Title is from "Hello, My Old Heart" by The Oh Hellos.
It came apart so quickly, in the end.
The enormous fleet of 14,000 strong came for the battle and stayed for the party, flush with victory and promise, but within two weeks nearly all of them had returned to their homes and their lives and whatever else they put on hold to take down the Sith fleet at Exegol. Finn didn’t know why he was so surprised - why would that many people suddenly enlist in an army, a half-dead barely-functional group of guerrilla fighters living in makeshift tents on a jungle planet in the Outer Rim? After the immediate threat had been neutralized? And yet it was still surprising to see the numbers drop, a sudden void in what had felt like a new beginning.
Poe acted unbothered, though his temper was even shorter than before, and he threw himself (and Finn) and into making plans for a new base and new recruits, carrying on, same as it ever was, to mop up the last of the First Order still holding on to their spoils in the far-flung pockets of the galaxy. No one seemed to have the heart (or the courage) to tell him that there wasn’t any point in that. Finn certainly didn’t.
There were a scant few enlisted pilots left, and next to no supplies after their hospitality of the civilian fleet, but the best part of running with such scrappy fighters was how often they chanced upon unique ideas and unusual opportunities. Rey was off on a mission of her own, and she’d taken BB-8 with her (a fact that didn’t seem to sit well with Poe, even though Finn had been standing right there when he promised Rey anything of his he had to give), and then Lando took Jannah and her crew on a search through the stars, and in the middle of Poe’s briefing on the three systems they’d chosen for closer inspection to locate a base, the New Republic sent a message from their hastily-formed new headquarters on Ganthel.
They were grateful for the Resistance: their bravery, their tenacity, their victory in the face of impossible odds. Surely the Resistance already knew that without Snoke, or Palpatine, or Ren, or Hux, the remaining leadership had turned on each other like warlords. Surely the Resistance knew that, just this week, the Republic had destroyed a rogue Dreadnought and two Destroyers with a single squadron of X-wings, after the First Order captains had disabled each other’s ships in an internal battle for supremacy. Previously occupied systems have regained their freedom. The Resistance should be proud. This was a propitious day: the war was over.
In gratitude for their service, the Republic offered generous terms to the extensive number of AWOL pilots who had abandoned their posts to join the Resistance: reinstatement at their previous rank, minor discipline in the form of a letter to file, a short probationary period for re-training, surely you understand how this benefits everyone to move on and rebuild.
Most of the pilots on the list were dead, some only recently (Poe’s face still fell into dark shadow whenever anyone mentioned Snap), but four remained: Jessika Pava, Kare Kun, C’ai Threnalli, and Poe.
“What happens if you don’t take the deal?” Finn had asked, even though he knew.
Poe, jaw-clenched and red-faced, hadn’t answered. He knew Finn knew.
Rey returned, briefly, and left again. Poe and Finn discovered that, after Crait, the General had taken on an immense number of loans to pay for supplies and new ships, using only the force of her name and mythic presence as collateral, but now the creditors were starting to send polite inquiries since surely, now, since the war was over? There were donations and contributions here and there, but the debts far outstripped the generosity.
Finn wasn’t even sure an official decision to disband was properly made or issued. Time and inevitability were flowing, and they all flowed along with it. Slowly, in a trickling stream that turned into a river, the remaining Resistance soldiers and support staff and medical personnel shuttled off Ajan Kloss and back into the world, wondering what to do next, regaining their lives.
Once the pilots left for Ganthel, things became very quiet.
Eventually, there were only Connix (whose loyalty to General Organa demanded she see it through to the final, endless end), Finn, a handful of droids, and a list of equipment to sell.
They were long days, nearly as long as his monotonous shifts on the Finalizer , but Finn found himself enjoying this new form of monotony. Even if he was working on an endless task, it was at his own pace, and he found that his muscles liked stacking crates instead of manning guns. His brain liked making lists and doing sums, rather than the constant anxiety of life-or-death decisions and battle tactics. And in the hours he spent cataloging and packing and shipping and subtracting, he could ignore the gaping maw of impending uncertainty that, once the last crate was packed and the last droid sold, he had nowhere else to go.
Finally, finally, after a long day of chasing numbers that didn’t quite add up, Finn stumbled to his cot (he’d moved it into one of the storage caves, after the tents were sold) and collapsed onto it face-down, groaning a little as his muscles relaxed. He kicked his feet, gently at first and then more frantically, to try to remove his boots without having to sit back up and untie the laces, but they remained firmly stuck to his feet. He swore into his pillow, then slowly, blearily, sat back up on his cot to untie his bootlaces.
He had just thrown the left boot as far away as he could manage (he knew he would regret that in the morning, but he wanted to throw something and it was better than throwing something on the sale list), and was gleefully anticipating the comfort of his lumpy, hole-ridden, dust-covered bed when his videocomm signal beeped.
Finn opened one eye and looked at it. It sat innocently on the crate that served as a bedside table, and then beeped again. “Don’t answer it,” he told himself. “Don’t do it. Don’t. Why are you doing this?” as he saw his hand reach out, unbidden, without permission, to answer the comm. “Why do you do this to yourself? What’s wrong with you?”
“Hey, sorry, is this a bad time?”
Finn looked up and blinked. Suddenly, there was Poe. The signal was poor and full of static, and the faded blue light never captured his features well, but he seemed to be more amused than offended at hearing the last of Finn’s tirade toward himself.
Poe was sitting down, fully facing the camera, at an empty desk that Finn assumed was in his barracks. A small, empty glass sat beside his hands, half out of view. His hair was cut close to his scalp, a little longer than the last time Finn had seen him but still regulation length, no more wild curls. He was still wearing his uniform, but unbuttoned and lightly hanging on his shoulders, more like a light jacket over a plain shirt. His gold bars were barely visible that way, but Finn caught a flash of metal on his collar as Poe adjusted closer to the lens.
“Poe!” Finn beamed. “How are you?”
“I know I’m comming a little late,” said Poe, sidestepping the question. “I took a chance you’d still be up, but you look beat to hell. Did I wake you up?”
“No, no,” said Finn, rubbing his face with his hands. “I’m awake. I’m awa-” an enormous yawn split the word in two.
Poe laughed. “Sorry, buddy. Get some sleep. We can talk another time.”
“No! No, I’m fine,” Finn insisted. He adjusted the comm screen on the bedside crate so he could sit more comfortably at the edge of his cot. “It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you, too, pal,” said Poe. He leaned back in his chair and, surprisingly, it was the movement that caught out the hollowness of his eyes, and something dark blooming on his left cheekbone. He looked exhausted, and a little thin. Finn opened his mouth to point it out, but Poe continued on. “How are things? You still on track to leave for Rey's Temple next Primeday?”
“Uh-huh,” said Finn. “Just some loose ends and random stuff. And a really annoying droid.”
“Oh man, poor Threepio,” laughed Poe. “What are you going to do with him?”
“I don’t know!” said Finn. It had been A Conundrum, really, the last one to solve. “Do you want him?”
“Hell no,” said Poe. Then his eyes widened, “Wait, he’s not right there, is he?”
“No, he’s not here,” said Finn. “He powers down in the command center. Likes to be the first one up every morning.”
“Ugh, I remember," said Poe. "Damn. Does Rey need a protocol droid? Maybe he can help with local customs when she's out hunting for baby Jedi."
"I asked her," said Finn, "and she probably could use something like that, but she also reminded me how much time Jedi spend meditating…"
Poe laughed, and mechanized his voice with Threepio’s particular lilting cadence. "Master Rey, I am familiar with all 8,000 known meditation practices across the galaxy, which I will recite to you now, but not in geographic or aurebesh order, it will be in the order in which they were developed in history, according to the High Republic's calendar of course, which in turn was modified from the Corellian Symposium…"
“Stop!” Finn’s laughter echoed through the stone roof of the cave. “I get enough of that here!”
"Poor Threepio," Poe shook his head. "The droid’s a damn war hero, of three different wars, and nobody wants him. It was probably my responsibility to take him, Leia looked after him for years. But protocol droids aren’t exactly standard issue for grunt pilots here."
"I know. It's okay, we'll find him a good home," said Finn. "Connix will probably take him, she's talking about setting up some kind of consulting business on Coruscant. Or maybe he can work for someone’s office in the new Senate."
"I think he’d like that," said Poe. "How is Connix? How's the base? Looks pretty empty."
"Yeah, there's not much left," said Finn. "It's just Connix, me, and a few droids. Rose and Beaumont left last Benduday." After much convincing, and promising to visit, and promising he would eat, and promising he would look after the droids, and promising she was a hero, and promising she wasn’t abandoning the Resistance, and promising he would write, Rose finally agreed to go home to what remained of her family. She had clutched her medallion until her knuckles turned white as she walked onto the transport, D-O trailing beside her, and had commed him every day with reminders and memories, until finally she let a few days lapse. Her next comm was full of apologies, but there was a lightness in her eyes that Finn had never seen before. He was happy for her. He missed her.
"At least you get dibs on all the good stuff."
Finn chuckled. "There's really not any good stuff left. That was kind of the point of selling everything."
"All the sugar in your caf, then, just for you."
"We ran out of that a while ago. It's fine," Finn added hurriedly when he saw the shadow cross Poe's face. "I'm starting to like it bitter. There’s just no point in ordering more supplies when we’re down to the last days here. We have enough to get by. Still better than ration bars and energy gel."
Poe sighed, and rubbed his temple, just above the dark patch that Finn thought, if he squinted through the static and the flattening blue light, looked rather like a bruise. A large one. Possibly with a darker gash in the middle, scabbed over, across the bone.
“Hey, Poe, what’s that on your-”
“I’m sorry you’re having to deal with all this, buddy,” Poe cut over him. “I shouldn’t have left.”
“Uh, you didn’t really have a choice,” Finn shrugged.
“There’s always a choice. I could have-”
“Stayed to do the boring logistics stuff, which you hate? Which you’re kind of bad at?”
“Hey! I’m not that bad-”
“And then, spend the next five years sitting in a cell waiting for your court martial? That’s stupid,” Finn cut him off. “You did exactly what you told all the other pilots to do. They wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t.”
“Yeah, well, it’s different-”
“It’s not,” Finn cut him off again. This old familiar dance, this argument they had every time Poe commed the base. He wished he could say he was tired of it, but truly, it was the only other thing that really made him feel useful anymore. “You still had six years in. Six years, where you still get to fly X-Wings and show off all your hotshot bullshit, and get paid doing it, and hang out with Jess and Kare, and not get shot at every day? Versus, I don’t know, what would you do instead? Smuggle weapons for the Hutts on the Outer Rim in some junk freighter, or transporting bilaberries and frozen nerf until you get arrested by some bounty hunter? And then sit in the court martial cell for five years? Come on.”
Poe sighed, shaking his head. “I know.” He reached off-screen and opened a nearly-empty bottle of dark-colored liquid, pouring the glass full. He tipped the bottle toward Finn, an I’d-share-if-you-were-here sort of offering, before he recapped it and drank half the glass in one swallow. “You’re right. I know.”
“Show of good faith,” Finn reminded him. “The Resistance was only ever about beating the First Order, not about sowing discord among the democratically elected-”
“I know, I know. Okay,” Poe cut in, sighing out a laugh. “Okay. Thank you, General. It’s still not fair that you got stuck doing this part.”
“I’m good at logistics,” Finn shrugged. “I can stack crates and check off lists. Plus, it’s got a nice balance to it. Even if I wasn’t here at the beginning, or maybe not fully here in the middle, I made it through to the end, right?”
“Right. You’re right.” Poe rubbed a hand over his face, and drank the rest of the glass.
“She’s a pain in my ass.”
Finn laughed again. His cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling, overuse after a long period of seriousness. “They letting you fly anywhere fun yet? Or is it still just transport convoys?”
“Still boring,” said Poe, looking down and to the left. He fidgeted a bit, and then continued, without looking up, “I’m actually getting a bit of leave soon."
“Really? Already?” Finn perked up. “That’s great!”
“Yeah, it was supposed to be next month, but it...moved up.” Poe was still looking away, edgy and evasive, but Finn knew he’d blurt out everything he was avoiding sooner rather than later, so he let the silence fill and waited. “So I’m getting a few days. I’m going to Yavin.”
Finn blinked. He had been about to ask if Poe wanted to meet him at Rey’s temple on Kamparas. Having his two best friends, together, in the same place, one more time...He was starting to suspect the aching in his stomach was not, in fact, soreness from sudden bouts of laughter but that other type of ache he got in the silent, empty days after talking to Poe. “Yavin? Oh, to see your dad?”
“Yeah. He’s been bugging me since Exegol. Well, before that, really. I haven’t gone home in a while.”
“Home,” Finn tested the word. It was such a comfortable word, which surprised him, given how little experience he actually had with the concept. How could a word convey comfort, if you didn’t really know what a home was? “That sounds nice. I’ve never been to a home. Not that this isn’t a kind of home,” Finn rambled hurriedly, rushing ahead of Poe’s worry like escaping a wave. “Like, I’m fine here. I’m totally fine. Just, you know, a little house? Where just a family lives? That kind of home? That sounds nice. You should do that.”
Poe went suddenly, strangely quiet. He glanced up at the comm camera, met Finn’s eyes for the briefest of moments, then looked away again. “You could meet me there, if you wanted?”
“Yeah. It’s sort of on the way to Kamparas.” Poe shrugged, still refusing to meet Finn’s eyes for more than a brief glance. “It’s not much...my dad’s house, I mean. We’re not-- it’s nothing fancy. But Yavin IV is pretty, and it’s warm, and you’ve probably never been on a real vacation before.”
“I’d love to,” said Finn. “I really would. That sounds great.” It really did. “But you sure your dad won’t mind? I don’t want to get in the way of your time together.”
“Nah, he won’t mind,” said Poe, and Finn didn’t entirely believe him but also didn’t entirely care. “You sure Rey won’t mind you delaying your arrival?”
“No, why would she?”
“Well, it was only supposed to be two months, and now it’s nearly six…”
“It’s fine, she’s got more than enough to do setting things up for her students,” said Finn. “And I’m not really good at meditating.”
“Well, I’m sure she misses you. And I’m sure you miss her.” Poe was looking away from the camera again, at the bottle hidden off-screen.
“Of course,” Finn shrugged. “But I miss you, too.”
Poe smiled, a soft little one. “I miss you too, buddy. Really? You’ll come?”
“Yes!” Finn laughed a little. He hadn’t had anything to be excited about in a long time. “What’s it like?”
“Kind of like Ajan Kloss, it’s a jungle, but the animals and trees are different. There are a lot more flowers. It rains all the time, so there’s a ton of rivers and waterfalls.”
“Sounds great. Sounds awesome,” said Finn, bouncing his foot a little with excitement.
“You really want to go?”
“I really, really want to go. Yes.” Finn grinned. “Yes, I do.”
Poe smiled again. “Okay, so, how do we get you there? I’d offer to come pick you up, but that’d add a whole day of travel and I only have four. Can I charter you a shuttle?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Finn started to say before he realized that, well, he had no idea how else he would get there. He was learning a lot about the way galactic trade patterns and bulk sale of off-market goods took place, but there were plenty of banal, everyday tasks in civilian life that he still had no idea how to navigate. “I mean, I guess. If you don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind. I’ll take care of everything. Just be ready to go on Zhellday, okay? That’s when I’m shipping out. I’ll send you the exact pickup time when I book it.”
“Okay.” Finn’s cheeks were definitely hurting now, from all the smiling, but he didn’t mind. The stomachache was letting up, too, turning into something lighter and bubblier. “Okay, great. Thanks, Poe.”
“I’ll see you in a few days, okay?” Poe was smiling widely too, now. “Get some sleep. Tell Connix I say hi.”
“Okay. Bye, Poe.”
Finn stared excitedly out the window as the transport shuttle descended into the sea of green on Yavin IV, looking for the differences in texture and shade between this, and Ajan Kloss, and Takodana, and the hundred other systems he’d seen in the last year. From a distance, Yavin seemed much the same as the others: a lush carpet of green with blue rivers carving wavy lines through it, but the enormous red gas giant floating in the sky tinted the sun’s rays a pretty pale orange.
As Finn shuffled down the gangplank and left the shadow of the ship, he immediately had to freeze and shield his eyes from the bright sun overhead. He was jostled from behind by a large Saurin, and he stumbled the rest of the way onto the hard-packed dirt and knobby bits of weedy grass as he waited for his eyes to adjust. The air was thick and languid, and spicy and wet and floral scents all caught in his throat at the same time. There was a high-pitched hissing noise echoing everywhere, from what sounded like thousands of sets of wings or shrill throats, buzzing high up in the enormous, green trees that ringed the small spaceport. He immediately felt the back of his shirt begin to stick to his skin under his jacket.
Poe was leaning casually against an old, rusty speeder, wearing large mirrored sunglasses and his finely pressed Republic uniform, hands in his pockets. His face was smooth, no trace of the rough perpetual stubble he used to sport, and his hair was still shorn short. He was guarding a smile, waiting for Finn to notice him, his careful, practiced pose.
“Poe!” Finn couldn’t stop himself from shouting, from grinning and waving at him like a goon, and Poe let out a whoop and leaped across the landing pad to wrap him in a hug.
“Hey buddy,” Poe said from somewhere in the vicinity of his right shoulder. “Good to see you.”
“Hi,” said Finn, breathing in. The Republic Navy uniform was stiff and scratchy under his chin, and it smelled like sterile detergent, but under it, nearer his skin, was that citrus cream he knew Poe used to shave his face, and that cedar smell from his underarm gel, and the fresh, simple soap he used. Noticeably absent, though, was the acrid combination of jet fuel and parts oil that usually mixed with the other smells. He forced himself to step out of the hug, though he kept a hand clapped on Poe’s shoulder and let out a deep, contented breath in the shape of a wide smile.
Out of the sun, from a closer vantage, Finn saw the same hollow-eyed tiredness he’d noticed in their recent comm, along with the faint greenish-yellow of a faded bruise on his cheek and a fresh, red scar on his cheekbone. “What happened?” he pointed.
“Nothing. I’m a dumbass. Tripped on my boots coming back from the ‘fresher and smacked my face on the bunk,” said Poe, reaching for Finn’s bag. Finn was sometimes startled at how easily Poe lied, but then again, he supposed it took a good liar to recognize another one. “You find the shuttle okay?”
“Yup,” said Finn, shrugging out of his jacket. “Man, it’s hot here.”
“I warned you,” said Poe. He tucked Finn’s little rucksack and jacket into the speeder’s right storage compartment, and swung a leg over to climb on. “Want to see the town? It’s small, but if you’re hungry we can get something to eat.”
“Have you already been out to your dad’s?” asked Finn, hesitating to climb onto the speeder behind Poe.
“No, my shuttle just landed, too,” said Poe. “I got the speeder and came here.”
“Your shuttle? Wait, you didn’t fly yourself?”
“I don’t have my own ship anymore, remember?” said Poe. “Not like I need to be flying a fighter jet out to visit my old man on a peaceful moon. Probably get shot out of the sky by neighborhood security.”
“Oh right,” said Finn. The thought of Poe sitting on a shuttle with a host of other beings, regular people all going about their daily lives, the same way Finn had just done that morning, seemed suddenly very strange and unnatural.
Something beeped in Poe’s pocket, and he groaned as he reached for it. “I swear, that man has the Force. Every fucking time,” he grumbled under his breath as he pulled out the comm link. “Hi Pop.”
“ Hey kid, where are you? ” The voice was lower than Poe’s; cheerful and exhilarated, but with an edge that promised to tolerate very little nonsense.
“Just picked up Finn from his shuttle. We were going to go grab a bite to eat, maybe at Karista’s, and then head to you okay?” said Poe, scanning the horizon of trees.
“ I got food here! When I saw you were coming in just before lunch, I thought I’d make jhulaya, should be perfect by the time you get here. ” Then, after Poe’s pause, he added, “ Unless that’s not your favorite anymore? ”
“What’s jhulaya?” Finn whispered to Poe.
“Rice and beans,” Poe whispered back. “You’ll like it.”
“ What? ”
“Sorry, Pop, that was Finn,” said Poe.
“ So you got him? He got in okay? You two are coming here? ”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, we can come there,” Poe nosed the toe of his boot into the ground next to the speeder. “If you really can’t wait an hour.”
“ Poe, I haven’t seen you in two and a half years. And now you’re finally moon-side, and it’s only for a few days, and- ”
“Okay! Okay, we’re coming straight there. We’re leaving now. Happy?” Poe sighed up to the sky.
“ Yes! Very! Okay, see you soon. ”
Poe grumbled under his breath some more as he re-stowed the comm, and then straightened up to smile sheepishly at Finn. “My dad doesn’t miss much.”
Finn chuckled, a little intimidated by the tension already visible between Poe and his father, and wondering if perhaps he shouldn’t have come along. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“Hop on,” Poe nodded behind him, reaching out to grasp the handlebars and kick the speeder into gear. “It’s not a long trip, maybe a half hour.”
“Wait, hang on,” Finn looked around the ground, suddenly realizing something very important was missing. “Where’s BB-8?”
“Oh, he stayed with Jess. Her astromech is down for repairs, and there’s nothing for him to do around here, so I let her borrow him while I’m gone.” It was another lie, again casually told as Poe pulled on some leather fingerless driving gloves from his back pocket, but there were some kernels of truth...somewhere. At least, Finn trusted that BB-8 was probably fine. Poe would have told him if anything had happened to his beloved droid.
Poe said, “We should probably go, or Dad’s going to comm again.”
“Okay.” Finn climbed gingerly behind Poe, grateful the other couldn’t see the flush of his cheeks at the intimacy of the position, the warmth of Poe’s lower back against his thighs. He put a light hand on Poe’s hip, where the blaster holster used to be.
“Hold on. I like to go fast,” Poe grinned over his shoulder.
Finn had just enough time to wrap his arms around Poe’s waist before they shot away from the spaceport, full throttle, with Poe laughing as loudly as the whine of the engine.
The bright colors of the little town swirled by in an instant: cheerful, small buildings painted pink and turquoise and yellow, thick vines of fuchsia and magenta flowers cascading over the rooftops and wooden awnings. Finn got barely more than a glimpse of people wandering the streets before they shot away from the main road to a little narrow path through dense jungle. The screeching of the insects (“Cicoideas!” Poe had shouted) reached a crescendo once they were fully lost in the thick green sea, large-leafed bushes, enormous fronds of fern twisting up the tree trunks, competing against more flowering vines, and dripping green vines, and electric pink flowers with enormous petals that buzzed with thick clouds of insects. High overhead, the towering canopy of trees blocked most of the light, which helped with the sweltering beating of the sun but not at all with the close air, humid and sticky behind his ears. Something else was screaming or shrieking up in the trees (“Howling simias!” Poe had shouted), a wild cacophony that either echoed for miles, or chorused in a long chain of similar creatures all along the path.
Finn was breathless by the time Poe slowed the speeder back to a reasonable pace, just before they exited the jungle path to a little clearing back in the blinding sunshine.
“You okay?” Poe laughed over his shoulder, killing the engine in a patch of bare dirt next to an even older, but slightly less rusted, speeder. “Well, this is it.”
Finn fanned his shirt against his chest, trying to recreate some of the lost airflow from the speeder ride, and looked around the little yard. The jungle was clearly a constant encroachment on the property, but the house itself was built on the edge of a natural meadow (or assisted meadow) full of swaying yellow grass. Finn could see a couple houses dotted on the other side of the plain, a few klicks away, far enough to give a feeling of isolation and privacy but close enough to promise some semblance of community this far from town.
The house itself was a squat little single-story dwelling, and had probably once been bright azul back when it was freshly painted, but now had faded from sun exposure to a milky sky shade. There was a narrow covered porch, with patchwork shingles stapling over what had to be years of leaks, and over those grew another of the enormous climbing bushes covered in bright fuchsia-pink flowers he had seen in town. The flowers tumbled over the edges of the porch, half-supporting/half-swallowing the structure. Finn could smell the sweetness from the other side of the yard. The house had a few windows, small and shuttered, and Finn saw some shiny, brightly-colored glass hanging from wires which made a faint chiming sound when a welcome hint of wind flowed by.
There were half a dozen feathered tip-yips scattered around the yard, pecking at the hard dirt, and a few wooden boxes full of soil, raised from the ground, teeming with different green plants than the ones he’d seen in the jungle. Just behind the house, to the left, he could see an old barn that had fallen into disrepair (there was a noticeable hole in the roof where blue sky was peeking through), and to the right was a remarkable-looking tree, very different from the surrounding jungle plants with their sweeping canopies and curling boughs. This one had arrow-shaped, blue-tipped leaves and smooth, silver bark with solid-looking branches spaced at a perfect, even distance for climbing.
“It’s nothing fancy,” said Poe, pulling their bags from the storage compartments and slinging them over his shoulder.
“You grew up here?” Finn found that he was grinning.
“Pretty much. We moved here when I was six.”
Poe smiled at him, but didn’t get a chance to respond because at that moment, the front door flew open with a bang, and a tall man barreled out into the yard.
Finn nearly dove into an attack stance, instinct and protectiveness reacting from deep in his bones, but he relaxed as soon as he saw the graying curls flying out of the older man’s head. Clearly, this was Poe’s father. They looked so much alike, it was uncanny (though Poe was nearly a head shorter) - the same nose, the same jaw, the same square shoulders and easy hips.
“Poe!” the man called, and the bags tumbled off Poe’s shoulder as he was swept into a rib-crushing hug. His father buried his face in Poe’s neck and breathed deeply, not unlike the way Finn had done earlier, not unlike the way Poe had done so many times on the Resistance tarmac.
“Hi Pop,” said Poe gently, giving him a few pats on the back.
Eventually, Poe’s father leaned back and scanned Poe’s face. “What happened here?” he traced the same scabbed-over abrasion Finn had noticed earlier.
“Nothing, just an accident,” said Poe. “Tripped in the dark.”
“What about this one?” Poe’s father pointed at a different scar, just above the ridge of his eyebrow. Finn remembered that one from the Finalizer , and hadn’t realized, hadn’t really understood until just that moment, that Poe hadn’t been to his home planet or seen his family since they’d met. Since he’d been captured over Jakku. Since Crait. Since Exegol. That the last time Poe saw his father, Finn had been wearing heavy white armor on a starship surrounded by soldiers, with no real concept or comprehension of the words home or father or family .
He didn’t know how to feel about any of that, so he swallowed it down.
“That one’s better told as part of the whole story,” said Poe evasively. “Here, meet Finn.”
“Hello, Mr. Dameron,” Finn drew himself out of his memories and offered a hand. “Thanks for letting me stay with you.”
“Call me Kes. Nice to meet you, Finn,” said Kes, shaking his hand firmly. “Come on in, food’s ready.”
Poe bent down to pick up the bags he’d dropped in the yard, and Finn brushed his hand as he claimed his own. “So that’s my dad,” Poe shrugged.
Finn smiled. “You look just like him.”
“I’m not that gray yet,” Poe protested.
“I mean, you’re not far off, old man,” Finn countered, following him through the front door into the house.
Kes was bustling around in the tiny kitchen, yammering on about a host of things Finn didn’t understand (possibly vegetables?) and stirring a large vat of something that bubbled and steamed on the stove. It smelled exotic and savory and, even though the last thing Finn’s sweaty forehead wanted was a hot bowl of soup, delicious.
The house was small, and seemed over-crowded now with three grown men milling around in the main room. Finn had trouble imagining how it could have contained two working adults and a boisterous, speed-and-adrenaline crazed child. To the right of the front door was the sitting area, a simple sofa in comfortable-looking brown upholstery with two matching chairs, several little tables and shelves full of flowering plants, and a few framed holographs Finn resolved to examine more closely later. The other side had a small, square wooden table painted rust-red with four chairs. The narrow kitchen ran directly back from the table, and directly behind the sitting area were three doorways.
The furnishings were shabby, run-down from years of use, but looked comfortable and clean, if perhaps in need of dusting. The floors were neatly swept, but there were cobwebs strung around most of the corners. Every surface that wasn’t covered in plants held some sort of mechanical object, brush, or unrecognizable tool, and there was a box in the corner near the kitchen table piled with items that Finn suspected had just been cleared from that work surface. The air smelled a little musty, but Finn knew that smell from Ajan Kloss. It was a constant battle to keep the mold and mildew at bay when the outside air was so full of moisture.
Each wall was painted a different shade of blue and yellow, and again Finn felt certain they had all been bright jewel tones when fresh and new, but had faded to a more muted shade over years. Glancing behind him, he noticed that someone had hand-painted little white flowers over the front door, similar to the ones in the fuchsia tree on the porch, but those too had faded to a dingy beige.
Poe tossed his bag on the chair in the corner, under the window, and gestured at Finn. “Come on, you can put your stuff in here,” he said, leading Finn through the first doorway next to the kitchen. It was a small, narrow room. There was a bed with a faded purple quilt; a little table under the window, which held a very happy-looking plant full of jagged purple-and-green leaves; and a small dresser with two drawers at the foot of the bed. Finn dropped his bag and jacket on top of the dresser. “Where’s your room?”
“I’m taking the porch,” said Poe. “Here, ‘fresher is this way.”
“Wait, what?” said Finn, scandalized. “No, Poe, this is your room. You take it.”
“Hasn’t been my room for years. It’s the guest room. You’re the guest,” said Poe. “Besides, have you ever slept in a real bed before? Not a bunk, not a cot, a real bed? With a real mattress?”
“No,” Finn said reluctantly. “But I’m not going to make you sleep outside in your own house!”
Poe laughed. “I like sleeping on the porch. It’s cooler out there anyway.”
“It is? Really? Okay, then, I’ll take the porch,” said Finn. Though, he did find that the inside of the house felt cooler than the midday heat outside, and the air was a little less thick and humid. He heard the low whirring of a fan built into the wall, circulating air.
Poe laughed again. “Come on, let’s eat.” He clapped Finn around the shoulder, steered him out of the little guest room, and pressed him down into one of the chairs at the table. “Sit tight.”
Within a few minutes, Kes had served up some steaming bowls of the delicious smelling stew, and Poe had extracted cold bottles of beer from the cooler. He unbuttoned his pressed uniform jacket, revealing a thin, simple shirt underneath, and slung it over the back of his chair. “Go easy at first, it’s got a bit of a kick to it,” he warned Finn as he slid a beer toward him.
“What do you mean?” asked Finn, pausing with the spoon half-way to his mouth.
“It’s a little spicy,” said Poe. Then, sharing a glance with Kes, he explained further, “Resistance mess always made stuff really bland, since you can add the spice yourself.”
“Rebellion did that, too. But it’s not as good unless it all blends together while it’s cooking,” said Kes. “Sorry, I should have thought about that...just wanted to make it how you like it.”
Poe smiled, and took an enormous mouthful. “S’delicious. Fank oo."
Finn tried a tiny bite, and then another. It was delicious, even though the spicing made his nose run and sweat gather on his forehead, but maybe that was just Yavin in general. He took larger drinks of beer than he ordinarily would have, though, to wash down the spice, and tried to pace himself once he realized the bottle was already half empty.
Poe, meanwhile, had already finished an entire bowl of stew and a beer, and was back in the kitchen for more of both. There was a steady, companionable silence as they ate.
"So, Finn, where did you grow up?" Kes asked suddenly as he scraped the ceramic bottom of his bowl.
Poe frowned deeply, giving his father a strangely piercing look. "What do you mean, Pop?"
Kes laughed. "It's a simple question, Poe, I'm just making conversation."
"Yeah, but that's a weird way to-"
"It's okay," said Finn, pushing the last few bites of his bowl aside. He saw no reason not to be honest. "I don't mind. I grew up on a few different bases, but I never knew exactly where they were. And then we were shipped up to the Star Destroyers for more training when I was around 16 or 17. I transferred to active Trooper duty on the Finalizer 4 years ago."
Kes watched him speak with an increasingly grave expression, the steel in his eyes solidifying into something very cold, before he finally spat out, "Star Destroyers? Trooper duty? What the hell are you talking about?"
Finn felt like someone poured boiling water down his throat, rather than the bitter sip of cold beer, and he coughed mid-drink. "Um-"
"Pop, what are you talking about?" Poe cut in sharply. "I told you about Finn."
"You did not tell me you were inviting a--a-- gods and sunsets, a Stormtrooper? To my house? Son, have you lost your damn mind? Kes was standing now, his voice raised.
Finn saw the dark look on Kes’s face, recalling that this comfortable little house was also a house full of soldiers, and stood carefully, slowly, out of his chair too, backing away. He kept a close eye on Kes’s hands. The older man didn’t seem to have a blaster pistol at his hip, but- ( Poe once said he was a Pathfinder, don’t turn your back, we’ll just carefully get out of here, he’ll find you in the jungle, I don’t have a blaster, you’re not going to shoot Poe’s dad you idiot! )- Finn quickly looked around the dining and kitchen area, checking for one in easy reach of Kes’s long arms.
Poe stopped him with a solid hand on his shoulder. "Pop, what the hell? I told you all of this a week ago! Finn, I swear," Poe met his eyes, sharp and bright, "I swear I told him, I would not have put you in this position. And Dad, I would not have put you in this position!" he launched back at Kes.
Kes laughed without any humor. "You most certainly did not tell me anything about-"
"Yes, I did," Poe insisted.
“You think I would just forget that a Stormtrooper was coming to visit? I’m not senile yet!”
“ Ex -Stormtrooper!” Poe snapped. “First, I asked if it was okay to invite him. Then, I told you that he defected from the First Order while he was saving my life , and that it's not a volunteer army like the Empire was and he escaped the first chance he got, and do you not remember any of this?" Poe was now visibly angry, but barely concealed beneath the anger was a real current of fear.
Kes went very still, staring into the space over Poe’s right shoulder, the space between Poe and Finn, searching something internally. Then, he looked up to meet their eyes in turn, now truly looking between the furious face of his son and Finn, who was still pale and pulled taut like a bowstring, waiting for the inevitable attack. "I don't--" Kes started, “I wouldn’t have-” and then he sighed deeply, and shook his head. "I remember the part about him saving your life," he admitted finally.
“Fuck, Dad,” Poe breathed out, sinking into his chair. “I mean, what the fuck.”
“I’m sorry,” said Kes, shaking his head like he was dislodging something. “I’m sorry, Finn,” he started to say, but the moment the tension broke in Kes’s shoulders, Finn recognized the safety of the opportunity and fled for the door.
Poe glowered at his father, who at least had the decency to look increasingly shame-faced at the chair Finn had recently vacated. The half-empty bowls of jhulaya sat forgotten in the middle of the table, and the midday sunshine streamed through the windows as though the tension hadn’t thickened like the humidity in the air before the clouds burst. Poe had felt it building since the moment he landed, but he hadn’t expected it to break so soon. It usually continued to build until the late afternoon at least, until the air was so thick with tension and moisture you were almost choking on it and begging for the rain to fall- Wait, are we still spinning metaphors about my father, or thinking about actual rain?
“Welcome home,” said Kes, sinking back into his chair with a groan. He briefly tried to meet Poe’s eyes, then looked away again.
“What the fuck, Pop,” Poe said again, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. He’s got a tumor. He’s got a brain tumor. He’s going crazy. I’m going crazy, and I didn’t actually tell him about Finn, and I’m crazy enough not to remember. I have a brain tumor.
Kes breathed out a nervous laugh and ran a hand through his hair, setting the curls up on end. “I’m sorry. I’ll apologize to him, Poe. I’m sorry.”
“Did you even remember that we talked last week? You must have, that’s when I told you the flight plan,” said Poe. I told him. I know I told him.
“Yes, of course. I remember talking about the flight plan, and you bringing a friend with you,” Kes nodded. “I just...well, I’ve been having a little bit of difficulty remembering things lately. Nothing like this,” he hurriedly added, gesturing protectively. “I haven’t...this is a lot bigger. It’s usually dumb stuff, normal stuff. I get distracted, I forget a thing. It happens when you get old.”
“This is a pretty big thing to just forget,” said Poe. Then, as his brain forced every possible catastrophic brain injury and illness to parade around his mind ( tumor meningitis concussion dementia ), he leaned forward to ask, “Should we comm your doctor?”
Kes barked out a laugh. “Poe, I said I was sorry. I was probably just so excited you were finally coming home that, I don’t know, maybe I tuned out without meaning to, thinking about everything I wanted to do to get ready for you.”
“Okay, but this is a really big, weird, inconvenient thing to have forgotten. This isn’t just, like, forgetting where you put your glasses.”
“I never forget where I put my glasses,” said Kes.
Kes sighed again. “Just promise me...this isn’t some kind of practical joke, right?”
“This,” Kes gestured vaguely into the air. “You bringing home a Stormtro-- an ex- Stormtrooper, like you haven’t just spent the last five years of your life fighting them? Like it’s no big deal how many of your friends they’ve killed?”
“You don’t have to tell me who the First Order killed,” said Poe bitterly, then tried to temper his voice back down again. “I told you, Finn’s different.”
Kes shook his head, musing in the general direction of the table. “Whoever heard of a Stormtrooper named Finn, anyway?”
“Finn. Seems like a weird name for a fascist.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to call him FN-2187.”
“FN-2187. That’s what he said his name was. I asked if he could man the guns on the TIE we stole-”
“-and told him my name, and he said he was Designation FN-2187, and I thought, this is some bullshit, the First Order doesn’t even let them have names? So I thought, I don’t know, Finn. FN, whatever, let’s just get out of here, and it just-- he liked it, and then we’re flying away, and then we crashed, and I thought he died in the crash, and then he thought I died in the crash, and then we both ended up on D’Qar not dead.” Poe could feel himself rambling, but couldn’t stop.
Kes blinked at him.
“And then I made him co-General with me when Leia died, because I sure as hell needed the help. And he blew up the Steadfast on Exegol, so we could blow up all the other Star Destroyers before they launched and killed everyone. Oh, and he helped me blow up Starkiller, I forgot that part."
Kes tilted his head.
“It’s not like he just blows stuff up, though,” Poe continued, feeling that dangerous loss of control as the words poured out of his mouth, knowing that the more he talked, the closer he came to truth, honesty under truth, the real truth under the honesty. “He’s not just, like, violent, he’s-- he’s really kind. And brave. I wouldn’t bring someone to meet my family who wasn’t--who was some kind of threat, why would I do that--”
His thoughts were truly spinning now. “He’s a good person. They couldn’t stamp that out, even after everything they did to him, and they really--Fuck the First Order, by the way, they can just fuck right off. He told me he was busting me off the Finalizer because ‘it was the right thing to do.’ How the hell does he know what the right thing to do is, you know? And then he fought a dark Jedi without ever having held a lightsaber before. And his next stop after this is the new Jedi temple that his girlfriend is putting together because, also, he’s Force sensitive, and yeah.”
Poe breathed out a long sigh. “So, okay, fine, he was a Stormtrooper. Then he was a hero, and then a General, and now he’s going to be a Jedi. Is that enough? I mean, since my word and the fact that I trust him apparently isn’t good enough for you.”
“And how long have you been in love with him?”
Poe stared at him, opening his mouth and then closing it again. Damn it. Every fucking time. Maybe I should send him to Kamparas, too. Every goddamn kriffing time… “Since about, ‘we both ended up on D’Qar not dead.’” And my jacket. Wearing my jacket.
“How do you do that?” Poe shook his head, a little awed in spite of how irritating this was. There was no point denying it. There were few people in the galaxy who could fully read him and see through his bullshit, and the man who raised him was definitely one of them. Pretty much everyone else is dead. “I haven’t even been here two hours.”
“You’re only here for a few days, we have to move quickly if we’re going to get through all of it,” his father chuckled, snapping his fingers. “Plus, I heard everything you said just now, but you’ve been running with mythic heroes for years and you never invited any of them home.”
“He’s never been to a home before,” said Poe, shrugging into himself as he sunk lower in his chair. “He doesn't know who his family was. First Order nabbed him as a little kid.”
“Hm,” Kes mused, gathering up the empty bowls. “Girlfriend, huh?”
Poe felt his face twisting sourly. “Yeah.”
“True love, or just…?”
“Seems that way.”
Poe thought back to the first days after Exegol, when they were all rosy and flush with victory and life, and the sorrow of the losses were still muted by excitement and adrenaline, and seeing Rey half-drawn into Finn’s lap, tucked away from the command center, under the trees where Rey had stored her Secret Jedi Stuff, talking deeply, intensely, looking into each other’s eyes, and Finn had leaned across- He was holding her hand, he was always kriffing holding her hand- and kissed Rey gently on the forehead.
And another memory, older, one of the few he knew was real and not invented from an amalgamation of stories and holographs, of sitting next to his mother, practically in her lap, watching a holovid, some silly, stupid, romantic holovid, and his mother pointing at the screen, and saying, “Look, Poe. If I know anything, it’s that kisses can mean a lot of different things, but a kiss on the forehead? That’s true love. That right there. That’s true love. Remember that, okay?” and then his father bringing her another glass of wine, and punctuating it with a kiss on the forehead, “You see, Poe?” and then kissing his forehead, and-
“Yeah.” Poe took a deep breath, stared intently down at years worth of watermarks on the table, and sighed out slowly. ( Rey, I never told you- ) “I should go find him.”
“Let me. I need to apologize.”
“It’s okay, I’ll clear it up. I want to say hi to Mom, anyway,” said Poe, scraping the legs of the chair against the floor as he pushed away from the table.
Poe found him under The Tree, of course.
The Tree constantly pulled people toward it. More than one tourist had stumbled out of the jungle, having been wandering aimlessly lost, confusing one path for another, carefully guided into its orbit and out of danger. (Kes would give them lemonade, and a ride back to town.) Small children were particularly susceptible. Poe remembered one summer where, every single afternoon, The Tree would be hanging with kids in every branch; that they would march across the field in rows from two towns over, let loose for an entire summer’s day with no purpose and no destination in mind but The Tree. (Poe would give them lemonade, and help them lead a revolution against the bully kids down in the ravine.) The neighbors across the field sometimes oriented their houses to the people in town based on its proximity to The Tree. (“Oh, just half a kilometer past The Tree toward the east bend of the creek.”
Everyone knew The Tree.
Finn was sitting cross-legged under it, his back pressed against the smooth bark, looking out over the meadow. He looked up briefly as Poe tramped through the grass toward him, but didn’t quite meet his eyes.
“Hey,” said Poe, sinking down next to him. “I am so sorry, Finn.”
“It’s okay,” said Finn.
“It isn’t. My dad is sorry, too. He’ll tell you himself, but really.” Poe ducked his head a bit to try to catch Finn’s eyes. “I swear, I told him.”
Finn nodded. “I believe you. I assumed you had told him the basic story. I didn’t think you’d bring me without warning him.”
“Not a warning, just explaining. So he didn’t say something stupid and offensive.” Poe sighed and leaned his head back against the silver bark. “The Damerons are pretty dumb.”
Finn chuckled, but it was close to a real smile. “No, you're not. Plus, that’s not a nice thing to say about your mom.”
“Mom was smart enough not to change her name. She knew. Oh, she knew,” said Poe with false wisdom.
“So, what, if she’d given you her name, you’d be smarter?” asked Finn.
“Probably,” said Poe. “Couldn’t have hurt to try something, anything, to improve those odds.” He caught Finn smiling at him, and winked. This is good. Just keep talking about how stupid you are. That’s safe.
Finn was quiet for a moment, closing his eyes as one of the rare breezes drifted across the meadow from the creek bed. “How does that work, usually?” he asked suddenly, his eyes still closed.
“How does what work?”
“Names. Last names. Or family names. Whatever they’re called. I thought I got it, but now I’m not sure.”
“Oh. Well, there’s a few different ways that people do them. Most cultures have a use name and a family name, though there’s a lot of variation in what counts as a family, and a lot of variation in who takes whose name when. Most humans run the family names along the male line, though not always. A lot of women take their husband’s family name when they get married, though not always. Leia didn’t, and my mother didn’t. And most humans give the kids the father’s family name. Probably because the mother actually did all the work and the dad just wants to prove he was involved somehow? I don’t know.”
“Rey chose a family name, for herself,” said Finn.
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“She said she saw Master Luke and the General, on Tattooine.”
“ Saw them saw them?”
“Yeah, like...through the Force.”
“Huh.” Poe felt something lodge in his throat, thinking about the General. He forced it down. It was dangerous to think about her here, against The Tree, this close to his mother. But Finn didn’t know that. “What did she choose?”
“Really?” Poe couldn’t keep himself from grinning. “Huh. Rey Skywalker. Sure, why not?”
“She likes it. Although I told her I can’t really call her Master Skywalker, cause that’s Luke.”
“Not even for the turn-on?” Poe joked, brushing his shoulder. “Master Rey?”
“The what?” Finn tilted his head.
“Never mind,” said Poe. He let the silence fill for a moment, listening to the leaves rustle overhead. Even in the most still, dead air, The Tree would rustle and sway, making its own breeze, moving like a lazy river. “You can pick one too, you know. If you want one.”
“I know,” said Finn. “I’m okay being just Finn. It’s more than I ever thought I’d be.”
“I think Just Finn is pretty great,” said Poe before he could stop himself. Damn it, Tree.
Finn didn’t seem to have heard him. His eyes were still closed, mouth slightly parted- do not look at his mouth, Dameron, that is off limits, come ON Tree- and breathing slow, careful, and contented. “What is this place?”
“Is that what it is?” Finn said dreamily. “It feels...I feel…” He paused for a while, continuing to breathe evenly. “I usually have so much trouble meditating.”
Oh. Duh. “It’s a Force Tree,” said Poe. “It probably has more of an effect on you.”
“A Force Tree?” Finn peeked one eye open to look up into the blue-tipped leaves of the canopy overhead. “This tree can use the Force?”
Poe chuckled. “No, it sort of...channels the Force. Brings it closer to the surface. Like it taps into it like a normal tree taps water in its roots and runs it up the bark to the leaves. Or something like that, I don’t really understand it because I’m just a dumb pilot.” He leaned his head back against The Tree and breathed out slowly, staring out across the field again. “Master Luke brought it--the original Master Luke, I mean.”
“Really?” This time, the one-open eye was looking at him. “Luke Skywalker gave you this tree? How is that possible, it’s huge. It looks ancient…”
“It grew really fast,” said Poe. He pointed directly overhead. “Oh hey, see that branch up there?”
Finn opened both eyes and tilted his head to see where Poe was pointing. In doing so, he leaned close, practically resting his head on Poe’s shoulder. Damn it, Tree . “That one?” Finn pointed.
“Yup. Guess who I pushed off that branch once.”
“I mean, he was still Ben Solo then. And the branch was a lot lower,” Poe hovered his arm, aiming halfway down the trunk from where the large branch currently soared peacefully overhead. “But yeah.”
“Ben Solo was in this tree? This tree, here, on Yavin? When? And why did you push him out of it?”
“Because he was a brat even back then, and he wouldn’t shut up about how important he was.” Poe was laughing now, even though he knew he was absolutely the asshole in that story, by any measure. Stories about being dumb and mean. That’s what you need right now. Good plan.
Catching Finn’s confused look, he explained further, “He came with the General for my mother’s funeral. I was eight, and he was five, and he was bored and grumpy, and just a little kid, and didn’t want to be here with a bunch of sad strangers. But he probably knew that people often gave him positive attention when he told them about his famous parents and his famous uncle. Unfortunately for him, I was ready to burn the world down because I had just buried my mother, and didn’t give a shit who his parents were or anything about the Jedi.” Poe grinned devilishly. “He saw me up here, and climbed up too, and was going on and on about Luke, and Han, and how he’s so great with the Force, and I just snapped and- splat! Down in the mud.”
Finn laughed, though he looked guilty about it. “I can’t picture him as a little boy, so I’m just seeing grown up Kylo Ren getting shoved out of a tree by some punk kid.”
“Yes! Exactly,” laughed Poe. “It was exactly that. I actually remember seeing the General scolding him later, with his nice funeral clothes all muddy,” he remembered, turning somber. “I felt bad then. But not that bad.”
“So what you’re really trying to say is that this mess on my back is your fault?” Finn’s eyes sparkled a little when he teased, like it was always an illicit, forbidden little game. Poe loved it when- Damn it, Tree .
“Yup. My fault. Sorry, buddy. Dameron dumb, we don’t see the cause and effect of our actions too well,” said Poe.
They settled back against the bark of the tree again, ghost smiles still on their faces. Finn closed his eyes again. “Did he remember you? I mean, did he remember that happening?”
“On Jakku? Or on the Finalizer ?” When he broke open my brain and squeezed it in his gloved hands until it melted into blood and bile and shame and pain and everything else he wanted to know? “I don’t think so.”
“Probably for the best, really,” said Finn. “If he remembered a petty humiliation like that, he probably would have run you through with the lightsaber.”
“He definitely threw some tantrums, didn’t he?” After a beat, Poe added, more seriously, “He probably would have been more upset knowing I’d spent so much time with his mom. I definitely remember thinking just how kriffing weird it was. Some of the memories he stabbed through were, you know, Leia giving me the mission, and Leia recruiting me. I just remember thinking, That’s your mom! You idiot! You have a mom, and she loves you, and you’re doing this instead?” Poe shook his head. “I don’t know if the thoughts went both ways, like if he could hear what I was thinking while he was digging around, or what. But I didn’t even think about The Tree until later.”
“I’m sorry about your mom,” Finn said quietly.
Poe blinked rapidly to clear the moisture out of his eyes, taken off guard by the sudden shift in subject. “It’s okay. It was a long time ago.” He stretched his legs out in the grass, staring down at his boots and scratching at the skin on his neck, just under the silver chain, just under his shirt.
“How did--” Finn started, then he cut himself off abruptly. “Never mind.”
“You can ask,” said Poe, trying to focus on the pulse of The Tree against his shoulder blades.
Finn was quiet for several moments, probably to see if Poe would simply offer the answer to the question. Finally, “How did she die?”
“She got sick,” Poe shrugged, still staring at his boots. “Doctors couldn’t do anything.”
“And you were eight?”
“I’m really sorry.”
“It was a long time ago,” Poe repeated, and then straightened up and rolled his shoulders back. “She’s actually buried over there, on the other side of The Tree. I was going to say hi.”
“Oh, I can give you some space, if you want to be alone with her,” said Finn, starting to get up.
“You’re okay here,” said Poe, tapping his shoulder as he climbed off the ground and dusted off the seat of his pants. “I’ll just go say hi, and then let’s go back inside so my dad can grovel for forgiveness, okay?”
“Okay,” Finn said hesitantly.
“Unless you want me to take you back to town?” Poe suggested, feeling his stomach flip. “It’s okay if you don’t want to stay anymore.”
“No, no, Poe, it’s fine. It’s okay. He just didn’t know,” said Finn. He sighed out, shifting his shoulders against the bark. “I don’t even know why it still bothers me. I know what I was then, and I know what I am now. Besides-” he peeked an eye open again, “You know I was never really...like that. One of them.”
“Yup. I do,” said Poe.
“Anytime, buddy. Be right back.” Poe shoved his hands in his pockets and slowly made his way around the enormous trunk of the tree, tracing the silver threads with his hand, the smooth bark, the light pulse of the energy running up to the leaves that always reminded him a bit of rushing water, or flowing stars in hyperspace.
A few feet away from the trunk of The Tree, there was a rough-hewn, solid piece of raw granite half-buried in the ground. Its face was smooth, but the rest of the headstone was left natural. Wild and solid, just like she was, with a simple inscription of her name and dates. Just behind the stone, Poe and his father had planted a lilac bush, whose giant bunches of pale purple flowers bloomed liberally throughout the year, an intoxicating scent that always spilled the tears over his lashes when he smelled them here or anywhere else. Blessedly for him, there didn’t seem to be any fresh blooms full of perfume, only a few wilting bunches dropping petals across the grave and several closed buds still yet to open.
Poe sighed, and sank into the grass a few paces away from at the foot of the stone. “Hey Ma,” he began, picking a blade of grass and shredding it absently in his fingers. “I’m sorry it’s been so long since I came to see you. I’ve been kind of busy.” He chuckled a little, scratching his fingers through his short hair. “That’s...really an understatement. But yeah, been really busy. Did a lot of Resistance stuff there for a while-” Another understatement. “-and now I’m back with the Republic. Which...isn’t going too good.”
He looked up and saw that the rough, raw edges on the north side of the stone were fuzzing over with little tufts of bright green moss, and shifted around closer to clean them off. “I don’t know how you’d feel about it, really. Me going back, when there was still-- I guess you left the Rebellion. You and dad left, when things were winding down. But you had me waiting for you here. I’m glad you left when you did. I wish you had left sooner.” The absence of the calming pulse of The Tree against his back was making it difficult to keep his thoughts straight. “But I don’t have that. So I don’t know. Maybe you think I’m a coward.”
Poe shredded another blade of grass, and then another. After a small pile of grass clippings and moss pillows had gathered by his feet, he continued softly, “Truth be told, Ma, I’m just really having kind of a rough time lately.” Another sigh. “I just keep fucking things up, and I don’t know how to stop.”
Finn felt a deep, nervous pit of dread as Poe gently led him back to the house, fighting the urge in his legs to bolt for the speeder, but Kes met them at the door and apologized so sincerely and so frequently- “If nothing else, Poe brought you, and his friends are always welcome here. Really, truly. I’m sorry, Finn-” that Finn finally relaxed and gave a genuine smile.
“It’s okay, Mr. Dameron. Don’t worry about it.”
“Call me Kes, kid. You still hungry?”
“No, I’m okay. Thanks, though, it was really good.”
“Okay,” said Poe. “Okay, we got that sorted. Good. Now-” he brightened his tone, rubbing his hands together and then pointing at his father. “I’m only here for three days, so what needs fixing? Or really, what needs fixing the most?”
“You’re only here for three days! Go sit down and relax,” said Kes, returning to the kitchen to finish drying the lunch dishes and putting the bowls back on the shelf. “Tell me about Ganthel.”
“I just spent an hour under the tree, I’m plenty relaxed!” said Poe. “And Ganthel’s just the same, it hasn’t changed a bit, and neither has the Navy.”
“Well, you’re not commanding a squadron anymore, so what are you doing with your spare time?”
“-and I’m not allowed to modify the birds anymore, it all has to be by-the-book regulation by the authorized repair techs,” Poe raised his voice to drown out any attempts his father made to talk over him, “So my hands are itchy just thinking about what kind of rat’s been digging in your air filter, or if the snakes are breeding under the water reclaimer again.”
“Wait, snakes? Like that huge scaly thing on Pasaana?” asked Finn, eyes growing wide.
“Not nearly that big,” said Poe. “But don’t touch them around here, they’re venomous.”
“What’s that mean?”
“They bite you, they kill you.”
Kes sighed, shaking his head slightly with his hands on his hips, watching Poe cross the sitting room to where his bag had been tossed on the chair and digging into it for some civvies.
“Come on, let me be useful,” said Poe, bunching something khaki-colored under his arm. “Which is worse, the air or the water?”
“Water,” Kes said after a few seconds of silence. “Water reclaimer’s been tetchy for weeks, it’s sputtering a lot coming out of the tap. Heating pump might have a problem, too; had a few days where I can only get it lukewarm.”
“No more cold showers for you, Pop, I’m on the case. It’s probably a chewed connection from the heating pump, or a misalignment in the hydro-tubing,” said Poe, and he sounded almost gleeful to have a problem to solve. “Okay, let me get changed, and we’ll get started. When did you last replace it, was it fifteen?”
“We’ve never replaced the reclaimer,” said Kes, standing outside the ‘fresher door while Poe changed. “L’ulo changed out the tubing last time he was here, but that was ages ago.”
“I’ll figure it out,” said Poe, reappearing in the doorway in a pair of light short-pants that shocked Finn a little. They cut off at his knees, not short enough to show much of his bare legs, but Finn realized he’d never seen Poe in anything other than his flight suit, his various uniforms, and his tough leather mission pants - durable, practical clothing for cold starships or adventures where fire, and blasters, and rough terrain were expected. These were casual clothes, for warm weather, for relaxing. Again, as he watched Poe neatly fold his uniform and stow it away in his bag, Finn was struck by the strangeness and unfamiliarity of this person with whom he’d spent nearly every day, for a solid year and a half, and how little he really knew about him outside the confines of a war.
“Come on, Finn, can you help me carry some stuff?” asked Poe as he shot out the door on bare feet. “We should have everything out in the hangar, I just need to find it.”
Finn trailed along to the dilapidated barn (It was definitely a barn, he didn’t know why Poe called it a hangar), where Poe dug around to unearth a large bag of tools, some of which needed to be retrieved from other hiding places, some old rags, and a small collection of grimy-looking parts. He piled them all on a tarp, and between them they carried it to the back of the house, laying it out flat in the full glare of the afternoon sun.
“Hang on,” said Poe, and he disappeared again toward the barn. Returning after a few minutes (and a few muffled yells as various stored items were dislodged in whatever search he was conducting), he proudly presented Finn with a foldable chair with a sun-faded canvas seat and back, and tucked it under a shady bush for him. “Want another beer?”
“I probably shouldn’t get drunk in the middle of the afternoon,” said Finn, settling into the chair with a sigh.
“That’s what vacation is for, buddy. Day-drinking and naps in the shade,” said Poe. He went back inside the house and returned with a small datapad, his mirrored sunglasses, and two beers, one of which he handed to Finn.
“Don’t you want any help?” asked Finn, feeling slightly guilty at sitting around drinking while Poe worked in the hot sun.
“You are helping. You’re keeping me company,” said Poe. He cleaned a layer of caked, dried mud off the keypad and opened the repair hatch at the back of the house to reveal an old, rickety-looking water reclaimer. “Man, this thing is ancient.”
Within twenty minutes, Poe had stripped off his shirt and was lying on his side in the dirt, half-covered in rust and grime that had built up around the old water unit, as he dug into the underside of the machine. He mumbled to himself while he worked, talking to the tools and spare parts and datapad with the specs of the old machine, not unlike Finn knew he babbled to BB-8 back in the days of working on his X-Wing.
Emboldened by Poe’s casual half-nakedness, and finally getting used to the heat of the sun as it warmed his muscles, Finn sat up and stripped off his boots and socks, wiggling his bare toes in the grass, rolled up his pants to his mid-calf, and pulled off his shirt. Settling back in the chair, eyes closed, with the warmth on his bare skin, he let out a contented sigh and thought seriously about falling asleep.
“So, you going to tell me what really happened to your face?” he asked instead.
Poe dropped a tool with a clang, and then a thump. “Ow! Shit. What?”
“Your face,” said Finn without opening his eyes. “What really happened?”
“I told you,” said Poe, swearing under his breath as he scraped metal on metal somewhere in the undercarriage of the machine. “Tripped on my boots.”
“Yeah, but that’s a lie. Come on, what really happened? You can tell me.”
Poe laughed a little. “Not you, too,” he said with a sigh, still drawing horrible shrieking sounds from the metal as he scraped it (perhaps removing rust? Everything seemed to rust quickly here). “When did I stop being able to keep secrets?”
“Since when could you ever keep a secret?” Finn goaded, and then further, “Come on, be a man and tell me what happened.”
“Got in a fight,” said Poe.
“A jerk you knew, or did you flirt with the wrong girl?” Finn paused, remembering a past awkward conversation, and quickly corrected, "I mean, boy. You know, someone with a grumpy boyfriend.”
Poe chuckled. “A jerk I know. Coworker.” Scrape, scrape. “Technically, I guess you can call him my superior officer.”
“What?” Finn finally opened his eyes. “You got in a fight with your superior officer? A fist fight?”
“It wasn’t like that,” said Poe, wiping sweat out of his eyes. “He said something shitty, I hit him, he hit me. That was it.”
“What did he say?”
“It wasn’t nice.”
“It’d have to be pretty nasty for you to deck your commander.”
“Or maybe I’m just an idiot.”
“It can be both.”
Poe chuckled again, and finally wrenched something free from the undercarriage of the machine. “Ha, see? I told you. Kriffing snakes.” He held up something translucent and shimmery, not unlike a razor-thin piece of flimsi, with a delicate bubble pattern in it.
“What’s that?” Finn leaned out of his chair.
“Snakeskin. They shed it every year as they grow. This one was pretty small, I think there was a nest in here at some point and now the babies have all grown up. Here, look, it’s pretty cool.” Poe handed the snakeskin across the sun-dappled tarp. Their fingers brushed as he passed it to Finn.
Finn looked at it carefully, feeling it over. It was delicate and thin, and caught in the rough places on his fingertips. It was also a little creepy to be holding some creature’s skin. “This is awesome.”
Poe smiled at him, then flopped back down in the dirt to clean out the rest of the nesting material from under the reclaimer before moving on to the real problem of the wiring and switchboards.
“Were you punished?” asked Finn, sitting back in the chair and sifting the snakeskin through his fingers. “For punching your superior officer?”
“Course I was.”
“Four days’ unpaid suspension, extended my grounding for another month.”
“Oh,” said Finn. “Wait, extending your grounding? What are you talking about?”
Poe sighed. “I’m grounded. No-fly roster. Since I went back, I haven’t-- they’re not letting me-- motherfucking piece of shit, come on!” he suddenly shouted, distracted by whatever piece of rusted-out circuitry he was trying to pull out from deep inside the reclaimer, until it jerked free and he sat up to examine it. Rubbing his face, spreading more reddish dirt mixed with rust across his cheeks and nose, he said, “Shit, I’ll need to replace that. I’ll head into town later. They’re not letting me fly. I haven’t flown in months.” It all rushed out, like a single seamless sentence, revelations tacked on to the mundane.
“You’re not flying,” said Finn.
“They’re not letting you fly.”
“Not even, like, practice?”
“Nope. That was the deal. Demoted to Lieutenant, six month grounding during my probationary period, pending further review and certification before returning to active duty.” Poe’s voice muffled slightly as he pressed halfway into the reclaimer with a tool that made a high-pitched whirring sound. “And I’m barred from assuming any command post for the duration of my service time. Except, I guess, in some extreme emergency where everyone else is dead and I’m the only one left.”
“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Finn, scrunching up his eyebrows. He had assumed that the ‘probationary period’ the Republic had talked about just meant a delay in putting Poe back in the combat field. “Are Jess and the others grounded, too?”
“Nope. They were back up in four weeks.”
Well, this certainly explained a lot about the weird parts of his recent correspondence with Poe. “But you’re the best pilot there is.”
“Like, the best. ”
“You were a General . You led an army. ” Finn was increasingly scandalized, and angry on Poe’s behalf. “Most of the fleet was vaporized on Hosnia, they need pilots. They need good pilots. They need commanders. Why would they make you go back if they weren’t-- Why would they do that and not use you?”
“Been asking myself that question for six months, buddy. I don’t know.”
“Are they, I don’t know, are they scared or something? Jealous?” Finn shook his head, leaning nearly out of his chair toward him. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It kind of does,” said Poe. “The Resistance was never a threat to the Republic. We were small and scrappy and doing all their dirty work for them, losing all the lives for them, doing all the intel, all the risk and none of the reward. Then they got zapped and had to scramble for themselves for a while. And we still weren’t really a threat until hey, look! We did it. We brought a massive fleet of civilian ships into a combat zone and took down the Order, and even though everyone fucked off again almost immediately, we suddenly look like the only other power in orbit that could challenge the Republic as they try to put themselves back together.”
“So now you’re a threat,” said Finn slowly. “They have to make sure they can trust you. Or-” he continued, “Or they sit on you and keep you hidden, until no one remembers who you are and you’re not General Poe Dameron, Resistance Hero, but Lieutenant Poe Dameron, Republic pilot. So you can’t become the next Supreme Leader.” And then, with sudden realization, “You must be going crazy.”
Poe laughed, and sat back on his heels, scratching the back of his head where the sweat had left little dirty trails down his neck. “I am definitely going crazy.” He leaned against the back of the house, stretching his bare legs out in front of him as he sank into the dirt, the little silver ring on his necklace glinting in the sunlight. He took a long drink of the beer, then swished the bottle to determine if there was any liquid still left (Finn heard a small splash), and polished it off with another sip. “I don’t know how to do anything else. The only thing I’ve ever been good at is flying.”
“That’s not true,” said Finn. “You know how to fix water reclaimers.”
Poe sighed again, closing his eyes to the sun. “Guess I’ll open up a repair shop in six years.”
“You can go work for Rose, she’d hire you,” said Finn. “At least you have options.”
“Doesn’t really feel like that these days.”
“You do have other skills,” Finn insisted. “You’re a good leader, you’re a good mechanic. There’s a lot you can do.”
“I’m getting really good at filling out requisition forms for jet fuel and engine parts.”
“That’s probably my only skill, besides killing people, which isn’t really a skill I want anymore,” said Finn. “I can make a checklist, and check it off again.”
“You’re going to be a Jedi. That’s a skill.” Poe shifted in the dirt, opening his eyes slightly but refusing to look directly at Finn.
Finn laughed sardonically. “I can’t even lift a pebble. The most the Force has done for me is to...feel...things about the people I know. And even that is mostly just if they’re in danger. I can’t do anything about it. Plus, those people aren’t really in constant danger anymore, so it’s just...presence. Sometimes.” He shrugged, rubbing the snakeskin between his fingertips. “I can’t really use the Force. Not like Rey can.”
“Well, Rey couldn’t either, at first. You just need training. Do you think she’ll start right when you get to Kamparas, or let you settle in for a week first?”
“What? Rey isn’t training me,” said Finn, frowning at him.
Poe finally looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not going to Kamparas to be a Jedi.” For the first time, saying it aloud, Finn actually felt a little surge of relief mixed into the disappointed sadness he usually felt when he told this to himself. It was a curious sensation, that relief. Finn absently wondered how long it had actually been in the mixed soup of emotions that constantly swirled just below the surface, constantly forced down, too many vines in the bramble to disentangle and too little ability to do it properly.
Poe looked shocked. “Why not?”
“Because it would be a waste of Rey’s time?”
“Oh,” said Poe, digging his bare toes into the sandy soil. “Oh, so you’re just going to...be with her.”
“Well, yeah. It’s not like I had anywhere else to go,” said Finn, shrugging a little and trying to keep his voice flat and expressionless. “You’re living in the barracks. Jannah and her crew wanted to look for their families, but I don’t...that’s not really…” He wasn’t sure how to explain those complicated feelings, since they tangled with so many others, so he swallowed them down into the bramble, too. “I guess I could join the Republic too, but I really don’t want to be a soldier anymore. I don’t know where else I would go. Rey said I’d always have a place with her, so, okay. I can do checklists for the Jedi just as easily as I did them for the Resistance.”
Poe was looking at him with a strange, serious, sad expression that Finn couldn’t entirely dissect. “But you’re going to be with her.”
“Sure. I mean, when she’s there,” said Finn. “She has to travel off-planet to find other students, and then she’s always got some other adventure going on. So I guess I’ll take care of the place while she’s gone, and whoever else is there. Maybe I could learn how to cook...” he trailed off thoughtfully. He hadn’t really let himself consider all the possible duties that this nebulous role ( Caretaker? Is it like a caretaker? ) could include. If he were really being honest, he had been avoiding thinking about any of it. “But at least I won’t be alone.”
“No, I mean...wait, I’m confused,” said Poe, sitting up straight. “Aren’t you two...I mean, aren’t you--?”
“What?” Finn genuinely had no idea what Poe was referencing.
“Aren’t you two together ?”
“Like, dating. In a relationship. In-- in love, whatever you want to call it.”
Poe blinked at him. “You-- You said--”
“I never said we were in a relationship,” said Finn, feeling a flush of embarrassment, and a little bit of shame. That possibility was dashed months ago. Really, it never had a chance, but Finn was stubborn, and the many nuances of interpersonal relationships were the things he most struggled with understanding in this new, open world outside the First Order. He had fallen out of the sky and had been looking for something solid to hold onto ever since. He had thought he wanted it to be Rey, but...well…
“You said-- but you two--” Poe sputtered. “There was something you needed to tell Rey. When you thought you were going to die. You wouldn’t tell me, and you-- What else could it have been but that you loved-”
“Oh Poe, please don’t start with that again,” Finn interrupted, his cheeks fully flushing now. “It’s not like that, okay?" He looked at the ground. "I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Poe just stared at him, stunned, like someone had kicked his legs out from under him.
Finn felt a little confused, and embarrassed, and more than a little irritated at having a place that was still so sensitive and sore prodded, and stood up suddenly. “I’m hot, are you hot? Maybe we should get out of the sun for a bit.”
“Um,” said Poe, looking down at the mess of parts and tools strewn everywhere on the ground. “I kind of have to finish this or we won’t have any water later.”
“Oh, right,” said Finn. “Okay.”
“But go in the house if you want to, or on the front porch. It’s cooler there,” said Poe, turning back to the project. “I’ll finish up what I can, and then I need to head into town and buy some parts. You can come with me if you want, or stay here and relax. Whatever you want to do.”
“Okay,” said Finn. “Okay.”
Poe's wrong a lot!
Finn tried to open the front door as quietly as possible, and saw the main part of the house was empty and still. He stood just inside the doorway for a minute, enjoying the slightly cooler air as it circulated around him, and let out a full breath. He wasn’t exactly sure what to do next, but that was a common enough feeling these days.
He saw the small handful of framed holographs on the shelves in the sitting room, and wandered over to take a look. He couldn’t resist picking up the first one: a beautiful woman with dark hair and full lips sitting in some sort of starship, a young child in her lap wearing an oversized helmet, blazing with the rebel phoenix. Poe had both hands on the control stick, and was grinning with every tooth in his mouth gleaming, so visibly happy it was impossible not to smile at such uncontained glee.
Finn replaced the photograph to select the next one, and laughed out loud. Poe was wearing a Republic Navy uniform, recognizably closer to the adult Poe than the manic flying grin on the child, but he was still so young . His features still seemed half-molded in clay - he hadn’t fully grown into his nose or his ears, and even though his face was serious, his eyes were huge and bright and full of wild, untamed mischief. “Oh man,” said Finn.
“Which one’s that?” Kes asked, appearing from the doorway to his bedroom.
Finn flipped the frame to show him, grinning widely. “How old is he here?”
Kes laughed, crossing the room to look over Finn’s shoulder at the holograph. “Navy enlistment, that would be 19.”
“He’s so young,” said Finn, echoing his earlier thoughts. He replaced the holo and pointed at the previous one, with the starship. “This is his mom, right?
“Mm-hmm, that’s Shara,” Kes nodded with a faint, warm smile.
“That she was.” Kes stepped a bit closer, but didn’t pick up the frame. “I think Poe’s around 7 here, or maybe 6 ½.”
“Who are these guys?” Finn pointed at the holo on the next shelf. Poe was a young teenager, just a bit younger than the Navy holo and again grinning with all his teeth, wrestling with two small boys (one of whom had climbed onto his back, the smaller one curled under his shoulder).
“That’s Komi and Yex, Poe’s step-brothers,” said Kes. “I think Poe’s around 14 there, maybe 15.”
“I didn’t know he had brothers,” said Finn, looking closely at them to find resemblances in their faces.
“That reminds me, Komi asked me to comm him when Poe got in. He wanted to come visit since Poe’s been away so long.” Kes snapped his fingers and wandered back toward his bedroom.
“I guess they’re all grown up now, too,” said Finn. He had so little experience with children, he had a difficult time guessing what ages they could be, but Poe had to be at least ten years older than the smallest boy in the photo.
“Komi’s about your age, he’s 25,” Kes called from the bedroom. “He’s on the other side of Tikalo, a couple hours away. Yex is younger, he’s at a university on Rodia. We don’t see him too much, besides holidays.”
“What’s a university?” asked Finn, but Kes was already talking to someone in the back of the house.
Finn found a large pitcher of water on the side of the kitchen sink, presumably set aside so the house had potable water while Poe was rebuilding the reclaimer, and poured himself a glass. After a few sips, he swayed a little on his feet - all the sun exposure and the heat, not to mention the meditative relaxation of sitting under Poe’s tree, were catching up with him. He wandered into the guest room, and remembered what Poe had said about experiencing a real bed.
He sat down on the edge, just barely onto the mattress. He didn’t sink down into a sling of inelastic canvas, like on his cot in the Resistance base, nor was it the thin pad over solid, unforgiving metal of his bunk in the First Order. It felt...pretty perfectly in between. He swung his legs out and sank down onto the bed, sighing out happily as the tightness in his back relaxed. This was nice. This was actually pretty damn nice.
From the window outside, he heard a loud bang and one of Poe’s choicest curses, and lifted his head up slightly to see if the commotion warranted emergency attention.
“ Ah ha, got you, you bastard !” he heard Poe crow, and chuckled to himself as he settled back down again. Maybe he’d just close his eyes for a minute…
He woke to a dim room, fuzzy eyes, and the sound of someone knocking on the door. “Finn?”
“Mmwah?” Finn blurted as he jerked awake, feeling groggy and even more exhausted than he had when he’d lay down. “What? Oh shit, I fell asleep.”
Poe chuckled, opening the door the rest of the way and leaning against the frame. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have woken you up.”
“No, you should have,” Finn yawned, blearily sitting up and rubbing his eyes. His skin still felt warm to the touch. “What time is it?”
“About 17:30,” said Poe. “Dad’s making dinner. I just picked up the parts we need for the reclaimer. Can you help me with the last bit? I could use a hand.”
“Sure. ‘Course, of course,” said Finn, hauling himself to his feet. He finally took a look at Poe, and laughed out loud. “Poe. You look like a sludge panther.”
Poe laughed too. He was covered, head to toe, in dirt and dust and grime and rust, caked across his face and hands. Even his legs were spattered with three different shades of brown, blown into windy patterns through the dark hair on his calves, presumably from the speeder ride into town and back. “I get first dibs on a shower when I fix this thing,” he said.
“Uh, definitely,” said Finn. “You stink.”
Poe laughed again and headed for the door.
“Hey Poe-bee, how long you got left?” called Kes from the kitchen.
“Poe-bee?” Finn grinned.
“Shut up,” Poe glared at Finn, blushing a little. “Gimme fifteen minutes,” Poe promised Kes. “Just need Finn’s help for the last bit, and we should be good to go.”
“Okay. I need to get the rice going.”
“Fifteen minutes!” he repeated. “Come on, Finn.”
In the end, it took just over eighteen minutes, and even Finn ended up partially covered in the same rusty dirt as he held the reclaimer half-suspended out of the repair hatch so Poe could replace the circuitry he’d removed and the protective shielding. Clouds were building thick and gray overhead as the light faded from the sky, and Finn felt an oppressive wash of humidity closing around them like the jungle itself was going to take three enormous green steps toward the house as soon as night fell.
Poe flipped a switch, and the reclaimer turned on, buzzing happily. “Well, at least it’s working.” They sealed the hatch, cleaned up the mess of tools and parts Poe had strewn everywhere in the backyard, and stumbled back into the house. Finn retrieved the little piece of snakeskin from the sun chair and put it in the front pocket of his rucksack. He wasn’t really sure why he wanted to keep it, but he did.
Poe took a long shower, whooping excitedly at the hot water and singing something loud and obnoxious that echoed throughout the small house, while Finn watched Kes cooking in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and searing meat. This meal had similar components to the stew at lunch, but arranged differently - meat, vegetables, and beans cooked in a pan then spooned over the rice, instead of all boiled in the pot together. Kes gave Finn a sample of the sauce to make sure it wasn’t too spicy, and Poe ate three helpings.
“Good,” said Kes as Poe scraped everything that remained in the serving bowls onto his plate. “Eat up, boy. You’re too skinny.”
“Been working out more,” said Poe, pouring half of the single remaining beer into Finn’s glass before taking a long drink himself. “Should have gotten more beer when I was out earlier, sorry. I’ll go back to the store tomorrow.”
“No, I’ll do it. I have to get a rack of ribs and that pecconiho cheese you like for the potatoes.”
“You’re going to barbecue? That sounds great,” said Poe.
“Well, we’ve got one-two-three-five of us,” Kes counted on his fingers, “Plus the kids. Maybe I’ll make two racks, since you like those sandwiches. And get some sweet sands.”
“Wait, what? Are we having a party?” Poe tilted his head.
“Oh right,” Kes snapped his fingers. “Forgot to tell you. Komi and his family are coming for dinner tomorrow, he wants to see you.”
“Oh! Really?” Poe looked up. “Okay. How is he?”
“Good. They just bought a new house over near the Ferra Groves.”
Poe whistled. “Really? I guess his business is going well.”
“It is! And they needed more room now, what with that brand new baby girl,” said Kes.
“Wait, another one? How old is Aerith?”
“She’s nearly 3 now,” said Kes.
“What?” said Poe. “But she was just a baby when...oh, right.”
“They grow up fast,” said Kes, “You want to watch, you got to be around.”
Poe managed to let that pass without a snarky remark, but he gave his food a guilty look as he scooped up another bite to shovel into his mouth. “You working tonight?”
“Yeah, just a few hours. I’ve been doing security down at Dock House 7, since they’re in the busy season. I should be home around 02:00, not too late.”
“You still helping Ridgellen with those land surveys, too?”
“No, just this thing for now. My knee was acting up on me during the last rainy season, so I had to give it some rest. But Ridgellen called me up the other day, sounds like there’ll be more work for me in the summer.”
“Okay.” Poe looked worried for a moment, then drained the rest of his beer. “Well, we can clear out for a bit in the morning. I thought I’d take Finn over to Massassi Falls. Not for that long!” he added hastily, when he saw the sad look in Kes’s eye. “Just an hour or two, so you can sleep in.”
“Sure, all right,” said Kes, clearly reluctant to lose more of his son’s company.
“Hey, give me your shopping list before you head out tonight, and we’ll pick everything up on our way back.”
“You don’t have to do that,” said Kes. “I can buy my own food.”
Finn felt the temperature in the room drop by a few degrees, or maybe it was because it had finally started to rain outside. Not just raining, it was suddenly pouring - Finn could hear it pounding on the roof so hard, he thought it might break through at any moment.
Poe sighed. “Of course you can, Pop, it was just an offer.”
“Well, thank you, but I can take care of it.”
“Okay. Just...you know, you don’t need to be buying an entire nerf to feed us, Dad. If you’re getting by on just a few security hours-”
“I’m fine, I’ve got plenty of work.”
“Are you sure? That reclaimer’s going to need replacing sooner rather than later, I don’t know how much time this repair job is going to give you. And that speeder’s on its last legs.”
“The speeder’s fine,” said Kes, warning creeping into his voice.
Poe blew past it, if he even recognized the tone at all. “I’m just saying, I’m actually getting paid now, even if I’m not actually doing anything to earn it, and even if I can’t be here in person to help with some of this, I can at least get you the money to-”
“You think I can’t get my own money?” Kes laughed. “That I haven’t been handling my own affairs every day of my adult life?”
“That’s not what I meant, I just--” Poe made a frustrated noise. “I just want to help.”
“Well, I didn’t ask for your help. Paying me off won’t make up for missing the last two years of your life.”
“Whoa, paying you off? Kriff, aren’t you the one who tallied up everything I’d cost you in damages and--and emotional distress, back before I enlisted?”
Finn was beginning to see a pattern in the way meals went in this house, and it seemed backwards. Why didn’t prickliness and grumpiness and arguments come before eating, when everyone was hungry? He’d seen that happen plenty of times mid-mission, for both the Order and the Resistance. But it seemed as though the calm contentment of a full meal was exactly when either Poe or his father felt comfortable and fortified enough to dig into the tension and unease below the surface. That, or the amount of beer Poe had drank.
Poe had cleared the dirty plates and utensils from the table and followed his father into the kitchen, still trying to dig himself out of his shellhole. Finn took the opportunity to sneak into the dark sitting room and hide in the corner chair. He could still hear them arguing, but at least he wasn’t right there in front of them . He wondered, briefly, if he should try to slip out the front door, but he worried that the sound of it would make things worse by giving them something else to argue about. It seemed better to pretend he was part of the wall. He could do that. He spent years doing that.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Dad.”
“I just don’t want my son to be a stranger, that’s all.” The water rushed in the sink and dishes clinked dangerously loudly. (Finn wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as angry dishwashing.) “You know, Komi’s here every other weekend, and he has his own business and a family to take care of-”
“You’re acting like I didn’t want to see you! I barely had time to comm as much as I did, let alone leave the base for anything other than a mission. Didn’t you hear everything that’s happened to me in the last two years?”
“Well, why am I just hearing about it now? Crash-landing in a TIE fighter? Outrunning Snoke’s ship in a transport running on fumes? Dark Jedi? When were you going to tell me about all this?”
Poe stared at him, open-mouthed. “Okay, I may not have told you everything, but I definitely told you about going to Jakku. And Crait. I commed you right after Crait, remember? Just in case the D’Qar raid got out on the back channel news, and you were worrying about me? Don’t you remember that?” There was a frantic edge to his voice. “Please, tell me you remember that.”
“Stop talking to me like I’m a child, Poe, you know perfectly well what I meant. A story here and there, sure, but I’ve barely had any idea what’s been going on or where you’ve been.”
“Well, there’s some things I couldn’t tell you. You know what that’s like. And I didn’t want you to worry.”
“You think I wasn’t worried anyway? I do know what it’s like out there, Poe, I know better than you think I do, and radio silence isn’t reassuring.”
“Well, whatever. It’s not like that anymore. The First Order’s gone, I’m not counting survival by the days, and I’m sitting safe as kittens on Ganthel with my thumb up my ass.”
“If you’re so safe now, then who punched you?”
“You think I don’t know what a good right-hook looks like six days later?” Another laugh. “You came home with those often enough when you lived here, I got pretty used to them.”
“That was...it’s fine. It’s not like that.”
“Uh huh. So it’s not at all like you going after Solern Capano after he convinced you to steal that speeder? Or maybe it’s more like the time when Rudi Simplott called you a faggot?”
Poe made a frustrated noise in his throat, which just seemed to admit defeat. “Dad. Please. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“I’m not fighting, I’m trying to get you to talk to me!”
The silence stretched for so long, Finn felt brave enough to turn his head back toward the kitchen, though he had half a fear that the slightest movement might remind the Damerons that he was, in fact, still here listening to them. The dishes stopped clinking; the water turned off.
Poe gave a deep sigh.
“Well, all right, then,” said Kes, drying his hands on his pants. “I have to go to work.”
Poe stood in the center of the kitchen, looking angry and defeated, with his hands on his hips and a vacant stare in the general vicinity of the floor, while Kes gathered up a bag and slung on a blaster holster that were piled on the table by the front door. He pulled an enormous, billowing poncho on over the entire outfit which rustled when he moved, and thick boots.
But instead of continuing out the door, Kes turned and walked back to the kitchen and his stock-still son. Poe stiffened slightly, but relaxed when Kes grasped him carefully by the shoulders, bent down, and kissed him on the forehead. “Get some sleep. Don’t wait up,” he said, squeezing Poe’s arm, and nodded at Finn as he rustled out the front door.
Poe was still standing in the kitchen when the speeder roared to life in the front yard, and sped away with a whine.
Finn didn’t move, didn’t speak, and tried not to look at Poe too closely. He let the silence fill, waiting, the dust settling down again, while Poe shuffled to the cooler and opened it. After a few seconds of perusal, he swore (presumably because he remembered they had already drunk all the beer), and wandered back toward the sitting area, feet dragging.
“You okay?” asked Finn.
Poe collapsed on the sofa, slowly folding forward to rest his head in his hands, elbows braced on his knees. “I’m fine. Sorry about all that.”
“No, I’m sorry,” said Finn. “I should have left the house or gone in the other room or something. I didn’t mean to just be listening to you…”
Poe shrugged, still hidden behind his hands. “It’s a small house, you can’t really escape it. I shouldn’t have-- This is usually what happens when I come home.”
“You fight with your dad?”
“He’s worried about you.”
“Well, I’m worried about him,” said Poe, scratching the back of his head. “This memory thing...I don’t know what’s up with that, but it’s weird. It’s really weird.”
Finn tilted his head. “How old is he?”
“Not that old, he’s 64.” Poe was gnawing on his lower lip now. “And now his knee is acting up so much that he had to quit his other job? Maybe I should comm his doctor. He probably hasn’t been in ages.”
“He was working two different jobs?”
“Yeah, he has two for most of the year. Then he usually finds some extra little gig during the high travel season,” said Poe.
“That seems like a lot of jobs,” said Finn carefully. He wasn’t sure how unusual this situation was in the wider world, but it seemed strange.
“He did all kinds of things when I was a kid, after my mom died. Even when L’ulo came to help out, he’d farm the field out back, and do shuttle runs, and work security, and pathfind the tourists to the old Massassi Temple.”
“Is that…” Finn brought up the word normal , and discarded it. “Is that common?”
“It is around here. There isn’t much steady work unless you have property, a lot of start-up capital, or a ship. And kids are expensive,” said Poe. “Especially when they like taking apart your water reclaimer and trying to put it back together, or building spaceships out of old speeder parts.”
Finn chuckled at that. He could see it, like there was a holo-projection of a young boy with deeply tanned skin and wild curls in the middle of the floor surrounded by a pile of metal and gears. “And then there were three of you,” he gestured overhead at the photograph of Poe and the two boys.
“Yeah, but Komi and Yex combined never got into as much trouble as I did on my own,” said Poe, with a little hint of guilt, and more than a small amount of pride.
“How come I didn’t know you had brothers?” said Finn. “They don’t look very much like you.”
“Well no, they wouldn’t. They’re my step-brothers.”
“Oh, there’s a difference?” Finn frowned. “Wait, hang on, your mom died when you were...and they’re way younger than…” He suddenly felt very stupid.
“Right, you got it,” said Poe. “My dad isn’t their dad, and their mom isn’t my mom. He married Unaya when the boys were little. Their real dad is a piece of shit, though, so Dad kept on Dad-ing even after he and my step-mother divorced.”
“Oh.” This was a significant amount of new information. “So you had a second mother?”
“Yeah, although I didn’t really think of her that way. I was thirteen when they got married.”
“Was she nice?”
“Sure, she was nice enough. I wasn’t exactly excited about it, but I tried not to be a dick either,” said Poe, squirming uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m probably a big reason why their marriage didn’t work out. I...wasn’t exactly an easy kid.”
“I’m starting to get that impression, yeah,” said Finn.
Poe shrugged. “I was a little wild. Angry, I guess.”
“Angry at what?”
“Everything,” said Poe. “Everyone.”
“I don’t know,” Poe shrugged again. Finn did not believe him, and let the silence stretch to see if Poe would offer more, like he sometimes did, but he seemed lost in thought.
“What are they like?” he switched back to safer topics.
“Komi and Yex? Well, you’ll meet Komi tomorrow. He’s a good kid. He’s a good guy, I guess I should say, he’s not a kid anymore.” Poe rubbed at his forearm. “Yex is quieter. I haven’t seen him in years.”
That reminded Finn of his earlier conversation with Kes. “Your dad said that he’s at a universary. What’s that?”
“University,” Poe corrected gently. “It’s an advanced school, for higher-level skills. Like, if you wanted to become a doctor, you go to university. And then medical school.”
“Oh,” said Finn. “Did you go to a university? No, you went to an academy, that’s different?”
“That’s different,” Poe nodded. “I went to the Republic Academy for flight school, it was military training. Yex likes plants. He’s studying some kind of fungus, I think, or maybe some kind of mold.”
Finn chuckled a little at the idea of going to an advanced school to look at mold. “He could have come down to the ‘fresher on Ajan Kloss and studied there.”
Poe laughed, and then Finn laughed, and the rain continued pounding heavily on the roof. “It’s really coming down out there,” Finn remarked, looking up.
“Yup, it happens nearly every night,” said Poe. “Clouds will build in the afternoon, then burst just about when the sun sets and the temperature drops a bit. Then it’ll rain for a while, and let up near midnight.”
“I can sleep on the couch tonight, if it’s too wet out there,” Finn offered. “I took the bed for that nap earlier.”
“Finn, it’s fine,” said Poe. “That hasn't been my room for years."
"Because when your brothers moved in, they needed the room," Finn pieced together as he spoke.
"Yeah, they were just little kids, so they needed it more than me. Dad kept talking about building out the porch into a proper bedroom, but it never happened." Poe must have caught concern in Finn's face because he continued, in a reassuring tone, "Really, I liked sleeping out there. No better conduit for a misspent youth.” He winked, though his smile didn’t fully reach his eyes.
“Sure. You think I was the type to obey a curfew? Lot easier to sneak out of the house if you’re not even in it.”
Finn laughed. “Oh no. Sneak out where?”
“Parties. Friends’ houses. The usual,” he shrugged. “The hangar, sometimes.”
“Why do you call it a hangar?”
“It used to be one. For my mom’s old ship,” he nodded toward the holograph on the wall. “Her A-wing. I learned to fly on that thing.”
“Where is it now?”
“Had to. I was...um...not entirely sober when I stole that speeder, and I crashed it into a shop full of really expensive glass work, art and souvenir stuff for the tourists. Ship was the only way to pay for all the damages.”
“That’s awful,” said Finn. “Is that why you got in a fight with...whoever talked you into it?”
“Sol Capano? Yeah, but it wasn’t really his fault. He stole one, too. I’m just the dummy who crashed.” Poe shrugged, detached. “Dad was really upset. I don’t think he was actually trying to punish me by selling her ship, there just wasn’t another option. The owner agreed not to press charges if we paid them off, so it was either sell the ship or go to jail.”
“Or running spice?”
“That was later,” Poe shifted uncomfortably again.
“I was 18.”
“And when did you steal the speeder?”
“Ummm,” Poe thought a few moments, “I think I was still 16.”
“And you’d been drinking?”
“Well, yeah, what fun is sneaking out if you’re not drinking in a jungle cave until you puke? There was nothing else to do around here, and I was so bored. We didn’t really have the money for flight lessons or ship repair at that point, and L’ulo had left again, so I...improvised.”
Finn shook his head, a little awed. “Man, you really did run wild, didn’t you? No wonder your dad’s so worried about you. I clearly haven’t seen half the shifty stuff you know.”
Poe gave him a roguish smile, and another shrug. “Navy straightened me out, for a little while at least. I used to send my Dad money out of my Republic paycheck, you know, just to help out. Repay some of my debt from him having to put up with all my bullshit. But then I joined the Resistance, and there wasn’t any money to send.” He sighed, and shifted his feet underneath his knees. “Now that I’m earning again, he won’t take it. He’s so damn stubborn.”
Finn laughed. “Yeah, like you wouldn’t be acting exactly the same way if the situation was reversed.”
“I guess. Probably. Yeah,” Poe finally agreed, smiling and shaking his head. He let the silence stretch for a few minutes. “Want to watch a holovid?”
“Okay,” said Finn. “You pick, they’re all new to me.”
They watched something adventurous with a hint of romance, and Finn fell asleep in his chair halfway through the second speeder chase scene, still exhausted from the sun, and the travel, and the long day. Poe had helped him out of the chair once the holoscreen shut off, guiding him half-asleep back to the little narrow bedroom and laying him down onto the little narrow bed. “You’re sure you’re okay on the porch?” Finn murmured, soft and dreamy, remembering too late that Poe was putting himself to bed on a cot outside.
“Yup, I’ll be fine,” Poe said from the doorway. “Night, Finn.”
Don't be too hard on Kes, folks, he's trying his best.
Poe woke with the dawn, eyes drifting open to the curtain of fuchsia flowers cascading over the front porch, somehow seeming brighter and more electric in the gray light. His skin felt damp and clammy from last night’s rain, though the sky had cleared to a pale, clear blue promising more heat and sunshine my mid-morning. Poe let himself drift, watching the bees buzz around the flowers, listening to the cicoideas starting to scream as the heat from the rising sun touched their wings, and the bell-birds singing their little melodies, which Poe thought always sounded like binary spoken backwards, and the little blue and pink warblers chirping, scanning the canopy for the families of howling simias that often climbed through the branches at the edge of the forest down to the creek in the mornings.
He vaguely recalled stirring when his father’s speeder had returned to the yard in the dark, early morning hours, hearing his thick boots climbing the creaky porch steps. The footsteps had stopped before continuing on into the house, and Poe had frozen, forcing his eyes to stay closed, his mouth stay slightly parted, arm under his cheek, trying to breathe evenly.
His father watched him, pretending to sleep, for a long time. And finally, just when Poe had been about to stretch, and stir, and pretend to wake naturally, to apologize, to talk, to ask if he was really all right, to ask how Poe could be better, the boots had thumped into the house and the door had latched, and he was left alone in the dark, again.
Now, in the morning, he didn’t feel much like moving. He didn’t much feel like anything at all. He supposed this complete absence was a sort of welcome relief, after such a tense day ( days, weeks, months ) full of racing thoughts , but he just felt empty and drained and pale, like the sky without color. Even his mind couldn’t seem to come up with its usual spiral of questions and insults and distractions, and he found himself drifting while awake, barely bothering to move his arm to wave away a bee that came too close to his nose.
Some time later, the front door opened with a tiny squeak and paused. Poe didn’t move, and the door started to close again, before he forced out, “I’m awake, Finn.”
“Oh. Hi,” said Finn, peeking his head out the doorway. “Um, you sleep okay?”
“Yup, just being lazy,” said Poe, staring at a particularly persistent bee going from flower to flower, its legs dripping with yellow pollen so thick he could see if from the cot.
“Oh, I can let you sleep some more,” said Finn.
“Nah, I’m not sleeping. Want some caf?”
“Uh, sure, but there’s no rush. I think your dad’s still asleep.”
Poe stretched his toes out from under the thin blanket, and slowly swiveled to drop his feet on the porch, sitting up. “I’ll make some. Then we can go to the waterfall. Sound good?”
“Okay,” said Finn.
They shared a quick pot of caf and a few scrambled eggs, washing up and putting away with a bare minimum of hushed whispers to keep the house quiet. And then they were out in the yard, heading for the speeder with their voices and the wind in the trees sounding suddenly loud at their normal volume.
“Do you mind sharing again? We should probably leave the other speeder for Dad, for the shopping,” said Poe. “Although, if we took both speeders, he’d have to let me buy the groceries…”
“Yeah, let’s not get you into another pissing match with your Dad. It’s fine,” said Finn, crossing the yard and climbing onto the speeder behind Poe. “You know where we’re going, anyway.”
Poe could have rented a second speeder at the spaceport. He could have. Finn was perfectly capable of riding one. He had the credits. It would have been the polite thing to do. Finn was his guest, pulled in the middle of his tense family reunion and general identity crisis because at my core, I am a selfish being, and I just want what I want, and I wanted to see him so damn much . The least he could have done was get the man his own speeder. But I am a very, very bad person. Finn drew his arms across Poe’s waist, and Poe’s heart leaped into his throat, and he hated himself for how much he relished the contact. It wouldn’t have even occurred to Finn that Poe could have arranged a second speeder. I am a bad person. He is too young for me. I’m some kind of lecherous predator. He’s so warm. I am a bad person.
Poe kicked the speeder into gear, and sped off into the jungle. It took a few missed turns for him to find the old trail, given how many years it had been since he’d visited the spot, but he finally found the giant hunk of black volcanic rock that served as a landmark and speeder parking for the trailhead.
They walked quietly through the trees, steadily moving uphill, following the path of a rippling creek and the distant sound of rushing water as it raised to a dull roar. Finally, around a bend and behind an enormous flowering bush, they emerged into the open well of a perfectly picturesque waterfall tumbling into a round, crystalline pool of water.
“Wow,” Finn breathed out, and Poe grinned at him.
“Not bad, huh?”
“It’s beautiful,” said Finn, climbing up onto another rock to get a better look at the waterfall as it cascaded down the rocks in little rivets, white foam settling into bright turquoise, clear to the sandy bottom, vines dripping with pink flowers and fern fronds winding around the tree branches over the pool, dropping petals here and there. “It’s like...it’s like…” then he chuckled a little. “I have no idea what it’s like. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Water’s really warm, too,” said Poe, sitting on a log to pull off his boots and stuffing his socks into the toes. He picked his way down to the pool in bare feet, glancing back occasionally to see Finn, with slightly less balance, following him a few paces behind.
“Is this where you’d come to get drunk and hatch plans to steal speeders?” Finn teased once he’d caught up to Poe on the small stretch of coarse, rocky sand leading into the pool.
Poe laughed. “Not this one, there’s a similar spot closer in that’s popular with the townies. This one gets really busy in the afternoon in the high season, but since it’s so remote, and we’re early, we might get it to ourselves for a little while.”
Finn sat down on a small rock and removed his boots, rolling up the hem of his pants and reaching out his foot to touch the water. “Wow, it is really warm,” he smiled, splashing his feet a bit.
“Yup,” said Poe, and stripped off his shirt, followed immediately by his shorts and underclothes. He allowed himself only the briefest glance over his shoulder at Finn, far too satisfied at the wide eyes and darkening blush on his cheeks. I am a bad person. It wasn’t always easy to see Finn’s blush with his dark skin, but Poe could usually tell. Possibly because he spent so much time looking at him in quick, furtive glances.
“Um,” said Finn.
“You coming in?” Poe waded two feet into the water, don’t pose, you kriffing jackass, don’t you dare pose with your bare ass in his face, you are a Bad Person , and then dove deep, breathing out a fleet of bubbles before surfacing close to the falls. “Come on!”
Finn was still staring, open-mouthed. “I...I don’t know how to swim.”
“Oh,” said Poe, treading water in the deepest center of the pool. “I guess that makes sense. Why would they have taught you?”
“Yeah. If we fell in here with our armor on, it’s probably better not to know how to swim anyway. You’d sink either way, one would just take longer,” said Finn.
“I can teach you? You’re a quick learner, and the pool’s not that deep.”
“Is it hurting you?” Poe felt a rush of concern. “Was the speeder ride too-”
“No, my back ,” Finn repeated urgently.
Oh. That. “There’s no one else here,” said Poe, “And I’ve seen it, remember? It makes you look badass.”
“What if someone else does show up?” asked Finn. “You’re not...I mean, don’t people usually wear some...thing...for swimming?”
Poe laughed. “Welcome to Yavin. No one around here bothers with that. I guess we might scandalize some tourists, but who cares? You can keep your undershorts on, if it makes you feel better.” At this point, Poe felt like he was badgering, so he dove under the water again, surfacing and swimming with wide strokes and strong kicks to the foot of the waterfall. He carefully climbed up on a lower rock, slippery and smooth, and dipped his head back under the cascading stream, letting it pressure wash the aches out of his back and the thoughts out of his mind.
When he opened his eyes to look back to shore, Finn had stripped and waded into the pool to his waist, gently moving the water in his hands, testing his own propulsion against the resistance of the water. Poe couldn’t help but grin at him, the intensity of his concentration, the way he methodically tested out each new surrounding with a dignity that only came from a core of confidence and self-knowledge. Even if he still felt nervous, even if he wasn’t sure, he continued moving forward. It was one of the things he liked best about Finn. He always just dove right in.
Which he did, just then, dunking himself under the water to wet down his hair, and wading slowly out into the depth of the pool.
Poe carefully stood up on the slippery rock, and climbed up a few more until he loomed over the deep turquoise of the water. “Finn!” he shouted, waiting for the other to look up with a start, before launching off the rock and curling his arms and legs into a ball, sending an enormous splash and a circling shock wave barreling to the edges of the pool.
He surfaced to Finn laughing, and received a large retaliatory splash in the face, which went up his nose. “That looked fun,” said Finn.
“Poe Dameron Propulsar Cannon,” Poe grinned. “Want to learn?”
“I’ll stick with this for now,” said Finn. “Where’s the deep part?”
Poe swam back a few paces, to where he had to tread water to keep his face above. “I can’t touch here. Pretty much anywhere in the middle, around here, is a little deep, but everywhere else you should be fine.”
“Okay.” Finn’s wading drifted back to the edges, wet, bare shoulders shining. He seemed to be slowly making his way toward the waterfall, and Poe swam lazily alongside him. “Does anything live in here?” he froze and asked suddenly, as though the thought had just occurred to him.
“Yeah, there’s some fish,” said Poe, looking around in the water to try to spot one. “They won’t hurt you. They’ll swim away when they feel you coming.”
“Okay. Not any of those killer snakes, though, right? Oh look!” Finn pointed up into the trees, where a family of howling simias were making their way through the branches, swinging and playing, and occasionally letting out a shriek. “Wow, those things are noisy.”
“I know,” said Poe. “Now you know why I talk so much.”
Finn laughed. “Why? Other than how much you like the sound of your own voice.”
“Who could hear it, over those things screaming all day?”
“This place is amazing,” said Finn, settling against a rock near the waterfall and putting a hand directly under the stream. “I guess it might get boring if you saw it all the time, but...it’s so beautiful.”
“It is,” Poe agreed. He climbed back onto the same rock as before, looking down at Finn half-submerged in the water. (He at least had the decency to fold his knee up, effectively blocking Finn’s view of his crotch, to spare him the embarrassment.)
“I don’t get how you’d ever want to be anywhere else,” said Finn. “I could stay here forever.” Then he sighed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t say that. I don’t want to make you feel guilty.”
“No, you’re right,” said Poe. “I’m pretty ungrateful. I grew up in paradise, and all I wanted to do was get off this rock as soon as I possibly could.” Because I am a bad person. “But, you know, I do try to appreciate it now. It’s a nice place to come home to. Even if I don’t get to very often.”
“Good.” Finn leaned back against a smaller stream of the waterfall, letting it pour over him like a shower. “Thanks for letting me see your home. I’m glad I saw this.”
Ack, my heart. “Course, buddy. Glad you could come.”
Finn laughed. “I wasn’t doing anything else.” He sent the torrent of water running here and there, as he moved his hands into different shapes to channel it. “I honestly don’t know what I’m doing. Or what I’m going to do, after this. I know what I don’t want, but...”
“Knowing what you don’t want is as good a place to start as any,” said Poe.
“I guess,” said Finn. “But it doesn’t tell me what to do. I’ve always had someone or something else telling me what to do, or it was just pretty obvious what the best thing to do next was. I’m not very good at coming up with my own things.”
“Keep trying stuff. You’re good at that. Try the temple, and if that doesn’t work for you, we’ll try something else.” We?
“Sure.” Sound casual. “I’m pretty dumb, but I occasionally have good ideas.”
Finn snorted. “Very occasionally.”
“It’s happened! Two, maybe three times.”
“Do you throw a little party for each one?”
“Buddy, we have a goddamn parade .”
Finn chuckled, turning inward to his own thoughts as the water poured over him.
Poe tried not to watch him too carefully, realized he was fighting a losing battle, and climbed up the rocks to jump into the pool again. This time, it almost felt like flying. So he did it again - climb one rock higher, jump; another rock beyond that, jump. By the time he grasped the large, spear-shaped rock that towered over the top of the waterfall, he was starting to feel an echo of that dizzy lightheadedness in zero-G spins, a little taste of the throttle as it opened in his hands, the intoxicating lightness of air and space and stars under his wings. Just a little. Close enough.
“Poe,” Finn called up nervously from his rock below the waterfall, “I don’t think the pool’s deep enough for that one.”
“It’s fine, I’ve done it before,” said Poe. Have I? Does it matter? (No. ) He jumped.
He hit the water on his lower back, a sharp little sting, curling his legs up and sinking to the bottom of the pool like a stone. Once there, feet brushing the sandy bottom and little chips of volcanic rock that hid the fishes and their eggs, he let the air out of his lungs slowly, a thin trail of bubbles up to the surface. Just resting on the bottom, deep under the pool, the rushing sound of the waterfall shifted to a dull, pulsing roar. How long can I stay here? How long without air? I used to be able to hold my breath for a few minutes. What’s the record? Who had the record? Was it me? Was it Sol?
He vaguely heard Finn shouting, but couldn’t bring himself to move just yet. His lungs were starting to burn, but he had time. There was a bit of time. Still a bit of air in his lungs, still a bit of oxygen in his blood, though the carbon monoxide was filling in the empty spaces and he could start to feel the pull in his throat, the instinct to open wide and gasp for air, but if it he did, it would just be water. Clear, warm water.
Then something was gripping his arm and yanking him to the surface, splashing like a beached fish flopping back to safe waters. “Poe!” Finn was shouting, and coughing a little, as he tried to swim back to where his feet could touch, still frantically scooping at the water with his free hand even once his stance steadied from finding solid ground again. “Are you okay?” he gasped. “Did you hit your head?”
“Finn, I’m fine,” said Poe, once he’d gulped down a few breaths, guilt and shame rushing in with the oxygen, flushing his cheeks and the tips of his fingers. “I was just holding my breath. It’s fine.”
“What?” Finn stared at him, still breathing heavily. “I thought you were drowning.”
“I’m sorry,” said Poe. Of course Finn thought he was drowning. Finn couldn’t swim, and Finn never played those games of hold-your-breath, and jump-the-highest-rock. He didn’t know how. I am a bad person. “Drowning looks different. If I were bobbing up and down on the surface, and going gray in the face--” He felt numb. “I just wanted to see how long I could do it.”
Finn’s dark glare intensified, scrutinizing him like something small and stupid under magnifying goggles with laser focus. The waterfall roared in his ears. He could see the worry and the fear in Finn’s eyes being replaced by shame, embarrassment, and then something else, something he couldn’t quite read but now his cheeks were flushing again. He swallowed carefully.
Finn was still gripping his upper arm, and they were very close. Poe remembered that he was naked, and that Finn was naked, and they were so very close. Silence stretched. Why isn’t he saying something? Should I say something? No, when has it ever helped for you to say something? Do something. Do it now. Now’s your chance. Do what? Kiss him? No, no, bad idea. He’d deck you. I don’t care. His lips look so soft.
Poe opened his mouth to speak, but everything caught in his throat. Finn looked down at his mouth. Now. Do it now, you coward, come on Dameron. Then Poe’s mouth shot ahead of his brain, his stupid kriffing mouth, and he heard himself say, “Hey, but you swam! If I really was drowning, you absolutely would have saved me.”
Finn groaned, and dropped Poe’s arm. “I’m regretting every part of that impulse right now,” he said, turning away to wade back to shore.
“Yeah, that’s probably the right call,” his stupid kriffing mouth said. Poe watched him splash out of the water ( Kriff, he did get naked, STOP LOOKING, you are a Bad Person ) and pull on his shorts before reaching for the towel to finish drying off. The enormous pinkish-brown scar on his back twisted as he quickly worked the towel over his skin, refusing to turn to face Poe, and re-dressed himself.
“Really, Finn, I’m sorry,” said Poe as he followed him onto shore and reached for the damp towel. He pulled on his underclothes and shorts, and slung the towel over his neck, not quite knowing where to look.
Finn had his hands shoved deep in his pockets. “Forget it,” he said. He stooped to slide on his boots over his bare feet, tucking his socks into his pockets. “Should we go back now?”
“If you want to,” said Poe. I am so stupid.
“Yeah, your dad will want to see you,” said Finn, and started picking his way back up the rocks toward the path to the speeder.
Poe sighed, pulled his shirt back on, and picked up his boots to follow Finn.
Finn barely held on to Poe for the speeder ride back.
Kes was already bustling around in the yard as Poe brought the speeder to the little landing patch of bare dirt, and Finn slid off the back before the engine had fully stilled. “M’gonna go change,” he muttered, stalking quickly to the house.
“Okay,” said Poe, although Finn was already walking up the front steps. He slowly followed to drop his boots and the wet towel on the porch next to his cot. “Need a hand, Pop?” he called across the yard.
“Sure,” said Kes, wrestling with an enormous cast-iron barbecue. “I haven’t used this in a while, it needs some cleaning.”
“I can do that, too,” said Poe. “You gonna make that marinade, with the oranges and the blackstrap syrup?”
“Way ahead of you,” said Kes with a smile. “There’s more beer in the chest over there, too.”
“Thanks, Pop,” said Poe, helping him pull the barbecue into the right spot and opening the hatch with a rusty squeak. The grill was filthy. “This shouldn’t take too long. Practically brand new.”
Kes laughed, and turned to examine his vegetable garden for any spare weeds. He struck quickly at the invaders, yanking them out between long, deft fingers. “Did Finn like the waterfall?”
“Yeah!” said Poe, with false enthusiasm. “He’s never seen one before. It was a good swim.”
“You ever thought about, oh, you know, telling him how you feel?” Kes asked casually.
“Dad…” Poe felt his face go red, and started scrubbing furiously at what looked like three years of caked-on grease and gristle in the wires of the grill.
“What? Seems like a nice young man,” said Kes.
“For a Stormtrooper?”
“Come on, Poe, how many times do I have to apologize?”
Poe grinned at him. “I’m just giving you shit.” He scrubbed some more, finally seeing a hint of clean silver mixed in with the grime. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Actually, I found out he isn’t dating that girl.”
“He’s what now?”
“That girlfriend I mentioned? Not a girlfriend. Just friends.”
“Well, then!” said Kes, pulling a few more weeds and then turning to harvest some feathery, red-tipped kale. “What’re you waiting for, a written invitation?”
“No. I just don’t think he’s like that,” said Poe, wiping sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. “I mean, like me.”
“Hmm,” said Kes.
Poe decided not to try interpreting what he wasn’t saying, and focused harder on the task at hand. “D’you got any rags?”
Kes brought his enormous armful of kale into the house, then returned with a bucket full of soapy water and a small pile of old clothes cut into rags.
“Thanks,” said Poe, dunking one in the water. He vaguely recognized it as a shirt he had once worn, handed down to Yex. “Do you still have those plastoid chairs out in the hangar? I can set it up so we can eat outside. It might be nicer than crowding into the house if this breeze sticks around.”
“Yup, it’s all out there. Not sure what condition it’s in, we haven’t used them since that party you boys threw for my 60th.”
“That’s okay, I’ll make it work,” said Poe.
Kes returned to the house, and Finn didn’t come out, and Poe scrubbed until his muscles ached. He glanced around the yard, making a mental list of everything he could do to keep busy and fix up ( Replace the porch shingles, that raised box is losing soil out the side from the rot, make an airtight compartment in the hangar so Dad’s stuff doesn’t all decompose, fix the air filters, build a barbecue patio, build a bigger porch so he can have parties in the rain, build more garden beds, tune up the speeder… ), and tried not to feel disheartened. It would take weeks. He had one more day.
I’ll get more leave , he told himself, dunking the already-filthy rag back in the soapy water. If I do the air filter tomorrow, maybe the speeder if I have time, then I can do the porch and the garden next time, and the hangar the time after that…
“Need any help?”
Poe jumped a little. He hadn’t heard Finn come back out of the house. “I’m pretty close to done,” he said, looking down at the grill.
“Okay. Mind if I go down to the tree? I want to try something,” said Finn.
“Sure. Do whatever you want, man.” Poe couldn’t read the expression on Finn’s face, though he didn’t seem angry anymore. He seemed preoccupied and withdrawn, the way he got when he was working things out.
Finn nodded. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. Hey, Finn?” Poe pointed at the chest directly behind him. “Toss me a beer?”
Finn quirked a little smile, then reached down to pull out a bottle from under the pile of ice, and tossed it across the yard.
“Thanks,” Poe grinned, popping the top with his belt buckle and taking a long drink.
Finn shook his head, smiling to himself. “Be right back.”
Finn cut easily around the house, following the well-worn path from the front yard down to the tree. He had felt its presence the moment they returned to the house, calming his racing mind full of embarrassment, and shame, and confusion, like something calling him to battle, like a promise, and he tried to listen for its hidden messages as he absently pulled his last set of clean clothes from the bottom of his rucksack and changed.
Poe had suggested that the tree might have more of an effect on him, presumably since he was Force-sensitive. Finn couldn’t tell if his experience was different from Poe’s, or if Poe was just used to the tree’s particular sensations, but he remembered the peace he had felt sitting under it. And right now, he desperately needed some peace.
Sitting under that waterfall, thinking about the concept of home and paradise and his own horrendous childhood and complete lack of most relevant human experiences; then the sudden panic of an emergency rescue, that turned out to be stupid Poe playing a stupid game with his stupid lungs, and then flying through the jungle in a roiling soup of confusing thoughts and emotions ( Why was I so angry? Poe didn’t mean to trick me. Is this actually anger? Or is it something else? (Don’t answer that.) Why did he look at me like that? (Don’t answer that.) What would I do if he died? ) as they returned to Poe’s house...his racing mind felt like an ash-rabbit trying to flee back to the safety of its den, waylaid by predators, and hunters, and thorny brambles in the underbrush.
Finn stood under the tree, watching it sway in its own wind, and tried to estimate the circumference of the enormous trunk and the height of the canopy. If he listened carefully, he could almost hear lightly whispered words on the wind, though he wasn’t sure what they said.
Maybe it was trying to help him. Maybe he could do it, after all.
Something inside him felt stakes rising, like this was his chance. If he could start actually doing Force stuff, by this tree, in this place, maybe he could go to Rey with a purpose. A path forward, something to work toward. Something to hold on to. Something less confusing than….whatever just happened, or nearly happened, or seemed like it might happen, that he really didn’t understand (or felt ready to understand). Maybe he just needed a little help. Maybe he could find out that he did belong, somewhere. Maybe that could help him navigate through the deep fog of confusion, and embarrassment, and uncertainty, and directionlessness that had been building in the back of his bones, that thickened when he landed on Yavin and saw Poe by that speeder, that throbbed in his ears when he saw Poe strip off his clothe-
Finn sank to the ground, on his knees, facing the tree within arms’ reach. He glanced around and saw a small pebble lying just near his right knee. Okay. I’m coming for you, pebble. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly; then another. He closed his eyes. There was a sweet, perfume smell of flowers nearby, mixed with the rustling of the leaves and the wind blowing through the field. Finn took one more breath, then reached out and touched the bark of the tree.
Again, he felt that quiet pulsing, like a heart beat deep under the earth or the endless flow of a river. It was distant, but so soothing. He felt his breathing slow, and the creases in his face relax. “Okay,” he murmured. “Okay.” And he focused on the pebble to his right.
He knew it was there, knew it like he knew the blades of grass, and the earthworms in the soil, and the smell of the flowers, and bones twined deep in the roots of the tree. Reach out with your feelings . Rey had told him that. His feelings were always churning, a complicated mess of emotion without words, without ways to describe or quantify or communicate. How could he reach out? He didn’t know what to say. He never knew what to say. Half of the words he knew were wrong, and the other half reminded him of death, and fear, and pain. It sometimes seemed like every word he’d ever learned was wrong. That all words had a completely different meaning Outside the Order than Inside the Order, and that most of those words had layers of nuance and double-meanings that could only be understood if you had grown up in it and learned it when everyone else did, and otherwise you messed up and blundered around, and thought the wrong thing and said the wrong word, and-
He let out another deep breath, and then there was something - a small, flickering something to the right, just at the edge of his consciousness. Finn chased it slowly, like a long walk over sand dunes, like a patient hunter always following a few steps behind, waiting to see if the prey or the predator tired first. The longer he followed, the more familiar the presence started to seem. There was pain, a sort of guilty sadness. Frustration, anger, all the dark emotions that seemed to evaporate in his own mind here in the calmness of the tree, burning in stark contrast like a beacon of fire, a candle in the dark, like a little pulsing flash calling for aid.
Poe. Finn thought the name before he understood, but he focused again, with purpose this time, and knew without a doubt that the presence, the sad and lonely and angry little beam of hurt nearby was Poe.
Finn opened his eyes. The pebble hadn’t moved. Nothing had changed, except that now he felt like he was trespassing in Poe’s mind as well as his home. “Damn it,” he sighed out. Then he heard the whine of a speeder near the front of the house, and shakily climbed to his feet.
As Finn came back around to the front yard, he saw Poe and his father waving at the occupants of a very shiny chrome speeder. If it wasn’t brand new, the speeder was expertly cared for (likely stored indoors, away from the rusting elements of Yavin’s storms) and had a large open compartment on the back for passengers.
A young man, tall and slim, with warm brown skin and dusty black hair, was climbing off the driver’s seat, reaching into the passenger compartment to pull out a small child with cascading brown curls and setting her gently on the ground.
“Grandpa!” she squealed and immediately ran into Kes’s arms, who picked her up and swung her around, whooping. They immediately set off running around the speeder, Kes growling like a rancor, and the child shrieking with delight at being chased by the horrible monster.
Poe had already crossed to the other side of the passenger compartment, holding his arms out with a pleading grin and receiving a small, oblong-shaped bundle in a blanket from the arms of a striking woman who had to be Komi’s beautiful wife. Komi himself pulled off goggles and a hat, tossing them into the passenger compartment, and offered the woman his hand to climb out.
Finn was a little shocked at the sweetness of seeing Poe coo over a baby, but there was no other way to describe it.
“Hi!” Poe beamed down, drawing the word out to six syllables, cradling it tightly in the crook of his elbow and swaying his hips like a tree in the wind. He brushed the outside of the blanket with the crook of his finger. “Nice job, Mama, she’s beautiful,” he tossed over his shoulder before turning another giant grin back to the baby. “Aren’t you? Aren’t you just so lovely?” He had taken a shower while Finn had been communing with the tree, dressed in clean trousers and a linen shirt that buttoned up the front, a step up from the ratty shirt and shorts he’d been traipsing around for the last day and a half.
Finn again felt like he was intruding into intimate family affairs, and considered escaping back to the tree until things had settled down, but Poe looked up and saw him before he could back away. “Finn! Come see the baby!”
He obediently approached the little bundle that Poe offered toward him, moving like a dance, swaying back and forth, to see a tiny baby with a shock of dark hair and copper skin, large black eyes watching Poe as he made exaggerated expressions and smiled like a loon. “This is Talanis,” said Poe.
“Um, hi,” said Finn to the baby.
Poe laughed. “Hi! Hello!” he babbled back to the baby. “She’s only seven weeks old, she’s just got here. Ooh, we’re going to get you into so much trouble!” His voice changed back to the usual drawl when he glanced behind him. “Komi, Senara, this is my buddy Finn.”
“Hi,” Komi reached out a hand, which Finn shook. “That’s Aerith out there, running around.”
“Congratulations,” said Finn.
“It’s nice to meet you,” said Senara, sliding under Komi’s arm and keeping a careful eye on the baby in Poe’s arms. “Are you with the Republic, or…?”
“I’m with the Resistance,” said Finn. “Or, well, I was.”
“Oh,” Komi nodded with a frown. “What brings you to Yavin? You’re not on some kind of mission here, are you?”
“I’m on vacation,” said Finn, which sounded stupid the moment he said it.
“Finn’s been doing all the hard work closing up the old base, so I hauled him out here for a few days of R&R before he ships to his next post,” said Poe, eyes still transfixed on the baby.
“A friend?” Komi repeated, looking between Poe and Finn with a sort of expectant anticipation.
Finn furrowed his eyebrows, confused by the question given how Poe had introduced them. “Yes?”
“Yeah, he’s a friend, Komi,” said Poe, managing to put a slight edge in his voice even as he beamed down at the baby.
Senara glanced up at her husband. Finn couldn't quite tell if it was for exchanging non-verbal information or handing out a warning, but she smiled pleasantly. “Well, you made a good choice. Yavin is a beautiful place to visit.”
“Hey stranger, when do I get a hug?” Komi turned to Poe, jostling his shoulder slightly.
Poe snorted. “Psh, whatever, hi Komi, who cares about you anymore? There’s a baby!”
The baby promptly started crying, a high-pitched keening that didn’t carry very far with such small lungs, and yet brought every person in the little yard to alert. Senara scooped the baby back from Poe, whispering soothing sounds into her ear, and Komi took his opportunity to pull Poe into a hug.
“It’s been forever,” he said, drawing Poe close even as Finn saw him grow uncomfortable with the extent of the hug. That seemed unusual; Finn had honestly never seen Poe look uncertain about casual physical affection, and certainly not with people he cared about. “How’ve you been? You’re on Ganthel now? I mean, we’re allowed to know where you are now?”
“Yeah, yeah, you don’t want to hear all the boring stuff,” said Poe, reddening slightly. “You? Hey, is this an IO-557 Rambler? Or is it the 550?” he whirled to the speeder.
Poe and Komi traded shop and specs, and Finn tried to get a handle on the intensity of his out-of-placeness as he watched Kes and Aerith hunt for each other in hidden places. Finn remembered that game, though as he watched, he realized the rules here were very different from the version he had played. Namely, Aerith seemed delighted when Kes found her hiding place, as it led to another version of the shriek-and-chase rancor game, and ended with her scooped back into his arms and tickled wildly before being released to find another hiding place. Finn’s version usually ended very differently - you really, really , didn’t want to be found.
“Come on, Finn!” Poe drew him out of his reverie, and Finn saw that he had reclaimed the baby, her dark eyes gazing contentedly up at the new face above with half-open, heavy eyelids, and was ushering the family inside the house.
The little sitting room seemed packed to the rafters with the extra people, so while Komi, Senara, and Kes settled themselves on the sofa and chairs, with Aerith dancing around them, Finn drifted to the kitchen in another attempt to fade into the background.
Poe cornered him by the cooler and lightly tugged on his sleeve. “Hey,” he leaned close enough that Finn could smell the soap from his hair, speaking quietly. “We okay?”
“Yeah, of course,” said Finn, nodding a bit too vigorously. “We’re fine.”
“You sure? I really am sorry about the pool thing.”
“No, it’s fine. Sorry. I messed up.” Finn shrugged. “Overreacted. Feel pretty stupid, actually.”
“You didn’t mess up,” said Poe, patting him roughly on the shoulder and drawing him back to the sitting room. “I did. I’m always the fuck-up here, remember?”
“You’re not a-- Hey, you can’t swear in front of a baby!” Finn felt scandalized.
Poe laughed. “She’s a baby, Finn. She has no idea what I’m saying.”
“But that’s how they learn, isn’t it? By listening? You don’t want to…” Finn wasn’t sure how to say it.
“What, cause irrevocable harm by exposing her to my moral depravity?” Poe grinned.
“Well, she probably can’t escape that entirely, with you as an uncle. But you can try to minimize the damage.”
“So is this the same base you were stationed on before you transferred to Hosnia?” Komi called out from the sitting area, drawing Poe back into orbit.
“Uh-huh,” said Poe, then beamed down at the baby as he carefully sank into the sofa. “She’s got so much hair!”
“I know,” said Senara. “Aerith did too, when she was born.”
“Are you back in Rapier Squadron?” asked Komi.
“No, they reorganized everything after the Cataclysm,” said Poe. “How’s she sleeping?”
“Pretty well!” laughed Senara. “She’s up to a few hours at a time now. The first few weeks were pretty tough, she had her rhythm switched and slept all day, woke all night…”
“Ouch,” said Poe sympathetically. “How is Aerith enjoying being a big sister?”
“Babies cry a lot,” said Aerith with an exaggerated grumpy face, at the same time her father persisted in asking, “Do they have you on transport escort or patrol?”
“They do cry a lot. And it’s hard to be a big sister,” Poe nodded at Aerith, ignoring Komi’s question entirely. “But you’re doing great.”
Komi seemed to finally accept that Poe was evading all questions about his current assignment (Finn wanted to sink into the floor, watching Poe do it with such ease, but he settled for one of the old wooden chairs at the kitchen table). Komi didn’t give up, though. After allowing Poe and Kes to exchange pleasantries with Senara about the kids, Aerith’s preschool, Senara’s bookkeeping, and their grand-sounding new house (“Four bedrooms, so remember, Kes, we have plenty of room for you to visit as often as you like!”), he tried again.
“Where’s that droid of yours?” Komi looked around. “You two were pretty inseparable the last time you were here.”
“Flew myself here last time,” Poe shrugged. “BB-8’s helping out Pava.”
Komi frowned. “I don’t remember him. Did I meet him at Kes’s party?”
“Jess Pava,” Poe corrected. “You’ve never met her. She’s great, though. Amazing flier.”
“Who came here for the party?” said Komi. “Tall guy, dark hair and beard. A bit older than you.”
“Snap,” said Poe, at the same time his father supplied, “Wexley.”
“That’s right!” snapped Komi. “Snap Wexley. Really nice guy. How is he?”
“Dead,” said Poe. “Died on Exegol.” He looked down at the baby with a serene smile that seemed very out of place as the room fell silent and stayed so for a solid minute.
“I should turn the meat,” Kes finally said something, launching out of his chair for the door.
“I’m really sorry, Poe,” said Komi, and he sounded like he meant it. But then, with an undercurrent of frustration, “This is what I mean, though. If you’d just tell us what’s happened to you, then we wouldn’t end up in these awkward situations-”
“You don’t really want to hear about all that stuff, Komi,” said Poe, then his voice pitched to that baby-friendly tone again. “Why can’t we talk about nice things, huh Talanis? What do you think about flowers? Personally, I am in favor, especially the pink ones, but there are some who disagree…”
“Uncle Poe?” Aerith interrupted, peeping her enormous brown eyes, flecked with amber, over the armrest of the sofa. “Can I play with these?” She held up an enormous bag of small durasteel figurines.
Finn couldn’t quite tell what they were, all jumbled together in the bag, but Poe lit up like cannon fire.
“Oh man, my old models!” he gasped delightedly. “Where did you find them? I didn’t know they were still around! We should definitely play with those. Here, Finn, do you want to hold the baby?”
“Um,” said Finn, but Poe was already launching off the sofa and waving him into his recently-vacated spot.
“Hold out your arms like this,” Poe gestured to his own crooked elbow. “She’s sleeping, so you don’t have to do anything but snuggle her. That’s it,” as Poe passed the little bundle onto Finn’s arm, “Make sure you support her neck because she can’t hold up her own head yet. There you go!”
Finn sat straight up, stiff and petrified, with the little sleeping baby in the crook of his arm. The awkward position was quickly straining his lower back, and he slowly, carefully, with terror, lowered himself back into the sofa, wide eyes on the infant to see if it began to cry. It stayed asleep, eyes closed, one impossibly tiny hand curled under her chin. “Okay,” he said quietly to himself.
“Perfect, you got this,” said Poe, before flopping onto the floor to help Aerith dump out the entire bag.
Komi gave up his futile attempts to extract information as Poe and Aerith set the model starships (X-wings, A-wings, Y-wings, and a few cruisers) into little battle lines. After a few minutes of unstructured play, Poe set up a quick scenario for Aerith to solve involving some sort of secret rescue mission on the far side of a moon (represented by a balled-up sock Poe unearthed from under the sofa). Finn vaguely recognized the battle plans from one of Poe’s recon missions after Crait.
Aerith took the wilder approach to problem-solving, but Poe laughingly went along with each of her increasingly illogical intrusions. (“Wow, the Calamari Cruiser can turn invisible? That’s amazing! Okay, so my A-wing is going to fly around this way, and your teleporting X-wings can go that way, all right?”) Finn found himself increasingly relaxed, sitting and watching, as he sunk lower into the couch with more of the tiny baby’s weight in his lap and upper thigh than strapped into his arms.
He glanced down at the infant, still sleeping soundly. “I’ve never held a baby before,” he said quietly to himself.
“Well, you seem like a natural,” said Senara. “You didn’t have any little brothers or sisters?”
“Finn had a non-traditional upbringing,” Poe cut in. “He doesn’t really like to talk about it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Senara in a rush.
“It’s okay,” said Finn. “I just...wasn't really around babies much. It was very...um...militaristic.” He thought of long rows of small children standing with straight backs and shorn heads, of games that were never really games, and contests that you couldn’t ever win, but really shouldn’t lose.
“Were your parents soldiers, too?” asked Komi.
“No, probably not,” said Finn. It was getting startlingly easy to get lost in the face of the sleeping baby, to wonder who exactly had held him when he was that age. Someone must have. The thought of ever being that small was a bit dizzying and confusing. “But the people who raised me were.”
He supposed there wasn’t any real evidence one way or another. Maybe he’d been grown in a tube, after all. Maybe the kidnapping was just another lie, a lie under the lie about his real family being slaughtered by the Republic so he could be rescued by the Order, layers of lies covering the tracks of some illicit cloning factory in Wild Space. Maybe there had been hundreds of Finns, five on each of the Star Destroyers in the Sith Fleet, all going down with their ships.
“Are you really a pilot, Uncle Poe?” Aerith was saying on the floor, as Poe rambled about engines and s-foils and the properties of flight.
“Yup! Want to learn?”
“To fly !?”
“Sure, let’s do it,” said Poe, shoving the pile of figurines to the side. “C’mere, get in my X-wing,” and he pulled Aerith, giggling, into his lap, cross-legged on the floor. “Okay, so first we turn on the engine. It’s that button, there,” he pointed to the open space in front of him.
Aerith “pushed” that button, then sixteen others, Poe laughing and naming random control panels as she did so. “Okay, and now we prime the hyperdrive. Where do you want to go?"
“Grandma’s house!” she shouted.
“Okay, prepping jump to Grandma’s house,” said Poe, pretending to push buttons in the exact locations Finn knew they’d be on a control panel. “Okay, help me with the stick, we’re going to bring her up-” holding her hands in his, and adjusting slightly. “Three...two….one…” said Poe as he shifted the child off his lap and curled his legs under him to spring.
“Lift off!” Poe leapt to his feet, throwing his arms wide like wings, and took off careening for the front door. Aerith gave an excited shriek of laughter and followed him. Through the small front windows, if Finn craned his neck, he could see Poe and Aerith circling each other in zooming flight patterns around the table in the front yard, Poe calling out requests for instructions from “Rogue Leader”.
“It’s really too bad,” Senara said quietly to Komi, “He’s so good with them.”
“What do you mean?” asked Finn, looking up.
“Oh,” Komi stammered, “Just that...you know, he’s probably not going to have any of his own.”
Finn frowned. “He’s not that old,” he said.
Komi laughed a little. “No, I mean, because of his...preferences.”
“Well, he seems to really like kids, so I don’t know why that would-” Finn started, before he saw the creeping blush on Komi’s face and realized what he was suggesting. “Oh! Oh, that.” His brow furrowed again. That’s not quite right, though, is it? Saera and Illya in the medbay had two children, and they’re-- But maybe there were additional nuances to the conversation he couldn’t capture. That was usually the case when it came to relationships. Especially romantic relationships, and the children those sometimes created.
Feeling the silence stretch, he seized on something seemingly related to say, “Well, he’s still promised six years to the Republic. And I suppose he could sign another contract after that.” If they ever let him fly again.
“I hope not,” laughed Komi. “I’ve been trying to get him to come here and pilot transport for me for two years. I could really use him.”
“Like, as a job?” asked Finn. Poe could have come back to Yavin anytime he wanted. He knew that was true in the abstract, given how clearly Kes would have welcomed his son home, but with the lack of work Poe claimed was common on the moon, the idea that there had been a good job just waiting for him, one that could afford fancy chrome speeders and large houses, shone a clear light on Poe’s choice to stay with the Resistance for so many years.
“Yeah, one where he’s not getting shot at all the time,” Komi shook his head. “No offense, Finn. I’m glad you guys...you know, did what you did. With Exegol, and destroying the First Order, and we’re all grateful. But I am so glad that’s all behind him. It’s been especially hard on Kes.”
“Yeah, they’ve been...trying to work that out,” said Finn. “I know Poe wouldn’t want you all to worry. He was just doing what he thinks is right.”
“I know,” said Komi. “It was just a long time without seeing him, or hearing from him much at all. And then when we did hear from him, it was his usual ‘Oh, it’s all fine, how are you?’ or vague stories that he tried to make sound funny but we knew were ten times worse than what he was willing to say.”
“Yeah,” said Finn. The baby stirred in his arms, and his entire body went tense and rigid, anticipating the worst, but she merely shifted and turned her head the other way, closer to Finn’s shoulder. “Oh,” he sighed. He was starting to see why Poe liked this so much. Even though the thought of any amount of responsibility for such a tiny, helpless life form was terrifying, it was also...sweet.
“Finn,” Komi began slowly, looking at the floor, “Can you...can you tell us what happened? I mean, what all really happened? I mean, assuming you know? It’s all over now, surely we can-”
A tiny, but powerful scream suddenly let out in his arms, and Finn jumped. “Uh-oh, I don’t--I’m sorry, I didn’t-”
Senara chuckled, and held out her hands. “Don’t worry, she’s probably just hungry.”
“Oh.” Finn’s throat seized up as he attempted to hand the tiny baby back to her mother without dropping her on the floor.
Just as Senara’s hands closed around the tiny bundle, the front door flew open and Poe hollered from the porch, “Finn! Come on, we’re having a shooting contest, get out here!”
Poe likes babies. That's it, that's the chapter.
Poe was fiddling with a small device in the middle of the yard as Aerith ran circles around him, still flying her imaginary X-wing. “Got it,” he grunted as something clicked into place, and the robo-target flew into the air. It beeped twice, flashed its red spirals, and soared high overhead with a faint whirring sound. Komi reached down to snatch Aerith up off the ground on her next rotation, and lifted her onto his shoulders.
“Age before beauty,” Poe beamed at his father, who laughed and shoved him so hard he nearly fell over.
Kes took a quick look at his blaster, checking the safety and the scope, and lifted into a careful, well-practiced firing stance. He lined up the shot at the target and fired; the target immediately whirred to a different location, and Kes adjusted accordingly. He was focused and methodical, but slow, and began to falter as the robotic target chose more and more difficult shots. Kes swore as his last blaster shot went wide and hit the trunk of the tree overhead, rather than the target hovering just next to it.
“Still got it, Pop. You could enlist again tomorrow,” said Poe, all praise and easy smiles. He pulled his own blaster out of the back of his waistband, and offered it to Komi handle-first. “Komi?”
Komi laughed, holding tight to Aerith’s legs dangling down his chest. “I’m a terrible shot, you know that.”
“I can adjust the settings?” Poe pulled out the controls. “There’s a beginner level.”
“Nah, you go ahead.”
“Okay,” said Poe, resetting the target and slipping the controller back into his pocket. Poe took significantly less time to set up each shot, but he hit the target on the outer edges more often than the center as he fired, acting on instinct, moving to the next location with the same unique combination of frenetic and controlled energy Finn had seen him use both in the air and on the ground. It wasn’t long before Poe missed his first target, though with the speed at which he fired, he had technically hit three more targets than his father.
Poe grinned and wiped his eyes, watering from the intense concentration in the midday sun. “Finn?” he offered the blaster.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Finn, backing away a step.
“Come on, he won’t shut up the rest of the night if he wins,” said Komi, and Kes laughed.
“Not much of a contest if it’s just the two of us,” said Poe, circling the blaster closer.
Finn chewed on his lower lip. “I’m not-- I don’t know, Poe.” He couldn’t seem to find other words to say, I thought I was done with this. You know that I’m done with this.
There was a hint of impish challenge in Poe’s eyes. “Oh sure, I get it. You’re probably a little rusty. And your people aren’t exactly known for their good aim…”
“Oh shut up, Dameron,” Finn growled in spite of himself, snatching the blaster out of his hand.
“Bring it, General,” Poe’s eyes sparked. He reset the target and backed a few paces away, pulling Komi and Kes with him.
Finn sighed, shaking his head to clear it. He took another deep breath, letting it out slowly, finding a quiet, blank place in the back of his mind. The first target was simple, and directly overhead. Finn let out one more breath, raised the blaster, and fired. Fire, fire, fire, fire. The target kept moving, and Finn kept firing, and then he was moving his feet as the target twisted away, ducking down to find it below a branch, squinting directly into the glare of the sun, fire, fire, keep firing, can’t miss, you know what happens if you miss, keep firing, bruises on his cheek, scrapes on his knees, blaster barrel at his temple, you have one last shot FN-2187, I suggest you focus and fire, fire, fire-
“Finn!” he vaguely heard Poe shouting from far away. “Finn! You can stop! You win, pal!”
Finn straightened slowly, realizing he was covered in sweat and aching between the shoulder blades, and looked behind him. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been firing, but Kes and Komi were open-mouthed and slack-jawed, exchanging a look of wariness and uncertainty. Senara had rejoined them outside, though standing several feet away with the baby held tightly, protectively, in her arms.
Poe, on the other hand, was gazing at him with very dark eyes, almost black, looking strangely smug and satisfied for someone who’d just lost a contest.
Finn flushed, feeling very awkward and exposed. “Um.”
“My turn! I want to try!” Aerith interrupted, catapulting off her dad’s shoulders so fast he barely had time to set her down gently before she crashed to the ground. “Can I? Can I?”
Poe laughed, and grabbed the small blaster out of Finn’s hands before he could find the will to move, brushing fingertips. “Okay, let’s do it. Here, I’ll-”
“Poe,” said Kes, “You sure that’s a good idea?”
“I’m not going to just give her the blaster, Pop, I’m right here.” Poe tucked the blaster back into his belt and tapped a few buttons on the target control. The little target whirred down to hover a few feet off the ground, sailing away to the edge of the trees.
“I don’t think I’m okay with this,” Komi put in. The entire conversation had to raise a few decibels, as Aerith was still jumping and circling around with her requests to try it for herself while Kes and Komi closed ranks.
“Relax, Komi, the safety’s on.” Aerith squeezed between Kes and Komi’s legs and launched into Poe, who squatted down to her level and guided her in between his arms, covering them with his own in an approximation of a shooting stance. “Okay, so hold your arms out like this-”
“I said no, Poe,” said Komi in a hard, angry voice. He reached out and grabbed Aerith by the arm, tugging her out of Poe’s grasp.
“No!” Aerith cried. “Dad! Daddy, please? Please? Just today? Just today,” she pleaded, hanging off his shirttails.
“Aerie, no, you’re not firing a blaster, it’s way too dangerous,” said Komi. “Seriously, Poe, what are you thinking?”
“Please? Please, please, please?”
Poe straightened, shrugging a little. His face was blank, but Finn could tell he was holding back defensiveness. “I wasn’t going to let her fire it on her own. I don’t think she could lift it anyway.”
“She’s three years old . Are you out of your mind?”
“Aren’t you overreacting just a little? It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“There is no planet on which you can convince me that it’s okay to handle a deadly weapon that close to a child.”
“There’s a stun setting!”
“So? She could hit someone! She could backfire and hit herself! She doesn’t need to learn this stuff, she’s not going to be a soldier.”
Poe laughed. “You don’t get to decide who she becomes, man. The way things have been going, there’ll be another genocidal regime coming up to destroy everything again in about twenty years. Don’t you want her to be able to defend herself?”
“You don’t know that’s going to happen, and we’re not in a war anymore, Poe.”
“Yeah, thanks to who?”
“Poe,” Finn put in warningly. This was getting out of hand, and it was going to lead to-
“Hey Finn, what age did they start your blaster training?” Poe called, eye still fixed on Komi. “Was it 3 or 4?”
Finn felt like he’d been slapped in the face, which wasn’t helped by Komi and Senara’s shocked faces, and Kes’s grim one. Aerith took advantage of the sudden silence to re-begin her pleas, though she was quickly stopped by her mother stooping down to whisper firmly in her ear.
“I think that’s enough games for today, son,” said Kes, stowing his own blaster in his holster and nudging Poe back toward the house. “Why don’t you go make those greens, and we’ll eat. Finn, could you help me with the grill?”
“Sure, Mr. Dameron,” said Finn, turning his back on Poe and walking stiffly to the barbecue at the edge of the yard.
“Shit,” he heard Poe say as his mind finally caught up to his mouth, and he tried to trot after them. “I’m sorry, Finn. I-”
“Poe, go inside,” said Kes in a firm voice. Finn refused to look up. He felt very numb.
“In a minute, Pop. Finn, look, I just meant that-”
“ Poe, go inside, ” Kes barked in a sergeant’s voice (even Finn straightened a little), and Poe stopped dead in his tracks.
Finn refused to look over, busying himself with trying to figure out how exactly the barbecue worked to open the lid without burning his fingers, and didn’t look up until he heard the front door slam.
This probably could have been added to the end of the last chapter, but it was so long already. Strap in for the next one.
Dinner was tense, but Poe managed not to make any more trouble.
He squished himself next to Aerith, piling their plates high with ribs, faces and fingertips sticky with the delicious marinade, and encouraged her to eat straight off the bone with wild growls and gnashing teeth until Senara made a small warning noise. Poe, pondering the universal truth of mothers and their magical ability to quell bad behavior with only a look, obediently reached for wet napkins and cleaned the mess of Aerith’s face and hands. Then he shredded some meat with a fork for her to practice more polite table manners.
As soon as he’d picked each bone on his own plate clean and hurriedly scrubbed his hands, he reached for the baby. “So you can eat,” he had told Senara, trying to ignore the pity in the back of her smile. He sat, swaying casually in his seat, and listened to Aerith spin stories that had no ending and strange jokes without punchlines while he gulped down two more beers in the sweltering afternoon humidity.
Finn sat quietly at the edge of the table, poking at his food, and Poe tried not to catch his eye. He tried not to look. Look at the baby. That’s safe. Babies are nice. Babies just like to be held. He heard Komi direct Finn a few polite, friendly questions, but with Finn’s childhood off-limits, the Resistance a sore subject, and the future uncertain, Poe knew there wasn’t much Finn felt comfortable saying. Komi soon abandoned him to his thoughts to discuss local people, and places, and business plans with Kes. He was apparently applying for a second grant from the Tikalo Chamber of Commerce to expand the more-successful-than-beyond-his-wildest-dreams business that he’d started with the first grant.
No one really talked to Poe. But there were, at least, no other explosions, and if Poe wasn’t talking he couldn’t say something stupid ( again, always, forever ). The meal was finished and the plates cleared away just as the clouds began to properly close ranks, a fleet of dark little arrow-shaped clouds in the gray sky, threatening the afternoon rain storm. Unspoken and assumed, Komi and Senara began gathering up their items and packing up the speeder.
Poe held on to the little baby until the last possible moment, stooping down to hug Aerith with one hand and holding back while Kes said his goodbyes. Not until Aerith and Senara were safely stowed away into the passenger compartment of the speeder did he reluctantly hand the warm bundle back to her mother. He suddenly felt very cold. A sturdy little raincover folded out of the back of the passenger compartment of the speeder, keeping the children snug and dry, and Komi pulled on a heavy poncho similar to the one Kes had worn the night before.
Komi gave him a shoulder-crushing hug. “Bye Poe,” he said. “Please, please take care of yourself, okay?”
“You take care of those ladies,” said Poe, pulling back as soon as he could and patting him on the shoulder. “And tell Yex I say hi.”
Komi thanked Kes with another hug, shook Finn’s hand, and swept onto the speeder, which shined even under the darkening skies. The rain began to fall on the chrome, little plinking sounds for each drop like the green blasts barreling out of the laser cannons.
Poe didn’t even wait until it was out of sight before turning to look at Finn, trying to catch his eye, but Finn avoided him completely and went into the house the moment the speeder had cleared the edge of the trees.
“Give him a minute,” said Kes. “I know you want to apologize, and you should, but give him a minute.”
“Are you working tonight?” asked Poe.
“No, not tonight,” said Kes. “Plenty of time for us to talk about-”
“Want me to fix your speeder?” Poe interrupted. He hadn’t meant to sound so pleading. He had meant to be casual, It’s fine. It’s totally fine, you just need your speeder fixed, so it doesn’t break while you’re coming home in the middle of the night and you fly and hit your head on a tree, and my hands keep shaking if I don’t do something with them, and if we sit and talk it’s going to go the same way it did last night, and then the only two people left who I love will be mad at me , but he heard his voice at a higher octave, a little too close to begging, and it was already done.
Kes sighed out heavily. “Sure, Poe. You can fix my speeder,” he said.
“Okay, thanks,” Poe said, and immediately launched toward the house. “Just going to get back into my scrub clothes, then I’ll get it good as new. Just wait, you won’t believe it.” He scooped up his little bag of clothes from the porch, shoved under the cot for the company visit, and made directly for the ‘fresher to change.
The house was very quiet when he re-emerged, and the guest room door was closed. Poe lingered outside it, hesitating. The silence stretched. For a moment, Poe wondered if Finn wasn’t there, had somehow not gone inside the house, or maybe went back out again and he had missed it. But then he heard the mattress on the bed shift and his stomach sank. How do I fix this? Should I tell him that-- no, I’ll just make it worse. We have a whole ‘nother day here. Maybe he’ll ask Dad to take him back to town tomorrow. Maybe I won’t see him ever again. Am I overreacting? How do I fix this? Finally, he plucked up his courage, and knocked lightly on the door. “Finn?”
“Don’t worry about it, Poe,” Finn said immediately in a tight, detached voice - the same he used that morning, under the waterfall. “It’s fine.”
“Finn, I’m sor-”
“I said don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. I just need a break, okay? That was...a lot of people.”
Poe knew a dismissal when he heard one. ( You’re demoted. ) “I’m going to fix my dad’s speeder?” He tacked on the question sound at the last minute, though not following it up with an offer to join him.
“I’ll be out in the hangar if you need anything.”
It was pitch-black outside the hangar, dimly lit by a few yellow lanterns that cast more shadows on the high walls than lit the workspace, but Poe was still methodically picking out pieces of the speeder, cleaning and adjusting, before replacing them again. So far, he hadn’t found any parts that were broken beyond repair, though he wished he had time to build a customized replacement for the gear shift - it would cut down on that grinding sound he’d noticed on the last supply run, but the current configuration didn’t seem to be dangerous, just sub-optimal. “BB-8, run me a diagnostic on that motivator, will you?” he asked, not bothering to wait for the response he knew wouldn’t be coming.
“Hey Poe-bee, how’s it coming along?” asked his father from the doorway. The rain had stopped for the moment, though the trees were still dripping enough that Kes had donned his poncho for the walk through the yard.
“Nearly done, General,” said Poe, tightening a bolt.
“It’s getting pretty late.”
“I know,” said Poe, refusing to look up from his work. “I want to get this fixed in time for your next launch. Last thing we need is it coming apart in hyperspace.”
“Hyperspace,” Kes chuckled. “Kid, you don’t know how nice it is to see that some things never change.”
“No matter how much I try,” said Poe with a brief, sarcastic smirk up. “I didn’t piss off Komi too badly, did I?”
“Nah,” said Kes. “Parents get overprotective. You’ll understand it some day.”
Poe laughed darkly, circling around the speeder to adjust the headlight on the left s-foil. “Didn’t you let me fire your blaster when I was that little? Maybe I was 4 or 5.”
“You were 4, and if I recall, your mother wouldn’t speak to me for two days until I bought that safebox for the bedroom, and locked away every blaster in the house.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have spoken to you for two weeks unless you’d let me do it, so you were screwed either way.”
“Second lesson for your future: the lady is always right. Or partner. Whatever. Speaking of…” Kes trailed off.
“Please don’t, Dad.”
“You really don’t need to be out here doing this right now,” said Kes.
“Well, I need to do something ,” said Poe, flexing his right hand where it was starting to cramp from grasping the wrench. “He asked for space, so I’m giving it to him.”
“Uh huh. And why did you bring him here, if you were just going to let him pass through without taking a chance to-”
“He needed a vacation.”
“Seems what that boy needs more than anything else is honesty, and someone to care about him.”
“He knows I care about him,” said Poe. “And I think everyone’s had enough of my honesty today.”
“Poe, you’ve barely given one full sentence of truth since the minute you arrived.”
Poe sighed, straightened just enough to crack his back and stretch out his compressed spine, then curled back into the motivator. “Can we talk about this tomorrow at the briefing? I really don’t want to fight again, and I’m tired, and I’ve already said about fifteen things I regret today. I just want to finish this and go to sleep.”
“All right, Poe,” Kes said sadly. “Don’t stay up too late.”
“I’m nearly done. Shift ends at 23:00.”
He expected one last bit of pointed wisdom, or at least a slightly sarcastic reply, but when he looked up again, the hangar doorway was empty and the rain had started to fall once more.
Poe knuckled back down for another hour. Two more clouds full of showers passed, and in their silent wake, the crickets began to chirp and the frogs in the creek restarted their chorus. Finally, Poe straightened from the old, cracked concrete floor of the hangar and took a careful circle to admire his handy work. The speeder still needed a good washing and waxing, and he wished he had time to give it a fresh powder coat, but he no longer worried that it would fail in the first monsoon.
He did the bare minimum of clean-up in the hangar, washed the grease off his hands in a bucket of rainwater under the hangar eaves, and pissed against a tree on the edge of the yard so as not to wake any of the inhabitants of the house by going indoors for the ‘fresher. His cot was a little damp from the passing rain, windblown under the usual protective shadow of the fuchsia flowers, but he was too tired to worry about it, and merely stripped off his shirt and shorts and collapsed wearing only his underclothes, arms wrapping around the pillow in a tight hug.
After a little while, shifting uncomfortably (when had he laid down? He could never sleep before a battle, not if he was already pumped full of adrenaline from all the recon missions and charting across star systems and finalizing attack plans), he rolled over and stared overhead. ( What were you going to tell Rey? ) His left arm was still aching but he wasn’t about to ask for another painkiller, it was just a scratch, it was barely infected, he’d nearly died twice yesterday and was about to die again, like hell would a little infected wound slow him down. He needed to get back down to the launch pad and run more last-minute diagnostics with the rest of his pilots, that twitchy, caf-fueled, nervous energy field of the bay before a launch. Before the launch.
Poe wiped exhaustion out of his eyes as he passed through the command center, taking a quick circle of his X-wing before climbing down into the cockpit, scraping the wooden legs against the floor, crouching under the durasteel hatch and adjusting the seat ( Who the hell was sitting in my X-wing? Oh right, I let the kid play here earlier ).
The passage to Exegol was dark and pulsing red, full of black asteroids and destroyed starship parts, like a journey through the center of a vein, the aorta to the heart, and within seconds of their exit from the bloody nebula there was canon fire everywhere, and then the TIEs swarming in dark clouds like flies on bloating bodies, and they were picking off his pilots one-by-one, each burst of flame lighting up the cockpit.
( Red Four, I’ve got- and then he was gone.)
“Two, look above.”
( Wait, is this- ) Green fire over orange, an explosion above his head.
( I can’t shake this one, someone get my- )
“Copy, I see it. I’m on my way.”
Poe saw it from across the turn, spiraled down, his left arm screaming as he threw the stick forward, begging for more speed, but there was too much fire, too much interference, and people on the comms were shouting, and Finn- "Look out, you've got three on your tail."
( I see them- )
He saw the explosion directly ahead of him, a flash of orange and red and green. Someone was screaming.
“No!” Poe screamed. Snap. Not Snap.
He banked the X-Wing around, but he could barely keep the TIEs off his own tail, could barely move in this cloud, could barely see the field ahead-- Ziff, down. Iolo, down. “My friends, I’m sorry.” I'm so sorry.
“Poe!” shouted his father into his headset. “Poe!”
“What? Why isn’t he on the transport? Finn!”
“Poe, it’s okay. I’m right here.” Why was Finn’s voice so gentle? Hadn’t he just been shouting? (I have to do this! I won’t let them win! )
I can get there. I can’t-
His ship was hit and he was going down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Finn, I’m sorry. I can’t get there.” He was being dragged sideways, the durasteel hatch had been punctured and one of the s-foils had pierced down to his arm, pinching above the elbow, and he gasped as the cabin depressurized, as the vacuum started to fill, he couldn’t breathe now, why haven’t I exploded? Why haven’t I crashed yet? and then something stinging his cheek, a little sting, like a slap, like something snapped against his face when the hatch broke, maybe a piece of the transparisteel, and-
He took a deep breath, agonizing breath, like surfacing from deep under the water, gasping for air that wasn’t coming, like his lungs were pressed down by rocks, held tight by the durasteel impaled in his shoulders, his father’s face, white and terrified, staring down at him and shouting, shouting something, and he slapped him again, harder this time ( You’re demoted ), Poe nearly falling back against the smoking husk of his ship, “Poe, look at me! Poe!” and Poe couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he was so scared, Where is Finn? I can’t watch him go down with that ship, I just can’t, I’m going to- and-
“Dad?” Poe blinked. The edges of his vision were white, and he could still hear explosions in his ear. Snap’s ship exploding. The Star Destroyer, Finn was on the Star Destroyer, crashing onto the surface of the planet. Snap was still screaming. The whole house was on fire.
He was in the house. His father had just pulled him out from underneath the kitchen table, holding him in a vice-grip just above his elbow. Poe couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. Finn was just behind, at his father’s shoulder, looking at him, and he couldn’t breathe. Poe jerked back suddenly, breaking out of his father’s grip, and Finn was still looking at him, and he couldn’t breathe -
“Poe!” His father’s voice followed him out the door as he fled into the night.
“What the hell was that?” Kes was struggling with his poncho and boots in his frantic haste to pull them on as quickly as possible to follow Poe. “Was he-- he wasn’t all here, he was--”
“Exegol. He was on Exegol,” said Finn, crossing the porch and stopping Kes’s launch with a gentle hand on the arm. “Let me try first,” he said. “I know where he is.” And he did, he could feel it at the edge of his mind, footprints in the sand. He knew.
“He’s under the tree,” said Kes, still struggling with his boot. “With Shara.”
“Yeah,” said Finn. Of course, Kes would also know where his son would go in a moment of panic. “Just...give me ten minutes, okay? If I can’t get him back in ten minutes, you can come out. I was there, and he-- I’m worried he’ll bolt again or hurt himself. He doesn’t want you to worry about him.”
Kes, worry shining like a beacon in every line of his face and tears edging his eyes, considered him carefully for a moment, then nodded. He sank down onto the head of the cot, facing the path to the tree, and glanced at the chrono on his wrist. “Ten minutes,” he repeated.
“Okay,” said Finn, and stepped out into the pelting rain. He ran lightly down the path to the tree.
It only took half a rotation around the trunk to find Poe, face-down in the grass with one arm stretched high overhead, digging his hand deep into the soaked, muddy soil near the base of the gravestone. His bare legs stretched back behind him, just brushing the tiny knot of an exposed root of the Force Tree with his bare toes, sprawled on the wet ground as long as his body could reach to touch both the tree and the earth burying his mother.
Finn saw his bare shoulders shaking as he approached, and he sank onto the wet ground next to him. “Breathe,” he said, reaching out to press down on his back, hoping his hands weren’t too cold. The rain was warm, but it was such a downpour that his clothes were already soaked and sticking to his skin, and the slightest wind sent goosebumps all the way up his arms.
“It’s fine, Finn. I’m fine. It’s fine,” said Poe in a high-pitched, breathless voice. His shoulders shook harder.
“It’s not fine. You’re not breathing. Breathe,” Finn said again.
“I’m breathing--too---much-” Poe gasped. “Can’t--stop-”
“Name five things you can hear right now,” said Finn, slowly, gently, tightening his hold on Poe’s upper back.
“What can you hear?”
“Me. I’m sitting here talking right now,” Finn agreed. “What else can you hear?”
Poe took a few more shallow breaths. “Rain.”
“It’s pouring right now. It’s really coming down. What else?”
“Tree,” said Poe.
“You mean, the water dripping off the tree? Or the leaves moving?”
“Both. Leaves. Water.”
“Good. Anything else?”
Poe was quiet for a few seconds, his breathing still shallow but less gasping, as he listened to the sounds around them. “Cricket,” he said finally. “Cricket over there, in the lilac bush.”
Finn couldn’t hear it at first, then as the pounding of the rain faded into general background noise, he heard a faint chirping sound deep in the thicket of branches and leaves. “I hear it too.”
“That’s not a-- there’s nothing’s exploding right now, right?”
“Right. Are you hearing explosions?”
“No.” A pause. “Maybe a little, but they’re---they’re far away. They’re going away.”
“Good,” Finn rubbed his upper back, massaging with his fingers, as the rain poured over them. The silver chain around his neck was cold. “Okay, what are four things you smell right now?”
“Four things you smell, right here. Right where we are.”
“Dirt,” said Poe. He curled his hands tighter into the grass, and Finn reached out his other hand to place it gently behind Poe’s head. “Lilacs. My armpits, I stink. I’m gross.”
“You’re getting a shower now,” said Finn. “One more. Anything else?”
“Okay, three things you can touch. What are you touching right now?”
“Mud,” said Poe. He was taking longer breaths, deeper and slower, though they still hitched at the top of the intake. “You’re-- the grass. The tree.” He shifted his toes.
“Two things you see?”
“Umm,” said Poe, shifting slightly to look to his right, away from Finn. “Bush over there. Bigger tree root.”
“Bitter. Don’t know. Rainwater, I guess.” He cleared his throat, then coughed, and took a full, deep breath. “Haven’t thrown up yet, that’s something.”
Finn felt himself relax a little, as the tension in Poe’s shoulders did, too. “Do you usually throw up when this happens?”
“Is it happening a lot?”
“Comes and goes.”
“Just panic attacks, or the flashbacks too?”
“How do you know about panic attacks?”
“You think Stormtroopers can’t have panic attacks?”
“Doesn’t seem like something the First Order would put up with.”
“They don’t. They space Troopers who get panic attacks. Doesn’t mean we didn’t get them. Are you having a lot of flashbacks?”
“No. Once in a while.”
“Are they all this bad?”
“No.” Poe laughed weakly. “No, they haven’t been this bad.”
“When was the last one?”
“Couple nights before we got here.”
“Before or after you invited me to Yavin?”
“Is it always Exegol?”
“Most of the time. Not always.”
“Crait.” Poe’s breath started to sputter out and hitch again, and he gulped down air. “All the transports exploding off of Cra--Crait, and I'm just fucking standing there-”
“Ssh,” said Finn gently, still massaging into his shoulders. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Just breathe. Try counting your breaths. Want me to count them?”
“No, I can do it.” Poe went quiet, taking long breaths and exhaling slowly at timed intervals while Finn rubbed his back, occasionally reminding him, in a voice barely louder than the rain, “You’re okay. It’s okay.” In a few minutes, Poe’s shoulders had stopped shuddering.
“Did this happen on Ajan Kloss, or not until you got to Ganthel?”
“Both.” A pause. He took another deep breath. “Only once on Ajan Kloss, right after-- doesn’t matter.”
“Right after what?” Finn pressed.
“Right after Rey took B-- right after Rey left for Tattooine.”
“Did you tell Kalonia?”
“Okay. I’m going to comm her tomorrow.”
“She’s not with the Resistance anymore.”
“Someone else you’d rather I call?”
“I don’t need a doctor. I need to not be crazy.”
“You’re not crazy. You do need a doctor.”
“Are you still mad at me?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not. I’m sorry about earlier, when I-- about the blaster training. That was a really shitty thing to say.”
“Poe, it’s fine. I’m not mad at you.”
“It’s not fine. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said it. I’m a dick.”
“Poe, I know that if you’re not fighting or flying, you think you’re dying. So you go looking for a fight or you bring a fight down to you. I know. Don’t you think I know?”
Poe was quiet again.
“You’re not dying, though,” said Finn quietly, pressing down carefully into Poe’s upper back again, just a little pressure, grounding. “You know that, right?”
“I--” said Poe. “Feels like I am.”
“But you’re not. And that’s a good thing.”
“It’s a good thing, that they all died instead of me?”
“No, that’s not what I said. It’s good that you’re not dying.”
“Should have been me. Not Snap.” Poe’s voice hitched again.
“That wasn’t your choice. That wasn’t your fault.”
“Snap always stopped me from doing stupid shit. He just knew when I was going to do something stupid, and if he was around, he’d stop me.”
“To be honest, Dameron, we all took turns with that job,” said Finn. “Jess actually had us draw straws one time, after Crait, for who would be the one to make you sleep.”
Poe shifted in the mud. “Leia told me to go to sleep. She ordered me.”
“Leia drew the short straw.” Finn smiled, in spite of everything. They had been huddled in a little circle on the floor of the Falcon , Snap, and Rey, and a few other pilots, hatching a secret plan to deal with Poe’s increasingly bad mood and wild, bloodshot eyes while techs carried supplies on the gangplank. He hadn’t even realized the General had been sitting nearby, half-hidden by the stack of crates, until Jess swore loudly, holding up the short straw while she insisted, But he won’t listen to me!! And then the straw had floated out of her hand, over their heads, plucked delicately out of the air by the General. I’ll handle this , she had said. Rey had grinned, and Finn had felt lighter than he had in two weeks.
“Leia’s dead,” said Poe, grinding the happy memory back into the dirt with the bones, and the mud, and the pulse of the tree.
“I know. That wasn’t your fault, either.”
“No one’s ever really gone,” said Finn. Poe didn’t answer, so Finn continued. “Can you feel them? In the tree? That’s why we’re here, right? Your mom. You can feel her in the tree.”
“No,” said Poe, “I can’t.” He reached up with his right hand, the one not curled deep into the grass flattened over the grave, to rub furiously at his eyes. Then he tensed again, stretching as far as he could to hook his foot under the exposed root, and clutched at the ring around his neck. “I never could, no matter how much I tried, but-- I can’t.” And quietly, gently, like he didn’t want to know the answer but he had to ask, in a tiny voice, “Can you?”
“No,” said Finn. “I just feel you.”
“Oh,” said Poe. There was a long silence, and Finn saw him shift his body again, nudging his cheek into his upper arm instead of flat down in the mud. “Finn...I never told you-”
“Poe?” Kes squelched down the path, poncho flapping behind him, and knelt on Poe’s other side to wrap him in a blanket. “Come on, kid, let’s get you out of the rain. Finn, help me get him up.”
Finn immediately let Kes take charge of the situation, and Poe didn’t resist as they hauled him to his feet. Kes tucked an arm around Poe’s shoulders, holding the blanket tightly to his body, and led him purposefully back to the house. Poe was shivering, covered head-to-toe in mud, and Finn ran ahead to start the shower so the water would be hot.
He hurriedly changed out of his wet clothes and made a cup of sweet-smelling tea while Kes monitored Poe in the shower, and presented it in the doorway as Kes gently navigated Poe into the guest room and settled him down on the bed. “Thanks, Finn,” said Kes as he took the mug and sat down near Poe’s knees. “Okay, Poe, just a few sips to warm you up, and then you go to sleep.”
Poe didn’t argue, but he looked at Finn lingering in the doorway. Just watching, dark circles under his eyes, as he took a sip of tea. There was still a red spot on his cheek from where Kes had slapped him, in nearly the same spot as the faded yellow bruise.
“Get some rest, Poe,” said Finn. “We’ll comm Dr. Kalonia in the morning.” Then he closed the door.
Finn hurriedly grabbed the pillow and blanket from Poe’s cot on the front porch and made himself a little bed on the sofa. He expected Kes to reappear quickly, given how sleepy Poe looked, but as the time stretched, he wondered if Poe was fighting closing his eyes or if Kes actually intended to stand watch over him all night. Eventually, though, the door opened and Kes quietly shuffled out into the sitting area. He kept his eyes fixed on Finn as he sank into a chair opposite him, giving out a heavy sigh.
“I’ve seen this kind of thing before,” Kes said.
“From Poe?” asked Finn, furrowing his eyebrows.
“No, from back in the day,” said Kes. “No one I knew ever had it quite like that, though. I’d...I’d forgotten. Should have known what was going on.” He let out another heavy sigh, and rubbed his face with his hands. “Have you seen him like that before?”
“No,” Finn answered honestly. “I knew he had nightmares sometimes, but that’s--everybody gets those. I probably should have guessed, though. He’s looked pretty exhausted in his comms.”
“Yes, he has,” Kes nodded.
“Did he tell you anything?”
Kes shook his head, slow and sad. “No, he just watched me for a while, like he was waiting for something to happen. Then he fell asleep.”
“Okay,” said Finn. “I’ll handle that tomorrow.”
“Uh-huh.” Finn didn’t elaborate. He didn’t intend to divulge anything said in confidence; that would be a betrayal, even in an attempt to help, but he also didn’t intend to let Poe leave this house without telling his father everything he was bottling up in the back of his mind. Plus, hopefully, Dr. Kalonia. “I’ll make sure he comms the doctor, too. I think there are meds that can help with this kind of thing.”
“There are,” Kes nodded. “It’s not a magic pill, he’ll need other treatment. But it should help.” Kes gave another heavy sigh. “I’m glad you were here, Finn. Thank you.”
Finn felt a flush of embarrassment. “I didn’t do much. You got him back in the house.”
“I sent him out of the house, too,” said Kes. “And I don’t just mean tonight. Whatever’s going on with him, he’s been putting off coming here. Maybe because he thought something like this would happen. I think you coming with him made it...I don’t know, made it easier for him to handle.”
“It’s meant less time for you two, though,” said Finn, feeling another rush of guilt at his intrusion.
“It’s never enough time,” said Kes. “Any time with him at home is okay by me. What about you, kid?”
“What about me?”
“Poe said you’ve never been to a home before.” Kes laughed suddenly, and explained, “I don’t know if this is the best example of home, but you’ve sure gotten the full story on what this one’s like.”
“Any home is probably better than what I had,” said Finn. A hollow space opened in his heart as he said it, but he shrugged it back. “But I’m lucky. I got out. Most of the others didn’t.”
“Hmm,” said Kes.
“This seems like a very nice home, to me,” Finn offered in a small voice. “Poe’s lucky to have you.”
“I’m damn lucky to have him,” said Kes forcefully. “Just wish he knew that.”
“He does. But I’ll handle it,” Finn insisted. “Tomorrow.”
“All right,” said Kes, knocking his knuckles against the wooden frame of the old chair and creakily standing up. “Sleep. But you shout if there’s any more trouble, okay?”
“I don’t think there will be,” said Finn, “But I will.”
“All right. Good night, Finn.”
“Good night, Mr. Dameron.”
Finn thought it would take hours to fall asleep, but it seemed like only a few minutes had passed before he was waking up in the mid-morning light streaming through the window. He rubbed sleep out of his eyes, and looked around for signs of movement, but both bedroom doors were closed and the house was still and quiet.
He folded the blanket and laid it gently over the pillow on a chair, then pulled on the same clothes he’d been wearing the morning before, on their swimming trip. Then he commed Connix.
He kept his voice low as he asked for Kalonia’s comm signal, claiming some pain in his old back wound, and then purposefully raised it to carry across the house while he exchanged pleasantries and vague stories about the warm weather and the loveliness of waterfalls. As soon as he said good-bye, forcing cheerfulness, he saw the bedroom door crack open, just a hint of Poe’s nose and one dark eye peering out at him.
“Good morning,” Finn twisted in his chair. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” said Poe in a raspy voice, and then, “Stupid.”
“You’re not stupid. Go use the ‘fresher, then we’ll comm Kalonia,” said Finn. It was an order, but gently given.
Poe hesitated, then saw the look in Finn’s eye, and nodded. “Okay.” He closed the bedroom door, then fully emerged a moment later wearing a pair of Finn’s pants that he’d left in the guest room. He gave Finn a guilty look as he headed for the ‘fresher. “You don’t mind, right? I think all of mine are covered in grease or mud at this point.”
“Of course not,” said Finn. “They’re probably yours, anyway.”
Poe quirked a smile. “These are too big for me. Who else’ve you been stealing from?” and shut the ‘fresher door.
They made a fresh pot of caf, orbiting around each other in the small kitchen to pull mugs off the shelves and spoons out of the proper drawer, and Poe told a little story about a cheap seaside restaurant where he’d purchased this cup with a strange, pink, swine-like creature eating pancakes on it as a present for his father on his first leave after joining the Navy, and then Poe was sitting at the table in front of the videocomm, gnawing on his lower lip and fidgeting his leg.
“I feel like I should be here for this, but maybe I should give you privacy?” asked Finn, dialing the comm signal for Dr. Kalonia.
“No, you should probably stay,” said Poe, fingers twitching and his eyes fixed in the dead space above his caf. “Kalonia usually knows when I’m lying, but she’s a lot less scary when she’s not physically here, so…”
Finn smirked, and shifted the signal so it would display both of them in the feed. “Okay. I can keep you honest.”
It wasn’t a long conversation. Finn gave the basic reason for the call, then Kalonia asked questions and Poe answered them, and Finn filled in a few details about the intensity of the flashback the night before that Poe hadn’t been conscious enough to process or understand. Kalonia agreed that this was post-traumatic anxiety behavior, and prescribed some medications to fill once Poe was back on base in Ganthel, along with a promise to send him a list of recommended therapists to consult for additional treatment. Poe promised he would follow through, and Finn promised he would make sure it happened.
Finn promised himself that he would ignore the little smile on Kalonia’s face when he said that, and also the way Poe looked at him, and also the way his face flushed when Poe looked at him.
“Okay, that’s one thing done,” said Finn once the signal ended.
“You got a running list or something?” said Poe.
“Yup,” said Finn. “I’m good at lists. Next thing is laundry. Go get your stuff, I’ll wash it.”
“You don’t have to do that-”
“Dameron, go get your damn dirty clothes.”
They started a load of laundry, and by then Kes was awake, and Poe was pouring his father a cup of caf, and they all sat in a still, eerie silence in the kitchen. Both Damerons seemed brittle, like a thin frost over a mud puddle, waiting for someone to make the next move.
Finn drained his second cup of caf, and then stood up again. “Okay, third thing on the list. C’mon Poe,” he said, tapping Poe on the shoulders, and jerked his head at Kes to bring them both into the sitting room. “Sit,” he said.
“Damn, General,” said Poe with not a little amount of-- Finn chose not to find the word for the expression on Poe’s face, because he felt his face flushing again. “I forgot how much you liked giving the orders for a change.” He stopped smiling and pressed his lips together, forced seriousness, when he saw Finn’s look of sternness.
Finn crossed his arms, nodded that Poe had stopped sassing, and then said, simply, “Now, talk.”
“Who? Me?” asked Poe.
“No, the democratically-elected Queen of Naboo. Yes, you,” said Finn. “Talk. Now.”
Poe reddened, and tried to sink into the couch. “Um. I think we’ve all had enough of my outbursts lately, and-”
“Poe,” Finn cut in, “Talk to your Dad. Tell him the truth. You’ll feel better. And Mr. Dameron-” he whirled to Kes, who looked startled to be addressed in the same way as his wayward son. “I know you want to help, but try to just listen. Okay? So you talk,” he pointed at Poe, “And you listen,” he pointed at Kes. “And I’m going to go wash that speeder,” he pointed to himself. “See you all at lunchtime.”
And he marched out the door.
Poe and his father talked for most of the day, and Finn found no shortage of odd jobs and little tasks to occupy himself outside in the warm sun while they did. After hanging their clothes out to dry on the line outside, and polishing Kes’s speeder until it shone, he started organizing and reorganizing the chaotic hangar into a more useful work space. When he found Kes and Poe laughing and chatting happily in the sitting room at lunchtime, he returned to the hangar with a lighthearted whistle to finish the job.
Kes had left for work in the mid-afternoon, and Poe had come outside to help, and together they managed to patch the hole in the hangar roof with some old, but still functional, roofing supplies Finn found while he was unearthing years-old treasures from the back of the storage areas. And then the shadows of the trees were growing long, and the cicoidea screams were carrying farther in the growing silence of the birdsong, and Poe told him it was time to rest for the day.
They were now sitting near enough to the tree that Finn felt a wash of calm radiating over his back, or maybe that was just the cool afternoon breeze blowing up over the meadow. For once, the sky had not clouded over with storm clouds late in the afternoon. It had stayed clear and blue and lovely, and the humidity didn’t feel quite so suffocating. They had been comfortably quiet, soaking up the last of the afternoon sunshine and polishing off the last of the beer from the party, for nearly an hour.
Poe seemed much calmer, too, leaning back on his elbows with his legs stretched out in front of him. Finn sat next to him, watching the bright pinks and oranges and vibrant purple mottle with the few wisps of cloud in the sky as the sun set ahead of them. He’d never seen a sunset like this before. Yavin seemed determined to show him just how beautiful things like sunsets and rivers could be.
Suddenly, a question popped into Finn’s head and he couldn’t stop himself from asking. “Why didn’t we talk about any of this before?”
“Talk about what?” asked Poe, holding his weight on one arm to take a sip of beer.
“Any of this,” Finn gestured between them. “All of it. Me and Rey, Exegol. You thinking I was going off to be a Jedi.”
“I don’t know,” said Poe, even though Finn knew he did.
Finn thought for a while, scanning his memory of those days and weeks of in between (in between the battle and the emptiness that followed), and finally took a sip of his nearly-full bottle. “I guess you kind of stopped talking to me at all, for a while.”
“No, I didn’t.” Poe looked up at him, offended.
“Yes, you did,” Finn said, with certainty, as his recollection solidified. “I mean, we talked every day, but it was only about the Resistance. You stopped talking to me about anything else. Anything personal.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“Even after you left for Ganthel.”
“Did you think I just wouldn’t notice?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I just-- I didn’t want to say anything stupid.”
“Well, then you wouldn’t be saying anything at all, and that’s no fun.”
Finn smiled at him, then it faded as a new memory surfaced. “You stopped touching me, too. For a while. Like, you stopped patting my shoulder and stuff. And you didn’t call me ‘buddy’ until...” Realization dawned. “Until Rey left for Kamparas, and you asked why I didn’t go with her…”
“Sorry.” Poe wouldn’t look at him.
“It’s okay. I just thought you were mad at me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Were you then?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Because you thought I was in love with Rey?” Finn pushed.
“You were in love with Rey.”
“Yeah.” At least, he had thought he was. But the intensity of those feelings faded fairly quickly, once Rey felt fully out of danger and safe, safe. Once she had let him down (gently, she did it so gently, but his stomach still twisted in shame every time he thought about it), and then left again on her next adventure, and Finn was left alone to reconsider all their past interactions in new light. Finn knew that Rey cared about him, but he also had begun to realize how often she left him behind. How he had spent not an insignificant amount of time trailing her around, trying to be there for her, to save her, when she never needed him to, not once. When she usually ended up having to save him. And how little it seemed to bother her that she was always saying good-bye and leaving him behind. That he never wanted to be left behind.
And all that probably hurt more than the rejection had, once he was left alone to think about it.
“Yeah.” Poe sighed. “But I wasn’t being fair to you. I’m sorry.”
“Why did that upset you so much?” Finn traced patterns in the dirt with a finger.
“Me and Rey. Or, the idea of me and Rey, since there wasn’t ever really a me and Rey. Did you-- I mean, did you feel left out?” said Finn. The pink light of the fading sun tinted everything around them. Finn’s forearms were glowing golden, and Poe’s face looked rosy and soft. “You know how much we both care about you.”
“I know,” Poe said. “No, it wasn’t that.”
He groaned. “Come on, Finn.”
“Come on what?”
“You really don’t know?” His voice was so quiet. So oddly, weirdly quiet.
“No, I don’t know,” Finn insisted, looking up at him. “I don’t know what I did wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Poe didn’t meet his eyes, sitting up and crossing his legs under him.
“Then why were you mad?”
“You’re really going to make me say it?” He was intently focused on removing the sticky paper label from around the beer bottle now.
Finn seized on something, and the words were out of his mouth before he could think twice. “Were...are you in love with Rey?”
“No.” Poe paused, and then proceeded, carefully, quietly, to add, “Not Rey.”
“It’s always been you, dummy.”
Finn froze. He stopped breathing. He thought even his blood cells stopped, the nuclei of his atoms. He couldn’t move. “Me?” he choked out.
Poe smiled shyly, looking at his hands in his lap. “Yeah. You.”
“Not gonna say it. If I say it, then we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”
“I don’t like pretending.” He didn’t.
“I love you.” Poe looked up, met his eyes for one brief moment, then looked away again. “I’m in love with you.” A pause. “Kind of hopelessly. I think about you all the time.” He sighed out heavily, like a weight was lifting off with the next breeze blowing up into the blue leaves of the tree behind them. Finn smelled lilacs in the air. “I’ve tried everything I can possibly think of to stop, and to make it go away, but I--I can’t. I just can’t, Finn.”
“I have no idea what to do with this information,” said Finn.
Poe laughed, and rubbed his fingers over the bridge of his nose. “You don’t have to do anything. You don’t owe me anything, Finn. Not a damn thing. I owe you everything, and--- and I promise, I won’t make it weird. Well, any more weird than I manage to make anything, I guess. But I won’t get in your way.”
Finn still couldn’t move. And now, he couldn’t speak.
So Poe kept rambling. “Your friendship is really important to me, so don’t worry about that. You don’t have to-- I mean, I can--Maybe I can just get over it now. Now that you know. Now it’s just out there, and that’s it, and I can move on. I’ll try. I promise, I’ll try.”
“You love me,” said Finn finally, testing out the words.
“You keep saying that like there’s someone else here it could be,” said Poe.
Poe laughed at that. “You want me to make you a list?”
“Okay,” said Poe, spreading his fingers out to tick them off, one by one. “One: You’re the bravest, kindest, most genuinely wonderful person I’ve ever known.”
Finn cheeks immediately flushed, a bright hot heat. “Um.”
“Two: You’re honest. And trustworthy. And sweet. And caring.”
“That’s all under number two?”
“That’s all under number two. Three: You’re incredibly handsome. Beautiful. Good-looking. Hotter than the Jakku sun.”
Finn felt like his face was going to melt off.
“Number four: You give really good hugs. And they make me feel safe. And calm. And happy. And I don’t usually feel any of those things, except when I’m with you.” Brief pause. “Want me to keep going?”
“No. Yes. No. I don’t know.” Finn felt unmoored, and dizzy, and so, so warm.
“You can stop,” Finn interrupted.
Finn was so embarrassed he thought he might sink into the ground. Though there was a shining core of...something...warm and bright and hopeful, and even though he tried, on instinct and habit and fear, to push it down with everything else until he could sort through it in solitude, it bobbed back up like a float in the water. “You love me,” he said again.
“I didn’t know you-- When-- How long have you--” Finn’s brain failed him again.
“Since forever,” said Poe. “Since we met. Since you took off that helmet. Since you brought back my droid. Since you stole my clothes. Pick a day, take your pick.”
Finn felt gears clicking into place. “Is this why you were so grumpy last year? Because...you felt this way, and I was-” chasing after Rey , his mind finished for him.
“Partially. Partially, I'm just a dick.”
“I mean, you can’t really blame me. I grew up half-feral. Blame my dad.” He took a drink.
“I don’t know what to do with this information,” Finn said, more urgently. Something inside his mind was beeping an alarm, something was signaling. There were signs and warnings and bells telling him to say something, say exactly the right thing, or something else would happen, something bad , and he didn’t know what (he knew, of course he knew), because every part of him was trying to force it down into the thorny brambles where he’d figure it all out someday, sometime, maybe later, maybe another day, maybe after six months in an empty cave surrounded by droids and boxes when he could think through the syrup of his thoughts and which words actually described these kriffing feelings and all the words he didn’t have to talk about these things- “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything.”
“What do people usually say?”
“What did Rey say when you told her?”
Finn’s bubbling happiness ( happiness, oh, it’s happiness ) plummeted back into his stomach, like a hot coal dropped into icy water. “She...she told me that she cared about me, but that she didn’t love me like that. She said something about family. That she didn’t have any family, but she wanted me to be her family. And she wasn’t sure if she was capable of loving someone the way I...the way I was talking about. And that even if she could, she couldn’t right then, because of what had just happened with Ben...”
Poe’s face darkened. “Was she really in love with him? That guy? That guy?”
“I don’t know,” said Finn. “I don’t think she knew, either. It was all very confusing.”
“Yeah. I guess it can be.” He took a careful breath. “Did she say anything else?”
“Just that she cared about me, and wanted me to be happy, and that she didn’t think she could make me happy like that.”
“Okay. So, say that.”
“If you feel like you need to say something, say that. You don’t have to say anything, but you can.”
“Poe…I don’t...I don’t know that-,” said Finn. The warning bells were ringing again, that this wasn’t quite right. This wasn’t quite what he wanted to say.
“It’s all right, Finn. Look, I’ll help, okay?” Poe turned to face him, finally turned his face to where Finn could see there were tiny glistening tears in the lower edge of his eyes but he was completely ignoring them, he was even smiling, he looked pretty calm actually, and he was looking at him so fondly. “Say, ‘Poe, I really care about you.’”
“I really care about you,” Finn said obediently. This was true. He reached out, on impulse, and slipped Poe’s hand loosely in his own. Rey had held his hand. He liked holding hands. He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to do it with anyone else. He hadn’t really let himself think about it. But it was something he knew how to do.
Poe swallowed carefully, looking down at their hands twined together. Then he took a deep breath, and tried to smile again. “Good. Now say, ‘I want you to be happy.’”
“I want you to be happy,” Finn said immediately. He really did. “I really do.”
“I know.” Poe was gently brushing the back of Finn’s hand with his thumb, and it was so soft, and his hands were so warm, Finn nearly missed the rest of his sentence. “Last one. ‘I don’t feel that way about you, and I don’t think I can make you happy like that.’ And that’s okay, Finn.”
“But I don’t-” Finn started, then stopped. He couldn’t repeat that. He just looked at their hands. “Why are you-- I don’t know how I could possibly make you happy. I’m not exactly a...a valuable asset. I don’t have a job, or a home, or a--”
“You think I care about any of that? Finn, you are the most incredible person I’ve ever met, and I’ve never been as happy as when I’ve been around you. Ever.” Poe cleared his throat, wiped his eyes, and looked away. He didn’t let go of Finn’s hand. When he spoke again, his voice was raspy, like there was something caught in his throat. “But it’s okay. Really, it is. I’m not mad at you. You didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll get over this. I promise, I will.”
Finn let the silence stretch. Something was solidifying in the bubbles and the roiling, churning sea in his stomach, something buoyant and determined. “You’ve been making a lot of assumptions about me,” he said, harsher than he intended.
Finn gestured helplessly. “Me and Rey. Me and you.”
“I don’t understand,” Poe furrowed his eyebrows.
“You spent six months thinking I was in something I wasn’t, and you didn’t even ask me, and now you’re acting like I’ve already-- already said something I haven’t said,” said Finn, trying to quiet the alarm bells in his stomach so he could figure this out . “What do people usually say if it’s...if it’s the other way?”
Poe got dangerously quiet. “What other way?”
“If they feel...if they feel like…” Finn’s brain was stuttering again.
“If they feel the same way?”
“I think you know the answer to that one.”
“Come on. You don’t need me to tell you.”
“I don’t know half of what goes on in a normal person’s mind, Poe!” Finn snapped. “I didn’t learn any of this while getting drunk in a cave on paradise. We weren’t allowed to say anything. We didn’t have the words .”
Poe looked at him, seeing his frustration rising, and sighed. “They say, ‘I love you too’.”
Oh. Now that Poe said it, Finn felt stupid, like that was pretty obvious, but then Poe interrupted his thoughts to continue, “Or kiss. It usually involves kisses.”
“Oh.” Finn’s stomach flipped.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you.”
“Oh.” Finn’s stomach flipped the other way.
“I wouldn’t kiss you if you didn’t want me to. So don’t worry about that, okay?”
“Wait,” said Finn. “Wait a second.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“Just shut up for a minute.” Finn pressed his lips tightly together. “This is-- this isn’t-- It’s like you decided for me, without even letting me-”
“Just shut up and let me think,” Finn said again. Then, in a whisper, really more to himself, like it was a little tunnel in the bramble, like a safe little den underneath all the tangled vines, a haven, hidden deep inside the thorns and tangles and mazes, something to hold on to, “You love me.”
“I really do,” Poe nodded. “Gonna be hard to get over it if you keep reminding me, though.”
“Say it again, please,” Finn said suddenly. He felt Poe’s hand start to pull away, and he held on tightly. “Don’t say all that other stuff. Just...say that one thing.”
Poe swallowed carefully and looked up, meeting his eyes. “Finn, I love you.”
Finn kissed him.
Content warning: Explicit sexual content, vague references to dubious consent.
Poe was flying.
He had spent so much time trapped in solid, stagnant, pointless, useless gravity, and he had wanted this for so long, and now he was weightless and floating, like bubbles, like the orange-tipped clouds, like-
Finn's kiss was slow and sweet, lips parted ( kriff, they are so soft and warm and this isn't happening I'm dead I had a brain aneurysm I'm lying on the ground dying this isn't -) and his own lips were a little open too, possibilities and hope, and just when his stomach had stopped doing barrel rolls and he started to lean forward, hungry, more, more of this, please , Finn pulled back.
Poe slowly opened his eyes, in a daze, still drifting somewhere in the ozone layer, and Finn was smiling at him. This small, shy little smile, just the bare twist at one side of his mouth. "Damn, Finn," Poe managed to gasp out.
"Yeah?" Finn was still smiling.
"Yeah. Oh hell yeah.” Poe had to look down at their hands, still touching, because looking too closely at Finn’s face was like trying to look into the center of the sun. “You have no idea how long I've wanted to do that."
"Maybe I would, if you'd have done it already," said Finn, in his teasing voice.
"Maybe," Poe breathed out a small chuckle. He was rubbing his thumb on the back of Finn’s hand again, he was still sitting on the ground (or lying several feet away, dying of a brain aneurysm or a piece of falling meteor). Then he looked up. "Kiss me again?"
Finn’s dark eyes, his shy smile. "I think it's your turn, Dameron."
And Poe was smiling too, and finally touching Finn's cheek, solid and smooth, pulling him close, kissing him once, twice, opening his mouth and that taste, tasting him, their tongues brushing, finally tasting him, enveloped by his smell, and again Poe was flying.
Finn broke the kiss again, taking a deep breath, and Poe couldn’t seem to stop smiling, knew that a few tears may have leaked out of the sides of his eyes but who cares, none of that mattered, he was having the best death dream anyone could ask for, he was flying and being kissed and the last golden rays of the sunset turned Finn's hair to rich, reddish brown and Finn’s cheek was solid under his palm.
Poe couldn’t take his eyes off him, watching every muscle in Finn’s face for any micro-expression of sudden discomfort, disgust, or fear, or general “what the fuck did you just do, get away from me.” But Finn just looked at him, half-smiling, like he was deciding what to do next, as the last colors faded and the shadows took hold.
And then Poe was half-pulled to his feet before he realized what was happening. Finn was still holding his hand, holding his hand , and leading him up to the house. That realization sent blood and electricity straight from his heart, still weightless, and his mind, still losing oxygen from the brain aneurysm, into his pelvis and his stomach and his throat but for once in his life he managed not to say anything, nothing sarcastic or stupid or snarky or arrogant, barely feeling his feet touch the ground. Finn led him purposefully through the empty house and into the guest bedroom.
Poe closed the door behind him, even knowing his father wasn't home, still wanting the click of the door latch and the solidity of the wood. They hesitated for just a moment, Poe's eyes locked on Finn, scanning his expression again, looking for hesitation, and then he gently pulled Finn toward him by the shirt.
Finn slowly pressed himself against Poe, drawing his arms around Poe's waist, letting himself be pulled closer, until Poe's back was against the door and Finn's knee was between Poe's thighs, and they were starting to pant a little at the closeness of their faces, mere millimeters between their lips. Poe wondered suddenly how much beer Finn had drank outside- he doesn’t usually drink it, I’ve definitely had a few but did he? Is he-- is this-- I don’t want to be a mistake-
Poe tilted his head up, and just before their lips brushed, he heard Finn tap lightly on the door, one-two , before Finn had pressed down into a slow, soft, wet kiss that he felt electrify every vein in his body.
They were kissing deep now, thighs and hips and tongues and hands, but when Finn reached down to Poe’s belt buckle, he heard himself blurt out, from another star system, from deep inside a nebula, "Are you sure?"
"Huh?" Finn sounded wary, hands paused on Poe's waist.
"We don’t have to go fast, if you’re not ready, or..."
Finn chuckled, and looked down at his hands at Poe's waist, at Poe's hands still buried in Finn's shirt. "I do know a bit about this part, Poe. I just don't always have the right...words."
Finn kissed him again, and then again, and then he was unbuttoning Poe’s pants, and whispering, in a low, husky voice, right in Poe's ear, "Do you not want to?"
"Oh stars yes, I have never wanted anything so much in my entire goddamn life," Poe gasped, pulling Finn's shoulders toward him, nudging his mouth close enough to take another kiss.
Finn pulled back just to smile at him, and Poe grinned, and then they were kissing again. Poe felt like his pants were going to bust, he was aching and so hard, and Finn seemed to feel it too because then his warm hand was playing against the tender skin of his stomach, grazing the hair trailing from his navel, now sliding down the front of his undershorts, so close to his skin, then back up to dip under the waistband, and Poe breathed out a groan at the first touch.
Soon, his pants had collapsed around his ankles, and he was breathing very heavily, gasping into Finn's shoulder, digging his fingertips into his skin while Finn stroked him, kissing him every so often, pitching his hips up into the pressure and the warmth, and he wanted to have the discipline to ask Finn to slow down, to savor this, to make it last because it might never happen again, because nothing this good would be allowed to keep, but Poe was so far gone that soon, too soon, he was quietly moaning something close to Finn's name as he came.
And then Finn was kissing him again, with a self-satisfied little hum as Poe trembled against him.
"Shit, you weren't kidding," Poe managed.
"You're good at that." Poe leaned his head back against the door, eyes closed, feeling like his legs might buckle. For all he knew, Finn's strong arms were the only things keeping him standing. "That was amazing."
"Good," said Finn. He ran a hand through Poe’s short hair and kissed his cheek, a sweet, surprisingly shy kiss for someone who’d just jerked him off with efficiency and purpose. Poe found his mind racing again as he stepped out of his pants and retrieved his undershorts to wipe himself off. He’s done this before. He said he’s done this before. With who? With how many whos? In the Order? Someone else in the Resistance? I bet it was Timo in Artillery, I’ll kill him...How did I not know he liked both? What will I do when he leaves? What if I never see him again?
Suddenly eager to chase those thoughts out of his mind, Poe dropped the dirty shorts back on the floor and leaned in to kiss, and then lick, and then suck on Finn’s neck, enjoying how Finn inhaled sharply by his ear. He continued kissing down his neck, feather-light at first, then putting more pressure into the kiss in the bend where his neck met his shoulder, where his muscles were tensing under the collar of his shirt, then the lightest nip with his teeth. Finn shivered, Poe smiled into his skin, and took a chance: he bit down harder, and Finn breathed out a strangled, "Oh."
His lips felt Finn swallow. “Uh-huh."
Poe softly kissed the same spot, working his hands under Finn's shirt slowly, gently moving the fabric up his chest along with the slide of his palms. He kissed back up his neck, along his jaw, then deep into his mouth before pulling off Finn's shirt.
Finn kissed him again the moment he was free of the fabric, and pulled Poe's own shirt off, and they were pressed chest to chest, skin to skin, Poe completely naked and Finn half-so, and Poe was kissing back down his neck and down his chest, pausing briefly to suck on one of Finn’s nipples, to see if he was sensitive there, but Finn was standing soldier-still and silent. Poe was on his knees now, feeling Finn’s stomach tense and roll as he kissed down the tender skin between his navel and the waistband of his pants.
“I used my hand,” Finn suddenly blurted out.
Hmm? I know,” said Poe, flicking out his tongue to lick around the edges of Finn’s navel, and smiled as he felt him inhale sharply again. He pulled down on the waistband of Finn’s pants, just enough to expose the leaking tip of his cock peeking above the edge of the fabric, and carefully licked it clean. Finn shuddered.
“I--you don’t have to, if you-- I used my hand,” Finn repeated, sounding flummoxed now.
Poe paused and looked up at him. “I can give you a handjob if you’d like that better. But I really want to blow you. Is that not okay?”
Finn stared down at him with confusion and concern melding with the lust in his eyes. “I…But I-”
“What’s wrong?” Poe sat back on his heels, rubbing the front of Finn’s thighs soothingly. “I don’t have to, if you don’t want me to.”
“No, I do…” Finn trailed off, and stepped back, out of Poe’s reach. “But, I used my hands. Not my mouth. For you.”
“And it was great,” said Poe. “I loved it. I just really like giving blowjobs.” He tilted his head. “Do you not like them?”
Finn opened his mouth, and then closed it again. His cheeks were darkening and he glanced to the side, in that slightly angry, slightly embarrassed way he got when he butted up against a universal truth from his old life that had no correlation in the outer world.
“I just want to make you feel good,” said Poe, worrying now that the ship was about to crash on this precarious, miracle mission. “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it. Or we can stop. Whatever you want.”
“I don’t want to stop. I just--” Finn made a frustrated sound in his throat, clenched his fists, and stepped back again to sit angrily down on the edge of the bed. “Every time I think I’ve found something that seems like, oh, okay, this isn't that different, I actually know something about this one...it turns out to be wrong, again, and I feel like an idiot, again.”
“You’re not an idiot,” said Poe, sliding over on his knees to the foot of the bed, near enough to reach out but giving Finn space for the moment. “Do you want to talk about it? I’d like to understand.”
"I don't think you can."
"Well, we won't know unless you tell me?"
"Finn, you've now seen literally all of my crazy,” said Poe with a shrug. “Plus, I kind of just poured my heart out a little while ago, and if that isn’t embarrassing, I don’t know what is…"
Finn sighed out heavily. “You give what you request.”
Poe tilted his head. “What?”
“You had to give what you request ,” Finn repeated and then, when Poe was still looking at him quizzically, “When you tap a bunk, that’s--because we couldn’t talk. We weren’t allowed. Something was always recording, someone was always listening, and then the sweeps, and you couldn’t-- That’s why I don’t have--” he gestured frantically, “--words for any of this stuff.”
“Tap a bunk?” Poe tried to keep the furrowing of his eyebrows in ‘look of concern’ mode and not ‘completely confused and still half-distracted by your beautiful chest.’ Then he remembered the little tap-tap Finn had knocked on the door. “Wait, is this, like, Stormtrooper sex rules?”
Finn breathed out a small, dark laugh. “I guess. Yeah.” He rubbed at his cheek, like he was trying to scrub the blush out of his skin. “It’s stupid.”
“No, it’s not. It’s really important,” said Poe. He paused, thinking back over what Finn had just said, and made a leap. “So, tapping a bunk meant indicating interest? Like, hey, wanna fuck?”
Finn let out another laugh, less embarrassed this time. “Sometimes. Others, it was just a ‘hey, this is happening’.”
“Okay,” said Poe, filing several follow-up questions to that statement away for later. “And then, you’re not allowed to talk, because that leads to revolution and anarchy, so you act on the other person what you’d like to receive, like if you want a blowjob you have to give a blowjob? Is that it?”
“Basically,” said Finn. “There’s...more to it than that, since not everything-- but...yeah, that’s the basic idea.”
“And it's kind of taboo to request something you’re not willing or interested in giving?”
“Right,” said Finn, and then added hurriedly, with a look of concern, “Not that I don’t want to-- I just didn’t-- I mean, with you, I-”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Poe, patting his knee. “I'm serious. It was great.”
Finn smiled at him, then chewed on his mouth, dropping his head to look away again. "So, yeah. There's that. That's a thing."
"I'm glad you told me." Poe thought a moment, then felt like he couldn't let the moment pass without asking the most pressing follow-up question he stored away earlier. "Did...does that taboo have something to do with the fact that you couldn’t say no?"
"What do you mean?" Finn asked warily, like he definitely knew.
"You said sometimes it meant 'hey, this is gonna happen.' And if you can't say ‘No thanks,’ because you’re not allowed to say anything, and you probably can't just get up and leave, and you definitely can't fight someone off because they’d just shoot you…"
"Yeah," said Finn.
"Okay," nodded Poe, "So if the rule is that in order to get some you have to give some, then is it sort of to make that part okay because hey, at least everyone got off?"
Finn's face had gone blank, the stoic, expressionless mask he wore when he was trying to blend into the walls. "I guess. Yeah, I guess that’s probably...I never really thought about it like that."
"Well," Poe said carefully, "I want to make it very clear that I would happily blow you every day for the rest of your life, and you wouldn't ever have to do it back. Okay? If nothing else, this doesn’t have to...match. We’re not curtains." He felt a rush of panic as his mind caught up to what his mouth had just said, the rest of his life? You absolute idiot, you're going to scare him off forever- but Finn laughed, and he ducked his head a bit, almost bashful, but he also stopped anxiously jiggling his knee.
"I mean it," said Poe, relaxing just a little. “Like, I appreciate the spirit of fairness, but you don’t ever have to, okay? You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to do. Not with me, not with anyone.” His hand was still on Finn's knee, and he quirked a smile, knowing Finn was watching him out of the corner of his eye now, and began to slowly slide his hand up the inside of Finn’s thigh. He shifted his body into the open vee of Finn’s legs, running his hands back down his inner thighs, around his knees and up the outer edges to his waist. He sat up on his knees to kiss him, and Finn kissed him back, hesitantly at first, and then with hunger and urgency.
Mid-kiss, Poe grinned a little, then reached just to the side of Finn’s leg and knocked three times, tap-tap-tap , against the wooden frame of the bed before licking deep into his mouth.
Finn laughed again, and Poe drank it down. "So this is okay?" he asked, running the palm of his hand down the bulging front of Finn’s pants.
"Uh...uh-huh," said Finn, eyes closed.
"Good," Poe whispered, kissing him deep and fumbling with the buttons on his pants before he could change his mind. "Lay down?" he suggested as he tugged Finn's pants down over his hips ( those hips, stars and sunsets, those thighs ).
Poe was determined to take his time, to kiss every square inch of his skin, to figure out what makes Finn moan, what makes him squirm, what makes him lose that precious self-control and release into pleasure. After dozens of kisses down his chest, swirling his tongue around a nipple, sucking on the ticklish spot in his waist, a bite here or there in the soft part of his inner thigh, just enough to hear him breathe out and then hold it again, waiting, barely-perceptible thrusts with his hips, Poe finally started a trail of soft kisses from the base of Finn’s cock to the head. He swallowed him slowly, a light bob, then took him deep into his throat; then twisted with his hand held tight around the base as he slicked back up, fluttering his tongue over the precum beading in his slit, and then back down again, and even though Finn tensed, and inhaled and sighed out, he didn't make a single verbal sound. Poe lost himself in the rhythm, the room covered in shadows and night now, occasionally opening his eyes to try to gauge Finn’s expression, test his reactions, but it was too dark to see him clearly and Finn was too quiet to hear more than scattered gasps.
There were other signs, though, as Finn, now panting heavily, gently ran a hand over the top of Poe's head, pushing up into Poe's throat with a buck of his hips. Poe gagged a little, and then grinned and hummed around him, happy he’d finally gotten a real reaction, and swallowed him down deep, to the back of his throat, and then again, and suddenly Finn had reached out with his free hand and tapped his shoulder, and Poe barely had two seconds to register what that meant before Finn was coming, warm and bitter and salty on the back of his tongue, still no sounds but increasingly shallow breathing as Poe rhythmically stroked and swallowed him, until his hips went limp and Finn let out a distant, breathy little laugh.
Poe leaned back on his heels, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and drank in the shadow of Finn's body stretched out before him. His eyes were closed, one arm slung loosely across his chest, riding out the afterglow with just enough moonlight spilled over the pillow to show his face, serene and content. "You are so fucking beautiful."
"M’not," Finn grunted, embarrassed again. He reached down to their feet and shifted the blanket up over his hip.
Poe leaned off the bed while he adjusted, one steadying foot on the floor. "Bed's pretty small," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "I can- I mean, it's no big deal if you'd be more comfortable if I-"
"Shut up and come here, Poe." Finn locked a hand around his upper bicep and pulled him down, scooting his back to the wall and tossing half of the blanket over Poe. He shifted one arm under the pillow, and tentatively reached out to pull him closer by the waist. That same searching, testing. That diving into something Poe knew Finn wasn’t completely sure about, something new, but willing to try it all the same.
Poe may or may not have let out a completely undignified, would-deny-it-if-interrogated, squeaking, giddy sound as he burrowed into Finn's chest and wrapped his foot around Finn's ankle. "Okay."
"You are so stupid," said Finn. Then, Poe felt the gears of his mind shifting to another test as Finn slid his hand from Poe’s waist to his chin and tilted him up to kiss him gently.
The gesture was so sweet and romantic he felt his heart skipping. "I know.” I have never been this happy. I will never be this happy again.
Another kiss, then Finn held him steady, dark eyes searching his face. "...you know I'm joking, right? I don't actually think you're stupid."
Poe smiled. "I know."
"I think you're really smart." Another kiss.
"I wouldn't go that far." Poe tilted his head, inviting Finn down to his neck. Finn obliged, pressing feather-light kisses in the small of his neck, and Poe closed his eyes, and happy happy happy happy .
"Well, yeah, you were trying to get me to tell you not to stay here," said Finn, "When have I ever gotten to do this?"
"What, with me?"
"Oh, right." Snuggle. Share a bed. Wrap naked bodies around each other and smooch until the elation quieted enough to sleep, and wake up in the morning and do it all over again. It didn't take much imagination to see a half-dozen possible scenarios for sex within the narrow confines of Finn's earlier life, but not for this. "I didn't want to assume you'd be okay with this yet." I don't want to come on too strong-- hoo boy, has that ship jumped to light speed.
"Okay, but you keep assuming I’m not okay with stuff.”
“Well, I don’t want to assume you’re okay with something you're not.”
“You could just not assume anything, though. You could just ask me,” said Finn. “You let me ask you questions all the time.”
“Well yeah, but it’s a little different when you’re just asking what a tip-yip is.”
“I learned that one already.”
“You know what I mean. This is-” Special. Miraculous. The best thing that’s ever happened to me. “-different.”
“Yeah, but you know that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying, you’re always assuming the worst option, and you keep being wrong,” said Finn. “And maybe you should stop doing that."
"Yeah, okay," said Poe, easily defeated when the punishment included such riches as cuddling against Finn's perfect, warm, dark chest. And then the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. "Maybe that's why I'm still alive."
Finn considered that for a moment, stroking through his hair again. “I don’t think that’s true.”
“Just lucky, then?” He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He never had been.
“Yeah, maybe.” Finn shifted under him, and Poe felt the soft weight of his cheek rest on the top of his head. “It’s funny. You could have shot me before we even met, you know. If we’re talking about luck. Or destiny.”
“What?” Poe looked up, racking his brain. “What are you talking about?”
“On Jakku. You were shooting at us, from over that sand dune, and you hit the Trooper next to me.” Finn had a faraway look in his eyes, and when Poe eased his face back down to his chest, he immediately resumed stroking his hair. “It’s just funny. He died, and I left. Could have been the other way around. You could be here with Slip right now.”
“You think I just have a weird fetish for Stormtroopers or something?” Poe quipped, trying to distract himself from the panic at the idea of shooting Finn, back when he was locked behind white armor, and from the brief wash of guilt at connecting a name with one of the hundreds or thousands of faceless enemies he’d killed.
“Yup. That’s exactly what I think.” Finn’s teasing voice, again.
“Not really. You didn’t really have friends in the First Order.”
“But you called him-- wait, why did he get a nickname and you didn’t? Did you already have a nickname?” Not that Poe ever intended to call him anything other than Finn.
“No, I was only ever FN-2187. Slip’s nickname wasn’t a good thing. ‘Cause he was always slipping up, get it?”
“No?” Other than imagining pratfalls from that plastoid armor slipping on the shiny, glossy floors of the Star Destroyers, which probably wasn’t what Finn meant.
“Phasma once told me he was the weak link in the squadron, and I had to let him fail. That if he succeeded, the First Order would be stronger, and if he failed then he had to fail, because then the First Order would be stronger without his weakness.” Finn was musing again. Poe wasn’t sure he’d ever heard him talk this much about his life in the First Order, all in one night.
“Were you somehow stopping him from failing?”
“Yeah, he kept screwing up in our simulations, and I’d cover for him or try to help.” Finn paused for a moment, and then chuckled darkly. “Though I guess, when it comes down to it, he did better than I did when it counted. He executed someone without hesitation, once we got out of the simulation room and into real combat. And me, I was supposed to be the leader, I was the one pulling everyone forward, and I just couldn’t do it. Not when it was real.”
Poe tightened his squeeze around Finn’s chest. “You know you’re amazing, right?”
“You really are.”
“Nah,” Finn said again. “I was just scared.”
“But you weren’t scared of me?” asked Poe. “I mean, I’d just killed your friend.”
Finn laughed. “You weren’t very scary at the time. You looked pretty terrified, honestly.”
“Well, I thought I was gonna die.”
“I know. I did, too.”
“When we crashed?”
“No, before that,” said Finn. “They inspected my blaster, they knew I hadn’t fired it.”
Poe was having trouble keeping up. “They’d kill you for that?”
“No, I was supposed to report for reconditioning. But I wasn’t going to do that. So, if I didn’t report, they’d kill me. And if I did, it probably wouldn’t work, so they’d kill me. And even if it did work, it would only get me to kill for them for a little while before they killed me or someone else did. And I really did not want to kill for them.” Finn shrugged. “So it was either try to outrun Phasma, or try to escape. And I was a lot more scared of Phasma than I was of you.”
“You just hadn’t seen me in the air, yet.”
Finn laughed. “That’s true. But even then. You’re just not very scary, Poe. You’re too nice.”
“I’m not, really,” said Poe, and as flattered as he was, he meant it.
“Your expression changed from frightened to curious almost immediately when I took off my helmet. Like, you didn’t hesitate to trust me.”
“Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty face.” The exact words he recalled thinking, as Finn leaned in close to him and told him it was the right thing to do, with that serious, earnest expression and those beautiful eyes, was Oh no. Oh no, this is dangerous. And it had nothing to do with stealing a TIE fighter.
“No, you’re not,” said Finn. “But you’re always talking about how I saved your life. Okay, maybe, but that goes both ways. You saved mine, too.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have gotten out of there alive if you hadn’t-”
“And neither would I.”
“You would have gotten another chance. Fake your own death. Steal an escape pod. Capture another pilot.”
“Yeah, but I got you.”
You sure do, buddy, he thought, but he didn’t say it. He just gave Finn another squeeze, a little kiss against his skin, a silent prayer to keep this, keep this, keep this, just a little longer .
Finn stroked through his hair again. "I miss your hair being all curly. I always-- never mind.”
“I always wanted to know what it felt like,” he said, very quietly, sheepish and shy.
“I’ll grow it out again,” said Poe.
“Isn’t that against regulation?”
“Yeah, but who cares.” Yes, Commander, my hair does need cutting, but you see, I need it long like this so my boyfriend has something to hold while he rails me into the-- Poe grinned into Finn’s chest, a secret, private grin. Happy.
They slept. Or, rather, Finn slept and Poe watched him. He dozed in and out, closing his eyes to snooze when the warm comfort of bare skin and a dark room made him too sleepy to resist, but as soon as he felt himself start to truly drift he would force his eyes open, awake, staring back at Finn. Just to make sure he was still there. This will be gone tomorrow. This is never coming back. You get one night. Happy. Happy, happy, happy. He’ll realize tomorrow this is a huge mistake, this is his goodbye to the Resistance, he’s going to Kamparas and Rey will change her mind and take him back, she would be insane not to take him, who in their right mind would give this up? and Yavinese sunsets are like an aphrodisiac and it doesn’t mean what you think it means so don’t fuck it up, don’t be stupid, I am so fucking happy I will never be this happy again.
Eventually, he slept.
It was a small bed, and Finn was not a small man, and Poe was not much smaller. And Yavin was a hot place, sticky with humidity and rain, and the last thing he needed was more warmth and body heat and sweat. But it was possibly, outside of a night of sheer exhaustion where sleep was the only thing preventing a full psychotic break, the best night’s sleep Finn had ever had in his life.
In fact, he realized as he woke to find Poe still nestled under his shoulder, his short hair and scratchy chin tickling his bare skin, the tiny weight of the silver ring on his chest, arm slung loosely across his stomach, hearing him snore a light, pleasant grumbling sound deep in his throat, that this might be the most contented he could remember being.
That thought surprised him, really. He loves me , he reminded himself as he watched Poe’s ribs expand and contract with his breath. The fact that he could see them moving meant that dawn was close, but he stared closely at Poe’s skin, so much more tan than just a few days ago, looking for scars or moles or freckles or anything new and secret and private as the light slowly filtered in through the window. He loves me. Do I love him? Have I loved him this whole time? Can you love two people, at the same time, and not know it? Is it supposed to feel the same?
He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure how much it mattered. Rey didn’t want him like this. Poe did. And now that he was here, skin-to-skin with Poe, it seemed almost strange to imagine being in the same position with Rey (not that he hadn’t imagined it before, but it had been a while, and now any part of those thoughts seemed...awkward). Because this felt right. This felt good. This felt something a little bit like home, or like what he imagined home could feel like, the way he’d felt when he saw Poe next to that speeder outside the transport, or the way he felt every single time they hugged, or when he and Poe would walk back to their tents from the command center on Ajan Kloss, bright stars overnight in the small, early hours of the clock, and say goodnight, and say they would see each other in the morning.
Poe shifted and wrapped his arm tighter around Finn’s waist, and Finn closed his eyes and breathed in, hunting for the citrus, and the cedar, and the soap. When he opened his eyes again, Poe was looking up at him, his eyes warm and brown and bright, a soft, shy smile.
“Hey,” Finn said.
“Hey.” Poe hesitated a moment, then pressed his palm into Finn’s chest to reach up and kiss him on the forehead, and then the mouth, and then settled back down to rest his head on Finn’s shoulder again.
Finn felt himself grinning. “You sleep okay?”
“Not really,” said Poe, looking as giddy as he felt. “Had to keep checking to make sure this wasn’t a dream.”
“Have you had this dream before?”
“Mm-hmm,” as Poe kissed him again, softly at first, then deeper. “Lots.”
“You’ve been dreaming about me?” Finn teased, feeling flushed and aroused at the same time.
“Mm-hmm.” Poe kept kissing him. Finn brushed the stubble on his cheeks, then pulled him closer by the back of the head, then wrapped his arms around Poe’s back. More kisses, more touching, Poe pressing himself tighter against Finn with each kiss like he was trying to meld into his skin. If any part of the back of Finn’s mind had been afraid of feeling awkward or confused after this sudden increase in physicality between them, it evaporated completely in those kisses.
“What usually happens in this dream?” Finn asked, burying himself in Poe’s neck to kiss the soft skin under his jaw. Poe had seemed to like that.
“Stuff,” said Poe, making a pleased little noise as he exhaled.
“What kind of stuff?” Finn was kissing up his neck again, along his jaw. Then, with boldness Finn had no idea he possessed, since he’d certainly never taken the chance to use it before, he slid a hand along their pressed bodies to lightly brush Poe’s quickly-hardening cock. “Stuff like this?”
“Oh kriff ,” Poe breathed out, arching slightly under the touch. “Sometimes.” He let Finn stroke him gently, the pleased noises grumbling deeper in his throat, and then he grinned with a flash of mischief and suddenly pushed Finn roughly onto his back. “And sometimes it goes like this,” he mumbled into Finn’s skin as he set off on a trail of kisses down his chest.
“Mm-- Should we really-- I mean, your Dad’s got to be home by now, isn’t he?” said Finn with sudden, sinking realization, looking between the door and the top of Poe’s head as he made his way down.
“Do you think he knows you’re in here with me?”
“Probably. Dad doesn’t miss much,” said Poe, and slowly licked the length of Finn’s cock before swallowing him down.
Finn inhaled sharply, and-
“You boys want breakfast?” Kes said loudly at the closed door.
Poe collapsed his face against Finn’s hip, shoulders shaking with laughter. “Every time. Every kriffing time,” he muttered.
“Uh, yes, please, Mr. Dameron,” Finn said, and then, “Ow!” when Poe smacked him on the thigh.
“Think you can call me Kes at this point, kid,” said Kes. “Poe-bee, can you go out and find some eggs?”
“Sure thing, Pop,” Poe said, voice raised to carry through the door, and sat back on his heels with his face in his hands, groaning. Then he laughed, and collapsed onto Finn’s chest with his hands still hiding his face and Finn laughed with him, flushed and embarrassed and happy.
“Guess we should get up,” muffled Poe, face still pressed against his chest. He made no effort to do so.
“Guess so,” said Finn, similarly feeling no interest in moving. He stroked the back of Poe shoulder’s until they relaxed against him, Poe tucking his arms around his waist and settling most of his weight on top of his chest. It felt grounding, solid, warm. After a while, Finn broke the silence. “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything.” Poe shifted, but kept most of his weight flopped onto Finn's chest.
“Why do you call your dad ‘Pop,’ but only when you’re talking to him?”
Poe glanced up, furrowing his eyebrows. “I what?”
“You say stuff like, ‘Hi Pop,’ or ‘Thanks, Pop’ but then you say ‘That’s my dad’ or ‘My dad did this’ when you're talking about him to me.”
“Yeah. You do.” Finn smiled. “I didn’t know if that meant something.”
“No, both words mean the same thing,” Poe seemed lost in thought, and pressed his face back down on Finn’s chest. “Huh. I never realized I did that. Do I really do that?” He looked up again.
“Yeah, you do,” Finn insisted. “I mean, it’s cute, I was just curious.”
“Huh,” Poe said again. Then, he smiled. “Cute, huh?”
Finn rolled his eyes. “You know you’re cute, Dameron.”
“I mean, ‘smartass’, sure. ‘Hotshot,’ definitely. ‘Bastard,’ sometimes. ‘Devastatingly handsome,’ absolutely- Ow!” Poe laughed as Finn poked him hard in the side, which slid him off his chest and back onto the bed, resting his head again on Finn’s shoulder.
“We really should get up,” said Poe, tracing the dark hair on Finn’s chest with his fingers.
“Yeah,” said Finn. “Then what?”
"Well, then we have to pack." Finn stayed quiet, so Poe continued, "And then you have a shuttle to catch, and so do I."
“And then what?”
Poe absently rubbed his cheek against Finn’s skin, his soft temple and his rough jaw. “That’s up to you, pal. I’m yours, if you want me.”
Finn considered that, trying to feel the beats of Poe’s heart through the back of his ribs, reverberating off of bone. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I do.”
“Yeah?” Poe looked up, and he was beaming that manic grin that showed every one of his teeth. He started babbling, “I don’t want to...pressure you, or push you into something that you aren’t ready for, but-”
“Shut up, Poe” said Finn through his own wide grin, ensuring the rambling actually stopped with a kiss. Poe kissed him back, laughed a little, and pressed his cheek back down on Finn’s chest. Finn found himself stroking through Poe’s short hair again, still wishing it was long enough to curl the way it used to, and mused, “I don’t know how to say what this is for me, yet. Or how I feel...exactly. But I like this. I like it a lot.”
“Okay,” said Poe. He sounded elated, barely contained. “I like this, too.”
Finn grinned, and nudged Poe’s forehead up with his nose. They kissed for a while longer, languid and hazy. Finn didn’t seem to be able to get enough kissing. He couldn’t seem to stop.
“I won’t be getting any more leave for a while, though,” Poe said suddenly, cutting through the fog of giddiness.
“How long is ‘a while’?” Finn frowned.
“At least six months. Probably closer to eight. Could be a year. Depends on whether they let me back into rotation or not.”
“I don’t want to wait six months to see you again.” Finn reached up to still Poe’s fingers playing on his chest, and held his hand pressed tight. I’m not even sure I want to wait six weeks. Or six days. “I don’t know what to do about that, though.”
“You can come visit me?” Poe’s voice sounded guarded in its hopefulness.
Finn felt his heart threatening to lift out of his chest. “Don’t you live on base?” Would that make me pathetic, trailing after you like I followed after Rey? (How much do I care about that?)
“So we’ll get a hotel.” Poe grinned up at him. “Wait until you see a double bed, it’s gonna blow your mind.”
“Double?” Finn’s eyebrows lifted.
“Yeah, twice this size.”
“They make beds like that?”
Poe laughed. “Yup. Triple this size, even. They make beds the size of this room.”
“Well, that seems excessive,” said Finn.
Poe laughed again, and then it was more kisses, and then Kes was yelling about them missing their transports, and at last they stumbled, reluctantly, exhausted and elated, out of bed to get dressed.
Kes had both eyebrows raised to his hairline and a sneaky, knowing smile as Poe paraded out of the bedroom (Finn, face flushed, refused to meet anyone’s eyes as he slipped into the kitchen for a cup of caf), but he didn’t speak, aside from a shake of his head and a little laugh. The manic grin on Poe’s face (and his lack of shirt) probably spoke enough for both of them.
“Eggs?” Kes finally prompted.
Poe started to sing, some silly romantic song, feet barely touching the ground as he circled around his father. He gave his dad an enormous kiss on the cheek and half-floated, half-danced out the front door to collect some eggs from the tip-yip coop near the vegetable garden, still singing to the trees out in the yard.
Finn thought about escaping to the ‘fresher until Poe returned, or dumping a bucket of cold water over his face to stop the heated flushing from the awkwardness of the situation, oh Force this was so awkward, but he managed to stay calm and avoid Kes’s eyes as he poured himself a cup of caf and added a bit of cream from the cooler. He sank into a chair, folding his shoulders over the steaming cup, and startled slightly when Kes slid the sugar jar toward him.
“Thanks,” he muttered, barely audible, scooping spoonfuls into his cup, and then mustered whatever courage he had remaining deep in his stomach to look up at Poe’s father and accept his judgment. Kes was smiling - not the same knowing, teasing smirk he had given Poe, but something calm and relaxed. And maybe, just maybe, ‘approving.’ He put a steady hand on Finn’s shoulder and patted him twice.
Finn smiled back, shy but grateful. So embarrassed, but grateful.
Kes shook his head, laughing a little to himself again, then patted Finn one more time before returning to the kitchen to chop vegetables for breakfast.
Poe started in on a second song when he returned to the house, where Kes was frying onions and Finn was lost in thought over his cup of caf. Poe bent to kiss Finn’s cheek over his shoulder, spun around behind Finn’s chair, and danced the basket of eggs into the kitchen to kiss his father’s cheek a second time.
“ But you’ll never find the answers ‘til you set your old heart free, ” Poe crooned as he shimmied toward the ‘fresher. “ Hello, my old heart. ”
His father had always been good at casual good-byes, and Poe’s uncontainable morning-after giddiness made for a cheerful send-off with smiles, and hugs, and the usual promises to comm more often. This time, Poe thought he might actually be able to keep that promise. He hoped.
Finn, ever the stoic, had offered his hand to shake with an earnest, serious, “Thank you, Mr. Dameron,” and had looked startled, but pleased, when his father had wrapped him into a tight hug. Kes tossed a casual, “Bring him back soon, will you?” that Poe wasn’t entirely sure was directed at Finn, or himself.
Then it was a final speeder ride to town. Poe had thought about stopping somewhere in the deep, isolated jungle to resume the shenanigans that were so rudely interrupted by his meddling father that morning, but he restrained himself ( Don’t push your luck ) and tried to be content with the way Finn placed both hands flat on his chest, his body tucked close, still touching, these last precious minutes of touching.
They returned the speeder and walked to the spaceport with their bags slung over their shoulders and their hands in their pockets. Poe, feeling twitchy and anxious (unable to stop the constant, churning refrain of This is it, this is all you get, he’s going to change his mind once he’s on Kamparas and you’ll never see him again, this is all you get that had started the moment he left his father’s house and echoed in beat with his stride) had suddenly reached out his hand, not daring to look over, eyes fixed on the dusty road ahead with his hand suspended in the blank space between them, and waited with his heart in his throat until Finn noticed and lightly clasped it back. Poe had smiled behind his mirrored sunglasses, floating again, and they walked the rest of the way in silence, with their fingers entwined. Well, if I only get today, I’m going to make it fucking count.
Poe guided them to the little open-air cafe at the spaceport. He ordered them each a beer, and they sat under a shady umbrella in anticipatory silence and watched the transports taking off.
“How much time?” Finn finally broke the silence as another passenger walked up the gangplank to his transport.
“About forty minutes,” said Poe.
“Okay.” Finn went back to staring at the table, having barely touched his beer, chewing on his lip and picking at his fingernails. He, too, had been twitchy and anxious since leaving the house, returning affection when Poe dared to reach out but otherwise lost in thought, closed off, contemplative.
“You okay? What’s wrong?” Poe finally asked him. Here it comes. Brace for impact.
Finn shrugged. “Sad, I guess. Like I already miss you.” He hunched closer to the table to examine his fingernails from another angle, refusing to meet Poe’s eyes. “I missed you a lot, after you left. I don’t think I realized how much until...until I came here, but I really did.”
Poe swallowed down more beer to keep his heart in his chest, where it belonged. “I missed you too, buddy.”
“It’s weird that I’ll probably never go back there again,” said Finn. “To Ajan Kloss, I mean. Everything that was there is gone, and now it’s just some other planet…” he shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Did you really like it there?” asked Poe, a little puzzled. He knew Finn didn’t really get to experience life on D’Qar, being in a medical coma for most of it and all, but if he was going to miss any single place during his time with the Resistance, it would be D’Qar.
“Well, the trees were nice,” said Finn. “Yavin is definitely prettier, though.” He finally took a large drink of his beer as he thought. “I guess I probably just liked having everyone around all the time. And a purpose. And being in one place for longer than a night or two, where I had my own tent, and my own stuff. Not that I really have much stuff,” he added, glancing at his small rucksack. “It’s just weird that it’s all...over.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean.” Poe looked out over the spaceport. “My parents didn’t really talk about this part much, but I know it was weird for them, too. You don’t ever really expect it to be over. You fight, and you fight, and you fight, and then, all of a sudden, it is over.”
“Yeah,” Finn nodded. “And you have to figure out what to do next.”
“Yup. Or, well, live with it,” Poe said with a sigh, making a vague gesture to himself. He was not at all looking forward to going back to Ganthel.
“Is it really that bad?” asked Finn. “I mean, you did this before. It’s just picking up your old life, isn’t it?”
“Yes and no,” said Poe. “It’s not that bad, or it won't be once they actually let me do my job. But I’ve changed a lot since I left the Navy. Hopefully for the better…” he trailed off, thinking about how hard he had to learn some of those lessons. “And you never really want to go backwards, right? The whole point is to keep moving forward, getting better, or doing more.”
“Does it bother you to be a Lieutenant again?”
“Nah,” said Poe, then he remembered who he was talking to. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat and grateful for being hidden behind his sunglasses, he admitted, “Well, yeah. It does. Sometimes.”
“You shouldn’t call me General anymore,” said Finn, frowning at the table. “I’m not--it was only ever a courtesy anyway. And I really shouldn’t outrank you.”
“It wasn’t a courtesy,” said Poe. “You’re the reason we won. You earned it, and I needed you.”
“Private to General? Come on, I didn’t earn that,” said Finn, shaking his head.
“Fine, fine, you win. It was mostly for the turn-on,” said Poe, winking at him, trying to keep things light before his throat closed too much.
He chuckled. “I'm kidding.”
"But what does that-- oh!" Finn gave him a Look, half-grumpy and half-pleased. "That's a sex thing, right?"
"I mean, isn't it always?" Poe grinned.
Finn laughed, seemingly in spite of himself as he soon resumed his anxious examination of his hands, folding inward. Poe waited.
“Poe?” Finn finally asked after a few minutes. “Do you...are you sure you want me to come visit?”
Poe blinked at him, and then laughed. “Did you just forget everything I said yesterday? Kriff, of course I want you to come visit. I can’t believe I haven’t scared you off yet.” He frowned, suddenly panicking and trying not to show it. Here it comes. “Unless you...unless you don’t want to? It’s okay if you don’t.”
“No, I do.” Finn smiled shyly at him, perhaps a bit embarrassed at the sudden need for reassurance. “I told you, I’m not scared of you.”
“Well, the crazy is still leaking out everywhere, and probably will be for a little while,” said Poe with a shrug, false and feigned nonchalance. “I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you changed your mind.”
“Poe…” Finn said warningly.
“We’d still be friends, of course,” said Poe. “If you did change your mind. I mean, let’s face it, I’m way too old for you-”
“-and I can be pretty grumpy. And I have a Secret Past of Crime and Infamy. Even though I’m apparently terrible at keeping secrets now?”
Finn chuckled and shook his head. “You kind of are.”
“So I wouldn’t blame you,” Poe repeated, smiling now. “But yeah, I want you to visit me. I’ll be counting down the days. What made you ask?”
Finn shrugged, looking embarrassed again. “I just don’t want to be a burden. Or a bother.”
“You could never be that,” said Poe. “Not to me.” He reached across the table to steal Finn’s hand, and lifted it to his mouth to lightly kiss the top of his knuckles.
Finn smiled at him, nodded, “Okay,” and then immediately resumed chewing that lip. Poe was starting to wonder if he was going to bite straight through.
“Is that all that’s bothering you?” he prompted.
“Um,” said Finn, pulling back his hand to rub one shoulder nervously. “I don’t really know how to beuhbefenn,” he trailed off, slurring the words into a whispered grunt.
Poe leaned closer, tilting his head. “How to what?”
“Boyfriend,” said Finn, flushing so red Poe could definitely see it tint his cheeks. “I don’t know how to be a good boyfriend. I’ve never...been one before.”
“Well, most of mine have been pretty shitty, so my standards are low,” said Poe as casually as he possibly could while trying to quell the tiny, cartoonish tip-yip running around in his heart screaming boyfriend! He said boyfriend!??? Is he my boyfriend?!! boyfriendboyfriendboyfriend
“Most of?” Finn quirked an eyebrow.
“Okay, pretty much all of them,” Poe corrected himself. “And you’re already klicks ahead of any of them by actually being nice . So you don’t really have anything to worry about.” boyfriend boyfriend boyfriend hey asshole, being a good boyfriend means actually responding to his insecurities, you stupid- “But if something comes up, we’ll talk about it. If you have questions, ask. If I do something stupid--when, let’s be honest here, when I do something stupid, tell me and I’ll apologize.”
“Okay,” said Finn. “I mean, same for you. If I--I mean--yeah.”
Poe reached for his hand again, heart in his throat. “So do you want to make plans for Ganthel now, or see how you feel once you get to Kamparas?”
“I guess picking the day after tomorrow might be a little awkward,” said Finn with a smile.
Poe laughed. “Hi Rey! Bye Rey!”
Finn chuckled too. “I mean, it’s kind of her turn.”
“Eh, that’s a Jedi for you, they come and go with the wind. One minute, they knock on your front door with some weird tree they want you to plant in your yard, and the next time you see them, it’s been 25 years and you’re trapped down an old mine.” Poe shrugged.
“I guess I should plan to stay with Rey at least a few weeks,” said Finn, frowning again. “There’s probably a lot to be done, ways I can help. Until I come up with something else I can do.”
“Whenever you want,” said Poe, hoping he managed to find the right combination of confidently casual and reassuringly eager, though he probably erred on the latter. “Open invitation. I’m not doing anything or going anywhere until I’m released to fly. They promised me a certification test in four weeks, but who knows if they’ll actually let me do it.” Maybe if you stopped punching people and play the game the way they want you to play it... another promise Poe felt might be easier to keep, this time.
“Would I be allowed to see it? Your test?” Finn perked up. “I always liked watching you fly.”
“I’m not sure,” said Poe, crunching his eyebrows to think about it. “It’s a closed base, and you don’t exactly have a valid Republic ID. But hey, I have a little time to figure it out?”
“Really?” said Finn.
“Plus some time to get a little less crazy.” Poe added.
Finn shook his head, chuckling. “You’re not crazy. But okay, four weeks. I can do that.”
“Okay,” said Poe, then couldn’t resist adding, “You’ll comm too, right?”
“Okay.” Finn nodded, finally loosening his bite on his lower lip. “Okay.”
“C’mon,” said Poe, sliding out of his chair and holding his hand out to Finn. “You’ll miss your shuttle.”
They walked hand-in-hand thirty yards to the landing pad of Finn’s transport, standing at the edge of the bare ground for a moment, and then wordlessly turning to fold into each other. It was a soft hug, not their usual crashing of bodies or forcing one object into the orbit of another, but something slow and precious and precarious and new.
Poe breathed out a sigh, resting his forehead on Finn’s shoulder, tilting his nose into the warm space in Finn’s neck where it smelled most like him. He whispered something, or maybe he didn’t make the sound, maybe he just formed the words against the warm skin in Finn’s neck. Finn wrapped his arms tightly around Poe’s waist, and Poe lifted his arms up to wrap both tightly around his neck and they stood like that, arms around each other, for a long time, while the cicoideas screamed in the trees overhead and starships lifted off. Until Poe felt overheated. Until their skin was sticking together, and he saw people looking at them strangely. Poe didn’t care. Finn didn’t move.
“Okay,” Poe said finally, pulling back and forcing himself to look directly into Finn’s eyes. They were warm and hopeful, if a little sad, and he forced himself to smile. Then, he didn’t have to force it. Then, he just wanted to smile. “Time to go.”
“Okay.” Finn readjusted his bag on his arm.
Poe tilted up and kissed his forehead, softly. “Have a good trip. Tell Rey I say hi.”
“I will. You too,” said Finn. He hesitated, then leaned in and kissed Poe on the mouth, boyish and quick. “See you in four weeks.”
Poe smiled. One last little taste of flying. “Bye Finn.”
Poe stepped back to the edge of the landing pad and waited as Finn hurried up the gangplank. He waited until the plank retracted, and the shuttle engines whined, and it lifted off into the bright sky. He waited until the transport had faded from view, broken atmo, jumped to light speed in a single white streak like a shooting star. Then he smiled to himself, a quiet, satisfied smile, a disbelieving shake of his head, and turned to find his own transport.
Four weeks. He could make it four weeks.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I have ideas for a sequel that should also incorporate Rey and BB-8, so hopefully I can get some writing in during the next few weeks of social distancing.