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An Inextinguishable Fire

Chapter Text

Awsaya

 

 

August 25th

Missing the first day of class hadn’t exactly been the best move.

Sighing, Rey slowed to a halt in front of the trashcan. 

She plucked the wad of gum from her mouth and stared at it poised on her fingertip, frowning at the way her saliva glistened, giving it a deceptive allure like that of a red jewel in the moonlight. She then reconsidered, quickly slipped the gum back between her lips. It had been the last stick of the last package from her last shopping venture. At least today was payday.

Slipping her coffee thermos between the secure hold of her thighs, Rey fished an elastic from her pocket and wrenched her hair back into a haphazard chignon. Less than an hour removed from her post-work shower, her hair still felt slightly damp to the touch and would not fare well in her preferred three buns.

Hopefully the creative writing professor didn’t wield a vendetta against gum-chewing. Or wet hair.

Well, here goes nothing.

Rey stole one last glance at the night sky, then cracked the door just wide enough for her body and book bag to sidle through. 

A nearly smothering wall of noise met her as soon as she entered. She knew this department had many more students than her own, but she wasn’t quite prepared for the disparity. Still, it was less a lecture hall and more resembled one of her classrooms from high school. She expected a much bigger room for an intro class but it was just as well. Large crowds made Rey paranoid, even the silent, studious ones that the library housed during finals week.

Feeling out of place in the sea of strange faces, Rey kept her head down and used her thermos to claim a desk at the back of the room. When she glanced up to see if anything was already written on the board, she spotted a familiar head in the opposite corner.

“Rose?”

Her friend turned around and balked, eyes wide. Instantly she grabbed her backpack and almost vaulted over the tables separating them before thinking better of it and taking a detour around the staggered rows. 

“Rey!” She claimed the second seat at the desk and dragged it closer until their chairs touched. “What are you doing here?”

Normally Rey might be offended—belonging was a bit of a touchy subject—but the caffeine hadn’t kicked in enough for her to care. Even so, Rose’s smile and tone told her everything she needed to know. “Same reason you are, I guess. You’re the one who said I should get into writing.”

“Well, yeah, but this—“

A hush fell over the class. The silence vibrated with a sort of anticipation and someone towards the front dropped their pen. Rey watched, brow furrowed, as it rolled to the front of the classroom, only to catch on the edge of the speaking podium and skid to a halt. She waited for its owner to dart up to retrieve it but no one moved. 

All heads were turned towards the entrance and Rey followed their joint gaze to what was clearly a man’s arm, clad in a watch and the cuff of a white shirt sleeve folded at the elbow, that had darted through the door to hold it open. 

Hushed voices poured in from the hallway and Rey vaguely recognized the stuffy strain of Professor Hux’s perpetually irritated voice before her attention locked entirely onto the hand hovering there just above the light switch. 

First she noticed the red stone set in the silver band on the man’s ring finger. Then she noticed the rest of his fingers, the actual hand and arm.

Rey swallowed. “Is that—“

“Yup,” Rose whispered over the edge of the textbook she was pretending to read. “Professor Solo.”

“Wait. My Professor Solo?”

He most certainly did not have hands like that.

Rose giggled, “Pfft. Not him. That’s his son.”

“Oh.” Rey’s mouth suddenly felt as dry, drier than the cracked earth back in Jakku. It must have been the two cups of coffee from earlier. “Well why does everyone seem so …” She gestured to the front row, where six students pointedly ignored the open door right beside them.

“Nervous?” Rolling her eyes, Rose tucked a wayward strand behind her ear, “Last class didn’t go so well. The department TA brought him another prof’s syllabi and roster. He was pissed about it the whole day and there was a mixup at the registrar’s office.” She eyed her curiously, then dragged her gaze back to the door.

Professor Solo Jr.’s terse conversation in the hallway must have drawn to a close, for the door slammed and he proceeded to stomp into the classroom with all the delicacy of a cyclone. 

Oh. Rey’s lips parted, and she stared. 

A heavy, oppressive cyclone with a gravity that seemed to devour all light and sound as it passed, weighed down by two book bags and the folds of a tweed jacket draped over one arm. It was far too hot for that thing. 

Perhaps that explained his mood?

Rey glanced down and realized she had been holding her pencil bag aloft for awhile. She dropped it and dug around for her notebook, all while sneaking peeks at her newest teacher. 

Ben Solo. She had only ever seen him twice before. Once from the window of the astronomy lab, engaged in intense conversation with Headmistress Organa in front of the building. The second time had been quite different, a collage of pictures from Professor Solo Sr.’s introductory slides at the beginning of her first year. 

She could imagine the images now … a bare-bottomed baby asleep on Han Solo’s chest … a candid childhood shot of a boy deep in thought, gazing out the window in the back seat of Han’s 1974 Falcon … and another of a frowning teenager practically swimming in an obscure band t-shirt as he read from a heavy tome, with his hair cropped short and his ears adorably bared to the world.

It was no wonder he became a writer. Han Solo had brought up his son’s occupation that day and on multiple occasions since then, his words denoting that he did not understand his son’s career choice, yet underlined with a latent pride.

Though her memory was always sharp, Rey still had difficulty associating those endearing photographs with the man that skulked back and forth at the front of the classroom, laptop in hand.

“Good evening, class.”

What she once assumed was confidence, Rey now identified as aloofness. An aura of grave mystery hovered over him despite the erudite picture he now presented in his crisp button-down and glasses.

He did resemble his father, but his mother’s influence was very evident in his softness and the intensity of his brow.

Professor Solo began to read from the roster, pausing at her name to find her amidst the crowd of desks. She raised her hand, ashamed that she missed class on Wednesday and that he had clearly noticed.

“Thank you for your patience. We will now resume our discussion from Wednesday. Page twenty-four, if you please.”

The room, deathly quiet up until then, filled with the slice of turning pages.

“Afterwards we will conclude our class time with a quiz on the assigned reading.”

Rey anticipated a collective groan from the other students. But none came.

And did he always spell everything out so succinctly? What of his casual conversation? She stared at Professor Solo’s glasses, trying to see through the reflection of his laptop to the color of his eyes, but he kept looking down.

Suddenly the screen flickered to life, revealing the day’s topic. Rey read the heading and promptly felt her limbs turn cold.

Diction and Erotica: Alternate Terms for Genitalia

“Uh, Rose?”

But Rose was already looking at her, the horror of Rey’s realization reflected in her own eyes.

“Shit,” she said, “you are in the wrong class.”

“Then,” Rey peeked at the cover of Rose’s textbook and swallowed thickly—The Joys of Sex: Composing Erotica—“then who’s teaching the intro class?”

“Hux. The registrar’s office screwed up the course codes. We got everything sorted on the first day and you weren’t here, so I just assumed …”

Rey’s heart sank. Intro classes were difficult enough to get into. Her third-year status had granted her entry, but now that she had already missed the first lecture, she doubted they would allow her to transfer.

She hissed at Rose, “But this would still count for credit, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. It should be fine.”

“But I’ve never, um, written anything like this befo—”

“Did you have a question, Miss Niima?”

Rey straightened up and faced the front with her hands clasped. The way he’d drawn out the syllables of her last name made her tense up on instinct. 

He was staring unflinchingly in her direction. The light from his laptop gleaming off his glasses like beams freezing her where she sat, as if he could read her mind and would instantly find her lacking.

“N-No, Professor. Just asking which page we were on. I’m sorry for interrupting.”

Professor Solo’s gaze slid down to the textbook resting between her and Rose. 

Please ignore me, please ignore me.

An ache rose up in Rey’s throat when, instead of carrying on with the lecture, he stalked out from behind his podium and approached their desk. Unable to look at his face, Rey nearly swallowed her gum and watched with great interest as her fingers knotted together atop her notebook.

“Where is your textbook, Miss Niima?”

That voice. Rey’s toes clenched of their own volition inside her sneakers. His voice projected easily from the front of the class, but its soft lilts up close were something else entirely. 

“I don’t have one yet.”

He said nothing and Rey waited, holding her breath, for him to leave. But still he remained at the corner of their desk. In her peripherals she spied the tidy pleats in his trousers and immediately had to quash the passing thought that the clothing complemented his form rather well.

Finally she could take it no longer. Maybe five seconds passed with him standing there in silence but it felt like ages. 

“You are on the correct page.”

“Oh,” Rey stared blankly down down at the book. “Yes, um, thank you.” 

She had known that. Page twenty-four. Why she had been incapable of conjuring a better excuse was beyond her. In fact, most simple things seemed beyond her this evening. Rey prided herself on her mental reflexes and yet for some reason this class already tested her on every level. 

She couldn’t stay in here. She wasn’t comfortable. She didn’t belong.

And he would know it. Professor Solo surely knew it as soon as he laid eyes on her. And he was picking out her inadequacies one by one, like separating multicolored leads from a sweater until it collapsed in an untangled, unrecognizable heap.

Then it was there, right in front of her face. His arm reached across her and Rey followed its length with wide eyes to the textbook. His fingers spread out along the pages. He tapped three times on the heading. Rey could make out the words “euphemism" and “cock” until everything blurred together before her eyes.

“Here.”

His skin radiated. Rey could feel his body heat licking against her cheek.

She blinked at the section he was pointing at, then dragged her gaze along his fingers and hand, up his arm and chest until their eyes locked.

He turned to Rose, “You will share with Miss Niima for the rest of class?”

Rose nodded and Rey felt her friend kicking at her ankle beneath the table as she panicked. Why was she worried? At least she had a textbook.

“Very well,” he cleared his throat. “Take care not to get lost again. We’ve only just begun and our time this semester is limited.”

Rey gritted her teeth. Their time was limited ? Then why did he have the long-suffering audacity to stalk to the back of the room merely to confront her about a page number? All he had to do was take her excuse at face-value, glare at her, and move on. She had, of course, lied to his face, but he wasn’t supposed to notice or care. Most professors would have gladly overlooked any blunder if only for the class period to conclude without incident.

When Rey stubbornly refused to give further acknowledgment, he turned his back to her. “See me after class.”

Heat crawled up Rey’s neck and ears as she refused to look into the faces of the other students. Even Rose, who she could feel staring a crater into the side of her head, would not spare her more embarrassment. She could feel the bewilderment rolling off her in waves.

Acting as if nothing happened, Professor Solo picked up his clicker and pressed through to the next slide. 

Damn. She would have to ask Rose for the notes she missed. But only after class. Glancing back and forth from the projector screen to her notebook, Rey squeezed her pen and forced herself to focus.

Consider the tone of your work. Will more crude terminology undermine the romantic elements of your story? Do your attempts at avoiding direct names for genitalia hinder the flow of your writing?

Well, it seemed academic enough. She could do this. She could.

Her mouth was still dry. Damned coffee.

.

.

.

She couldn’t.

That was Rey’s first thought as she approached the board and watched the door swing shut behind Rose, leaving her alone in the classroom. Almost.

Professor Solo had seated himself at the table behind the podium and was currently lost in the pages of a large text. Had he forgotten her? Rey eyed his tired posture—back bowed as he leaned forward in interest, elbows supporting him, neck cradled between his large hands—before gathering the nerve to interrupt.

She cleared her throat, “Professor?”

He started and dropped his pen. Rey’s brow lifted. This was the first time she had ever seen him surprised or flustered. Her brain instantly took note of the twitch in his jaw, the way his hands balled into fists and his eyebrows furrowed deep over expressive eyes.

Quickly, he righted himself and swiveled the chair to face her, “Is there a reason you missed class on Wednesday?”

“Um,” her head tilted. Most professors didn’t bother asking. If a student missed too many classes, that was on their head. “I worked late the night before. I woke up late. And sick.”

He leaned an elbow against the armrest, nodding absently as he took in her explanation. “You’re aware that you must attend at least eighty percent of class sessions for your attendance to count? It’s outlined in the syllabus.”

“Yes. Do you have a copy I can keep?”

“You’ll find it under the appropriate module.”

Rey nodded. Her knuckles had turned white around the strap of her book bag. He hated her. It had barely been more than an hour and he hated her.

“Then there’s the matter of your textbook.”

“Um,” Rey shifted her weight from foot to foot, gaze slanting to the board instead of him, “I’m saving up but I just bought some other books and I can’t afford it right now.”

After nearly half a minute of silence she found the confidence to look back at him.

She had expected him to mumble something about a used-book discount or suggest that she borrow Rose’s book regularly, but nothing came. Instead, he reached beneath the table and retrieved his bag.

He unzipped it but paused, staring down into the folds of parted leather. The twitch of his jaw hinted at his hesitation. But he seemed to arrive at some conclusion and pulled a copy of the main textbook from within. He held it out to Rey without a word.

“I … thank you, Professor.” She grasped the book with both hands, almost reverently. The stubborn sense that he pitied her wouldn’t go away, but she did need the text for the reading she was already behind on. This meant she wouldn’t have to bother Rose, and she would put it to good use until she managed to find another copy.

Hugging the book to her chest, Rey waited for Professor Solo to tell her the deadline of this loan. When he said nothing, she nodded in his direction and thanked him again, well beyond the point of maintaining direct eye contact anymore. He didn’t look happy, but at least he wasn’t lecturing her. She took her leave and walked to the door.

“Miss Niima.”

Ugh. What now? Rey spun around, expecting his deep glower, but was instead greeted by an expression highlighted by something too smooth to be agitation, too stern to be playful. 

She looked down at his outstretched hand. In its grip sat her thermos. When had he even walked to the back to retrieve it? She hadn’t heard a thing. And it looked so tiny wrapped in his hand—

“You forgot this.”

“Oh,” she rasped, “yes, thank you.” Rey’s fingers encircled the thermos lid so he wouldn’t have to deal with her touch, and smiled gratefully.

“Take care with that text, Miss Niima,” he murmured, “or it will become an added expense on your tuition.” He leveled his gaze at her over the rim of his glasses. “I hope you know I’ve put myself at risk by doing this for you.”

Rey nodded and fled the room before he could add anything else. He was being dramatic. University policy strictly forbade professors from loaning out anything, Rey knew, both to avoid favoritism and to maintain the campus bookstore’s ridiculous price marks. But he wouldn’t get more than a slap on the wrist if anyone found out.

He was so different from Professor Solo Sr. 

On her way back to her apartment, Rey compared the two in her mind, from Ben’s stringent rule-abiding to Han’s unapologetic failure to release Rey’s midterm grades until finals had already come and gone.


 

September 7th

Writing Assignment 1 (due by next class on Wednesday, online submission)

Write a short story (erotic portion must be a minimum of 350 words). Decide on the tone and mood you wish to achieve in this piece, paying careful attention to sex-specific diction that will help you meet that objective. When you are finished, duplicate this exact story, but employ alternate word usage, with a secondary tone in mind, to demonstrate the importance of diction when writing sex scenes in literature.

Reference pages 18-52 from the text. The slides from our last five lectures have also been posted.

Rey stared transfixed at the blinking cursor and swore her heartbeat was doing its best to match the damned thing’s pulse.

She had written everything else that weekend. The beginning that established the scene, the characters, their dynamic, the hints at a larger conflict, and even the aftermath of the theoretically impassioned coupling that changed everything for them. 

That left the actual sex scene.

Any story she wanted to tell usually reared forth easily, making her fingertips light with inspiration as they flew across her keyboard. A most welcome outlet for her emotions between numbers and staunch research papers. She had, however, been hoping some of her past writings would qualify as submissions, at least for the very first assignments. But now … 

Sex scenes had never crossed her mind for longer than a few seconds before she rejected them as an actual possibility for her work-in-progress. Rey enjoyed reading them, but writing them was another matter entirely. And now she didn’t have a choice—actually she did, but the idea of going to Professor Solo’s office and returning the textbook after he had offered it to her so kindly … she would rather fail the class than do that.

And that irritated the survival-focused part of her brain to no end. Rey knew she tended towards sentimentality, but this was ridiculous. He wasn’t even fond of her.

But there was just something about his eyes. The moment he removed those glasses and spotted her at the back of the room, Rey had known, no matter what, that she would see the class through to its conclusion. Actually mastering the course seemed out of the question, but at least she knew she wouldn’t fail. She never failed classes, couldn’t conceive of it because it brought her one step closer to a one-way ticket back to Jakku. A bit of an exaggeration, as a few low grades would hardly cause her GPA to plummet, but Rey deemed it a matter of principle.

Thankfully Rose, always proving her name, had sent her an unsolicited list of erotic writing tips that afternoon. “Your X-rated training wheels,” Rose had called them. Rey didn’t know how her friend sensed the extent of her discomfort, but she was willing to accept help anywhere.

Surely this assignment couldn’t be that bad. All writing techniques involved certain information and structures. Just like an equation. It would just be a matter of substituting one style for another … a style demanding content she was vastly unfamiliar with.

With a groan Rey buried her head in her arms. Good thing she chose to stay in her apartment rather than study in the library like she usually preferred.

She had just about enough of this assignment. More than the explicit subject matter, for which she had no personal experience, it was the tedious attention to detail that the instructions called for that drove her to distraction. It made her second-guess herself more than she already would have. Tomorrow night was her graveyard shift, so this was it. No matter the result, she had to turn it in.

Her major classes and work shifts, with a few hours of sleep sprinkled throughout, had consumed most of Rey’s time. The rest she had squandered procrastinating and agonizing over her sorry excuse for a conversation with her new professor.

“Awkward” didn’t seem like a fitting term with which to describe their after-class encounter. It had certainly been tense, but not enough to make her want to banish the exchange from her mind. 

Thankfully, the next two weeks flew by without incident. He hadn’t spoken much to her since that first day, but she couldn’t shirk the feeling that he could see fragments of her that no one else could ever conceive existed, hidden or not. Rey never raised her hand in class but, sometimes, when he asked a certain type of question, his eyes would dart to her first, where they would linger until someone else inched their hand up.

And her eyes always followed him. Whenever she was not occupied with writing notes, her eyes would instantly find him anywhere in the room like some unconscious homing instinct. Watching him, his mouth, as he spoke with articulate conviction. 

She especially loved when he read excerpts aloud from novels. His expressive voice and lips molded the words into vivid pictures in her head. 

Erotic excerpts he saved or their assigned reading, but Rey was no less entranced with what he did read out loud to them. But when she went home and read those sex scenes, she would do so imagining his voice forming the sumptuous words.

Rey didn’t think she had developed such a keen interest in a teacher since her first class with Professor Solo Sr., but he was her advisor and a kind, yet hard-nosed source of friendly encouragement for her. It was no wonder that she developed an attachment to the paternal mentor.

As far as Ben Solo was concerned, her thoughts of him had begun to grow, morphing into the proverbial tempter on her shoulder, one for which she had no angelic counterpart. 

Probably because it all bordered now on fascination, not mere interest. And it was one-sided, carrying Rey away with herself.

After responding to all of Finn’s and Rose’s texts, Rey plied herself with caffeine and set to work.

.

.

.

Editing the short story, unfortunately, proved for Rey to be a practice in self-embarrassment. If even she couldn’t stand reading it, how could anyone? The idea alone of Professor Solo getting past the first paragraph made her slightly nauseated.

It felt choppy, probably because Rey had written it in aimless intervals, between all the second-guessing and the frequent snack breaks required to spare her nerves.

It was well past midnight when she finally gave in. Still, she concluded it was … adequate, fulfilled the purpose of the assignment. Under the chirp of crickets outside and the heavy tug of her eyelids, that was all Rey cared about, even if the scene failed royally at arousing anything but confusion.

Rey’s eyes widened. It wouldn’t, of course, be any reader. She had managed to block it out of her head over the last two weeks. Otherwise finishing the homework truly would have proved impossible. He didn’t have a grading TA for their small class. She had checked.

He was going to read it. Her ascetic, attractive professor who had a way of cutting through her with just a glance or a judgmental quirk of his lips.

Oh, god.


 

September 8th

“But why can’t he just help her out?”

“Dad,” Ben sighed, “The story is meant to be from her perspective. It progresses better if she can overcome her own obstacles. And it’s just the beginning of their story anyway.”

A plate of food sat steaming on the coffee table. Han seemed perfectly content to spend dinner in front of the fireplace. “Doesn’t he care about her? He should do more.”

“Of course he does, but he can’t save her from every situation. That’s why I gave him a conflict of interest here. It’s still too early.”

Ben rose to sit at the dining table, but his attention lingered on his father’s weathered hands as they cradled the book with an almost endearing reverence. The dark green lettering of “A Garden in Bloom by Ben Solo” gleamed through lab-worn fingers.

He turned to the next page and gave an absentminded hum, “Terrific stuff, son.”

Ben didn’t think his mother had started reading her copy yet, but she asked him to sign it for her and had propped it up next to the name placard on her desk at the university.

A tentative step towards healing, these weekly family dinners had begun to steadily improve over time. Since last month, Ben had even begun to look forward to them. But by the time they were seated and most of the way through their meal, he yearned to return to his own house where he could mark papers at his leisure, read, and blast through a couple hundred pushups so he could pass into unconsciousness as soon as his head hit the pillow.

“Has Rey Niima contacted you recently?”

Ben nearly choked on his soup and reached for the water glass to cloak his blunder between pensive sips.

He coughed, “What?”

“Look at this boy, Han,” Leia arched a brow at her son, unimpressed. “‘What?’ he says. All the writing and speaking he does every day and that’s all he can think of to say to his mother.”

Ben sighed. Clearly she had been forced to slog through even more university bureaucracy than usual today. A woman of more talents than there were stars in the sky, but she had never quite mastered the skill of leaving work at the workplace. Nor had his father for that matter. And recently he had been failing so abysmally at doing the same that he began to wonder whether it was genetic.

“Anyway,” she stacked the papers she had been pouring over all evening and set them aside, “has she spoken with you yet?”

“… Rey Niima.”

Yes, Ben,” Leia gave a baffled chuckle. “Rey Niima. Isn’t she in your class? She came to my office yesterday and requested transfer papers because she missed the deadline. Did you sign them for her?”

His fingertips burned as he curled his hands around the edge of the table. “No.”

“Ben, if you’re concerned about nepotism, don’t bother. Doing her this small favor isn’t an issue.”

“No.”

Her eyes hardened, “No?”

He shook his head, “She hasn’t brought me any papers. Hasn’t mentioned anything of the sort.” That last statement sounded more clipped than he intended. 

Thankfully, his mother did not seem to notice—kept glancing up at his father while he read, lip twitching with a wry smile. “Hmm. Guess she changed her mind then.”

Ben always found it difficult to hide his emotions when he was hurt. He did his best to temper his disappointment in that moment, to reassure himself that the pursuits of a random student had no bearing on the worth of his class. 

But the mixup on the first day had dampened his confidence more than he would willingly admit to himself, much less anyone else. To transition between pleasant surprise upon entering the crowded classroom and watching dozens of them stream out after the mixup came to light … that day could go straight to hell for all he cared. 

Certainly he knew his class seemed unconventional to many, but he took his livelihood very seriously, as well as the responsibility of sharing his knowledge with those who wished to learn. It was difficult to navigate a career viewed by many to be on the fringe, especially when one’s support system held no point of reference for those pursuits. He knew from past experiences.

Shifting in his chair, he cleared his throat and donned his best mien of nonchalance. His fingers toyed idly with his napkin. “Transfer slips?”

“Yes,” Leia said, “She meant to enroll in Armitage’s class but that course code screw-up landed her in yours.”

Ben rolled his eyes. Hux. He taught so many classes Ben was convinced the man was plotting to take over the department right under Dr. Snoke’s nose.

Sighing and warm from the wine, he ran a hand through his hair and watched his mother stand and scoop up her papers. “How do you know so much about her?”

Leia waved her hand in Han’s direction, “Your father recruited her for the new mechanics program a few years ago—”

“Two years,” Han muttered from the living room, not looking up from his book.

Leia continued, “Yes, two years ago. I helped her apply for a scholarship. Sweet girl. And very smart from what I hear. You’re father’s always saying that she's what kept his project afloat.”

Ben didn’t say anything. His thoughts drifted to her attentive eyes. So far he could look in her direction during lecture and without fail find her engaged, pen wrapped in her determined grip, gaze tracing his every move in front of the board. How refreshing when most avoided eye contact for fear of attracting his attention or because the present topic flustered them.

Rey Niima also wrote extremely well from a technical standpoint, he knew. Even though it had been two years, he had still recognized her name on the class roster. 

Physics I. Some time in November. He had just begun teaching and had offered (been coerced) to grade their research papers for his father. His mother had expected him to accompany her on a second honeymoon that month and his father had, as usual, procrastinated in his grading.

His physics minor (also coerced) had aided him from a factual standpoint, though he was certain Miss Niima’s knowledge in the field far exceeded his now. But her actual writing technique had easily surpassed his expectations, even elevating the bland template to a work that actually held his interest. She was also thoughtful despite the perfunctory nature of the assignment and, since her report had arrived at the end of the burdensome stack, with him mid-headache and hungry, her name had made a lasting impression.

When his mother returned, she was taking elegant sips of coffee from her favorite mug. After spooning sugar into it from a dish on the table, Leia took a long gulp with her eyes trained on her son above the rim. The steam rising up around her face reminded him of the time he had seen her interrogate a professor guilty of misconduct.

She clearly wanted him to keep talking. About what, Ben was unsure.

Thankfully she led in first, “If she does bring you a transfer slip, go ahead and sign it. Tell her I said not to worry about the deadline.”

“Very well.”

“… Does she write well?”

“Who?” 

For a second he thought she was going to spill her coffee when her fist flew down to prop on her hip, “Rey Niima, Ben.

He shrugged, “They just submitted their first assignment. I’ve only graded three.”

“Well, judging from what I’ve seen, I’m sure she writes very well.”

After washing the dishes, Ben joined his mother and father in the sitting room. Leia had finally abandoned whatever she had been reading in favor of her favorite novel. She was already lost in its pages, while Han greeted Ben with a waggle of his eyebrows. He must have reached the first sex scene. 

Folding himself into a recliner, Ben let himself get lost in the flickering flames of the fireplace.

I’m sure she does.


 

September 12th

While I find your anatomy lesson fascinating, you are weighing the scene down with technical minutiae that should only contribute to the bare bones of sexual narrative, at least in erotica. You cited a romantic tone as your objective for the first version of the story, but both iterations fall flat with your choice of terminology.

Rey cringed and dragged a hand down her face. 

Did he have to say it in so many words? A terse “your sex scenes suck—leave my class immediately” would have been more merciful.

Yes, she had attempted to pad her lack of experience with her anatomical knowledge. He could probably see right through her. If not from the first day in class, then certainly now.

She had a pretty rich imagination, a perk of growing up as a child with many dreams but no means. At least, she had thought so. Apparently it didn’t serve her well as far as sex was concerned, but Rey supposed that wasn’t much of a surprise.

Your characters, however, are vividly realized. The dynamic you have established in the brief introductory scenes provides the groundwork for a believable chemistry in their erotic scenes.

Rey must have re-read that part fifty times. He liked the other facets of her story. The snippets he saw at least. He actually liked her characters. It would have been a glowing compliment, if only—

Unfortunately, this is not a lecture in character development. Poorly-executed erotic scenes can lay waste to any pre-established character/relationship development in this genre.

Rey had to wait a few days before daring to re-open the document for the next assignment. Otherwise she would have deleted everything out of frustration.

She shuddered when she thought of how many times she had typed out “vagina” and “penis,” as well as the proper names for the more specific … assets of each. More than anything, she hated the admission that her head knowledge alone hadn’t been adequate.

Due to her connections with Han Solo and his department, Headmistress Organa had given Rey one last chance to transfer out despite the deadline, and Rey squandered it. Not for the first time, she considered storming into Professor Hux’s office and begging for another chance to transfer back into the safe and quaint “Introduction to Creative Writing.”

She wondered what Professor Solo would think of that. 

Perhaps he would embrace it as a chance to be rid of her and her awkward, unsexy erotica once and for all.


 

September 14th

It wasn’t to be. Rey had glanced at the transfer form for no longer than three seconds before tossing it in the bin. And hastily digging it out again to reuse later for note-taking and equations. 

She wasn’t pursuing writing as a career, so Professor Solo might deem the effort to teach her nothing but a waste. But, damn it all, she was paying for this class and Rey could dedicate herself to any goal, to a fault sometimes. 

He had worn a permanent glower in class yesterday. Rey hoped her writing alone hadn’t put it there, even though she knew her thoughts were ridiculous and a bit self-centered. 

It could be anything. He could be tired. He could’ve had a fight with his parents … or a significant other. He wore no wedding ring, but that didn’t mean he was unattached.

Rey’s heart clenched. Furrowing her brow and nearly snapping her pencil in half, she bowed her head over her homework and attempted to recapture the focus of a few hours ago. The next assignment was already due next Wednesday, but she didn’t want to think about it anymore. Not of her writing. And not of the man responsible for her suffering through said writing.


 

September 21st

Rey stared at the screen, mouth ajar. He had finished it. It hadn’t even been one full day and Professor Solo had already graded her assignment.

Biting her lip, Rey hovered over the notification and contemplated saving it for when she could prepare herself mentally tomorrow. Her in-class assignments hadn’t been faring any better under Professor Solo’s feedback, and her stories from the last two classes remained face-down in her folder, untouched by Rey since she had written them. 

She clicked the link, gulping in a breath and blowing it out slowly.

He’d given her a measly 70/100. Marginally better than her last homework grades, it still filled her with disappointment and a brand of helplessness she despised most.

And in light of the grade, she should have known that opening the document to see any of his posted comments would not be a good idea.

A sex scene should not resemble a template of physically-achieved checklists. Avoid excessive patterns. You must imbue each interaction with qualities unique to your characters and their dynamic. If you can replace the names of your characters and still have their sex read similarly to you, then it is undoubtedly both impersonal and uninteresting, and I do not wish to read it.

Of all the—“Oh, fuck you, Professor.”

As soon as the words left her lips, Rey’s ears reddened. Goosebumps flaring on her neck, she glanced surreptitiously over each shoulder like a fool. What did she expect? For him to be hiding in the nonexistent alcoves of her room while he eavesdropped on her cursing him? 

Although, she wouldn’t quite put the possibility past him or the boundaries of physics. She already felt him always at the back of her mind. So it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference if he appeared in the flesh. 

What grated on Rey was that the thought was not so unwelcome.

His presence hovered like an ever-present specter in every waking hour—sometimes even in the un-waking ones … but ignoring those made Rey feel like less of a traitor to her concentration. Her unconscious self didn’t know what she was doing. In her sleep she permitted herself to hoard any number of secrets. That was fine. But waking secrets hid always from the perpetual threat of consequence. So much more thrilling for it. But also more dangerous.

Part of her wanted to skip class tomorrow. It had been a month and she hadn’t missed a class since the first time. Surely he wouldn’t take much notice beyond marking her absent.


 

September 22nd

Rey hadn’t been able to resist and she found herself settling into her usual desk fifteen minutes early.

The class passed in a blur, wrapped in Professor Solo’s soothing voice and the flash of endless text across ordinary green slides.

Rose gave her a long hug for the weekend and exited the class along with the throng of other students Rey always avoided.

“Miss Niima.”

He hadn’t directly addressed her like this in a long time and Rey nearly stumbled around the door in an effort to re-enter the classroom.

“Yes?”

“Please come see me in my office in twenty minutes.”

“Oh,” she murmured. “Alright.”

.

.

.

“Cozy” was Rey’s first thought when she stepped inside. Then she came face to face with Professor Solo, his eyes boring into her through his glasses, and all thoughts of his vintage, wooden decor flew right out of her head.

“I half expected that you would ask to speak with me first.”

He wasn’t sitting behind his desk but off to the side, next to the separate table that accommodated his office computer. On the screen Rey could see that he had been typing something, which he minimized.

“I meant to make an appointment eventually,” Rey said. She normally left the door open during meetings with professors, in accordance with school policy. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard it click shut behind her, and made no move to address it.

“My office hours are always open to those who need help.”

It was well past his scheduled office hours for the day. But it wasn’t Rey’s place to remind him of that.

“Other pitfalls aside, Miss Niima, you failed to meet the word count.”

Rey’s palms began to sweat. She had hoped he wouldn’t outright lead with the writing assignments, but—

“If you only wanted an easy grade then you should’ve transferred into one of Armitage Hux’s classes.”

Rey blinked. How did he know that Professor Hux had been her first choice?

“You are either willfully ignoring my suggestions or you simply don’t care about this course. If I lowered my expectations to those of Professor Hux—”

“That’s not what I want,” she nearly stomped her foot, but she guessed he wouldn’t take kindly to a student causing his books and knick-knacks to fall from the shelves. He sat silently after she cut him off. Rey could feel him watching her acutely and she cast her gaze to the side. She wasn’t prepared for this, receiving the brunt of his attention, having gotten used to sharing it with so many others in their classroom. “I’m sorry. I lost my temper.”

He didn’t address her outburst. But what he did instead might as well have yanked the world out from under her feet. 

She recognized the document he pulled up on his computer and was horrified when he scrolled a bit, eyes darting back and forth across the screen with an almost manic intensity, before opening his mouth to read.

“‘Kira arched under his attentions. His mouth felt divine and she knew she would soon feel the texture of his tongue on her clitoris …”

Hearing her words from his mouth made Rey dizzy like she had just been launched into the stratosphere. Whether by him or university mandate, he never spoke those kinds of words aloud in class, “Um, Professor—”

“‘… she orgasmed with a throaty moan and welcomed him into her arms as he lined his penis up with her opening. His kisses felt cool on her skin, soft and not unlike a forest mist. He groaned as he entered her and Kira eagerly groaned his name back. He thrusted and she came again, both of them climaxing at the same—’”

“Professor, please.”

He paused and slanted his gaze to her, waiting.

“I, well,” she clasped her hands together and drew in a shaky breath, “it’s not very good, is it.”

She expected him to gleefully agree. Well, as gleefully as he did anything. Instead he turned from the screen to face her completely, expression expectant.

Rey said nothing. What else could she say?

Eyes softening, he leaned forward. His voice almost dropped to a whisper, which sounded strange when his words didn’t hold an ounce of playfulness, “There is no need to feel embarrassed. I am the only one here, and I am your professor.”

Rey swallowed. Her mouth felt dry. 

Nodding, she hesitated a moment before moving closer. She eyed the chair in front of his desk for a second before deciding it was best that she remain standing. His redundant affirmation had seemed to be for her benefit only, but she wouldn’t fool herself into thinking he wasn’t still frustrated with her, or that he wouldn’t suggest she was in over her head and should drop his class while it was still possible.

“Tell me what I need to do in order to help you.”

“Pardon?”

“I don’t understand what is hindering your work. Your quiz grades are nearly perfect. You finish all of your assignments on time. So why is it that the results have been so lackluster? Clearly you have a good understanding of the mechanics of your writing, but there is a concerning disparity at play here.”

Lackluster . Something about that word, or the way he said it, with complete, undeniable disappointment, cut Rey to the core.

“I’m … I’ve been trying my best.”

“Is it your writing schedule? Your work schedule?”

Rey shook her head. She couldn’t lie. Not to him. As much as his honesty hurt her pride, she knew it was important to him to tell the truth. She had already decided that he hated her but, as far as her writing was concerned, she knew that specific feedback was not personal.

He clasped his hands in his lap, choosing his words carefully, “I have learned that my father is your advisor, and I realize that science studies can be especially difficult to balance with other responsibilities.”

Rey had long since started to grit her teeth. Her jaw began to ache. “I can handle it.”

“Clearly not.”

Rey gaped and nearly dropped her book bag. Why was he taking such issue with this? Couldn’t he accept the subpar work and give her the passing grade many people probably achieved gratefully? He knew English was not her chosen area of study and yet he almost acted as if he was personally offended by her inadequacies. 

His glare made her queasy. He looked so kind and vulnerable without it. 

And, dammit, she was trying . Rey knew many students didn’t take the class seriously, that they chose it for giggles or because they assumed it would be an easy grade—a grave mistake.

She only wanted so much to please him. And why the fuck was she still hung up on that? He obviously had no stakes in her success and wouldn’t care much either way.

“If you care so little about the course material, Miss Niima, why are you even here?”

Her patience snapped. “How am I supposed to know?”

The bastard furrow between his brows vanished and his eyes snapped up to hers, mouth parting in genuine surprise.

“How are you … supposed to know?” While he repeated them back to her, he seemed to eat her words, run them over his tongue with great care, yet hesitate as to their taste.

Whether he was genuinely confused or just goading her, Rey ignored the bewilderment in his eyes. Her temper had been kindled and there was no smothering it. “You have no right to mock me just because I don’t know everything about sex. I’m not the only one, you know. No one can really know everything. And I know I write well besides.”

Professor Solo watched her in silence for a long time, long enough that Rey’s heartbeat overshadowed the quiet in her ears and set her palms to sweating.

He glanced somewhere off to the side, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth and instantly drawing Rey’s eyes there. And when his teeth relinquished the soft flesh, his lips looked even more pouty than usual. Redder, and slick with saliva. 

“Admittedly,” he leaned back into his chair with a heavy sigh—the first time she’d ever seen that ram-rod spine make contact with anything but the air—and looked up at her, “complete accuracy is not a requirement for all sex scenes in erotica. Their counterparts in film are hardly held to that standard, after all. But the basic components should at least be believable, Miss Niima.”

Rey’s eyes shuttered and she found she could no longer maintain eye contact with him. Her fingers flexed against the fabric of her coat, “I meant that I have no first-hand knowledge about the … the details. At all. It makes it difficult. More than I anticipated.”

“Ah.”

Well that sounded awfully nonchalant. She chanced a look at Professor Solo’s face and her froze mid-exhale, breath suspended on her lungs.

Despite the casual sound he had just made, the personal shift in their conversation altered the entire mood in the room, and his eyes burned. Into her, through her, into himself, his focus setting everything aflame without prejudice. Beneath the heavy blanket of her embarrassment, Rey wondered at how she could’ve ever described attraction in terms of green and coolness when there was just. So. Much. Fire. It lingered and licked at her skin even after her temper cooled.

He didn’t linger on her virgin status as she first assumed he was. If he felt shock he did not comment on it and, of all the emotions he might be mulling over in that impenetrable brain of his, Rey definitely did not find humor or distaste amongst them. It would have been an overreaction, for certain, but Rey had experienced enough to recognize it—dread it—as a possibility.

Instead his gazed rolled over her face, searching almost tenderly, pondering so long that Rey found her thighs pressing together. Her knees quivered and she wished fervently that he would let her sit down.

Both in frustration and to cease her fingers’ shaking, Rey fisted her hands at her sides. 

… Let her? 

Where did that nonsense come from? She didn’t need him to let her do anything. He wasn’t her boss, her father. She could sit wherever and whenever she damn well pleased.

Finally, he spoke. And Rey forgot all about sitting down, entirely unprepared for the way his voice would wrack through her. 

“I suppose that does pose somewhat of an obstacle, Miss Niima. But you are correct in your assessment of your talent. It would be a shame to allow it to go to waste just because the subject material is new to you. All concepts are new before you learn them, and I can teach you.”

He didn’t mean—

With great difficulty, Rey pulled in a lungful of air, “Well, you are my teacher, Professor Solo.”

“So I am. I’m afraid I’ll have to give you some extra assignments to supplement your … less expansive areas of knowledge, small as they may be when compared to the rest of your capabilities, I’m sure.”

His complements bloomed far too much affection in her chest but Rey let herself revel in it, and in the warmth of his gaze as he appraised her with a thoughtful nod before turning to write something down in his large tome of a planner. 

“I will send the details to you later, Miss Niima. Expect an e-mail tomorrow morning.”

Nodding, Rey pulled back from the desk and shot him a beaming smile. If it disarmed him, good. If not, she hoped he saw her gratitude, her relief that he had deflected their attention from such a personal revelation and back to the academic matters at hand.

A framed photograph graced the wall by his door. It was a sketch of a woman, dressed in what resembled an ancient queen’s garb, surrounded by seven armed knights. She didn’t dare linger too long, but a single glance was enough to show her that it was beautiful. Had he drawn it himself?

“Rey.”

She froze. The heavy door would have smacked into her hip had her arm not reacted at the last second. He had never said her name before. She wanted to hear him say it again. 

“Yes?”

He wasn’t looking at her, but at his lap, hands clasped together atop his knee. His legs were crossed and Rey’s eyes zeroed in on the strip of skin on his ankle exposed just above the edge of his sock.

“Professor Solo.”

When he finally made eye contact with her, his face had softened so. It made her want to sink to her knees in front of him. Or embrace him, sit in his lap and stroke his hair. Either one.

“I just wanted to reassure you that I do see much potential in your work. First-hand sexual experience is not enough to ensure a person can write erotica well, so this isn’t a problem. I’m certain that after some research, you will soon excel.”

His praise made her feel like she was glowing. Perhaps she was. If it showed in her eyes, Rey hoped he could see it. “Thank you, sir.”

He nodded and brought his hand up to his mouth. He wasn’t looking at her anymore and Rey resisted the urge to walk back to his desk and force him to. 

“I apologize for being strict. Perhaps you think I’ve been selectively cruel, but I assure you that I merely saw potential and was at a loss as to what I needed to do to bring it out of you.“ He shifted in his chair. It’s pained creaks filled the office and Rey realized then just how silent it had become. “Of course, I now realize that my frustrations were misguided and that your frame of reference is merely different from what I had … previously envisioned.”

Around the doorknob, Rey’s fingers tightened almost to the point of pain. He really could be unbearably sweet, when he wanted to be. It was as if a weight had fallen from her shoulders, only to be replaced by another of a different, more distracting ilk.

But what did he mean by that? That she seemed mature or worldly enough to definitely have had sex before? Or that the norms of society had led him to such a conclusion? Most of all, his choice of words sparked her senses and thoughts into overdrive. It was too much, all these thoughts running together with the pride and joy she also felt. 

Envisioned. Did that mean he had thought of it, imagined it? The state of her sexual experience? That he had actually been imagining her , in possibly any context, at all?

Surely not. Ben Solo was a respected, superb writer with years of experience. He would not choose his words lightly. And he certainly would not risk offending her by implying such thoughts had ever occurred to him. She was merely overanalyzing. As usual.

Either way, Rey felt her heart sing, practically preening under his shower of kind words and praises. She had gotten them so infrequently growing up. His encouragement soothed her more than she could express, so she didn't even attempt to. He wouldn’t understand and would probably take it the wrong way.

“I appreciate it, Professor. Thank you. Thank you so much.” Fingering the strap of her bag, Rey smiled at him, hoped he could at least feel it if he wasn’t willing to look up and see.

His concentration remained fixed between his lap and the tabletop.

“I’ll see you on Wednesday.” He absentmindedly ran his index finger over a crag in the desk wood. Had he made that himself? Before she could open her mouth and make even more of a fool of herself, she released the door.

Softly, she called over her shoulder, “Good night.”

She lingered in the dark hallway, breath held as she watched the door slowly drift shut and biting her lip as she listened for it, ached for it.

“Good night, Miss Niima.”