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Sweeter Than Zingbees

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The mall’s seen better days. Better years, in fact. There’s a discount department store, Hutt's, squatting in one level of the old Empire anchor store. Empty, rickety shelves and flickering banks of fluorescents give the whole place a haunted air. How it stays open when no one ever seems to shop in it is a mystery for the ages.

Rey thinks they’re probably selling drugs right out of the front counter, but she's been around long enough to know you don't go poking your nose into Hutt's business.

She gets to the mall at a quarter to five. It's still dark, and chilly enough that she grabs an extra long-sleeved shirt out of the backseat and pulls it on over her clothes. The light over the employee door she uses has been burnt out the entire time she's worked at Cafe Niima. She's heard her manager, Poe, get on Plutt's case about it at least a dozen times, but it never actually gets fixed.

To his credit, Poe tried to change it himself a couple of times. He's a pretty great manager—always willing to cover a shift himself, doesn't let anybody get away with murder—but a handyman he definitely is not. The cover of the light fixture still droops from his last attempt.

Rey keeps her finger on the "safe" button on her phone until she gets all the way inside the building. With the door pulled snugly closed behind her and the big bolt re-engaged, she holds the phone up in front of her face. She smiles through a yawn and, tossing a cheesy thumbs-up at the exit sign behind her, she snaps a pic and sends it to Poe's phone.

She's never really been sure that he's up to get them, but she's afraid to ask. What kind of a person is up at five if they don't have to be? Still, she's not willing to risk forgetting.

(Back when she first started, she heard it straight from Beebee: not checking in meant Poe would call the cops to make sure you weren't dead. Not because he had to, because the company told him to, but because he needed to know everybody was safe.

"That's kind of..." Rey wasn't sure what it was. Overbearing? Sweet?

"He takes it all real serious," they said. "You make sure you text him when you close, too. Not when you get to the door or whatever, but once you're in your car with the engine on and the doors locked. I don't know if he'd go to, like, your house, but I wouldn't put it past him. Dude's a good guy, but whew! There's intense and then there's intense."

Nice is what it is. Rey still thinks so. It's nice that someone cares that much about the people he works with. Not many do.)

Cafe Niima sits off the main atrium, directly opposite the dry fountains. It doesn't take Rey long to get set up for the day. Mornings after Poe's partner, Snap, closes are a breeze and a half. Everything's right where Rey needs it, and sparkling clean besides. He's worked almost every closing shift since time immemorial, got hired on by Organa herself way back in the day.

Rey is filling the last of the canisters on the countertop by the time Jessika rolls in, the anxious first customers at her heels. The morning passes in a blur of espresso fumes and cheesy aubade standards on the stereo. When she finally has a chance to do more than breathe between orders, there's a healthy layer of credit chips in the tip jar and the place is cleared out enough that she finally gets to take a real break. She twists off a piece of zingbee honey to sweeten her stim-tea, snaps on the lid, and drops her apron on the back counter.

"Ten minutes okay?"

Jessika's in her zone. Clean portafilter baskets march along the edge of the sink. Caramel sauce drips from a punctured refill bag into a fresh squeeze bottle. Her short hair is plastered to her neck with sweat. She waves Rey off with a distracted, "Ten, twenty, whatever."

"I'm just going to run upstairs to read," Rey says. Jessika either doesn't hear or doesn't care. Probably both, if Rey's honest.

She gets all the way out to the fountain before she realizes she forgot both her tea and her book. So much for the camouflage.

The second floor feels more deserted than the first, even though there are twice as many open shops up here. Rey sits on a bench outside the long-since-abandoned Hux Sporting Goods. A faded cutout of Phasma, in a Chin-Bret vest and carrying her platinum piker, leans against the window, her head flopped back so far it looks like it's missing.

"Here? Seriously?"

There's more he would complain about—there always is—but Rey kisses him before he can get anything else out.

"It's romantic," she says, when she feels he's sufficiently rewarded for just existing in a space near her. Or at all, really. "This is where you tripped me, the day we met."

"I tripped you?"

His indignation is adorable. His dark eyes widen, his mouth pulls into an exaggerated frown. If she would unthread her fingers from his, he'd probably cross his arms over his chest and shake his head at her like an old man.

Instead, Rey uses her hold to pull him down onto the bench with her. When she does let go so she can slide in and cuddle against his side, his arms go around her at once, pulling her closer and closer until she squeaks, "Finn! I can't breathe!"

"I tripped you," he mutters. They rearrange themselves into something more like a proper hug. Rey nuzzles her nose into the side of his neck, breathing in his sweet green scent. "So this is how it's going to be, is it? Not bad enough you got me sneaking out of work in the middle of the day? Now you gotta impugn my big damsel-in-distress moment?"

"Hey!" She digs her fingers into his ribs and he barks out a laugh before squirming away. "You were the one in distress, if you'll remember."

"Okay, for the last time, hiding from your boss when your boss is a mopey emo prick is not distress. And I'll thank you to remember who did the tripping, Ms Perfect Balance."

It would be more of an insult if she didn't actually have perfect balance, or if he didn't press a kiss to the top of her head as soon as he said it.

"Shhh," Rey commands, shifting closer. "You should be nice to me. For all you know, I've got a cute boyfriend just waiting for you to put a foot wrong."

Finn laughs. "Cuter than me? Impossible."