Waiting on the doorstep of a very nice apartment complex, Rey fidgeted with the strap of her faded Jansport; it was cold out, a sign that autumn had truly arrived in Takodana, but she’d stubbornly worn her Tevas despite knowing that it would drop below forty that evening. It wasn’t like she planned to be out late— she needed to study for Ackbar’s midterm, that was all, and she’d decided to study with the one person in her section of Linear Algebra that she didn’t want to totally murder.
Okay. Okay, so she didn’t want to murder her study partner at all. Unless he didn’t answer the door in a goddamn second because it was cold out, and her toes were not happy, and she could smell the pizza that someone had ordered because it lingered in the air outside the door and—
There he was.
He skittered out of the stairwell and slid along the lobby for a few seconds; he spotted Rey, then, and she ducked her head to hide a grin when he smoothed out his curls and walked towards the front entrance at a normal pace, clearly trying to pretend that he hadn’t almost taken himself out on the tile.
“I’m so sorry,” he was saying before he’d opened the door fully, “Sorry, the concierge is out for dinner. Jesus, I hope you weren’t out here for long.”
“Not too long,” Rey fibbed, offering him a shrug. “Don’t worry about it, Dameron.”
Dameron, as in Poe Dameron. The actual movie star. A student in her crappy Linear Algebra class. What was the world.
“I’m still sorry.” Poe shook his head and held the door open for her. “Oh, your poor toes.”
“Huh?” Rey quirked an eyebrow at him and then looked down at her, admittedly, bright red feet. “Oh, I can’t even feel them.”
“That’s usually not good.” He wrung his hands together and then sighed, gesturing at the stairwell he’d slammed out of a few moments ago. “I’m on the third floor. The elevator is broken, I’m sorry.”
“You have to stop saying sorry.” Rey was already walking for the staircase, not wanting to do something stupid like smile at his mild flailing because then he would know she was the kind of person who smiled at (very pretty) celebrities who happened to be enrolled in the same college as her, and while that might not seem like the worst thing, Rey also had an image to uphold.
(Uphold to whom was anyone’s guess: her only friend was Finn Calrissian, a transfer from Batt U, and he knew she was a secret marshmallow, something she’d sworn him to fiercest secrecy on).
They walked in silence up the stairs, and Rey felt her ears reddening at the random thought of are these the leggings that make my butt look okay? She had cared about what her butt looked like all of never in her life, so she was surprised to find that yes, her brain had created a category of pants that make my ass look great and that yes, she was wearing a pair in that category, which was good because she was walking in front of Poe up the stairs.
Poe cleared his throat when they hit the third floor landing, and Rey nodded without saying anything, pushing through the door in front of him; he walked to a door in the middle of the hallway and opened it.
“You don’t lock your door?” Rey asked curiously, probably harsher than she meant to, and Poe shrugged.
“Nah. I don’t think anyone would want this stuff, anyway.”
She walked in and immediately doubted that assessment. There was plenty to steal— a large, plasma screen TV, an exercise bike, a comfy looking futon, matching living room furniture, and a very cute dog bed, from which a very cute dog arose.
“This is Beatrice.” Poe waved at the dog, an orange and white terrier, who trotted over to Rey. “Shit. You’re not - allergic to dogs, right?”
“No.” Rey sank to her knees and buried her face in the ruff of the dog, who wiggled joyously. “Oh, you’re perfect.” She scratched the dog behind the ears and giggled. “What a good name. Shakespeare would be proud.”
“Yeah, that was my favorite Shakespeare play when I was a kid.” Poe seemed to be muttering to himself, so Rey ignored it and kept scratching the dog, not wanting to admit that it was also her favorite Shakespeare play (because there was no way to share that and sound like she wasn’t trying to just be agreeable, something she wasn’t really inclined to be). “Oh, I, uh, got some pizza.”
“What?” Rey looked up from Beatrice, who was now kissing her jaw happily - the first kiss Rey had been given in a while, and definitely the nicest one she could recall getting in years. Poe was bright red when she looked over at him, and was tapping his fingers anxiously on the counter where there were, in fact, three large pizza boxes stacked on top of each other.
Rey frowned and stood slowly, wiping slobber from her face using the sleeve of her jumper. “...Are those … leftovers?”
“Leftovers?” Poe repeated, as though not understanding the word.
“From a party or something.”
“N-no, they’re … new.” Poe shoved his hands in the pockets of his nice jeans (everything about him was nice, honestly, his pants, his apartment, his smile, his hair, ugh, Rey wanted to go home and sit under her not-nice blanket in her not-nice dorm room and eat not-nice ramen because it was what she knew ). “I, uh, ordered a few pizzas because I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and I didn’t want to be rude and not offer you some.”
“So you ordered...three?” Rey tilted her head at him and shook her head. “I don’t think even I could eat three pizzas.”
“At least two are for me.” Poe grinned at her and walked to a cabinet, pulling out some plates. “So is that a yes to pizza?”
Rey’s stomach growled traitorously, and she had to nod or risk looking like a total idiot. “Yeah, that’d be- how much do I owe you?”
“Owe?” Poe set the plates down and opened the box of pizza, shooting her a confused frown.
“For the pizza,” Rey said slowly. “How much do I owe you for the pizza?” She had a five dollar bill in the bottom of her front zip pocket in her backpack, a bill she’d been saving on the off-chance her subway card got lost (she’d never lose it), or in case of emergency. But, if she was going to have to pay back the egregiously cute boy from her Linear Algebra class-
“What?” Poe’s nose wrinkled in a way that was annoyingly pretty. “No, I got it for us to share. It’s fair game.”
“It’s a lot.” Rey shuffled her feet and gritted her teeth. “A lot to just … take, you know?”
“You aren’t taking.” Poe put a slice on each plate and scooted one across the counter towards her. “I’m giving. Different.”
“Uh-” Rey’s neck flushed, but Poe was turning around, digging in his fridge.
What she could see of the fridge remained her painfully of the barren mini-fridge she’d squirreled away in the back of her close in her dorm room- she’d found it at the dump last fall and rewired it so it worked almost like brand new. Poe’s fridge was brand new, with an ice dispenser in the front, and smart readings along the doors that told him how cold the air was: each shelf was filled with neatly stacked tupperwares, fresh fruit and vegetables, the sort of produce she didn’t even look at when she went to the grocery store because canned was cheaper and lasted longer.
“Do you want a drink?”
While her neck was hot a minute ago, it was suddenly cold. “No.”
She must have spoken quieter than she thought because Poe was straightening up, a few bottles in his hands. “I got sparkling water, orange juice, I have beer and wine, too-”
“I’m twenty.” Rey dragged a hand through her hair anxiously. “I don’t drink.”
“Gotcha.” Poe seemed to falter for a moment but then flashed her a megawatt smile. “So OJ or water?”
“I don’t want a drink.” Rey knew that was something impolite to say-at least, she was pretty sure it was, and she swore his smile got dimmer-but she didn’t feel like being polite about it. Not after…
“Okay.” Poe nodded and closed the fridge door. “So…”
“I brought my own water.” She knew her anxiety was talking for her, wanted to shut her mouth and stop talking, but she was suddenly worried about offending him, or making him mad, or making him think she was a bitch (and she was a bitch, but for completely different reasons then this, and why did she care again ). “Sorry, I just-” Poe looked confused now, and she realized he probably didn’t care what a girl five years younger than him was drinking at his apartment. “Sorry.”
“I thought you said I needed to stop saying that word so much.” Poe’s teasing was gentle as he handed her the plate he’d left out for her, and he nudged past her shoulder gently enough to be an accident as he walked to his table. “Is here good?”
When she didn’t answer, still rooted to the spot in embarrassment, he turned and smiled at her. “Do you want to study here? I figured we could eat too.”
The only other spot for them to study was on the futon (which, while comfortable, opened up a whole realm of closeness Rey didn’t think she could handle at the moment, or in the near future, or ever). “That sounds great.” She tucked a strand of her messy hair behind her ear and snagged her backpack from the floor, Beatrice hot on her heels as she walked to the table.
Poe pulled out his seat, but then weirdly went to the other side of the table; Rey’s steps faltered for a second, and she stared at the seat he’d pulled out. “After you,” Poe said softly, gesturing at the chair.
He’d pulled it out for her, she realized, and then she wanted to cry, or puke, or run out the door. Instead, she slid into the chair with another mumbled thanks and hid how much she was blushing by digging into her backpack with the alleged goal of finding her Linear Algebra textbook.
“Did you want to start with 2.1 or 3.1?” Rey asked pulling out a pencil and her notebook. “Because I think the vector spaces chapter was a lot easier than isomorphism, but-”
“Could we start with 2.1?” Poe winced when she looked up at him, and she frowned, not knowing why he looked so chagrined. “Sorry, I was- I was out for the first lecture on vector spaces, my dad needed me home that week.”
“Oh yeah.” Rey tapped her pencil on the table and shook her head. “You weren’t in class that day, I remember.”
What. The. Fuck. Don’t just tell boys you noticed they weren’t in class! That is not normal! Even if there are only eighteen other people in that class! Not normal!
Poe didn’t give her a weird look, thank the Maker. “Yeah, it sorta all got jumbled after that. Go figure.” He wiped a hand down his face. “Shit, you probably wish you had a better study partner.”
“What?” Rey waved her slice of pizza. “You’re feeding me. You have a dog. ” She pointed at Beatrice demonstratively, and Beatrice sniffled her finger with intense interest. “Your apartment has heat. This is great!”
“Yeah?” Poe grinned and ducked his head before frowning suddenly. “Wait a second- your apartment doesn’t have heat?”
“It’s the dorms, really.” Rey felt her face growing hot again-when would the agony end- and pretended she had to hunt for the start of 2.1, as if she didn’t know it started on page 78. “So, uh, I guess we need to start with simple conditions?”
She didn’t look up beyond patting Beatrice on the head for the next quarter of an hour, instead reading her notes aloud to Poe, who scribbled down notes quickly, and when their hands brushed for half a second as she slid her stack of notecards towards him, she pretended that sparks didn’t ignite up and down her forearm as a result. She had this in the bag. She could do normal college things. Her uncle didn’t have to worry anymore.
Just don’t look at him so he can’t figure out what a massive crush you have on him.
Fuck, he had a crush on Rey Kenobi.
She was smart, okay? Really smart. Beyond smart. And he’d always, always been a sucker for smart people. His first boyfriend, Jacob Muran, was valedictorian at his private academy that Poe sometimes audited classes for; they’d broken up long before Jacob graduated, but Poe still went when he got his diploma, went and watched him cross the stage and cheered and wished that he hadn’t chosen acting at thirteen, wished he hadn’t avoided the normalcy of education, wished he had half the brain Jacob did.
And even past being smart, she was cute. Gorgeous, really, subtle in the way a sunrise was, creeping up on you until it cracked over the horizon and blinded you without thought. He’d noticed her on the first day of classes; he could have sworn he’d seen her across campus more than once in the past, but he’d walked around in a fog during his first two years at Takodana, wrapping up X-Wing at the set fifty miles away, driving back and forth to classes three times a week. He was a fully dedicated student now, which meant he had time for the more advanced classes, which meant he’d landed in the ten a.m. section of Ackbar’s infamous Linear Algebra course, two seats to the left of the prettiest girl he’d ever seen.
Rey Kenobi didn’t raise her hand, but she always had the right answer. Rey Kenobi wasn’t mean, but she didn’t talk to anyone. Rey Kenobi didn’t have a lot of friends, but everyone seemed to like her. Rey Kenobi never went to the dining hall, never went to parties (and Poe hadn’t gone to many either- things just weren’t as fun when you were 25, already tired of the scene thanks to the shitshow that was Hollywood, and didn’t like to drink), never had a bad word to say about anyone, and was never, ever wrong.
He still couldn’t believe she agreed to study with him. He’d mentioned her name in passing when Pava asked what he was up to that night, and he still couldn’t figure out the strange expression Jess wore when he said Rey Kenobi. It was the oddest combination of sadness, hesitance, and concern, but when he asked her about it, she’d just said, enigmatically, “ Be nice to her, Dameron ,” and had refused to elaborate.
So, he’d panic-cleaned his apartment for an hour that afternoon, considered wearing his nicest clothes, settled on a button down and his best pair of jeans, walked Beatrice for three times the length of her normal walk, and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the shower doing what Han Solo, his favorite co-worker, would have called over-grooming, and his manager, Snap Wexley, would have called, manscaping.
There was no reason for him to be nervous, but there he was, palms sweating as he tried to take notes and keep up with Rey Kenobi’s beautiful, lilting voice, as he tried not to stare too much at her lovely, freckled face, as he tried not to think too much about what she’d say or do if he asked to hold her hand (and honestly, he’d want to ask for a lot more than holding her hand, but he would start there because it seemed pretty damn nice).
He finished the matrices that Rey had passed him, and she looked them over, brow furrowed, fist propping her head up as she scanned his handwriting. Eventually, she nodded and gave him a ghost of a smile. “You got it.”
“Oh, thank God.” He sank into his chair with exaggerated relief. “Next chapter?”
Rey’s eyes darted over his shoulder; he twisted and saw that she was looking at the time. It was almost nine- they’d been there for two hours, something that surprised him. Time never went that fast when you were doing math. Ever.
“Or not.” Poe smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. “If you gotta get home, don’t worry about it, this was already so helpful.”
“No, I-I can-” Rey tucked her hair behind her ear, and Poe found himself wondering if it were a nervous habit, the way him playing with his mother’s ring was. “I can probably stay ‘til ten?”
“Alright.” Poe shrugged and flipped the page in his textbook. “If it gets too late, you’re always welcome to crash here.”
He glanced up, just to see if she was on the same page as him, literally, but blanched when he saw her expression: stricken, vaguely horrified, eyes distant. He’d seen that look before, nowhere near this context, and his gut churned in guilt for having caused it, somehow.
“Or, I mean, I can call you an Uber.” Poe put his hand on the table slowly, resting it between them at a safe distance, trying to capture her attention. “...Rey?”
“...Isomophisms,” Rey whispered.
“Rey, I don’t know what I said, but I’m sorry-”
“Isomorphic spaces, they, um, exist where there’s an invertible linear transformation, from, uhm, yeah, this figure, it shows it-” Rey’s hands were shaking slightly as she turned her textbook around and pointed at a collection of numbers Poe suddenly didn’t give a shit about.
“Rey, I’m sorry-”
“Can we just.” Rey tapped the book again and flipped through her notes. “So, V and W are only isomorphic if…”
She continued in her explanation, ignoring Poe’s attempts to apologize, and he eventually swallowed them and shook his head, willing to let it slide if that was what she wanted or needed. Eventually, the color returned to her face, and they worked on another practice problem as the time ticked onward to ten.
Rey made a few, endearing noises of frustration when she encountered an issue, grumbling to herself as she made short work of her eraser, and Poe grinned, not at all worried that his own matrices were beyond fucked, not when Rey suddenly seemed more herself. He still wanted to ask what he’d done, but he knew that it wasn’t his place to push if she didn’t want to talk; the best he could do was pay more attention to what he was saying, and give her the space she needed and the options she needed to feel more comfortable.
They worked their way through two practice problems and two pizzas; Rey put away four more slices than he did, and he laughed delightedly when she belched loud enough to wake Beatrice up from her doze on the futon. Rey turned bright red, and as she winced her way through the beginning of an apology, Poe burped right back, making her laugh, and helping him achieve his best success of the evening.
“You’re great,” he said wonderingly as they neared the end of the third section.
“What?” Rey looked at him as though he’d said something shocking.
“You’re great.” Poe shrugged, pretending like it was an easy motion and not like his heart was fit to beat out of his chest. He hadn’t felt this nervous around someone he liked since … middle school. “That’s all.”
“Oh.” Rey squirmed in her seat, visibly, something that made her even more endearing and then gave him a half-smile. “You are, too.”
“Lies.” Poe sighed and shut his textbook. “I’m terrible at math.”
“That isn’t a moral failing.” Rey grinned. “A lot of people aren’t good at math.” And he cracked up slightly at her refusal to coddle his ego. After years in show business, it was honestly relieving to have someone not try to bolster his admittedly healthy self esteem.
Rey slipped her textbook into her bookbag, and Poe was trying to think of ways to extend their time together without seeming needy or clingy or making her upset again, when Rey asked, “If you don’t like math, why are you in this class?”
She didn’t sound rude, just curious, and he hummed thoughtfully before answering. “My mom worked for NASA. Astrophysicist. Went to space. Real whiz with numbers.” He smiled ruefully. “I don’t think she imagined having an actor for a son; I guess...I guess I just wanted to do something that made me feel close to her.”
“You played a space pilot on TV for five years.” Rey tilted her head at him.
“Yeah, but, my mom, she was … a real hero.” Poe felt hot under the collar as the weight of Rey’s gaze settled over him, powerful, singular. “I was playing some asshole in a cockpit. Anyone could do that.”
“Not anyone.” Rey didn’t say it to flatter him, and he felt something deeper than superficial pride stir in him. “I liked your show.”
“Really?” He had a feeling Rey Kenobi didn’t just pay compliments for fun. “You did?”
“Mhm.” Rey zipped up her bookbag, not looking at him again. “I used to watch it with my uncle when I moved to the States to live with him.”
“I knew that accent was from somewhere.” She laughed softly and didn’t deny it, straightening back out in her chair and tucking her hair behind her ear again - Poe was glad for the six feet between them, or he’d try to tuck it behind her ear himself, and he had a feeling that wouldn’t go too well. “England?”
“Nottingham,” Rey confirmed.
“Like Robin Hood?” Poe asked, grinning.
“Like Robin Hood.”
“Did you steal from the rich and give to the poor?” Poe regretted the question immediately because something closed off in Rey’s face, quickly. “Oh-”
“I do need to go.” Rey stood and pulled her backpack with her, holding onto the strap tighter than Poe ever held onto one of the Emmys lining the back of his closet.
“Yeah.” Poe stood as well, gathering their plates for something to do with his hands that wasn’t physically reaching out to the person he kept finding unique ways to upset. “Yeah, of course- can I order you an Uber?”
“I can walk home,” Rey muttered, but he was already shaking his head while walking to the sink.
“No way, nuh-uh. It’s freezing outside.”
“It’s not freezing, it’s thirty-six,” he could hear her mumbling with his back turned, and he chuckled.
“My dad always makes that joke.”
“Not a joke if it’s scientifically accurate.” She was pouting mulishly when he turned around, her eyes on the door, but Beatrice suddenly ran over and sat on her feet, wagging her tail expectantly, and Poe made a mental note to high five his dog later.
“Which dorm are you in?” Poe pulled his phone out after wiping his hands on his pants. He clicked to Uber on his home screen and looked at Rey expectantly until she sighed and shook her head, kneeling to pet Beatrice.
“I’ve heard good things,” Poe lied, and Rey chuckled at that.
“There aren’t cockroaches, at least.”
“Ride will be here in six,” Poe announced, sliding his phone back in his pocket.
“You’re terribly nice,” Rey said, and it was odd, how it didn’t sound complimentary- or insulting for that matter. More … analytical. Like he was a problem she wanted to puzzle out (and God, did he want to let puzzle him out any time she wanted).
“Nothing wrong with manners.” Poe walked back to the table, giving Beatrice and Rey a wide enough berth that he wasn’t encroaching on the mild snuggle fest that he was only mildly jealous of. After he’d packed up his own textbook, he offered Rey a hand. “Can I walk you downstairs?”
She looked at his hand for maybe three seconds, not a long time, but it felt like an eternity before she nodded and took it; he pulled her to her feet, trying not to notice how her delicate, long fingers felt in his hand, trying not to notice how light she was as he tugged her upright, trying not notice that when she got to her feet, she was almost his height, pretty as anything, eyes wide and lips parted, and-
“Did you have a jacket?” Poe asked for something to ask that wasn’t Can I kiss you, please?
Rey shook her head. “Don’t own one.” She was already walking to the door, so she missed his stare of incredulity.
“It snows like three feet a winter here.”
She didn’t seem to care as she fiddled with the doorknob, avoiding his gaze. “And then the snow melts. No point in buying a jacket for a few months-”
Poe shook his head, laughing mildly. “That is … the weirdest logic I’ve ever heard from a math genius.”
Rey batted her eyelashes at him, and he froze slightly- was she...was she flirting with him? No, no he had to be misreading that, they hadn’t flirted all night, this was a study session, no matter what his hopes had told him beforehand- and laughed. “Don’t doubt my ways, Dameron.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
He floated down the stairs after her, Rey taking the lead confidently as though she were the one that lived here, confident as though she hadn’t frozen up at his table barely an hour before. When they got to the front entrance, his phone buzzed, letting him know Rey’s ride would be there in about a minute.
“Thanks for coming over tonight,” he said.
“That was … fun,” Rey said at the exact same time.
They laughed and looked down at the ground before smiling at each other. Something fluttered painfully in Poe’s chest, and he tried not to give it too much fuel, but Rey Kenobi was unfairly beautiful in the fluorescence of the atrium.
“We should...do it again...sometime?” Rey asked, soft and shy and sweet enough to make Poe swallow, hard.
“Yeah.” He nodded quickly, shocked that she’d be the one to suggest it. “Yeah, I mean - yes, that sounds- do you want my number?”
“I have your number.” Rey giggled and eyed the door, her body turned away from him slightly as though she were ready to take flight, out of the building. “That’s how I told you I was here?”
“Right.” Poe could slap himself, he really could. “Right, so - I’ll text you? Or, you’ll text me?”
“One of us will text.” The Honda Accord the Uber App had promised pulled up to the curb out front. “I guess this is me?”
“Yeah.” A delicate tension stretched between them as Rey looked at him one last time, her hand on the door. “Rey?”
“Yeah?” He wondered if her voice actually sounded as fluttering and nervous as he felt.
“...have a good night.”
She smiled, looking strangely relieved, if also disappointed. “You too.”
And then she was gone.
Poe wouldn’t tell anyone how he stood in the doorway long after the car had vanished from sight, and he definitely wouldn’t tell anyone how he’d jumped in the air and shouted in excitement when his phone buzzed fifteen minutes later with a text from Rey Kenobi:
Thanks for dinner, Dameron.
He was typing before he could stop himself. Anytime, Kenobi.
Three dots appeared, vanished, then appeared again.
You aren’t that bad at math...but, if you need help studying again, let me know?
The grin he was wearing was so big it should have been illegal. Will do. How does tomorrow night sound?
And he slept the best he had in months when her answer came back, half an hour later:
Sounds great. Goodnight.
“Goodnight,” he whispered to himself, grinning like an idiot as he turned off the light and turned to dreams that were filled with mathematical geniuses with smiles like sunshine.