Rey drags her suitcase up an uncooperative flight of stairs, cursing whichever nineteenth-century architect who decided that it was a good idea to make it cramped and spiraling. The already-broken wheels on her luggage hang off uselessly, only aggravating her further when they get stuck on the last step.
Rey groans and kicks it free. It emerges with a pop, falling against her hard enough that it bruises her shin.
“Ow!” she screams. And then, sighs deeply as she realizes she is finally, finally, on the top floor.
None of the other inhabitants of this floor, at least, have decided to come out and shush her violently. She drags the rest of her luggage across the ground, too exhausted to care that it’s practically cleaning the floor tiles. She’s spent all day arguing with the university’s residence director, and then with the building manager who had, thankfully, been timid enough to be eventually scared off by Rey’s violent glare.
I signed up for the dorms months ago! She had screamed. I was told you had a room available!
We’re sorry, ma’am, but your reservation must have gotten mixed up with someone else’s. Everyone else has moved in for the semester. There’s no longer any—
But what about that one? It says it’s empty.
That one isn’t fit for habitation, ma’am. It’s too small and needs refurbishing.
I’ll live in Harry Potter’s shoe box if you let me. Just please. Give me. A room.
Of course Finn had offered his couch. But she couldn’t take advantage of him anymore, not when he had finally moved in with his girlfriend. Rose was a sweet girl, but Rey didn’t want to spend the rest of her university life as a third wheel to her two favorite people.
As much fun as they tried to make it for her sake.
And there is no way she can afford any other apartments within walking distance of campus. None within bus or cycling or train distance either.
This city is a terribly gentrified place. She grumbles.
She finally reaches her dorm. It’s the room on the farthest end of the hall, tucked right beneath the slope of a ceiling beam. The distance between her door and its neighbor is much smaller than the distance between all the other doors and their neighbors, which is already a sign that yes, maybe she will be living in Harry Potter’s closet for her final year of university.
But that’s okay. It’s better than nothing.
And there’s a bright side. Rey hums happily while digging for the set of keys that the building manager had shakily given her. This room might be tiny and windowless, but it has its own (equally tiny) bathroom and toilet. And. No roommate.
Maybe for once she can finally breathe. And take off her pants after a long day.
Rey sighs in relief as the door unlocks with a click. She pushes it open and then props it up with her foot, carefully gathering her luggage in her arms. Upon entering, she pushes her bags to the side, only slightly impressed by the fact that they take up very little space.
Wow, I could put in another table here...
As the door shuts behind her, she finally looks around the room. It’s clean and neat despite not being inhabited for close to a year. To her right is a small closet embedded into the wall. To her left is an empty shelf made of thin metal poles and wooden panels, effectively opening up the space. What follows is a single bed with white sheets, a tiny desk and chair, and then the bathroom door. The bathroom is tucked into an alcove, and its door melts into the downwards sloping ceiling.
“Huh,” Rey breathes. “This is actually pretty cozy.”
She drops her keys on top of her luggage and then heads for the bed. Without wasting another breath, Rey leaps onto it and sighs as she sinks into the mattress. Her legs are dangling off the edge, and she’s still wearing her shoes, but she doesn’t care. The sheets are smooth and fresh against her cheeks.
There should be a lot of other things that she should be noticing. There should be things that she should be questioning. But Rey’s eyes begin to grow heavy, and as she buries her face even deeper into the sheets, she decides that she can deal with the rest tomorrow.
I’ll just take a short nap...
And then the bathroom door swings open.
Rey freezes. She raises her head and looks upwards, caught in a too-awkward position to even get up properly. A cloud of steam blows into the room, tinted orange with the burn of flourescents. A figure cuts through the smoke—it’s large and blurred until it isn’t anymore, and Rey’s eyes are met with a sopping wet wall of chest.
A man emerges. He’s looking down as he rubs his hair with a towel. And then he glances up.
And Rey maybe glances down. Chest, stomach, oh too far down although that’s... oh—
“Oh my god!”
Both of them scream at the exact same time. Rey’s is more high-pitched and visceral, almost like the sound of a pig being slaughtered. She pushes herself off the bed so quickly that she bumps into the opposite wall, her own voice being cut off by the loud thud. Meanwhile, the mystery man growls out a litany of curses as he retreats into the bathroom, towel flying down to cover his crotch as he flees.
The bathroom door closes behind him.
Rey scrambles off the bed and covers her face with both hands. Her cheeks are on fire, and so is her entire body. Is the earth swallowing her whole yet? Somehow she thinks whoever this man is should be sued for psychological damage, even if the sight wasn’t as bad as it should have been—
Pull yourself together, Rey.
Am I in the wrong room?
She wipes her cheeks, hoping to brush away the heat and shame. It doesn’t work. Instead, Rey picks up her keys and inspects the number on it. She opens the door and checks the number outside. They both match.
She is not in the wrong room.
What the fuck.
It’s only then that she realizes there’s another bag in the room, one that isn’t hers. It’s been shoved underneath the desk. There’s also a folder on the desk full of papers that definitely wouldn’t be in here if the room were unoccupied.
All previous embarrassment that had flooded her senses is immediately replaced by a righteous fury.
Rey walks back to the bathroom door and then raises her fist. She knocks on it thrice. Loudly.
“You’re in my dorm,” she announces. “Please get out as soon as you’re... as soon as you’re decent.”
The man gurgles from inside.
“If you don’t, I’m calling campus security,” she threatens. “This counts as breaking and entering. This could be harassment. This is...”
The door swings open. The man is thankfully clothed now, although his hair is still dripping wet and the towel on his shoulders is darkening the collar of his tight shirt. Very tight shirt. He’s wearing sweatpants now too.
There’s also a scowl on his face.
“You’re calling campus security?” he asks. “I should call campus security. This is my room. I moved in yesterday. I don’t know who you think you are.”
“Liar! The building manager said this room was unoccupied just this morning!”
“It wasn’t!” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Get out!”
“I’m not getting out. You’re getting out.”
“This is my room. See,” he darts to the side and picks up some keys behind the folders on the desk. It dangles between his fingers, and upon closer scrutiny, Rey recognizes that the number matches her own. “These are my keys. Maybe you’ve got the wrong room.”
“I don’t have the wrong room.” Rey holds up an identical pair. “I have the right one.”
They stand still, staring at each other and then at each other’s keys. And then their own.
“What the fuck,” the man says.
“There’s no way we’re roommates,” Rey blurts out. “They said this room was a single and there’s only one bed. I just came from the building manager. This is my room.”
“No way.” The man tightens his jaw. “No way.”
He stalks forward, pushing her aside. Rey’s jaw falls open in disbelief. She’s about to yell at him, about to call his attention, only that he seems unbothered by her now. He throws the damp towel onto the back of a chair and then stomps towards the door, his shoulders hunched.
“Where are you going?” she asks, unsure if she’s to be pleased or offended.
“Talking to the manager,” he replies gruffly as he opens the door.
That, Rey thinks. Is an excellent idea.
“I’m coming with you.”
He doesn’t respond. They make their way outside, the door locking shut behind them. As Rey tries to follow at the man’s heels, she marvels at just how big he is. He’s so tall, so stupidly tall with stupidly long legs to follow. She can barely keep up.
“Maybe they gave one of us the wrong key by mistake,” Rey rationalizes. “Maybe we actually do have separate rooms.”
“But I’m pretty sure that this one is mine, considering I had to beg the manager just to take it.”
“Why beg?” he finally asks. Neither one is breathless even as they descend the spiraling steps.
“She said it was... unfit for habitation.”
The man snorts.
“I know, right?” she laughs nervously. “There’s nothing wrong with it to me.”
“Maybe it’s haunted.”
She blinks. And then, right before she’s about to ask him if that’s a joke or if he has experienced something, the man is rushing towards the front desk. Rey goes after him.
It’s just their luck that the building manager, a woman in a purple cardigan who shrinks at the sight of both of them, is already heading outside.
“Excuse me.” The man’s words are polite but his voice is on edge. “Excuse me.”
The woman stops in place, gripping the handle of her purse and turning towards them.
“Yes?” she asks.
Rey rushes forward, hoping to pre-empt him before he can make the poor lady cry.
“There’s been a mistake with the room assignments,” she cuts in. “I’m sorry, but can you please double check? We were accidentally given the same key.”
“Oh...” The woman shuffles back towards the counter. She glances at Rey’s not-roommate nervously. “I’m sorry. I’ll double check for you.”
“Thank you,” Rey sighs. She beams, offering a relieved smile. “We were both assigned to 400.”
“Room 400 isn’t usually let out to students,” the woman replies. She reminds Rey of a flighty bird, almost twitchy with nerves. She pulls out a logbook and flips through it, brows furrowing as she tries to find the right page. “Only on special conditions.”
“I know,” Rey’s smile grows apologetic. “There was a mix-up with my reservation, and I really don’t have anywhere else to stay. You said I could have it because nobody else was using it.”
“And you told me that I could have it yesterday,” Rey’s not-roommate steps closer. Their shoulders brush together, and a wave of heat hits her skin. She does not shiver at his baritone. “After I had an issue with 215.”
“What are your names?” the manager asks.
So that’s mystery man’s name.
The manager finds the right page. She traces columns of text with a finger until she eventually comes to a stop in the middle.
“Oh,” she says.
“What’s wrong?” Rey asks. Her face is already falling.
“It’s true.” The woman frowns. “You were both assigned to the same room.”
“What?” Rey splutters.
“I was there first,” her not-roommate adds. “It’s mine.”
“I’m so sorry,” the manager adds. She bows her head, eyes genuinely shining with apology. “It’s our mistake. All the other rooms are full, so one of you will have to stay elsewhere.”
Rey’s jaw drops open. Ben practically preens.
“I don’t have anywhere else to stay!” she exclaims. “And the semester starts in two days.”
She spins around to face Ben. “Are you sure you don’t have anywhere else to stay?”
“Yes,” he bites out roughly.
“Room 215 still has a single occupant,” the manager adds timidly. “It only contains a Mr. Armitage Hux—”
“No,” Ben replies swiftly. “No.”
“Oh, come on.” Rey crosses her arms over her chest. She levels him with a glare, even if it hurts to crane her neck that high. “You might have a bad roommate, but it’s either this or me sleeping outside.”
As if on cue, thunder claps outside. The glass door to the complex shakes. Rey cocks a hand on her hip.
“I can’t go back,” Ben replies simply.
“And why not? There’s enough space.”
“I can’t.” He scowls. “My roommate kicked me out.”
Oh, look. Armitage Hux wasn’t the bad roommate.
Just my luck.
“He’s a prick,” Ben explains, voice flat. “He said that if I stepped foot in there ever again, he would choke me to death with his bare hands. Swear to god.”
His expression doesn’t waver the entire time. Rey groans.
“Are you kidding me—“
“It’s also possible,” the manager kicks in. “For both of you to remain in the room until the other one finds a suitable residence.”
Rey levels her with a stare.
“Fine by me,” Ben says. Rey whips her head towards him.
He shrugs. “We’ll get another bed.”
“That should be good for one night, right?”
The manager nods carefully, as if to encourage her. Rey looks out into the windows, only to be greeted by heavy sheets of rain. She grimaces.
“Problem solved.” Ben turns away immediately after speaking, and Rey has to be the one to awkwardly thank the manager. She rushes after him, unsure of how else to go on. They make their way up four flights of stairs with no more words exchanged between them.
Ben is the one who re-opens the door to their room. He’s the one who steps back inside the bathroom to properly dry off his hair. Rey takes that moment to kick off her shoes and wrap herself up in the blankets, claiming her territory.
When her roommate emerges again, she throws two pillows and a spare blanket in his direction. He catches them perfectly.
“I was just going to offer to sleep on the floor,” he says dryly. Rey quirks up a brow.
“Thank you,” she replies.
He doesn’t respond. He only walks to the foot of the bed and lays out the blanket, fluffing up his pillows before forming his own bedding on the floor.
Later that night, it’s Rey who has to shut off the lights. When she darts back to the bed, her eyes settle on Ben’s figure in the darkness. He’s already fast asleep, that broad back facing her.
That night, there are no ghosts, but she does dream of a strange, grumpy, princely-looking man who wields a red glowing sword and tries to kick her out of her castle of pillows and mattresses.