You're so gorgeous, I can't say anything to your face
'Cause look at your face
And I'm so furious, at you for making me feel this way
“Oh, and Solo and his division will be joining us, too.”
Poe announces it off-handedly, like it’s no big deal, making Rey very nearly choke on her chai latte. Which is why she almost asks him to repeat himself. Excuse me. It sounded like you said that the Software Engineering team would be coming to the winter retreat? Phasma and Hux and Bazine and Roman and the rest of that whole incredibly unpleasant gang, too? And Ben Solo, to boot? Can you confirm it? Can you confirm that this disaster of cataclysmic proportions will in fact be happening? But there is no need to ask anything, because everyone around the table is already groaning with varying degrees of discontent, which means that Rey definitely heard it correctly the first time.
“Oh, man.” Next to her, Finn looks a lot like he’s about to throw his ‘English is important but engineering is importanter’ mug across the room. “Just… why?”
Poe spreads his arms. “Unclear. Orders from corporate. Team building and group development and stuff like that, I’m guessing. You know, synergy.”
“But we’re different teams.” Rose is scowling harder than Rey has ever seen her.
“Yeah. Well, we collaborate all the time.”
“But we suck at collaborating with them. Because they suck.”
“Right.” Poe scratches the back of his head. “I suspect that might have something to do with the company sending us on vacation with them for five days. The goal is that moving forward we can develop a positive working relationship.” Poe seems to think about it for a second, and then winces uncomfortably. ”Okay, civil. A civil working relationship.”
“God. What if they want to… to hang out with us?”
Poe sighs. “I could point out that that’s the whole point of the retreat, but the truth is, I doubt they will. And the cabin is supposed to be huge, more like a hotel—they will probably just mind their own business. And we’ll mind ours. Easy peasy.”
Jess slams her laptop shut a touch too forcefully. “What if we get snowed in with them?”
“That seems unlikely.”
“Oh—what if they go all Shining on us?” Kaydel sounds legitimately worried. “I can totally picture Phasma running after me with an axe. Ben Solo, too. And even—”
“But what if I end up in the hot tub with Bazine, and she pees in it out of spite, and—”
“Okay, that’s it.” Poe turns off the projector and disconnects his iPad, clearly doing his best to look stern. “We will go to the retreat, we will spend a week breaching the divide that exists between the Software and Hardware engineering teams—or, more realistically, we will ignore each other and avoid physical accidents, keeping in mind that any altercation would mean instant termination for yours truly.” He points at himself with his thumb. ”We’re gonna ski a bit, and sit in front of the fireplace with some expensive booze, and then we’re gonna come back home and forget it ever happened. Solo’s team will do the same, and we’ll all live happily ever after. End of the meeting. Everyone, get back to work.” He claps his hands. “Chop-chop.”
It’s to Poe’s credit, how impervious he is to the dirty looks he is subjected to as people file out of the room, dragging their feet and muttering things like evil corporate overlords and easy for him to say, everyone knows that he’s fucking Hux and I'm gonna team build their asses. Rey lingers on her chair, chewing on her bottom lip and trying to adjust her mental image of what was supposed to be a very pleasant, relaxing vacation on the company dime. It’ll be fine. Certainly. Probably. Maybe. It’ll be—
“Rey?” She almost startles at finding Poe standing next to her chair. “You doing okay?”
“Of course. I’m great.” Rey pastes a huge grin on her face, grabs her laptop and springs to her feet. “Everything’s just peachy.”
Everything’s shit. Everything’s the worst. And nothing, absolutely nothing is peachy.
The problem, of course, is that Ben Solo is vile. And that he hates her.
Every member of the team he leads is, quite frankly, horrible. Hux’s perennially disgusted expression, like someone just farted in his personal space; Phasma and her daily, passive-aggressive 'per my last email’; Bazine, who was totally the one who tattled to corporate that Rey and Finn were stealing snacks from the break room and bringing them home; not to mentions all those other bro-y guys who always wear cargo shorts, and call Rey ‘dude’, and look like they’re straight out of an Ivy League lacrosse team. The entire division is a nightmare—but Ben Solo.
Ben Solo of the huge biceps and the aggravated expressions. Ben Solo, who goes through PAs at the same speed Rey goes through skittles, who rolls his eyes during marketing presentations, who never bothers to say hi on the elevator.
Ben Solo, who clearly doesn’t like Rey. And Rey knows, because he said as much. She overheard him ask Poe to take her off the Starkiller project only a few months ago. “Someone else would be better suited,” he’d said, his tone crisp and cutting. “Not sure who, since Rey’s my best engineer,” Poe’d answered with a shrug. Ben’s jaw had stiffened. “Then you should hire better engineers,” he’d replied before stalking out of Poe’s office so quickly that Rey’d had to duck behind the water dispenser.
And that is without accounting for the things he’s said to her face. He’s called her work ’lacking’ and ‘slow’ and ‘uninspired’—before asking her to re-do it, sometimes two or three times and to impossible standards. He is the reason why Rey started wearing her hair in the most boring of ponytails—because he told Bazine, with Rey standing right in front of them, that he thought that three buns were sure to be a sign of a borderline-pathological level of attention seeking. He has, on multiple occasions, forgotten her name and addressed her as ‘hey, you.’
Which is why, when she is shivering from the cold at six-thirty AM in the poorly lit company parking lot and Poe asks her, “Is it okay for you to drive to the lodge with Ben?” Rey decides that she must have pissed off a god or two. Maybe Poseidon, because she really does take needlessly long showers, or Demeter, for never getting quite enough servings of veggies. Maybe her cat, Beebee, sicced an Egyptian goddess on her for putting him in a lobster costume last Halloween.
“Actually,” she starts, and her breath puffs white in front of her face. “I’d rather—”
“Not everyone in our team can fit in the car with me or Jess, and as you can imagine no one else wants to ride with the Software peeps. So.”
“Right. Um. Neither do I, so—”
“Please, Rey.” His expression is pleading, under the hem of his beanie hat. “You’re my least drama-prone team member. Do me a solid.”
“Well, I can be pretty dramatic, if that’s what’s gonna get me out of—”
“Thank you.” Poe smiles with relief and pats her once on the arm. “I owe you one.”
And that’s how she finds herself sitting in the back of Ben’s car, on the passenger side. It’s a triple whammy: not only that Ben’s annoyance at having Rey within a fifty feet radius is not subtle, but next to her Hux is playing Flappy Bird with the sound on, and Bazine, who is sitting in front of Rey, appears to require several yards of leg space.
“Hey. Could you move your seat up a bit?” Rey asks with a smile.
Bazine clicks her tongue and adjusts the seat, moving it up about a fourth of an inch.
“Right. Um… thanks.” I guess.
Rey leans back against the headrest, closes her eyes, and tries not to sigh too heavily.
They arrive at the lodge four hours later, and Rey takes in the snow-dusted pine trees and rustic wood walls whilst musing that even though she has yet to experience life events such as childbirth, broken hips, or hemorrhoids, nothing could possibly be as painful as the car ride she just survived.
She’s not quite sure what her favorite part is—maybe when she asked Ben to stop at a gas station so she could pee and Hux muttered that “there are exercises one can do, to overcome poor bladder control”; though Ben changing the radio station with an appalled expression, right after Rey mentioned excitedly that the song playing was one of her favorites—that’s pretty high up there, too. Probably, what takes the cake is Ben and Bazine discussing in excruciating detail the training, equipment, and philosophy that underlie Ironman Triathlons. Rey’d wanted to crawl out of the car and just walk to the lodge when they started talking about their preferred brand of energy gels; though she’d only really wished she was dead when Bazine had suggestively invited Ben to her place to show him her bike seat collection (the silver lining had been that the combination of Ben’s terse “No, thank you,” and Hux’s ensuing snickers had put a swift end to the conversation).
At least the lodge looks nice. Huge, as huge as a hotel, really, and charming, and just… expensive. Tall windows and porches and decks, and it’s surrounded by trees and narrow paths, and Rey doesn’t think that she’s ever been in a place quite like this. It makes up for the fact that she had to sit in silence and observe Bazine feel up Ben’s bicep, even as Rose and Tallie and Finn were having so much fun playing 20 questions that the game is still ongoing.
“Okay, number seventeen: is it related specifically to Rosicrucianism, or to freemasonry in general?” Tallie is asking, and Rey massages her temples and thinks that maybe the Ben Solo car experience was for the best. What doesn’t kill you, and all that.
Poe comes up to her and pats her on the back, his hand heavy through the thick winter coat. “Hey, thanks again, Rey. How was the ride?”
“Okay,” she lies, and then lowers her voice to whisper, “though you might want to know that Hux checks his Grindr profile at least once every ten minutes.”
“I—he—it’s not—” Poe sputters and flushes. “I mean, we’re just having fun—it’s not like we—like we’re exclusive or anything—”
Rey smiles slyly and begins to walk towards the cabin, feeling partially avenged.
Together, the Software and Hardware teams total twenty people—the exact number of rooms in the lodge, according to the housekeeper who greets them.
“You can find your room number in your welcome envelopes,” she says with a smile. Rey opens hers, and inside finds a candy cane (she immediately sticks it in her mouth), an information pamphlet, and a wooden keychain with the number Four written on it. “Meals are buffet style, served at seven AM, noon, and six PM in the dining room.”
“Which room are you in, Rey?” Finn asks while she’s picking up her duffel bag.
“Oh,” he says, in a slightly subdued tone that has her pause. They’ve been friends for so long, by now Rey can read him like a line of C++.
“What about you?”
“Nineteen.” He purses his lips. “But Rose is in Three. So.”
Rey smiles, thinking about Rose and Finn tiptoeing their way across the cabin in their underwear, like they do daily in the apartment Rey and Finn have shared for the past three years. And then she almost cringes, suddenly remembering how loud those two can be when they get busy. Her bedroom and Finn’s share a wall, and Rey really didn’t need to know that her two closest friends have a daddy kink and a weakness for milkmaid role play.
“Ehm… how about we just swap?”
Finn is beaming as he drops his keys in her palm. He also insists that she take his complimentary candy cane—Rey chalks it up as a win.
A super-win, really. Because rooms Nineteen and Twenty are in a loft of sorts, a separate, quieter wing of the cabin that faces the woods behind the building, and Rey just knows that the view from the windows is going to be breathtaking.
She hears footsteps behind her and turns to see who is going to be her neighbor for the next five days, half hoping for Tallie or Jess but mostly praying that it won’t be Hux or Poe, because she really does not want to find out if either of them has a milkmaid kink.
Except that, of course, room Twenty is not Tallie’s. Or Jess’, or Poe’s, or Hux’s. It’s clear that, somehow, Rey must have pissed off a whole pantheon of gods. Because:
“Are you lost?” Ben asks as he comes to stand on the landing, sneering a little.
I wish, she thinks, taking her candy cane out of her mouth. “Nope.”
Ben’s eyes narrow to slits. “Then what are you doing here? I saw Finn downstairs with his bags.”
Rey has no idea why Finn heading downstairs would be of any relevance to her being here.
“I live here,” she replies flatly, trying to sound civil but not really going out of her way to accomplish it.
There’s a whole journey of emotions crossing Ben’s face, and Rey feels like she can tease apart most of them. Incredulity (this plebeian, first in my car and now sleeping next to me, how dare), panic (will she give me the cooties), rage (I will send a strongly worded email to corporate for allowing this to happen); it settles on a mix of dismay, annoyance, and outright disgust, and—Rey is not a people pleaser and doesn’t much care to be liked, especially not by someone like Ben Solo, but he isn’t even trying to be subtle about it.
Rey didn’t kill his damn pet bat, didn’t bully him in high school, and she didn’t steal his grandma’s secret apple pie recipe. Seriously, this hatred he has for her is so completely unjustified, it’s almost comical.
“I don’t snore loudly, or anything,” she offers appeasingly. Maybe he’s just concerned because he’s a very light sleeper. It would sure explain his usual cheerful temperament. “And I don’t shower in the middle of the night. And you seemed to really hate Taylor Swift in the car, so you’ll find it reassuring to know that I own great noise canceling headphones that—”
Ben’s door slams behind him, leaving Rey alone on the landing.
With a deep sigh, she sticks the half-eaten candy cane back in her mouth, picks up her bag, and goes to unlock her room.
Ben Solo is a special kind of hell—and Rey is stuck in it for the next five days.