Kylo is annoyed. Growing up in Europe with his ambassador mother meant that coffee was either prepared by an expensive and highly trained au pair or bought in cafes which had been run by families for three generations. There were three Starbucks within a five-minute walk from his office, including one in his own building, but he was damned if he was going to step into any of them, and was relieved to find a corner shop run by an old Italian family who made coffee exactly the way he liked it. But now the shop has closed down because the owner died, and his son has gone off somewhere to start some bourgeois artisanal coffee thing (this the owner's wife told him, teary-eyed, when he stood outside the shuttered door wondering where the fuck he was now going to get his coffee and he went away trying to not think about prodigal sons disappointing their mothers but he still needed his morning coffee if he wanted to survive the rest of the workday) so he is now at Starbucks, which is too bright and noisy and he wants to murder something and it is not even noon.
"Hi, welcome to Starbucks, can I have your order please?"
He grunts and taps at his phone. Hux has sent him three messages in the few minutes since he'd left the office and is bound to call him if he didn't reply within a minute and he just cannot listen to that weasley voice before he has any caffeine.
"Coffee. Black. To go."
"And what size would that be, sir?"
He is confused. Size? At the old store he ordered, was handed a styrofoam cup and left. The barista must notice his confusion because an arm comes into his field of vision and points at the three cups on display.
"Um. Medium," he says because that feels like as good an answer as any.
"One venti black coffee to go!" the girl shouts while punching in the keys to the register. He wonders how she can sound so cheery just repeating his order. Maybe they drugged their employees here.
Again, he is confused. Why on earth would she need his name?
He looks up and sees that she is holding a fat marker against a cup. She has brown hair and brown eyes and the scowl on her face is nowhere as cheerful as her voice had been earlier. She has freckles underneath the patchy layer of makeup she has on. She can't be older than twenty. She is stunning. She is looking at him impatiently. She is expecting an answer.
His tongue is thick in his mouth. "Kylo Ren," he finally says. He doesn't miss the way her eyebrows arch ever so slightly as she looks down and scribbles his answer on the cup. She doesn't seem to notice how he fumbles for his wallet because he literally cannot take his eyes off her.
She makes the drink herself as well, handling the steaming groaning machine with the grace of a professional pianist (Why did she shout his order if she was going to make it herself? Was this another one of this wretched cookie-cutter coffee chain's rituals meant to cater to the ridiculous American need to feel loved and heard and important?) She hands him his cup and he immediately takes a sip for something to do so he can stop staring at her like a creep. He almost spits the drink back.
"Something wrong, sir?" the barista asks. She has a British accent, he realises. Her scowl is gone and she has the largest, brightest, model employee smile plastered on so he cannot even work himself up to shout at her the way he does to his subordinates at work.
He swallows the scalding liquid, barely feeling it burn its way down his throat.
As he leaves, he looks down at his cup and realises she has written "Chorono M" in thick black letters.
"Asshole," Rey mutters under her breath.
"They're all assholes," Poe says sympathetically, emerging from lord-knows-where, still smelling strongly of cigarettes. "What did they ask for this time? No-dairy milk with chocolate and whipped cream? A skinny drink with syrup? Also, watch that smile, kid, there are customers around."
Rey groans, but sticks a smile on her face again. She'd been warned by her manager more than once already about her customary dour expression and she couldn't afford to lose this job right now.
"No, he just asked for a black coffee and was a dick the entire time he asked for it." She grits her teeth, genuinely insulted. "And then he looked like he wanted to throw up after one sip."
"Maybe you made it wrong," Poe sniggered. "Do we need to do another review?"
"I did not fuck up that order - hi welcome to Starbucks, can I take your order please?"
He goes back and orders the same thing each time. It tastes as foul as the first time but it hardly matters when she smiles at him like that, and by the grace of the caffeine gods and one ridiculously beautiful barista who can't seem to make a decent cup of coffee he can always go back to his office and yell at the incompetent people he's surrounded with with renewed energy. (Not that he is yelling at them because he's frustrated he can't string more than three words together in front of a young minimum wage making barrister whose very presence screams student loans because that would be deeply unprofessional. He yells at them because they are all incompetent and they seem to make it sole their job to fuck up his day.)
She is too young. She's only smiling at him because it's his job (God knows no one would ever smile at him). She is dazzling and he has to keep staring at his phone every time he goes in so he doesn't end up creeping her out and he is being magnificently pathetic but he can't bring himself to care so he keeps going to that Starbucks even though it's the furthest from his office and other more experienced baristas can probably make a better cup of coffee and have better spelling than her.
Finn is almost in tears when he shows up at the shop just before noon, and orders a frappuccino with extra whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It's quiet enough that he can hang next to the counter and complain about his asshole boss while she cleans the area. Rey's grown used to her best friend complain about his dickhead boss and his refusals to quit his job at Starkiller Inc. every time she tells him to, but from the way he keeps gesticulating she supposes that it's particularly bad this time.
"So he comes back from his coffee run this morning and just starts yelling at everyone for not doing their work even though we were, and every time he drinks his coffee he acts like it's poisoned, and I swear to God it's only a matter of time before someone actually - "
The shop's door slams open and it's him (for the second time today, how brave), stalking through the shop with an expression suggesting that every chair in his way has personally offended him. All seventy feet tall of black fabric. Today he's got on his usual black wool coat and underneath that, a black shirt, and a black tie. He looks like a goth grown up and sold out to the corporate world. He looks like the secret lovechild between Lily Evans and Severus Snape. In fact, he could probably play Professor Snape the next time they rebooted Harry Potter and have an entire generation of girls grow up with confused fantasies. He already has the thunderous expression down. He stomps up to the counter and she has her winning employee smile on. It is ridiculous really, how much he towers over her even though she is by no means short.
"Hi, welcome to Starbucks, can I take your order?"
The line between his eyes creases even more, and he shoots her an exasperated look. She can almost hear him think in his ridiculously deep voice I'm in this shop twice a day you would expect even the most incompetent barista to know my heart by now.
Asshole. Even if he looked like a fine one in that perfectly tailored suit. Even if he never actually verbally insulted her, only in her head. She'll just keep annoying him every time he walks into her shop. Rey frequents the malicious compliant thread frequently on Reddit and updating it with her own small petty acts of revenge is one of the few joys she gets in her job.
"Coffee. Black. Medium."
There is that frown again. Asshole.
She makes his order, and at the very last moment, discreetly adds two spoons of sugar before sliding the cup on the counter to him. She's a sugar fiend and drinks multiple pumps of whatever season syrup there was at the time, along with caramel drizzle and whipped cream, and maintains that there is no such thing as too much sugar. Maybe when the coffeegoth has some in his life he might stop grimacing into his coffee like it's poison, or heaven forbid, smile.
She hands the cup over to him, almost a little too triumphantly. He raises his eyebrows slightly at the mangled name on the cup, looks back down at his phone, and then takes a sip. Before he turns to go she swears she catches his lips twitch upwards.
She turns back to Finn, who is now wide-eyed and white-faced.
He shouldn't be upset because she can't seem to remember his name or his absurdly simple order. She probably deals with thousands of customers every day and he should not expect her to remember him. He tells himself repeatedly that he is not upset the entire walk back to his office, and is only vaguely aware of the way the other people in the lift exit it once he enters.
He locks himself in his all afternoon, sulking the entire time.
Finn comes by again in the evening, this time in a much better mood.
"He was in his office all day and only came out to shout at us once before he left the building," he reports. "I don't know what drug you put in his drink but you should keep doing it."
"I only put in a couple of spoons of sugar in his coffee." Then at the same time as Finn - "Oh."
The next time Kylo enters the store, he keeps his eyes glued to his phone. He does not look up, not even when she asks for his name (this is the fourteenth time and she clearly has some kind of memory deficiency but he is not counting). He grabs the coffee once it is done and almost sprints back to his office.
He is not upset.
Rey passes him his cup, her lips still determinedly fixed in her employee-of-the-month smile. She has been steadily increasing the sugar addition in the last few days (all that sleight of hand she'd picked up swiping necessities like food during her days in the foster system are really coming in handy). Today, she'd put in three sugars and a splash of milk. Today, he actually doesn't have his phone with him and is actually looking at her. He does not take his eyes off her as he drinks, and a part of her flutters slightly under the intensity of his gaze.
"Your brewing skills are improving. This is almost palatable now."
He does not understand. He had complimented her and meant it, but her scowl had just come back on her face for a brief second before she reverted to her customary Stepford wife smile.
The next time coffeegoth comes in, Rey spits discreetly in his cup.
Kylo taps a finger impatiently. His company had insisted on organising a useless, frivolous team bonding activity meant for company cohesion and how it was important to get to know each other better and he has been stuck in a ridiculous meeting for the last few hours listening to colleagues he has never even seen before talk about their hobbies outside of work (surprise, hardly anyone had any given that they spent almost all their waking hours inside of the building's fluorescent lights and it had mostly turned into a lot of talk about what people did in their college days when they actually had time for hobbies). Finally, the last person ceases their pointless self-introduction and then a short round-faced Asian woman stands up and announces that Starbucks will be on the company's credit card. There is a collective cheer, and something in Kylo's chest tightens. It's not the usual time he goes down but he really hopes that she (Rey, her nametag says that she is Rey but he has tried to stop thinking about her name so he sounds less obsessive to himself) will be on shift and God knows he needs some bright spot to his day. Everyone in the conference room slowly moves down to the lift lobby area and he feels a hard tap on his shoulder.
"What's the hurry?" Phasma asks. "I thought you hated coffee anyway."
"I highly doubt that swill even counts as coffee," Hux sniffs.
Kylo shrugs, trying to keep his face impassive. "The sooner we go the sooner we're done with this shit."
The Starbucks is empty at this hour, until the whole chattering group makes its way in; then it is complete chaos. He sees the round-faced woman push her way up to the counter and say something to the barista (his chest twists when he sees that it isn't Rey - then untwists itself again when he sees her already pressing onto the steaming clanking machines).
"What are you having?" Hux is asking Phasma behind him.
There is a joke to be made about British people and their tea, but it only made him think of the ironies of the British accented Rey working in a coffee shop and now he can't take his eyes off her.
"What on earth are you looking at?" Phasma asks.
She doesn't believe him, of course, and peers at the counter. To his relief she doesn't say anything, just narrows his eyes at him like a silent Really? because he does not know how he will deal with Hux's snickering. He will handle Phasma later. He has to do it later because he is now at the counter and the scruffy dark haired barista is asking for his order.
"Coffee. Black. To go," he says as he has been saying at least once a day for the last month. Then before the guy can ask he replies "Medium", and he steps back, proud of himself for remembering the correct sequence.
"I've got this!" Rey calls over the counter. She is sweaty and slightly frantic looking, her hair escaping their buns and pressed flat against her skin and he still can't take his eyes off her.
"It's fine, it's a simple one, I'll make it - " the other barista says and the next thing he knows, he has a steaming cup in front of him. "Have a good day sir!"
And since Kylo doesn't have any more reason to linger at the counter, he hates this chirpy male barista with every fibre of his being. He slides away and takes a sip out of the cup and then spits it back out.
"Sir? Is everything alright?"
"This is appalling," he growls, slamming the cup on the counter. "How can you not make a simple cup of coffee?"
"Sir, I made it the way you asked -"
"I want to speak to your manager - "
"Let me just go get him - oh wait, I am the manager."
Kylo stares at the bearded man, his chest puffed out as though he thinks he can take him on in a fight even though the tops man’s ridiculous mop of hair barely reaches Kylo's shoulders.
"Well, your employee at least can learn and do a decent job," he snarls in his best time-to-make-an-intern-cry voice, and jabs a thumb at Rey, whose hands have not stopped working the coffee machine thing even as she throws quick glances at the two men.
"Well, given that I've taught her all she knows I should think - hang on, do I know you?"
Kylo's confusion is interrupted when a small freckled hand reaches across the space to hand him a new coffee cup. Ben is written on it in black sharpie.
"I've got it, Poe," she says, her voice firmer than the insipid customer service one she always uses on him. For once he is not looking at her but at the name of the cup, the room blurring as he wonders how did she know -
"Solo! Holy shit is it you?"
He somehow focuses on the man's name tag and reads "Poe Dameron".
To hers, and probably everyone's confusion, coffeegoth turns around and storms out of the shop, without even taking his coffee. The whole group of corporate drones part for him like the Red Sea, some of them without even looking up front their phones or breaking from their conversation.
"Oh god," Dameron chortles. "Yup, it's definitely him. No one throws a tantrum like Ben Solo."
"He comes in every morning during your break and calls himself Kylo Ren."
"Oh yeah I forgot about that, Leia had mentioned he had picked up some edgy name for himself but I thought she was joking - "
"Excuse me." The ginger man looked like that bit of politeness was coming out of him as gently as a pulled tooth. “Some of us would still like a drink."
Ben locks himself inside of the toilet, thankful for once, about day's bonding activities as the office is still empty and he doesn’t have to scream a hapless employee out of the bathroom while he breaks down. He splashes water in his face and vows to never head down to that shop anymore, he'll get his assistant to deliver his coffee to him and spend an extra five minutes on the treadmill instead to make up for it and he won't ever have to see Dameron's smug smirking face ever again - and then he turns colder than the water on his skin when he realises this also means he will never see Rey again.
Afterwards, in hushed whispers between lull periods, Poe explains the whole dramatic Skywalker-Solo family history. Rey remarks at one point that it would make a very good soap opera, to which Poe agrees, though she's fairly sure Poe’s making up the Skywalker twins' incest attraction.
Rey shows him the cup of milky coffee she'd made to pacify Kylo - Ben, as his real name turns out to be. She’d put in four spoons of sugar, a dash of chocolate powder. Poe falls over laughing and almost knocks over the tip jar.
Finn walks in just as she and Poe are closing up, and, after eyeing Poe in an extremely indiscreet fashion, reports that Kylo had gone home after storming out of the coffee shop. He somehow also manages to miss the way Poe stares at him.
“Also,” he adds. “I’m fairly sure he has a thing for you.”
Rey chokes on her spit. “That is not true,” she eventually manages to wheeze out.
“He was staring at you the entire time he was in the shop!”
“Probably because he wanted to make sure that I was making his drink right,” Rey mutters. Tall, attractive, rich men did not get a thing for broke students working minimum wage jobs on their summer vacations. Especially when they were surrounded by gorgeous corporate women in stilettos and expensive looking dresses like that stunning blonde woman who had been next to him in the queue.
Poe is staring at Rey as though she has grown a third head.
“Oh my god.”
“That explains everything.”
“I mean, that douchebag is dense but there is no way he is missing the fact that you’ve been pouring diabetic-inducing amounts of sugar into his drink.”
“Or he could just be that dense.”
“Uh huh. I’m also completely overlooking the fact that you’ve been giving him a $5 cup of coffee for half the cost. Only because this is too hilarious and is probably the best thing to happen to him since I can remember.”
It is nine fifty-five in the morning, which means it is almost time for Kylo to go for his coffee run. He is brooding in his office, wondering whether seeing Rey again would be worth seeing Dameron. What the hell was Dameron even doing here? Last he heard, his mother was taking the brat on vacations in Europe, the way she had always begged - ordered, really, Leia Organa never begged - him to take leave to go with her and he had refused. No one took their annual leave in his company. Well. Now he knows how Dameron was able to take that much time work.
It is nine fifty-eight. Fuck it. He’s going to see her or he won’t be able to get through the day and he can always out punch Dameron if he’s there. He sweeps out of his office and walks towards the lift lobby. He also completely fails to notice the way one of his employees frantically taps a message on his phone as he passes.
“Well, I’m off for my break!” Poe announces breezily, and ducks out of the back before Rey can say anything.
The door jangles. Coffeegoth walks in with his usual surly expression and Rey is already making his drink.
“Coffee. Black - “
“Medium,” she finishes and passes over the cup of mocha. His eyes slide down to the name on the cup. She’d labelled the cup when she got in for her shift, and kept it to the side, just in case he did come in.
“So you finally remembered my order,” he says quietly. Rey shivers, tries to tell herself that it’s because she’s cold, and fails as she wipes the sweat that had gathered on her face while she had worked the rush hour shift. Did he need to be so ridiculously tall? Or have such a deep voice? It should be illegal for someone to have both qualities.
“It’s not a very difficult one.”
“Well, considering the number of times I’ve had to repeat it - “
“Because usually like to give you the chance to order something else.”
His lips move very slightly, and she counts it as a smile.
“Maybe you can remember my name correctly the next time.”
“I thought your name was Ben Solo.”
“Ben Solo is dead,” Kylo says so flatly that she almost imagined the humour in his face previously. He also sounds like he’s confessing to a murder. He takes his coffee and leaves.
He regrets storming off almost immediately after he does. He’d meant to be nice to her that day, find out what Dameron is doing here, learn more about her life, and then ruined it with his tantrum. (He knows he throws tantrums and he’s been working on them with his shrink but self-aware didn’t mean he’s in perfect control always.)
The coffee is perfect. (He does not notice the collective gasp his colleagues muffle under their hands when he walks into the office with a smile.)
The next day, he slides a card across the counter when she hands him his cup
“So you know how to spell my name right,” he says.
She takes it warily. “How on earth did you get Kylo Ren?”
Because I was young, and stupid, and hurting, and I thought it sounded cool so I got my name legally changed and now I’m stuck with you misspelling it with every cup of coffee, and I really want you to have my phone number saved under the correct contact name when you save my number. Will you go out with me? But none of these are things he can actually say out loud.
“It just felt right,” he says instead.
“Sometimes you have to let the past die.”
“And changing your name is part of the process?”
Their conversation is interrupted by another customer, and he leaves the shop hurriedly before she can see him blush.
(If there are more people in the shop than usual, they do not notice it. Neither do they notice the way every patron’s eyes are glued to the two of them at the counter.)
Kylo does not take his eyes off her while he drinks. She almost hates herself for the way she watches his expression closely. Every day she expects him to find out.
"It's very good," he says and what a step up from "palatable" she needs to let Poe know and maybe win employee of the month. There is also more chocolate in that cup than there is coffee and she smiles as she has a mental image of Kylo as a giant, chocolate starved toddler throwing tantrums. Kylo smiles back, and oh. He looks much less like an asshole when he smiles like that.
The next day, the shop is uncharacteristically packed when Kylo Ren walks in at ten, but shockingly, there is no queue blocking his way when he heads to the counter to order. (If the patrons in the shop were carefully examining the toppings Rey had put into his cup - what looked like strawberry powder and more than a bit of whipped cream - and if photos were taken of the two of them, and if some money exchanged hands, well, neither Rey nor Kylo were paying attention.)
“I’ll have my coffee, and your number,” Kylo says, sounding far more confident than he felt. The clatter of the room falls away as he watches the surprise bloom on her face.
(The whole room falls silent as they hold their breath, waiting on Rey's answer.)
For one heartbreakingly long moment, she stares at him with her mouth hanging open. (The door jangles open and the unfortunate person walking in is yanked away from the counter by no less than five individuals.) A voice in Kylo's head, one that sounds suspiciously like his father, tells him that he’s fucked up, reminds him of all the Solo charm he failed to inherit, and again he remembers how much younger and fresher she is, she is probably hit on by customers all the time, she might even have a handsome boyfriend with an equally charming British accent and she doesn’t need an old weirdo like himself making moves on her while she’s at his workplace and he is trying to tell his brain to move his legs so he can leave and forget this humiliation and drink bad coffee for the rest of his life.
Then she is grabbing a paper napkin and her sharpie and writing something.
“I finish at six today,” she says. “So you can pick me up outside unless you corporate types don’t leave the office until three in the morning.” She is smiling, and for once it is not the sycophantic thing, but a real one.
(Someone claps. Neither of them notice.)
Kylo walks into Starbucks with a tumbler. A clear plastic tumbler.
“You can put my drink in this.”
“Weren’t you annoying me the other day about my environmentally destructive habits?”
“Yes but - "
“And aren’t I rectifying this now?”
She makes a standard mocha and pours it into the tumbler, the milky brown liquid very clearly not a black coffee.
Kylo does not comment on it and just drinks, and smiles.
(Half the shop hands over money to the other half. Turns out he was just that dense after all.)