“Please,” I said. I was well beyond the point of preserving my pride. If I had to beg, I would. “Let me fly for the Resistance.”
General Leia Organa gave a heavy, tired sigh.
“I wish I could. But you’ve been through the training simulations at least a dozen times by now.”
And you’ve failed every single one of them.
She didn’t have to say it. The look in her eyes was enough.
“One more chance,” I pleaded. “Just once. I can do it now. I’m sure of it.”
General Organa bowed her head, considering. I knew she had plenty of other more important things she could be doing than talking to me and the guilt only ratcheted up in my chest at that thought.
But flying was why I had joined the Resistance. Flying was what I’d craved for so long.
“C-3PO,” General Organa said. She raised her head to glance at the droid waiting beside the door of her office. “Would you send in Lieutenant Kun please?”
C-3PO nodded and shuffled out of the room. I did my best to sit still and not fidget at the thought of facing Lieutenant Karé Kun again.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” General Organa said.
I bit back a laugh. Of course there was every reason to be nervous. Karé had been my flight instructor and I had taxed her patience to the limit on more than one occasion. Not on purpose. I was simply slower than the rest of the class and couldn’t get that flying knack like everyone else apparently could, no matter how much I wanted it.
I didn’t imagine Karé would be thrilled to see me.
“May I ask,” General Organa said, folding her hands atop her desk. “Why you are so insistent on flying? There are plenty of other ways for you to contribute to the Resistance’s efforts.”
I glanced down at the toes of my boots. How could I explain that all I’d ever dreamed about was freedom among the stars? How could I define that inexplicable feeling I got in my gut when I looked up at the sky and saw ships buzzing by, hoping one day that would be me?
“With all due respect, General,” I said. “I’ve applied for other positions but—”
I broke off, biting the inside of my cheek.
But the only thing I’m good for is cleaning ‘freshers and mopping floors.
“But the position of pilot is the one that’s most satisfying, is it?” General Organa finished for me.
I raised my head to meet her eye. “Yes,” I said quietly. “I want to be out there, in the middle of it, doing everything I can to help.”
“Having both feet firmly planted on the ground has its perks, you know.” The corner of General Organa’s mouth tipped up in a small smile and I allowed a small smile in return out of sheer relief.
The door slid open to admit C-3PO and Karé. She glanced at me but her expression remained unreadable. She stopped in front of General Organa’s desk, arms crossed, one hip cocked at an angle that conveyed enough annoyance to bring the temperature of the room up a notch. I tugged at the collar of my shirt and tried not to squirm away from her.
“You wanted to see me, General?” she said.
“Yes.” General Organa gestured to me. “How would you feel about giving a prospective recruit one more chance?”
Karé shot another glance at me, sharper this time, obviously displeased.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
I opened my mouth to protest but General Organa held up her hand for silence.
“Would you care to explain why?” she said to Karé. “We could always use extra back up in the air.”
From where I stood beside Karé, I could see the muscle in her jaw twitching, working overtime to maintain her composure.
“Permission to speak candidly, General?” she said.
General Organa dipped her head. “Permission granted.”
Karé leaned closer, braced her hands on the general’s desk. “I gave her more chances than anyone. We’re spread thin enough as it is without wasting precious resources on one person who couldn’t grasp the concepts in training, let alone under pressure of the skies.”
The words slammed into me with all the force of a kick to my solar plexus. I pressed my lips shut and swallowed hard. It was the truth but it still hurt.
General Organa cast a sympathetic look in my direction but I couldn’t meet her eye this time.
“Thank you for your honesty, Lieutenant Kun,” she said.
I closed my eyes, tears threatening to spill over.
“I realize we are struggling to make ends meet these days,” General Organa continued. “But the Resistance needs people with the hope and the willingness to pursue their dreams, even when resources are scarce and failure has crossed their path more than a few times.”
My eyes flew open. Was the general really arguing in my favor?
Karé didn’t look pleased.
“General,” she said. “I understand that. But in my opinion…”
Karé angled her head towards me without really looking at me.
“If you put her through training,” she continued. “I would recommend that you pair her with someone else. She didn’t listen to a word I said. And if by some miracle she made it to rookie pilot and you put her in the air, I’d rather have a TIE on my ass than have her on my squadron.”
I swayed where I stood. It wasn’t as if I meant to ignore Karé during training. The simulations were complicated and so fast, firing off brand new situations and split-second decisions that I tuned her out and I couldn’t hear her in the heat of the moment. It wasn’t anything personal. But it seemed she had taken it personally anyway.
“Fair enough,” General Organa replied.
She turned to me and I could already see the rejection building in her eyes, the apology that would follow to soften the blow.
“You’re dismissed, Lieutenant Kun,” she said.
After Karé had left the room, silence descended, stiff and awkward.
“I think you know what I have to tell you,” General Organa said.
I nodded, my gaze focused on a corner of her desk, ready to cry at any minute. I needed to get out, get away.
“Yes,” I whispered. “Sorry to have bothered you with this, General.”
I turned towards the door but General Organa spoke.
“Wait,” she said.
I stopped, bottom lip clamped between my teeth.
“I’m not saying this is a final decision,” General Organa said. “Right now, we can’t afford to spend the time and resources on your training. But if you’re willing to hold onto that dream, shelter it, keep it alive for a while longer, once we’re more firmly on our feet then I’d like to revisit this question again.”
When would that be? I wanted to ask. A few months from now? A year? And after all that time had passed, what if General Organa changed her mind and refused the training she had promised?
I said nothing. I had crashed twelve flight simulator tests. Twelve. My training mates had passed on the first try. There were a few who needed two or three passes. But they all made it. And then new recruits came in after them and they passed me as well. I was left behind. Floundering.
My dream of becoming a pilot had died long ago.
General Organa must have sensed my distress and my unwillingness to respond.
“You’re free to go,” she said softly.
I rushed from the room and along the hallway, my head bowed so no one would see the tears sliding down my cheeks. I ducked around the corner, found no one in sight and pressed my back to the wall. I sank to the ground, my knees drawn up to my chest, and sobbed.
I’d rather have a TIE on my ass than have her on my squadron.
What more could I have done? I wondered for the thousandth time since my last failed simulation. I studied just as hard—if not harder—than anyone else in my class. I hadn’t been flying as long as some of my classmates because I didn’t have access to a ship of my own, didn’t have the money to get an Academy education. Had I been doomed to fail all along?
A hand settled on my shoulder lightly. I startled. My head snapped up and I forgot to breathe.
Poe Dameron was kneeling right beside me.
I’d seen him on base, soaked up every story I could about the risks and narrow escapes he had with the First Order. But I had never spoken to him and I knew the chances were that I never would.
He was the best pilot in the Resistance.
I scrubbed ‘freshers.
Why would he ever have a reason to speak to me?
Suddenly realizing what a mess I must look like, I dashed my hands across my cheeks, wiping away my tears.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I’m—I’m fine. Just…one of those days.”
Poe studied me for a moment and I shrank in on myself, wishing the floor would swallow me whole.
“Did someone hurt you?” he said.
“What? No, stars, that’s not—no.”
“Bad news from home then?”
I shook my head. “No. Really, it’s nothing.”
Poe frowned in concern. “No offense, but people don’t generally cry over nothing.”
I stifled a groan. Of all the ways I had dreamed of running into Commander Poe Dameron and getting a chance to say hello, this was not on my list of fantasies. This was on my list of nightmares. And it was coming true.
Poe tilted his head slightly with a squint. “Weren’t you in one of Karé’s training classes?”
Kriffing Force, the nightmare just got ten times worse. The last thing I needed was the best pilot in the Resistance finding out that I couldn’t even pass my flight test.
I stood quickly. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
“I didn’t mean—” Poe scrambled to his feet. “I just thought you looked familiar. That’s all.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I spun around to see Karé coming down the hall towards Poe and I. And she looked pissed as hell.
“First, you take up the general’s time,” she said. “Now you take up Dameron’s time, too?”
“I wasn’t—” I started.
“Hey, Karé, hold on a minute,” Poe said, putting his hand out in a calming gesture. “She seemed upset. I just wanted to make sure she was okay.”
Karé pressed her lips into a thin, disapproving line.
“I told you about her, Dameron,” she said in warning.
I grimaced and turned away, my face burning with shame. Before I could make a run for it, Poe cupped my elbow and I went still.
“You’re the one who wouldn’t give up?” he said.
Slowly, my gaze tracked up to his face. So many times, I’d heard my classmates refer to my failures, even if they meant well, encouraging me to keep going, keep trying. But there was always an undertone to their words, mostly concealed, the same tone Karé didn’t bother to hide.
Why can’t you get this? Why can’t you figure this out instead of lagging behind all the time? Why do you have to be so thick-headed?
But I couldn’t detect that same tone in Poe’s voice. Instead, I could have sworn I heard…admiration.
I shook my head. Probably just star struck at meeting a legendary pilot in the flesh, up close and personal. There was no way someone like Poe would ever have a reason to admire someone like me.
“All I’ve ever dreamed of is flying for the Resistance,” I whispered. “There’s nothing else. Nothing I could imagine myself doing.”
Certainly not cleaning ‘freshers.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” I added.
Poe huffed a laugh. “Yes, it is.” He paused and the concern returned to his face, fading his smile. “But Karé told me you were dismissed from the class.”
I glanced down at my hands.
“Because she was,” Karé put in. “She was pestering General Organa for another crack at it.”
“I take it that didn’t go over well,” Poe said.
I knew he was directing his comment to me but I kept my gaze trained on my hands, my thumb scrubbing at my palm.
“I’ll teach you,” he said.
Karé choked. My heart surged into my throat.
“What?” I breathed, staring at him. “You—but you’re busy. You’re busier than practically anyone on this base.”
He shrugged. “Not always. Training might have to take place in the middle of the night sometimes but if you’re up for it, if you’re really serious about it, we’ll make it work.”
Karé was still gaping. Now, it seemed, she finally recovered her voice.
“Dameron, you can’t be serious.”
“Why not?” he demanded. “She wants to fly. And it seems like she wants it badly enough that she’ll have a go at that damned simulation ten times more than everybody else. We could use pilots with that kind of determination.”
Poe slung an arm around Karé’s shoulders. “Think of it this way. In a few months, when I put her through the simulation again, if she crashes, you can rub my face in it.”
Karé’s eyes lit up with a wry gleam. “You know I will. I’ll never let you live it down.”
Poe grinned and kissed her cheek. “But she’s not going to crash. She’ll make it through.”
He turned to face me. I was practically vibrating where I stood, shaking with excitement, relief, the sheer impossibility of this moment.
“Do you mean that?” I said so quietly only he could hear. “You’re really giving me a second chance?”
“Sure do,” he replied. “It won’t be easy though. Are you absolutely certain this is what you want?”
“Yes. More than anything. Yes.”
Poe offered his hand. I took it, a firm, solid handshake.
“Then you’d better get some shut eye while you can,” he said. “I’ll let Leia know you’re my private student and training will start first thing tomorrow morning at oh-four-hundred hours in the docking bay.”
I nodded and hurried off, both hands clamped over my mouth to muffle the squeal of excitement and giddiness that bubbled up my throat.
Just as I turned the corner, I overheard Karé’s flat tone.
“You’re out of your mind, Dameron,” she said. “You do realize you’re taking on one of the toughest cases I’ve ever seen?”
“Yep,” Poe replied without hesitation.
“Fine. Don’t come crying to me when you’re pulling your hair out.”
I didn’t sleep at all. By the time 4am rolled around, I was already dressed—too nervous to eat breakfast—and waiting in the docking bay. There weren’t many people awake at this hour but a few droids and pilots trundled through every once in a while.
Poe arrived on time, cup of caf in hand. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me seated on a supply crate.
“You look like you’ve been here a while,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late.” I hesitated then added, tentatively, “…sir.”
Poe choked on his caf and shook his head. “That’s not necessary. Don’t call me that.” He paused then added with a small smile, “Commander Dameron will do just fine.”
I nodded and tugged my sleeves down over my hands.
“Karé always preferred—”
Poe raised an eyebrow and the geniality I’d seen a moment before vanished. The words died in my throat. He wasn’t…angry. At least, he didn’t seem that way. But he wasn’t pleased either.
For all the friendly stories I’d heard about Poe on base, I didn’t know what he was like in person, and I certainly had no idea what he would be like as a teacher.
Poe set aside his caf and crossed his arms. “Let’s get one thing straight, right from the start. I’m not Karé. She has her way of handling things, I have mine. So everything you learned with her…” He swept a hand through the air, palm down. “Wipe it out of your mind. Start with a clean slate.”
I sagged where I stood. Everything I’d worked so hard to learn was for nothing?
“Yes, s—” I caught myself at the last minute. “Commander. Clean slate. Got it.”
Poe gestured to a tool box by the crate I was seated on. “Today, you’re making repairs.” Then he pointed to his own ship. “On my x-wing.”
My eyes widened a fraction of an inch but I kept my mouth shut. Hands-on training and maintenance didn’t happen until I passed my simulation. Even then, I wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near ships like this.
I was supposed to get an old junker that wasn’t affected if I trashed it. Not a sleek, expensive x-wing.
“Problem?” Poe said. “You’re looking a little green around the gills.”
Just hoping I don’t ruin your ship, I thought.
Instead, I said, “No problem at all. What’s the first order of business?”
Poe pried a side panel loose, revealing a tight passageway between the ship’s frame and the crowded tangle of wires, screens, and circuits that lined the opposite wall.
“The hyperspace unit is acting up a bit,” Poe said. “And since it’s such a touchy subject when I’m in the air, I’d rather not do a temporary fix. You’re going take it out and replace it.”
He settled on the supply crate where I’d been sitting a moment ago.
It was pitch black inside the ship so I fished a glowrod out of the toolbox and stood on tiptoe, reaching up into the interior. The tight corridor extended from the back of the ship all the way to the pilot’s seat. And it wasn’t going to be comfortable by any stretch of the imagination. There was no room to turn around and no room to sit up. I’d be crawling on my stomach.
As I turned back to the toolbox, it was only then that I realized…I had no idea what a hyperdrive unit looked like.
“Uhm,” I hedged.
Poe lifted his chin in acknowledgement, as if he’d been waiting for me to say something.
“What is it?” he said.
“I don’t—I don’t know what a hyperdrive is. Or how to replace it.”
“Then it’s a good thing we got an early start, isn’t it?”
Poe showed no inclination to move or to make any further comment beyond that. He sipped at his caf, eyebrows raised expectantly. He leaned back on one hand, stretched his legs out in front of him with a drawn out, heavy sigh.
“Commander,” I said, carefully. I couldn’t afford to offend Poe in any way. I needed him to be willing to work with me on this.
“It’s just…” I fiddled with the glowrod, unable to look in the eye. “I thought you were going to teach me.”
“But you’re not.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I’d made a mistake.
Poe’s expression didn’t change. His face remained a smooth mask of neutrality. My heart thundered in my chest so hard and so fast that it almost hurt.
“I’ll—never mind,” I mumbled. “I’ll figure it out.”
I clamped the glowrod between my teeth, clawed my fingers into the interior of the ship, and hauled myself up. I could only hope that a faulty hyperdrive was easy enough to spot and I could work my way through from there.
“One more thing,” Poe said.
I waited, arms trembling from the strain of sitting just inside the ship’s interior, toes balanced on the edge of the paneling. When Poe didn’t continue, I gritted my teeth to stifle a growl of frustration and dropped back to the ground.
“Yes, Commander?” I said as pleasantly as I could.
I’d wanted this. My pride could not get in the way.
Poe held up the ignition chip. “You might want to start her up. Won’t be able to tell if the hyperdrive is choking or not unless it’s running.”
Heat flushed up my cheeks. The way Poe said it sounded as if it was common knowledge. The feeling of stupidity climbed tenfold, gluing my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
“Oh,” was all I could manage to say.
I took the chip from Poe, climbed into the cockpit—bumping my head in the process—and fit the chip in its slot. The ship purred to life, a low, sweet sound. The temptation to run my hands over the controls was overwhelming. It would be so easy to slip into the pilot’s seat, to close my eyes and imagine myself among the stars. The chances that I would ever get to sit in an x-wing again, let alone the pilot’s seat, were slim at best.
That thought got my feet on the ground again. I had work to do. A lot of it.
Finding anything—let alone a hyperdrive unit—in that cramped, tight little space was nearly impossible.
After breakfast, the activity in the docking bay picked up until a constant hum resonated in the background. The smell of caf and lingering remnants of meals eaten on the go made my empty stomach churn with regret. Skipping breakfast had been a bad idea.
Ignoring my stomach’s protests, I continued to work…even though I didn’t know what I was looking for. As soon as the hyperdrive was taken care of though, I would treat myself. With grease on my hands and clothes, sore elbows from crawling through the ship for hours, I deserved a massive helping of dessert when this was over.
I thought about asking for help from someone—anyone—other than Poe. But I had the feeling this was a test like my simulation. Just me and the ship. No one else allowed.
“How’s it going?” Karé’s voice.
“Five hours in,” Poe replied.
It wasn’t like I intended to eavesdrop.
But Poe and Karé weren’t exactly being quiet. They had to be aware that I was only a few feet away, well within hearing range, and the ship’s walls could only muffle so much noise.
“This is slave labor, you know that, right?” Karé said.
“Not really,” Poe replied.
A flare of anger ignited in my chest. For five hours, Poe had watched me fumble around, utterly useless, poking and prodding at stars only knew what on his ship. He had refused to give me any information apart from the bare essentials and he wouldn’t provide any direction more than that. How was this not slave labor?
“Did you actually tell her what she needs to do?” Karé said. “Or do you expect the whole ship to be spit-polished until you can see your face shining in it?”
“Speaking from experience, Karé?”
Poe laughed. “She has to replace the hyperdrive. I was very straightforward about it.”
“Nerfherder,” I muttered under my breath. “Absolutely filthy, scruffy, foul-smelling nerfherder.”
“Dameron,” Karé said, chastising. “She couldn’t pass her flight simulation. Repeatedly. Now you’re making her do maintenance we hadn’t even covered in class.”
“Forget it. I won’t pretend to understand why you’re doing this. Are you hungry?”
Yes, I am, I thought. Thank you for asking.
“Is it really lunch time already?” Poe said. “Time just flies by.”
I stand corrected, I thought. Commander Poe Dameron is not a nerfherder. He’s a bastard.
Seething, I shifted too suddenly and bumped my head on the ceiling. I sucked in a hissing breath, rubbing the knot on the top of my head already beginning to form. This day was not getting any better.
A knock on the fuselage startled me. Poe poked his head into the open panel.
“Any progress?” he said.
I closed my eyes, composing myself, grateful that I wasn’t facing him and had the excuse that I couldn’t turn around unless I backed out all the way.
“No,” I said.
He patted the fuselage. “Well, I’m heading off to lunch. Probably won’t be gone for more than an hour. Let me know if you need anything.”
“A little help would be nice,” I mumbled.
“What was that?”
While Poe was away, my only salvation came in the form of BB-8. It came trundling along and stopped beside my tool box. Glanced back towards the entrance of the base then up at me where I was searching the undercarriage of the ship, attempting to come at the problem from a different angle.
BB-8 let out a single trilling beep and deposited two protein packets in my tool box before buzzing off.
At least I wouldn’t starve.
When Poe returned, the resentment I’d been harboring vanished at the first sight of him.
He carried a plate of food, piled high, hot swirls of steam rising from it, and smelling painfully…achingly…delicious.
For one brief, heavenly moment, I inhaled the scent, letting it fill my lungs, soothe my empty belly with the promise of an impending meal. Maybe he wasn’t quite the bastard I’d thought him to be if he was willing to bring me lunch when I couldn’t go myself until the hyperdrive was replaced.
Then Poe settled on the supply crate again, balanced the plate atop his knees, and dug in.
I must have been staring. Poe raised his eyebrows, fork hovering halfway to his mouth.
“How are you holdin’ up?” he said, far too brightly.
I bit back a growl. “Can’t I have a tiny hint?”
“You said you’d figure it out yourself. I wouldn’t want to interfere.”
“Clearly,” I said through gritted teeth, “that’s not going well. I have done nothing. For hours. I’m no closer to finishing than I was when I started at four in the morning and I’m….” I gestured at Poe’s ship, annoyed. “I’m stuck.”
Poe pointed his fork at me. “Now you’re getting somewhere.”
My arms dropped to my sides. I stared at him, waiting for him to continue. But Poe focused on his plate and didn’t look up, didn’t say anything more. My fingers tightened around the handle of my screwdriver and I struggled to tamp down images of stabbing him with it.
“Commander Dameron,” I said as lightly as I could manage.
Poe raised his head and met my gaze. At this point, Karé would have been yelling at me for being slow, dimwitted, holding back the rest of the class. And yet I saw no frustration in Poe’s face. If anything, there was amusement in his eyes, as if he found all of this…funny. Entertaining.
Was that better or worse?
Poe must have seen the look on my face though and realized I was rapidly losing patience.
“All right,” he relented. “I’ll give you a hint.”
I released a breath of relief. “Thank you.”
“Pay attention though. I’m only going to say this once.”
“Whether you’re familiar with a hyperdrive or not, you already have the answer—and the tools—to solve this problem.”
Poe went back to his food.
That was it? That was all he was giving me to work with?
Then I really was missing something. Something obvious and right in front of my face. But what?
Poe dozed off, arms crossed, chin tilted towards his chest. By dinnertime, he woke, stretched his arms over his head with a heavy sigh.
“I think that’s enough for today,” he said.
I was silent as I packed the tools away. If I dared to speak, I was certain I would say something I’d regret. Karé had been right all along. I’d wasted time and resources once again.
Poe came up beside me and crouched down. He drew a datapad from his back pocket and turned the screen towards me.
“This is a hyperdrive unit,” he said, displaying a holographic diagram.
He tapped the datapad’s screen.
“And this,” he said, “is how you put it in. Takes about…I’d guess ten minutes for an x-wing. Other ships and models are different but…”
I didn’t hear the rest of what he said after that. Ten minutes. I could have been done in ten minutes instead of ten hours.
Poe switched to a schematic of a hyperdrive unit dangling from the underbelly of an x-wing, hauled into the ship by pulleys, locked behind the pilot’s seat, attached from the inside. I’d been right there, right on top of the unit, at least a dozen times today and didn’t even realize it.
Poe stood, moved to the crate and scanned the code. He offered the datapad to me.
“You’ve been sitting on a new hyperdrive all day?” I said, my voice scratchy and rough.
He shrugged. “You didn’t ask for a replacement.”
“I told you didn’t know what I was doing. How was I supposed to—?”
I broke off, biting the inside of my cheek. Poe, however, didn’t seem to match my anger. He was infuriatingly calm about the whole thing.
“Let me have it,” he said, beckoning with two fingers. “Spit it out.”
I turned away. “Am I free to go, Commander?”
“No. You look pissed.”
I shook my head. “I have nothing to say.”
Poe laughed. “Yes, you do. When you’re in the air, you can’t afford to nurse a grudge. Either get it out of your system or get over it. Pick one, right now.”
When you’re in the air…
Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. Maybe it was the hunger. Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t allow myself to believe that this precious second chance wasn’t going to be ripped out of my hands as soon as Poe realized how much work it would take to get me up to speed.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t check my tongue in time.
“You promised,” I said, voice trembling. “You would teach me. But you sat there and you did nothing. I could have moved on to something else after ten minutes. Instead, I screwed around and didn’t accomplish anything. I’ll never get in the air this way.”
“Not thinking like that, you won’t,” Poe said, so certain compared to my shaky voice.
I opened my mouth to protest but before I got a chance to speak, Poe went on.
“As a pilot, you won’t always have a clear direction. You’ll have to make do with what’s in front of you. Even if you have no kriffing idea what you’re doing. Which is most of the time, trust me.”
I studied his face, the steadiness in his gaze.
“You really believe I can pull this off?” I said. “Despite being so far behind everyone else? I never thought to look at my datapad for answers even though it…” I grimaced and rubbed at my forehead. “It seems so obvious.”
“Hind sight’s a pain in the ass. It’s unpleasant but you get used to it.”
Poe stepped towards me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“I put you in an impossible situation today for a reason. I wanted to see how you’d handle it. You did everything I expected of you and more.”
I tried to laugh in disbelief but it came out as a sob.
“You’ll never forget what a hyperdrive looks like now,” Poe added. “You’ve familiarized yourself with an x-wing, inside and out—even if you did do it the hard way. To top it off, you discovered that a datapad is your friend. I’d say today wasn’t a total loss.”
“Will I have to learn everything the hard way?”
Poe smiled. “That’s up to you. If you take a break next time, stop for lunch, it might make things a little easier.”
“But I thought—”
“That I was a tyrant?” Poe teased.
“No, I just…” I rubbed the back of my neck, suddenly feeling like this was yet another obvious answer I should have recognized. “I thought I couldn’t stop until the hyperdrive was fixed.”
“Did I give that order?”
“Not in so many words.”
Poe squeezed my shoulder. “Today, you showed plenty of grit. But what you’re not grasping yet is that this isn’t an alternative to the classroom. You’re skipping straight to the real-world training. That means you have to rely on other people for information, favors, a leg up.”
“But I did ask you for help. Twice.”
“When you’re doing reconnaissance for General Organa, do you think the first person you come across will be cooperative if you say please?”
I frowned. Another solution I’d overlooked. “No,” I said.
Poe waved me off. “Go on, it’s late. We’ve got another early day tomorrow. And it’ll take you forever to scrub all that grease off of you.”
My heart hiccupped. He wasn’t giving up on me after my disastrous day.
“Do I still have to replace the hyperdrive?” I said.
“Yes. When that’s done, you get to find out how complicated compression coils can be.”
“Don’t tell Karé I said this, but she’s right. This is slave labor.”
“Unless you prefer cleaning ‘freshers and mopping floors.”
“Compression coils sound great.”
Poe hummed. “I thought so. And reign in the eavesdropping next time.”
“I was merely using the tools I had on hand to collect information of my surroundings, Commander.”
Poe sputtered a laugh, surprised. “You’re a much faster learner than you give yourself credit for.”
I ducked my head to hide a pleased smile. I couldn’t stop smiling long after I’d showered, crawled into bed, and fallen asleep.
Developing a routine for training with Poe was impossible. He was called away so frequently, I never knew when he would be at my door any hour of the day or night to squeeze in a few repairs.
When I wasn’t training, I had to make myself useful.
Which meant it was back to mopping floors.
With the stink of disinfectant clinging to my skin while I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing ‘freshers for hours, my mind was in the docking bay, mentally cataloging x-wing parts and how to disassemble, clean, and replace them.
I was so deep in thought that I didn’t hear the commotion at first. Then the call crackled over the intercom system.
“All pilots report to the docking bay immediately,” General Organa said.
Boots thundered in the hallway as pilots dropped what they were doing and rushed to respond to the call. Normally, I would continue to go about my business when a call like that came up since it didn’t pertain to me.
This time, my curiosity coaxed me into the hallway and to the entrance of the docking bay. The massive hangar door was open, revealing a wide open view of the landing pad.
And Poe’s x-wing—I knew that ship inside and out by now—was coming in hot. Too hot.
“Slow down, Commander,” I muttered under my breath as I came to the mouth of the hangar.
Pilots, droids, and mechanics churned in a mass of chaos as ships took to the air, ramp service officers buffeted by gusts off of a dozen thrusters at once.
Poe wasn’t slowing down. He couldn’t. Black smoke belched and coughed from his main thrusters and the undercarriage of his x-wing was so dented and charred from blaster fire that the landing gear wasn’t cooperating.
He had no choice but to land hard.
His x-wing screeched onto the tarmac, sending up sprays of red hot sparks as it slid and finally ground to a halt.
A med team was standing by, waiting for the ship to come to a stop. But Poe didn’t wait for them. He already had the cockpit open, prying his helmet off as he jumped down.
And he did not look happy.
Poe headed towards the base, jaw clenched, his eyes dark. A raging purple bruise burst across his left cheekbone, his flight suit was torn across his chest, and there was a disconcerting stain of red on his shoulder I didn’t like to think about.
A medic came forward as Poe entered the docking bay.
“Commander Dameron, if you could just step aside for a minute…”
Poe raised a hand, annoyed. “I’m fine. I need to speak with General Organa.”
“But protocol states—”
“To hell with protocol.”
The medic attempted to protest further but Poe was already walking away. As he passed me, I backed up, even though I wanted to reach out, explore that red stain on his shoulder and reassure myself it wasn’t really blood, especially not his.
But I didn’t dare say anything. If the med team couldn’t get anywhere with him, I wasn’t likely to get a different response. I watched him storm through the hangar and disappeared through the door.
I waited off to the side of the tarmac for Poe to return. One hour dragged by. Then another. And another. He didn’t show.
The landing pad cleared out until only a handful of ships were left that were down for repairs. I wandered around Poe’s ship, assessing the damage, rubbing my thumb over the charcoal black scar of a blaster burn that had seared six inches deep into the fuselage.
He wouldn’t be flying it for at least a day, maybe two, depending on how badly the system needed repair. Surface damage wouldn’t take much to fix. But any kind of processing unit, shield generators, or other internal mechanisms might take a while to patch up.
No wonder Poe was so angry when he landed. He was out of the action for at least twenty-four hours, probably longer.
I glanced back to the hangar again but there was still no sign of him.
Poe hadn’t given an express order to have his x-wing fixed…but he could chew me out for it later.
I ran to fetch my toolbox.
By the time Poe returned to the tarmac, it was well after nightfall. His pace was far more subdued than before, shoulders curved inward, the collar of his flight suit hanging open and loose around his throat, revealing the white tank top he wore underneath.
As he came closer, he scrubbed a hand over his face but when he saw me, he stopped.
“What are you doing out here?” he said. The harsh tone he’d had hours ago was gone now, his voice rough and raspy dry. “It’s after midnight.”
I wiped my hands on a rag and gestured to the x-wing.
“Thought I’d get a jump start on repairs,” I said.
Poe frowned. But there was no anger in his expression. He seemed…confused. He rubbed at one eye with his palm and sighed, shaking his head.
Standing within arm’s reach of me now, even more bruises were visible, along with a vicious red scrape down the side of his neck, disappearing under the collar of his flight suit. The dark shadow of scruff peppered over his jawline made him appear hollow and gray with exhaustion.
“I don’t remember giving you that order,” Poe replied.
“You didn’t. I just…I…wanted to help.” I paused, fiddled with the wrench in my hands. “Are you…okay? You look terrible.”
Poe let out a huff of laughter, but it was a tired sound. “Missed you, too, honey,” he said with a bare thread of his usual sarcasm.
He waved me off. “I know what you meant. It’s only a few bumps and bruises. Nothing serious.”
He patted the ship, his palm gliding over the fuselage like a caress.
“The exterior damage is mostly cosmetic,” I said, tucking my wrench in the back pocket of my coveralls. “So I didn’t bother with it yet. The lateral stabilizers are pretty beat up though.”
Poe nodded as he walked around the front of the ship. “And the hyperdrive?”
He cast a sideways glance at me, the corner of his mouth tipped up. I squinted at him.
“Didn’t have a scratch on it,” I said. “Are you teasing me?”
He shrugged. “Just checking. It usually gives you a bit of trouble.”
“You are teasing me.”
Poe’s smile broadened and when he laughed this time, it was a little easier, a little lighter. He retrieved a pilex driver from my toolbox and pried a panel off the rear of the ship.
“The main thrusters were shorting out on me,” he said. “I’ll need an extra hand with them.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I thought—”
Poe stopped, arms buried up to his elbows inside his ship. “You thought what?”
He sighed, pulled his arms out of the x-wing and leaned one shoulder against it.
“Under normal circumstances, yes, you’d be sorting this out yourself. But…” He sighed again, heavy and drawn out, as he rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead. “Leia grounded me for seventy-two hours. And if I don’t have something to do, I’ll get squirrely. So you have some help this time. Just this once. Don’t get used to it.”
While Poe worked on the thrusters and I settled into the lateral stabilizers, neither of us spoke. Poe was probably too tired for conversation. And I didn’t trust myself not to blurt the thousands of questions darting through my mind. What could possibly get the best pilot in the Resistance grounded for three days?
“It’s not like the simulation, you know,” Poe said.
I looked down at him from my perch atop the x-wing. He kept his gaze centered on what he was doing. All I could see was the top of his head, curls matted to his forehead from his helmet.
“Flying,” he added. “It’s harder. More complicated. And even if you think you’ve made the right decision at the time, it can still cost the lives of people around you.”
I remained silent. It didn’t seem as if Poe was expecting an answer. During my previous training sessions, he didn’t open up like this. He kept me focused on achieving the objective he wanted me to learn. Nothing more, nothing less.
Poe’s hand slipped, his knuckles scraped raw metal, and he dropped the pilex driver, sending it clattering inside the ship. He sucked in a hissing breath and swore as he drew his hand out, knuckles bloodied.
I slid to the ground, fetched the cleanest rag I had from my toolbox. I took Poe’s hand, smoothed the rag across his knuckles with my thumbs.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “About whatever happened out there.”
He shook his head, his eyes downcast, lashes shadowing his cheeks and shuttering his expression despite his slipped outburst a moment ago.
“Comes with the territory,” he replied. “I’m used to it.”
“That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier.”
Slowly, Poe raised his head to meet my gaze. The weight of his hand in both of mine suddenly became searing hot as I realized I’d been lingering far too long. It was only a scratch. He had other injuries, worse ones, that probably required medical treatment, and I was fussing over scraped knuckles.
I stepped back, snatching my hands away. “Maybe we should finish up tomorrow.”
Poe cleared his throat and something…hesitated in his eyes, something that seemed like uncertainty. But that didn’t feel right, not on Poe. I’d never seen him uncertain about anything.
“You’re not supposed to be the one calling the shots, recruit,” he said in a wry tone.
I raised my eyebrows with a pointed look.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he relented. “It’s been a long day. Although since I’m on the ground, we might as well make the most of it. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bright and early.”
“Yes, Commander,” I said.
Three whole days of training. It was bittersweet, knowing Poe wished he was flying instead.
After lunch the next day, I was fully prepared to finish up the last few repairs of Poe’s ship. But Poe came by and tapped my table instead.
“Could you come with me for a minute?” he said.
I tossed my napkin on my tray. “I was just about to get back to the x-wing.”
“It’ll still be there. I need to discuss something with you first.”
He turned to leave the mess hall and beckoned me to follow. My stomach flip-flopped with dread and my mind raced through everything I’d done recently. Did I mess up somewhere?
I trailed after Poe down the hallway to the quarters sector of the base until he stopped at a door.
“How long have you been in training so far?” he said.
I faltered. “From my very first simulation lesson, or…?”
“Nearly three months.”
“Off and on. We don’t exactly have the most reliable schedule.”
I didn’t reply, unsure what he was getting at or why we were here and not in the docking bay, fixing his ship.
“And yet,” Poe added. “You’re still sharing a room with the janitorial staff.”
I opened my mouth to point out that yes, I was still, in fact, part of the staff when he wasn’t around for training.
“I think,” Poe continued. “It’s about time we changed that.”
He swiped his hand over the ID pad beside the door. Nothing happened.
“Doesn’t seem to be working,” he said in a tone that implied he knew the reason why. “How about you give it a shot?”
I frowned, confused but did as he instructed and swiped my hand over the ID pad. The door swished open to reveal an empty room with two beds, one on the right, one on the left, and a private ‘fresher to the left.
“Cadets usually double up,” Poe said. “But since you’re the only cadet I’ve got, you’ll have to get used to having your own room.”
Words weren’t working, tripping on my tongue, caught in my throat.
“Oh, almost forgot.” Poe reached into his jacket pocket. “And you’ll need this, of course.”
Waiting on his palm was a Rebel patch for my own jacket.
“Keep up the good work, cadet,” he said.
He squeezed my shoulder and left me standing there, holding the Rebel patch in the doorway of my own quarters.
My joy was short lived. Poe returned to the air by the end of the three days. But after less than a week had passed, light flooded my room at some ungodly hour of the morning.
“Rise and shine,” Poe crowed.
I groaned and burrowed beneath my pillow. He stripped my sheets away, sending a chilled breeze across my skin. I shivered, curling in on myself to preserve the remnants of dwindling warmth.
Poe crouched at the foot of my bed, rifled through my pack and began tossing clothes at me.
“I have two hours free,” he said. “Before I have to be off-world. Make the most of it while you can.”
That had me sitting bolt upright in bed. My eyes refused to open in the glaring light but my brain was already ramping up, eager to be in training mode.
“How did you get into my room?” I mumbled, passing a hand over my face, smoothing down the mess of my hair.
A blur of orange and white streaked past the open door and I knew I had my answer.
“Hacking security measures with a droid while not tripping alarm systems isn’t part of your lessons for today,” Poe replied. “Or anytime soon.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “In other words, I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
“Sounds about right.”
Poe straightened, standing at the foot of my bed, an amused expression on his face as he looked me over. My t-shirt collar had slipped off of one shoulder and I tugged it back into place. Self-consciousness crept over my skin at the realization that I was in a flimsy, thin t-shirt and a pair of too-short shorts.
I mentally chastised myself for being ridiculous. Poe wasn’t looking at me that way. If anything, he was probably laughing at my disgruntled appearance at—I checked the datapad resting on my nightstand—two in the morning.
Poe nudged my leg with the back of his hand.
“Get moving,” he said. “We’re trying something different today. Changing it up.”
A flare of heat swept along my leg at the contact of skin against skin.
No no no.
If I was honest with myself, I had noticed Poe well before word got around concerning his flight skills. Besides, the dating pool was incredibly tiny on base, making someone as good-looking as Poe stand out even more. Half the base went starry-eyed when he passed by. The other half swooned over his technical abilities. Poe was adored one way or the other.
But things were different now. He was my teacher instead of an ace pilot I admired from a distance with more than a little hero worship to color my vision rosy. I could not, would not, allow myself to slip into thinking of him as anything else but my teacher from here on out.
If only my body would cooperate and stop overheating for no good reason whatsoever.
“You’ve got the x-wing pretty well in hand by now,” Poe said. “And I’ll put you on a u-wing next week.”
“So what are we doing then?”
Poe grinned. And kriffing hell, my heart stuttered despite my best attempts to keep it under control.
“Sparring,” he said with pure, unadulterated delight.
“No,” I groaned.
I swore and grabbed the clothes he’d draped over the foot of my bed.
“Your file,” he continued, “showed abysmal ground combat scores. Worse than your simulation test.”
I scowled at him. “Thank you for that reminder I didn’t need at this hour of the morning.”
“Have to get you motivated somehow,” he said as he headed for the door. “On the mats in ten minutes,” he called over his shoulder.
After the door had closed behind Poe, I pressed my forehead to my knees, my palm closed over the place on my leg where his hand had brushed so briefly and yet had left such a lasting impression.
I’d come this far on blood, sweat, and tears. My last chance. My only hope. A stupid, fleeting little crush was not going to ruin it for me.
“You keep pulling your punches,” Poe said, letting his arms drop, signaling the bout was over.
For three weeks in a row, I was bruised, sore, and pissed off. I hadn’t managed to land one hit on Poe. He didn’t even bother wearing a helmet during sparring sessions anymore. But he had landed plenty of his own blows on me, no matter how hard I tried to block them.
My t-shirt clung to my back with sweat. My arms and legs shivered with fatigue. But I still hated the thought of stopping.
“I don’t mean to,” I sighed.
“That’s because you’re thinking too much. Trust your instincts a little more.”
Then Poe shoved me in the shoulder so hard, I stumbled back to keep my balance. He stepped towards me and shoved me again with both gloved hands this time.
I retreated, nearly tripping over a chair in the process, and swatted his hands away.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
He wasn’t hitting, striking, kicking. There were no blows to block.
“Get a little angry,” he said. “Use it.”
Another shove. This time, my back hit the wall. But Poe didn’t stop. He pushed again and my helmet cracked against the wall. I moved to the side but he moved with me, crowding me in until my space was diminished to a tight circle.
He was so close that all I could see was his chest and the hollow of his throat, a single bead of sweat gliding down his Adam’s apple. I could feel the heat rising off of him, sending prickly awareness skittering through my body.
My mind went completely blank at his proximity. All I could think about was how ridiculously good he smelled. And I panicked.
I lashed out with a fist, connecting with Poe’s jaw. The momentum of the blow sent him rocking back onto his heels and he blinked in surprise.
“Now that was a proper punch,” he said, rubbing his jaw. “Good hit. I think it’s time I start wearing a helmet during our sessions.”
“You were trying to make me angry?” I said.
“Was that really necessary?”
He shrugged. “You’re scared of making a mistake and it’s crippling you.”
“Same thing happened that first day with the hyperdrive.” Poe crossed the mats to the bench where he’d left a towel, water bottle, and datapad.
He scrubbed his hair dry while scrolling through his datapad to see if he’d missed any messages during our training session.
“When you’re frustrated,” Poe continued. “You tend to forget everything else. You just really sink your teeth in and go for it.”
I unbuckled the strap of my helmet, pulled it off, and closed my eyes at the pleasant rush of cool air across my sweaty face. I plopped into a chair and placed my helmet on the seat beside me.
“I guess I just don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over again,” I replied.
“Avoiding them won’t help you solve them though.”
I grumbled. “Don’t you ever get tired of being right?”
He laughed, the towel concealing most of his face apart from his smile.
“I could name a few who would disagree with you,” he said.
Before I could reply, he tossed his towel aside, swearing under his breath.
“Leia just put out an assignment. I gotta go.”
This wasn’t the first time Poe had cut training short for a mission. Even though I was exhausted from the work out, I still ached to keep going, to push myself a little further and squeeze a bit more information out of him before he had to leave.
“How long will you be gone this time?” I said.
“Three days tops,” he said, tousling my hair. “Try not to pine for me while I’m away.”
After he left, I closed my eyes and the memory of Poe crowding me against that wall flooded to the forefront of my mind.
I groaned and slid deeper into my seat.
While Poe was off world, my cleaning duties seemed to drag by even more slowly than usual. The only bright spot of my day was when the work was finished and I could get to the gym. Though I didn’t have a sparring partner, I could always practice punching a bag for a while. That was good enough for me.
As I was scrubbing one of the communal ‘fresher showers, people drifted in and out once in a while, but I didn’t pay them much attention.
Until I heard Poe’s name mentioned.
I went still, kneeling on the floor, scrub brush sopping wet and dripping down my arm.
Two women had stopped at the sinks to talk. I didn’t recognize either of the voices and I knew better than to eavesdrop but…the ‘fresher wasn’t big enough to not listen in.
“Dameron was definitely checking you out the other day,” one voice said. “I saw it.”
“Oh, please. Dameron has his eye on one person only—that cadet he’s training.”
The first voice sighed. “He really does talk about her a lot, doesn’t he?”
“Sure does,” the second voice replied. “Nothing but high praise for her, too.”
A swell of pride blossomed in my chest. High praise? For me?
“I heard no one would take her on because she was too difficult. Karé even called her a hopeless case and Karé is as stubborn as they come.”
As high as I had risen a moment ago, my stomach plummeted.
“That’s too bad,” the second voice said. “Everyone else had to work their asses off to survive the simulation test. And here she is, batting her eyes at Dameron to get what she wants.”
My scrub brush slipped from my fingers. I fumbled it…
…and caught it at the last second before it could clatter to the floor and give me away.
“Flirting won’t get her anywhere,” the first voice said. “Just because Dameron is sleeping with her doesn’t mean a thing. She’ll never pass that test.”
My fingers squeezed the brush so tightly that the ridged handle bit into my palm. Did people actually believe that? About me? About Poe? I always thought he had been admired and respected.
But these women didn’t seem to think so.
Just because Dameron is sleeping with her doesn’t mean a thing.
Poe had never made the slightest suggestion of that nature towards me. Where were other people getting that idea?
It was too late though. The damage was already done. The seeds were planted, black roots of doubt creeping in my brain and burrowing deep.
Was that why Poe took me on? For a bit of entertainment to cast me aside later when he was bored?
The women continued to talk and the ‘fresher wasn’t finished, but I didn’t care. I refused to listen anymore.
I pushed the shower door open and it slammed against the wall. The women startled, spun around. I shot a dark look in their direction, letting them know that I’d heard every word, and I walked out, leaving them gaping behind me.
“Anyone home?” Poe said, waving a hand in front of my face.
I blinked and drew back. “What?”
“I asked if everything was all right. You’ve been really quiet.”
I shrugged, fumbling with the straps of my gloves. “Just tired.”
“You usually give me a piece of your mind when I wake you up.”
“Saving it for the mats.”
My gloves wouldn’t cooperate and I attempted to tug them on with my teeth.
“Here,” Poe said, reaching for my glove. “Let me help—”
I shied away, hating myself for how rude I was being. “I can handle it.”
Poe raised an eyebrow and retrieved his gloves from the chair beside me.
“Whatever you say.” He turned away and stepped onto the mats.
Why did it bother me what other people thought? Especially when they were horribly wrong.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that disappointment lurked around the corner. I had barely settled into the belief that my dream was coming true, that I deserved this chance at becoming a pilot. Now, it seemed, I had been rattled right out of it, balancing on the edge of a precipice and ready to fall at any moment.
I finally got my gloves on and stuffed my mouth guard into place. My heart thundered against my ribs as I yanked my helmet on and put my hands up, elbows tight to my body.
After hearing the rumors floating around base, coupled with my physical reaction to Poe’s closeness during the last sparring match, I knew I couldn’t let him get near me like that again. I had to keep him at arm’s length.
I needed to attack first and put him on the defensive.
My first swing was too rushed and went wide. Without hesitating, Poe reacted with an uppercut to my chin.
My head snapped back. The ceiling spun. I landed hard on the mats, the air knocked out of my lungs.
“Kriffing shit,” I croaked.
Poe looked down at me, his mouth a thin line of disapproval.
“Don’t,” I said.
“Don’t what?” he replied.
“Rub it in.”
“You could have blocked that. You did it a hundred times in practice three days ago.”
Poe offered his gloved hand to me but I brushed past him and got to my feet on my own. He eyed me for a moment, frowning.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I demanded.
“You fell pretty hard.”
“So? I’m not made of glass. I’m fine. Let’s do this.”
Hesitantly, Poe put his hands up to shield his face.
But when I took a swing at him this time, he caught my arm. And he didn’t let go. In that split second, I knew what was coming. There was no way I could avoid it.
Before I knew it, he was standing behind my back, his mouth at my ear. I could feel every inch of his chest pressed to my back, the rise and fall of his ribs with each breath, the shift and pull of his muscles.
This was so much worse than getting crowded against a wall.
He held my arm out to one said, angling enough pressure on my shoulder that if I tried to turn, tried to hit him, it wouldn’t take much to break my arm.
“Now,” Poe said quietly at my ear. “Are you going to talk?”
“Let go,” I said through gritted teeth.
“You’ve been acting weird lately.”
When I struggled, he didn’t even have to tighten his grip to strain my shoulder until I whimpered.
Poe shifted closer, so close that his hips were flush against mine. He dipped his head, his mouth one hot, trembling inch away from coming in contact with my neck. My breath hitched and before I could think about what I was doing, I drove my elbow into his stomach.
He doubled over with a grunt of surprise. His grip loosened just enough that I could pry my arm away and put distance between us again. My heart hammered so hard and fast that my chest ached.
Poe shook his head. “All right. No talking then.”
I spat my mouth guard out and spread my hands. “We’re sparring. Not chatting.”
“Don’t pull that bullshit with me.” He took one long stride across the mats, curled his fingers under the edge of my helmet, and held me in place. I couldn’t look anywhere else but at him.
“You’re nursing a grudge,” he added. “Get it out or get over it. Your choice. Until you decide what to do, training isn’t happening.”
He released my helmet with a slight push. He turned away from me and yanked off his glove, throwing it into his gear bag next to his chair.
“So that’s it?” I said, fighting to keep my voice level. “You’re just done?”
“Up to you,” he replied without turning around.
I swallowed, my throat tight, breathing growing ragged. I’d been right all along. This whole thing had been too good to be true.
“Why did you agree to teach me?” I said.
Poe sighed, shoulders bowed.
“We’ve been over this,” he said. “Why can’t you accept that you deserve a second chance?”
“People on base…think…you’re…”
Slowly, Poe faced me. “I’m what?”
I opened my mouth but nothing came out. He took a step towards me, the line of his shoulders rigid.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard,” he said. “But you should have already figured out a long time ago that people talk. Doesn’t mean a damn thing. And if insignificant, petty gossip is what derails you from your goal, then you have no right being in the air.”
I swayed where I stood, shocked and cold. Poe was the only one who had believed in me. Now, I didn’t even have that anymore. I stripped off one of my gloves and lobbed it at him, hitting him square between the shoulder blades.
“Kriff you, Commander,” I said.
Poe turned to look at me, jaw twitching. But before he could speak, I plowed on. I had nothing to lose and destruction felt damn good.
“As a pilot in training,” I continued, voice shaking. “I’ve assessed my environment, as I should. I’ve detected threats, to your job as well as mine. I have every right to be concerned.”
Poe angled his chin slightly, a half-nod. “Okay,” he said. “What sort of threats?”
“People seem to think—” I faltered and forced myself to push through this time. “No one in their right mind would be willing to work with me unless they’re…getting something out of the deal.”
“Then they’d be right. I’m getting another pilot for my squadron.”
I huffed. “No, as in—they think—they think you’re sleeping with me. That’s why you took me on.”
Poe held my gaze with a steady look. A heartbeat of silence settled over the room.
“Is that what’s been bothering you?” he said, his voice low and rough.
“You don’t deserve that kind of talk,” I whispered, glancing down at my hands, one bare, one still gloved.
Poe released a long breath and sagged into a chair, arms propped on his knees.
“Believe me, people have said far worse things to my face, let alone behind my back,” he said. “But I swear, I agreed to teach you for the reasons I’ve already given. Only for those reasons.”
I nodded as I worked my second glove off, not looking at him. Poe reached over and when he wrapped his fingers around my wrist, I didn’t shy away. I let him draw me to the chair beside him.
“You’ve worked hard to get where you are,” he said. “Not everyone will recognize that but the right people will. I promise.”
I nodded again, tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. Poe’s thumb nestled in my palm, stroking back and forth, fingers resting lightly around my wrist. I didn’t want to want him like this, especially now, knowing that his name was already getting dragged through the mud by association with me.
“Forget about the gossip,” Poe said softly. “Keep your eyes on the stars. Don’t worry about me, all right? I can handle myself,” he added with a smirk.
“Sorry about throwing the glove at you,” I muttered.
He shook his head. “Don’t be. I mean, that won’t go over well in the command room but you did what you were supposed to. You moved past your inhibition of making a mistake. And the colorful expletive was followed by appropriate recognition of rank, too. Though respect might have been a little lacking.”
I breathed a shaky laugh. “I won’t make it a habit.”
Poe smiled and loosened the straps of my helmet.
“I think we’ll call it quits for now,” he said. “Maybe it’s time you got off-world.”
I stared at him. “You mean…flying?”
“Unless you have something else you’d like to discuss?”
“Then let’s take a u-wing for a spin and you can see why the gossip doesn’t make a bit of difference in the long run.”
“What are you doing?” Poe said from the doorway of the U-wing.
I twisted around in my seat, hands on the yoke, to look at him.
“You’ll need a co-pilot,” I replied, trying—and failing miserably—to mask the hopeful lilt in my voice.
He raised his eyebrows. I shrank a little further in my seat at his expression and pried my headset off.
“I’ll…observe from the back,” I muttered.
Poe’s hand settled on my shoulder. “No, you won’t.”
He held up a finger.
“But hands off the controls,” he added. “Don’t touch anything unless I tell you to.”
I snatched my hands back, folded them in my lap. “Yes, Commander.”
Poe waved his hand over the screen by the door to close it. He picked up his headset and took the pilot’s seat, running through pre-flight check.
I watched in silence for a minute or two. Over the past few months, I’d become familiar with X-wings, inside and out, but a U-wing was entirely different. It was roomy, spacious, and had an array of instruments that I wasn’t used to.
A barrage of questions boiled to the tip of my tongue…
Before I could ask a single one, Poe placed his hand on a lever to his right and eased it forward to the halfway point. The thrusters gave a low growl in the background. The corner of his mouth tipped up as he turned his head towards me.
“You’re not strapped in,” he said.
He shoved the lever forward the rest of the way and the ship surged up into the air, careening out of the docking bay. G-forces nearly pulled me out of my seat as I scrambled to grab my safety straps.
I could hear Poe laughing over the roar of the thrusters.
Stars blurred by. The base grew tinier and tinier until D’Qar was a miniscule freckle of blueish green in the distance. I didn’t see a single thing of what Poe did to the controls. I was too busy watching the stars swallow the tiny ship we were in.
After about fifteen minutes, Poe shut off the engine, letting the ship float in silence. I reached forward and pressed my hand flat to the windshield, the glass frigid beneath my palm.
“Do you see what I’m talking about now?” Poe said.
“I’m beginning to get the idea,” I replied, never taking my gaze away from the expanse of space stretched out before me, limitless and wide open.
I traced paths from one star to the next on the glass with my fingertips. This is what Poe got to see all the time. Every single day.
“Was it someone from my squadron?” Poe said, quiet and low.
My hand went still against the glass. I tore my gaze away from the stars to look at him.
“I thought it didn’t matter,” I said.
“It doesn’t. But I won’t have that kind of talk on my crew.”
I turned back to the stars. It was tempting to tell him. He could have those women demoted, or even kicked out, in no time. But I knew I couldn’t say anything.
“I’m not a rat,” I said at last.
“I don’t need names. Just a yes or no will—”
My hand fell away from the windshield. “How do you think that would look? To hell with the gossip. I’m trying to prove myself here. You can’t fight my battles for me.”
“Fine,” Poe said. “Point taken.”
But the mood was ruined now. The stars that had seemed close enough to touch, just there, on the other wide of the windshield, were small and distant now, impossible to reach.
“I’m not like you,” I whispered, scrubbing at a spot of grease on the control panel. “You make all of this seem…so easy. You were practically born into it.”
Poe shifted on his seat to face me, propped his elbows on his knees.
“Look at me,” he said, not quite a command.
I raised my head and met his gaze anyway. He reached into the collar of his shirt and withdrew a thin chain with a ring attached to it.
“I suppose you know what this is,” he said.
“Then you also know what happened to her.”
“Flying has never been easy,” Poe said. “For anyone. But this—” He laid the ring flat in his palm and curled his fingers around it, a fist of protection, an iron grip. “This is the true reason I fly. And I can promise you that every pilot you meet will have a reason of their own to get them through when it seems as if they’ll never succeed.”
Poe tucked the necklace inside his shirt again. He reached across the space between our seats and curled his fingers around the back of my neck. My heart hiccupped into my throat.
“It’s different for me than it is for you, I get that,” he said. “Mom…she taught me really well,” he added with a small smile. “I have those memories. You don’t. And that means a longer haul to get where you want to be. But I’m not giving up on you, all right?”
I swallowed and nodded, tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. His palm was warm, curved around the back of my neck with a firm, comforting pressure. And when his thumb skimmed across the hollow beneath my ear, I barely managed to stifle the pleased sound that welled up in my throat.
Then Poe pulled away, his hand sliding from my neck to leave a patch of cold air behind. I caught myself swaying forward and jerked upright, facing forward again.
“We should get going,” he said. “The sun will be up in a few minutes and I’ve got to talk to General Organa about an assignment she keeps pinning on me.”
I cleared my throat and focused on not looking at him. It was a little better that way. At least my heart rate was nearing a normal level now, despite the lingering phantom heat of where his hand had been before.
“I thought you liked your missions?” I said.
“Some of them. Others feel like busywork to get me out of Leia’s hair.”
Poe started up the engine and turned the ship around. This time, I did pay more attention to what he was doing, which instruments he used and which ones he ignored. But when D’Qar came into sight, he leaned back in his seat and released the yoke.
“The controls are all yours, cadet,” he said.
I clamped my hands around the co-pilot’s yoke, my spine ramrod straight, fingers squeezing the handles.
Poe put his hand on my shoulder, which did nothing to ease my tension.
“Relax,” he said. “Don’t throttle the controls. All you need is a light touch.”
He slid his hand down my arm to my elbow with a nudge.
Slowly, my shaking fingers obeyed.
“That’s better,” Poe said.
I finally realized what I was doing and laughed, a little faint and shivery with disbelief.
“I’m flying,” I breathed.
“Doing a pretty good job, too.”
I risked a glance at Poe to find him smiling. My gaze darted back to the control panel. That smile would always make my stomach flip, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it.
“You better not be teasing me,” I said.
“Well, we haven’t crashed yet, so that must mean—”
I sucked in a gasp of air and went right back to squeezing the controls with a death grip.
“Don’t say that,” I said.
Poe chuckled softly and inched closer. He put his hands on my wrists and slid upwards to cover my hands.
“You’ve got this,” he whispered. “I’m right here and I won’t let anything bad happen, okay?”
I gulped and nodded.
“Breathe,” Poe said with a squeeze to my hands.
I inhaled and slowly released my breath. But my heart was just about to give out, with Poe’s hands still wrapped around mine.
Focus, focus, focus.
“What do you think?” Poe said. “Is it everything you hoped it would be?”
“It’s…not like the simulation,” I rasped. “Not at all.”
“Good or bad?”
I didn’t answer right away and turned to look at him. His face was only six inches from mine.
“Good,” I said. “Definitely good.”
Again, Poe smiled, a little softer this time. Oh.
“Then you can take us to the docking bay,” he said.
“What?! No, wait, I never landed a simulation before. I usually…”
“Crashed?” Poe said with an amused look.
I groaned, my shoulders rising towards my ears again. He shifted back into his chair, his hands leaving mine. This time I couldn’t muffle a small whimper.
“I’ll guide you through it,” he said. “It’s not that hard.”
I don’t believe you, I thought.
“We’re getting close,” Poe gestured to the lever between us. “Power the thrusters down to half way.”
I eased the lever back. Details on the landing pad became clear all too quickly—tiny figures rushing left and right, ships lined up along one side, stacks of cargo piled by the base.
The U-wing rattled in my grip.
“It’s shaky,” I said.
“Perfectly normal,” Poe replied. “Take the thrusters down to quarter power. Then get the landing gear out.”
After I pulled the lever down again, Poe pointed me to a series of buttons higher up the panel. The grind and squeal of metal screeched above the thrusters as the landing gear locked into place.
My stomach was churning, and the vibrations of the ship as gravity took its toll was not helping. But I swallowed, took a deep breath, and willed myself not to be sick.
“You’re all set,” Poe said. “See that guy waving the orange batons? He’s directing you. Follow his instructions and you’ll be fine.”
The ship was shaking hard enough to make my teeth chatter. Poe’s hands rested on top of his thighs, palms open, comfortable with me in control.
“Power thrusters down to zero capacity,” he said.
I didn’t let go of the yoke. The landing pad was so close, too close.
By this time in the simulation, I would have taken a nose dive, my virtual ship up in flames. Walking away with bruised pride was the only injury I ever sustained. It wouldn’t be like that now.
“Cadet,” Poe barked, firm and loud to pierce through my blind panic. “I said turn the thrusters down to zero capacity.”
“Commander,” I whispered, my voice trembling. “I—”
He pried my hand from the yoke and put it on the lever. His hand covered mine, pushing the lever all the way down and giving me no chance to freeze up.
The thrusters went silent. The ship landed with a sigh, light as a feather.
I bent over my knees and vomited.
“And you’ll be the one to clean that up,” Poe said.
I was utterly mortified. But Poe didn’t give me more than a few hours to wallow. At lunch time, he tracked me down and tapped on the door of the ‘fresher I was scrubbing.
“Let’s go,” he said.
I frowned. “That doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with training.”
He grinned. “That’s because it doesn’t. There are a few people I want you to meet.”
I wiped my hands on my pants, stuffed my tools away, and followed him out off base to the cantina tucked near the edge of the forest, nearly hidden by the trees. I almost lost him in the cramped, crowded building but he waited for me. His hand slid to the small of my back, guiding me towards a table in the corner that was already full.
“Guys, this is my new recruit,” Poe said.
He gestured to each person in turn as he went around the table.
Finn. Jess. Snap. Rey.
I knew of them before, but they had existed far outside of my orbit, stars too far away to reach.
Poe nudged my shoulder.
“She had her first crash course in flying today,” he said. “And she killed it.”
I stared at him, waiting for the punchline, the remark about how I panicked, or how I puked. But it never came.
“Dameron,” Jess sighed. “Did you really have to say it that way? A crash course? That’s terrible.” She turned her attention to me. “Come sit with me. I’ll give you some dirt on the Commander you can use against him the next time he mouths off that way.”
Just like that, I was swept into a whirlwind of laughter and stories. For the first time since joining the Resistance, I felt like I belonged.
After a while, I caught Poe watching me. He smiled, small, barely there, for my benefit alone. If I had been a normal recruit, I would have had other recruits to trundle around base with, jostling each other as we worked our way up the ranks.
But I was training alone with Poe. And while that certainly had its benefits, it was lonely, too.
This was Poe’s way of welcoming me into the Resistance the way I always should have been. Not labeled a hopeless case.
Thank you, I mouthed.
I spun around in the docking bay, searching for signs if I was the cadet in question.
I looked up to see Jess straddling the top of her x-wing. She smiled and waved.
“Pass me that power calibrator, would you? My engine has been acting up all day and I’m hoping it finally cooperated.”
After digging around in her toolbox, I found the calibrator and tossed it up. She nodded her appreciation.
“Would you like me to give the engine a kick?” I said.
“That would be perfect,” she replied. “You can hang around me all you like if you’re going to make yourself useful.”
I climbed up the ladder, reached into the cockpit of her x-wing, and eased the engine to half-power. I glanced over my shoulder at Jess. She gave me a thumb up.
I waited as Jess calibrated the power settings, the engine sitting at half-power, until Jess gave me a thumb down. I shut the engine off. Jess sat back on her heels, pleased.
“If you ever consider switching instructors, I’d be happy to take you on,” she said.
“Fat chance, Pava.”
I looked down to see Poe standing there, arms crossed, watching us.
“Don’t even think about stealing my recruit,” he added.
“I was just borrowing her for a minute,” Jess replied.
I climbed down the ladder, tucking my hands in my pockets.
“Did you need me for something, Commander?” I said. “I’m all done here. Not neglecting any duties, I swear.”
He touched my elbow with two fingers as a sign to show that he was relieved, not put out, that I was helping.
“Report to the command center,” he said. “You, too, Jess.”
“What for?” Jess said as she slid along the fuselage and onto the wing, her legs dangling over the edge.
Poe raised an eyebrow. I knew that look. Not an ask questions scenario. This was an obey scenario.
“Yes, Commander,” I said.
Poe nodded and turned away. As soon as he was out of the docking bay, Jess jumped down from the x-wing. She stared at me.
“What?” I said.
“Looks like someone’s got the hots for teacher.”
I sputtered a laugh of disbelief to cover my shock. “I do not—”
Jess waved me off. “Relax. I won’t tell.”
“But I don’t—”
“Honey,” Jess said with a withering look. “Half the base has a crush on him and he’s completely clueless. Trust me, he has no idea.”
Any further protests died on my lips. I leaned towards her and lowered my voice.
“Was I that obvious?”
Jess draped an arm around my shoulder. “No. Just…you know…your eyes got big as moons when you said, ‘yes, Commander,’ like you really, really, really wanted to stick your tongue down his throat right then and there.”
“Stars,” I groaned. “That can’t be true.”
She held up a forefinger and thumb to indicate a little bit. I slapped her hand down. Jess laughed.
“We’d better get going,” she said. “Before Commander Dameron—” she batted her eyelashes with a breathy voice, “—gets grumpy.”
I shoved her shoulder. “You’re terrible.” I paused then added, “Half the base? Are you serious?”
Jess winced in sympathy. “Afraid so. Sorry.”
I don’t know if that made me feel better or worse.
“This is your mess, Poe,” General Organa said. “Clean it up.”
Poe clenched his teeth.
“I feel that this is an unnecessary mission and a waste of time on everyone’s part,” he said.
“Then you should have kept your mouth shut,” General Organa replied with a tight little smile.
Poe sighed. “Ambassador Lish insulted you.”
“I’ve heard far nastier things than the taunting words of Ambassador Lish. That doesn’t mean you insult him back.”
“Well, I won’t apologize for it. That would be a lie. I’m not sorry.”
General Organa placed her hands on the table between her and Poe.
“Yes, you are. And you will apologize. With food, clothing, any supplies we can spare. Lish’s people are sick. They need help. We are in a position to benefit both sides here.”
I had been standing off to the side, pressed back into the shadows, for the better part of fifteen minutes. I had never been addressed or mentioned at all during the exchange between Poe and General Organa. And I still didn’t know why my presence was necessary.
As it turned out, Jess had more guts than I did.
“Uhm, question?” she said, raising two fingers to cut the tension between General Organa and Poe. “I am all for Dameron owning up to his mistakes—”
“Jess,” Poe said in a warning tone.
Jess, undeterred, continued. “But what does that have to do with me?”
General Organa tapped the table with a finger and a large red planet floated into view.
“Ambassador Lish lives on planet Xo,” she said. “It’s so heavily forested in certain areas that ships can’t land. You will be dropping off Poe with his supplies.”
“And,” Poe put in. “Reporting back to General Organa to make sure I carry out my objective.”
“Oh, I have complete faith that you will complete your duties, Commander, Dameron,” General Organa replied in a false-sweet voice. “You wouldn’t dare drop the supplies and high tail it out of there. Now go. Speak to Lish. Politely. Work this out. And for stars’ sake, be careful. Do not get infected with that fever Lish’s people have, all right?”
“Maybe I will,” Poe said. “Just to make you feel sorry that you sent me.”
“Safe travels, Commander,” General Organa said, shooing him out of the room.
Not once was my name brought up for the entire meeting. I hurried after Poe to catch up.
“This sounds terribly close to babysitting,” Jess said.
“That’s because it is,” Poe replied.
I cleared my throat. “Commander?”
Poe stopped and turned towards me. “Yes?”
“What is my part in all this?”
Poe looked past me but the command center door was closed and General Organa had long since been well out of hearing range.
“I want to give you more experience off world,” he said. “But there aren’t many opportunities to do that in a mundane setting. This mission will be as mundane as they come. You’ll be on the ground with me, delivering supplies and…” He glanced at Jess with a sour expression. “Making nice.”
Jess cackled. “Would you like a glass of water, Commander Dameron? Might help you swallow that pride a little easier.”
“Shut up, Pava.”
Xo was a massive red planet, swirling with sand clouds of gold and orange. Once Jess guided the ship through the clouds, an explosion of green jungle spread out across the planet’s surface. Poe indicated a point on the horizon.
“There,” he said. “Put us down on the top of that waterfall where the trees are at their thinnest.”
Jess nodded as she adjusted course. Poe left the cockpit and faced me.
“Stay close to me,” he said. “Your job is to observe. That’s it.”
“Got it,” I replied.
Poe took my wrists and drew my hands up, arms stretched out before him.
“Any cuts or scrapes?” he said.
“No,” I said. “Why?”
“There’s a fever going around. It comes every windy season. Lish’s people have built up an immunity to it. For them, it’s little more than a common cold. For us, it would burn our bodies from the inside out within three to five hours at the most. It infects through open skin. Even a paper cut could be fatal.”
“I’m clean,” I said.
Still, Poe inspected my arms, pushing my sleeves up past my elbow. He pulled my jacket off of the rack by the door and held it out to me.
“Wear this anyway,” he said. “Even if it’ll be hot as blazes out there.”
As I shrugged the jacket on, I swayed back against the wall when the ship bucked in the wind.
“Preparing for cargo drop,” Jess called over her shoulder.
Poe climbed onto the pallet of supplies and I followed suit.
“Ready to go,” Poe called back.
The cargo doors slid open. Sandy wind blasted me in the face. The cargo slid out of the ship, lowered by a pulley to the ground. The canopy’s leaves and twigs scratched at my arms and legs but my clothing prevented any broken skin.
The cargo hit the ground. Poe unclipped the hook and sent the rope reeling back up to the ship.
“See you two in an hour,” Jess said over the comms. “Behave yourselves and don’t get into trouble.”
Poe worked one of the straps free from the cargo and pulled a box into his arms.
“It’s a three hour walk to Lish’s community,” he said. “Take only what you can comfortably carry. Hopefully Lish will be generous and lend us a few people to help get the rest.”
I picked up a crate and maneuvered it onto my shoulder.
“And if Lish isn’t generous?” I said.
“Then we’ll be doing a lot of walking today.”
Lish’s community was half-embedded in the mountainside, houses carved into the red stone. As Poe and I approached, a handful of children scattered from the thick underbrush.
Sweat was streaming down my back but I didn’t dare take off my jacket. The foliage was so thick and razor sharp that it left score marks in the fabric. If my skin was exposed, I would be shredded within minutes.
Poe and I stopped at the edge of the forest and set our crates down. The children re-emerged with Lish in tow—a tall, thin man wearing dark blue robes.
Poe half turned to me. “Watch. Observe. Take note. Know the ground as well as you know the sky.”
Lish approached with a cool air about him, despite the oppressive, humid heat.
“Commander Dameron,” he said in a flat voice. “The very last person in the galaxy I desired to ever meet again.”
“Ambassador Lish, I’ve come to apologize for my behavior at our last meeting.”
A tug at the hem of my jacket drew my attention. I looked down to see a small girl with wide eyes and a round face, dusted with red dirt. She pointed at the crates—smooth and gleaming silver in the dim light that streamed through the thick canopy overhead.
“What are those?” she said.
“Those are supplies,” I said. “For you, your family, and your friends.”
“What kind of supplies?”
I glanced at Poe but he was deep in conversation. And judging by the way he kept his hands fisted behind his back, things were not going well. Better not to bother him with insignificant questions.
I pried the lid off of one of the crates. Inside, food was packed tight in colorful, bright wrappers and boxes. I withdrew a package of sweet protein cubes, ripped it open, and offered one to the little girl on the palm of my hand.
She poked at it.
“What is it?”
“Food,” I replied and popped it in my mouth. Sweetness burst on my tongue—like honey, melons, and sugar, rolled into one. I fished out another cube and placed it in the little girl’s hand.
She inspected it with a serious expression then nibbled at one corner. Her eyes lit up and she shoved the entire cube into her mouth. Her gaze fell to the package of protein cubes in my hand, eager for more.
“Wait here,” she said.
She vanished into the underbrush. A moment later, she returned with a makeshift toy in hand, composed of branches, leaves, and flowers, wrapped tight with a length of cord. She held out the toy.
“Would you trade with me?” she asked.
I opened my mouth to protest but Lish spoke first.
“Norri is my daughter,” he said.
I raised my head to find Lish and Poe watching me.
“She’s learning,” Lish continued, “what it means to be an ambassador for her people. She knows that charity is not acceptable. Only by equal and fair means will a partnership be met.”
I looked at the toy in Norri’s palm. The flower face, the vines for hands, the branches for arms. A doll.
“I would gladly trade with you, Ambassador Norri,” I said as I passed her the protein cubes.
Norri beamed and eagerly accepted the package.
Lish turned to Poe. “It seems we might come to an agreement after all. Apology accepted. We will take your supplies in return for our loyalty and service against the First Order.”
“Thank you, Ambassador,” Poe replied. He picked up the other crate. “Where can I deposit these for you?”
Norri offered up her doll and I accepted it. As carefully as I could to prevent the toy from getting crushed, I stowed it in my jacket pocket.
A pinprick of pain jabbed my finger.
I withdrew my hand to find a bright red spot of blood on my fingertip.
The world went spinning.
“Commander,” I breathed, staring at my bloody finger.
Poe didn’t stop as he glanced over his shoulder. Then he saw me, saw the blood. His smile vanished. He dropped the crate and ran towards me.
Poe skidded on his knees to a stop in front of me, clamped his hand around my finger. But it was too late. The infection was already coursing through my veins.
“You need to leave,” Ambassador Lish said.
Poe twisted around to look at him. Lish’s mouth was set in a grim line.
“We can’t help her,” he added. “There is no antidote in our possession.”
“You have nothing?!” Poe demanded, his voice rising too high in a way I’d never heard from him before. Tense. Panicked.
He sounded scared.
But I couldn’t be sure. Not when my head was throbbing and my breathing was too loud. And why was it so damn hot?
Lish spread his hands. “Our people have survived countless generations with this fever. We’ve never had reason to search for a cure when the fever passes in less than a week. For your cadet, we can attempt to bring the fever down in other ways but…the chances of survival are not good when she is not acclimated to it like we are.”
“Damn it,” Poe growled. He swept my hair away from my face, took my chin, and tilted my head up. “Look at me, cadet.”
I blinked slowly. Poe’s face was hazy, indistinct, as if I viewed him through fogged up glass.
“Kriffing hell, she’s already fading fast,” he muttered. “Jess, come in.”
The comms crackled but there was no response.
“If you are using communication devices,” Lish said. “They won’t work beneath the canopy. The trees emit a pulse that disrupts any and all frequencies.”
Poe closed his eyes and bowed his head. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
He slid his hands under my arms and hauled me to my feet. I swayed and bumped against his shoulder but I remained upright.
“And I suppose you’re going to tell me,” Poe said, “that you have no method of transportation other than walking out of here?”
Lish was silent.
“Shit,” Poe hissed. He spun around, furious, and pulled me after him. “All right, cadet. Hold it together for me for a little while longer.”
I stumbled along after him but he kept a fast pace. With each pounding pump of my heart, my blood burned hotter. My skin felt as if it was boiling. I ached to pull my jacket off but I knew I couldn’t, not if I wanted to survive this bloodthirsty forest.
My knees gave way beneath me and I pitched forward, hands out to catch myself. Poe caught me seconds before I hit the ground. He slung my arm over his shoulder.
“Keep moving,” he said. “I know you’re tired and you want a break but you have to keep moving.”
“No, you…should leave me here. Go get help.”
Why was it so hard to think?
The jungle twisted, spinning in a kaleidoscope of greens and blues. I felt sick but I had vomited in front of Poe once before and by sheer will power alone, I would never do it again.
“Not happening, cadet,” Poe replied. “There’s no telling how far I have to go before I can contact Jess. You’ve got three to five hours tops before you’re beyond help. And judging by how quickly you’re burning up, I’d say closer to three hours than five hours. By the time I got back to you, it could be too late.”
“Yeah, I know, it sucks,” Poe said. “Just don’t slow down. We don’t have time for that.”
His face was flushed cherry red, his curls clinging to his forehead, damp with sweat. Every few steps, Poe spoke into his comm in an attempt to get Jess’ attention but there was no response.
I lost my footing in the underbrush and slipped, taking Poe with me. We landed in a heap, arms and legs tangled. I didn’t want to move. It was easier to lay there, to let the fever rage.
But Poe was on his feet in only a moment, one arm around my waist, dragging me up to stand beside him. Darkness lined the edges of my vision and I blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear it. It only continued to close in until it seemed as if high noon had suddenly become full dusk.
“Why…so dark?” I wheezed.
“Fever symptom,” Poe said through gritted teeth.
By now, he must have been taking nearly all of my practically-dead-weight. But he wasn’t complaining and he wasn’t leaving me behind.
“Eventually, you’ll be blind,” he added.
My breath hitched in my throat and I faltered. “I’ll be…I’ll be what?”
“Antidote, cadet,” Poe said, pulling me forward. “Focus on that.”
I shoved the panic down and held onto that thought, repeating it over and over.
Antidote, antidote, antidote.
A counter tempo of desperation to accompany Poe’s repetitive, Jess, come in. Jess, come in.
The slosh and rush of water echoed nearby but I couldn’t see it. Then again, I couldn’t see much of anything by now. Cooler air kissed my face but the rest of my body was drenched in sweat and searing with heat.
“Water,” I croaked. “Please.”
“Right here, cadet,” Poe said. “Right here.”
He led me into a pool of water up to my knees.
“Take your clothes off,” he said, plucking at my jacket.
I reared back, shoved his hands away. “What?”
Some thin thread of propriety still managed to tug at my foggy mind. I’d imagined countless times what it would be like to hear those words come out of Poe’s mouth. But I’d always dreamed of it under very different circumstances.
And considering Poe was still my commanding officer, no matter how perfect those words sounded, I couldn’t enjoy them.
“That’s not…” I stuttered. “That’s not…no.”
I could feel the impatience radiating off of Poe. He stepped towards me and cupped my face in his hands to prevent me from backing away. Gradually, through the haze of fever, I saw his eyes clearly, the shape of his mouth, and only then realized how close he was. Really close. Kissable close.
“You’re overheated and you need to bring your temperature down as fast as possible,” he said. “Your clothes will trap warmth. That’s the last thing you need right now.”
He had a point. I knew that. But I didn’t want to admit it, even now when I was barely conscious. My desire to sink into the water until I was fully submerged won out over my unease.
“Okay,” I rasped. “But don’t you dare…breathe a word of…of this to anyone.”
Despite the tension of the moment, Poe gave a wan smile as he worked my jacket off and tossed it aside.
“Getting you naked in the middle of the jungle,” he said. “That would certainly fuel one or two rumors.”
“I know, I know.” Poe unzipped my flight suit, peeling it off my shoulders before he dropped it onto the shore with a wet smack. “Look but don’t tell.”
“I swear to the stars I will deck you…” The ground seemed to tilt beneath me and I clutched at Poe’s arm with a death grip for balance. “Later.”
“I’ll hold you to that, cadet.”
I was standing there in my underwear and a white tank top that had been soaked through to sheer visibility with sweat. In front of Poe Dameron, no less, the biggest crush I’d ever had on anyone.
But I couldn’t bring myself to care. The air felt impossibly good on my burning skin. When I got back to base and remembered all this…then the mortification would set in. If I survived that long.
“Good enough,” Poe said, deciding against stripping me entirely naked it would seem.
He led me into the water until my hands touched the smooth, chilled surface of a rock. I pressed my cheek against it with a sigh of relief, the rest of my body floating in the water.
“Hold onto that rock,” Poe said. “Don’t let go. I’m getting to high ground to contact Jess. As long as you stay cool, that should buy us some time.”
His palm cradled the back of my head for a moment, waiting for confirmation that I’d heard him and understood. I made a noise of acknowledgement, too tired and hot to do anything more than that.
I closed my eyes, listening to him splash away from me until I was alone. My grip on the rock grew slippery as my strength gradually seeped out of me. I sank deeper and deeper, inch by inch, until the water brushed my chin.
Then my bottom lip.
Then my mouth.
I was going under, too weak to drag myself to the surface…
A hand caught my chin, raised my head out of the water. My eyes fluttered open in an attempt to see who it was but all I saw was darkness.
“Oh, no you don’t, cadet,” Poe said. “Keep your head above water for a little while longer. Jess is on her way.”
“Where…did you go?”
“Finally got a signal out half a mile or so from here. Jess is locked onto our position. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
It was so easy to lean back against Poe’s chest, despite only vague awareness that I should keep my distance. My arms fell away from the rock, safe and secure in the knowledge that Poe wouldn’t let me drown. He slid an arm around my waist as his hand cupped the back of my neck, helping me float when I didn’t have the strength to do it myself. He smoothed my hair back and pressed his wet palm to my forehead.
“Stay awake,” he said. “Don’t close your eyes.”
“Getting…hard to breathe.”
“The fever. Your lungs are seizing up.”
I drifted deeper into the water until my ears were below the surface. I could hear Poe’s heart thrumming.
“Talk to me, cadet,” Poe said in a tight voice. “Assess the situation. Tell me how you’re going to get out of this.”
I couldn’t focus, my thoughts scattered. There was water and there was heat and anything else was too complicated to grasp.
A gust of wind swirled over me, sending water splashing into my face. An arm encircled my waist, pulling me back against that thrumming heartbeat, the only thing I could discern as an anchor amid the water and the heat.
I was jostled and lifted free from the water. And with the water gone, the heat swept through me like a wildfire.
A voice drifted to me, distant and somehow familiar, though I couldn’t place it.
“Floor it, Jess. She’s delirious. I tried to cool her down but it didn’t do much. We don’t have a lot of time left.”
I swallowed past my scratchy throat.
“I need…” I started.
Hands. Hands settled pockets of icy coldness around me. I reached out and grabbed one of those hands, hoping whoever it was could hear me.
“I need…the commander,” I said.
“Take it easy.”
That same familiar voice, the one I couldn’t place.
“I need to…speak to Commander Dameron,” I insisted, as loud as I could manage.
“All right,” the voice replied. A hand settled on my shoulder, pushing me down into the pockets of cold again. “What do you need him for?”
“Tell him what?”
“I screwed up. I knew…I knew better.”
A hand brushed my cheek. “It was an accident. There was no way you could have known it would happen.”
“I didn’t…want…to disappoint Poe.”
Then, very quietly, so quietly I almost missed it, the voice said, “No, sweetheart. You could never disappoint him.”
The med bay was clean, bright, and nothing like the humid jungle I remembered the last time I was awake. I took in my surroundings, marveling at every detail with clear vision.
A knock at the door made me turn my head. Poe stepped into the room.
“How are you feeling?” he said.
I kicked at the sheets. “Still a little warm.”
The memory of Xo was like a bad dream, indistinct and far away. The small pinprick of blood on my finger was the last thing I remembered. Poe took the seat beside my bed.
“Let’s not repeat that experience again, shall we?” he said in a lighter tone than he must have felt. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
I winced. “I don’t plan to.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it. Could have happened to anyone.”
“I had hoped that my first assignment off world might not be a total disaster.”
“It wasn’t,” Poe countered. “Lish was impressed with how you interacted with Norri. He’s agreed to ally with us, thanks to you. I certainly wasn’t getting through to him.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out Norri’s doll, encased in a clear box.
“Speaking of which,” he said. “Your trade has been decontaminated and safely stored. Any sign of contagion is gone but maybe just…keep it in the box. Don’t touch it. To be safe.”
He set it on the table beside my bed.
“So,” I started. “Did I…say anything?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know I was incoherent at some point. Everything after Norri is dark.”
“That might have been due to the fact that you were temporarily blinded,” Poe pointed out.
“Does that mean I didn’t say anything?”
A small smile teased at the corner of Poe’s mouth. My stomach dropped.
“I did say something,” I said. “What was it?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Then why are you smiling like that?”
“You were half out of your mind with fever. I promised I wouldn’t tell.”
I opened my mouth then snapped it shut again. That was not what I had been expecting. Poe pushed his chair back and stood.
“Get some rest, cadet,” he said. “Training resumes in two weeks.”
Without looking back, he walked away. I called after him.
“What did I say?”
No matter how many times I asked during the following weeks, all Poe would do was smile and remain silent.
“Where are we going?” I said, seated in the cockpit of the u-wing beside Poe. “Please no jungle planets.”
“Not this time,” Poe replied as he angled the ship out of the docking bay. “Graduation is coming up, isn’t it?”
I sank deeper into my seat. “I have to pass my simulation first.”
“Which you will. With flying colors.”
“As long as those flying colors are not flames,” I countered.
“Well, let’s say you do pass. A brand new member of my squadron is not going to get caught unprepared to be in the air at a moment’s notice. You’ll be needing your own ship pretty soon.”
My head snapped to the side to look at Poe. “Do you really mean that? Am I getting my own ship today?”
Poe grinned. “Maybe.”
“Like…like an x-wing?”
Visions of a shiny, top of the line x-wing flooded my mind.
“That depends,” Poe said.
I frowned. “Depends on what?”
He shrugged. “Whether you can find a needle in a haystack or not.”
Tatooine was just as hot as Xo had been, except Tatooine was a desert planet—sandy and dry. Not to mention it smelled like garbage and engine grease.
Poe and I stood before one of the biggest junk yards I had ever seen in my life. Mountains of spare parts, droids, and half-crumpled ships were piled high in some sort of haphazard pattern that seemed to make sense to the owner—a small, wizened little old woman with a lightbow strapped to her back.
“Have a look around,” she said. “Come talk to me when you find something you like and we’ll talk price.”
She hobbled off to her chair by the entrance beneath an umbrella that provided the only scrap of shade available for miles around.
Slowly, I turned to look at Poe. He raised his eyebrows, feigning an innocent expression.
“A junk yard,” I said. “Is not where you picked up your ship.”
“Well, I am the best pilot in the Resistance so there are different rules for me and—”
I pinched his arm. He had never used that line with me and I knew he was only pulling it now to poke fun.
“Ow,” Poe said in a flat voice. “Abusing the chain of command. Battery of your superior officer.”
“Why are we here, Commander?” I said, ignoring his false complaints.
“You’re a recruit. You’re not getting a sparkling new ship. I don’t even have one of those.”
“But I thought…?”
I trailed off, attempting to piece together that information.
“You thought what?” Poe prompted. “That the Resistance was provided ships fresh off the assembly line?”
I shifted and glanced away, crossing my arms. “When you put it that way…”
“It sounds ridiculous, yes, it does.” Poe curled his hand around my elbow and turned me to face him again. “The Resistance has always pieced itself together from whatever we can lay our hands on. As a recruit, this is your rite of passage. Find a ship to put your faith and trust in. Build it from the ground up if necessary. But this is your first and most crucial decision as a pilot. Understood?”
“Yes,” I said, my indignation fading into acceptance.
“Get a move on, cadet,” Poe said with a gentle push. “You have a long day ahead of you if don’t want to head back to base empty-handed.”
Four hours later, I found it. The ship of my dreams.
Or it would be once I was finished with it.
Right now, it was a mangled mess of metal, wires, and circuits. But it was an x-wing, a slightly older model than Poe’s ship. Replacement parts might be harder to find but they might be cheaper, too.
I made my way back through the labyrinth of refuse to the entrance. Poe had left me to wander the yard by myself as he dozed in the u-wing, his feet propped up on the console. I shoved his feet to the floor and he startled awake.
“I have a ship,” I declared.
“Really?” Poe said with disbelief.
“You didn’t think I could do it.”
Poe rolled his eyes as he stood and gestured to the door of the u-wing. “Considering I picked the most disreputable junk yard in all of Tatooine for your first dive, yes, I didn’t think you could do it because you weren’t supposed to be able to.”
“So, you were setting me up to fail?” I said as I stepped out of the ship.
“Not even close,” Poe replied. He swung down and landed beside me. “I was setting you up to test all of your options.”
“I don’t need any other options. I found what I came for.”
“Better be a damn good ship,” Poe replied.
“It is,” I said, no small amount of pride and certainty in my voice.
I led Poe through the junk yard and presented the ship in all its rusty, ripped up glory. He regarded it solemnly for a moment then toed at the fuselage with his boot.
“An awful lot of holes in that ship,” he said.
“I’ll fix them.”
Poe’s gaze flicked up to me. “This isn’t a model you’re used to.”
I withdrew my datapad from my back pocket. “I’m sure I can find any information I need.”
Poe nodded as he stepped back. “Why this one?”
I tilted my head, considering. I had come across plenty of ships in the junk yard before this one. X-wing models I knew inside and out, mirror images of Poe’s ship. Starfighters of a dozen different varieties that would fly a thousand times better than this one.
But as soon as I spotted this ship, buried in the rubble, never to taste the sky again, I knew I needed it. Not because it was once a gleaming missile of power rocketing through the sky, but because it was broken and small and no one would want it except me.
“It deserves a second chance,” I said.
“So do other ships,” Poe said, relentless in his determination.
“Why do I need a reason?” I protested. “I like the ship. I’m sure I can get it for next to nothing.”
Poe leveled a cool stare at me. “It matters because you’re putting your life on the line with that ship, as well as the lives of your squadron, and the lives of everyone you are defending and fighting for.”
I clamped my mouth shut and glanced at the ship again. But my resolve didn’t waver.
“Why do you want that ship, cadet?” Poe said, softer this time.
I raised my head to look at him. “It’ll take work,” I said. “A lot of work. More than any other ship I’ve come across. Probably more than any other ship in any other junk yard. It’s in bad shape, that’s obvious.”
“But you’re willing to do whatever it takes to see it brought back to its original state?”
I nodded. “Yes, I am. This ship…it’ll push me to know every inch of it, to go over every spare part and circuit board and make sure it’s in top working condition. By the time it’s up and running again, there won’t be a single piece of it that I haven’t examined, analyzed, polished, scrubbed, and recalibrated.”
A flicker of admiration brightened Poe’s eyes.
“Good answer, cadet,” he said. “It’s yours. Get the price worked out and let’s go grab something to eat.”
I got the x-wing for a song. The old woman was more than ready to part with the scrap heap for any price I was willing to offer.
Poe found a dusty, cramped little cantina that provided blessed shade from the sun. Neither of us cared that the food was slightly gritty with a thin layer of sand. I was feeling light and giddy from my triumph of the day, entertaining thoughts of all the upgrades and improvements I could add to my ship.
“Before we head back,” Poe said. “There’s one more order of business you’ll need to take care of.”
I stopped with a forkful of food halfway to my mouth. “What is it?”
Poe gestured towards the door. BB-8 came whirring up to the table. In BB-8’s wake, another droid spun to a stop and angled its head towards me with an inquiring beep. With the two droids next to each other, they looked like twins—the same spherical shape and tonal voices. But the second droid was blue and yellow. And it was spit-polished to a shine.
“Is that a BB unit?” I said.
“BB-D3,” Poe replied.
I raised my eyebrows. “That’s…the newest model available.”
He nodded. “You’ll need a droid to service your equipment, carry messages, things like that.”
I glanced down at the droid. It trilled and bumped against my boot.
“So…why didn’t I keep an eye out for a droid to repair while I was in the junk yard?” I said, casting a sideways look at Poe.
Poe poked his food with his fork and didn’t meet my gaze. “You’ll have your hands full with that ship.”
“Commander,” I said quietly. “I can’t accept this. You know that.”
Poe released a low breath and shoved his plate of food aside. This time, he did meet my gaze and there was fire in his eyes.
“Because people will talk, is that it?” he said, his voice going tight to prepare for confrontation. “We’ve been over this.”
“Part of it is gossip, yes,” I admitted. “But not all of it.”
Poe searched my face for a moment. “Then what’s the problem?”
I sighed and patted the top of BB-D3’s head. It purred and pushed against my hand for more attention.
“This is a brand new piece of equipment,” I said. “And I appreciate the gesture, I really do. But it wouldn’t be fair to the other recruits.”
Poe nodded. “All right. You have a point.” He folded his hands atop the table. “But the other recruits also didn’t earn Ambassador Lish’s favor for the Resistance. That was you. Not me. There was no way I was pulling that off. Lish wanted nothing to do with me.”
“I made a connection with his daughter. It was hardly a political move.”
“Are you saying it doesn’t count?”
A muscle in Poe’s jaw twitched. “You almost died on Xo, cadet. I’d say it counts.”
I fell silent.
Poe never told me what happened on Xo months ago. After I’d stabbed my finger, I remembered nothing else apart from unbearable heat. There was a huge chunk of time I couldn’t account for—hiking through the forest, the loss of my flight suit, Jess retrieving us, the ice packs Poe must have heaped on me to cool me down on the way back to base.
I had long since stopped pestering him for details. He laughed it off when I asked, claiming he had promised not to tell…something, whatever it was. But maybe…maybe the reason he didn’t talk about it was because it had been a close call. Too close. And he didn’t care to relive the memory of it.
Poe must have realized what he’d said. He leaned back, his hands sliding away from the table and dropping into his lap, as if he could physically distance himself from the topic he resurrected from the grave he had buried it in.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you mention Xo,” I said.
Poe scrubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, I told you it would be run of the mill stuff. And it sure as hell didn’t turn out that way.”
Was that…was that guilt weighing on his shoulders, dragging his voice to roughness? It was such a strange realization that I was struck speechless. Poe was never anything other than put together, composed, and hot headed. Certainly not expressing anything like remorse or regret.
Poe rose from his seat. “I’ll take the droid back. We’ll stop by the junk yard and pick one up for repair instead.”
Before I could think about what I was doing, I leaned over and caught Poe’s wrist.
“No,” I said. “Don’t do that. I’ll keep it.”
“I know what I said before, Commander. I changed my mind.”
Poe shot me a wary look. I released his wrist and he sank back into his seat.
“You’re sure?” he said.
I nodded. “Definitely.”
Poe pulled his plate closer again. He gestured to BB-D3 with his fork.
“If anyone gives you hell over the droid—”
“I’ll handle it.”
This late at night, the docking bay was quiet and I could work on my ship in relative peace.
Except for the game of sabacc in the corner, with Poe, Karé, Jess, and Snap. From the sounds of it, Poe and Snap were losing wildly. But they were flushed drunk so they didn’t really care.
“You lose again, boys,” Karé said. “Better quit before you’re stone broke.”
“Wait, I’ve got—” Snap protested.
Karé cut him off. “We’ve discussed this before, dumbass. Don’t bargain with your ship when you need it to fly.”
I stifled a laugh as I burrowed into the fuselage of my ship again. I was no stranger to Karé’s sharpness but the way she spoke to Snap was different, affection softening her insults to almost bearable.
“That’s not what I was going to say,” Snap replied. He didn’t even blink at Karé’s tone.
“I was going to suggest that we don’t need money to play. We’ve got the clothes on our backs.”
“Ha!” Poe said. “I like the way you think, buddy.”
“You just did the walk of shame last week, Snap,” Karé said. “You’re ready to do it all over again?”
“There is no shame in flaunting what I’ve got.”
“Stars, you’re more drunk than I thought,” Karé muttered, even as she gathered the cards to deal another round.
“Wait,” Jess said, putting out a hand to stop her.
To my horror, Jess turned and looked right at me. Her face lit up.
“Cadet, get in here!” she called, waving to me. “These two drunk idiots—”
“Hey,” Poe said, indignant. “Superior officer here.”
Jess ignored him. “—are easy pickings. Kick their asses and they won’t remember a damn thing in the morning. It’ll be fun.”
“I’m busy.” I held up a wrench to indicate that I was working and didn’t have time to play.
“You’re always busy with that old clunker,” Jess countered.
“She doesn’t want to play, Jess,” Poe said.
For a split second, I was grateful to him for standing up for me.
“She’s scared she’ll lose anyway,” he added with the most infuriating smirk. He knew that would get me to cave, the bastard.
My gratitude fizzled in a burst of flames. I dropped my wrench into my toolbox with an echoing thunk and wiped my hands on my flight suit.
“That is the sound of someone who means business,” Karé said without looking up. “It was nice knowing you, Dameron.”
I picked up an empty crate to serve as a chair and set it between Karé and Jess, directly across from Snap and Poe.
“Deal me in,” I said.
Snap crowed. “Hell hath no fury, Commander. You’re dead meat. I’ll be sure to say something nice at your funeral.”
Poe kept his gaze on me, a dark challenge in his eyes. There was something looser about this version of Poe, something I could easily get addicted to looking at if I wasn’t careful.
“We’ll see,” he said. He tilted his chin in my direction. “Have you played sabacc before, cadet?”
It was clear from his tone that he thought I was as skilled at sabacc as I was at the controls of a ship. Well then, let him think he could easily wipe the floor with me. He would be in for a rude awakening in a few minutes.
“Once or twice,” I replied.
“For every hand you lose, a piece of clothing goes.”
“Yes, Commander, I know,” I said, putting as much steel into my voice as I could.
Jess snorted a laugh into her cup.
Karé began dealing. “Whenever you’re done jabbering, we can get started.”
It was strange, sitting beside Karé. My interactions with her on base were few and far between since I had been assigned to work with Poe. But when she tapped the deck on the table, she turned to look at me and offered a bridge to gap the frigid distance between us.
“Don’t half-ass it,” she said. “Rank doesn’t mean shit once you take a seat at this table. Anything and everything is fair game from here on out. Go for the jugular.”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
“Hey,” Snap objected. “No coaching or plotting or whatever between players.”
“No, no, Snap.” Poe shook his head as he put a hand on Snap’s shoulder. “It’s okay. The ladies need all the help they can get. Let them have a head start.”
Jess made a choked growling noise and she set her cup down on the table hard.
“Oh, I’m definitely going for the jugular.”
“If you’re so confident, Dameron,” Karé said. “Why don’t we just team up?”
Poe shrugged. “Sure. Ladies against gentlemen sounds good to me.”
The first hand went to Karé. Poe tossed his cards onto the table, stretching his arms over his head. Snap groaned and slapped his cards down.
“Not again,” he muttered.
“It’s fine,” Poe said. He slid one arm out of his jacket, then the other, and tossed it on a nearby crate. “One hand won’t hurt us. Now the game really begins.”
The second hand went to Jess.
She grinned, propped her elbow on the table, chin in hand. She smiled as she twirled one finger.
“Shirts off, boys,” she said.
In that instant, my plan for revenge backfired. I’d known what I was agreeing to when I sat down at the table. But it was only at this moment that I realized what a horribly bad idea this had been.
Poe tugged his shirt up over his head, dropping it on the floor. My gaze fluttered across his bare torso for only a moment before I focused on the safe, neutral territory of the cards Karé gathered and shuffled. Any sarcastic response died in my throat.
“This is our game, Snap, don’t worry,” Poe said. “There’s still plenty of time to catch up. The girls just wanted a show.”
“You are so full of it, Dameron,” Karé said.
I released a low breath and rubbed at my forehead, studying the cards Karé dealt me, though I didn’t really see any of them.
If I bailed, I’d never live it down.
If I won, Poe would lose even more clothing.
If I lost, I would be losing clothing in front of Poe.
Stars, why did I get myself into this?
Jess glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and nudged her cup over. A small mercy. I accepted it, gulping down the burn of Corellian ale willingly.
Losing was not an option. Poe was watching me even now. He might be intoxicated but that hadn’t affected his ability to read a given situation and assess the outcome. I couldn’t imagine what he would see on my face if I started stripping off clothing in front of him.
Poe elbowed Snap. “I think our cadet is a little nervous. She’s sweating.”
Now he was just plain toying with me.
Fine. Since I couldn’t afford to lose, and Poe was poking fun at me, I would win and I would do it without mercy.
I took the next hand with the top trick, an Idiot’s Array. There was no beating that. Not a chance.
Poe raised his eyebrows and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, shit.”
Jess bent over the table, laughing. Snap kicked off his shoes with a sullen glare in Poe’s direction.
“It’s not my fault you can’t play worth a damn,” Poe replied.
“Then what’s your excuse?” Snap countered.
“Stroke of bad luck. Has to change at some point. Just gotta stick it out.”
Karé snorted. “Doesn’t look like it’s coming to an end any time soon.”
Poe tossed back a shot of ale, grimaced, and patted the table.
“The night isn’t over yet,” he said. “Let’s go. Another round. I’ve got clothes to spare still.”
“Barely,” Jess said.
Snap leaned back. “I’m tapping out.”
“What?” Poe said, incredulous. “You’re leaving me to fend for myself?”
“In a heartbeat.”
Snap stood, squeezing Poe’s shoulder as he swayed on his feet. He closed his eyes and shook his head, waiting until the world stopped spinning.
Karé studied him for a moment. “It’s a miracle you can stay upright, considering how much you’ve had to drink tonight.”
Snap waved her off. “I’m right as rain.”
Jess watched Snap stumble out of the docking bay.
“He’ll be suffering in the morning,” she said.
“Not as much as Dameron will be,” Karé said.
“But it’s so entertaining.”
“Now wait a minute,” Poe said. “Don’t start your victory lap just yet. Three against one. I’ve faced worse odds before and scraped by.”
“That’s debatable,” Karé said as she dealt and placed the deck in the middle of the table.
For the second time in a row, I won. Poe made a face and bent over to untie his boots.
“How are you holding up there, Commander?” Karé said.
“This is fine,” Poe said, his voice muffled from under the table as he yanked off his shoes. “This is all fine. You think you’ve got it in the bag. I still have a chance here. I can pull this off.”
“Optimistic to the last,” Jess said.
Poe straightened in his seat and heaved a deep breath. I risked a quick glance up to see the silver of his mother’s ring gleaming against his skin. Smooth, golden, bare skin…
“Final round,” he said. “It isn’t over yet.”
Jess feigned a look of disappointment. “What, no boxers?”
“Nope. Free as a bird.”
This had just gone from bad to so much worse in the span of one panicked heartbeat.
Karé flicked the cards around the table, staring at Poe as he stared right back.
“I tried to warn you,” she said.
“Transmission received, loud and clear,” he replied.
“You got yourself into this, not me.”
“I’ve got a plan, Kun. Don’t worry.”
Karé huffed a laugh. “You’ve never had a plan in your life. Always flying by the seat of your pants. The pants you will no longer have in a minute.”
I collected my hand, heat sweeping up the back of my neck and across my face. Maybe if I lost this round, Poe wouldn’t lose the last scrap of clothing he had left…
In the end, it didn’t matter what I did. Jess took the hand. She fanned her cards out with a smile.
“Strip, Commander,” she said, triumphant.
I gulped and stared at the table as Poe stood. He unbuckled his belt. I closed my eyes, listening to the rasping zipper of his fly.
This…this could not be happening.
The swish and rustle of fabric seemed overly loud in the cavern of the docking bay. His belt buckle clanked against the concrete floor.
“That’s it for me,” Poe said. “I hope you enjoyed yourself, ladies.”
“Oh, we certainly did,” Jess said, her voice dripping with sugar-sweet sarcasm.
I should have kept my head down.
I should have kept my gaze on the table.
But I didn’t.
I looked up.
Poe stood there, one eyebrow raised, his defiance the only thing he had left in the aftermath of the game. He held out his hand, palm up.
“May I have my shirt at least?” he said.
Karé pretended to consider it, even though the unrelenting look she leveled at Poe was clear she was not going to have mercy on him in his time of need.
“Feeling a little shy this evening, Commander?” she said.
“The last time this happened, I almost ran into Leia. If she catches me, she’ll kill me.”
Jess hummed. “That’s too bad.”
“Kriff, you two are brutal.”
Jess smiled and sipped her ale with a resounding slurp.
“It’s…” Poe pressed his lips into a thin line with a growl of frustration. “It’s cold, okay?” he said, part-plea.
Karé snatched his shirt from the floor before he could grab it. She draped it over the table in front of her, clearly staking a claim on it.
“You lost, Commander,” she said. “Fair and square. Maybe next time you’ll take my advice and quit while you’re ahead.”
Poe let his hand drop. He turned and walked away without a single stitch of clothing on him, from the width of his shoulders to the perfectly rounded curve of his ass.
Jess elbowed me. “Take a good long look, cadet. Feast your eyes.”
I kicked her under the table and she laughed.
Karé gathered Poe and Snap’s clothing, dividing it up between us. She tossed Poe’s shirt at me—the one she had refused to give back—along with his jacket, the leather worn and faded with familiarity. One article of clothing for each hand I’d taken tonight.
“You cleaned him out nicely,” Jess said. “Enjoy the spoils of war.”
“Don’t let Dameron win those back too easily,” Karé said to me. “Make him work for it. Although considering how well you played tonight, my guess is that won’t be a problem.”
I nodded, still not quite able to form a coherent sentence.
Jess snickered. “I think she’s swallowed her tongue.”
I aimed another kick at her but she yipped and scrambled out of reach.
A/N: My only regret is that I don't have a gif to go along with this chapter for extra visual reference ;)
At breakfast the next morning, Jess sat across from me, her head pillowed on her arms, still half-asleep and nursing a mild headache.
“Worth it,” she mumbled.
“If you say so,” I replied.
She peeked at me with one eye. “Are you saying you didn’t appreciate the view last night?”
I glared at her over the top of my cup. Jess chuckled and buried her face in her arms again.
“I’m never telling you anything ever again,” I said.
Jess huffed. “Honey, you didn’t have to say a damn thing.”
I opened my mouth to protest when I spotted Poe on the other side of the mess hall. As his gaze slid over the room, for a brief moment I considered diving under the table.
But his gaze fell on me too soon. He scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair as he made his way towards me. His clothes were a little more rumpled than usual, his hair not quite as neat as it normally was. Otherwise, there were no signs of the hangover he must have been suffering from.
“So, cadet,” Poe said. “You’ve been holding out on me.”
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look him in the face.
Not while the echo of his belt buckle hitting the docking bay floor still resonated in my head.
Not when I couldn’t stop replaying the image of him standing there, wearing only that necklace, one hand cupped at his groin, not quite covering his…
I closed my eyes and returned my attention to my caf. Focus, cadet, focus.
“You never told me you could play sabacc that well,” Poe continued.
Finally, I managed to find my voice. But I spoke in the direction of the table, not at him, just to be safe in case my voice gave out and betrayed me.
“You didn’t ask.”
Jess chuckled, making no attempt to muffle the sound.
“All right,” Poe said. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
I shrugged. “Eventually. Maybe.”
Jess piped up. “Can’t expect a girl to spill all her secrets at once just ‘cause you smile so prettily, Dameron. Although strutting around butt naked in front of her might shock her into confessing a few things.”
I stifled a groan. Maybe it was time to pack up and move to another planet.
“Watch it, Pava,” Poe shot back. “I’ve got a brand new recruit coming up hot and fast. She might take your spot on the squadron.”
Jess raised her head, eyes closed, with a sleepy little grin.
“You wouldn’t replace me,” she said.
Poe looked down at her and chucked her under the chin.
“I might. You never know.”
She pretended to nip at his fingers.
“But,” Poe added. “I’ll hold off for now. I want a rematch by the way.”
Jess groaned and dropped her head on her arms again.
“Don’t you ever stop? Let us rub your nose in it for a day or two before you want payback.”
“Fine, enjoy your victory while it lasts.”
As Poe turned to leave, he stopped, backed up a step and placed two fingers by my hand on the table top.
“When do you think you can have that x-wing in the air?” he said.
I blinked in surprise at the sudden change of topic. After how much he’d had to drink the night before, I thought he would be out of commission for the day. But it seemed he wasn’t even slowing down.
“By the end of the week probably,” I replied. “I’m missing a couple of parts that are harder to find than I thought. Why?”
“I’d like you to take it for a spin before I talk to Karé about setting up your simulation.”
I choked on my caf, hot liquid scalding my throat.
Poe nodded. “The real deal.”
“But…I’m already a cadet, aren’t I?”
“It’s a formality at this point. We’ve covered everything else—ground combat, repair work, galactic relations. Your scores on the shooting range didn’t need any help whatsoever. The only thing you haven’t done so far is to get back into that simulation again.”
At the not-thrilled look on my face, Poe continued.
“Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass. But it’s required. Dot the I’s, cross the T’s. It’ll be over before you know it.”
I fell silent, poking at my food, my stomach roiling with dread.
Poe reached out then paused, his hand half-way to my shoulder. He hesitated and dropped his hand to his side.
“No matter what happens in the sim test,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. We’ll keep working at it, all right? And for what it’s worth, I’ve got my money on a pass.”
“Are you willing to bet your shirt on it, too, Commander?” I said, drily.
“Without a doubt.”
“Let’s hope your luck has changed since the last time you did that.”
“I have a pretty good partner to back my play this time around,” Poe replied.
As he headed out of the mess hall, Jess sighed. She stretched then slumped in her seat.
“Would you two just make out already and get it over with?” she said.
“Jess, I swear—“
She skirted away, laughing, before I could finish.
“Listen to my voice, cadet,” Poe said over the comm.
I was in the air. Alone. My first test flight in my x-wing. Now that the base was below me, a tiny blue speck, all I could do was hope that my repairs held steady and I didn’t burst into flames when I landed.
“I repeat, do you copy?” Poe said.
“Copy that,” I managed to reply past my dry throat.
I clutched the controls tight, barely breathing, my head pounding.
“I want you to come in for a landing, nice and easy,” Poe said.
“Stars,” I muttered, guiding the ship back to base.
Getting into the air went off without a hitch. Getting back to the ground was going to be the problem. It always was.
“Maybe I should circle around again—“
“No,” Poe cut in. “You’ve already done that three times. You’re going to land, cadet. And you’re going to do it right now. Clear?”
I pressed my lips together to stifle a noise of frustration. But I nodded. Then, fighting to regain a steady voice, I spoke.
“Don’t throttle the controls. Make sure your grip is light and comfortable.”
I peeled my hands away from the controls, readjusting my hold.
“Where’s your thrust capacity sitting at?” Poe said.
“Good. Settle into your line of approach. When you see the landing pad, I’ll guide you in.” He paused then, in a lower voice, added, “You’ve got this, cadet. You’re doing great. Keep it up.”
I released a long, low breath, comforted by the thrum of the engine and the weightlessness of open space around me. This is everything I’d ever wanted, here in my hands, now.
A red light flickered to attention on my console and a high-pitched beeping shrieked in the enclosed space of the cockpit. The ship shuddered then pitched hard to the right. I wrestled it back on track.
“What’s going on?” Poe said. “Talk to me.”
“Stabilizers are failing,” I said, surprised at how level my voice sounded.
Poe inhaled a deep breath. Even if he gave me the answer—which he wouldn’t—I didn’t need him to. I knew what that meant. A sudden calm settled over me as I clung to the knowledge I had become so familiar with during the past few months.
“How will that affect your flight pattern?” Poe said.
“Full loss of control in under a minute,” I replied.
“And what are you going to do about it?”
“Patch it up and limp it along until I can get to ground,” I said. “BB-D, can you do a quick fix for me?”
The droid clunked, whirred, and buzzed from its position behind me. After a few seconds, the alarm shut off. The ship righted itself, responding with only a slight buck every now and then.
“Status?” Poe said.
“Holding steady. Entering atmosphere in three, two…”
Heat blasted against the ship. The cockpit became an oven and I was boiling inside it as I hurtled through the atmosphere. But my grip on the controls never changed. I knew my ship would make it, even with faulty stabilizers acting up. I’d come too far and worked too hard to fall short now.
The turbulence of breaking atmosphere fell away and the ship sailed through pure blue skies smoothly. I could hear a small, muffled breath of relief from Poe on the other end of the comm.
“I see you,” he said. “Come on home, cadet.”
For a moment, I closed my eyes, smiling at how good that sounded. Home. Then I opened my eyes again and concentrated on picking out the landing pad amid the sea of trees below me.
A small patch of gray tarmac.
This was it. The final stretch.
I brought my thrusters down to quarter power. The ship shuddered and coughed as the stabilizers threatened to give out.
Even with the possibility that my ship might fall apart, flying solo was easier than I ever thought it could be. My hands floated over the console, making adjustments as needed, until I hovered just above the tarmac.
In the simulation, I never made it this far.
My first time in the cockpit, Poe had been by my side, showing me what to do when I froze up.
I didn’t freeze now.
For countless hours, I’d ripped this ship apart and pieced it back together. I had memorized every dent and scratch, every hiccup and stutter.
This was my ship. Mine. And I knew the sweet spots that would make it soar.
I coasted onto the landing pad where Poe waited for me. The ship skidded with a screech on the tarmac then came to a stop. I placed my hands flat to the console with a whisper of thanks.
The canopy overhead opened and Poe looked down at me with the biggest smile I’d ever seen on him.
“Good work, cadet,” he said. “Your first solo flight was a success. Looks like you’re ready for that simulation after all.”
The test had seemed so monumental for so long. Now that it was over, looking back on it, the whole ordeal was smaller, less intimidating.
Had I passed?
I didn’t know. I landed the simulation, unlike previous encounters with it. But I still had an outstanding history of failure on my record that I couldn’t wipe out, no matter how hard I tried to put it behind me. If I was assigned to a squadron, was I still a risk when I had failed so many times and succeeded only once?
When I’d been seated in the simulation, it felt…strange. I had been in a true cockpit, flown a u-wing as well as an x-wing, not this generic, model-less monitor before me. It was different. And it was wrong.
I knew the rumble of a ship’s hyperdrive unit firing up. I knew when a faulty part was about to malfunction before an alarm went off. As it turned out, very little of that information actually applied to the simulation—a test founded on the most basic of terms.
My knowledge had exceeded it by leaps and bounds.
Now all I needed was the final word. Yes or no.
For the better part of an hour, I sat outside of General Organa’s office where she talked with Karé and Poe over my test scores. I couldn’t hear anything through the door, despite several shameful attempts at eavesdropping.
Finally, the door slid open and Poe stepped out. He kept his gaze downward, eyes shuttered by his lashes, hiding any indication one way or the other of an end result. He waited until the door slid shut before he stepped closer.
I scrambled to my feet, hands fisted at my sides. Then I crossed my arms. Uncrossed them.
Why was he taking so long to say something?
“Normally, this is Karé’s job,” Poe said. “But since you’re my recruit, I wanted to deliver the news myself.”
I swallowed, waiting.
At last, Poe flicked his gaze up to my face. And he couldn’t hide the smallest smile at the corner of his mouth.
“I passed?” I breathed. “Kriffing…shit…I…I passed.”
Before I realized what I was doing, I flung my arms around Poe’s neck so suddenly that he stumbled back a step to catch his balance. When he laughed, I felt the vibration rumble through his chest pressed against mine, felt his breath brush my cheek. And if I turned my head just a little, my lips would be right there, right at his neck…
I jerked away. “Oh. Sorry. I shouldn’t have—“
I glanced past him at General Organa’s office as if she might step out the door at any moment.
“You’re allowed to celebrate,” Poe said, amused.
“Yeah, but—I mean that wasn’t…professional.”
Poe huffed. “Neither is strip sabacc and yet you jumped on that opportunity pretty damn fast.”
I sputtered in protest but Poe just smiled and clapped me on the shoulder.
“Welcome to Black Squadron, cadet,” he said. “You made it.”
Since I didn’t attend normal training, I wouldn’t be awarded cadet status at the graduation ceremony like all other recruits were.
But now that I was officially, on paper, a Rebel cadet, Karé pulled some strings. I would be granted an honorable mention at the ceremony for her current recruits.
I was so nervous and excited all at once that I couldn’t bring myself to leave the relative anonymity of the hallway, hidden by shadows, deserted. I was used to empty corridors when no one else was around.
I peeked into the docking bay where the ceremony would take place. Hundreds of people were buzzing with conversation and more than a little Corellian ale that had been passed around.
“Relax,” Poe said. “You’ve been through much worse than this.”
I made a noise of disagreement but didn’t bother attempting to form any thought beyond that. It was just…so crowded out there.
“You don’t even have to do anything,” Poe continued. “Walk down the aisle. Line up with the other recruits. Stand there through a few speeches. Blah, blah. Then head to the buffet table.”
I finally tore myself away from the sight of the docking bay and turned back to face Poe. I smoothed my hands down my shirt.
“How do I look?” I said.
Poe opened his mouth, took in a breath to speak and then…faltered. He seemed so uncertain that my composure withered.
I frowned. “What is it? Do I need to go change? I thought this was okay but if it’s not—“
Poe stepped forward, cutting off my babbling. He placed his hands on either side of my face and gently raised my head.
“You look perfect,” he said softly.
There was no need to say anything more. He should have retreated after that. Professional distance. The personal space required between an instructor and his student.
But he didn’t. He stayed. He stayed and held my gaze for so long and I didn’t breathe for a single second of it.
Poe’s gaze drifted down to my mouth. I sucked in a shuddering breath at the loss of eye contact. It made the warmth of his hands, the pressure of each fingertip against my skin, even more pronounced. He traced the line of my neck with the pad of his thumb, so carefully, so lightly, sweeping down over my collarbone.
Poe shifted closer, his hip bumping against mine. My hand came up haltingly, knowing I shouldn’t, that this was a line I had diligently not crossed before and shouldn’t even consider crossing now.
Then my fingers touched the fabric of his shirt and curled deep, knuckles scraping against his clothed ribs.
Don’t don’t don’t.
It was an instinct, a gut feeling, dragging me into territory I knew I shouldn’t go. I wanted the danger of it.
I always wanted what I couldn’t have.
My other hand slid up Poe’s chest, over his shoulder, around the back of his neck. Fingers locked into his hair.
I might as well have pointed my ship straight at the ground and ramped the power up to full capacity.
I was going down in flames. And I wasn’t doing a damn thing to stop it.
I kissed him. Hard.
I pushed against his lips until he gave way and my tongue slipped into his mouth, stealing that filthy sound he made. Poe skimmed a palm up my back, wrapping himself around me, enveloping me in the heat of his hands and his tongue, the kind of heat that could make me blind.
“Wait,” I said, somehow, when I was in his mouth and my mouth was full of him.
Poe pulled back, drawing his bottom lip between his teeth. His hand wandered down my spine as he nuzzled at my jawline.
My eyes fluttered closed and I leaned into him with a shuddering breath.
“Wait,” I repeated, weaker, resolve failing.
Poe cupped his palm to my cheek, tilting my head aside to expose my neck. My skin ached with the need to be touched in any way I could get. But Poe waited. I had asked to stop and he wouldn’t go any further.
We had already gone too far.
“You…we…can’t do that again,” I said.
Each word burned as I spoke it.
Poe searched my face for a moment before he brushed his knuckles over my chin. I caught his hand, kissed his palm with a lingering kiss, a good-bye kiss that we both knew would be the last.
“No,” I said, almost a sob. “I’m serious.”
All he did was look at me.
Say something. Please.
Instead, Poe nodded. Only a slight motion of understanding. It felt like a kick to the stomach, knocking the air out of me.
“You’re right,” he said.
He stepped back. His hands fell away, taking his heat with him.
“Have fun tonight, cadet,” Poe said. “You deserve it.”
That one word pounded again and again in the silence long after Poe left me standing there, waiting for the ceremony to being.
It was the word I wanted. The word I had worked so hard for.
When it came from Poe’s mouth in that moment—the mouth I had kissed, the mouth I had tasted—it was jarring.
And cold. So, so cold.
Not with animosity or scathing insult. Poe meant what he said. He’d been by my side every step of the way, making sure my dreams were top priority and he wouldn’t jeopardize that, even now.
But just then, as I kissed him with my fingers in his hair and his breath in my lungs, I wanted to hear a different word from him.
I wanted him to say my name.
Not cadet. Not recruit.
Just my name.
Throughout the duration of the ceremony, nervous energy wound itself tighter and tighter in my chest until I was vibrating. After the ceremony had ended and the crowd disbanded for food and drink, I was shaking so hard that my teeth were chattering.
What had I done? Had I just thrown away everything I’d worked for? And how would this affect working with Poe in the future?
Now that I was an official cadet, he was no longer my trainer. He was my commander now. How could I look Poe Dameron in the eye knowing I’d kissed him and pretend everything was normal?
I finally found Jess at the buffet table, balancing a plate of food in one hand as she browsed through bottles of ale, wine, and punch. I caught her wrist in a tight, bruising grip.
“I need to talk to you,” I said. “Now. Like right now.”
“Stars, okay, okay,” Jess said. She juggled her plate to the other hand. “What’s the emergency, cadet? You’re…you look spooked.”
I didn’t respond as I dragged her through the crowd, out of the docking bay and down a hallway. I turned to face her, my voice cracking as I spoke.
“I kriffed up so bad, Jess,” I said.
Jess frowned, a bite of food halfway to her mouth. “What did you do?”
I ran my hands over my face. I couldn’t tell her. But I couldn’t not tell her either and bear this on my own.
Jess waited, searching my face.
I stepped closer and lowered my voice, even though the corridor was empty and the buzz of the crowded docking bay was still too loud.
“I kissed him,” I whispered.
Jess blinked, wide-eyed. Then she laughed.
She laughed until her face flushed and she was wheezing.
“Thank the stars,” she said.
“No, no, no, Jess,” I pleaded. “This is bad. This is very bad.”
Jess popped a fingerful of hors d’oeuvre into her mouth. “I’ve heard Dameron uses too much tongue.”
“What?” she said, muffled by food.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?”
“Oh, believe me, I sure did. I’ve been waiting for this. Maybe you’re not a tongue girl. It’s okay. Doesn’t mean the next time you kiss him will be that bad.”
I covered my face with my hands and swore under my breath.
“That is not what I meant,” I said. “And I was the one with my tongue in his mouth because I kissed him.”
“Okay, well, first of all, kudos to you for going after what you want. Second of all, so you do like a little tongue. What’s the issue here?”
I stared at her, horrified. Her smile widened even more, if that was possible.
“You’re not helping,” I said.
Jess shrugged. “I’m not the one who got handsy with my commanding officer.”
My breath hitched in panic. “You have to promise, promise me, Jess, please, that you won’t mention this to anyone ever.”
“Cross my heart,” she said. “Won’t tell another soul.” She paused then added with a wicked little gleam in her eye, “Except Karé.”
“What!? No. Karé can’t…stars, no, Karé cannot know. Ever. She’s the last person on the entire base who needs to know about this.”
“General Organa might be interested to hear—“
My stomach pitched and my knees wobbled. I put a hand against the wall to steady myself.
“Kriffing hell, no, don’t tell her either. Just…don’t tell anyone.” I heaved a breath, my head spinning. “I should never have kissed him.”
“Sounds like you were having fun.”
“Jess,” I rasped.
“Honey,” Jess said quietly, placing a hand on my back. “It’s okay. The general is really good about turning a blind eye to this kind of thing all the time.”
“That doesn’t make it right. There are rules…”
“Well, yes, there are. But life is too short, especially on base, to let pesky little details like rules get in the way of spending time with someone who gets you all hot and bothered.”
I closed my eyes and groaned. “But I can’t do this.”
Jess frowned. “Why not?”
“Because I’m the screw up. Everyone knows that. I’m the one who required special training to get where I am.”
A stony expression fell over Jess’s face. She set her food aside, put her hands on my shoulders and turned me to fully look at her.
“That’s behind you now. You’re an official cadet. Who gives a shit what other people say? You worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen to earn your spot on the squadron.”
She paused and her grip on my shoulders tightened.
“What’s this really about?” she said. “Wait a minute. Did Dameron not kiss you back? Because if he didn’t, I’ll kill him—“
“He did. That’s the problem.”
Jess raised her eyebrows, waiting.
“He’s my superior officer, Jess. And I’m…”
“You’re a cadet,” she finished for me. “One day, he’ll wake up and realize he could do so much better than you. Right?”
Miserable, I nodded. Jess sighed and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug. I screwed my eyes shut and buried my face in her shoulder.
“Even if we gave it a shot,” I said. “What if it didn’t work out in the end? I could lose my position.”
“Dameron might be an ass sometimes,” Jess said, rubbing my back. “But he isn’t vindictive. He wouldn’t ruin your career because of a relationship gone south.”
I pulled away, pressed my palms to my eyes and breathed, fighting my composure into place again.
“You can’t say the same for other people,” I said. “They could make my life a living hell. Poe is the face of the Resistance, the poster boy. I’m…not. I can’t risk it.”
Jess didn’t argue. She knew I was right. Instead, she slid an arm around my shoulder with a sympathetic look.
“Stars, you’ve had one kriffing day,” she said. “Let’s get you something to drink. Something strong. Maybe some food. Food is good. And you can use as much tongue as you want at the dessert table. No one will bat an eye.”
Despite barely holding back tears, I managed to laugh.
I couldn’t avoid Poe, no matter how much I might want to. I had to take orders from him and work in the field under extreme conditions, along with the rest of his squadron.
Three days after the ceremony, after…that…happened, Poe knocked on the door of my quarters. I closed my eyes, pressed my forehead to the cool metal of the door.
For three days, I hadn’t seen him.
But that couldn’t go on any longer.
I opened the door, spine rigid, every muscle in my body braced against facing him when I ached to touch him, to taste him, to feel him wrapped around me like he had been for only a few brief, interminable seconds.
“We’re heading out,” Poe said. “Suit up. Let’s go.”
I blinked, startled. I had expected some kind of confrontation or awkward conversation. But it seemed Poe was sweeping the whole thing under the rug.
I glanced down at my hands.
“No,” Poe cut in.
I hesitated. “No?”
Poe inhaled and released his breath, slow and quick. “What happened…it doesn’t change anything. Just leave it in the past. Don’t look back.”
That wasn’t true. It changed how I looked at him, how much I wanted him even more.
“We both have jobs to do,” Poe added. “And right now, trouble is on its way. Leia has ordered all of Black Squadron in the air.”
“Including me?” I said, unable to mask the surprise in my voice.
“You’re part of the crew now.”
I grabbed my flight suit and BB-D3 whirred to life, zipping close at my heels.
“Well, I mean—yes, I know that. But I didn’t think I’d be put in the middle of the action so soon.”
“You won’t be,” Poe replied. “You’ll stay in the back. Don’t do anything unless I tell you otherwise.”
My reply faltered to silence and I pressed my lips shut. It made sense. I was a brand new addition to the team. I couldn’t exactly be placed front and center. But that didn’t make the sting of it any less bearable.
I hurried to keep up with Poe as he made his way to the docking bay. The room was churning with activity, pilots, droids, and ships. Poe shouted directions to his squadron, lining up their ships on the landing pad. He broke away from me, climbing into his x-wing without a backward glance.
He’d given an order—suit up, let’s go—and he relied on the knowledge that I could handle myself, get in line with the rest of the pilots on time without the need to keep an eye on me over his shoulder.
A nudge of worry whispered in the back of my mind that maybe things would never be the same again. I’d crossed a line I knew I shouldn’t have and I would pay for that mistake.
But I pushed that thought away. If I was truly going to pay for that mistake, Poe would have left me behind. I was the one making a big deal out of this when he had already moved on.
I hauled myself up into my x-wing and started the engine. The stabilizers—expensive, brand new replacements for the previous faulty ones—held steady as I was directed onto the landing pad.
Seconds later, I was in the air, flying alongside the rest of Black Squadron.
The squadron was ripped apart.
I was pushed so far back that I only saw the action from a distance. TIE fighters and Rebel ship parts floated by, bodies limp and lifeless, enemy and ally alike.
I bowed my head, listening to the chaos of voices scrambling over each other on the comm.
All I could do was sit there.
Poe had given the order for me to stay put. Don’t move unless he said so. If anyone got past Black Squadron’s defenses, it would be my job to shoot them down.
But at this rate, Black Squadron wasn’t letting anyone through. And they were losing ground. If they continued this way, there wouldn’t be anything of Black Squadron left. TIES would come for me, one lone cadet tucked in the corner, away from the fight. I wouldn’t stand a chance.
“I’m taking fire,” Jess said. “Shields are down to fifteen percent. A little backup here would be appreciated.”
My gaze darted through the stars and ships, the red bolts of canon fire, searching for Jess’s x-wing.
Four TIE fighters crowded behind her. Besides the damage to her shield, her hyperdrive unit wasn’t doing well, judging by how much she’d slowed down. A slow ship meant certain death in a fight against TIES.
“Hold them off for a little while longer, Jess,” Poe replied. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
From my vantage point, Jess didn’t have a minute.
“I’ll cover her,” I said.
“No,” Poe said, sharp. “Don’t move from your position, cadet. I repeat, do not move.”
I gritted my teeth. Jess’s ship dipped into a nosedive in an attempt to shake the TIES but they remained tight on her tail. She took another hit and her ship swerved.
“Shields at ten percent!” Jess said.
My fingers curled around the controls of my ship at the fear in Jess’s voice. One more hit would finish her off. Black Squadron couldn’t afford to lose anymore man power against the First Order’s ships. And I couldn’t stand by while my friend was killed in front of me.
I watched with horror as the TIE fighters broke off, two on the left, two on the right.
“Lost visual,” Jess said.
But I could see them, lining up their shot. Within seconds, four TIES would fire on Jess.
She would be obliterated.
“Thirty seconds, Jess,” Snap said. “I’m on my way.”
“She doesn’t have thirty seconds,” I said.
“Cadet—“ Poe started.
He didn’t get to finish. I pushed my thrust to full power and took off.
I had half of a plan.
Well. More like a quarter of a plan. All I knew for sure was that I needed to get Jess out of there in one piece.
I fired on the two TIE fighters closest to me. One jerked to the side but remained flying. The other zipped away, circling around to tag me from behind no doubt.
The other two TIES were closing in on Jess. Canon fire burned through space, headed straight for her.
At the last possible moment, I swerved, angling my ship between Jess’s x-wing and the oncoming TIE fighters. Rapid-fire blasted my fuselage but my shields held.
“Nice move, cadet!” Jess said. “I owe you one.”
By that time, Snap flew in, firing on the TIES. One bolted, the other shattered into tiny pieces of shrapnel. Jess cheered, the sound deafening over my comm.
“Jess, go back to base,” Poe said. “Cadet,” and there was no mistaking the tightness in Poe’s voice when he referred to me. “Follow Jess home.”
I could have argued. I could have protested, pointing out that I had been useful. I had provided Jess a shield when she didn’t have one.
But I had disobeyed a direct order. Any hope of getting the chance to stay and fight was lost now.
“Yes, Commander,” I replied.
I remained at Jess’s side all the way back to D’Qar. I paced the landing pad, arms crossed, heart hammering as I watched the sky, waiting for Poe’s return.
“You did good today, cadet,” Jess said quietly.
I glanced at her and shook my head.
“I don’t regret my decision,” I said. “But Poe is going to kill me for it.”
Jess was silent. No witty comeback or joke to laugh it off. She simply stepped up beside me, her shoulder brushing mine.
“Well, I’ve got your back,” she said. “Because if you didn’t stick up for me out there, I’d be dead. So if Dameron wants to give you hell, he’ll have to send a little my way, too.”
Poe and the rest of Black Squadron didn’t come limping onto base for another two hours. Jess shifted closer in reassurance as Poe’s x-wing skidded to a stop. The ship’s thrusters hadn’t even powered down all the way before he was climbing out. He yanked off his helmet, tossed it into the cockpit.
And then he was striding across the tarmac towards me. I sucked in a breath at the expression of fury on his face.
“I gave you an order, cadet,” he said.
Cadet. The bite in that word cut. Drew blood.
I tilted my chin up, refusing to back down. “Jess needed help. Everyone else was busy. I wasn’t.”
“That’s an excuse.”
“It’s the truth. You were getting shredded out there. And you wouldn’t call me in.”
“Because you are a cadet,” Poe growled through gritted teeth. “You don’t get to make that decision. I do. I told you to remain at the back and you blew me off. Not only did you put the entire squadron at risk, but you also put the entire base at risk the moment you left your station.”
His face was flushed, the tendons in his neck straining. I had never seen him this angry before. To have that anger directed at me was miserable. But I held my ground, despite the weight of guilt pushing me down, crushing me.
“I won’t do it again, Commander,” I said.
“Damn straight you won’t. You’re on the ground until further notice.”
Air punched out of my lungs as if I’d been hit in the gut.
“That’s an order, cadet,” Poe said. “Disobey it and you’re off the squadron for good.”
I blinked, startled at the vehemence in Poe’s tone. I scrambled for a response, something, anything to fight back with. My mind remained blank, too shocked to speak.
“Dameron,” Jess said in a chastising tone, her eyes wide. “A little harsh.”
For the first time, Poe turned his gaze away from me and onto Jess. I pitched forward on my toes, feeling like my legs might give out on me if I didn’t sit down quick.
“First priority is the squadron, Pava,” Poe said. “I can’t have some hot-shot, know-it-all newbie running off to do whatever she damn well pleases in the middle of a fight.”
I clenched my teeth, a burn igniting in my chest.
“That’s not fair,” I rasped, my voice low and almost trembling. “I’ve never behaved that way.”
Poe’s gaze flicked back to me, irritated.
I did that. I made him mad. I made him furious.
It was my fault.
Three days ago, Poe had looked at me with a soft smile and bright eyes.
He wasn’t looking at me that way now. I swallowed at that realization, fighting to keep it together.
“That’s exactly how you behaved today,” Poe said. “You were reckless. You were—“
“I acted to defend a fellow pilot.”
Poe surged forward, one hand cutting through the air between us.
“You didn’t listen to me,” he said, each word pointed and driven deep. “That will get you killed.”
I clamped my mouth shut, seething. Poe turned away, head bowed, shoulders caved inward.
“Jess’s ship will need repairs,” he said in a rough voice. The heat had gone out of him in a rush. “At oh-four-hundred-hours tomorrow morning, you will be here to take care of it.”
“I can fix my own ship, Dameron,” Jess said, acid in her voice.
“Then you’ll have some help.” He returned his searing gaze on me again. “And when that’s done, cadet, you will assess the damage to the rest of the squadron’s ships until you are aware that you are part of a team. Clear?”
“Yes, Commander,” I managed to get out.
Poe tilted his head back and sighed. Suddenly, he looked tired. Worn out and defeated. Today had been a win, but only just barely.
I waited for Poe to say more. But he didn’t. He returned to his ship, running his hand over a burn mark on the fuselage.
He didn’t even look back at me.
My throat felt tight, my chest hollow. Distantly, I heard Jess’s voice and saw her hand reaching towards my elbow in reassurance.
Before she could make contact, I turned and fled to my quarters. As soon as the door was shut, I covered my mouth with my hands, slid to the floor, and cried.
Special shout out to @melanoradrood who wanted Jess to smack Poe for being a dumbass. I couldn't resist so I added in an extra scene to slap some sense into him. We'll see if it works ;)
I might as well be invisible.
When Poe gave me an order now—scrub this, grease that—he barely looked at me before he was moving on to something else.
I never responded with anything more than, “Yes, Commander,” like a good cadet.
Week after week, I serviced every ship of Black Squadron over and over for the smallest, mundane things that seemed to be more busy work than anything else. But Poe didn’t give any indication when I would be free to fly again.
One evening, Poe, Karé, and Wedge returned to base from an assignment.
“Cadet,” Poe barked.
My head snapped up. He waved me over.
“Talk to Wedge about his ship,” Poe said. “Find out what’s giving him trouble.”
Wedge looked uncomfortable.
“I’d rather see to it myself,” he said.
“Double-check the work if you like,” Poe replied. “But this is the cadet’s job.”
There was no warmth or familiarity in that word now.
I dropped my toolbox on the floor beside Wedge’s ship. My “yes, Commander” days were coming to an end right now.
“With all due respect, sir,” I said, spitting that last word, knowing how much Poe hated it. “I understand the reason for my punishment. My actions were unacceptable. But dragging Wedge into it isn’t necessary.”
The muscle in Poe’s jaw twitched. He stepped up to me, inches away from touching. For the first time in weeks, Poe was finally looking at me.
And I didn’t like it.
“You’re not being punished,” he said.
“Certainly feels that way.”
“Goes to show just how much you have left to learn.”
I was still nursing the wounds from his last verbal cut down.
Now I had more words to haunt me, carve new scars that remained tender.
“This is a reminder,” Poe went on. “Until it sinks in that you are only one piece of a squadron, and the Resistance, as a whole. Not a lone cadet trying to prove herself.”
That hurt, too.
Not because of a low blow. But because he was right.
I wanted to chalk up this whole nightmare to kissing him, then turning him down. Was this payback? Did he think I’d been leading him on?
Dameron might be an ass…but he’s not vindictive.
It would be easy to blame the kiss, or even the rejection that followed.
But it would be wrong.
I might have provided cover for Jess—which I would never regret—but I had acted alone, not as a team. This was on my head.
“When you’re done with Wedge’s ship,” Poe said. “Look over Karé’s ship as well as mine. We’ve got two hours before we’re back in the air. Make sure you do everything you can to see that two members of your squadron are ready to fly by then.”
He headed into base without waiting for a reply, his gaze once again sliding right by me as if I wasn’t even there.
But before Poe reached the door, Jess—seated atop her x-wing—lobbed a pair of greasy gloves at his back. She hit him square between the shoulder blades, leaving a fan of black fingerprints on his shirt.
“May I have a word, Commander?” she said. The way she addressed him was so scathing that it made me glance up.
Poe turned to face Jess. She jumped down, hands braced on her hips as she glared at him. Then she shoved him through the door that led to the rest of the base and they vanished from sight.
I went back to my work. As long as I was doing something, putting tools to parts, it distracted me from the constant replay of what could I have done differently? A question that never had a right answer.
After a minute or two, movement off to my left drew my attention. BB-D3 rolled up to my boot and tapped my foot with a chirp.
“You have something for me?” I said.
BB-D3 flipped on a holovid, the blue screen flickering and twitching. But the image was clear enough to tell what was going on. Jess was squared off against Poe, lighting into him. She pushed into his personal space, forcing him to retreat.
“You’re a real moof-milker, you know that?” she said.
“Watch the language, Jess,” Poe said with a warning edge to his voice.
“You ripped into her in front of the whole squadron, as if you’ve never made a risky decision in your life.”
“I wasn’t finished. And another thing—“
I slapped my hand over BB-D3’s projector and the blue image went out.
“Stop,” I said. “Don’t. Don’t show me that.”
BB-D3 burbled a question.
“Because it’s wrong. You were eavesdropping.”
More beeps of protest.
“It’s different than spying, okay?”
“No, I’m not watching that. Destroy it.”
BB-D3 sat there, silent, unmoving. Then it dropped the holovid chip at my feet and darted off.
“BB-D, get back here!”
The droid disappeared into the docking bay. I huffed and looked down at the chip. It would be as simple as stepping on it to get rid of the contents. I would never know what the chip contained. I would never know what Jess and Poe talked about, or why BB-D3 felt it was necessary that I needed to see it.
Instead, I picked up the chip, tapped it against my palm. One glance over my shoulder showed the coast was clear. No sign of Jess or Poe.
I ducked into the droid repair room along the west wall of the docking bay. Half a dozen droids recharged on their ports but there were no mechanics or pilots in sight. I found an empty holovid projector and plugged in my chip.
“I wasn’t finished,” Jess was saying. “And another thing. You’ve been carrying on for weeks, making her feel like bantha fodder when she saved my ass.”
“She disobeyed a direct order,” Poe said. “There are consequences for it.”
“Yeah, and she knew that then. She certainly knows that now since you’ve pounded it into her head at every waking moment. You’ve never been this rough with any of us when we’ve made mistakes.”
Poe glanced away. “That’s different.”
Jess’s lips tightened, her nostrils flared. Then she rammed her fist into Poe’s gut. He doubled over with a groan.
“Get your head out of your ass, Dameron,” she hissed.
Slowly, Poe straightened, hands fisted at his sides. He gritted his teeth, the muscle in his jaw ticking hot and fast.
“I will handle my squadron as I see fit, Pava,” he said.
Undeterred, Jess jabbed a finger in his chest, enunciating each word as she spoke.
“Stop. Being. Stupid.”
She stomped away, leaving Poe in the hallway.
The holovid shut off.
After I took care of Wedge’s ship—hydraulic circuits were shorting out and needed to be replaced—I moved on to Poe’s ship. Karé was going through her flight log where her ship was parked beside me. She jumped down, boots hitting the tarmac with a thud. She approached Poe’s x-wing, leaning against the fuselage, idly examining her fingernails.
“You know why he’s so hard on you, right?” she said.
I sighed and yanked on the wrench to tighten the shield lens a little further. My knuckles cracked against the metal frame and I hissed in pain.
“Yes,” I bit off, not irritated at her but irritated at myself. “Because I could have killed all of you, thanks to what I did.”
“Well, there’s that. But remember, you’re part of a team. All of us made mistakes that day. And it put Jess in the line of fire. Although Dameron made the biggest mistake of all and you sure as hell won’t be hearing him admit that.”
I glanced up, studying her profile. She tucked her hands in the pockets of her flight suit and looked out across the docking bay. She probably wasn’t supposed to be talking to me, at least not until I got to her ship and asked for a report of any mechanical issues.
“What kind of mistake?” I said.
Karé shrugged. “It was your first time in the big leagues, I get it. But Dameron under-utilized you. Severely.”
I tossed my wrench into my toolbox. “Why?”
“Cool it, cadet. He doesn’t doubt your capabilities. Nobody does.”
“Then what is it?”
Karé took a deep breath and let it out. She tilted her head back in thought, staring at the docking bay ceiling.
“Do you remember,” she said slowly. “What Dameron said to you on the landing pad after the shoot-out with those TIES?”
“He said a lot of things. None of them were exactly pleasant.”
“The part about not listening to him. It could get you killed.”
I turned away, digging around in my toolbox. Poe’s ship was ready to go. I didn’t need to do anything more. But tools were safe, familiar. And this discussion, centered on Poe…it drifted more and more into foreign territory. Over the past few weeks, I began to wonder if I really knew Poe at all.
I slid my toolbox along the ground with one foot as I moved to Karé’s ship. Karé pushed off of Poe’s x-wing with one shoulder and hoisted herself up to sit on the wing of her own ship, her back resting against the canopy of the cockpit.
“I’ve never defied his orders before,” I said. “It was one time and Jess—“
“You’re missing the point,” Karé said.
I stopped. Looked up at her.
“Dameron said it could get you killed,” Karé continued. “He’s the head of Black Squadron. He has an entire crew to watch out for. But he didn’t mention us. It’s you he’s worried about, cadet. Worried to the point of distraction.”
Somehow, she knew. Maybe she didn’t have all of the details yet but she had put the pieces together. If Jess could figure it out, Karé wouldn’t have a problem catching on, too.
It’s you he’s worried about, cadet.
I had to leave. Transfer to another base. I couldn’t distract Poe in the field like this. It would put too many lives in danger, not just him.
By now, Poe and Karé had been gone for four hours. They weren’t due back for another hour or so. I could have the transfer request filled out and submitted well before they returned. And then it would be too late to change anything.
I pulled up the files on my datapad in my quarters, scrolled down until I found Request Transfer.
Halfway through completion, someone pounded on my door.
“Cadet, open up.”
Karé’s voice. She didn’t sound happy either.
When I hesitated to respond, she added, “It’s an emergency. We need to talk. Now.”
I tucked my datapad under my pillow in case Karé noticed what I was doing. Then I crossed the room and opened the door.
“Poe’s ship went down,” Karé said.
There was no warning, no lead up, no softening of the blow, because Karé knew there was no easy way to hear it.
“Where?” I rasped. “Is he okay?”
“We don’t have an exact location. His signal beacon isn’t on. Probably damaged.”
I closed my eyes, placed a hand against the wall for support as I swayed.
“He’s missing,” I whispered.
At least not presumed dead. A small, fragile little hope. But it was something and I clung to it.
“We ran into trouble on the way back to base,” Karé said. “It was a routine job. Just scouting for information. But the First Order didn’t like it. Dameron took a hard hit. Crashed on a jungle moon on the Inner Rim.”
“Did you look for him?”
Karé shook her head. “I was almost out of fuel at the time. I couldn’t conduct a search. But I’ve got a u-wing with a medical team on standby, ready to go. You should be there if…”
She didn’t have to finish. I knew what she wasn’t saying.
“I’m coming,” I said.
Dxun moon was a swath of undulating trees and vines. Karé skimmed the u-wing over the canopy as low as she could until the trees scraped the undercarriage.
“The last time I saw Dameron’s ship,” she said. “It was in this area. He has to be close by.”
She had been saying that for three hours straight. We had passed over the planet half a dozen times already and there was nothing. No flare blazing into the sky. No broken trench of destruction from an x-wing crashing through the trees.
Just smooth green, stretching for miles and miles…
“Did his parachute deploy?” I asked.
Karé pressed her lips into a tight, grim line. “No.”
I swore softly but I didn’t take my gaze away from the tree line for fear I would miss any little sign of Poe’s survival.
“If we don’t find anything in the next hour,” Karé said. “We’ll have to head back and refuel. Get more people out here to help look, cover a wider area.”
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to keep searching until I saw Poe’s face again. Even if it meant he was furious with me for breaking the rules, traveling off-world when I wasn’t cleared for flight yet. I would welcome his anger, as long as he was alive.
A blur of white caught my eye, barely there, just a wink of it and then it was gone.
“What was that?” I said, pressing my fingertip to the viewport.
Karé eased the ship in the direction I had indicated. The tail of an x-wing came into view, dangling from the treetops and pointed downward. Poe’s ship.
“Put me on the ground,” I said, already moving to the back of the u-wing.
I strapped into a harness connected to a pulley as Karé opened the cargo door, sending a gust of wind swirling around me.
“As soon as I have a visual,” I called up to Karé. “Send the medical team in.”
“Copy that. Good luck, cadet.”
I reeled down from the ship slower than I would have liked, impatient to do something, so close to the x-wing’s crash site after hunting for hours.
The trees were kinder here, not razor sharp like they were on Xo. These were massive giants with trunks as wide across as the base at D’Qar and the leaves were feather soft. But there were branches, jagged and broken from the crash. Sticking out like spears, waiting to catch and tear flesh.
The moment my boots hit soil, I unhooked myself from the harness and headed straight for the x-wing. It was ripped in two, the tail caught in the trees. But the nose was gone. It could have snapped off as it fell—anywhere from a few feet to countless miles from here.
“Status report,” Karé said in my comm. “What do you see?”
“I’ve got a tail, no nose,” I replied. “And no word on Commander Dameron’s whereabouts.”
“Kriff,” Karé muttered. “I’ll look for the nose. Are you good down there?”
The thrum of the ship rose and faded to a dull throb in the distance. It was only then that I heard the groan, faint and indistinct but definitely a human noise.
I spun around, searching the trees.
“Commander Dameron?” I called.
Wind hissed in the leaves.
“Poe?” I called again, louder this time.
Then I saw the blood.
It was only a smear on the leaf of a shrub at my feet. And when I touched it with one fingertip, it was wet, warm. Fresh.
“Poe!” I screamed, full blown panicked now.
I circled the wreckage, making my way further and further out. Up ahead, to the right of the crash, was a scrap of orange, nearly hidden by a large fern. I scrambled forward, my footing loose and slippery on the leaves and damp moss.
As I came closer, I saw him.
“Poe,” I breathed, soft, quiet, and desperate as a prayer.
He lay on his side, his back to me, his curls dusted with dirt and leaves. I dropped to my knees next to him, hands hovering an inch away from touching him.
I slid two fingers around the curve of his neck, dreading that there would be no pulse to greet me. But a faint flutter kicked beneath my fingertips and I let out a small laugh of relief.
I rolled him over as carefully as I could.
“You’ll be fine, Poe,” I said. “You’ll be just f—“
My words faltered and died. Protruding above his left hip was a branch the size of my wrist, gleaming red, punctured straight through skin, bone, and orange flight suit fabric.
“No,” I breathed. “No, no, no, Poe, talk to me.”
I shed my jacket, balled it up, and tucked it beneath his head for support. Hesitantly, I tested the area around the wound but he wasn’t bleeding out. His body had probably shut down from the shock coursing through his system instead. He was still breathing, still alive after the hours it had taken to search for him, which meant the branch hadn’t hit anything serious, like his heart or a lung.
But he was fading too quickly.
“Karé, come in,” I said, my voice cracking. “I’ve got him. I need—“
I swallowed as my words wobbled then failed entirely. I bowed my head, eyes screwed shut. For weeks, we had barely spoken to each other, seething and petty. All those arguments seemed insignificant now.
“Send in the med team,” I managed to get out. “Hurry. Please.”
“On our way,” Karé replied.
I flipped on my beacon strapped to my belt to locate me and returned my attention to Poe. I brushed his hair away from his forehead and my hand came to rest against his cheek.
“Open your eyes,” I whispered. “Look at me, Poe. Tell me…tell me my ground time has been extended. I broke the rules. You didn’t clear me for flight and I’m…I came all the way out here. Please be okay.”
“I’m sorry,” I rasped. “You were right. I didn’t listen to you and I’m…I’m so sorry.”
In that moment, I would have given anything to hear one scathing cadet, one biting recruit, as long as it meant Poe opened his eyes.
The medical team was coming in, somewhere behind me. I could hear them rustling and stomping around.
But I didn’t move from Poe’s side. I clutched his hand tight and didn’t let go.
There was blood on my hands. Poe’s blood.
I sat outside the med bay, elbows propped on my knees, waiting for news of his surgery. Karé sank into the seat beside me with a heavy sigh and plopped a wet rag in my lap. I picked it up, scrubbing at my hands.
Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I felt raw with exhaustion, emotionally empty. Poe’s pulse had remained thready and barely there for the entire trip back to base. More than once, I’d been so sure that he had dropped off completely.
Five hours had passed since his surgery started and still there was no word.
“Why did you come get me for the search and rescue?” I said, staring at my hands, red embedded in the lines of my palm.
Karé slid further into her seat, crossed her arms, and stretched her legs out in front of her.
“Snap has his moments of genius,” she said. “But when all is said and done, he’s an idiot. More importantly, he’s my idiot. And if anything happened to him, I’d want to be there.”
“Commander Dameron isn’t my…”
Karé shot me a look that quickly made me abandon my weak pretense. I glanced down at my hands again.
“He’s been your idiot for a long time, cadet,” she said softly.
“How did you know?”
Karé shifted in her seat, tilted her head to the side. “When you nearly died from that fever. Every other word out of Dameron’s mouth was about you. He didn’t sleep. Didn’t eat. He pestered the medics relentlessly for details on your condition until they were about ready to call security and kick him out of the med bay.”
“He never told me any of that.”
Karé snorted. “Of course not. Damn ego gets in the way. Oh, and then there was that game of sabacc, too. Kriffing hell, that was awkward. He was flirting with you so badly that I wanted to vomit.”
I choked out a laugh. And Karé…smiled. For the first time, she smiled. It softened her face, the line of her jaw, and I understood then why she didn’t do it very often. For a moment, it lowered her guard, left her vulnerable. She probably only did it around people she trusted. Like Poe. Snap. And now, me.
“So…” I said. “You and Snap are…?”
“Come on, cadet,” Karé said. “Don’t pretend like you didn’t notice. It’s not like we were trying to hide it anyway.”
“What happens when people…you know…give you a bad time about it?”
Karé’s expression cooled. “Then they get a black eye for their efforts.”
“Isn’t it hard? With work and all?”
She shrugged. “I won’t say it’s easy. Lost count of how many times I’ve wondered why I put up with Snap. But then he leaves a disgustingly sweet note for me to find when he’s not around. Or he brings me caf in the morning and kisses my forehead with this stupid love-struck grin on his face.”
I had a hard time imagining Karé in that position. But it was clear from her voice, the way she spoke about it so fondly, that those were the moments she guarded with her life.
“Yes, it’s hard,” Karé continued. “The job makes it ten times harder. But if you play your cards right, it’s worth it in the end. And I’ve seen what you can do with a deck of cards. If you truly want to take the hand and win the game, nothing will stand in your way.”
I was finally allowed into Poe’s room. The surgery had him knocked out for hours. He’d be sore for a while and there would be a wicked scar. But his pulse was steady, breathing normal.
I tiptoed into Poe’s room and settled uneasily in the chair beside his bed. Hesitantly, I reached out and took his hand, my thumb tracing the back of his knuckles.
BB-D3 rolled up to my chair with a quiet little chirrup. Without looking away from Poe, I patted BB-D3’s head.
“No, I’m not mad at you,” I said.
“Yes, I’ve still got the chip. I didn’t destroy it.”
“I know why you thought I should see it. But don’t go around eavesdropping all the time, okay?”
BB-D3 purred and nestled closer to my leg.
I don’t remember drifting off. But when I woke, my cheek was pillowed on my arms, folded across Poe’s bed, and there were fingers smoothing through my hair. I raised my head to find Poe was looking at me, eyes half open with slow, sleepy blinks.
“Hi,” I whispered.
It seemed wrong to speak any louder than that, as if the moment I raised my voice, Poe might bleed all over again. As I straightened in my seat, his hand fell away from my hair. But before his hand hit the bed, I caught it, wrapped both of my hands around him.
“The medic said you’ve been waiting here for a while,” Poe replied, his voice rough and scratchy.
“I…wanted to see how you were doing.”
He struggled to sit up, rubbing at one eye with his palm.
“And I’m guessing you were part of the rescue team who picked me up?”
I didn’t reply at first. But it was no use denying it. Poe would find out eventually. Better that I get a word in to defend myself now, rather than hear it from someone else.
“Yes, I was,” I said, leaving out the part about Karé’s involvement. “I know I wasn’t cleared for flight but I—“
“Thank you,” Poe said, his voice clearer now, stronger as he became more lucid.
I paused, conflicted about pressing the issue when he should have been resting. But on the other hand, here, finally, was a semblance of normalcy and I wanted to savor it just a little while longer.
“Does that mean I’m not grounded anymore?” I ventured, carefully.
“Well, I’ll be down for a few weeks, at least. There’s no use keeping two perfectly good pilots on the ground. Black Squadron will need some backup while I’m out.”
“I’ll do what I can, Commander.”
A faint frown crossed Poe’s face.
“While we’re on the subject,” he said. “I need to talk to you.”
“I haven’t been fair to you. I never acknowledged the good you did. With Jess. She’s alive because of you.”
“But I was out of line.”
Poe shrugged one shoulder. “As long as you don’t make it a habit, it won’t be a problem.”
“I won’t, Commander.”
Poe sighed and closed his eyes. I almost thought he might have drifted off to sleep. Until he spoke again.
“It’s Poe,” he said. “Just…with everything that’s happened…it’s just…Poe.”
“All right. Then, Poe, may I make a request?”
Slowly, Poe opened his eyes and smiled. And oh, the last remaining piece of my heart was lost forever. He nodded, his head sinking back against the pillows again.
“Could we consider,” I continued, “turning down any and all future assignments that involve jungle planets?”
Poe laughed. He broke off with a hiss and clamped his hand above his hip, teeth gritted in pain.
“Don’t make me laugh, cadet,” he said.
How good that word sounded coming from him.
Poe peeled one eye open to look at me. That gleam in his gaze I’d come to know well had returned.
“They’re not all bad,” he said.
“I doubt that.”
“Xo had its perks.”
I shot him a withering look.
“Xo was a death trap,” I said.
“Maybe,” Poe said, his tone growing lighter the more he talked. It must have been the pain killers. “But I did manage to get you skinny dipping.”
I sputtered. “What? No, I—you can’t be serious. I have no memory of that. At all.”
“You were shy at first. Threatened me, too. Said you’d kick my ass if I told anyone.”
“Although it wasn’t much of a threat when you looked so cute standing there in your underwear.”
My mouth dropped open. Definitely high on pain killers.
“You should really go back to sleep,” I said. “Before you embarrass yourself any further.”
“I know what I’m saying,” Poe objected.
“Then you’d better have a really good explanation as to why you were looking at my underwear.”
He smirked. “Kind of hard not to when you weren’t wearing anything else.”
“Next time, I’m leaving you in that jungle.”
Poe chuckled, his face screwed up at the same time in pain.
“I hope it hurts,” I said, drily.
“It does,” he gritted out.
After a minute of shallow breaths, Poe eased into his pillows again.
“It’s funny,” he said. “How concerned you are about whether you said something or not. You never asked if you might have done something while your brain was fogged up.”
“Like what?” I said, falling right into his trap.
“Like what, Poe?”
“Nothing,” he said, glibly.
“Nothing? Then why did you—?”
“Apart from agreeing that I could take your clothes off.”
“I did not.”
“You know what they say about protesting too much,” Poe said.
I pushed my chair back, placed a hand on the bed beside his hip, and leaned over him.
“You are vulnerable and weak,” I said. “And I can make you bleed.”
An empty threat. Poe knew it. He tilted his chin up with a grin.
“You could,” he said. “But you won’t.”
For several seconds, Poe and I just stared at each other. The animosity and frigid atmosphere had melted into the usual friendly pestering. I’d missed this, the easy back and forth, the familiar comfort of it.
Poe lowered his voice, quieter, gentle. “You also said you didn’t have a chance in hell with me. That I was light years out of your league. And if you did happen to make a move, it was only a matter of time before you became known as the commander’s toy, tossed aside and forgotten.”
My smile faltered. Poe wasn’t teasing me now. He was dead serious. I had entertained that thought countless times, word for word. There was no doubt I’d said it out loud.
I recoiled, scrambling for retreat, but Poe caught my hand. Without looking away from me, he brought my hand up to his mouth, brushed a light kiss across my knuckles.
“I’m proud of you, cadet,” he said. “I’m head over heels for you, too.”
My heart surged into my throat. Before I could form a response, Poe continued.
“It isn’t—I mean, I’m not…messing with you. I just…I want you to know that. I have no intention of putting your career on the line for me. That’s not fair and I don’t want that for you.”
He was babbling. He was nervous.
“I remember what you said before,” he went on. “That we couldn’t—“
“Poe,” I said. It felt perfect, rolling right off my tongue until I wanted to say it again and again.
“You were the one who taught me to calculate the risks,” I added. “Consider the pros and cons before I made a decision. Well, I’ve put…hours…of thought into this risk. And there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s worth it.”
Poe circled his thumb along the back of my hand. I wasn’t choosing an easy road here but neither of us would say it out loud.
I could tolerate the backstabbing gossip. But in the heat of battle, there would be times when I had to choose duty over him. He would find trouble like he usually did, and a rescue team was not always guaranteed.
“Are you sure?” Poe whispered. “It’s only fair that you know exactly what you’re getting into.”
“I know that it’s a kriffing long flight back from Dxun moon. I know your heart almost stopped three times.” My voice trembled and I swallowed in an effort to regain control, but it wasn’t working. “I know I have…never…been more scared in my life than I was the moment I found you…just lying there…”
My voice finally gave out and I ducked my head. Poe propped himself up on one elbow as he tugged my hand to his chest, pulling me close. I hiccupped a small sob against his shoulder.
“Don’t tell me it’ll be rough,” I said, muffled against the fabric of his med robe. “Don’t tell me how hard it is to balance my private life with the Resistance. Trust me, I’m already well aware of that.”
Poe pressed a kiss to my temple and drew back to look at me. He swept a tear away from my cheek then skimmed his thumb along my bottom lip.
“I’m sorry for putting you through so much,” he said softly, his forehead nearly touching mine.
I perched on the edge of his bed, sidling as close as I could possibly get, and cupped his face in my hands.
“Just stop talking and kiss me,” I said.
It was a light kiss at first, a kiss of apology. Then Poe kissed me again, over and over, each kiss growing more and more desperate as he nipped at my lip.
But he was too eager when the rest of his body couldn’t catch up to him.
I felt him wince, felt him grit his teeth and refuse to give in. When I tried to pull away, to look at him and see if he was okay, Poe curled his fingers around the back of my neck, threading up through my hair.
I sighed into his mouth, melting against him. I pressed him back into the pillows and once he was completely surrounded by soft cloth and kisses, his wince turned into a smile.
This is the start of the smut parade! Within this chapter lies the true foreplay, instead of the lead up and the torture that I have forced you to suffer through for so long. The parade will continue all the way to the end of the fic to satisfy as many of your Poe fantasies as possible ♥
After a week, Poe was on his feet. By two weeks, he was wandering the docking bay, bored out of his mind and eager to get his hands dirty. But General Organa had given him a direct order—no assignments for at least a month.
It was driving him crazy.
On a slow day, when half the base was out, the other half sluggish in the humidity, I was fiddling with my ship—mostly minor repairs that didn’t really need to be fixed. But I didn’t have anything else that needed my attention.
Poe’s hand settled at the small of my back, his arm sneaking around my waist in greeting.
I flinched and pulled away.
“Don’t do that,” I hissed under my breath.
Poe nodded once and retreated. Guilt prickled at the sight of him so distant when I wanted him close at every opportunity.
In the med bay, it was different. Hardly anyone was around. If a medic came through, they were only looking at charts, monitors, vital signs.
It wasn’t like that in the docking bay. People were always nosing around. And as the newest member of Black Squadron, I needed to be on my best behavior.
A quick glance of the docking bay proved no one was watching. Then I caught Poe’s hand and ducked around the corner, dragging him into a storage room off to the side, stacked with crates, spare droid parts, and weapons.
The door had hardly closed before I grabbed fistfuls of Poe’s shirt and yanked him close. He stumbled into me, one arm going around my waist again, to stabilize himself or to take advantage of the rare moment alone, I couldn’t tell and it didn’t matter as long as he was touching me.
“Sorry,” I whispered against his mouth around a kiss. “I’m just…”
“Nervous,” Poe finished for me, his knuckles grazing my cheek.
I blew out a breath and nodded. I closed my eyes and nipped kisses along Poe’s jawline. He was warm. He was alive. And he was so vocal when I found that sweet spot at the hollow beneath his ear.
“Kriffing hell,” Poe muttered.
I smiled against his neck, scraping my teeth over that one spot then soothing with my tongue, drawing even more obscenities out of him.
“Stars, cadet,” he said in a strangled voice. “You don’t waste any time.”
I raised my head, prepared to fire off a sarcastic reply. But Poe kissed me before I got the chance, his tongue gliding over my bottom lip. I clutched at his shirt a little too tight and felt it come loose from his belt. In an instant, my fingers darted under the hem, questing over a sliver of heated skin.
Up until now, I had been careful and calculated. No more than three minutes at a time with Poe like this, no matter how much I might want to continue kissing him for hours. And all clothes remained in place.
But that sliver of skin made me crave more.
I stepped towards Poe, crowding around him, pinning him against the wall. My palms slid higher, fingers exploring the rise and fall of his ribs. He sucked in a breath and his head dropped back against the wall with a thunk.
“Looks like the tables have turned,” I said. “I seem to remember that you had me up against the wall during our first sparring session, too.”
“That was…not…the same,” Poe replied, his voice tight. “I was pissing you off on purpose.”
I brought my palm lower, tracing the bacta patch at his hip. I tucked two fingers into his belt with a pointed tug.
“I had something different in mind this time around,” I said.
Poe let out a little puff of breath, his pupils blown wide with arousal. I bit the inside of my cheek to hide a smile as I unhooked his belt buckle. But he covered my hands with his to stop me.
“A minute ago, you were ready to bolt,” he said.
“I’m not now,” I replied.
Poe fixed me with a steady look, as if he knew what I wasn’t willing to admit to myself. I had pushed him away to protect myself. And yet, at the same time, I wanted to pull him right back to me. I was scared to lose him, to watch him create that chasm of distance, worried the chasm would only continue to grow.
“You don’t have to make up for it,” Poe said softly.
That got me to pause, watching him, studying his face.
“Commander,” I said evenly. “Maybe, for once in my life, I’m not trying to make up for something. Maybe I’m tired of keeping my self-control in check all the damn time.”
I dipped one hand into Poe’s loosened belt, fingers clamped tight to his ass. Poe’s breath hitched in surprise. His hips pushed forward automatically and he hissed through his teeth. He gripped my shoulder so tightly that I almost whimpered.
“Go easy on me, cadet,” he said. “I’m still sore.”
I moved a little more carefully, each touch lighter, softer to not cause further pain. My thumb smoothed over that tender area above his hip before drifting to his fly. Poe’s breathing grew ragged to match the rasping grit of the zipper as I dragged it down.
“What happened to being nervous?” he said, an octave too high.
I nosed at his ear with a playful lick to his earlobe.
“I’m nervous about being seen,” I said. “About people…knowing. But I’m not nervous about this.”
My fingers brushed the half-hard length of him, curling loosely around him, gauging how far I could push him, how much he could take. I could feel Poe shaking already, struggling to sit still and not thrust into my hand—an action that would no doubt bring agony with it.
“Breathe, Commander,” I whispered against the curve of his neck, my lips skimming his skin as I spoke.
Poe released a shuddering gust of air and he tilted his head to rest against mine.
“You…you seem to have thought this through,” he said. “Once or twice.”
“Every night since strip sabacc.”
I trailed my thumb along the side of his cock, tracing a pulsing vein there, feeling him grow harder and harder in my hand. Poe gave a wrecked little moan, his eyes fluttering closed. I smiled with a pleased hum.
“You were so smug then,” I said, my thumb drifting towards the head of his cock. “Did you think I’d lose my clothes for you again like I did on Xo?”
Poe opened his mouth to reply. I squeezed him, working my palm over the head of his cock with merciless pressure. His reply died in his throat on a gasp.
“That’s what I thought,” I said.
My hand went still, just holding him there.
Poe blinked slowly, his eyes gradually beginning to focus.
“For the record,” he said, his voice hoarse. “I thought it would be fifty-fifty. You lose some, I lose some. Clearly, that plan backfired.”
“And you won’t make that mistake again.”
I tipped my chin up to kiss him lightly, triumphant at seeing him respond so willingly to my touch.
Without breaking the kiss, I worked his pants down a few inches past his hips to fully free his cock this time. He was completely hard now, his skin velvet smooth and searing hot. His palm settled over my breast, his thumb skimming across my nipple through my clothes as I completely wrapped my hand around him.
After one stroke to Poe’s shaft, he was already pushing up into my hand. He made a small sound of discomfort and I pressed my body against his, flattening him to the wall to prevent him from moving as I stroked him again and again.
But it was too much. Poe bowed his head, bumping against my mouth, his eyes squeezed shut, his lips a tight, thin line.
“Wait,” he said, hoarse with frustration and pain. “I…can’t.”
I stopped, kissed the top of his head.
“It hurts?” I said.
He nodded, his forehead resting against my sternum. I slid one hand up his back, over his neck, and through his hair. His palm curled around my hip.
After a moment, his fingers hooked into my belt. Paused. A silent request for permission.
“You’re not getting in my pants, Commander,” I said.
Poe huffed and pulled back. But there was hesitation in his eyes, searching to see if he had pushed too far, too fast.
“If I can’t get you off,” I added to ease his concern. “You can’t get me off.”
Poe sighed and withdrew, zipping up his pants again. I placed my hand in the middle of his chest, fingers teasing at the collar of his shirt until I found that warm skin I was quickly becoming addicted to.
“We should go,” I said. “Before somebody realizes we’re missing.”
Poe cupped his hand to my cheek. “Just two more minutes.”
“If you kiss me hard enough, I might be willing to make it three.”
Five minutes later, neither of us still had any intention of leaving.
After I finally tore myself away from Poe, I insisted that we left at separate times, nearly ten minutes apart, to make sure that we didn’t get caught. Poe headed out first and I lingered among the supplies, fingers absently touching my lips at the memory of how thoroughly he’d kissed me.
When it was time for me to leave the storage closet, I nearly collided with a sergeant.
“Watch where you’re—“ He stopped and raised his eyebrows. “So. It’s our special cadet.”
I didn’t like the way he emphasized special, as if it was a dirty word he found distasteful in his mouth.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “I have repair work to finish.”
The sergeant remained where he stood, blocking the path. Fuel canisters lined up on either side, creating a cramped walkway suitable for two people to barely pass each other in a tight fit. I’d rather keep the sergeant in front of me at a distance than get that close.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m sure Commander Dameron loves to see you on your back, working hard.”
I gritted my teeth so tight that my jaw ached.
I can’t hit a superior officer. I can’t hit a superior officer.
A shift of movement past the sergeant’s shoulder caught my attention. Poe stood at the end of the corridor. Judging by the dark look on his face, he had heard every word and he was livid.
My gaze darted back to the sergeant.
“Now that I think about it,” I said. “My work doesn’t need to be finished for another hour or two. Is there anything I can do for your ship in the meantime, sir?”
The sergeant considered for a moment then nodded.
“Actually, there is,” he said. “My repulsorlifts have been acting up. I’ve heard you know your way around x-wings. Take a look at it.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, not quite able to keep a faint bite out of my voice.
The sergeant stepped aside, allowing me to pass. Poe started towards him. As I made my way down the line of fuel canisters, I grabbed Poe’s elbow, pulling him aside and out of the sergeant’s line of sight.
“Don’t,” I said. “It’s fine.”
“Like hell it is. What he said to you was far from fine.”
“I’ve got it covered. Trust me.”
Poe shook his head and glanced back towards the canisters, his jaw set in a hard line, daring the sergeant to reappear.
“Poe,” I whispered. “Trust me. Please.”
He returned his gaze to me, his anger softening slightly. He shifted towards me and his fingers grazed my hip—the only form of touch he could afford when anyone could walk up and find us standing so close.
“Okay,” he said. “But if you want backup—“
“I know. You’ll be there in a heartbeat.”
At dinner that night in the mess hall, Karé raised a hand and waved to get my attention. I made my way over to her table where all of Black Squadron was seated. Jess vacated her spot on the bench beside Poe and nudged Karé over, squishing in beside her.
“Heard you ran into some trouble today,” Karé said.
“Don’t let Sergeant Asshole get you down,” Snap said.
I cast a confused glance at Karé. How many people knew already and it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet?
“The sergeant has been opening his big mouth all over base,” she said.
I stifled a groan and dropped my tray on the table as I slid into the seat beside Poe. I pressed the length of my thigh against his. A second later, his hand ducked beneath the table, settled atop my knee with a reassuring squeeze.
“I took care of it,” I said.
Karé hummed, looking down at her plate with the smallest of smiles at the corner of her mouth.
“From what I heard,” she said. “He suffered much worse than a black eye.”
“Certainly not crowing now that he’s juiced up on pain killers,” Snap said.
Poe propped his elbow on the table and turned his head to look at me.
“The sergeant landed in the med bay today,” he said.
I met his gaze, staring back at him.
“I hope it’s not too serious,” I replied in a flat voice that suggested I really didn’t care.
Poe ran his tongue over his bottom lip in an attempt to keep himself from laughing.
“It seemed there was a problem with the sergeant’s pilot seat. And since you were the last one to work on his ship, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
I poked at my food, pretending disinterest in the conversation.
“Do you have a point to this interrogation, Commander?”
Poe was still looking at me, steady and unwavering. He knew what I’d done. But I couldn’t tell if he was trying to decide whether or not there should be repercussions for my actions.
“The sergeant’s ass was a bit…burned,” Poe said.
Snap choked on his food, still amused by the whole thing.
“Won’t be able to sit for a few weeks,” he said.
“Well,” I said, feigning innocence. “You know, I’m just a lowly cadet and sometimes I get my repairs wrong. The sergeant said his repulsorlifts were malfunctioning. So, I rerouted the power beneath his seat.”
Poe raised his eyebrows slightly. “Every time he tries to land, all that power courses under him instead of even distribution. And his seat…”
“It gets a bit hot,” I said. “Nothing serious, of course. The ship flies true. But any injuries obtained from it are purely…cosmetic.”
“We’ve got an evil genius in our midst,” Karé said.
“Didn’t the sergeant check your work?” Jess said.
“Claimed he was too busy.”
From there, the conversation swerved off into other topics and soon the table was buzzing with the exchange of bad jokes and stories. Poe leaned towards me, his mouth brushing my ear.
“You are terrifying and gorgeous,” he said. “And I’m so turned on right now, it’s not fair.”
I buried my face in my napkin to hide my smile.
Hope you enjoy your sweaty, orgasmic Poe, my lovelies! ♥♥♥
Poe and Karé were sparring on the mats when I joined Jess on the sidelines and plopped down beside her.
“Shouldn’t the commander be resting instead of trying to get himself hurt all over again?” I said.
Jess blew out a puff of air. “Try telling him that. He’s antsy as hell. Besides, it’s been a month. He won’t sit around a second longer.”
Karé rammed her elbow into Poe’s gut and he doubled over. But when she followed up with a second blow to the face, Poe managed to block it. He caught her wrist, twisted down and to the side, putting an uncomfortable amount of pressure on her elbow.
Karé patted the padded vest she wore.
“I’m out,” she said.
Poe released her and Karé headed to the sidelines. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder.
“You’re up, Pava,” she said. “Dameron looks like he could do this all day. He’s got energy to burn. A lot of it.”
“I’ll go next,” I said then turned to Jess and added, “If you don’t mind.”
Jess leaned back on her elbows.
“He’s all yours,” she replied in a tone that suggested, in more ways than one.
Karé shed her safety gear—padded vest, helmet, mouth guard, and gloves—and strapped it onto me with a final pat to my shoulder.
“You’re set,” she said. “Dameron is playing a bit rough today so don’t pull your punches.”
Poe’s gaze tracked my movements as I came to stand on the mat, situated across from him. Karé raised her hand and brought it down, signaling the start of the match.
I attacked first, striking one-two-three at Poe’s chest. He blocked each blow and delivered a hit to my face guard that snapped my head back.
Poe spat out his mouth guard. “You always had trouble with that one.”
I beckoned to him, eager to get going. He tucked his mouth guard into place again.
Poe attacked, feinted at my head as he hooked his foot behind my ankle. I grabbed his padded vest by the shoulders, and before he could swipe my feet out from under me, I rammed my knee into his stomach.
Poe stumbled in retreat, hands braced on his knees. For a split second, I thought I might have really hurt him.
Then he was surging my way again with shallow strikes to put me on the defensive. I backed up step after step and I knew the wall was getting close. I was running out of room.
I kicked out at his knee. Poe buckled and dropped. At the last second, he wrapped an arm around my neck and I went tumbling down with him.
But the session had taken more out of him than he’d realized. For the span of a heartbeat, when he hit the ground he didn’t react, didn’t defend or attack. I scrambled on top of him, knees locked around his throat.
Poe pushed his mouth guard out, kept a corner of it clamped between his teeth if he needed to pull it back in again.
“Kriff,” he wheezed as his fingers curled over the top of my thighs in an attempt to loosen my grip on him. “You’ve been training with Jess.”
I grinned down at him and casually removed my mouth guard, comfortable in my control of the upperhand. “She knows a few tricks that you never taught me.”
“Don’t break my pilot, please, cadet.”
I glanced up to see General Organa standing off to one side of the mats. She was dressed in smooth, charcoal gray, with her hands folded in front of her, hair perfectly swept up and back. The picture of poise and elegance.
I scrambled to my feet. Poe followed suit, although at a slightly slower pace.
“Commander Dameron,” she said. “May I have a private word with you?”
Poe eased his helmet off, his damp curls plastered to his forehead.
“Is there a problem?”
General Organa shook her head. “There might be. I would appreciate it if we could sort out details within the hour.”
Poe nodded, setting his helmet aside. “If you don’t mind a little sweat, I’m free now.”
“That would be fine.”
Once General Organa and Poe left the gym, I groaned and bowed my head. Jess chortled.
“Well,” she said. “General Organa walked in on you straddling her favorite pilot. This is like…the pits. Rock bottom. Couldn’t get any worse than this. But, on the bright side, it can only go up from here.”
I shoved her in the shoulder. “Thank you for that, Pava.”
She shoved me back. “My pleasure.”
Coruscant was not a jungle planet, thank the stars for that.
The city sprawled in a rainbow of colored banners and lights, tangled streets and towering buildings.
Poe sat outside at an outdoor table of a cantina with a vase that held two red flowers—the signal General Organa’s contact had indicated. Karé was perched on the rooftop overhead. Snap was wandering the shops that lined the alleyway. I remained hidden in a doorway with Poe barely in my line of sight.
“How much longer do we wait?” I said over my comm unit. “It’s been two hours already. I’d say we’ve been ditched.”
“Ten more minutes,” Poe replied without looking up from his cup of caf.
“I second that,” Karé put in. “The general said her contact was sketchy at best. I don’t like being kept waiting this long.”
A young Twi’lek girl came weaving between the tables and stopped at Poe’s side. She tugged on his sleeve and he leaned down. She whispered in his ear then took off running.
Poe sighed, tossed a handful of credits on the table, and stood.
“Our contact has been delayed,” he said. “Mechanical malfunction. He won’t be here for another two days, at least. Let’s grab some rooms and get comfy.”
“We’re not going back to base?” I said.
Poe shook his head. “We’re staying until we have the intel our contact promised. Or we find out that he’s been pulling our leg the whole time.”
“I don’t like the idea of hanging around here for two days,” Karé said. “It feels wrong. We could be useful on base at least.”
“Leia’s decision, not mine,” Poe replied. “She doesn’t have high hopes that this will pan out. But she wants us to give it our best shot.”
“Must be pretty valuable intel,” Snap said.
“I wasn’t given specific details. At any rate, we might as well enjoy ourselves while we’re here.”
Karé emerged from the doorway two buildings down from mine and stepped into the street. For a moment, she scanned her surroundings until she spotted Snap. She headed straight for him and hooked her arm through his elbow.
“Does that mean we’re free to go, Commander?” she said.
“Just check in every once in a while,” Poe replied. “Let me know you’re alive. And get some decent rest so you’re sharp on the day of the rendezvous.”
“Understood,” Karé said, leaning her head against Snap’s shoulder as they disappeared into the crowd.
Poe watched them leave, his back to me.
“Looks like it’s only you and me now, cadet,” he said.
“And not a jungle in sight.”
I barely heard the faint breath of a laugh over the comm from Poe. He turned around to face me but I was already making my way towards him, BB-D3 trundling along behind me.
With how much activity churned around us—droids, aliens, ships, pilots, mechanics, tradesmen, and vendors—no one would notice something as subtle as the moment when Poe threaded his fingers through mine.
Together, we lost ourselves in the crowded street, far, far away from the base of D’Qar.
“I’m not eating that, Poe,” I said.
“A taste won’t kill you.”
He held up some sort of roasted, squirming…thing. I wasn’t entirely sure that it wouldn’t kill me.
“It’s still moving,” I said.
He shrugged. “Reflexes.”
“I’ll pass. If you get sick, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
My gaze fell on a display of brightly colored desserts behind him.
“I would try those though,” I said.
For the better part of three hours, Poe and I had been wandering the shops and stalls that lined the streets of Coruscant. Sunset had long since passed and street lamps had sputtered to life, bathing the city in golden light.
I was so careful on D’Qar, even though I knew word would get out eventually about my involvement with Poe. But on Coruscant, I didn’t have to be careful anymore. No one was looking when I tucked my face into the curve of Poe’s neck with a kiss. No one cared when Poe draped an arm around my shoulder and I burrowed into his side.
Poe turned away from the dessert vendor with a bowl of cake-like cubes, dusted with sugar. I picked out a cube and gave it a small squeeze, just to make sure it wasn’t filled with something still moving on the inside. Satisfied the coast was clear, I popped it in my mouth.
Poe’s gaze fell to my lips as I swallowed. He swiped his thumb along my chin.
“Sugar,” he explained.
The comms crackled with a burst of static so loud that Poe and I jumped.
“Sorry about that,” Karé said. “Wanted to check in and say we’re alive and kicking. About those rooms…”
“They’re a block from the rendezvous point,” Poe replied. “Reservations are in my name. Codes will be at the front desk.”
“Much appreciated. Where are you two by the way?”
Karé hummed. “Copy that. See you in the morning.”
Poe withdrew his comm from his ear, stowed it in his pocket. He picked up another cake-cube and held it out to me.
“We’ve got the rest of the night to ourselves, cadet,” he said.
I wrapped my fingers around his wrist as I stepped forward. I closed my mouth over his forefinger and thumb, pulled the cake away with my tongue, never breaking eye contact, sucking his fingers clean of any remaining sugar.
Poe went wide-eyed. Without looking away from me, he fumbled the bowl onto a nearby table and kissed me, smoky pepper and sweet sugar colliding. His hands settled at my hips and pulled me against him as my arms slid around his neck. I licked into his mouth, a slow, languid drag, taking as long as I wanted to.
He pulled back and tugged on his earlobe.
“Your comm,” he said.
“Kriff,” I muttered, scrambling to take it out of my ear.
I’d barely managed to stuff it in my pocket before Poe caught my face in his hands and kissed me again, open-mouthed with a clash of teeth and tongue. I tugged at the hem of Poe’s shirt until I could slide my fingers underneath the fabric, creeping over skin, waiting for the moment my fingers encountered the bacta patch and the little shock of a reminder that always came with it.
Poe sucked in a breath, his ribs contracting away from me.
“Sorry,” I said, retreating. “Didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“You didn’t,” Poe said as he swept the back of his knuckles across my cheek. “It’s just…”
“Tender,” I finished for him.
He shook his head. He took my hand, moved it to the scar above his hip, pressing my fingers over the raised ridge of skin. There was no bacta patch any longer.
“Ticklish,” Poe said. “Not tender.”
I glanced up at him, searching his face, the shadow of his eyelashes against his cheek, the light overhead casting his dark curls in edges of gold.
Finally, the full impact of the moment sank in. Two whole days and a private room, alone with Poe.
“I never knew you were ticklish,” I said.
Poe squirmed away with a nervous little laugh.
“Not that ticklish,” he said. “You know, when you’re planning something, you get this look in your eye.”
“I’m not hiding anything, Commander. I’d be happy to tell you my plans.”
I crooked one finger, beckoning him to come closer. Poe inched towards me warily, angled off to the side. I curled my hand around the back of his neck and kissed the hollow beneath his ear. He released a low, shivery breath and tucked his hand into my back pocket, the width of his palm warm against my ass.
“I plan to strip you down to nothing but your skin,” I whispered in his ear. “I plan to kiss and lick and suck and bite every inch of you until I know exactly what gets you to make those wrecked sounds I love to hear. And then I plan to do it all over again.”
Poe swore under his breath. I smiled, letting my hand drift down over his shoulder before I drew back.
“Would that be agreeable, Commander?”
“Stars, yes,” he rasped.
Once the door of our room had closed, Poe and I were shut off from the rest of the galaxy. Now that I had Poe right where I wanted him, where I’d dreamed of having him for so, so long, I found I could barely touch him.
My fingertips hovered above his chest, not quite making contact, before Poe covered his hand with mine, flattening my palm over his heart. I rested my forehead against his and closed my eyes, memorizing every little detail I could—the pulse of his body heat surrounding me, the smell of blaster oil that clung to his clothes, along with the sharp, lingering pepper scent of Coruscant delicacies.
I stepped forward, pushing Poe to step back until his heels hit the bed. As he sat down, he slid his hands over my hips and underneath my ass, lifting me into his lap.
He took my hand away from his heart, turned it over, his fingers tracing the map of lines that crisscrossed my palm. He kissed each fingertip, then my palm, then pushed the sleeve of my jacket up to kiss my wrist before he raised his gaze to my face.
“You’re shaking,” he said quietly.
“So are you,” I replied.
Poe’s expression changed to an air of mock offense.
“I am the definition of calm and composed.”
I shoved him in the chest hard enough to make him fall back on his elbows. He laughed and kissed my shoulder as he wrapped his arms all the way around my waist, tipping his chin up to look at me. I placed my hands on either side of his face, gliding my fingers through his hair to the back of his scalp with a teasing little tug.
“Better watch that mouth of yours, Commander Dameron,” I said. “It’ll get you into all sorts of trouble.”
Poe grinned and closed his eyes. “I like trouble.”
I shifted, grinding against him in response.
“Kriffing—” he croaked as his forehead dropped to my collarbone.
His fingers dug into the small of my back, through the fabric of my shirt and jacket. I rested my cheek against the top of his head, hands locked in his hair. Every roll of my hips brought my torso flush to his, sending a fresh wave of aching want through my body to feel his skin against mine without the irritation of clothing.
I slid my hands along Poe’s neck, over his shoulders, down his chest. He nipped at my collarbones and pinched the lapel of my jacket between two fingers, preparing to peel it away from my shoulder.
“May I?” he said.
I raised an eyebrow. “You claimed that I gave you permission to take my clothes off once before.”
“You did. I would be a very lucky man to encounter such a rare occurrence twice in my lifetime.”
I swept a curl away from Poe’s forehead and shook my head.
“No,” I said.
His smile wavered as he searched my face, confused.
“No?” he said.
“I made you a promise. Stripping you down to nothing but your skin. And I intend to keep that promise.”
As I spoke, I pushed Poe’s jacket off of his shoulders. He squirmed out of it, shoved it to the floor.
“Make sure you finish what you start, cadet,” he said.
It sounded like something he would say to me on that first day of training, a piece of advice from teacher to student. All it took was one prickle of doubt and my confidence began to crumble.
Concern shot across Poe’s face at my sudden silence and he brought his palm up my side.
“Hey, hey, what is it?” he said. “What did I say?”
“Tell me the truth,” I said.
“Is this…is this what you want me for? The cadet who follows your every command.”
Poe looked horrified for a moment. His hand at my side tightened a fraction, only to get my attention, not to restrain me.
“I think,” he said carefully. “It’s already been established that you have a mind of your own and you have no problem calling me out on my bullshit. So, if I wanted you because I thought you’d be an easy lay, that you would do everything I told you to, well, that plan would go to hell before it even got started.”
I smiled faintly and ducked my head.
“I want you,” he continued. “Because you’re stubborn. Because you don’t give up. I’ve wanted you since the first time you got to fly. When you saw the stars up close, you had this smile on your face and you were…breathtaking.”
A pleased little shiver rippled up my spine and my fingers took a fistful of his shirt’s hem.
“My first flight was almost a year ago,” I said.
“Yes, it was.”
“That’s a long time to want someone.”
“I know. But if you decide that you’re not ready for…this…then I’ll continue to wait for as long as you need me to.”
I placed my hands at his waist, palms curved above his hips, savoring the way my fingers danced over his skin.
“What if I’m ready now?” I said.
“I’m not calling the shots, sweetheart. You are. Even if you’re my cadet, I’m yours to command tonight.”
My smile grew so wide that my cheeks ached as I kissed him. I broke away just far enough to pull Poe’s shirt up over his head and discarded it on the floor without looking away from the expanse of skin on display before me.
During sabacc, I couldn’t stare or touch the way I’d wanted to, the way I could now. My hands spanned across his chest, gliding over smooth skin. Two fingers touched the red, raised scar above Poe’s hip. But he didn’t flinch, didn’t shy away.
“I like it when you call me that,” I said.
Poe brushed a kiss to my shoulder, another to the curve of my neck, my jawline, my cheek. When he reached the corner of my mouth, he stopped and his gaze slowly slid up to meet my eyes.
“Sweetheart,” he whispered against my lips.
Poe slipped his hands inside my jacket, gliding up my back. I could feel the heat of his palms through my clothes and quickly shed my jacket, fumbling for my shirt to follow suit.
“Permission to assist?” Poe said in a wry tone.
“Permission denied,” I said, muffled as I tugged my shirt over my head. “Just sit there and watch.”
Poe leaned back, his hands resting atop my thighs. As my shirt fell to the floor, his gaze travelled down my exposed torso then back up to my face. His fingers tightened on my thighs.
“Permission to touch,” he said, his voice gravel-rough.
I hummed against the side of Poe’s neck, scraping my teeth over his skin until he shuddered.
“Not yet,” I said.
Poe made a small noise of frustration. The sheer desperation that crossed his face was almost comical and I had to bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from changing my mind. I was enjoying telling him what to do for a change and I wasn’t about to surrender so soon.
I placed one hand in the middle of his chest as my other hand made quick work of his belt. I pushed him flat against the bed, sliding my palm down his chest, and opened his fly. His cock curved up towards his stomach, a lush dark red already, thick and rapidly growing hard.
I planted my knees on the mattress to either side of his hips. I curled my fingers around him, traced the vein that ran underneath his cock, feeling him throb and surge. When I swiped my thumb over the head—fleeting enough for a reaction but not enough to satisfy—I got exactly what I wanted.
Poe gritted his teeth, fingernails clawing at my thighs. His head tilted back, neck arched, every muscle, every tendon straining. He planted his heels on the floor, thrusting his hips up.
I moved my thumb away, my grip on him easing to a feather-light touch without an ounce of the friction he craved.
Poe groaned and sagged into the mattress.
I laughed softly as I kissed the hollow of his throat. Poe cupped his hand to the back of my head, lazily combing his fingers through my hair. I kissed my way down his chest, sweet little butterfly kisses at first. The lower I went, the more I opened my mouth, sucking and lapping at his skin.
I sank to the floor between Poe’s knees, closed my mouth over his lower stomach and pulled away with an echoing pop. I glanced up at him through my lashes to find him watching me, his bottom lip clamped between his teeth.
I let go of his cock and retreated. Poe growled with frustration, his head dropping back against the bed.
“Get rid of those pants, Commander,” I said.
Poe sat bolt upright, kicked off his shoes in the blink of an eye. As he raised his hips up from the bed, both of us were pulling his pants off, pushing them aside as fast as possible.
I splayed my hands across the top of his thighs, thumbs nestled at the inside of his knees. My hands skimmed up and up, Poe’s breathing growing more and more ragged the higher I went.
“What other spots are ticklish?” I said.
Poe let out a choked laugh.
“Not a chance. I’m never telling you that—Force, damn it—“
He broke off as I cupped his balls in one hand. He twisted his fingers into the sheets, arms straining.
And when I kissed the base of his cock, I felt his entire body flinch at the contact. I pressed the flat of my tongue against the length of him, licking slowly to the head. I’d barely closed my lips around the head of his cock before Poe was shying away, his hands cradling my face.
“Sweetheart, wait, wait,” he said. “Hold on a minute.”
I hesitated. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, stars, no. It’s just…if you keep doing that, I won’t last for much longer here.”
I gave his balls a ruthless squeeze and angled my head to kiss the side of his cock. Poe sucked in a breath.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” I said. “We have the whole night ahead of us. And tomorrow.”
“But I do have a problem with it,” Poe replied, his voice trembling slightly as he struggled to maintain control. “Just…please let me touch you.”
I rose to stand in front of him, my hands resting on his shoulders, one finger creeping up the back of his neck to twist a curl of hair around my finger. Poe kept his hands on the bed, looking up at me. Awaiting his orders.
“Okay, Commander,” I said. “Touch me.”
“Thank the stars,” he breathed.
Poe skimmed his hands up the back of my legs as he kissed my stomach, in between my breasts, over my shoulder. He slid his thumb beneath my bra strap.
“Can I take this off?” he said.
I nodded. “Yes. Along with everything else.”
Poe scooped me into his arms and spread me out across the bed. He dragged his hands down my body, one palm cupping my ankle, the other untying my boot. By the time he’d dropped my boots over the side of the bed, I was already unbuckling my pants. He curled his fingers into the waistband and tugged my pants off, leaving me in only my bra and underwear.
“Tread carefully,” I said. “One smartass word about déjà vu and you’ll be sleeping alone.”
Poe grinned as he brought the inside of my knee up to his lips and peppered kisses along my thigh, ticklish and light in comparison to the rough scrape of his stubble.
“That’s not what I was about to say,” he said.
My comeback fizzled and died on my lips as Poe traced along my inner thigh with the pad of his thumb, circling ever closer to my core. I pressed my hips into the mattress, refusing to arch up into his touch and give away just how much he was getting to me.
“I was going to ask,” Poe whispered against my skin. “If I could kiss you. Here.”
He covered my sex with his palm. I had been waiting for it, prepared for it, but the weight of his hand, the heat of his fingers palpable through my underwear, still startled a small noise of surprise out of me.
Poe snatched his hand back, curved his palm, protective and firm, over my leg instead.
“Hey, sweetheart, I didn’t mean—“
“Yes,” I gasped. “Yes. You can, yes.”
“Are you sure?”
In answer, I wiggled out of my underwear, kicked it off the bed. Poe laid his hand on the mattress palm up beside my hip in a silent invitation. I intertwined his fingers with mine.
Poe eyed me, wary and watchful. He wouldn’t continue, wouldn’t move at all until he had a verbal direction, one way or the other.
“Put your mouth on me, Commander,” I said. “Now.”
Poe raised an eyebrow, his eyes bright with amusement and arousal as he settled between my legs. For a moment, his breath ghosted across the inside of my thigh. And then his mouth was there, hot, wet tongue pressed against my clit.
My fingernails bit into the back of his hand as Poe licked the full length of me. My free hand flew to the top of his head, fingers fisted in his hair. As his tongue flicked and swirled and slid into me, I pulled on his hair more forcefully than I intended to. He let out a sinfully loud moan against me.
“Shit, Poe,” I wheezed.
My legs were beginning to tremble, knees creeping up towards Poe’s ears. He released my hand, shifted until he was flat on his stomach. He hooked my legs over his shoulders and slowly sank one finger into me, never taking his gaze from my face.
I was so slick already that his finger sank up to the first knuckle easily.
“All good?” Poe said.
I nodded, squirming slightly in an attempt to get him to move. Poe dipped his head, flicked his tongue over my clit as he withdrew his finger and slid it back in just as slowly as the first time. Again and again, he worked that one finger in and out, curled just slightly to make me eager for more.
Finally, Poe slipped a second finger inside me. This time, when he curled upward, he kept going, curling and uncurling, until my body wound tighter and tighter, trembling on the edge. Then he covered my clit with his mouth and sucked so hard that I arched off of the bed, muscles locked tight in orgasm.
As I came down, Poe’s hands wandered over my twitching, shivering skin, easing me back to the bed, smoothing over my hip and along the dip of my waist.
“How are you holding up, cadet?” he said, no small amount of smugness in his voice. But there was genuine concern underneath, too.
“I’m…” I started, my voice hoarse. “I warned you.”
“Mouthing off to your commanding officer.”
Poe rested his cheek against my thigh and I could feel him grin.
“If I don’t keep you in line,” I added. “It might happen again.”
Poe breathed a laugh against my skin. He kissed his way up my body, his arms braced on the bed at either side of me. My fingers combed listlessly through his hair as he closed his mouth over my breast, pinching my nipple with his teeth then soothing with his tongue.
As Poe settled over me, moving his mouth from my breast to my neck, the heated weight of his cock pressed against my hip.
“Shots,” I said.
Poe stopped. “What?”
“Contraceptive shots. Are you up to date?”
“Renewed them while I was locked up in the med bay. You?”
I nodded. “Two weeks ago.”
“Then we’re in the clear? Unless you’ve changed your mind…”
Poe pulled back, looking me in the eyes, sweeping my hair away from my forehead. I slipped one hand between us, angling just the head of his cock into me.
“Believe me,” I said. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
I held Poe’s gaze as he eased into me, inch by inch, and my name fell from his lips on a gasp.
Not cadet. Not recruit.
Just my name.
Even though my fingers had encircled the girth of his cock more than once already, as soon as I felt him inside me, felt the length of him gliding so smoothly, I inhaled a stuttering breath of surprise and pleasure. Poe bowed his head, his mouth open and hot against my shoulder as he let out the most depraved moan next to my ear.
My body vibrated at the full contact of Poe against me. When he breathed, his ribs contracted, slotting between mine. When I shifted my hips, I whimpered at the sensation of him buried so deep.
Poe propped himself up on an elbow, one hand at my cheek. I curled my fingers over his wrist and turned my head slightly to look at him.
“Are you okay?” he said, his voice trembling and tight with self-control.
I nodded. “Yes.”
I skimmed one hand down his side, over his ass, and around the back of his thigh as encouragement to start moving. He pulled out and when he eased in again with one long stroke, my eyes fluttered closed, sagging into the pillows.
Each thrust remained slow and measured, even as Poe’s hips stuttered and he growled against my neck. I looped an arm around his shoulder for leverage as I met his thrusts a little faster, a little harder.
Then Poe put a hand at my waist with a grip that almost made me yelp. I clamped my fingers around his wrist. His eyes remained closed, the muscles in his torso a tense ridge of restraint as he slid out of me and leaned to one side—his good side.
“Poe?” I whispered. “You told me it didn’t hurt.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t. Just…it pulls a bit sometimes.”
“Why didn’t you say so before?”
Poe sputtered a hoarse laugh.
“I wasn’t about to sit this one out while you looked so damn…tempting. I can keep going. Give me a minute.”
I nuzzled at his cheek and sidled closer, smoothing his damp curls away from his forehead.
“Poe,” I said.
He sighed, leaning his head on my shoulder. “Don’t. Please don’t say it.”
“That it’s fine. That we can do this another time.”
“Well…it’s true,” I countered.
Poe raised his head and kissed me, a sweet, gentle kiss of apology.
“How often do you think we’ll get this chance again? Two whole days to ourselves?” He paused, released a low breath. “I need to keep up with you. I don’t want to let you down.”
I stared at him for a moment, struggling to comprehend those words coming from Poe. I knelt in front of him and wrapped my arms around him.
“You will never let me down, Poe Dameron,” I said. “Never.”
Poe said nothing as he tucked his face into the crook of my neck and shoulder, his hands splayed wide across my back.
I broke away and patted the pillows.
“Come here,” I said.
When Poe hesitated, I raised my eyebrows. Poe blew out a puff of air and complied. As he wiggled deeper into the pillows and folded his hands over his stomach, he looked up at me.
“You’re getting far too comfortable with giving orders,” he said.
I hitched one leg over his hips, straddling him with one hand on his chest, the other hand guiding his cock to my entrance again.
“And you love it,” I replied.
I sank down onto Poe’s cock until he was fully sheathed inside me.
“Force have mercy,” Poe croaked. “You feel so good, sweetheart.”
He ran his hands over my hips, up my waist, thumbs nestled close to my ribs.
“Is that better?” I said.
“Ready for you to ravage me.”
I laughed as I leaned down to kiss him.
“What did I tell you about that mouth, Commander?” I said.
Poe’s retort was lost as I rolled my hips, only a little at first, testing the waters to see that it didn’t hurt him. But he didn’t stop me, didn’t grit his teeth in an attempt to hold out.
I worked my hips in a slow, steady pace for a while, gradually bringing him higher and higher.
Then I scraped my fingernails over Poe’s scalp, pressed his mouth open and sucked on his tongue. I felt him stiffen, felt the first tremor of orgasm begin and I kept going with long, sweeping thrusts.
Poe arched up off the bed a few inches, pulling himself up against me. I cradled the back of his head in my hand and bore down on him, clenched as tight as I could, feeling him pulse inside me. He managed to sneak two fingers between us and circled my clit.
I shuddered as I came for the second time, Poe’s arms locked tight around me, my mouth open on a gasp against his mouth.
As the tension melted out of me, I sagged across Poe’s chest, loose and warm. I felt him heave a sigh as he draped his hand over the small of my back.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard you say my name,” I said softly.
“I’ve used your name plenty of times before.”
I shook my head and looked up at him.
“You call me cadet. Recruit.” I paused then added with a little smile, “Sweetheart. Although that one is nice. I could get used to hearing it. Worst one would have to be hot-shot, know-it-all-newbie.”
Poe grimaced and inhaled sharply through his teeth. “I’ll never forgive myself for saying that.”
“You weren’t happy that day. Understandably.”
“Might have had something to do with the fact that you scared the hell out of me.”
My smile faltered.
“You barreled into that fight with the TIES,” Poe continued. “Obviously didn’t have a plan. It’s one thing for me to fly by the seat of my pants. Not you.”
“Hey.” I poked him in the stomach. “Double standard.”
“I don’t enjoy watching my heart walk around outside my body, throwing herself in front of canon fire.”
I remained silent, one finger tracing the line of his jaw. I stopped at his chin with a tap-tap.
“Are we fooling ourselves here?” I said. “Can we really do this or…or are we just crippling each other?”
Poe considered for a moment as his hand coasted up my neck, fingers tangled in my hair.
“After that first time I kissed you,” he said. “And you told me we couldn’t do it again, I came to accept it.”
“Made you pretty grumpy though.”
“Because I didn’t like it, that’s my point. I could do it, yes, but…”
“But everything was just better with you.”
Poe turned his head to look at me. He bumped his nose against mine, his thumb skimming my cheekbone.
“I’d rather learn to live with you, take orders from you, watch you scare the everloving shit out of me, than to live with that…emptiness where you were meant to be. If you choose to walk away—“
“No,” I cut in. “I won’t.”
Poe studied me for a moment. He cupped my face in his hands, kissed me lightly, and when he pulled away, he whispered my name.
“Say it again,” I said.
“Is that an order?”
“Only if you want it to be.”
Poe rolled me onto my back, smothering my face in a thousand kisses as he said my name over and over until I laughed.
I woke to fingertips against my back, drifting in lazy, ambling patterns. The bed dipped to my right as Poe leaned closer and kissed my neck.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
I hummed in response but remained where I was, eyes closed, lying on my stomach, my head turned away from him. Not quite fully awake yet, all I could feel was Poe. His hands, his mouth, his breath, his skin. And maybe if I didn’t move, I could make this day stretch out just a little longer.
Poe skimmed his hand down my back, ducked underneath the sheet pooled at my waist. He kissed between my shoulder blades as his palm moved over my hip. A moment later, his knuckles grazed up along the inside of my thigh.
“Commander,” I mumbled. “Is there something you’re looking for?”
Poe grinned and nipped the skin at my waist.
“No,” he said. “I think I’ve got it covered.”
He slipped two fingers between my legs, sinking into me easily. Poe rested his cheek against my shoulder with a sigh as he slowly worked his fingers inside me.
“I’ll never get tired of seeing you like this,” he said, his voice pitched low.
He traced his lips feather-light along my back, leaving a trail of goosebumps in his wake as he swept the sheet aside. Cool air shivered over my bare skin in comparison to the warmth of his hand at the curve of my back.
Poe shifted over me, his fingers never losing their steady rhythm. When he added a third finger, my head came up with a small noise of pleasure.
“I’ll never get tired of listening to you make those perfect sounds, either,” he said, a smile in his voice.
I slid my hands forward to grip the sheets, pushing my ass up and back until I bumped against Poe’s thigh.
“All talk and no action,” I said.
Poe chuckled as he curved his body over mine, mouthing at my earlobe. With his weight bearing me into the mattress, I was completely covered by him. I could feel every inch of his chest against my back, feel his hand coasting along my side to stop at my hip with a squeeze.
“Impatient,” Poe murmured.
I broke off as Poe pressed his cock inside me so, so slowly. The gasp that fell from his mouth and mine mingled in the silence.
“Are you all right?” I said.
At this angle, I couldn’t look Poe in the eye, couldn’t tell if he was gritting his teeth in order to hold out for my sake.
“You might be the death of me,” he said, strangled.
“I’ll take that as a yes then.”
Poe looped an arm around my waist, his forehead resting against the back of my neck.
“I know you’re impatient, babe,” he said. “But I can’t…can’t rush. If I hurt you…”
I reached over my shoulder, tangled my fingers in his hair to reassure him.
“There’s no pain, Poe. Trust me.”
I tightened my fingers in his hair and tugged in that way he liked—a hard pull to make him groan in my ear.
Poe’s hips jerked forward with a shuddering, kriffing stars, exhaled against my shoulder. At the thickness of his cock surging inside me, I released my grip on his hair and moved my hand to the back of his thigh. My fingers inched a little higher until I could get a firm grip on his ass, firm enough to leave nail marks when his hips flexed again on another thrust.
“Force…” Poe stuttered out. “Sweetheart. Tell me what you want. I need to hear you say it.”
“I want you to fuck me, Commander. For as long as you can.”
Poe anchored his hand at my hip, raised himself up an inch or two for leverage. He nudged my knees apart and began thrusting with short, shallow strokes, giving me time to adjust to his size. Then he sank into me to the hilt.
I closed my eyes and let my head drop forward onto my arms.
“Just like that,” I sighed.
Poe slid in and out of me, each stroke deeper than the last, each accompanying moan he gave growing louder and louder. He settled on top of me again, and as he worked one hand between my body and the mattress, he angled my hips up towards him. I sucked in a sharp breath.
“God, yes, Poe, right there.”
Poe picked up his speed as much as he could manage and swore in a short burst. I trembled, hovering at the edge, my body on fire with that sweet ache, my skin buzzing.
“Come for me, cadet,” he said a moment before he thumbed at my clit.
I shook apart beneath him, my face buried in my pillow as Poe continued his rhythm, never slowing down. Even as the last of the aftershocks shivered away, Poe didn’t stop.
I felt him begin to tense, his hips faltering. He moved from his elbows to his hands to hit an even deeper angle. I hooked one hand around his forearm and pushed back against him. Poe’s mouth fell to my neck with a bruising suck on the last stroke when he pulled out all the way. He thrust into me again one last time and stayed there, throbbing hot.
After a moment, he let out a heavy sigh and sagged against me, his breathing coarse and quivering. I placed my hand atop his and threaded his fingers with mine.
Neither of us moved for several minutes, too out of breath to speak. Then Poe kissed my shoulder. I whimpered at the loss of contact as he slipped out of me and stood. Where he had been so warm before, skin against skin, filling me, now there was cold air and emptiness.
His footsteps faded into the ‘fresher, followed by the hiss of water. He returned and sat on the edge of the bed, one hand at the small of my back, the other hand smoothing a damp cloth down my legs, between my thighs.
Poe trailed a line of gentle kisses up my spine to the base of my neck. He dropped the cloth on the floor with a wet plop and spanned his hands over my back, alternately applying pressure with the heel of his palms and his thumbs.
“What would you say,” Poe said absently. “If I asked you to run away with me?”
I huffed and rested my cheek on my folded arms.
“You know my answer to that.”
“Every day could be like this.”
I paused. “That does sound good.”
Poe’s hands slid up, hooked over my shoulders, his thumbs sweeping along my neck.
“You’d chicken out though,” I added.
“You can’t bear to be away from an adrenaline rush for very long.”
I rolled over and, for the first time that morning, I faced Poe. I had felt him, in every possible way, even before I’d opened my eyes. But seeing him, looking at him, made my breath catch in a different way.
His curls were tangled and frizzy, his jawline shadowed with dark stubble. I combed his hair away from his forehead, tracing the line of his mouth with my thumb. He was a mess and he was beautiful, and just for today, he was mine.
Poe turned his head and kissed my palm. I shifted on the bed to make room for him. When he sank in beside me, I sidled as close as I could get until every inch of me was pressed to every inch of him.
Poe pulled the sheets up around us in a cloud of soft fabric. I tucked my knee between his thighs, one ankle hooked around his calf, as his palm cradled the back of my neck.
The door slid open. BB-8 and BB-D3 tumbled in, chirping and whirring in a jumble about something I couldn’t quite catch.
They stopped. Silent.
Then they turned right around, shrieked over our indecency, and bleep-blooped out of the room as fast as they could.
“Close the door!” Poe called after them.
The door remained open, no droids in sight.
“Kriff,” Poe muttered. “BB-8 probably blew a circuit after that.”
“You were the one who decided to teach your droid how to bypass security systems. And now you’ve tainted my droid, too.”
“It’s useful in a pinch. They weren’t supposed to turn into little peeping perverts.”
Poe grudgingly sat up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He dragged a corner of the sheet around his waist but as he prepared to stand, I grabbed a fistful of the fabric.
“Don’t you dare,” I said. “You’re not leaving me here with nothing.”
“But nothing looks so good on you.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere. As soon as you close the door.”
“That’s the plan. Just give me a little more of the sheet so I can reach my pants, which you happened to throw all the way over there for some reason.”
Poe gestured towards his pants in a heap next to the wall. They were only three or four steps away but the corridor was right there. Anyone could walk by and glance in.
Poe tugged on the sheet. I didn’t budge.
“It’s useless,” I said. “To pretend as if you have any modesty whatsoever. You were the one who goaded me into strip sabacc.”
Poe glanced over his shoulder at me, eyes narrowed. I wiggled onto his side of the bed, still warm from his body heat, and poked him in the back.
“You have no mercy,” he said.
“One of the many qualities you love about me.”
Poe smiled softly as he leaned over me with a kiss to my forehead. I felt his hands slide up to steal the sheets from me.
“Don’t do it—“
The echo of footsteps in the hall gave a split second of warning before Snap appeared in the doorway and pulled up short.
“Dameron, I—oh. Oh. I…wait…” He pointed to Poe then to me. “Well, I’ll be damned. Didn’t see that one coming.”
“Snap,” Poe barked. He put an arm out to cover me as I slid further under the sheets. “A little privacy would be nice.”
“But the door was open—“
“Okay, but, you weren’t answering your comm. Neither…of you…were,” Snap said haltingly, as if he had just now realized the reason for that. He shook his head and raised a hand to stop himself. “Beside the point. I’m guessing the droids didn’t get the message to you. We’ve got a problem.”
“Can’t it wait until I have pants on?”
Snap flinched and touched his ear.
“I’m getting to that part, honey,” he said into his comm. “But the commander was…busy.”
Snap hitched one shoulder up towards his ear with a grimace. Karé must have been eating him alive.
“Yes, I’ll tell him.” He cleared his throat. “To put it nicely, Karé said to get your ass out of bed. Troopers are on the way. Our contact went turncoat. The First Order has our position.”
Within a minute, Poe and I were dressed, following Snap out the back and into the tangle of streets. Karé materialized from the crowd, moving fast, her face set in an annoyed expression.
“About time you showed up,” she said. “Hope your fooling around was worth it. Might get us caught. I managed to buy us some time but not much. A dozen Stormtroopers showed up a few minutes ago.”
Poe opened his mouth to respond but I didn’t hear what he said when I glimpsed the shine of white armor behind him. Sunlight gleamed on the muzzle of a rifle.
“Move,” Snap said behind me, seeing the same thing I did at the same time.
But it was too late. The first Stormtropper fired. Pain flared in my shoulder, a bloom of white hot heat that radiated down my shooting arm, rendering my fingers numb.
Poe backed up, crowding me into the shelter of the doorway. He shielded me with his body as he fired on the Stormtroopers. To my right, Karé and Snap took cover, drew their own weapons to stall the Troopers.
“Karé,” Poe said into his comm. “Is the docking station on lockdown? If we reach it, will our ships be free to go?”
“Last I heard, it’s still active,” Karé replied. “I wouldn’t expect it to stay open for much longer.”
I gritted my teeth against the burn in my shoulder and twisted my fingers into the back of Poe’s shirt. Poe slipped a hand behind him and I caught it with a squeeze to let him know I was conscious. He risked a quick glance at me.
“Are you okay?” he said. “How bad is it?”
I peeled my jacket aside to find a perfect circle of blackened and raging red skin.
“Arm is still functional,” I said. “Very little bleeding.”
A blaster bolt hit the wall just above my head. Poe ducked, hooked an arm over my shoulder, and pulled me against his chest.
“We’ve got to go, sweetheart,” he said. “Can you do that?”
I nodded and drew my blaster with my other hand. It wasn’t the arm I was used to shooting with but I could fire back and that was enough.
“We need a distraction,” I said. “The docking station is two blocks from here. And it might already be on lockdown, no traffic in or out. We have to get the Troopers’ attention away from us.”
For a split second, Poe did a double take. “That’s…a really good idea. Snap, did you hear that?”
“Loud and clear.”
“Then you’re with me. We’ll head south, get as far from the docking station as we can, and blow something up. Minimal damage, maximum chaos.”
It was a tight fit in the doorway with two people crammed in, taking advantage of the scarce shelter it offered. But Poe managed to coax me upright again, facing me. His gaze dropped to my shoulder, assessing the damage, before he cupped my face in his hands.
“I love you,” he said.
“Get to your ship and get out of here. I’ll be right behind you. Stay close to Karé.”
I curled my fingers over his wrist. A massive, black pit opened wide and screamed in my chest, hollow with dread. I wanted to plead with him, to remain by his side until my body gave out. But I’d always known this was part of the deal when I chose him.
“Come back to me in one piece, Poe,” I said. “That’s an order.”
Poe flashed me a grin with a quick kiss.
And then he was gone.
Seconds later, an explosion in the distance made the ground shudder beneath me. Karé and I broke into an all-out run for the docking station where our ships were waiting for us. There wasn’t a single Stormtrooper on patrol.
Karé waited, keeping watch, while I climbed into my x-wing and started it up. Without looking at what I was doing, my fingers floated over the console by memory and feel alone. I couldn’t take my gaze away from the landing pad.
“Let’s go, Poe,” I muttered through clenched teeth. “Where are you?”
Another minute passed and he still didn’t show.
“Dameron, Wexley,” Karé said into her comm. “What’s your status?”
The crackle and buzz of static was the only response.
“Force, I’m gonna kill them both,” Karé hissed. “Especially Dameron. The blast probably blew out their comms. You know, I managed to prevent those Troopers from marching into your room for about five minutes and I was completely silent and unobtrusive while doing it. But Dameron has to be the drama queen and make a scene.”
She huffed with irritation.
“Thirty seconds,” she said in a tight voice. “Then we have to leave.”
Even that was a risk we shouldn’t be taking. She was pushing it. She didn’t want to go any more than I did.
I curled my fingers around the controls of my ship with a death grip.
“You were given a direct order, Commander,” I said under my breath, staring at the edge of the docking station, waiting for Poe to appear. “Don’t disobey it.”
“Thirty seconds are up,” Karé said. “Time to fly.”
I remained where I was, whispering over and over, come back, come back, come back.
“Cadet,” Karé snapped. “In the air.”
I wrenched my gaze away from the station and up to the stars, my vision blurred with tears. I revved the power, repulsorlifts lifting me off the ground. I pointed the nose of my ship towards the sky.
“Keep moving,” Karé said, her voice a bit lighter. “But look below.”
I was fifteen or twenty feet up by now. At the edge of the docking station, two figures darted into view, nothing more than smudges of color. Poe raised his hand in a wave, signaling the all clear.
“I hope you make Snap suffer for this,” I said, my words wobbly with relief.
“You bet your ass I will. Give Dameron a little hell for me.”
“I’d be happy to.”
General Organa rubbed at her forehead while the medic swabbed my shoulder with disinfectant. I grimaced and sucked in a breath but I didn’t say anything about the sting. I was too preoccupied with watching the tension in General Organa’s face.
Poe stood to my right, his arms crossed, worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth.
“Explain to me again,” General Organa said in a tired voice. “What happened?”
“It was a setup from the start,” Poe replied. “And our contact—“
General Organa flicked her hand out, eyes closed, cutting him off.
“That part is very clear,” she said. “What I don’t understand is how Stormtroopers managed to practically get on top of your position before you had any idea what was going on.”
Poe clamped his mouth shut, teeth clenched. I pressed my lips together, watching the medic as he smoothed a bacta patch into place.
General Organa took in a deep breath and released it slowly before she opened her eyes.
“It’s you two,” she said.
Poe raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“You distracted each other,” General Organa continued. “Doing…who knows what, I don’t want details. It’s been like this ever since you met. You do everything you can to get at each other’s throats while your duties fall by the wayside.”
General Organa shot a stern look at Poe. He fell silent.
“Leave,” she said. “I want to speak to your cadet alone.”
I released a shuddering breath as I watched Poe walk out of the room. Then my gaze tracked slowly over to where General Organa stood. Staring at me.
“You distract each other,” she repeated. “But you keep each other sharp, as well. There are rules about this sort of thing, you know. Relationships in the service of the Resistance.”
I nodded, waiting for the final blow. I could see it coming. It was only a matter of time before it hit.
General Organa crossed the room to sit on the bed beside me, hands folded in her lap.
“I’ve known Poe for a very long time,” she said. Her voice was softer now, wistful with affection. “I’ve watched him grow up. I’ve watched him suffer the heartache of losing his mother. In the field, he will do the stupidest things to keep you alive in order to avoid losing another person in his life who has become so precious to him.”
My breath hitched in my throat. “You have to send me away.”
She sighed. “Yes. I do.”
I turned my head away, blinking back tears as fast as I could. One perfect night with Poe was more than I could have dreamed of. And the memory of it would be all I had left of him.
“But,” General Organa said. “I believe that would be a waste of resources.”
My gaze darted to her again, a bubble of hope trembling to life in my chest.
“Even if you were stationed somewhere else,” General Organa went on. “Poe would be distracted by you. Thinking about you one way or the other. Separation would be pointless. Besides, you’re a damn good pilot and we need as many of those as we can get.”
As diligently as I’d managed to keep myself from crying, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I bowed my head with a tiny sob of relief.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
General Organa rose from the bed and put her hand on my good shoulder.
“He glows around you,” she said. “Bright as the sun. Yell at him every once in a while if necessary to see that his head stays in the game. And…most of all, look after him. Keep him safe.”
I nodded, gulping down a lungful of air in an attempt to recompose myself.
“I will,” I said.
General Organa smiled faintly and headed for the door. She stopped, her hand on the wall.
“I heard the reports from Dameron, Wexley, and Kun,” she said. “And they all had one thing in common.”
“What was it?”
“High praise for you and how you handled the situation. You were injured, yet that didn’t slow you down. You were the one to point out the necessity of a distraction. And you waited for the rest of your squadron as long as you dared to, even though it put your own safety at risk, which, might I add, is not always a wise decision. But I admire a squadron that fights for each other. So, I guess you’ll need this.”
General Organa reached into her pocket, withdrew a small square, and tossed it to me. I caught it with one hand, nearly fumbled it. I clutched it to my chest to stop it from falling to the floor.
I looked down and found a lieutenant’s badge in my palm.
“Congratulations on earning your wings, Lieutenant,” she said.
By the time I was cleared to leave the med bay, Poe was locked in the command center with General Organa, probably sorting out the mess that happened on Coruscant. I waited for him but after three hours, there was no sign that they were leaving any time soon.
So, I headed to my quarters, sagged onto the foot of my bed, and kicked off my shoes, rubbing my shoulder. It wasn’t much more than a graze but it still ached.
A light tap echoed on my door.
“It’s open,” I said.
Jess flew in, jumped onto my bed. She snatched my pillow and smacked me in the back with it.
“You went on a double date with Karé and Snap and you didn’t even tell me,” she said.
She stood over me, raised the pillow above her head, threatening. I put up a hand to stay her.
“It wasn’t a date,” I said. “It was an assignment. And I’m injured. Look. Bacta patch. Stop hitting me.”
Jess blew out a puff of air and flopped onto my bed.
“I’m not speaking to you,” she said in mock offense.
She crossed her arms, face turned towards the wall. I laid down beside her, crammed in shoulder to shoulder on my little bed.
“You were gone overnight,” she said.
“I thought you weren’t speaking to me,” I replied.
“Shut up. The only comfort I can get out of this is Snap’s ignorance. He had no idea you two wanted to jump each other’s bones. He thought you hated each other. At least I wasn’t the last to know about it. Small consolation but I’ll take it.”
“So, the whole base knows now.”
“Mmm...yeah. Pretty much.”
"I didn't blab it."
"I know you didn't. It's just that whole..."
"Not so subtle thing."
I sighed. "Yes. That."
Jess stared at me.
“What do you want, Jess?” I said.
“You won’t give me anything at all?” she said, incredulous.
“Well, we wandered Coruscant until it got dark, just looking around and trying various foods we found along the way. Poe has a stomach of iron. He bought me dessert, too.”
“You two are so sweet, it’s gross. Tell me more.” Jess wiggled closer and propped her chin on my shoulder. “If Dameron didn’t take the chance to kiss you even once, I might have to lay down the Pava Law and demand that you dump him for someone who has their hands all over you all the time.”
“He did kiss me,” I said. “Many times.”
She elbowed me in the ribs.
“And? Throw me a little something here.”
I tilted my head to the side, considering.
“Poe follows orders really, really well when he wants to,” I said.
Jess cackled. “That’s my girl.”
“I also found out that there’s no such thing as too much tongue.”
Jess gasped. “Oh, ew. Okay, TMI. That’s…yeah, I didn’t need to know that.”
“You were the one who asked.”
She made a face and pulled the pillow over her head. I nudged her shoulder.
“What?” she said from under the pillow.
“Thanks for putting up with all my…”
Jess removed the pillow to look at me. “Man problems?”
I laughed. “Yes.”
“Don’t mention it.”
I fell asleep sometime before dinner. But a muffled whirring beep at my door woke me. A second later, the door slid open and a figure stepped into my room, silhouetted against the corridor’s faint blue glow.
“I could give you the code to my room, you know,” I said.
“Where would be the fun in that?” Poe whispered as he sat on the edge of my bed.
His boots thunked to the floor, followed by the rustle of clothes. The bed jostled slightly for a moment then Poe slipped an arm around my waist as he curled around me and kissed the back of my neck.
“Besides,” he said. “I have to keep my cadet on her toes.”
I smiled and brought his hand up to my mouth to kiss his knuckles.
“That’s Lieutenant to you.”
“Is that my shirt?” Poe said.
I glanced down at myself as I shuffled the sabacc deck.
“Yep. And your jacket.” I wiggled my shoulders. “Comfy, too.”
I dealt the cards and placed the deck in the middle of the bed.
“I’ll get them back from you today,” Poe said. “Along with everything else you’re wearing.”
The first hand went to Poe and when he laid down his cards to display the winning run, he crowed with triumph.
“Well, look at that,” he said.
“I went easy on you.”
Poe snorted. “Yeah right. I worked hard for that win with skills and finesse.”
I shed Poe’s jacket and tossed it at him, hitting him in the chest.
“If you’re so sure of that,” I said. “I’d better up my game and stop being nice to you out of pity.”
“I believe the saying was: go for the jugular.”
“All right. You asked for it.”
But the next round went to Poe as well.
“I’d like my shirt back now,” he said with a smug grin.
I pulled it over my head, dropped it over the side of my bed. Poe’s grin fell.
“That’s not fair,” he said. “You’re wearing layers.”
“You won your shirt back. Now you have to get mine. Unless you’re not up to the task.”
“Oh, I’ll do it. Don’t worry.”
The next round was no good. The cards were terrible.
“Deal two,” Poe said.
“You don’t want to do that.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
“Because the chances are against you at this point in the game.”
Poe raised his eyebrows, his lips parted slightly. Then he pressed his cards to his chest, covering them with his hand.
“How do you know?” he said. “I haven’t shown you my cards. Have you been peeking?”
“No. But if you take into account what’s already been played, what’s left in the deck…”
“So, you’ve been card counting. Cheater.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Fine. Do whatever you want. But if you take those two cards, it’s almost certain death for you in this round.”
Poe eyed me for a moment then glanced at his cards.
“You’re bluffing,” he decided.
I shrugged. “If you think so.”
He chewed on the inside of his cheek, deliberating.
“Okay, I call.”
I placed my cards on the bed. Poe spread his hand out with a flourish to show off his win.
“No fair,” I protested. “I gave you a hint.”
“That’s your problem, not mine. It was greatly appreciated though. Now...” He smiled slowly, pleased as a cat with himself. “Strip, Lieutenant.”
I glared at him for a moment then surrendered and took off my shirt, leaving me sitting there in just my pants and bra. Poe’s gaze wandered down my torso and back up to my face. He shifted, tugged at his pants.
“You could always take those off if they’re getting a little tight,” I said.
“Nice try. I haven’t lost yet. Let’s keep it that way.”
On the next hand, I fared no better. Poe showed me yet another winning run, laughing, his face flushed with delight.
“It’s bad sportsmanship to gloat,” I said.
“Yes, you’re absolutely right. You should just accept your defeat and hand over…what’s left.”
I rose to my feet, unbuckled my belt, and shucked off my pants. Poe tilted his head to the side.
“That underwear always did make your butt look adorable,” he said. “And pinchable,” he added, reaching out.
I swatted his hand away as I climbed onto the bed again and gathered the cards.
“Enjoy your victory while it lasts,” I said. “You won’t be so full of yourself when I clean you out for a second time.”
“Big words from a lieutenant in very little clothing.”
“This is completely part of the plan.”
Poe raised his eyebrows, amused. “Really?”
I nodded. “The more skin I show, the more distracted you get. Then you’re bound to slip up at some point.”
“Keep thinking that. I won’t stop you.”
I dealt, picked up my cards, and peeked over the top at Poe.
“Show me those skills, Commander,” I said. “And that finesse you were bragging about.”
Poe didn’t look at me, his tongue pressed to the inside of his cheek.
“You’re thinking awfully hard,” I said. “Don’t hurt yourself.”
Poe couldn’t stop the faint breath of a laugh from escaping.
“Call,” he said.
Poe won the hand. Again. I rubbed at the back of my neck. He really was on a roll.
I flicked my gaze up to Poe’s face and found him watching me. Bra or underwear. Which one would go first?
I unhooked my bra and my breasts spilled free, nipples quickly growing hard and stiff in the chilled air. Poe scrubbed a hand over his mouth.
“Your turn to deal,” I said with a sly little smile, knowing he would cave any second now.
Poe shoved the cards aside, crawled towards me, the game forgotten. He parted my knees, slid his thumbs beneath the waistband of my underwear and sucked a kiss into my stomach. He peeled my underwear off, down my legs, and tucked it in his pocket.
“You haven’t won that yet, Commander,” I said.
“Then take it back, Lieutenant. If you dare.”
Poe guided my legs around his waist, his hands sliding under my ass…
And he stopped. He pulled out half a dozen cards, looking at them as if he’d never seen them before.
“What are these?” he said.
I smiled, sheepish.
“You’ve been tipping the game in my favor?” Poe said.
I winced. “Sorry, babe, but…you are terrible at sabacc. Almost as bad as Snap. There was just no way you would ever win against me.”
Poe hooked his hands behind my knees and tugged me down the bed in one fast, smooth motion that had me yip in surprise. Pushing his hips between my knees, he planted one hand beside my head as he leaned over me.
“You’re a cheat and a liar, Lieutenant,” he said. “And as your commanding officer, it is my duty and responsibility to straighten you out.”
I covered my mouth with both hands to stifle a giggle.
“I’d like to see you try,” I replied.
Poe stretched his body across me, the fabric of his clothes rough against my bare skin. He cradled my cheek in one hand as he kissed me, nudging my mouth open with his tongue, teasing at my bottom lip with his teeth.
He pulled back, his forehead touching mine, his thumb brushing my chin.
“Have you straightened me out yet?” I said, my hands gliding down his back, sneaking under his belt.
“Not even close. We’re just getting started.”
Thank you SO MUCH for reading and commenting! It has been an honor and a joy to write imagines for you! I hate to say that this is the last imagine I will write. But I will continue to write other fanfiction (Poe fics definitely included!) and I’ll be updating here, tumblr, and fanfiction.net @warqueenfuriosa. Thank you for being wonderful, lovelies! ♥♥♥