For all its upgrades and modifications, the Millennium Falcon was never meant to carry this many passengers. There was plenty of space to smuggle stolen goods under the floor panels, but only five bunks to split between the entire Resistance army. At the moment, that consisted of eighteen people, three droids, and an assortment of stowaway porgs that immediately got underfoot, burrowing into nooks and crannies in the bulkheads.
Poe bedded down on the main deck with his head pillowed on C’ai Threnalli’s shoulder, falling asleep with the ease of long experience. Inured to chaos, he half expected to be woken up by another emergency. Instead he jolted awake a few hours later to the sound of his own name.
‘— Poe’s idea, obviously,’ Finn was whispering, a few feet away. The overhead lights were still powered down, creating an artificial night, and Poe could tell from the peculiar stillness of the air that the ship was still in hyperspace. ‘You’d have hated those little speeders,' Finn continued. It took a moment for Poe to realize he wasn't speaking to him. 'They had the dumbest design. Pilot on one side, gun turret on the other, totally impossible to balance —’
‘I was there!’ interrupted Rey, with hushed laughter. She sounded punchy, and Poe guessed that she hadn’t gone to sleep yet. Cracking an eye open, he saw that she and Finn were sitting wrapped in a blanket with their heads bent together, leaning against an alcove where Rose lay unconscious and heavily bandaged. Everyone else on deck was still sound asleep. ‘I saw some of the battle from the sky, remember?’
‘Did you see me try to fly into the cannon?’
‘You what?’ she exclaimed, and Poe closed his eyes again, letting the conversation wash over him until —
‘— and then Rose said, we need to save what we love instead of fighting what we hate. And then she kissed me.' Finn broke off, and Poe’s stomach lurched with sudden, childish envy. ‘What does that even mean ?’ Finn added plaintively.
‘Maybe you should ask Poe.’
‘Well, he won’t laugh at you,’ said Rey. ‘And he seems like he spends a lot of time on his hair, so he probably gets a lot of dates. Maybe he can give you some advice. It's not like I know anything about that stuff.’
My hair just grows that way, thought Poe indignantly. I can’t help it! Eyes squeezed shut, he hoped to hell that one one else was listening in on this conversation. He’d never live it down.
‘That’s a good point,’ said Finn. ‘Maybe I’ll ask him when he wakes up.’
But Finn didn’t get a chance, because when Poe next opened his eyes, it was to the sight of a shipful of sweaty and confused soldiers scrambling to attention. The lights were up and Poe's emergency painkillers had worn off, forcibly reminding him of the long, bruising graze down his leg. He was desperate for a shower.
The General, leaning heavily on her walking stick but still managing to look steady as a rock, stood in the doorway to the cockpit. She'd woken them to announce that she’d made contact with some Resistance sympathizers. In a few hours, the Falcon would find a new berth in the cradle of Leia’s foremothers, the jewel of the old Galactic Republic, Naboo.
They stepped out of the Falcon into a hallucination. At least that’s what it felt like to Poe, greasy and stiff-jointed from sleeping on a metal floor. Boots still encrusted with rock salt from Crait, he wasn't ready to confront the cheerful sunshine of a summer afternoon on Naboo.
He’d expected them to land in another old Rebellion stronghold, but Leia guided the ship down onto rolling meadow of pale green grass and wildflowers. It looked like some kind of private estate, with a decorative lake and an expanse of gardens leading up to a house that could easily qualify as a palace. The air didn’t just smell fresh, it was positively fragrant.
Leia took his arm to walk down the exit ramp, where they were greeted by a pair of older human women in long, flowing gowns. As they embraced Leia in silent unison, Poe sensed that they shared the General's familiar aura of deep-rooted determination.
‘This is Sabé and Yané, our hosts,’ said Leia, drawing back. ‘Sabé, Yané, meet Poe Dameron, my second-in-command.’
Poe bowed, straightening up to see Sabé smiling faintly, like he’d just done something adorable. Yané just nodded. He couldn’t tell if they were sisters, or a couple, or what. They both had the same delicate features and braided grey hair, and their dresses looked similar enough that they might as well be a uniform.
‘You’re welcome here, Poe Dameron,’ said Yané, speaking with the kind of High Naboo accent Poe had only ever heard in recordings. ‘There should be enough rooms for you all, and food for the first couple of days at least.’ She turned back to Leia. ‘You should hide your ship somewhere in the forest so it's not visible from overhead, but once that’s done, you’re free to rest for as long as you need.’
‘The Resistance thanks you,’ said Leia, and Poe glanced back up to the Falcon, where the rest of the survivors — barely enough for a single platoon — were crowded around the entry hatch: filthy, bleary-eyed, and in some cases still bleeding sluggishly from the fight.
It took a couple of hours for everyone to get situated and for Sabé to set up a makeshift medbay for the wounded. They were all relieved to find out she had medical experience, because aside from the soldiers with basic emergency training, they’d lost all their healers and medical droids. Poe tried not to think too hard about that last part. The knowledge of what they’d lost was like a gaping void, threatening to suck him in.
The house had dozens of guest rooms, enough that everyone could sleep alone if they wanted to. Barely noticing the luxury of his own quarters, Poe bypassed a beautifully carved bed in favor of the bathroom, stripping out of his flight suit as he went. The water tasted salty for a moment as he rinsed out his hair, and he wasn't sure how long he just stood there staring blankly at the tiled walls, letting the warmth pound all the tension from his shoulders.
The room was already stocked with dry linens and some kind of hard, pine-smelling soap, so Poe scrubbed himself down and washed his clothes as best he could, hanging them up beside the window to dry. Then he was left, naked and with dripping hair, with nothing to do. No orders. No mission. And he certainly couldn’t sleep.
Well. There was always something to do, somewhere. In the absence of a change of clothes, Poe knotted the bedsheets into a makeshift sarong, and went to see how the others were settling in.
As he walked along the long corridor of guest rooms, he saw that most people had left their doors open. Some were already sound asleep, but others were sitting together in twos or threes, talking quietly. He waved to them as he went past, realizing hollowly just how few people he knew among the survivors. Just Connix and Finn and Leia and C’ai. Most of the others he recognized by name or face, but it was a far cry from being on casual terms with every engineer and pilot and comms-jockey on D’Qar.
He found Finn in the medbay, where Rose was lying pale and unconscious on a stripped-down bed. There was some kind of regenerator unit strapped over her chest, and Finn was sleeping in an ungainly slump at her feet, his face mashed against the mattress. BB-8 stood on a charging unit in the corner. Sometime over the past few days the droid had decided to adopt Rose, and Poe tried not to feel jealous about that too.
He meant to leave them alone but a floorboard creaked as he hesitated in the doorway, and Finn awoke with a start.
‘Wrrzh?’ said Finn, looking around wildly.
‘It’s just me,’ said Poe. ‘Everything’s fine, you can go back to sleep. No emergency.’
‘You’re awake,’ said Finn, muzzy and accusatory.
‘I think I slept more than you during transit.’ He glanced over at Rose. ‘How is she?’
Finn’s mouth pulled into a sad little frown. ‘Sabé says the injuries aren’t as bad as they look, she’ll wake up in a day or so.’
‘Finn, that’s great!’
‘Yeah, but...’ He shrugged. Yeah, but it’s no fun to watch your friend get put into a medical coma , Poe finished for him.
‘I gotcha,’ said Poe. ‘You need anything here? Snacks? Blankets?’ He didn’t actually know where to find snacks or blankets himself, but he could probably figure it out.
Finn shook his head. ‘Just sleep. I’ll be good by tomorrow morning. Do you need anything? Like, maybe, pants? Because I don’t have any spares, but I bet Sabé or Yané can help you out, they seem to have everything. ’
Poe cracked a smile. ‘I’ll figure it out,’ he said, and turned to leave.
‘Wait!’ Poe turned back to see Finn struggling to sit up properly. ‘Come here a second.’
He obeyed, and Finn grabbed him into a clumsy embrace. Poe almost fell face-forward on top of him. Finn hugged like a kid, enthusiastic and careless, and seemingly unbothered by Poe’s bare skin.
Poe tightened his arms around Finn’s shoulders and felt the words tickle against his neck as Finn said quietly: ‘I’m glad you’re okay.’
‘I’m glad you’re okay too,’ said Poe, and finally made himself pull back. Up close, Finn looked soft and exhausted, his face still bearing crease-marks from Rose’s sheets. ‘If you want to find me, I’m in the room at the end of the hall, okay?’ he added, and this time he really did leave. The only other option was just flopping down beside Finn, and that really wasn’t a smart idea.
Making his way downstairs, he realized it was still daytime outside. His body thought it was the middle of the night, but on this part of Naboo it must be sometime in the early evening. Golden sunbeams streamed through the windows, illuminating the statues and tapestries lining the walls. Poe knew absolutely nothing about Naboo art, but even he could tell that everything here was expensive and very, very old. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Sabé and Yané were royalty, and this house really was a palace.
He found Leia standing in the middle of a huge, empty hall on the ground floor. Dwarfed by marble columns, her stocky figure cast a long shadow. Her robes were stained with the salt of Crait, and she only noticed his presence once he was a few feet away.
She looked him up and down, mouth quirking into a smile. ‘Nice outfit.’
‘Thanks,’ said Poe, resisting the urge to cross his arms over his chest. ‘I made it myself. Have you slept yet?’ he added, because he was the last person left who could ask General Leia Organa if she was taking care of herself.
‘On the Falcon, a little.’ It must have been a very little, if she’d had time to contact Naboo and arrange for sanctuary as well. But there was no point in arguing now.
Leia gestured around the room, taking in the expanse of scuffed stone floors and luminous, organic-looking stained glass windows. ‘I was thinking this could be our new base of operations, what do you think?’
‘Sure, it's about time we adopted a little gravitas. Does this mean we're sticking around for a while, then? You don’t think we were followed?’
‘The Falcon’s damn hard to track. And at this point, we just have to operate under the assumption that we’re free and clear. No one’s in a fit state to start running again.’ Her eyes were focused somewhere on the middle-distance, seeing something outside this room. ‘Anyway, we need to put down roots somewhere if we want the right people to find us, never mind our enemies. We can set up a communications unit here tomorrow; I’m still holding out hope for Captain Wexley and the rest of your squadron.’
‘Well, we’ve certainly got enough room,’ said Poe, and then snapped his mouth shut. A mansion with twenty-odd bedrooms shouldn’t be enough. This time last week, their fighting force had filled a respectably-sized military base plus auxiliary ships.
Leia was silent for a long moment, watching as his gaze dipped to the ground. ‘I’ll warn you now,’ she said at last. ‘This won’t be the finest advice I’ve ever given you. But it’s necessary, so here it is: You need to find a way to move past this.’
Poe stared. ‘It’s been two days. You want me to... not feel guilty about what I did?’
‘No, but you can’t let it eat you up. Talk to your friends. Meditate. Whatever you think might work. But I need you functioning, if not now then soon.’
‘There were hundreds of people in that fleet. Now there’s twenty.’
‘And Snoke’s dead, and so is my brother, and so are thousands of First Order soldiers.’ Leia leaned forward over her stick, the evening sun throwing the shadows under her eyes into sharp relief. ‘It’s been a long week. Now it’s time for the hangover. Remind me, did you study my biography in school, or do you just know things from your parents’ stories?
Poe blinked at the segue. ‘They included you in History of the New Republic, sure.’
Back in those days, he’d been much more interested in watching Wedge Antilles and Luke Skywalker’s old flight recordings than reading about diplomacy. It was harder for Poe to picture the illustrious Senator Organa as a teenage guerilla fighter. She'd always been a distant figure from his parents' generation, known for making impressive political speeches and wearing elaborate, formal clothes. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, remained frozen in his youth forever, pale-haired and smiling in a thousand holos. Already mythical in his own lifetime, Luke had retreated and then vanished into his own legend, leaving the rest of the galaxy to watch Leia grow old.
Leia nodded, impassive. ‘Did they ever say where I was when Alderaan was destroyed?’
Wasn’t she on Tatooine by then? Or was that later? Poe wracked his brain, but couldn’t triangulate the point where fairytales and gossip blended into the official New Republic timeline. He shook his head.
‘I was in orbit above the planet,’ she said, and Poe felt the breath catch in his throat.
‘We never included that part in the official record,’ said Leia, her voice distant. ‘When Vader captured me after the battle on Scarif, he transferred me straight to the Death Star. They wanted the location of the Rebel headquarters and when I gave them the wrong answer, they fired on Alderaan, close enough for me to watch the whole thing through the viewscreen. I still wonder sometimes if I could have made a difference.’ She shook her head. ‘Of course, they were already planning to test the weapon. But maybe if they’d caught a different Rebel leader, the Empire would have taken that person's planet instead. It wasn't as if Alderaan had any particular strategic importance. That was the point. Just pure, wanton destruction.’
What could you even say to that? But she sounded utterly calm. Just the same note of weariness she’d held for the past few months.
‘That’s really not the kind of thing you get over,’ Leia continued, almost thoughtful. ‘I don’t think I even fully understood what happened until a few months later. The human brain isn’t capable of absorbing that level of trauma. I just missed my parents, and my house, and my old friends. And I kept fighting, like one of those carnivorous fish that goes belly-up if it stops swimming. I wouldn’t advocate it as a healthy coping mechanism, but it sure was useful.’
‘I know our situations aren’t exactly the same, but Poe, you’ll understand one day that these things don’t always happen for a reason. We talk a lot about the Force, but there are variables upon variables, and sometimes there’s just bad luck. Don’t deify this tragedy into some epic disaster with yourself as the villain. You made some bad choices, but in the end, it’s the First Order who did this. Find a way to live with what happened, and punish the enemy instead. Don’t let this pain turn inwards.’
In the long silence that followed, Leia closed her eyes.
‘Easier said than done, huh?’ she said at last, and Poe, his heart pounding, could only nod in agreement.
Leia insisted that everyone eat meals together. It was awkward at first, seeing the way they all fit around the same table at breakfast, but Poe understood why she was doing it. If the new Resistance was to flourish, they needed to get comfortable with each other, and fast. The chain of command was already a mess, which would only sort itself out when they found more personnel. For now it was just Leia in charge, with Poe as her military liaison, Connix on logistics, and everyone else in a disorganized rabble of soldiers and specialists with no ships to fly and no base to run.
The rest of that first day was taken up with plotting out emergency escape plans with Leia, while BB-8 helped Rey and Chewie with repairs on tge Falcon. Connix had everyone else on a rota between doing inventory, helping their hosts with chores, or exercising outside. The schedule wasn't really necessary, but they were all glad of the distraction.
Poe barely noticed he was hungry until it was time to sit down for dinner, Leia standing at the head of the table to give a prayer for the dead. The group was just giving a kind of collective exhale when Finn, with perfect timing, burst through the door and exclaimed, ‘Rose is awake!’
The room exploded into cheers, Rey actually climbing over the back of her chair so she could envelop Finn in a gangly hug. Over her shoulder, Finn scanned the room. ‘Sabé, can you check to see if she’s okay? She’s talking and everything, but —’
Sabé was already on her feet. ‘You,’ she said, pointing at Finn. ‘Sit down and eat. I’ll call for you if she needs you.’
Finn, grinning, obeyed. He squeezed into the seat beside Rey, both of them immediately stuffing their faces and chattering away at lightspeed, and Poe wished for a moment that he wasn’t Commander Dameron, and could just ask someone to switch places with him so he could sit beside his friend.
He got his wish after the meal, more or less. Finn grabbed his arm on the way out, asking, ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’
‘Yes!’ said Poe, a little too enthusiastically, before realizing what this was probably about. No one ever asked to speak to you unless it was about something awkward. But Poe allowed himself to be dragged along one of the many hallways, away from the sound of the others clearing up after dinner.
‘Okay,’ said Finn, rubbing his hands together. ‘You know about, like, romance, right?’
‘Yes,’ Poe said firmly, because he was thirty-two years old, and compared to someone who’d been a Stormtrooper for most of his life, he did know about romance. Definitely.
Finn looked immeasurably relieved, and launched into a rambling explanation of what Poe had already overheard in the Falcon. The short version was: Rose had kissed him, and now he didn’t know what to do.
‘Do I wait for her to bring it up?’ asked Finn. ‘What if she didn’t mean it like that, and it was just a friend-kiss? It didn’t feel like a friend-kiss!’
‘I think you’re probably gonna have to ask her that yourself, buddy.’
He frowned. ‘I knew you were going to say that.’
‘Maybe you should practise what you’re going to say to her beforehand,’ Poe suggested. ‘Do you want to kiss her back?’
‘Maybe? I don’t know, Poe, that’s kind of the problem!’
Poe ran a hand through his hair. ‘If you’re not sure, you should tell her that. Don’t lie and give her the answer you think she wants to hear. If you bottle this stuff up, it only gets worse,’ he added, with tremendous personal hypocrisy.
‘What if she’s forgotten the whole thing and is just like, Hey Finn, why do you keep trying to talk about kissing?’
‘Well,’ said Poe. ‘Even if she doesn’t remember it now, she could still remember later, and things might get complicated if you don’t bring it up before then.’
‘I don’t like complicated,’ said Finn miserably. ‘Who even has time to be complicated? I’m busy doing like fifty things already.’
‘You’re not wrong. You know, a couple of my friends from Black Squadron, Snap and Karé, they were in love for months. They tried to stay apart because they thought a relationship would be too distracting, but it just screwed them up for ages and they wound up getting married anyway.’
‘That’s dumb. Romantic, but dumb.’
‘Yeah, pretty dumb.’ Poe agreed. ‘You don’t need to know exactly how you feel about Rose, just don’t lie to her about it. And don’t try to wait until the war’s over. We don’t know when that’ll even be.’
Finn clasped him by the shoulder and gave him a friendly little shake. ‘You give great advice, Poe.’
‘Thanks,’ said Poe, hoping his internal wince wasn’t showing on his face. ‘I know you’d do the same for me.’ Finn’s smile was positively sparkling, and a traitorous voice at the back of Poe’s brain was saying to himself, You can dish it out but you can’t take it, huh?
Shut up, Poe thought as loudly as possible, and tried to remind himself that his dad would be proud. Here he was, being all mature and altruistic, helping his crush deal with his crush instead of constructing an absurd seduction scheme like he would’ve done in his twenties.
His little self-imposed pep talk didn’t work. Sometimes, maturity sucked.
‘We need to start talking about recruitment.’
They were all gathered in the ballroom, which was starting to look like a real base of operations. Someone had hauled in a bunch of Sabé and Yané’s more practical furniture, creating something approaching a meeting area. Rey jury-rigged a couple of holo displays in the middle, and now Rose was trying to hook up a secure communications array while wrapped in a nest of blankets on the floor, BB-8 fetching tools so she didn’t have to move. She probably shouldn’t even be out of bed yet, but it was hard to argue with Rose when she accurately pointed out she was the only person capable of doing the job at hand. Along with the medics, they'd lost most of their engineers.
‘Recruitment?’ asked Finn. ‘Weren’t we doing that already?’
‘No,’ said Leia. ‘That’s consolidation.’ Over the past few days, they’d made contact with a handful of allies in the neighboring systems. People who couldn't make it to Crait in time, but might be able to help them now. That was as far as the Falcon’s communicators could manage, hence the need for Rose to build a new comms hub with real encryption. ‘It’s good to know our old friends haven't all abandoned the fight, but we need new blood. That should be our priority for now.’
She looked around the room. ‘The First Order is big and slow-moving. They’ll take a while to regroup and deal with internal power struggles after losing their leader, and we need to use that time wisely. Find some way to get public attention, get the word out. We need a new...’ She barely paused. ‘We need a new Luke Skywalker. A figurehead for people to rally behind.’
‘Isn’t that... you?’ asked Poe.
‘No,’ said Leia, looking amused. ‘I’m old, and I’m a politician. We need someone more inspiring.’
You’re inspiring, thought Poe stubbornly, as Finn said, ‘She means Rey.’
‘Uh,’ said Poe, because while Rey had many skills and was very compelling in person, she wasn’t exactly someone you’d put in front of a microphone. ‘I think she means you, Finn.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Finn, wide-eyed. ‘I’m not a figurehead! You’re a figurehead! You’re the one and only Poe Dameron!’
‘And you’re the one and only Finn!’
‘Yes, you’re both very impressive,’ said Leia, rescuing Poe from embarrassing himself any further. ‘But I didn’t actually say it had to be someone in this room. It could be —’
A loud burst of static emerged from the communications array, cutting her off. Even Rose looked shocked, leaning forward hurriedly to fiddle with some switches and loose wires.
‘— respond in time,’ came a familiar voice, emerging from the static. ‘Black Squadron is safe and sound, we've got Poe's friend with the cameras and some more company if you need it. Awaiting contact, over and out.’ The message fell silent and then began again with a crackle: a pre-recorded loop. ‘This is Black Leader calling all Resistance fighters. We heard your message but could not respond in time...’
‘I thought Poe was Black Leader,’ said Finn, as the message continued to loop.
‘Usually, yeah. That was Snap Wexley, my second.’ He turned to Rose. ‘Can you tell when this was recorded? Or where? They were on a mission to Pastoria, but they stopped checking in a few weeks ago.’
Rose shook her head. ‘Nothing except what's in the message.’
‘Well, they know what to do,’ said Leia. ‘They’ll lie low until we can get the word out to them.’
‘Who's the friend he was talking about?’ asked Rose.
‘Cameras? That’s gotta be Suralinda Javos,’ said Poe. ‘She's a journalist. An old friend from the Navy, she’s worked with us a few times.’ He caught Leia's eye. ‘You know, she could be exactly what the Resistance is looking for. If you’re wanting to get the message out.’
Leia was already nodding. ‘Yes. And presuming the rest of Black Squadron returns intact, that gives us four X-Wings to act as scout ships. Ideally, I’d like to send someone out with C-3PO — not you, Poe — and get in touch with his contacts in the droid community.’
‘What about labor colonies?’ asked Rose. ‘I grew up in the Otomok system. The First Order’s been in control there for years, but it’s not heavily guarded. People are just too tired and scared to fight back, but they might if they had outside help. The First Order wouldn’t expect an attack there. And I know some people would join us if they got free.’
‘That’s not a bad idea,’ said Poe. ‘But we can’t tackle a whole planet without recruiting some more footsoldiers first. We could start with one of the smaller labor camps instead.’
‘Maybe a plasma facility?’ asked Finn. ‘Then we could cut off some of the First Order’s ammunition supply, kill two birds with one stone.’
‘We need transport first,’ said Leia. ‘The Falcon is all well and good, but ideally we need a passenger ship.’
‘The Artoria —’ Poe began without thinking, the words catching in his throat. He knew the old Resistance fleet inside out: the speed and capacity of each ship, the command crew, the weaponry specs. The Artoria had been one of the best for long-distance mass transport. And, of course, it was blown to smithereens along with the rest of them. Poe felt his face go hot with shame as a bubble of silence expanded around him. For just a fraction of a second, he’d forgotten.
Mercifully, someone got the conversation going again and Poe was left behind, fingers cramping as he gripped the sides of his chair. He’d overheard other people making the same kind of mistake over the past few days: forgetting that old friends were dead and familiar ships were gone. Everyone here had lost someone, and in some cases it was too many someones to keep track. Leia seemed to manage it - but of course, she’d had a lot of practise.
The debate continued on around him, Rose and Leia and Finn batting ideas between each other. It all seemed to be taking place at a great distance, muffled by the pulse drumming in his ears. Quietly, Poe slid out of his chair and just... left.
He didn’t exactly flee, but he did make his way out of the hall as smoothly as possible, the echo of voices fading away behind him. Without any conscious thought, his feet took him through corridors and stately marble archways until he was in a part of the house he hadn’t visited before. Upstairs from the kitchen was an area overlooking the garden; a kind of cloister with a row of pale columns leading out to the open air. A few translucent leaves were drifting down from an overhanging tree.
Okay, this isn’t the kind of place where you have a panic attack, Poe told himself sternly. Get it together. It didn’t work.
The thing was, he’d been doing so well up until now. Slept okay the past couple of nights. Kept himself busy with useful work. What a fucking idiot he was, blithely assuming he wouldn’t trip up.
All that knowledge of the fleet and its crew, which had been so useful for the past few years of his life, was now a minefield littering the dark recesses of his brain. He’d known the Artoria’s chief engineer, hadn’t he? And a couple from the gunnery crew; they’d played cards together once or twice. How could he possibly have forgotten them?
Poe didn’t know how long he stood there, watching the leaves, before he heard the familiar trundle of BB-8’s chassis on the flagstones. He turned to meet him, and saw someone following behind: Finn.
‘Hey,’ said Finn. ‘I can go away if you really want to be alone. I just figured, you left in kind of a hurry. You okay?’
‘Yeah. Well, no.’ Poe knelt to greet BB-8, trying to avoid Finn’s big-eyed look of sympathy. ‘Sorry. Usually I’m better at handling this stuff.'
It was true. He had the documentation to prove it. Years ago, Poe had been selected from thousands of applicants to enter officer training in the New Republic Navy, cushioned by the approving language of numerous psych evaluations. Outgoing. Resilient. A bit of a thrill-seeker, but level-headed and preternaturally adaptable. In summary, he not only had the perfect temperament for a fighter pilot, but he was also an obvious choice for command. On top of all that, he now had a decade's worth of experience under his belt. When bad shit happened, he handled it. Poe was good at handling it, better than most people he knew. Usually.
‘Usually?’ asked Finn, doubtful. ‘You just had the worst week of your life. I mean, maybe you've had worse weeks, I hope you haven't had worse weeks —’
‘No,’ , said Poe, shaking his head. ‘This was definitely the worst.’ Beebee whistled in agreement, nudging at his knees.
‘Right. So it's kind of understandable if you have a mood swing or two.’
Poe stared. ‘How do you even know what a mood swing is?’
‘Even the First Order has doctors, Poe. Although I'm guessing the ones here don’t treat this kind of problem with mandatory reconditioning.’
‘Yeah, no. Normally you just talk to someone about it. Maybe get prescribed some tranqs.’
‘Well,’ said Finn. ‘I can’t offer you any drugs, but maybe you can talk to me?’
‘I walked into that one, didn’t I,’ said Poe drily, and tipped his head back against the wall. The sun was bright enough to shine through his eyelids. ‘Look, you don’t need to take this on, you already have enough problems of your own.’
‘Your problems are my problems,’ said Finn, stubbornly. ‘What am I meant to do, just leave you like this?’
‘Sure. I’ve got Beebee to keep me company.’ The droid beeped reproachfully; apparently he didn’t agree.
‘Right, just like you’d leave me behind if I was freaking out,’ said Finn. He paused, uncertain. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t actually know what to ask you, though? Did you know someone on the Artoria?’
Somehow, Finn’s earnestness was precisely what Poe needed to hear. Finn, who had never had anyone to teach him the mechanisms of kindness, who had only ever been given harsh lessons, but who was still trying so hard. Finn who just wanted to help people, even when he didn't fully know how. ‘I knew a bunch of people there, yeah, but that’s not it. I’m just... having trouble adjusting. I’m not used to being the one to blame.’
Finn was silent, and Poe opened his eyes to see Finn staring at him in astonishment. ‘But you’re not the one to blame!’ he burst out.
‘Come on, Finn. You know I slowed us down during the battle. I didn’t trust the command structure, I didn’t trust Holdo... I put you and Rose in danger without backup. And now we’ve lost the fleet.’
‘If that’s your fault, then it’s mine and Rose’s too. We risked everything on a guy who betrayed us to the First Order. And Rey thought she could talk Kylo Ren down from being evil, that’s dumber than all of our ideas put together. We all screwed up. Everyone screws up!’
‘That’s not the same. It’s different when you’re in charge. When you’re meant to be responsible. The General always said I was good at thinking on my feet but fucking terrible at sitting down and shutting up. And thinking fast isn’t what the Resistance needs right now. We need real leaders.’
Finn was quiet for a long moment, his forehead furrowed in thought. ‘When I was in the First Order,’ he said. ‘I always thought a leader was just the meanest person at the top of the food chain. I didn’t understand until I got out, but that’s not how it’s meant to work, is it? True leaders, they’re chosen by other people. Leia isn’t in charge because she used to be a senator or a princess, she’s in charge because people believe in her. The Resistance only exists because people believed in her enough to leave their homes and become outlaws, and every one of them believes in you too. Everyone here trusts you with their lives, and that didn’t change after what happened last week.’
Poe felt hypnotized by Finn’s gaze, rooted to the spot like Finn was trying to transmit the words directly into his brain. He was used to glancing at Finn and feeling slightly poleaxed, but this was one of those moments where Finn would say something that just made Poe’s entire brain light up and go: How the hell is this guy real.
‘It’s like being a hero,’ Finn finished. ‘It’s not just something you are, it’s something other people decide for you. And we’ve decided you’re worth following.’
‘So, no pressure then,’ said Poe weakly. ‘Seriously, how did you get so wise?’
‘Let’s not go that far,’ said Finn, rubbing the back of his neck. ‘Today I found I’d been calling C’ai Threnalli the Abednedish word for "hello" because I thought it was his name this whole time. Anyway,’ he added. ‘I don’t need to be a genius to know you’re a great guy. That’s just an obvious fact.’
‘Right back atcha,’ said Poe, and watched, dazzled, as Finn’s face broke into a smile.
After that first breakfast together, Finn and Rey endeared themselves to their hosts by trying every dish and proclaiming them all delicious, which in turn led to impromptu cooking lessons. Up until now, Rey only knew how to make four depressing insta-meals from Jakku trade rations, while Finn grew up eating mass-produced nutritional pellets. Both were understandably eager students.
Sabé and Yané’s kitchen was a long, tiled room with tinted blue windows, giving the impression that you were standing inside a decorative aquarium. Today, Poe found Finn and Rey standing at a counter and chopping a pile of vegetables, testing a series of knives.
‘Hey, Poe!’ Finn looked up, grinning. ‘You here to help?
Poe held up his hands. ‘I already know how to cook.’
‘Uh, most of the good stuff I make needs ingredients from Yavin.’
‘Oh, you’re from Yavin?’ asked Sabé. ‘Are you a battle baby?’
‘Shush, that’s so rude,’ scolded Yané, but Poe was chuckling.
‘No, I’m a couple years too old for that. My parents were Rebels, though. Mom flew an A-Wing, dad was a Pathfinder.’
Rey glanced between them. ‘What’s a battle baby?’
‘After the Rebel Alliance won the battle of Yavin, there was a bit of a baby boom,’ said Yané. ‘They’re all about thirty now.’
‘So —’ said Rey, and fell silent. She had, Poe suspected, just realized something about Ben Solo that she’d rather not have known.
Finn, oblivious, was leaning over Rey’s shoulder, poking at her messily-chopped pile of vegetables. ‘Shouldn’t you be better at this?’ he wondered. ‘You know, after the lightsaber training and everything?'
‘Trust me,’ said Rey. ‘You do not want to know what I was eating on that island with Luke. Lightsaber cooking would've been a step up.’
‘Well, with twenty mouths to feed, you'll have plenty of opportunity to practise,’ said Sabé briskly. ‘Although someone's going to have to go shopping tomorrow, and it probably shouldn't be Yané and I. The market's going to start thinking we're stocking up for a seige.’
‘I can go,’ said Poe immediately. He'd seen Sabé and Yané set off for the nearest town a couple of days ago, driving a sedate, wide-bellied landskimmer. He was itching to get his hands on the steering wheel, although — ‘Or I could delegate someone,’ he added, trying not to sound too grudging. ‘If I'm needed here.’
Sabé suppressed a smile. ‘I'm sure Leia can spare you for an afternoon,’ she said, and although Poe knew it was ridiculous to get excited about going on a supply run, he was grateful all the same.
The landskimmer was a solid old thing, painted dark red and equipped with a classic Ikas-Adno repulsorlift engine. Idling steadily above the grass, it was the furthest thing Poe could imagine from those rickety old speeders on Crait.
He was just loading empty boxes into the skimmer's storage compartment when Finn came jogging down the steps from the house. ‘Room for one more?’ he called out.
‘Always,’ said Poe, and shut the compartment just in time for Finn to vault into the front seat, landing with a huff of air. The skimmer briefly dipped low enough to bend the stems of grass beneath, and Poe hid a smile as he made his way round to the driver's seat.
‘So,’ he said, testing the controls and pulling away from the house at a leisurely place. ‘What brings you out today? You getting stir-crazy too?’
‘Well, not really,’ said Finn. ‘Living in a house is still kind of new to me, you know? But I've never really been shopping before, so I figured I should grab the chance while I can.’
Never been shopping, thought Poe. ‘Any priorities?’ he said out loud. ‘Shopping list? You know I can lend you credits if you need anything.’
‘Snacks, mostly,’ he said sheepishly. ‘But Rose asked me to make a holo if we see any cool animals in town.’
‘Can do,’ said Poe, and followed the skimmer's nav-map toward the main road into town.
The landscape in this part of Naboo was mostly wide, rolling meadows; not even farmland. The road curved gently around dips and mounds in the terrain, perfect for this kind of civilian vehicle. While the landskimmer was nothing compared to an X-Wing, it felt fast in the way you only got with open-topped vehicles. You could feel the wind in your hair. Poe cranked up the speed and grinned sideways at Finn, who whooped as they zoomed past a crop of trees, leaves shivering in their wake.
No one looked twice at them when they arrived in town. It was a smallish settlement, a few thousand people living the kind of quiet lives that reminded Poe of his childhood after the war. He hoped he wasn't bringing trouble to their doorstep.
It was easy enough to load the skimmer up with sacks of rice and fruit and vegetables, working their way down the list. Once that was done, they were free to move onto the fun stuff. The town wasn’t busy enough for it to be market day, but there were a few small stores selling books and trinkets. Poe resigned himself to being laden down with bags until they got back to the car.
At a stall in the town square, they watched avidly as an old woman poured a thin stream of batter onto a blackened hotplate. Spreading out over a sheen of fragrant oil, it sizzled and crisped into a pancake. She flipped it and dropped a dollop of soft white cheese into the middle, letting it melt and puff up before deftly folding the sides of the pancake into a kind of pocket, pinched shut at the top like a flower bud. The whole thing went into a round paper cup, topped with a drizzle of dark brown syrup and a sprig of berries, and handed briskly to Finn in exchange for a couple of credits. His eyes went wide when he bit into it, syrup dripping down his wrist.
'Oh my kriffing hell,' he said in muffled disbelief, his mouth still full. 'Poe, you have to try this!'
'I'll have one of my own in like thirty seconds,' said Poe, laughing, and Finn shrugged, taking another enormous bite. Poe ate his at a more leisurely pace, and ordered another two to go.
'It's too bad we can't bring one of these back for Rey,' said Finn, licking syrup off his fingers. 'But I think it'd get too soggy.'
'You'll just have to learn how to make them yourself,' said Poe, and allowed himself to be led further into the town, peering into shop windows and pausing so Finn could take a holo of some cute droids in a doorway.
‘Hey, Poe,’ said Finn, as they strolled along a cobbled street. ‘Did you have a cover story, if anyone in town asked why we were buying so much food?’
‘Yeah, I was gonna say we were stocking up for a college field trip. Explains our offworld accents.'
‘College, that’s like training, right?’
‘Kind of. It’s more... recreational, I guess? More about learning for the sake of knowledge instead of qualifying in engine maintenance or whatever.’
‘Did you do that?’
‘Go to college? Not exactly,’ said Poe. ‘I went to the New Republic Naval Academy.’
‘What was it like?’
‘Well, it wasn't like this. We didn't go on field trips, unless you count survival training. But I loved it. Made some great friends; learned everything there is to know about an X-Wing. I was never really good at sitting still and reading a book, but they expected that from a lot of recruits, so they made sure to mix things up. Flight sims, navigation, basic engineering, history... and I partied a lot,’ he added, meeting Finn's eye with a wink. ‘You know, you could do something like that now. Obviously not the Navy, but you could go to school. Somewhere.’
‘Maybe,’ said Finn doubtfully. ‘But I can't just abandon you guys and go study while there’s still a war to fight. Anyway, I'm already learning a ton of new stuff every day. If I try to learn any more, my brain might explode. Honestly, it would be great if I could just delete a bunch of my stormtrooper training instead. I know more about First Order sewage duct maintenance than anyone ever needs to know.’
They turned onto another side street, shaded by fabric awnings hanging from house to house. It was quieter here, a sleepy neighborhood with blue-roofed buildings and almost no one around.
‘Actually,’ said Finn. ‘I’ve been thinking about what the General said. About the Resistance needing a figurehead.’
‘I don't think I want to be a commander. It's just not me, you know? I don't know what I'm doing, pretty much ever —’
‘You think I know what I'm doing?’
‘Well, no. But you always sound like you do, and that's like half the battle, right?’ Finn was watching him out of the corner of his eye, painfully sincere, and Poe wanted to stop in his tracks so he could grab Finn by the shoulders and watch every expression that crossed his face.
‘I can’t do that,’ Finn continued. ‘I don't want to tell people what to do. But maybe I can show them? Stormtroopers, I mean. I grew up watching First Order propaganda holos, I know how to tell the right kind of story to get their attention.’
‘It’s like Starkiller,’ Finn added, gaining momentum. ‘Everything they told us growing up, it always made it seem like the First Order was this massive, perfect thing that couldn’t be defeated, but there’s always a weak spot somewhere. You just need to know where to hit it. If people knew they could leave without getting thrown in an airlock or winding up on a penal colony, I bet we’d see more deserters. I mean —’ he said hurriedly, tripping over his own words. ‘Not many . Most of us — most of them, they’d die for the First Order no matter what, it’s how they were raised. But I’m sure we could get through to a few of them, enough to make a difference, maybe even manage some sabotage. We just need to show them it’s possible. If I can do it, other people can too. And even if they just run away and save themselves, that’s something.’
He fell silent, and for a few long seconds, all Poe could think was a kind of directionless agreement. Of course Finn could persuade people to betray the First Order. How could they ignore a man with that kind of fire in his eyes? But then the rational part of Poe’s mind switched on again, and he said carefully, ‘Finn, this sounds like a pretty big deal. If you put yourself out there like that, publicly, there’s no turning back. You’ll be a walking target.’
‘What, like you? Or Rey? Or the General?’
Poe held his hands up. ‘I’m just saying, think it over for a while before you commit.’
Finn shook his head. ‘I thought it over already. This is how I can make the biggest difference. I bet your friend Suralinda will have some ideas when she arrives.’
‘Finn, you don't have to... to meet some threshold of usefulness. You get that, right? It's enough that you're just here. You're already fighting.’
‘I know I don't have to do this. But I want to. I choose to. Isn't that the point?’
His jaw was set with determination, like he was expecting Poe to keep arguing. Poe couldn't. He felt a sudden sympathy for his dad, who had briefly tried to talk him out of deserting the Navy to join the Resistance. As if it wouldn’t be total hypocrisy coming from a former Rebel.
If Finn signed himself up for something like this, Poe had no hope of protecting him with just a blaster and an X-Wing. Hell, not even an X-Wing at the moment. It was terrifying, but it was exhilarating too. Finn had been thinking about this for a while; Poe could already see the gears turning beneath the surface. It was the kind of strategic forethought that Poe often struggled to manage himself. Instead of just flinging himself into the fray, Finn was considering where he’d make the most difference.
They'd stopped short in an empty courtyard, music echoing faintly from one of the buildings above. Sunlight filtered through the awnings, and Poe realized he’d just been standing there in silence, staring into Finn’s questioning eyes.
‘Yeah,’ he said roughly, a blanket agreement.
Finn’s shoulders relaxed. ‘You know this was practically your idea in the first place, right? When you were all, ooh, Finn’s so inspirational.’
‘Oh, I see how it is. Blame the messenger.’
Finn looked around, taking in their surroundings for the first time. There were no shops in sight, just airy apartments and afternoon sun. ‘Wait, where are we? Are we lost? Didn’t you say you studied navigation?’
‘I got distracted,’ said Poe, and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Come on, let’s get back to the 'skimmer. You can tell me more about your plan on the way.’
As it turned out, Finn didn’t have a plan so much as plans, plural. Some of his ideas were unusable, as you might expect from someone who’d never plotted out a real mission before, but Finn's creepy upbringing gave him a unique advantage. He had a firsthand understanding of the First Order’s insular society, from the rumor mill to their quasi-religious beliefs, to the official propaganda that rained down from on high. It was easy to sink into the familiar back-and-forth of a strategy briefing during the drive home, the meadows turning orange with the sunset behind them.
Gunning the engine across the home stretch, Poe was bursting with ideas to tell the General. But as they turned in to the driveway, all those thoughts evaporated.
Parked in front of the house were four X-Wings and an old, boxy cargo ship that Poe didn’t recognize. He barely noticed himself braking hard and kicking up a cloud of dust as he vaulted out of the landskimmer, running full tilt toward the crowd outside. They parted to let him through, and suddenly Poe was surrounded by his favorite color in the world: flightsuit orange, worn by his returning brothers and sisters of Black Squadron.
Jess Pava vowed to anyone who’d listen that she wouldn’t set foot inside a cockpit for at least a week now they were planetside, which was good news for Poe. It meant her X-Wing was free for the foreseeable future, and he could take it out for what he freely admitted was a joyride.
BB-8 woke him up at dawn the next morning, impatient to get going. Poe wouldn't describe it as relaxing, precisely, but there was something reassuringly familiar about the sweaty, metallic smell of an X-Wing cockpit. The buzz of the engine, the rapid acceleration; there was nothing like it. He was lucky no one else lived for miles in any direction of Sabé and Yané’s house, or else he couldn’t have risked a test flight. But above the wispy cloudline, with his proximity detector on, it was safe. Poe grinned to himself and listened to BB-8 beep happily in his ear, easing into a lazy barrel roll.
He didn’t miss his old X-Wing in the sentimental way that some pilots got attached to their rides, but he did feel a pang at the knowledge that he no longer had a ship of his own. The Resistance fleet, such as it was, was now six ships total: the Falcon, four X-Wings, and the freighter Black Squadron had recruited on their way in. It was home to a family of grizzled and pissed-off Mandalorians, plus a cargo of shoulder-mounted energy weapons. A welcome addition, but not exactly something Poe could fly.
He was just pondering how they hell they were going to find decent new ships when the comms channel clicked on. ‘Black Leader, this is Black Leader,’ came Snap’s voice.
Poe grinned. ‘Hey. What’s got you up so early?’
‘Still living on Pastoria time,’ he said. 'I've been awake for three hours.' Poe’s proximity alert went off, and he swung round to watch as Snap’s X-Wing came into view. ‘Man, you’re like a little kid,' said Snap. 'Out before breakfast, all ready to play with your new toy.’
‘Don’t let Pava hear you talk about Black Three like that,’ said Poe, and dipped his wings in a little wave as Snap came up alongside.
They fell into formation with the ease of long practice, Snap following his lead through a fluffy bank of clouds. ‘You know, right now she probably wouldn’t even care if you stole it,’ said Snap.
Poe snorted. Jess was an excellent pilot, but she had no patience for long-haul travel. She was one of those people who went for a run every morning, and a week and a half of living inside a tin can had taken its toll. Sleeping in a cockpit was no picnic for anyone, although at least Black Squadron had the freighter flying alongside for bathroom breaks.
‘About the whole Black Leader thing,’ said Poe, as they flew lazily toward the treeline. ‘It looks like you’re gonna be keeping that title for the foreseeable future.’
‘I figured,’ said Snap. ‘The General finally got you into a real command position, huh?’
‘Yeah, I’m a real authority figure now, so shape up.’
Poe glanced sideways just in time to see Snap flip him the bird through his viewscreen. ‘That’s insubordination, pal,’ he said, laughing, and ducked low over the trees, Snap chasing his tail-fins from above.
They flew in silence for a while, going low and slow so they wouldn’t stray too far from camp. ‘Hey, do you have a camera?’ he asked, after a while. ‘I want to make a holo.’
‘Don’t think so. What for?’
‘See down in the treetops? I keep seeing these cute marsupial things in the upper branches. Thought I could fly low and take some pictures for Rose, she likes weird animals.’
‘Rose Tico?’ said Snap, curiously. ‘The little engineer?’
‘Huh. Didn’t realize you guys were friends. Or are you and her...?’
‘Oh! No.’ Suddenly, he wanted to tell someone the truth. ‘She likes Finn, I think.’
‘Ohhh, okay.’ Then a second later: ‘Sorry. You know I’m not good with this shit. Are you dropping hints that you have a crush on her, or on Finn?’
‘I don’t have a crush ,’ said Poe. ‘I have sophisticated, grown-up feelings. About Finn. Who definitely doesn’t need me messing up his life when he only escaped from the First Order five minutes ago.’
‘So... you’re trying to charm his girlfriend so you can prove to yourself that you can be the bigger man.’
‘I like Rose!’ said Poe, defensively. ‘She’s cool! But... yes.’
‘Well, I guess it’s weirdly reassuring to know that you’re still a total idiot when it comes to relationships,’ said Snap, and Poe was struck by a sudden stab of helpless affection.
‘Like you’re one to talk,’ he said, and jetted his engine so Snap had no choice but to give chase.
Poe had no idea who suggested it first, but the Resistance hivemind decided it was time for a party. By sundown, someone had rigged the communications array to play music, and politely requisitioned some of Sabé and Yané’s classy Naboo liquor collection. For the first time since the Resistance arrived, the ballroom was put to its original use.
Parties had been a regular occurance at the base on D’Qar. There was always someone getting married or returning from a dangerous mission or celebrating some festival from their home planet. Everyone needed to blow off steam, and that was as true now as it ever was. They hadn’t been ready for it before, but now Black Squadron was back, it felt like they actually had something to celebrate.
‘You know what this is?’ said Suralinda, once they’d all found drinks and staked out some chairs on the outskirts of the dancefloor. ‘It’s the ten year reunion party of the Naval Academy class of ‘24.’
‘No ,’ said Snap, with emphasis. ‘Ugh.’
Jessika was already laughing. ‘Class of ‘28, baby. You’re all old as shit.’
‘Man, can you imagine if there’s a real one happening somewhere?’ asked Poe. ‘What would they do, just politely pretend half the graduating class didn’t defect?’
‘We didn’t just defect, we stole our X-Wings,’ said Snap.
‘Oh yeah. I always forget I’m a wanted thief.’
‘Hate to tell you guys this, but they’re doing more than just politely ignoring you,’ said Suralinda. ‘I covered a story in Chandrila a few years back, and when I looked in on the Academy for old time’s sake, they’d erased all your student records.’
‘Yep. Guess it was less embarrassing than letting the new generation know what actually happened.’
‘Huh,’ said Poe. ‘Well, on the bright side, that means no one ever needs to know I failed basic navigation in junior year.’
Suralinda raised one neatly-plucked blue eyebrow. ‘You’re less pissed than I expected. What about all those medals you won?’
Poe examined himself for hidden reserves of nostalgia, and shrugged. 'Kinda feels like the Academy happened to someone else, at this point. I'd almost forgotten about it until Finn brought it up yesterday.'
'Oh, Finn,' said Jessika, with an exaggerated eyeroll, and the conversation dissolved into good-natured groans and catcalls.
Sometime in the past twelve hours, the news of Poe’s crush had spread from Snap to the rest of Black Squadron, transforming from a painful secret to another one of their raucous in-jokes. To his surprise, Poe found himself welcoming it. There was a comforting kind of pleasure in having his friends poke their noses into his business. And hey, maybe it was a little funny. Of all the things to get stressed about right now, pining after Finn was at the very bottom of the list.
Much later in the evening, once the booze was truly flowing and the music was loud enough to make conversation difficult, Leia arrived. By this point Poe had migrated to a couch with Snap’s feet in his lap, and only spotted her by chance. Standing in the doorway to the ballroom, the General was watching the celebration from a distance, her face hidden in shadow.
Poe dislodged Snap’s legs, grabbing a bottle and two glasses from the table. ‘Be back soon,’ he said, and made his way over.
Up close, Leia had lost some of the exhaustion that haunted her face these past few days.
‘Fashionably late?’ he asked, handing her a glass. ‘Or just not in the mood to socialize?’
‘Neither. I was on a long-range comm.’ Poe poured her a generous glug of amber-colored Naboo brandy. She was probably the only person in the room with enough of a palate to appreciate it. ‘How’s your squadron settling in?’
Poe followed her gaze to where Jessika had set up a game of sabacc, bickering cheerfully with C’ai. Despite being indoors, the party had the atmosphere of a camp site. Furniture was strewn haphazardly across the floor, and dancers clustered around the communications array, swaying to something with a heavy beat. The ballroom was designed to host at least a hundred people, but somehow it didn’t seem as empty as it had before, when they’d held their first strategy meeting together. Now, it felt more like they were gathering around a campfire, lit by lamps and candles in the middle of the room. The columns cast shadows like trees, the ceiling high enough to be a dark night sky.
‘They’re good,’ said Poe, at last. ‘Resilient. Angry they missed the battle, but they’re putting a brave face on it.’
Leia nodded. ‘And Suralinda?’
‘She’s sticking around. I introduced her to Finn earlier, they got along like a house on fire.’
‘I’ll bet. He seems like he’d appreciate her... straightforward attitude.’
Poe huffed out a little laugh. Within minutes of hearing Finn’s pitch for a counter-propaganda vid against the First Order, Suralinda had punctured half a dozen holes in his plan. Finn, who viewed constructive criticism as an exciting new luxury, accepted it all with a grin and returned fire with more new ideas. ‘They want to broadcast something out over one of the Core news channels, but we’d need a good slicer. Know anyone who’d fit the bill?’
‘I might. The good news is, even if I don’t, we’ll soon have the funds to find one. That long-range call I mentioned was Lando Calrissian. He’s coming in.’
Poe whistled through his teeth. ‘That’s... damn! That’s great news!’
'I’ll say. Our messages only just got through to him, but we’ll be dining out on the Bank of Lando by the end of the week. I don't know how he does it, but Lando always has cash to burn. And ships. No fighters, but he said he can get us a couple of fast smuggling vessels in the short term.'
Poe didn’t voice his next thought, which was something along the lines of: What the hell took him so long? Lando was one of the big names of the old Rebellion. A hero and a celebrity, but from what Poe had heard, not an entirely altruistic individual. Like Han Solo but with better business sense, he had a reputation for being kind of a wheeler-dealer.
‘You’re sure we can trust him?’
‘Not... universally,’ said Leia carefully. ‘You’ve heard the stories. But I believed him when he said he would've joined us on Crait, if he’d heard our message in time. Lando might not sign up to risk his neck on a regular basis, but he wouldn’t support the First Order.’
‘Okay,’ said Poe. ‘You planning to break the news to everyone tonight?’
‘No. It’ll keep till tomorrow. A nice pick-me-up for everyone’s morning hangovers.’
‘Gotcha.’ He leaned back against the doorway. ‘Man! Lando Calrissian. I can’t wait to meet him properly. I saw him a couple times as a kid, back on Yavin. Always thought he was so cool.’
'Yes, children love Lando,' said Leia drily. 'He only gets annoying once you're an adult. Unless you compliment whatever souped-up plasma yacht he’s flying at the moment, that's always a popular move. So I suppose you'll do just fine.’ She looked out over the crowd. ‘In the meantime, I have a mission for you, Dameron.’
Her tone was serious enough that Poe knew she was kidding. She gestured toward the dancefloor, and he followed her gaze to where Finn and Rey were dancing together, exhibiting a great deal of enthusiasm but no skill whatsoever. For two highly-trained fighters in such impressive physical condition, they were horribly, charmingly awkward.
‘Please, do us all a favor and teach those two to dance,’ said Leia. ‘For the sake of preventing any injuries, at the very least.’
Poe snapped off a salute. ‘Yes, ma'am,’ he said crisply, and went off to do his duty.
In the early hours of the next morning, Poe awoke to a person-shaped shadow looming overhead. His body reacted before his brain was fully online, rolling out of bed and onto the floor with a painful thump. The only thing that stopped him bracing for an attack was Finn's voice hissing out, ‘Sorry! It’s just me!’
‘What time is it,’ groaned Poe, leaning back against the bedframe. He’d forgotten to close the shutters after the party last night, and the grey pre-dawn light was only just starting to come through the window.
‘It’s... early,’ said Finn, apologetic. ‘I brought you some caff, if that helps?’
‘Hit me,’ said Poe, and Finn handed him one of the two mugs he was holding. ‘I assume it’s not an emergency?’
‘No. I just wanted to show you something. You can go back to sleep if you need to, I guess I didn’t really think this through.’ His puppy-dog eyes were visible even in the gloom, and now Poe felt like a jerk. It wasn’t as if Finn would wake him up without a good reason.
'Don’t sweat it. I’m up now. What did you want me to see?’
‘Well, you’re gonna have to put some shoes on first,’ said Finn.
Finn took Poe’s mug back so Poe could pull on a shirt and shoes, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders to keep off the morning chill. These old Naboo houses were beautiful, but they weren’t exactly designed to be cosy.
Their footsteps echoed on the tiles as Finn led him downstairs, past closed doors where everyone else was sleeping off last night’s drinking.
‘How the hell are you awake this early, anyway?’ asked Poe, once they were out of earshot. ‘You and Rey were still dancing when I went to bed.’
‘I guess my body’s kind of... still getting used to the idea of morning being a thing?’ said Finn. ‘I’m more used to, you know, mandatory eight-hour rest shifts. You don’t exactly get much daylight, growing up on a space station.’
‘Oh,’ said Poe. Once again, he felt a surge of protectiveness toward the young Finn he’d never got to meet. ‘Well, if you ever need advice on how to have a lie-in, I’m your guy.’
‘See, that’s the kind of rallying cry that brings new blood to the Resistance,’ said Finn seriously, and pushed open the front door, breathing in the fresh morning air. Outside, the dawn was shading from grey to yellow.
Still bundled up in his blanket, Poe followed Finn across the front lawn toward the forest. Their boots left fresh prints in the dew.
Ordinarily, Poe would be teasing Finn about what could possibly be so urgent that they had to go out before breakfast. But the morning quiet lent a kind of solemnity to their surroundings, as if everyone indoors had vanished and they were the only people left in the world. Finn kept glancing back at him hopefully, holding branches aside so they wouldn’t drip on Poe’s face.
It wasn’t a long walk. Finn halted in a clearing just beyond the treeline, the air lit with a kind of sparkling haze. It took Poe a moment to realize they were standing in the midst of a wheeling cloud of iridescent insects, dipping in and out of plants dotted here and there across the forest floor. Their leaves curled down like flower petals to leave a kind of bowl in the middle of each stem, allowing the insects to drink the nectar inside.
‘Um, we’re here,’ said Finn.
‘It’s beautiful,’ said Poe honestly. ‘Reminds me of home, kind of.'
'Is Yavin a lot like Naboo?'
'More like it than some planets, I guess. More trees, fewer people. A lot of jungle.' Poe watched as one of the insects landed on his arm, bringing with it a tiny pool of bluish light. 'How did you find this place?'
‘Went for a walk on the first morning after we arrived. These plants close up once the sun comes out, they just look like clumps of grass the rest of the time. They're easy to miss during the day.’
Poe turned slowly in the center of the clearing, just taking it in. The bugs really were gorgeous, and the damp smell of the trees brought back childhood memories of playing outside his parents' house. It made him wonder how much time Finn had spent outdoors, back in his old life. Probably not a lot. The First Order seemed determined to separate its soldiers from nature, as if they could turn them into machines by sheer force of will.
‘You know who’d enjoy this?’ said Poe, watching the cloud of insects billow through the air. ‘Rose.’
‘Yeah, I think most people would, it’s really cool.’ Finn caught his eye and then looked away. ‘I took your advice, you know. About talking to Rose.’ He broke off, suddenly twitchy with awkwardness.
Poe nodded as encouragingly as he could manage, wishing he hadn’t brought her up at all. It wasn’t like it was any of his business.
‘Rose is so amazing,’ Finn blurted out, at last. ‘And so’s Rey, and you, and the General. I never thought I’d know so many amazing people. That I’d be fighting alongside you. So it was kind of... hard to figure out how I felt about everyone, at first? I think when Rose and I kissed, it was more a spur-of-the-moment thing than anything else. You know?’
Poe nodded again, trying not to let any uncharitable relief show on his face. ‘Adrenaline.’
‘Well, yeah. But it wasn’t just that. She’d just saved my life. She’d just changed my life. Rose has this totally different way of looking at things, she...’ Finn shook his head. ‘That’s not what I came here to say. It’s just that when I spoke to her yesterday, it made me understand the difference between loving someone and wanting to kiss them. Because I’d die for anyone in the Resistance, you’re all my family now. But when I wake up early in the morning and I want to show someone some cool plants, the first person I think of is you.’
It took a moment for the message to sink in. ‘Oh,’ Poe said out loud, at last. ‘Oh. You brought me flowers.’
‘They’re more like leaves, I think?’ said Finn, glancing worriedly around the clearing. ‘But we can go find some flowers if you want?’
Poe waved a hand. Now was not the time for a lesson on the semiotics of romantic gifts. ‘It doesn’t matter. I love them. I’m honored to be your — your cool plant person.’ He stepped closer, curling a hand around Finn’s arm and watching as a smile spread across his face. ‘I’m getting this right, right? I’m not totally embarrassing myself?’
‘I think we’re both embarrassing ourselves,’ said Finn, now grinning ear-to-ear. ‘Are you sure? I kind of sprung this on you.’
‘Are you kidding?’ said Poe, and kissed him.
Finn’s hands fluttered uncertainly at his shoulders, before clutching at him and pulling him close. Poe found himself smiling uncontrollably as their noses bumped. He was suddenly bursting with energy, buzzing like the insects all around them. Chest to chest, Finn’s warmth seeped through the fabric of his shirt. They were both clumsy with happy disbelief, falling into each other, mouths opening. Finn's fingers tangled in his hair, a sharp little tug soothed by a press of lips to his jaw. Poe was certain he'd remember this kiss until the day he died, whether that was a week from now or another fifty years.
He'd forgotten what this was like, almost: kissing someone you really wanted, instead of just hooking up to take the edge off after another mission. It had been a long, long time. Now every one of his nerve-endings felt awake, ready to memorize what it was like for Finn to cup his jaw, to bite his lip, to slide a hand where his shirt had come untucked from his pants, smooth and shivery at the small of Poe's back.
When they pulled apart, Finn was breathless and wide-eyed, and Poe was reminded suddenly their first meeting: Finn pulling off his helmet to reveal the sweaty, terrified, shockingly brave human underneath.
‘Maybe it’s wrong to say, after everything that’s happened,’ murmured Finn, smoothing down Poe's hair. ‘But I feel so damn lucky.’
Finn laughed into his shoulder. ‘There’s that Poe Dameron confidence!’
‘I’m serious! You’re lucky as hell. And you make your own luck, too. I admire that.’
‘Considering the amount of shit we both get into, that’s probably just as well.’
At some point they'd knocked Poe's blanket onto the ground, and now the dawn chill was making itself known. He burrowed further into Finn’s chest, linking his fingers behind his back. ‘We had some more good luck last night, you know. The General’s going to tell everyone this morning, but she got a message from this rich guy she knew in the last war, Lando Calrissian. He’s giving us ships and supplies.’
‘So we’re leaving Naboo?’
‘I wish we could stay longer, but...’ Poe shrugged.
‘Yeah. I’m glad I got to visit a place like this. But the longer we stay, the easier it is to just forget the war’s still going on out there.’
'The fighting always feels far away, until it isn't,' said Poe. 'That's what my dad says.'
'I'd like to meet him one day. See where you grew up.'
'As soon as this is all over, that's the first place we'll go,' he promised. 'You and me and Rey, and whoever else wants to come.'
Finn leaned forward, tipping their foreheads together. ‘I’d like that,’ he said quietly. ‘You can introduce me to the trees.’