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Of Bounty Hunters and Ballads, Legends and Lullabies: A First Order Karaoke Crackfic

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This did NOT seem like the kind of place the First Order would choose for any kind of planning or strategy session, secret or otherwise.  But the little Toydarian had sworn up and down that “oh yes, meetings, very regular, very hush-hush, must be something imPORtant”, and he’d very badly wanted the engine parts and fuel that Poe had been carrying; badly enough that there had been a distinct whine to his voice as he babbled about his cousin and some bar and music and...something about scones?  And Batuu. Of *course* it was kriffing Batuu. Everyone and their sister eventually did business in this place

 

Poe shrugged, staring at the unassuming mud-brick building from the roof of the building across the street while he thoughtfully chewed on a ration bar.  Even bad intelligence gave you more information than you’d had before; sometimes you had to go through a thousand places NOT to find what you wanted before you found it.  The meet was tonight, according to Naggi; seemed like a weird choice, but then Poe wasn’t one of the crazed overlords of an organization determined to grind the galaxy into the dirt.  How their minds worked was a mystery.

 

Naggi said his cousin had told him they met here all the time.  Wings nervously fluttering, he’d begged Poe not to say where he’d got the information, that Ren would crush his poor cousin under his boot, or General Hux would have Phasma cut him in half before he could blink twice.  That only really served to underscore the possibility that this was good information. Poe easily promised not to tell anyone; it didn’t really matter where he’d learned about this, and he didn’t want to be the cause of some poor random little bastard being bisected.  There was only so much weight you could carry, really.

 

He’d done a little reconnaissance.  Apparently tonight was Karaoke Masquerade, a weekly occurrence.  There were posters, old enough to be faded. Dress As Your Favorite Famous Person , Get Away From Your Troubles and Sing , Your Friends Will Never Know , they said.  Maybe they were counting on that as a distraction from their clandestine weapons planning or strategy session?  As a cover, Poe had heard worse ideas. Force, he’d participated in worse ideas; worming (ha!) his way into the good graces of a Hutt female came to mind.  He shuddered. That had been a terrible idea.

 

A little singing in a good cause was nothing compared to that; and Poe was willing to admit that he’d probably enjoy the hell out of it.  And “masquerade” meant disguise would be mandatory; he’d just have to be careful about his options. A few minutes’ thought, tapping the barrel of his blaster against his chin (a bad habit, that, or so General Organa had told him) and he knew exactly what he needed to do.  He and Snap had spent hours, like you did, sitting around the base bored out of their minds between the pinpoints of nova-bright action, playing sabacc and talking, and somewhere in there Wexley had told him about the bounty hunter who’d broken his mother out of her imprisonment in the Jakku Observatory.  

 

Dengar was an old-school hunter, the sort most considered a relic of a bygone age; evidently he’d said so himself on a few occasions.  He’d been one of the hunters Jabba had sent after General Solo himself; not that he’d caught him, mind you, or been involved in the Sarlacc-ridden mess of a rescue that had followed.  Famous enough that dressing like him wouldn’t be noticeably odd, obscure enough that he wouldn’t draw attention; and as a bonus, he’d tooled around in enough armor, cloth, and head-wrappings that nobody was going to recognize Poe.  Which was good, since the last thing he needed was the First Order’s concentrated attention.

 

Brow furrowed, Poe contemplated what he’d need.  You could get just about anything in this place, for a price.  Old-style stormtrooper armor plates, some paint, robes with enough cloth to outfit an entire platoon of overdramatic desert-dwellers, and a headscarf.  Shouldn’t be a problem. And a song; he’d need one of those. That definitely wasn’t a problem, he had plenty of songs. Ideally he’d just need the one, to look like he was there for the same reason as most people, before he could sneak away to see what exactly it was the First Order brass were trying to accomplish in this weird little karaoke bar-slash-coffeehouse.  

 

A few hours later, Poe was swaggering into the place like he imagined Dengar himself would have done.  He smelled a little like fresh paint, but otherwise the outfit was perfect, at least he thought so based on his thirdhand recollection of Snap’s secondhand retelling of his mother’s encounter.  He’d swaddled himself in white robes, overlaid with armor plating clearly lifted from some stormtrooper of his parents’ day that he’d painted in a green/brown/gold camouflage that would be functionally useless on this planet, but whatever.   As the crowning touch, so to speak, he’d wound the scarf-bandages around and around his head, hiding everything but his eyes and mouth. He didn’t even have to hide the blaster at his hip; frankly, seeing someone without a weapon around here was less likely than seeing them without pants.

 

Poe dropped himself into a seat.  There was plenty of drink to be had, but he needed to stay sharp, so he ordered himself some caf and a snack.  Hey, he was hungry; ration bars just didn’t hit the spot like they should, and once he’d spotted scones with koyo-fruit on the menu, well, that was a treat from home too tempting to resist.  A look around showed a pretty good crowd, dressed as all sorts of fanciful versions of the heroes and villains of various eras, a scattering from Poe’s own childhood but mostly farther back during the Clone Wars.  There was someone dressed in the costumes the Hutts used for their slaves; in fact--oh, no, nope, he was not looking, he could *feel* General Organa’s death glare from here, across years and memory and the Force itself, nope, NOT looking.

 

There was a whole table of faux Gungans, that was a nice trick, must have taken some planning, and a Wookiee that definitely wasn’t. Stars, he was sweating enough in this getup as it was, he couldn’t imagine the dedication required for that particular masquerade.  A few Clone troopers sat stiffly in their armor; he wasn’t going to question anyone else’s choices (okay, yes he was), but how exactly were they going to sing in those helmets? Wait, there was definitely a theme here. What in the… Poe picked up a discarded flyer from the next table. Theme of the week:  Rebel Heroes Of The Clone Wars!  Well, Bantha dung, a hole in his research, and here he’d been trying be inconspicuous.

 

The sound of muttered squabbling drew his attention to a table in the back.  One of them was dressed as...was that Qui-Gon Jinn? It was, and impressive; from what Poe could see they had the height for it, though he suspected the beard was fake.  Nice wig, though. Sitting next to the tall, broad-shouldered Jedi was...well, Poe wasn’t sure this table had actually gotten the point of the theme. That was Darth Vader.  A bit odd both chronologically and ideologically, but whatever made them happy. Next to Vader was, Force, General Grievous, which made even less sense, but honestly was a truly impressive feat of costuming; whoever was under there had somehow rigged it so that the extra limbs moved along with what must be their real arms, and had achieved the sort of wasp-waisted physique that shouldn’t be possible unless you were mostly not made of people.  

 

The last person at the table was the one who really caught Poe’s attention, though.  It wasn’t a costume that would have occurred to most people, but Poe had very little difficulty identifying the choice of Ezra Bridger.  He’d been involved in the mission that helped Wedge Antilles defect from the Imperial Academy! And he’d been a pretty decent pilot himself, when not using his Force skills to protect the pilots along with him.  They’d served in Phoenix Squadron together, Ezra and Wedge, and Bridger had been interrogated about the location of Rebel bases while a prisoner. Come to think of it, the stories said he’d been mistaken for a bounty hunter when he’d been captured and dragged onto a Star Destroyer.

 

It didn’t hurt that the man dressed as Bridger was handsome as hell, either, with a fine head of dark hair, eyes as dark as Poe liked his caf, and an almost delicate frame.  In his surprise at finding those eyes looking back at him, Poe almost choked on the caf in question, smothering it into a cough as subtly as he could manage. A tiny quirk at the corner of the other man’s mouth told him that he, at least, had noticed; and his eyes narrowed, skating over the contours of Poe’s own face where he’d uncovered his mouth and chin to eat.  At least he thought they did; a moment later his face was smooth again, almost serene, and he turned back to the others at his table, saying something to Grievous that had him waving his various limbs in agitation. Or excitement. Hard to tell in that getup.

 

Poe didn’t really have time to ponder that much, though, as the house lights were dimmed in anticipation of the main event.  He was hoping to get an opportunity to look around; from here, from the stage, maybe head to the ‘fresher and get conveniently lost.  If there was going to be a clandestine meeting happening here, he still had no idea where and when it would take place, and that’s what he was really here to accomplish.  His chance came when the Wookiee was the first to take the stage. He was singing a long-form epic poem of some kind--in Shyriiwook. That was some serious dedication. And if memory served, he’d be a while; Wookiees had a very serious outlook on their epics.  All of the other patrons looked...resigned.

 

Prowling around the building while pretending he needed the ‘fresher got Poe exactly...nothing.  There was no secret back room. There was no apparent preparation for a meeting. He hadn’t spotted anyone he could definitively identify as being First Order brass.  He did discover that the kitchen smelled delicious; and that the man dressed as Ezra Bridger had free run of the place. Poe was forced to duck into a broom closet to avoid being spotted.  Broom closets were excellent for eavesdropping, however; he caught the beginning of a very odd conversation in which that same man, whose name was evidently Mitaka, was asking whether the scones had turned out all right.  

 

Wait, why was one of the patrons making the baked goods in this place?  This was rapidly turning into the most bizarre reconnaissance and infiltration missions of Poe’s career, which was saying something.  On the other hand, the scones were pretty damn delicious, so at least there was that. That face, and he could bake?  Wow. Puzzled, he managed to sneak back out to the dining area and resume his seat.   There was nothing for it but to watch, listen, and try to suss out what the hell was happening.  The Wookiee was still not finished when he returned.  He had managed to identify which specific Wookiee was being portrayed, though; by the elaborate look of those epaulets, it had to be General and Chieftain Tarfful.  By all reports Chewbacca had found that particular affectation endlessly amusing.

 

The tableful of Gungans ran their way through a gamut of various popular standards; none of it was very interesting, and frankly neither were they.  The Clone Troopers got onto the stage and performed some sort of complicated...chorus line? But this was a karaoke...why were they...okay, sure, why not?  Their synchronization was admittedly impressive. Who knew you could do high kicks in that armor? He was sort of afraid they were going to hurt themselves.  Someone had trained these guys really, really well.

 

It wasn’t until Qui-Gon Jinn strode belligerently onto the stage that Poe finally realized what was happening.  Possibly he should have noticed sooner; but, to be fair, no one really knew, outside the armor...it wasn’t really…  It dawned on him when when the intro ended, Qui-Gon opened his mouth, and the dulcet tones of a talented alto floated out over the tables.  Oh, hell. Alto, six feet and change, the beard was fake; it got clearer as he listened to the lyrics. Angry, aggressive, violent-sounding lyrics, with a surprising note of desperation.  Poe was pretty sure he knew this song, and almost entirely certain those were not the original words. The Gungans obligingly chimed in as background singers, as though they’d watched her perform this number on a previous occasion.

 

(Don’t turn around)

Every now and then I get a little bit lonely

And I’m never turning 'round

(Don’t turn around)

Every now and then I get a little bit tired

Of listening to the sound of their tears

(Don’t turn around)

Every now and then I get a little bit nervous

That the best of all my time has gone by

(Don’t turn around)

Every now and then they get a little bit terrified

Like when they see the look in my eyes

 

(Don’t turn around, bright eyes!)

Now and then I tear the world apart

(Don’t turn around, bright eyes!)

Now and then I tear the world apart

 

(Don’t look back)

Every now and then I get a little bit restless

And I go do something wild

(Don’t look back)

Every now and then I get a little bit ruthless

And I'm scheming just to keep me from harm

(Don’t look back)

Every now and then I get a little bit angry

And I know I've got to go pick a fight

(Don’t look back)

Every now and then they get a little bit terrified

Like when they see the look in my eyes

 

(Don’t turn around, bright eyes!)

Now and then I tear the world apart

(Don’t turn around, bright eyes!)

Now and then I tear the world apart

 

And I need to pick a fight

And I need it more than ever

And then I feel the rage ignite

Like it just might last forever

That’s the only way I can be right

'Cause I’ll always be strong

This fury’s got to last me to the end of the line

But anger’s like a shadow on me all of the time (All of the time)

I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark

I’m feeling like a powder keg and giving off sparks

I just need someone to fight

To keep this fiery heart alight

Or maybe just to sleep tonight

 

Once upon a time I was fighting for life

Now I'm only doing my part

There's nothing I can do

This battle was joined at the start

Once upon a time there was fire in my life

But now I only follow the dark

Nothing I can say

This battle was lost at the start

 

There was only one person that could be.  The legendary Jedi, mentor to Obi-Wan Kenobi, was Captain Phasma, crucible of Stormtroopers, scourge of Resistance fighters everywhere.  So if that was Phasma, then the rest of the table must be...Poe dropped his head into his hands before staring morosely into his second cup of caf.  So, he’d traded valuable goods, disguised himself, and flown halfway across the galaxy for an actual kriffing karaoke night. He thought about leaving before he got himself in a truly astounding amount of trouble, even for him; but wouldn’t it look just as suspicious if he’d arrived with every evidence of enthusiasm only to leave in the middle of the show?  Besides, there was still the very intriguing Bridger, err, Mitaka, to consider. And he sort of wanted to sing.

 

Vader was next.  The costume was...okay.  It had all the appropriate buttons in all the appropriate places.  Poe’s fingers itched to push Vader’s buttons in every sense of the word.  The helmet, though...was a thing of beauty, lovingly sculpted and from the images Poe had seen, in absolutely exacting detail.  The amount of detail became apparent once the vocals started. Poe expected the sound to be a bit muffled; a full mask tended to do that, if the Gungans and that poor Wookiee were any indication.  But Vader was singing through a vocoder; an old-school, primitive, hollow-sounding vocoder. He’d even managed to recreate the sound of the machines that had assisted the Sith Lord’s breathing. It made him sound as though he’d run a race before starting, even though as far as Poe knew he’d just been sitting at the table with his chin resting on his fist, studiously ignoring the bickering between his colleagues.  

 

What's left to say?

Your voice can’t reach me anymore

Every plan shot down in flames

What's left to do with these broken pieces on the floor?

I'm losing my voice drowning in you

 

'Cause I've been shaking

I've been bending backwards till I'm broke

Watching all these dreams go up in smoke

 

Your voice, it came out of ashes

Direction came out of ashes

And when I talk to you all I ask is

Can purpose come out of ashes?

 

Can you use these tears to put out the fires in my soul?

'Cause I need you here, woah

 

'Cause I've been shaking

I've been bending backwards till I'm broke

Watching all these dreams go up in smoke

 

Your voice, it came out of ashes

Direction came out of ashes

And when I search for you all I ask is

Why won’t you come out of ashes?

 

Why won’t you come out of ashes?

 

Oh, stars.  Those were also not the original lyrics, and Poe was increasingly, sickeningly sure he knew who was wearing Vader’s helmet.  He really, really wanted to be wrong; and he knew he wasn’t. The song was heartfelt and despairing and completely sincere in every way, and there was only one person who could manage to be this serious and this...wistful while singing dressed as Darth sodding Vader.  The appearance of a few locks of sweaty, yet somehow still silky raven hair from under the edges of the helmet as he took a bow only served to confirm Poe’s predicament. The rest of the table (with the exception of Mitaka, who was kind enough to confine himself to merely looking pained) was snickering behind their hands at the inside-a-barrel vocal stylings of Kylo Ren.  Poe was in So. Much. Trouble.

 

If he’d had any sense, that was the point at which he should have left; but Poe was honest enough to know that he really didn’t have any sense.  He had a certain kind of morbid curiosity about exactly how General Grievous there was going to sound. He certainly looked elegant enough, swanning his multi-armed way onto the stage like he owned the microphone and taking a few steps and a turn to show off the precision costuming.  Assuming he was a regular sort of humanoid, there had to be...what, a corset under there?  Poe’d never tried it himself, but he imagined singing in a corset was no joke.  Arranging it so that all of the hands simultaneously closed around the mic and its stand must also have taken no small amount of skill.

 

The scope of the challenge only increased with the beginning of the song.  Poe wasn’t nearly as familiar with this one as he was with the previous two pieces, but he was reasonably certain those were also not the original lyrics.  He would not have thought it possible to string that many syllables into that small a span of time, and the fact that the singer’s waist was squeezed into an area that might normally be occupied by a thigh or a bicep made that even more remarkable.

 

You’d’ve thought this performance required a species that didn’t have to breathe, but it didn’t take very many lines before, horribly, he recognized the voice.  Of course Poe knew that voice.   Everyone knew that voice, the sound of First Order propaganda, the ringing of orders to decimate entire planets and systems.  Evidently General Hux had declined to share whatever trick had made this voice ring out from under the full-face mask with crystalline clarity, because his tones were crisp and totally unmistakable.  Plus, he was singing...about being a general. It was a little on the nose, but hey, whatever flew his TIE-fighter. Ezra Bridger and Qui-Gon Jinn provided faithful backup.

 

I am the very model of a well respected General,

I've dealt with vermin vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I know the Empire’s history, and I quote the fights historical

From Endor’s moons to Alderaan, in order categorical;

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

I understand all strategy, both by the book and radical,

About strategic battle plans I'm teeming with a lot o' news,

With many cheerful facts about the clever tactics I can use.

 

All:

With many cheerful facts about the clever tactics I can use.

With many cheerful facts about the clever tactics I can use.

With many cheerful facts about the clever tactics I can--we can use.

 

General:

I'm very good at speechifying to inspire the rank and file;

I’ll keep the Order running even if it fights me all the while:

In handling matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a well respected General.

 

All:

In handling matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

He is the very model of a well respected General.

 

General:

I know our mythic history, Darth Sidious as well as Maul;

I don’t subscribe to that myself, undisciplined, untamed and all,

I quote in fine detail the crimes Republic laid at Empire’s door,

In hindsight I suspect it’s all publicity and nothing more.

 

When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern weaponry,

My tactics are more practiced than the rest of theirs could ever be --

In short, when I've prioritized logistics over revelry,

You'll say a better General has never been or yet will be.

 

You'll say a better General has never been or yet will be.

You'll say a better General has never been or yet will be.

You'll say a better General has never been or yet will be.

 

General:

Then I can write an invoice just as easily as take command,

And tell you ev'ry detail of the way a battle should be planned:

In short, against foes vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a well respected General.

 

All:

In short, against foes vegetable, animal, and mineral,

He is the very model of a well respected general.

 

General:

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,

Has always been passed down, it’s learned from century to century;

So whether fighting vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a well respected General.

 

All:

So whether fighting vegetable, animal, and mineral,

He is the very model of a well respected General.

 

It was an extremely energetic and well-choreographed performance (the Clone Troopers joined Hux and his chorus onstage after a verse or two with a complex multi-layered dance in which they ducked behind and around each other).  Hux took the honest applause as his due, sweeping one set of arms around his middle and flinging the other out to the side in an elegant and very traditional bow. Poe thought he might have been waiting for someone to yell “ENCORE!”.  No one did. After a few moments, he gathered himself for a dramatic exit, trailed by Phasma and the Clone Troopers. Mitaka, Poe was glad to see, remained on stage, standing self-effacingly by the wings as his...co-workers and the Clone dance troupe returned to their seats.

 

There was a flurry of activity centered on the stage.  A few of the employees Poe had spotted in the kitchen rolled a piano onto the stage.  From the rafters in the back of the house a single spotlight was pointed directly at the piano bench, while the remainder of the lights were dimmed, just a touch, not so much that the patrons couldn’t see their food, but enough for atmosphere.  As Mitaka sat, it took Poe a few seconds to realize that there must be an honest-to-Force bubble machine somewhere backstage, the fragile spheres shining as they trailed through the spotlight’s beam. Some of them landed on the potted palms now scattered around the edges of the stage.

 

From the instant those fingers landed on the piano’s keys, Poe was transfixed.  Mitaka had somewhere acquired...was that a lollipop? The stick dangling from the side of the other man’s mouth would seem to indicate that it was.  The presence of this object, however, in no way diminished his ability to sing, or changed the tone of the song, light and smoky all at once. He sang to everyone in the building, filling the space with no microphone, without strain or inappropriate volume; but as he sang, Mitaka’s eyes were locked on Poe.  He seemed to be trying to convey a message, with speaking eyes and significant lyrics alike; it was mesmerizing.

 

There's a someone in this place I can see

I hope that he turns out to be

Someone who really sees me

I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood

I know I could always be good

To one who really sees me

 

Although I may not be the man some

Folk think of as handsome

To my heart he'll carry the key

Better tell him please to put on some speed

Follow my lead, oh, how I need

Someone who really sees me.

 

How lucky can one guy be?

I see him and he sees me.

Like the fella once said,

"Ain't that a kick in the head?"

 

The room might be full of guys.

But I only see his eyes.

Feelin’ like a numbskull,

Ain't that a breach in the hull

 

My head keeps spinning.

I go to sleep and keep grinning.

If this is just the beginning,

My life is gonna be beautiful.

 

I've got sunshine enough to spread.

It's just like the fella said,

"Tell me quick: ain't love a kick in the head?"

 

Like the fella once said,

"Ain't that a kick in the head?"

 

Feelin’ like a numbskull,

Ain’t that a breach in the hull?

 

My head keeps spinning.

I go to sleep and keep grinning.

If this is just the beginning,

My life is gonna be beautiful.

 

He’s giving me bedroom eyes.

I saw right through his disguise.

All this danger might make me sick.

Tell me quick, oh, ain't love a kick?

Tell me quick, ain't love a kick in the head?

 

It's a quarter to three

There's others in the place

'Sides you and me

 

So on your way, P-Joe

I've got a little story

I think you should know

 

I’m singin’, my friend

At the end

Of this brief episode

 

So make it out of here, baby

You’ve got to hit the road

 

It was a fascinating transformation; as a singer, he was confident, direct, and skilled, all the self-deprecating mannerisms vanished.  He’d taken three songs Poe recognized, old-time pieces from his parents’ day, and seamlessly woven them into a single performance. The rest of Mitaka’s table wasn’t even listening.  Vader and General Grievous (it helped with the not panicking if he thought about the costumes and not about being in the same room as basically the entire leadership of the First Order) were having a heated, though relatively quiet, discussion (argument?) with each other.  Qui-Gon Jinn was busy rearranging his wig, to all appearances bored out of his (her?) mind.

 

Poe couldn’t understand it; he couldn’t have looked away if he’d tried, which he hadn’t.  He got the message. Mitaka knew, somehow, that Poe was in danger and wanted him to escape.  But he hadn’t alerted the others, who didn’t seem to have noticed Poe’s presence or his identity (at least he hoped they hadn’t); and Poe was not leaving until he’d had a chance to serenade Mitaka in return.  He flattered himself that he was a damn fine singer, and the attention turned on him from the stage was exhilarating. As Mitaka, having brought down the house, declined to add a second song, he passed by Poe’s table, tossing a pleading glance his way.  The house lights went back up just in time for him to visibly pale as Poe got up from his seat and headed toward the stage instead of the exit.

 

Poe sauntered, brassy and cocksure as a bounty hunter should be, as the piano was rolled back to its place behind the stage.  He checked the selection of songs available for the machine, wanting to choose the perfect song, and suddenly his mind was utterly blank.  All of the hundreds of songs and their lyrics, normally available anytime he needed them, that lived in his head disappeared like the bubbles that had been hovering over the stage, as his brain caught up to the knowledge of the titanic amount of danger in which he’d put himself and stuttered to a halt.  He could hear General Organa, whose voice tended to manifest in his head at the most inconvenient possible times, berating him for being an idiot who was about to get himself thoroughly killed.  

 

With that, a single song wound its way back into conscious thought, one he’d heard her sing when she thought no one was listening and she could let herself, for once, be sad.  Poe had thought, when he first heard it, that he dimly remembered hearing it in his mother’s sweet, husky, untutored voice when he was very, very small. He scrolled through the songs on order, and thanked his lucky stars when he found it under M.  Why a lullaby was the sole remaining occupant of his musical repertoire, Poe had no idea, but it was what he had, so it was what he sang. He wished he’d had the wherewithal to rewrite lyrics on the fly and send a message in return while he still had the chance, but the best he could do was to send the song winging toward the First Order table with all the feeling he could muster.

 

Mirrorbright, shines the moon, its glow as soft as an ember

When the moon is mirrorbright, take this time to remember

Those you have loved but are gone

Those who kept you so safe and warm

The mirrorbright moon lets you see

Those who have ceased to be

Mirrorbright shines the moon, as fires die to their embers

Those you loved are with you still—

The moon will help you remember.

 

There was dead silence through most of the house as he finished the piece.  Mitaka’s face was soft and his eyes were bright. Poe wasn’t entirely sure that his own eyes were dry.  The only sound that did make its way across the tables in front of him was...sobbing. Strange, loud, painful, monotone sounds landed with shocking suddenness in the otherwise quiet room.  The gulps of air necessary between noises like those were only amplified by the presence of the vocoder.  Kylo Ren was, without any attempt to guard or conceal the act, crying.  And Poe hadn’t the slightest inkling about what he’d done to cause it, but he was fully aware that he’d better get out of here or it was likely to mean his death.  He hastily bowed, then roundly cursed himself as the damn headscarf unwound in its entirety and his face was bared to the crowd.

 

The remaining occupants of Ren’s table, again with the exception of Mitaka, were curiously eyeing him as he attempted, by the sound of it, to compose himself.  They were too startled by the outburst to notice Poe’s exposed features. Mitaka glanced at him for a moment, mouth agape, then looked back at Poe with wide eyes, amazement quickly replaced with fear.  He gave a short, sharp jerk of his chin in the direction of the kitchen just as Ren seemed to notice the looks being directed his way. His head snapped to his left, then back to the right as he stood, chair falling to the floor with a clatter.   One booted foot kicked out to the side before solidly planting on the scuffed plascrete floor with a thump and his lightsaber appeared out of nowhere, igniting with a dangerous flare of red. Poe couldn’t see his face, but his body language shouted murder.   

 

For once, Poe didn’t have to be told twice.  He exited, stage left, at the most rapid possible pace he could manage, running toward the kitchen and the back door he knew must be concealed somewhere in that room.  “Bring him to me.  I want him alive.”  That was a more terrifying sentence to chase him out of the establishment, Poe thought, than if Ren had simply shouted ‘Kill him!’.  He could see Captain Phasma divesting herself of the wig and beard as she rose from her seat; her remaining Jedi clothing in absolutely no way diminishing the air of menace that went with her.  Mitaka had disappeared from the table.

 

From behind the expressionless face of General Grievous, General Hux snapped orders with iron discipline; Poe heard his own name in there somewhere, they'd figured out who he was, and, oh, kriff, the entire table of Clone Troopers kicked their chairs to the floor with the same unison of movement that had featured earlier in their dance moves.  Fantastic. They’d brought synchronized bodyguards.  There was a rending shriek and a few last pathetic transparent spheres as Ren took out his rage on the hapless bubble machine, which had honestly done him no injury whatsoever. The troopers didn’t appear to know which way to go once they’d gotten to their feet, though, and as they moved toward the front door and Phasma and Hux strode toward the stage and the way Poe had taken, they ran straight into each other and staggered back from the impact.  Luck had not entirely deserted him.

 

That was all Poe had time to notice as he pelted through the kitchen; the exclamations on the part of various employees and the banging and shattering of multiple pieces of culinary equipment barely registered.  He looked frantically from one side of the room to the other and couldn’t seem to spot the exit; then lines of light appeared on the back wall, forming a rectangle, and a door made itself visible, opening to reveal the street behind the bar.  Poe hurled himself at the new means of egress, shouldering it open to find Mitaka beckoning him into the alley. How the hell had he gotten out here before Poe made it through the kitchen? His mouth attempted to form the same question and tripped over itself.  “How did...how...why are you...what?”

 

Mitaka smiled at him, sweet and bright and a little bitter.  “Oh. Nobody notices me. They probably don’t even know I’m gone.  You, though...you’re a little conspicuous, Poe Dameron. You made Ren cry. ”  This was delivered with wry humor, awe, and a little heat as Mitaka took him by the hand.  “Ready?”

 

Poe’s brain had seized up like a poorly oiled axle.  “What?” Internally, he winced. That had not exactly been the suavest of responses.

 

Mitaka shook his head with a hint of fondness.  “You heard him. He wants you alive. You do not want to be Kylo Ren’s prisoner.”  Of that Poe had no doubt whatsoever.  “I’m not entirely sure what he’d do to you.”  He tugged on Poe’s hand. “Come on, let’s go. ”  And they were running.  After a few minutes Poe hadn’t a clue where they were.  He’d scouted Batuu in general and this bar in specific pretty well before he’d started his mission, but Mitaka seemed to know the place like the back of his hand.  They ducked through narrow alleyways, slid sideways behind market stalls, and skidded around what looked like blind corners until they turned out to have outlets that led somewhere else.  At one point they opened a door, ran through a building, and exited through what had to be a cargo loading bay.

 

“How do you know this town so well?  What are you, some kind of covert operative?”  He was genuinely curious. The Resistance could use somebody with these kinds of skills, not that Poe had any personal investment in acquiring the person who went along with them, no sir, not at all, nuh-uh.

 

Mitaka laughed.  Poe was totally in love with the sound.  “What? No! I’m an adjutant; a Lieutenant.  I set schedules and handle invoices, I take minutes for meetings.  I make the reservations for karaoke night, for stars’ sake.” His expression was incredulous.  

 

“And you bake, too?  You can plan my daring and death-defying escape any time.  Seriously; well, I guess you’re already doing that, technically speaking.”  He was usually a lot better at this. Poe was not used to being awkward. “This is amazing.  You're amazing.  Why are you helping me? And how do you know who I am?” Why was he questioning this? He told himself not to look a gift ally in the mouth.  Which, of course, immediately resulted in the irresistible urge to stare at the other man’s mouth.

 

They were both getting a little breathless.  It was definitely the running. Mitaka looked shy .  His cheeks were pink.  It was adorable. “Well, part of assisting the top brass is reviewing dossiers, so I’ve seen yours.  Down!” They crouched behind a fruit stand. “And the rest of it,” Mitaka whispered, “is, well, this. ”  He waved a hand at the rows of fruit above their heads.  “The biggest part of planning is research.” He sighed. “Look.  I bake when I’m stressed. And, um, you’ve seen them, right? I’m always stressed.”  There was a shrug of his shoulders.  “Fresh ingredients are better. So I know the local vendors and markets.  And it’s my job to scout escape routes should we have to evacuate in the face of a threat during karaoke night.”  Up and running again, there was another sentence under his breath; Poe thought it might have been ‘not that Ren would evacuate; so aggro’.  

 

The sounds of booted feet had faded behind them under the almost scary efficiency with which they’d navigated the back streets.  Poe was always one for taking chances, so he took advantage of the empty alleyway and relative silence in which they found themselves, stepped forward to where Mitaka was leaning against a wall, and kissed him until they were both even more breathless.  He tasted like cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar; he was delicious .  It was a shame they were running for their lives, well, his life, anyway, and he couldn’t just do that all day.  Poe must not have been the only one harboring those kinds of thoughts; he felt a smile against his lips in the dim light of the alley as he heard a murmur.  “Caf, koyo, and...motor oil? Hmmmm. Remarkably inconvenient timing.”

 

“I don’t even know your whole name.  This seems unfair.” They really should be moving, but Poe was having trouble making himself step back and remove his hand from the nape of Mitaka’s neck.

 

Mitaka sighed.  “It’s Dopheld. Dopheld Mitaka is my name.  And we really need to be moving.” Now they were sharing a brain.  The boots were getting closer again. With a silent apology to the vendor in question, Poe aimed careful blaster fire across the way, toppling an awning into the street in more or less the direction of the noise.  One of the pursuers must have been smarter than the others, or less inclined to listen to “I want him alive”; blaster fire sizzled across the mouth of the alleyway. Poe registered the surprised yelp before he realized he’d shoved Mitaka, no, Dopheld, behind him.  There was a huff, pleased and irritated, and a yank on his hand and they were off across the town.

 

Once Poe oriented himself and figured out the direction of his ship, he planted his feet.  Dopheld looked back at him, puzzled. “You need to go. I don’t want them to know you were helping me.  I can take it from here.” The other man opened his mouth to protest but before he could say a word, there was a shout from a nearby rooftop.

 

“They’re heading south!  Toward the warehouse district.  Take Cargo Street, it’s faster.”  They both squinted into the sunlight at the source of the voice.  Standing on the roof, arm raised to point in the direction he’d indicated, was a man dressed...exactly like Mitaka.  From their position closer to him than their pursuers, they could both see that this man was much older, his face weathered and lined with both sorrow and humor; but Kylo Ren, Hux, Phasma, and the troopers must have thought Mitaka himself had somehow gotten up on the rooftop to let them know where to find their quarry.  There was a “Lieutenant.” and a nod from Hux, and they headed in completely the wrong direction.

 

“Well, go on, get on with it.  You, back to your ship. You, back to your job.  And you’re welcome.” And with that, someone who couldn’t possibly be, but very likely was, Ezra Bridger tossed them both a jaunty salute and disappeared across the Batuu skyline.

 

“I-”  Mitaka said, at the same time Poe sputtered “You-”.  It was useless. There was no time. They exchanged a pair of rueful smiles and a set of simultaneous salutes before reluctantly going their separate ways.  Poe looked over his shoulder one last time, he couldn’t help it, to see Dopheld grinning back at him. “Thanks,” he called.

 

Dopheld made a shooing motion.  “Hit the road, Poe.” He waved. His smile was blinding.  It was the last thing Poe heard, and saw, before they were out of each other’s sight.  He had gained no intelligence whatsoever, had been spotted by the First Order’s top brass, had managed to create a highly personal grudge on the part of Kylo Ren, and had converted the orders no doubt associated with him from “kill on sight” to “capture and make him wish he’d never been born”.  The mission, all in all, was a complete success. Poe had no regrets.