Poe Dameron has always liked his name.
He loved the way his mother said it, lilting and effervescent, as weightless as the clouds they soared above together. Look, Poe, she’d whisper as they rose over the Massassi trees in her A-wing, and Poe, like this, a gentle command as she helped him steer up to the stars, and Poe!, laughing, when he’d take a sharp turn, a steep dive, without her guidance, his small hands more confident on the controls than his few years warranted; or, back on Yavin 4, when he’d jump from the cockpit without assistance, a ladder, or Kes’s waiting arms to break his fall.
In his father’s voice, Poe was a drumbeat, the crunch of boots in the dirt, a march in unison. One grounding syllable that tethered him to the surface world after soaring with Shara, a reminder that the stars were the stars, and home was home, and there was a place for both in the infinite galaxies Poe dreamt of at night. His father said Poe like an anthem, rife with confidence and awe; Poe, like a crackling fire, warm with affection; Poe murmured into his hair, a prayer, a plea, so often paired with oh Force bring her back that Poe mistook it for instruction, wondered if he might someday find and retrieve Shara’s soul, floating out there in the black.
The first time Poe met General Organa, she called him Commander Dameron, and though he’d served with the Republic for many years, the rank felt newly hefty under Resistance command. Under her command. Afterwards, in his new quarters, Poe stood before the mirror and repeated it to himself as if hearing it for the first time, testing out her inflection, his grin earsplitting. Commander Dameron. Commander Dameron. Resistance Commander Poe Dameron. Said it fast, then slow, until it rolled easy off the tongue, assured and regal, both a birthright and a promise.
His fellow pilots call him by his surname, and he shoulders Dameron with pride, the weight of expectation and his parents’ legacy a welcome burden. There’s no urge to shrink from the whispers of Kes and Shara’s son; he’s not living in any shadow. He is a Dameron actively, decisively, a rebel by blood and by choice. He likes the sharp sound of Dam’ron echoing through the hangar bay, heralding the last orders before flight; and Snap’s faux-scandalized Daaaameron at a particularly bad joke; and Pava’s distracted beckoning in the mess hall—hey, hey, Dameron, c’mere—as she hunches over a datapad, strategizing.
Poe has heard his name in a hundred languages, a thousand voices, spoken in fury and delight and pride and annoyance and despair and triumph. And then, after Takodana, Finn shouts it from across the tarmac, wonderstruck, already running.
Poe! Poe Dameron!
Finn, who was dead and then wasn’t. Finn, the savior, the traitor. Finn, who needed a pilot. Finn, a crack shot and a big heart, a liar, innocent and brave and earnest and terrified. Finn, who kept the jacket Poe lost and the name Poe gave him.
Finn says his name, and Poe’s never heard anything like it.
They won’t let him into the med center.
Poe gets one foot in the door before a woman in a brown uniform stops him with a firm hand to his chest. He sways back, startled. “Excuse me, I just need to—”
“Sorry, Commander,” Kalonia says, harried, as Poe pushes up on his toes to see over her shoulder. She gives him a light shove out into the hallway. “He’s in intensive care. No visitors.”
The door hisses shut, sealing Poe off from the unsettling quiet inside—no frantic beeping or shouted orders, just the soft blips of a heart monitor and even, unintelligible murmurs. “I know, but if I could just—”
“No exceptions. We need room to work.” Her eyes soften. “We’ll keep you updated. As soon as we know anything conclusive, Dameron, I promise.”
(Kalonia says his name with firm compassion, an air of stringency honed over many years of wrangling mouthy flyboys into bedrest, and tempered by a tacit understanding: that Poe, the mouthiest of flyboys, is her favorite.)
Poe chews on his lip, rests his hands on his hips. He doesn’t want to be rude; she’s taking care of Finn the best she can. “Sure. I understand. Thank you, Major.”
Kalonia retreats into the med center, and Poe rakes a hand through his hair, takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He shouldn’t be this jittery—he’s alive, mostly uninjured, his mission complete, the Starkiller destroyed, the map to Skywalker found, the General pleased (she’d tossed him a grateful smile over her shoulder before disappearing with Rey and R2-D2)—but his nerves are shot, his body still keyed up, absent the post-battle comedown of waning adrenaline. He’s itching for some sort of resolution.
Finn, he thinks. If I could just talk to Finn.
He’s never been good at waiting. Some say he’s impatient, single-minded, but Poe’s never seen it that way. When he has orders, he wants to follow them; a mission, he wants to complete it. He’s never been one for sitting at bedsides, holding hands and checking vitals, watching for unconscious eyes to flutter open. Broken bodies heal just fine without him. Better, in fact. It’s not that he doesn’t care—many a conscious patient has told Poe he’s a favorite visitor, always armed with a smile, a dramatic retelling of their harrowing escapade, and something sweet pilfered from the mess hall. But he’s no doctor, and he’s aware enough to know when he’s unnecessary at best, a hindrance at worst. His time is better spent filling out reports for the General, tweaking BB-8’s systems, preparing for the next mission.
He knows there’s nothing he can do to help Finn. He’s not sure why that rankles.
The hallways are still buzzing with activity. No one’s taken much of a breather to celebrate their victory, though every so often someone will clap Poe on the shoulder as they rush by. Poe feels flushed and awkward, the only one stalled in an exhale of relief, standing aimless in the corridor while everyone hurries around him. What he needs is a task to keep him occupied, keep him useful, but he knows if he asks for one, the General will only tell him to rest.
Maybe he should. A couple of near-death experiences earn you that privilege, he supposes.
He slips into a dim alcove off the main corridor, shuts his eyes and leans back, but as soon as his shoulders hit the wall his knees go loose and he slides to the ground, landing hard. He thumps his head back and pulls his legs up, abruptly nauseous, his jaw heavy, a prickly heat washing down his spine. He rips open the zipper of his flight suit, wrestles his arms free and ties the top around his hips, links his fingers behind his neck and takes a shaky breath through his nose. Old sweat cools, sticky, on his bare arms, around the collar of his undershirt. Stars burst on the backs of his eyelids. Being unconscious suddenly seems like a great idea.
Poe rubs his eyes, clearing the gray from his vision, and finds General Organa down on one knee in front of him, frowning.
“General.” He plants his hands and tries to push himself to his feet, but his elbows buckle and he topples sideways onto his hip. Mortified, he struggles to right himself, ignoring the spinning lightness in his head, until Leia puts a gentle hand on his knee.
“Keep your butt on the ground, Dameron, before you hurt yourself,” she says, clearly an order in tone, if not explicitly in words.
(Leia says his name with a battle-weary, not-quite-maternal fondness that Poe tucks close to his heart, saves for a low moment, when he can call up his childhood hero-worship and remind himself that, whatever his failings, he made it back here, to her.)
Sweat slides down the back of Poe’s neck. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Yes, ma’am. Just got a little overheated.”
“When’s the last time you slept, Commander?”
Poe grinds his teeth while he thinks. “Does being knocked unconscious in a TIE fighter crash count?”
“Not even a little bit.”
“Think I caught a few minutes on the Finalizer. Right after Ren poked around in my head, before Finn so rudely…” He coughs, clearing the lump from his throat. He’d meant that to be funny. He tries again. “Honestly, I slept great on Jakku, even with the concussion. Nice and toasty warm. Sun and sand. Friendly locals. Like a mini vacation.”
Leia rolls her eyes. “Alright, hotshot, that’s enough.” She motions to the two uniformed men flanking her.
“Wait, wait, I can—”
“Tell you what. You get up on two feet, under your own power, and I’ll let you walk to the med center yourself. Sound good?”
“With all due respect, General, I don’t need to go to—”
“Did I not just hear the word concussion, Dameron, straight out of your mouth? You’re off duty until you get that head checked.” The corner of her mouth quirks; she knows she’s won. “For all our sakes, I hope that’s sooner rather than later.”
Poe nods, defeated. “Yes, ma’am. Now’s good.” He holds up a hand, a begrudging appeal for assistance, and the two troopers help him up, sling his arms around their shoulders. He tries to help with the walking, but his feet keep getting tangled, his boots dragging against the ground, impossibly heavy.
Kalonia is waiting in the med center to receive them. “So you found a way in here after all. Why am I not surprised?”
“I’m nothing if not persistent,” Poe grunts, half-hearted, a new sheen of sweat coating his forehead. The troopers deposit him on the bed, and he fights with all his remaining energy not to crash directly into the pillow. “How’s Finn?”
“What did I say?” Kalonia clicks on a small flashlight, waves it over Poe’s eyes; he flinches. “As soon as I know something, you’ll know something. Now tell me about your head.”
“Any loss of consciousness, memory issues?”
“Not since Jakku. Look, if you need to be in there with Finn, I’m—”
“I don’t. I have a highly trained staff, Commander. They’re doing just fine without me. Plus,” she winks, “they’re in the home stretch.”
“That’s…good. That’s good, right?”
“Yes, Dameron. That’s good. Now lie back.”
Poe does. He blinks at the ceiling. Blinks again. Goes cross-eyed with how hard he’s trying to stay awake.
Leia. He thought she’d gone. (She says his name, not quite maternal. Not quite.) “General.”
Poe wakes to a blurry figure hovering over him, a hand reaching for his head.
He surges up, mindless with panic, and hears more than feels his fist connect with a solid crack. Everything turns to chaos: moaning, cursing, hurried footsteps. Hands on his arms. Hands on his face. A few strangled shouts he recognizes as his own.
“Dameron. Dameron. Poe.”
The hands on his face have a voice, one he recognizes. “Pava,” he breathes.
(Jessika says his name with an unfussy familiarity, as though they’ve been friends all their lives, all their past lives, over millennia and across galaxies; she has since the day they met.)
“That’s it,” she says. “Eyes on me.”
“I can’t see.”
“Easy. Give it a minute.”
Poe squeezes his eyes shut, his heart hammering. Someone holds a damp cloth to his knuckles. The world melts back into focus.
“There he is,” Jess says, giving his face a pat.
“You with us, Dameron?” That’s Snap Wexley on his right, gripping the back of his neck.
(Snap says his name with exuberance, always glad to see him, always willing to share: a story, a meal, a comforting touch or a companionable silence.)
“Yeah. Yeah, I…” Poe pinches the bridge of his nose, his head throbbing. “Sorry. Guess I got turned around. Did I hurt you?”
Jess’s eyes flicker to the door. “Not me. That nurse has a gusher of a nosebleed, though. You been holding out on me? Learn a few new tricks on your Big Deal Secret Mission?”
“Something like that.” Poe dabs at his stinging knuckles. He’s not sure what they’ve heard of his capture, how Kylo Ren set fire to his brain, charred memories and incinerated synapses, rooted out the location of the Skywalker map with such ease. Poe has believed in the Force all his life, was awed as a child by stories of the Jedi and the power they wielded. He never had the proclivity himself, but he always wondered, sitting under the great tree in his front yard, what it might feel like, that strength and serenity moving through him. He certainly never imagined it would leave him feeling this fragile. Dispensable. Violated. “Is the nurse okay?”
“He’ll live,” Snap says. “You know where you are now?”
“Resistance base med center. D’Qar. The Ileenium system. Should I keep going?”
“Know who I am?”
“Some asshole X-wing jockey with too many questions.” Snap grins at him, and Poe can’t help but grin back. “Damn, it’s good to see you guys.”
“You too, you reckless little shit,” Jess says. “Flying into the oscillator, huh? When’d you come up with that brilliant plan?”
“About four seconds before I did it. It worked, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, it worked. Always does with you. It’s infuriating.”
“Hey now, let’s not needlessly inflate the man’s giant noggin,” Snap says. “Without your stormtrooper buddy to lower the shields, we’d all be up in flames.”
Poe bristles. He’s not crazy about anyone calling Finn a stormtrooper. Despite Snap’s approval, Poe’s not sure he really gets it, how Finn has been fighting to flee the First Order since the instant they met. How Finn's wild decision to abandon the stormtroopers is the only reason Poe’s alive. But it’s not worth the fight, not now, when Poe is still so stupidly relieved to see Snap and Jess in one piece. “How is everyone? Iolo, Karé, they’re alright?”
Snap draws a sharp breath; Jess winces.
“They’re both fine,” she says, hesitant. “Nunb and Bastian, too.”
“Alright.” Poe looks back and forth between them. “And?”
“Dameron, that’s…” Snap’s hand finds its way back to Poe’s neck. “That’s it.”
Poe’s stomach plummets. That’s it. He makes a sound in the back of his throat, strangled between denial and sorrow. Seven of them left, out of two squadrons. Poe hadn’t realized. He’d known, absently, tallied the battle damage in his head, noted losses, adjusted their approach accordingly. And he’d watched Ello Asty hit the wall, felt the explosion in his chest, echoing in wait for a proper time to grieve. But he’d been so focused on the mission, the Starkiller, the flush of victory, Finn, that the extent of their casualties hadn’t fully registered. He clears his throat. “I want to see the names.”
“Slow down,” Snap says, thumb on Poe’s pulse point. “Take a minute to—”
“No, Snap, I want the list. Of everyone who died under my command.”
“Hey, Black Leader.” Jess takes him by the shoulders, shakes him, ducking to meet his eyes. “Don’t do that. You did exactly what you were supposed to. Mission accomplished. Everyone on this base is alive because of you.”
“I know what my job was, Pava,” Poe says. “I don’t need to know who’s alive because of me. I need to know who died so I could do my job.”
Jess studies him. “The casualty report’s not ready.”
“Then I want to talk to the General.”
“She’s with Rey.”
“Then can I get out of here?”
Jess sighs, shoots Snap a look over Poe’s head. “He’s grumpy when he’s concussed.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll see what I can do.”
After she leaves, Snap gives Poe a friendly smack on the arm. “How ‘bout you get some more shut eye? Pass out for a few hours, and when you wake up, maybe your stormtrooper pal will be—”
“Finn,” Poe says between clenched teeth. “His name is Finn, Wexley.”
“Hey, okay,” Snap says. “Okay. Finn. I’m not trying to…disrespect him, Dameron, you know that. He’s a hero. But, man.” He chuckles. “A stormtrooper with a name. It’s new, that’s all.”
A stormtrooper with a name.
A name Poe gave him in the cockpit of a stolen TIE fighter, tossed out between instruction and introduction and encouragement. A new identity forged in the heart of their great escape, born on the heady rush of flight. Poe is just now beginning to understand the extraordinary weight of his quick thinking.
“FN-2187 was a stormtrooper,” Poe says, a little dizzy. “Finn never was.”
That evening, when Poe returns to his quarters, there’s a message waiting on his datapad.
Expecting a full recovery for Finn. He’ll be sedated for a few days—healing requires rest (you’d do well to remember, Commander)—but you can visit tomorrow.
All the air leaves Poe in a rush, and he sits hard on the bed, his knees turned liquid. His hands shake as he types his response: Great news, Major. Thank you. He pauses. I’ll be otherwise occupied tomorrow, but please let me know as soon as he’s awake.
He knows how uncharacteristically callous that must sound, but he’s only adjusting expectations. He’s not going to be there first thing in the morning, ready to keep vigil. He could spend all day holding Finn’s hand, memorizing the soft contours of his face, watching the hypnotic rise and fall of his chest, but to what end? He can’t heal Finn, or comfort him, can’t erase everything that’s happened. Though a part of Poe believes just seeing Finn might soothe his anxious mind, a louder part insists, Stay out of the way. You can’t fix it. You can’t help.
So Poe spends most of the next day in the hangar, giving his X-wing a thorough once-over, twice-over, maybe-just-once-more-over. BB-8 won’t let Poe out of its sight, sticks close to his side and burbles nonsense while he assesses the damage, buzzes back and forth between the fighter and the toolbox, ferrying Poe wrenches and welding torches and rags to wipe the grease from his hands. The droid has regaled Poe with the tale of Finn and Rey and the Millennium Falcon at least four times, and each time Poe laughs in all the right places, feigns shock and distress and encourages BB-8 with a soft what happened next, buddy? whenever it gets distracted, pausing to give the equivalent of the stink eye to any repair droid that comes near.
Poe gets it. He’s feeling protective, too, with a renewed appreciation for BB-8’s tendency to roll too close and bump his ankles; to keep up a steady stream of chatter while Poe’s under the X-wing, just so he knows it’s still there; to follow Poe into his quarters at night even when it doesn’t need to charge, putter around while he’s in the refresher and wait for him to tap its head goodnight before rolling out again. It’s a reassuring routine, a balm for the guilt that still nags at Poe, remembering the promise he made—I’ll come back for you—and how close he came to breaking it.
So when, on the second morning, BB-8 isn’t waiting by the X-wing, Poe feels justified in taking a few private moments to freak out. But he finds the droid before long, babbling on the outskirts of the hangar bay with Rey, who’s sitting on a box, chin in her hands, listening intently.
Poe strolls over. “Trying to steal my droid?” he teases, arms crossed over his chest.
Both heads swivel in his direction. BB-8 chirps a happy greeting.
(There are no sounds for Poe’s name in binary, but BB-8 has developed a unique series of beeps, new words in an ancient language that don’t mean Poe or Dameron exactly, but still mean him. Just him.)
Rey stands and regards Poe evenly, a touch defensive. “Of course not. BB-8’s a friend.”
Poe holds up his hands. “I know. It’s alright,” he says, affable and open, throwing himself into his smile. “This little chatterbox told me the whole story. Repeatedly, and at all hours.”
Rey’s expression eases. “Well, it was quite a big adventure for a little droid.”
BB-8 trills his agreement, circling the two of them excitedly, and Poe laughs. “Yeah, your life is gonna be downright boring now, huh? Stuck here with little old me.” BB-8 rolls back, scandalized, before bumping Poe’s leg, shrill with denial. “Alright. Alright! I gotcha, pal, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
Rey’s nose crinkles in amusement. “BB-8 must’ve really missed you. I’ve never seen a droid so angry as when Finn showed up in your jacket.”
“Is that right, bud? You lose your cool a little bit?” Poe gives BB-8 an affectionate nudge with his knee, then asks Rey, casually, “Have you, uh, gone to see Finn?”
“A few times. He’s been unconscious, but it’s nice to sit with him anyway. Have you?”
“No. No, I…you know, I’m not great at the whole…” He rubs at the back of his neck. “…convalescing thing. I’m a worrier. I’d just sit there, wring my hands. Get in the way.”
Rey raises an eyebrow. “You could talk to him, you know.”
“Wouldn’t be much of a conversation.”
“Talking’s not always for other people. Sometimes it helps to worry out loud.”
Poe wonders how much she learned in her quiet life, talking to herself out there in the desert. “Yeah. I guess I could…try that, maybe.”
She nods, slings her staff over her shoulder and turns to go.
“Hey, wait a second.” Poe reaches out to grab her arm, then thinks better of it, pulls back and skims her shoulder with his fingers. Her recoil is almost imperceptible, but she spins around, taut and alert. “Word around base is you’re kind of a genius with anything that flies. You wanna give Black One a look? See if there’s anything I missed?”
Rey looks at Poe like she’s seeing through him, into him, scrutinizing his gesture of friendship for fault lines of insincerity. Then, she tilts her head, childlike, a hint of longing in her eyes as she takes in the fighter. “I’d love to, but I can’t. I’ve got to get ready. I’m leaving in the morning.”
“Leaving?” Poe can’t mask his disappointment; he thought for certain she’d stay with the Resistance. They could use someone with her skill and tenacity in the cockpit of an X-wing, especially now, after everything they’d lost. (Everyone, a voice in his head reminds him, though he won’t so much as look at the empty spaces in the hangar. He wants to see the names. He wants them in writing, to speak each aloud, honor them with something more substantial than an absence.) “Already?”
“We found a map, didn’t we? Someone’s got to follow it.”
And Poe knows why it’s her, of course, the pieces of a puzzle he didn’t know he was solving snapping into place. He quells the sudden urge to blurt out, What’s it like? What is the Force like, when it’s not burning through my mind, sifting through my ashes? How does it feel, to be so in control? “Pava will be crushed,” he says instead. “She kinda worships Skywalker, always imagined she might be the one to bring him back. You will bring him back, won’t you?”
“I’ll bring him back,” Rey says, sure of herself in a fierce way Poe admires.
“Then the offer stands.” Poe nods to the X-wing. “I’ll even let you take her for a spin, see if you’re as good as BB-8 says.”
“I’d like that.”
Poe starts to extend a hand, then changes his mind, opens his arms for an embrace; she moves into it willingly, though her hands hover, briefly uncertain, over his back. “Thank you,” he says, “for protecting my droid. Out of everyone in the galaxy, I’m glad BB-8 found you.”
“You’ll look after Finn, won’t you?” Her arms tighten around him. There’s a tremor of unease in her voice that makes Poe think, if he said no, she might give it all up, abandon the map and Skywalker and the call of the Force and stay, just to see Finn through.
“I’ll do everything I possibly can,” he promises as he pulls back.
“You say that like it’s not enough.”
“Sometimes it isn’t.”
“But it’s all you can do.” Her smile is small, but warm. “Take care of yourself, Poe.”
(Rey says his name tentatively, testing an unfamiliar word in a foreign tongue, careful not to stutter or offend. She says his name like a hand reaching for a stranger’s: wary, and daring.)
As she leaves, BB-8 hums, mournful.
“Yeah, pal,” Poe says. “So will I.”
In the morning, the Resistance gathers to see Rey off, cheering her departure as the Millennium Falcon disappears into the sunrise. Poe watches the horizon long after the crowd starts to disperse, hands clasped behind his back and the wind tousling his hair. So rarely do they feel they’re fighting a winning war—or, as his parents’ generation of rebels feared, fighting a war without end—but something about Rey has left the base buzzing, energized with expectation. Poe closes his eyes and breathes it in, sunlight and promise, plans to savor the swell of optimism for however long it lasts.
He spends the rest of the day drifting around the hangar bay, offering assistance to anyone who even glances in his direction. “Force, Dameron,” Iolo finally says, chucking a rag at his head. “You’re antsy as hell and driving us nuts. Go hover anywhere else for a few hours, will ya?”
Snap steers him to the mess hall, encourages him to eat. Jess nudges him towards his quarters, urges him to sleep. He makes a valiant attempt at both, forces down half a meal and then climbs into bed, stares at the ceiling until the early hours of the morning, when BB-8 comes in to check on him, poking its head through the door with a soft, questioning whistle.
Poe rubs his face in the pillow. “Yeah, I’m still up.”
BB-8 rolls closer, its beeping more insistent.
“Because Finn’s asleep, bud. Like I should be. Nobody needs me bothering them right now.”
The droid makes a sound strangely reminiscent of a sigh.
Poe laughs. “Don’t worry about me, okay? I’m doing just fine.”
He watches the wall for a few more hours, his mind buzzing with static, then gets up with the sun, tosses on a jacket and wanders outside, down to the end of the tarmac, buries his hands in his pockets against the chill. He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, imagines engines whining to life, the ground rumbling beneath him, a blast of heat on his face, a burning in his nostrils. He is slipping into the close cradle of a cockpit, a squadron of voices in his ear, the shiver of urgency intensifying as he takes the controls, begins the slow ascent against the tug of the atmosphere, and then, liftoff. The tension melts from Poe’s shoulders; he is going back to the stars.
Someone touches Poe’s arm, and he jumps out of his reverie, turns and snaps to attention, suddenly all too aware of his unshaven face, his unwashed hair. “General.”
Leia waves a hand, a familiar dismissal. “Daydreaming, Commander?”
“‘Stargazing’ might be more accurate.”
“It’s morning, Dameron. I don’t know if you’d noticed.”
“Well, the stars are all up here.” Poe taps his temple.
“You know, sometimes I wonder about you pilots, if you’re not all a little touched.”
“Honestly, ma’am, it’s a fair assessment.”
Leia shakes her head. “If you’re about done stargazing, I’d like a word.”
Poe follows her to a small, quiet room inside the base, just off the command center.
“Have a seat.” She motions to a table in the center of the room, and they sit across from each other. “We’re going to do away with the formalities for now, if that’s alright with you.”
“And I’m guessing there’s no chance of you calling me Leia, is there?”
“That’s what I figured. Not sure why I ask anymore.” Leia folds her hands on the table. “How are you feeling?”
Poe lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug. “A little tired, but I can’t complain. No headache today. You’ll be happy to hear I’ve been taking it easy.”
“Now, you see, that makes me feel like I should worry.” She pulls out a datapad and pushes it over to him. “Lieutenant Pava told me you were asking about the casualty report.”
Poe sits up straighter. “Yes, I was.” He takes a steadying breath—he thought he’d get to do this in private—and reaches for the pad. “I need to notify the families.”
“Right this second?”
He pulls his hand back, fingers fidgeting in his lap.
“Before you read this,” Leia says, “can I ask you something?”
“You have every right to the report. But I’d like to know who, exactly, you think you’re fooling.”
Poe frowns. “Ma’am?”
“You and I both know you’re familiar with everyone on this base. You make it a point, don’t you, to get to know every pilot under your command?”
“You know their families, their birthdays. Favorite songs. What they like to eat before a big mission. You make friends with their droids.”
“You know who made it home, Poe. And who didn’t.”
(She says his name, not quite maternal, but. Almost.)
Poe clenches his jaw. “I do.”
“So what do you think you’ll find in that report that you don’t already know?”
He braces his hands on the table, on either side of the datapad. “My father liked to tell war stories,” he says after a pause, making sure to look Leia in the eye. “My mother was pretty tight-lipped about her service, but my father could talk for hours about the Pathfinders. And he was a great storyteller.”
“Sounds like someone I know.”
Poe flashes a flattered smile before continuing. “I used to lie on the floor with him, just riveted by the sound of his voice, the way he would describe the battles. Because it was never about the maneuvers or the weaponry or anything like that, not really. It was about the people. Dad remembered everyone he ever fought with—not just this soldier or that pilot, but their names. Their stories. And he made sure I remembered them, too. Tuck Tethos saving his ass on Endor. Sakas and the Wretch of Tayron. He was never interested in glory or fame, anyone’s kill totals or their egos. He was interested in what each person meant to the Alliance. And to him.”
Leia hums. “And you want to make sure you’re telling the right stories.”
“It’s not just about the stories, though,” Poe says. “The pilots that died at Starkiller were my pilots, under my command. My responsibility. And they knew what they signed up for, I won’t dishonor them by saying they didn’t. Their choices were their own. But they meant something to the Resistance, and they meant something to me. Asty, and Idele, and Ziff, and…” He sits back, his throat tightening. “I owe it to all of them, to remember their names.”
“Poe.” Leia taps the datapad with her finger. “I want you to look at this.”
Poe swallows, his eyes stinging, and takes the pad, reads the first name on the list.
His mind scrambles for an explanation. “What—”
Poe reads the next few names. Gial Ackbar. Caluan Ematt. Scans the list until he reaches his own. Poe Dameron. Jessika Pava. Temmin Wexley. “This isn’t the casualty report.”
“It’s not. It’s a list of every active Resistance member.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There’s going to be a funeral,” Leia says. “We’re going to honor the dead. We’re going to speak their names, tell their stories, remember them—though I don’t believe for a second you’re capable of forgetting. But I want you to remember these names, too.” She places her palm over the datapad, solemn and deliberate. “Poe, no one gave their lives for a memory. They gave their lives so that these names could continue their work. You, and me, and the rest of the Resistance, everything we’ve been fighting for. Everything your parents fought for. That’s how we remember those we lost. We keep going.”
“General, I…” Poe rests his hand atop hers. “Leia. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Leia closes her eyes, her face folding in a contained pinch of grief. “So that’s what it takes,” she says, her voice thick, “for you to call me by my name. You’re as stubborn as they come, Dameron, you know that?”
Poe squeezes her hand. “I’ve been told once or twice.”
She leans back and bows her head, her shoulders slumping under an invisible weight. “Han didn’t die for a memory either, as much as it may seem like he did. We were trying to live a memory, the two of us. Trying to…go back, be two people who didn’t exist anymore. But Han died trying to go forward. He tried to bring our son home, and I…have to keep trying. That’s what I owe Han.” She smiles wryly to herself. “Maybe that’s how we all ended up here in the first place. Because of what we owe. Who we owe it to.”
Poe glances back down at the datapad. “Maybe it is,” he says, scrolling through the rest of the names, reading each one silently until he reaches the end of the document. The last name on the list. “Finn.”
“Finn,” Leia says. “Our newest member. And perhaps our most eager. I’ve never had someone fresh out of a coma so willing to enlist.”
“He’s awake?” Poe grips the armrest to keep from sprinting out the door, down the hall to the med center. “How long has he been awake? No one told me. I asked them to tell me when—”
“Easy, Dameron. Why do you think I asked you here? Kalonia assured me you’d want to be the first to know.”
“Is he alright? Can I see him?”
“He’s fine. Healing well. They need to run a few tests, which gives you and me a chance to talk.”
“About Finn. What you think of him.”
And Poe sits there in silence, agape, because what can he possibly say about Finn that will sound at all coherent to Leia?
I’ve only spent a few hours with him, and I think he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met?
I owe him my life, and I want to make sure his is the best it can be from here on out?
Whenever he says my name, I can feel it in my chest, burrowing through me and out the other side, leaving a hole I don’t know how to close?
I think I almost kissed him?
He snaps his mouth shut, his ears burning.
“Let’s narrow this down,” Leia says, sly, her lips twitching. “How do you feel about Finn’s abilities? Do you think he’ll be an asset to the Resistance?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Poe says, coming back to himself. “Without a doubt. Finn is…incredible.” He winces. Reel it in, Dameron, come on. “Look, when we took control of that TIE fighter, I gave him three, maybe four instructions, and he picked it up like that.” Poe snaps his fingers. “He’s a hell of a shot with a laser cannon, and a blaster, too, I’m sure.”
“He’s a fast learner, then. That’s good.”
“And he never once hesitated. Threw himself all in, escape or die.”
“Ah, a reckless streak. No wonder you got along so well.”
Poe feels lighter than he has in days, his mouth running on autopilot. “Think about it. To defy the First Order outright, turn your back on everything you know, on a…a lifetime of conditioning.” He whistles. “That’s a hell of a thing, General. We’re lucky to have him.”
“I agree, one-hundred percent. Which is why I want to make sure we’re not wasting his potential. He’s strong, capable, and I don’t want to stick him in communications when he should be on the ground with a blaster, or,” she gives Poe an indulgent look, “up in the sky.”
Oh. Poe hadn’t considered that. “You think he should be a pilot?”
“I think we need pilots. And I think he has the temperament.”
“Not to argue, ma’am, but this might be the first time he’s ever set eyes on an X-wing.”
“You can teach someone to fly, Poe. Instinct's another matter entirely. We've made pilots out of less. If Finn’s as quick a study as you say, it can’t hurt to put him in a training sim, see what he can do.”
Poe imagines it: bright, brilliant Finn swooping through the sky, whooping and hollering in the cockpit, his enthusiasm and encouragement Poe’s constant companion. He fights back a grin, an attempt to appear even marginally impartial. “Like you said, it can’t hurt.”
“It’s all up to Finn, of course. But I presume you’d want to supervise his training.”
“Yes, ma’am, I…yes, I would.”
“I don’t want to waste your time either, Commander. So I need to know, in all honesty: do you think he could do it?”
“General,” Poe says, “I think he could do just about anything.”
Leia looks him over, her eyes knowing. “Funny. He said the same thing about you.”
Poe’s hands tighten around the armrest. “He did?”
“In so many words. I spent a few minutes with him when he woke up, wanted to explain what had happened, and thank him again, for all he did for the Resistance. Protecting BB-8. Disabling the shields, finding Rey. Getting you off that destroyer. And he was groggy, but he had a thing or two to say about the fearless Poe Dameron, running on nothing but fumes and bluster, climbing into an unfamiliar ship with a stormtrooper and saving both their lives, no questions asked.”
“General, I was light-years from fearless,” Poe insists. “I’d given in long before he showed up in my cell. Hell, I thought I was dreaming when he did. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time, but everything else was him. He’s the one who saved us.”
“That’s a lot of modesty coming from the man I met defying Republic orders, risking his neck for the Yissira Zyde.”
Poe shifts in his seat. “A lot’s happened since then. I know now not everything turns out the way I want it to, just because I want it to.” His smile borders on bitter. “It’s easy to think you have all the answers until you’re strapped to a chair, giving them all away.”
“Poe.” (Leia says his name, not quite maternal, but almost. Enough. He made it back here, to her.) “You can’t do the impossible. No one expects you to. There are things—people—out there more powerful than you are. That’s not a failing on your part.”
“I know. I guess it’s just…a long way to fall, when you’ve got your head in the clouds.”
“That’s exactly where I want your head. You’re no good to me on the ground. I need you looking up, doing what no one thinks you can but you. So you couldn’t escape the First Order on your own. But you didn’t have to trust Finn. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t have. You did, you took a risk, and then you offered him something. A new name. A new start.”
Poe blushes in earnest, heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. “He told you about that.”
“Couldn’t shut up about it, actually.”
“I wasn't going to call him by a serial number, not after he…I didn’t mean…I didn’t really think he’d…he doesn’t have to, if he doesn’t want—”
“Dameron. I wasn’t criticizing you. In fact, I think you gave him a pretty special gift.”
“All I wanted was for him to know I was on his side. And how grateful I was.”
“Then maybe,” she nudges the datapad closer, “you should tell him, instead of me.”
Poe takes the pad, brushes his thumb over Finn’s name on the screen. “Yes, ma’am. Maybe I should.”
“It’s about time, Commander,” Kalonia says when Poe shows up at the med center, datapad tucked under his arm. “I nearly sent out a search party when you weren’t here thirty seconds after he opened his eyes.”
“I’m a busy man, Major,” Poe says, playing along, though he’s anxious to get to Finn. “The way you talk, you’d think I spent all my time getting in your hair.”
“On the contrary. I think everyone on base has visited but you.”
The knot of guilt in Poe’s gut tightens. “I was only being considerate,” he says, not quite recapturing the easy rhythm of their banter. “Didn’t want to monopolize anyone’s time with our new superstar. And I figured you’d want me out of your way.”
“How about next time, you let me tell you when you’re in my way, and save us all three days of your moping?”
“Oh, uh…” Poe laughs softly, raising his hands in surrender. “Alright then. Point taken.”
Kalonia nods to the door. “Now get in there. He’s asking for you.”
Poe drops all pretenses of composure and strides past her into the recovery room, where Finn is sitting up against a pillow, fiddling with the blanket tucked around his legs and watching the door. Waiting for him.
“Poe Dameron.” Finn’s voice hitches with relief, the tension bleeding from his body. “You’re here. You’re alive. Poe.”
(Finn says his name, and Poe’s never heard anything like it.)
Poe’s heart nearly breaks at the way Finn reaches for him, entirely unselfconscious, his eyes welling with tears as his whole body tilts forward. Poe rushes into the room, hooks a chair with his foot and drags it to the bedside and takes Finn’s hand between his own, rubbing, soothing. “Yeah, buddy, I’m right here. I’m alive. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
“They did, but I didn’t know.” Finn stares at Poe’s hands like they’re a mirage, an oasis in an endless Jakku desert. “The last thing I remember was Kylo Ren and Rey, my back on fire, and when I woke up I didn’t know if she, or you…even though they told me, I didn’t know—”
“Hey, hey, shh.” Poe keeps his smile light, tries to calm Finn by calming himself. “You can trust what they tell you, alright? I promise. I’m fine. Rey’s fine.”
“She’s gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
“She’ll be back, Finn. We’ll see her again, I know we will. Everything’s gonna be okay.”
“Okay. Okay.” Finn nods over and over again. “Okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
“We’re all on your side. You had a lot of people worried about you.”
“Yeah? Was I…was it bad?”
Poe averts his eyes, another wave of shame crashing over him. I don’t know. I wasn’t here. I wouldn’t come near you. I couldn’t help you. I couldn’t just sit here and not help you.
Finn laughs nervously. “Wow. That bad, huh?”
“No, no, it wasn’t. Really it wasn’t. Everyone was optimistic from the get-go. Don’t mind me, I’m just…” An idiot. A total mess. A coward. Crazy about you. “…a little shaken up. It’s been a long couple of days.” He looks up into Finn’s eyes and suddenly feels compelled to candor, wants to offer Finn a vulnerable sliver of himself, just to see what Finn might do with it. “Sometimes it’s like I’m watching everything unravel, you know? And then I look down and realize I’m the one holding the end of the thread.”
“What? Are you crazy? You?” Finn gapes at him, incredulous, but with a building luster, a luminous part of him clearly yearning to exude assurances; Poe soaks it up like a nebula orchid after a rainy season. “Starkiller Base is gone, Poe. You did that.”
“We all did that. Han and Chewie set the explosives. You lowered the shields.”
“You got us off the Finalizer.”
“You got us off the Finalizer.”
“I got us to a ship. But I wouldn’t have gotten far without a pilot.”
“And I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without a gunner.”
They trade glowers, obstinate, neither willing to back down, until suddenly Finn cracks a smile, dissolving into giggles, and Poe follows soon after, their foreheads nearly knocking as they double over with laughter.
“Alright, alright,” Poe says when they calm down, patting Finn’s knee and wiping his eyes. “Enough of that. You wanna see something cool?” He grabs the datapad, fires it up and sets it in Finn’s lap. “Check this out.”
“What is it?”
“The official Resistance roster. And see there? Last name on the list.”
Finn picks up the pad, blinks at it. “Finn,” he whispers, almost reverent. “That’s my name.”
“That’s your name,” Poe says. “That is, if you still want it. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t. If you want a different name. It’s your call, pal."
Finn’s brow furrows. “Why would I want a different name?”
“Well, if you wanted to choose it yourself. Something more meaningful. You shouldn’t be stuck with something just ‘cause I liked the way it sounded.”
Finn slides his fingers over Poe’s, starts drumming them distractedly, lost in thought; Poe’s breath catches, his stomach fluttering. “What’s meaningful about your name?”
“I don’t know. A lot of things. The way people say it. People I love. What they mean when they do.”
Finn smirks. “So, the way it sounds.”
Poe rolls his eyes. “Well, when you put it like that.”
“And that’s why you chose it?”
“Oh, I didn’t choose it. My parents did.”
“So they liked the way it sounded.”
Poe smiles, sheepish. “It wasn’t a family name or anything like that. So yeah, I guess they did.”
“Hah! See? It’s exactly the same…or, wait, no. No, no, no. I didn’t mean it like…I don’t think of you like a parent, no…” Finn shakes his head, frantic with embarrassment. “Oh, Force no, nothing like a parent. I don’t…nope, not at all, I didn’t mean it that way at all.”
Poe laughs. It’s certainly not the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to him, but his heart swells, a hopeful, happy warmth blossoming in his chest. “It’s fine. I know what you meant. But, just for the record, I’m glad you don’t think of me like that. Really kriffing glad.” And, in a move as daring as Poe has ever pulled, in flight or otherwise, he lifts Finn’s hand and presses it to his lips.
Finn looks gobsmacked, teetering on a precipice of uncertainty and longing, seemingly caught between bolting and begging Poe to do it again. Poe almost does. He almost leans in, cups Finn’s face in his hands and kisses him stupid, like he’d wanted to after Takodana.
But it’s that glinting, half-concealed shard of trepidation that gives Poe pause. He doesn’t want to screw this up. He doesn’t want to spook Finn, rip a friendship so new and novel out from under him, as effortlessly as it’s been offered. The problem is Poe only knows how to show, not tell. He can’t explain how deeply Finn has rattled him. Of the many things Poe’s good at, he’s never had a talent for articulating feelings with any sort of precision. He knows his reputation as a fast-talker, a rousing orator, but he prattles when nervous, spills over with words—heartfelt, maybe, but borderline inarticulate. He communicates sincerity best through a hand to the back, a slap on the shoulder, a smile, an embrace. A kiss. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, speaks body language more fluently than any other he’s learned.
Finn, though. Finn is overflowing with words—for Poe, for himself, for the First Order and Rey and the General and the galaxy—words of confession (I need a pilot) and elation (did you see that! did you see that!) and exasperation (back to Jakku?) and assurance (I can disable the shields) and all of them meaningful, all of them necessary, all of them spoken in a breathless rush as if, at any moment, he might be silenced. And Poe has never once doubted Finn’s conviction, his devotion, never misplaced his meaning for the swell of his words. Poe wonders if he could learn that. Wonders if he could learn Finn, like a language.
“A long time from now,” Poe says, lifting Finn’s hand and propping his chin on their entwined fingers, “when they’re telling heroic tales of the rebel ex-stormtrooper and his dashing pilot sidekick in a far off galaxy, what name do you hear them saying?”
“No one’s gonna tell stories about me,” Finn says, still slightly dazed.
“They already are, pal.”
Finn swallows, his features setting into a mask of resolve. “Finn. I want them to call me Finn.”
“Alright, then. Finn it is.” Poe sweeps his thumb up the side of Finn’s hand, his smile tender. So he’s not going to kiss Finn, not yet. He’s not going to rush this. But Force be damned if he’s not going to flirt. “Good choice. It suits you.”
“And it is meaningful. So what if I didn’t choose it? You did, and you’re…” Finn ducks his head, endearingly bashful. “Besides, I wouldn’t have known what to choose. Now I don’t have to worry about it. I can worry about…starting over.” He laughs. “No pressure, right?”
“No pressure. Honestly. You can do whatever you want. You can be a spy, or a dispatcher, work with the ground forces, or here in the med center. The General thinks you might even make a good pilot.”
“Me? A pilot?” Finn scoffs, but Poe notes the spark of interest in his eye. “Rey’s a pilot. You’re a pilot. I’m not.”
Poe shrugs. “Why not?”
“Why not? Because I’ve never flown anything, for starters.”
“You’d never shot a laser cannon, either. Never held a lightsaber. We’re not just gonna toss you in an X-wing and turn you loose. I’ll be there to help you.”
“But what if I can’t?”
“Then you’ll do something else. That simple. There’s a place for you, Finn. We’ll find it.”
“But what if there’s not?” Finn extracts his hand and wraps his fingers, vice-like, around Poe’s wrist. “One of the first things you learn as a stormtrooper is that you’re expendable. Your life belongs to the First Order. Your death belongs to the First Order. And if you question any of it, there’s always someone ready to replace you. They make you feel like you’re a part of something, but never that you’re…enough.” He tugs at Poe’s wrist. “So what if I’m not enough?”
“Buddy. Listen to me.” Poe turns his hand, grips Finn’s wrist in answer. “You’re part of the Resistance now. You’re part of something big, and you’re a big part of it. You’re enough. Just by being here. Just by making it here, away from them. You’re enough.” He strokes up and down Finn’s arm. “And at the very least, we know you’re a natural with a laser cannon, huh?”
The corner of Finn’s mouth twitches. “Yeah, but I don’t see any TIE fighters around here.” His eyes light up. “Unless we steal another one.”
“Hey, now I like the way you’re thinking. You and me, the Resistance's only TIE fighter team, striking fear into the hearts of the Order with their own stolen ship.”
“Oh hell yes. When can we do that?”
Poe tosses his head back and laughs, and out of the corner of his eye, catches Finn staring at the long line of his neck. He lowers his gaze, licks his lips, watches Finn watch him. This is going to be agonizing, he realizes. And, this is going to be so much fun. “One step at a time. How about we work on getting you out of this bed first?”
Finn groans, his head falling back against the pillow. “I hate being an invalid.”
“Join the club. We’re all just here to get on Kalonia’s nerves.” He leans back and raises his voice. “Isn’t that right, Major?”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, Commander,” Kalonia sings from the next room.
“Yeah, you just rest up,” Poe says to Finn. “We’ll get you out of here in no time, get you settled in your own quarters.” He picks up Finn’s hand, sneaks another kiss to his knuckles. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”
“Home.” Finn muses on that for a moment. “We never really had a home with the Order. Attachments weren’t…encouraged, not to people and definitely not to things. We had quarters wherever we served, but they were only places we slept. Home was where we were taken from as children, not something we’d ever think to have, or…want.” He looks at Poe, nakedly wanting. “But the Resistance. It’s your home?”
Poe considers this. He thinks of Yavin 4, the Massassi trees and the A-wing, his mother’s buoyant love and his father’s weighty esteem; he thinks of the stars, the infinite galaxies that called to him in his childhood dreams, that still call to him, ever impatient and restless for his return; he thinks of Snap and Jess and their rough affection, BB-8’s unconditional companionship, Leia’s abiding faith, and how, even when the stars beckon and bolster him, coax him out into the black, he will always, always find his way back to them. He thinks of Black One, and the war, and the things he fights to protect: the ideals of the Republic, and his hope for Rey, and his parents’ legacy, and the great tree in his front yard, radiant with a power he’ll never know, but would die for anyway.
He thinks of the stories he tells, and the names he remembers. He thinks of his own name, spoken in a thousand voices; his own story, where he is a part of all this. Where he is enough. Just by making it here, he is enough.
He thinks of the way Finn said his name on the tarmac.
(Finn says his name like coming home.)
“Yeah, Finn,” Poe says. “This is my home.”