“Alright, Halloween’s coming up in about two weeks. We all know what that means,” Poe says, giving the rest of their table a pointed stare before taking a healthy bite of his sandwich. They’re all huddled in a far corner of the break room together; Finn, Poe, Rose, and Rey. It’s their daily routine, taking lunch together and discussing the day’s going ons before heading back to work.
Rose—still relatively new to Resistance Technologies—shakes her head, a slight smile on her face, “No, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me anyway.”
“He means the company’s annual Halloween party,” Finn answers. “They rent out a nice place downtown and stock up on good food and drink and let us have free rein for the night. It’s good, you should come with us,” he says, smiling at her.
From across the table, Rey catches the way Rose’s eyes light up and the slight blush rising in her cheeks, though Finn has turned back to Poe and doesn’t notice. They’ve been dancing around each other for the past two months; she wonders when her friends will finally go on a date together.
“Yeah, everyone dresses up and the room they rent gets decked out in Halloween decorations,” Poe says.
“Sounds fun,” Rose agrees, nodding along. “Does everyone go?”
Poe shrugs. “Pretty much. No one’s really required to attend, it’s not like a team building exercise or anything like that. Well, no, scratch that—the heads of the departments and all the managers do have to go.” He waves his hand. “Company solidarity and all that.”
Rose looks dubious. “Really? Management goes? I can’t imagine someone like Ben Solo going to something like that.”
Rey freezes, almost choking on the sip of water she’s taken from her water bottle. She tries to pass it off as a cough, but is only half successful. And well, the thing is, Rose isn’t wrong per say, to question Poe on the issue. Anyone who’s worked with Ben Solo could tell you right away that he’s not much of a party person.
Or a people person, in general.
Ben Solo, Rey thinks, is a piece of work.
He’d spent the last couple of years working for their rival company First Order Industries and being that creep Snoke’s right hand man. No one knows for sure what happened, but about a year or so ago something big went down and he left First Order. And then he’d shown up here, at Resistance Tech, being offered the CFO position. Rey guesses it helps that his mother is Leia Organa; the president of their company.
Rey would begrudge him his return more if she hadn’t seen for herself the way Leia’s face had lit up with happiness when she’d announced her son’s proverbial return to the fold. But still, she’s been witness more than once to his explosive outbursts of anger, and his near non-existent patience for anything he perceived as mediocre work. He’s good at his job, she’ll give him that, but it doesn’t make up for that moody attitude of his.
Even if he does have the softest looking hair she’s ever seen, and plump lips that look perfect for biting, and a thick body corded with muscle he keeps hidden under dark-colored suites, and—
Rey shakes herself free from those thoughts.
“He went last year,” she answers at last. “I think he stayed for the bare minimum amount of time, which was about a half hour. And then he disappeared.”
“Yeah, you could practically feel the brooding energy he was giving off. Maybe he’ll chill out this year, especially after Rey tore him a new one,” Poe whispers in a conspiratorial tone.
“No, I didn’t.” Rey denies, shaking her head.
“Rey, you kind of did,” Finn counters.
“Wait, what? This is the first I’m hearing about this. Spill,” Rose demands.
Rey feels a familiar heat crawl up her neck. “Well, you know how Solo has these angry outbursts?”
“Well, they were worse when he had just started working here. Like, actual office equipment suffered casualties. Anyway, there was a general meeting one day, and I guess it didn’t go well because he stormed into his office afterwards and slammed shut the door. And, well, turns out his computer got caught in the crossfire,” she says. “There was a call for I.T and I was assigned the task, so I head on ever, and his computer, it’s in pieces on the floor.”
Rose gasps. “He didn’t.”
Rey grimaces, and continues, “He did. Poor thing was beyond saving. Completely done for. And I just—had had it up to here, you know? I hate unnecessary wastage. So, I told him that I didn’t care how did they things back at First Order, but that he wasn’t there anymore. And that breaking company property wasn’t doing him any favors and wouldn’t help him last here.”
Rey remembers the encounter like it was yesterday, the indignant anger that had risen from the bottom of her ribcage at going into Solo’s office and seeing the aftermath of his outburst. And then he hadn’t even looked at her when she’d come in, his head cradled in his huge hands. Just gave a terse reply directed in her general direction and a command for her to fix it. And well, she’d snapped. Afterwards, all he’d done was stare at her, his dark eyes trained on her face, expression unreadable.
In that moment, the anger had disappeared and left an icy fear in its wake. Rey had been sure she was about to get fired. But in the end, all he’d done was ask her quietly to leave his office. For days afterwards she’d been on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did.
“So, what happened afterwards?” Rose asks.
“Believe it or not, Solo actually let up a little afterwards. Not a lot, you know, but at least there was never another broken piece of equipment. As least as far as I know,” Finn says, looking in Rey’s direction for confirmation.
She nods her head in agreement. “No other computers were sacrificed after that. I still avoid him in the hallways and at meetings though. I don’t want him to suddenly remember that he should have fired me all those months ago.” Rey pauses a moment. “But anyways, we also have this tradition about our costumes for the year,” she says, trying to wrangle the conversation back to the safe topic of office parties and away from the topic that is one Ben Solo.
“Yeah? What kind of tradition?” Rose asks, sending questioning glances their way.
“We give each other dares, and whoever loses has to wear a costume the others pick for them,” Poe answers, content to get back into the swing of costume planning. There’s a wicked glint in his eyes, which, when talking about Poe, is often a bad sign. Rey can tell Rose already knows this; from the deadpan look she sends Poe’s way.
“It’s all in good fun,” Finn reassures her, lifting up his hands in surrender. “You don’t have to participate, but it’s been our thing for the past three years we’ve all been here. I actually, uh, lost last year,” he admits.
“We had him go as a disco ball,” Rey chimes in, nicking a chip from Finn’s plate and humming contentedly at the salt and vinegar taste of it. Delicious. She wonders why more people don’t love this flavor.
Poe groans from beside her, “It was such a pain to make. We had the bright idea to make it entirely out of papier mache and then covered it in reflective tape for the glitter effect. We bought,"—he shudders dramatically—“so many rolls of tape.”
“Yeah, well, I was the one who had to wear it all night. I was so big and round I couldn’t walk two feet without bumping into someone,” Finn says.
Rey snorts, remembering last year’s Halloween party and how Finn had spent the night sparkling beneath the party’s multicolored strobe lights, trying his best to move on the dance floor. And the year before that Poe had lost the dare and been forced to go as a large yellow banana. She’s been lucky thus far and been spared from having to go dressed up in a silly costume. Hopefully her luck holds up this year as well.
“So how does this work? Who sets the dares?” Rose asks.
“We switch,” Rey says. “I get asked first this year, since Poe started off last year. They’re usually not too bad, we won’t make anyone run naked through the streets or anything like that,” she reassures Rose.
Poe sends her a challenging stare. “Yeah, what’d you say Rose, you in? No pressure, you don’t have to let us know right now.”
Rose seems to be thinking it over, but it doesn’t take her more than a few seconds before she’s nodding in agreement, smile wide as she answers. “I’m in.”
“Great! Good. We can start right away then. Rey, you up for doing your dare right now?” Poe asks.
Rey blinks, caught off guard. Oh, she wasn’t expecting this today. Well, it can’t be anything too difficult, if they’re willing to ask her at work. As long as it’s not something extreme like hiding Chewie’s favorite stapler. She’d like to keep all her limbs attached to her body, thank you very much.
“Sure,” she says, not one to back down from a challenge.
She watches Poe turn around and reach for his lunch bag, opening it up and rummaging for a moment before pulling out a plastic sandwich bag filled with—saltine crackers? Weird.
He raises one eyebrow, “You’ve heard of the saltine challenge, right? Eat six crackers in sixty seconds without drinking anything. One chance. You up for it?”
It doesn’t look too bad. How hard can eating six saltines really be? Besides, Finn and Poe have seen her when they go out to buffets; they know how much she can eat. She stares at the little white squares. She can do this this, definitely, and then it’ll be one more year she doesn’t have to wear the costume.
“Careful Rey,” Finn warns. “It looks easy but by the third cracker your mouth’s gonna feel like the Mojave Desert.”
She makes to grab for the plastic bag, mind already made up. If this is the dare they’ve come up for her this year, she’ll do it. And even finish before their lunch breaks are up. Finn grabs his cellphone to set up the timer while Poe and Rose scoot closer to the table, eager spectators.
“Ok, whenever you’re ready,” Finn hums, staring down at the timer.
Rey carefully takes out the six crackers and sets them down on her plate. She has to strategize for a moment. Eat them all at once, stacked like a mini sandwich? Or try eating them one by one? After deliberating a moment, Rey decides to eat them in two stacks of three and separates them as accordingly.
“Ready,” she confirms.
“Three, two, one…and go!” Finn announces.
She wastes no time in placing the first stack in her mouth, the corners of the crackers pressing against the soft skin on the inside of her cheeks. After a few deliberate chews the crackers turn into crumbs, and then a few seconds later into a paste. Rey feels all the moisture in her mouth start to wick away as she continues to chew. She hazards a glance at the phone and sees the seconds are ticking down as fifteen and then twenty seconds go by. Chewing harder, she manages to swallow it down. Not wanting to waste any time, she shoves the second stack of three in, crunching down hard on them.
Ignoring the slight burn she can begin to feel in her cheek muscles, she soldiers on, Rose quietly cheering her on as Poe and Finn stare at the timer. She’s almost done, she just has to chew a little more and then—
“Is Niima in here?” A deep voice sounds from the entrance to the break room.
Four sets of heads turn towards the sound, and at the sight of the person in the entryway Rey takes a sharp inhale, causing crumbs to fall down her windpipe.
She coughs, mouth full of crackers as she stares at Ben Solo, who had locked eyes on her as soon as he’s caught sight of her. Her eyes water from the effort of not coughing up a lung. Someone—Finn or Poe—hands her a water bottle and she takes a grateful sip, finally able to swallow down the mess of crumbs and half-chewed crackers. Rey raises her hand, though there’s no need to because Solo is staring intently at her and probably wondering why he didn’t fire her all those months ago.
When her coughing fit finally subsides, he speaks. “Right. When you have a spare moment Niima, I have something I want to discuss with you in my office.” His dark eyes never leave her face, focused simply on her.
“Ok,” she rasps, voice weak and tenuous.
Satisfied, he turns around without another word and exits the break room.
“I cannot believe that just happened,” Finn says, frowning.
“Well at least you weren’t the one looking like a half-dead chipmunk,” Rey counters.
“So…is this a bad time to mention that you lost the dare then?” Poe whispers from his corner.
Rey groans. Of course, leave it to Ben Solo to be the one to break her winning streak.