioned her outside of class.

 

“That’s me. I’m also in his Intro to Archeology class, it’s quite fascinating.”

 

“Han certainly agrees with you, and I’m sure he’s talked your ear off about piloting,” she says, shooting a pointed glance in Han’s direction.

 

Raising his hands in defense, Han answers, “Only sometimes. I can talk shop all day, but once you start getting into the technical side of it I’m out of my league. I bet Ben would love to talk all that stuff over with her, though.”

 

“Who?” Rey asks, looking between the two of them.

 

"Our son. He doesn't usually come to get-togethers like this. He knows a good deal of the people invited, but he's never been a people person to begin with," she answers, turning towards the entrance of the house as if she expects this Ben person to walk through the door at any moment.

 

There’s a slight curve of disappointment to her shoulders that wasn’t there seconds before, and Rey fights the irrational urge to be angry at their absent son for ignoring his parents when it’s plain to see on Leia’s face she misses him.

 

“If he stops by I’ll introduce you,” Han tells her, placing a comforting arm around Leia’s shoulders. “I think you’d like him.”

 

I doubt it, Rey thinks but refrains from saying so out loud.

 

She’s saved from having to answer when a young woman enters the kitchen, around her age, with a pair of tiny blonde buns on the top of her head.

 

“Oh, Rey this is Kaydel, she works with me at my nonprofit,” Leia says as she introduces them.

 

Kaydel smiles at her, bright and friendly, and welcomes her. "Nice to meet you, Rey, I'm a third-year poli-sci major at Coruscant University."

 

“Engineering.”

 

“Nice!” she answers.

 

“Kaydel, do you mind introducing Rey to everyone else? Han and I are still getting the roast ready,” Leia asks. “We’ll be out in just a moment,” she says to Rey, smile warm and reassuring before she turns back to the stove.

 

“No problem. Come on,” Kaydel calls, as she guides her through the living room and out the rear door into the Solo’s backyard, where a dozen or so people of various ages mingle and talk freely while upbeat music plays through a pair of speakers.

 

Kaydel is bubbly and great at bringing Rey to each little group and introducing her seamlessly. Everyone gives her welcoming smiles, and Rey does her best to try and keep up with all the new names. There’s Korr Sella and Greer Sonnel, who have both worked for Leia Organa, Joph Seastriker, and Snap Wexley. After that names start to get confusing, so Rey sticks by Kaydel and the first group of people she’d been introduced to.

 

They all seem nice enough, although it's clear to see that many of them have known each other—and consequently Han and Leia—for years. They do their best to include her in the conversation, but Rey doesn't have the advantage of familiarity on her side. After the third time she misses some inside joke that has Snap full-on belly laughing, she makes a hasty exit towards the snack table near the back fence.

 

Rey consoles herself by filling her plate with potato crisps and mini sausages and cut fruit, finding a cool spot to dig into her food beneath the dappled shade provided by the large oak tree at the northwest corner of the backyard. She'll try to get back into socializing in a little while. It's no one's fault that she's new around here, but she feels a pang of loneliness, despite being surrounded by people.

 

She’s about to bite into a particularly juicy piece of watermelon when she hears a commotion coming from within the house. The joy in Leia’s voice carries clear through the air, though no matter how much she strains her hearing she can’t manage to catch her exact words. Rey wonders who’s arrived.

 

She doesn’t have long to wait.

 

The sliding door opens, and she watches as a tall man steps through them and into the sunlit backyard. He’s more than tall, he’s broad, Rey notices, with a full mane of black hair and an interesting face. From this far back it’s difficult to make out the specifics, though it’s obvious even from a distance his generous mouth and dark eyes.

 

All the conversations die down for a moment as everyone takes in the new arrival, glancing his way before turning back to their groups. The stranger does his best to ignore them, winding his way through the crowd, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes. A couple of people shoot him glances, but no one makes an effort to stop him or speak to him. Not that he’s making it an easy task, he’s got a dark look on his face that would dissuade most people from approaching him.

 

Eventually, though, the din of conversation stars back up as people return to their conversations, but Rey can't keep her eyes off the newcomer. She watches as his shoulders relax minutely once people's eyes are no longer focused on him. But he still looks uncomfortable, and he keeps glancing between his cellphone and the entrance of his house. It doesn't happen on purpose, but when he scans the crowd his eyes catch on Rey's and in that split second look she recognizes something in those dark eyes.

 

Loneliness.

 

She wonders if anyone else here has caught it, though she doubts it. It had been loneliness buried beneath a layer of indifference but Rey's not fooled. She doesn't realize her feet are carrying her towards him until she's over halfway there. It's an instantaneous decision, carried from her brain to her legs before she's aware she's made it. A moment later she finds herself in front of the stranger and panics when she realizes she's not sure what to say.

 

For his part, the stranger looks just as surprised, eyebrow quirked in question.

 

“Hey, I’m Rey.”

 

This close, she can take him in clearly; his large nose and sharp chin and the scattering of beauty marks splashed across his skin. It’s an interesting face, and Rey finds herself even more intrigued by him.

 

He blinks rapidly as if caught off guard by her attempt at conversation, however paltry it may seem.

 

“I’m Kylo Ren,” he says, wincing a moment after the words leave his mouth. He runs a hand through the thick waves of his hair, causing a stray lock of it to fall across his face. “I’ve never seen you here before,” he says, continuing, and although he doesn’t phrase it as a question the upturned tilt of his head belies he means it as one.

 

“My first time here,” she says. Kylo, that’s an interesting name, she thinks.

 

He extends his hand and Rey watches in wonder as her hand is engulfed beneath his own as they shake hands. The tips of her fingers tingle with warmth even after she’s let go.

 

“And what do you do,” she asks, curious. Something tells her he’s not someone who works for Leia, and most of the people she’s met from the archeology department are laid back, so she doesn’t think he’s one of them either.

 

"I teach physics over at Chandrila University, and when I'm not dealing with sleep-deprived undergraduates I'm working on my research," Kylo answers.

 

Rey blinks in surprise, rearranging her perception of him to include ‘professor’ somewhere in the mix. If she’s being honest, she wouldn’t have pegged him as the teaching type. Then again, Chandrila is a research university, the same as Coruscant U, and teaching must be a stipulation in the researcher’s contracts.

 

“Do you like it?” Rey asks.

 

Kylo suppresses a snort, “Do you mean to ask me if I like teaching zombie-eyed juniors at eight in the morning? Not particularly.”

 

Yep, she thinks, definitely in the contract. Some people are brilliant researchers, at the top of their field, and that’s where their passions lie, not teaching. Rey’s starting to assume that Kylo’s included in that list.

 

“We aren’t sleep deprived to spite our professors, you know. And I’m sure you hated eight am lectures as an undergrad too,” she retorts, narrowing her eyes slightly at him. “Besides,” she adds, “Not everyone’s equipped to tackle physics first thing in the morning.”

 

Kylo huffs, then leans down to look directly into her eyes, “Am I correct in assuming you would be one of those students, Rey?”

 

She feels a prickle of annoyance at his knowing tone. He doesn’t know the first thing about her, much less her academic habits.

 

“Hardly. Physics may not be my favorite subject, but I know enough to do well in it,” she answers. “Half the time it just requires a little extra time to understand it.”

 

He nods, “See, but it seems like you make the time. I think if my students put in half the effort you seem to do Rey, they’d be much better off for it.”

 

But even as he’s saying the words she shakes her head, “Effort sometimes has nothing to do with it. You don’t know what else students might be dealing with outside of class.”

 

He raises an eyebrow, “Empathy doesn’t raise someone’s grade from a 2.7 to 3.0.”

 

“No, but it might explain why they’re getting a 2.7 in the first place. Childcare, health issues, work, you never know. I try to work off of the premise that everyone’s trying their best. It might not be your best, but never doubt that they’re trying,” she says, turning her head slightly left to look out over the crowd of people enjoying the party.

 

Kylo doesn’t say anything right away, and when the seconds continue to stretch on without a response Rey turns back to him. His eyes are intrigued, gazing at her face as if in search of something, though what exactly Rey doesn’t know.

 

“I’d ever thought of it like that. I’ll endeavor to apply it when I’m next faced with them,” he says at length.

 

“It’s a start,” Rey answers.

 

“I never did catch what you’re studying,” Kylo questions.

 

“Second year at Coruscant studying aerospace engineering,” she says.

 

It's not unheard of for men to question her about her major when she tells them what it is; oftentimes to ask her how she got accepted or to comment on how difficult it is as if she didn't know. He might be sort of rude, but she doesn't think Kylo is a sexist jerk, or at least she hopes.

 

“Yes,” he says, nodding, “I can see it. You must have taken your physics courses already then.”

 

"I did, just finished the series last quarter actually. The section on fluid dynamics was super relevant to what I'm studying."

 

"Yes, that makes total sense. My doctoral thesis was based on fluid mechanics," he says, turning his full attention on her.

 

Rey notices an exciting spark enter his eyes, and she guesses he doesn’t have many opportunities to talk shop about his research outside of academia.

 

“Really?” She asks, leaning in towards him, “What was your topic?”

 

“It dealt with fluid and particle dynamics in an aerosol virtual impactor,” he answers.

 

The conversation from there on flows more easily. Kylo speaks with confidence on the topic, falling into a comfortable rhythm as he explains more about his research. Rey listens, interjecting with questions when he glosses over a topic they didn’t delve into in her physics class.

 

Kylo nods along, taking care to go over her questions and giving them serious thought before answering. The tension at the corner of his eyes dissipates, and she even catches a slight curl at the corner of his mouth when she makes a dry remark about the lack of accessibility of good coffee for late night research—in her case study—sessions.

 

“Which class do you find most interesting so far?” he asks once there’s a lull in the conversation, genuine curiosity in his voice.

 

“My intro to mechanics of materials is really interesting, although I’m looking forward to atmospheric flight mechanics come autumn quarter. I work in a garage so I tinker with engines all the time, but it’ll be great to start applying what I’ve learned in class to actual aircraft.”

 

Kylo listens, attentive, as she continues to speak about the projects she’s worked on in her classes and what else she’s looking forward to. His dark eyes never waver from her face, intent on every word or flash of emotion that crosses her face.

“And of course, archaeology is fun too. It’s why I’m here in the first place, Han’s my professor this quarter,” she says, a slight smile on her face.

 

This, she thinks in hindsight, is when it begins to go downhill.

 

Kylo stills beside her and clears his throat before answering.

 

“And how are you liking it so far?”

 

"Well, it's been great, to be honest. I didn't think I'd actually ever get the chance to meet my childhood hero, but Han's been nothing but welcoming."

She continues, unaware of Kylo angling his body away from hers.

 

“He’s a big reason I got into engineering actually,” she continues.

 

"Yes, of course, he was," Kylo says, and if Rey didn't know any better she'd say he sounded disappointed.

 

“Being a pilot sounded amazing, I read an interview he’d done for National Geographic and he made it sounds like one big adventure.” She doesn’t mention the dream she’d had of searching the world over for her missing parents.

 

The wind blows slightly through the trees, a welcome breath of air stirring the fine hairs at the base of her neck. Conversation between her and Kylo had been flowing so well until this point, but she notices the line of tension has returned to his shoulders.

 

"Maybe it seemed that way in print, but the reality was oftentimes more disappointing. His job was conducive to research and discovery, not so much for raising a child," Kylo says, bitterness lacing through his words. He frowns, his gaze lost somewhere in the middle distance. "You look up to him, that's clear to see, but as a father figure fantasy is oftentimes sweeter than reality," he continues.

 

Now it's her turn to frown, thrown off by Kylo's negative change in attitude. "I don't think that's a fair assessment to make," she says. "How could someone know all of that unless they'd loved it?"

 

Kylo scoffs, “You’d be surprised. He would have disappointed you, Rey,” he says, turning those dark eyes on her, frustration and hurt reflected in their depths.

 

Rey’s not sure how they’re conversation careened so far off course, but she feels anger bubbling up in her at all the assumptions Kylo is determined to make about her.

 

“Listen, I came over because you seemed lone—to talk a little, but you don’t know a thing about me,” she scowls.

 

"I think I know en—" he begins, only to be cut off by Han yelling out that dinner's ready. The older man steps out of the house and walks over to them, a grin lighting up his weathered face.

 

“There you are kid, thought we’d lost you. Looks like you found Ben! You must be a good luck charm, he never shows up to these things,” he teased, clapping a hand over Kylo’s shoulder.

 

Rey feels the floor drop out from under her.

 

“Ben?” She chokes out, eyes darting to look at Kylo—no, Ben, whose already pale face has gone white as a sheet. “Your son Ben?”

 

“The one and only. It’s his first year teaching at Chandrila University, did he mention that?”

 

Rey feels her cheeks burning, anger and embarrassment warring within the confines of her chest. Did Ben enjoy watching her make a fool of herself, going on and on about Han without telling her he was their son? She remembers Leia’s longing look from earlier and resists the urge to glare at him.

 

“No, there’s a lot he didn’t mention,” she grits out.

 

Ben for his part has the decency to look guilty, though he also keeps shooting exasperated glances Han’s way.

 

“Listen, Rey—”

 

“I’m starving Han, dinner sounds great,” she says, cutting Ben off before he can say another lie. She refuses to look at him.

 

Jerk.

 

“Of course, we’re eating out here so I brought some extra chairs from inside. We saved a couple of seats for you two,” he says, gesturing over to the long teak dining table set up at the far end of the backyard.

 

Most of the other guests have already found a spot to sit, so the only places left are the cluster of four chairs at the left end of the table, presumably for Han, Leia, Ben, and herself.

 

“Let’s go sit then,” she says, following alongside Han and leaving Ben to catch up with them.

 

“Have you guys had the chance to talk about the technical side of aviation? Ben used to be really into that, I’m sure he’s tried talking your ear off about it,” Han grins.

 

“Haven’t had the chance to, no,” she replies.

 

“That’s alright, here, sit between me and him. I’m sure he’ll start any second now,” Han says, gesturing to her seat.

 

She'd been praying she'd get to sit between Han and Leia, but apparently, that's not happening today. Rey grits her teeth, she's not about to let one man with an identity crisis ruin her afternoon. The food looks too delicious not to eat.

 

She misses the questioning look Han sends to Ben over the top of her head.

 

Meanwhile, Rey plops herself on the plastic chair, grabbing a plate and scooping a healthy amount of potato salad onto it. A moment later she feels the chair next to her ease out and Ben slips lightly into his seat, as if not to offend her.

 

She makes a point to strike up a conversation with Kaydel, who’s seated in front of her.

 

Dinner doesn't end up being as terrible as it could be, all things considered. Kaydel is an adept conversationalist, and whenever she stops Han and Leia converse with her about light topics; how she's liking Coruscant, if she has any plans for the summer. They try including Ben in the conversation, which is fair enough, but his answers are one word grunts and clipped replies. If she must turn to look at him Rey makes sure to focus on something slightly behind him, so as not to look him directly in the eyes. She won't make that mistake again.

 

Before too long dinner’s done, and although the get together looks like it’ll go on for a while yet. Rey thinks it’s best to be getting home.

 

“So soon?” Leia questions, “You don’t want to stay a little longer?”

 

"Thank you Leia, but I still have homework I need to finish," she answers, not a complete lie, but also not the real reason either. Even she knows saying ‘your son pissed me off too much' is bad etiquette, despite how true it may be.

 

Leia relents eventually, but only after Rey agrees to take home some leftovers. She fights the tightening of her throat and the sudden prickle of tears at the corners of her eyes. To anyone else, it might be just a nice gesture, but to her food is almost sacred after she spent most of her childhood going hungry. She so rarely had anyone offer to feed her.

 

Han and Leia are in the foyer with her, saying their goodbyes, when Ben walks in behind them, his car keys in hand.

 

“I’m heading out too. Thanks for the invite, I’ll see you both next week,” he says, bending down to engulf Leia in his arms and nodding farewell to Han.

 

“Oh good, you can walk Rey here to her car,” Han suggests with a knowing glint in his gaze, gesturing between the two of them.

 

“It’s fine, he doesn’t need to,” Rey says, declining the offer.

 

“I can do that,” Ben answers at the same time as her.

 

"I'm ok," she reiterates.

 

“And I told you it’s fine,” he repeats, the muscle beneath his cheek twitching as he clenches his jaw.

 

“Ok, fine,” she relents, though if she sees even a hint of smugness in his features he can shove his offer where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

But all Rey sees on his face is that same strange intensity from earlier, only now he struggles to meet her eyes.

 

She says goodbye to Han and Leia once last time before stepping out into the warm spring evening. The sun is lower in the sky now, everything half caught in golden shadows.

 

“Rey, listen,” Ben begins, but she’s already making her way down the driveway towards her car.

 

“I shouldn’t have been so rude earlier,” he continues, legs long enough to catch up to her in just a few quick strides. “That wasn’t my intention.”

 

“Well, you were. Not to mention you didn’t even have the decency to tell me your real name. You didn’t think I’d find out eventually?”

 

They get to her car, and she should just get in and leave, it would be the sane thing to do, but for some reason, she doesn't. Some part of her wants to see what Ben's explanation will be.

 

He winces at her accusation. "I panicked, but I didn't lie. I went by Kylo Ren as a professional name for a long time. Much longer than I should have if I'm being honest," though he mutters that last part more to himself than to her.

 

“But still, why not just start with Ben?”

 

Ben chews on his full bottom lip, opening and closing his mouth several times as if debating how to continue.

 

"Everyone," he begins, "Everyone back there is there because they know my parents, and most of them met me afterward. I've always been Ben Solo, son of Han Solo, or Ben, senator Leia Organa's son. For once I wanted someone to speak with me as my own person, just Ben. And you didn't seem to know who I was, so I panicked and went with Kylo," he finishes, searching her face for some response.

 

She stares down at her car keys, running her fingertips over its ridged edges.

 

"Leia loves you, you know that right? When I was here earlier she mentioned they'd invited you to the party and were hoping you would show. She kept staring at the door with this look of hope in her eyes like you'd walk through any second. I didn't—" she feels that telltale lump lodged in her throat, "I didn't get anything like that growing up. I guess I just don't understand how you'd want to ignore or hide that."

 

"Rey," he says, and something in his tone implores her to look at him. She debates ignoring it, she does, but in the end, she finds her eyes drawn to his own.

 

"I'll be honest, earlier today wasn't my best, not really. There are still some things I'm working through, and being here is difficult, for me. But I'm trying my best now," he admits, and Rey, she believes him.

 

Some of her anger dissipates.

 

"I am sorry, I should have been honest from the beginning," he says.

 

“Alright Ben, I believe you,” she answers.

 

“You do?” Ben wonders, moving closer to her, but Rey holds her hand up, staying his approach.

 

“I do, but it’s been a long day, and I really do have to go,” she says, opening her car door and sliding in. She rolls her window down and leans her head out, watching Ben Solo in his collared shirt and dark pants. "I'll see you around then."

 

"I hope so. Have a good night then, Rey," he acknowledges, tilting his chin in her direction.

 

She can tell there’s more he wants to say, but she’s had her fill of emotional intimacy, at least for tonight. “Goodbye Ben,” she says instead, then pulls out of her parking space and drives away.

 

She watches Ben wave goodbye through her rearview, and she doesn't look away until he's nothing more than a black dot on the horizon.