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“Why is Commander Dameron Black Leader if there’s no Black Squadron?” One of the new recruits asked.

Seren grinned as Nova called over from a group of pilots playing a cutthroat sabaac game, “Who says there isn't a Black Squadron?”

Black Squadron was, of course, barely sanctioned, unofficial, and mostly off the books. That didn’t stop them from being as much annoyance as asset. The members had some pretty specific traits in common. You didn’t apply, you were selected, and the kind of pilot who got tapped also tended to be the kind of pilot who spent a lot of time in medical.

Black Squadron flew the missions that were too dangerous for less experienced pilots or that required a specialized skill set: recon in First Order occupied space, undercover missions, or ops that fell into the category of "acquisitions." The rumor around the base, much to Poe Dameron’s consternation, was that you got in if you could pull a maneuver crazy enough that only Dameron should have been expected to pull it off.

No one on base, outside of command, was really sure how many members there were let alone who all of them were. Poe was obviously Black Leader. Then there was Snap Wexley, Karé Kun, L’ulo, Jessika Pava, and Oddy Muva. There were a few highly suspected members including Seren Vael and Nova Zanthar. Ello Asty had also been on the short list of possibilities, before his death in the attack on Starkiller. Then there was a doctor that had supposedly been added as an honorary member after a particularly irritating medical stay by Snap.

Black Squadron, despite their daredevil antics, was generally tolerated by the ranking officers, primarily because of their mission success rate. The more astute members of the command structure also noted their effect on morale. The missions that weren’t top secret usually made pretty spectacular stories, but their unofficial activities made even better ones. On any military installation there’s a lot of down time between missions, and they seemed more determined than most to fill it with unofficial parties, bootleg vid nights, and a lot of tricks and pranks, many of which were aimed squarely at Poe.

General Organa was sharp enough to notice that their best pranks tended to reveal specialized skills some of which she noted in their records. Snap was the frequent documentarian of the group and a lot of his footage went into training vids both official and not. Nova had a rather unorthodox background and could acquire or modify nearly anything given the right motivation. The “right motivation” was generally mayhem. Jessika was the occasionally reluctant master strategist and a pretty decent mechanic as well. Karé had served with Poe longer than anyone else in the Resistance and was absolutely fearless in combat. Oddy was only in training, but he was a promising pilot so far. When pranks got a little too noticeable Seren usually got shoved in front of her commanding officer (mostly Poe) because of her ability to obfuscate. She never actually lied, but she’d talk you in circles until you didn't know what you’d asked her in the first place. L’ulo had fought with the Rebellion and had known Poe’s mother, so he was an invaluable asset for putting Poe in his place. He also had a better grasp than most of the group when it came to the question of how far was too far, so Black Squadron stayed mostly on the right side of General Organa’s good graces.

Seren smiled, her grin a little too sharp, and called over to the sabaac group, “Hey Snap, when you lose the next hand you want to dig out the orientation vid for this bunch?”

“Who says I lose the next hand?” Snap said.

“Me,” said Jess, laying down her hand. “Idiot’s Array, Snap.”

He swore, colorfully, and threw his cards down. “Fine. Let me get the holo projector set up. You want the old vid or the, uh, the new one.”

“It’s like you don’t know me at all,” Seren said.

“This I have to see.” said Nova, and the rest of the group abandoned the game to cram into the orientation room.

Poe watched them all head toward the door. “This can’t be good,” he said.

He hopped down from Black One and followed them over. The Resistance needed new recruits and this looked like a promising bunch. The last thing he wanted to explain to the Generals was that his pilots had scared them all off again.

He stepped through the door as the holovid started. “Dealing with Your Inevitable Crush on Poe Dameron**?! Oh for the love of… Seriously?!” He turned on his heel and nearly tripped over BB-8 who beeped at him quizzically. “Don’t ask, buddy,” he said, heading back out to his X-wing.

“You think he realizes this one was officially requested?” Karé asked the room at large.

“Not a chance. It’s, unfortunately, part of his charm.” Jessika said.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean you forgot the key?” Nova growls in a tone that belies her captive state.

The shackles on her wrists are an old model with a reliable but outdated frequency-match lock system –the anachronistic affectation of a puffed-up security grunt too proud and too stupid to realize that any jackass with five credits can pick up a case of the things at one of the core world surplus depots. Or maybe he buys them by the case on purpose. By his look of triumph, this doesn't seem like the first time Operative Melek's “forgotten” the key before a prisoner handoff.

Don't worry, love,” he chuckles, unmoved by his charge's venomous glare. He finishes strapping her in for landing and stands, clearly enjoying the chance to loom a bit. “I'm sure the Resistance will have something up their sleeves.”

Ever the alert professional, he doesn't see Nova roll her eyes as he struts off to begin the landing sequence.

~***~

New Republic security contractors don't have the privilege of entering D'Qar airspace proper, so Nova and Melek meet their contact at an off-world rendezvous point along with a handful of other prisoners from neighboring systems. They're a raggedy lot, still trying to look cell block tough, but there's not a single sneer among the bunch. Once the Resistance made it clear they'd be reviving the Rebel Alliance tradition of combing the penal system for sorely needed talent, the dream of “strategic reassignment” loomed large in every village jail and supermax compound in the galaxy. If there's anything that ties this motley crew together, it's the realization of that dream, and the bone-deep knowledge that Out is better than In.

No other pilots, though – Nova can tell that without having to ask. Not a single one of the other prisoners has been watching the last few ships land, studying their contours and calculating thrust at a glance. And they haven't been admiring the sturdy, unmarked transport they're lined up outside, either, which frankly deserves a bit more respect for being in service and in decent repair a good two decades after its manufacture.

Once everyone is accounted for, they load up and take the transport to the base, smooth as silk from takeoff to landing. Whoever flies this beast loves it; Nova makes a mental note to make friends later.

A few high-ranking officers are in attendance when they land. Evidently prisoner transfers of such magnitude require some authority, even in the Resistance. They process through in an orderly queue, files and people alike passing smoothly into the ranks. Nova is last in line, at the mercy of her slow-moving and slow-witted escort. Their turn finally comes once the other recruits are already wandering off to whatever new lives await them.

General Organa,” the security officer blusters, all military seriousness without the weight of actual power. “Blackspace Operative Melek requesting transfer protocol completion for prisoner Z4-”

At ease, Operative,” the general interrupts, and the oaf falls quiet as she turns her piercing regard on the last prisoner. “Nova Zanthar. I'm glad you decided to accept our offer.”

Nova tears her hungry gaze away from the lines of starfighters arranged just beyond the cluster of transport and cargo ships. “General. Thank you for the chance. I'd salute, but...” she raises her bound wrists and shrugs.

Why is she still shackled?” General Organa pins the security officer with a withering side-eye.

Standard procedure, ma'am.”

Well, this is where your procedures end and ours begin. Release her.”

Ma'am, I-” Melek is starting to get a little sweaty. Must be he's never handed off a prisoner to a legend before, and suddenly his little “missing key” trick isn't looking so clever. The handsome officer next to the general is staring at him suspiciously, which can't help. “There's a, uh... frequency-match key system, and I... forgot to...”

Nova catches the as-yet silent officer's eye – his pilot's jumpsuit marks him as a kindred spirit – and mouths “forgot” while making awkward finger quotes with her crossed hands. He smirks.

Never mind,” General Organa says, capturing everyone's attention. She has a way about her. “Commander Dameron, show our new recruit over to Maintenance and see if they can't find a way to fix Operative Melek's mistake. I'll help him complete the transfer and send him on his way.” Melek looks like he might be sick.

Ma'am,” Dameron acknowledges, the smirk lingering as he nods for Nova to follow him. “Come on. We'll cut through the airfield on the way.”

Man after my own heart,” she replies as she moves to join him. At the last second, she pauses in front of Melek. “It's been fun, Squishy. Enjoy the present I left on your ship.” And she winks and saunters off, the security operative turning a shade paler behind her.

~***~

They skirt around the edge of the cargo area first, Poe in the lead, Nova following almost right up next to him.

It's not often Han Solo makes an appearance on base, but he's there today, Chewbacca by his side, heading out of the airfield as they walk in.

Poe is busy playing tour guide, and nobody else makes eye contact, but a barely perceptible nod passes between Han and Nova as they pass. Chewie purr-growls softly.

Nova chuckles. “Yeah, I did.”

Poe stops and turns to look at her. “What?

She stares back blankly. “What?”

After a moment, during which Poe squints and Nova reveals absolutely nothing, they walk on.

~***~

Further introductions between the two of them are made by degrees. General Organa already covered the important parts; the rest is formalities, to which neither of them are prone.

Poe scrolls through her barely-there personnel file on the way through the milling crowds. “They haven't updated your rank yet.”

Nova's looking around rather than at him, mapping the base with her eyes. “It's probably written into the plea agreement. That, or they're waiting to see how I do.”

You didn't check before you made the agreement?”

I had to process it through a raging concussion.” She turns to him, gesturing vaguely at her black eye and split lip. “I caught the words 'officer' and 'pilot' instead of 'prisoner number' and didn't much trouble with the specifics.”

Sounds like there's a story to be told there.”

A long one,” she agrees, but doesn't elaborate. She looks ahead, toward the X-wings. “It's all T-70s, right?”

More or less. Our contacts in the Republic keep making noises about sending some 85s, but I'm not holding my breath.”

Fine by me. The inertial regulators in the 85s are a mess. Can't even execute a proper low-alt reverse burn without damn near shaking the paint off.”

He raises an eyebrow. “That's a pretty informed opinion for someone without a scrap of military service in her record. How'd you learn your way around X-wings?”

A lady never tells.” They turn a corner and she stops in her tracks. “Well, hello, gorgeous!” she mumbles.

Poe falters for a second, until he realizes that her attention is fixed on Black One and not on him. In fact it looks like she's forgotten there's anyone else on the planet. He can understand why. “Not bad, huh?”

Not bad? I think I'm in love.”

You wouldn't be the first,” he admits.

Whose is it?”

Mine.”

She eyes him with renewed respect. “You lucky bastard.” He follows close behind while she wanders in for a closer look at the X-wing's hull. “Sensor scattering paint?”

Experimental, but yeah. Seems to do the job.”

Nice.” She runs both hands gently along the side, then turns toward the engine and peers through the intake port. “Tell me I'm not hallucinating and that's really a Bennik-6 modulator you're running to keep the noise down.”

And no speed loss,” Poe brags. “If anything, it's reduced friction enough for some throttle boost.”

She looks back, intrigued. “You know, where I come from, custom work that hot is practically pornographic.”

Whatever revs you up, I guess.” He shrugs.

Nova sidles close and says, in a soft, husky voice, “So... can I see your instrument panel?”

Being brazenly flirted with by a handcuffed convict-turned-junior-officer who looks like she's recently been in a brawl is perhaps not for everyone, but Poe is nothing if not adventurous. “Sure. Let's just-”

Great.” She thrusts an unseen burden roughly into his hands. “Hold these for a sec.”

And as she climbs – scampers – up the ladder toward the cockpit, Poe is left blinking down in baffled silence at the shackles she's just handed him.

~***~

By the time Poe gathers his wits and climbs up after her, Nova is already sitting inside the X-wing, basking in mechanical glory. She opens one eye to look at him as he leans up against the edge of the cockpit with the shackles dangling from one hand and an expectant look on his face.

Would you believe... lock malfunction?” she offers.

Well, they're still locked, so no.” Poe is more amused than irritated so far, though it's clear enough that the balance could shift.

To you, they are.” She closes both eyes again and makes a show of sighing and settling more comfortably in the seat. “I think this is my new happy place.”

That's my happy place. Get your own.”

Nova looks up and tries out a wounded, innocent, pleading expression that fails utterly on all counts.

Poe rolls his eyes. “You will get your own, you know.”

Oh, good.” She snaps out of it and into a more genuine smile – that is to say, a feral one. “I was afraid I'd have to add a lip quiver or something. Not sure how long I can keep that up without laughing.”

Has it ever actually worked?” Poe wonders. Vulnerability seems like a stretch for her.

You'd be surprised what passes for innocence in the outer rim.” She's back to examining the controls, memorizing and admiring without switching anything on. That she resists the obvious impulse to fire up the engines says something for her sense of discipline, at least when it comes to flight.

Whether she'll be so well behaved on the ground is less certain, and Poe already has perhaps more than his fair share of moderately insane pilots to manage. “I think you're overestimating my capacity for surprise,” he mutters.

That sounds like a challenge.”

It is not.” This, he enunciates very clearly. “It is definitely not.”

Nova's expression as she looks back up at him implies she might take it as one anyway, but she has the good sense not to say so. “What now?” she asks instead.

I suppose since you've already made your escape...” She swipes for the cuffs and he swings them up and away, too far for her to catch. “...We should report back to General Organa and see what she has planned.”

She didn't tell you?”

I'm just the tour guide.”

I may be new to military power structures, Commander, but I know that's banthashit.”

Yeah, well. Resources are a bit tight, so I'm it until we can hire a full-time concierge. Come on. The General's probably sent Melek back home weeping by now.” Poe retreats back down the ladder.

Good,” Nova replies as she climbs out of the cockpit and onto the ladder. “He could use a lesson or three in humility.”

What did you leave him, anyway?”

What?”

In his ship. You said you left him a present, and he looked like he might pass out.”

Oh!” she laughs as her feet hit the ground. “Not a damned thing.”

Really?”

Yeah. I mean, it would have been nice to let loose a nice timed-release hallucinogenic nerve gas or something-”

That's oddly specific.”

But I didn't have any on me at the time, and he knows just enough of my reputation that he's going to spend the next six months tearing apart bulkheads and wondering where I've stashed something mysterious and horrible.”

Devious.”

Thank you.”

...I'm not sure that was a compliment.”

Oh, it was.”

Poe shakes his head and discreetly marks something down on the datapad he's still carrying.

Before Nova can ask what he's adding to her file, they're interrupted by a hulking mass of pilot stepping into their path. “This the new recruit?” the man says with an easy smile.

Yeah. Snap, this is Nova,” Poe explains. “I'll send you her file once all the details are sorted out. No promises yet, but I have a feeling she'll be a good fit for your team.” He addresses Nova directly. “Captain Wexley is our best recon pilot. Doesn't miss a thing.”

Right now Snap is not missing Nova's quick but futile grab at the empty shackles that Poe is holding casually out of her reach. Despite Snap's inquiring look, Poe offers no explanation.

“Recon?” Nova gives up on the attempt, shoots Poe a scheming glance, and then looks at Snap. “That sounds like my kind of thing.”

“Sounds like? So you're not military?”

“Not until now. But finding information without getting caught was important to my previous line of work.”

“What was that?”

Poe is about to interject and give Nova a fighting chance to keep her background private, but he doesn't manage to get a word in before she answers, “Procurement.” She doesn't even try to make it sound legal.

Snap grins. “Stealing? Smuggling? Something else?”

Nova shrugs. “I'm adaptable.”

Snap smiles even wider, like he's plotting something, which is almost invariably true. “Yeah, Poe, I think you're right. She'll fit in just fine.”

Poe knows better than to derive too much comfort from Snap's phrasing.

 

Chapter Text

Poe Dameron felt a chill run up his spine at the sound of hushed voices coming from the barracks. X-Wing pilots were never quiet. Never. The only possible reason for whispers was bad. Explosion bad. He was in the middle of trying to decide if it would be better or worse to go in when he heard Seren say, “So that’s the plan. Now who’s in?”

Snap was the first to jump on board ensuring that this must be trouble of the worst kind. Jess was the last, and her response was characteristic, “This is without a doubt the dumbest idea I've ever heard. But yeah, I’m in.”

“Is Dameron in the loop on this one?” He heard Oddy ask.

“Do you see him in here?” he heard Nova say. “Anyway, if this goes sideways he’ll need credible deniability.”

This was the moment when a less experienced commander would have interrupted, demanded an explanation, and all it would have accomplished would be to send this particular group into deep cover mode. Someone with more military experience and less experience with the Resistance command structure might have reported the incident. With this group, they’d know within hours and they’d just stretch the timeline until everyone’s guard was down again. Instead he made a mental note to keep an eye out as he turned and headed to the maintenance yard.

Three days later nothing was on fire, no one had been maimed, and he was starting to hope that the plan had just been too crazy to pull off. Then he stepped into his quarters. In the middle of his desk was a thick black disk next to a helmet. This was far from the first time he’d entered his personal, locked, quarters to find a surprise. At this point it was becoming more unusual to go to sleep without the suspicion that something wasn’t quite right. This was worse, though. When there were obvious “gifts” that was a bad sign. Sometimes it was just to mess with him, but more often it was both a warning of things to come and in the worst cases some kind of protection. The gas mask several months ago had turned out to be the worst one… so far.

A week later, Poe brought Black One down in his usual landing pattern at the end of a lengthy and ultimately fruitless reconnaissance mission. He was tired enough that he almost missed the ground crew waving him off. As BB-8 corrected his flight path his attention was arrested by a large section of the landing field that suddenly had a lot more in common with Hoth than the rest of D’Qar. He slid down the ladder to the ground already yelling for Nova. “I mean, what the hell is this? Does the General know? How would you even-“

“It’s ice, commander.” L’ulo said, stepping up behind him. He could hear the suppressed laughter in his voice, and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to keep from shouting.

Seren stopped rummaging in the crate she’d been half inside of to put in her two credits. “Clearly Command already knows. It’s a morale operation. Here’s your gear.” He heard a thump as she tossed something next to his feet, and when he looked they were both headed back across the field toward the base. He looked at the bag at his feet. If he was being completely honest he was halfway afraid to open it.

"It's not going to bite you, I promise," he heard Seren call.

“Remember when I used to like you?” he yelled back.

“Not really, but it was probably pretty boring,” she shot back, before vanishing inside.

He looked around for potential witnesses before stooping to open the bag. BB-8 helpfully chirped that there was nothing in it that was explosive or organic.

“You’d think I’d feel better about that, pal,” he replied as he yanked it open to find a telescoping stick with a hooked end and a pair of boots with silver blades attached to the soles.

“There’s padded gear and your helmet inside,” said Nova from behind him. He suppressed his startle impulse admirably.

“What the hell is this for?” He asked, turning to look at her.

Nova, Snap, and Jess stood there wearing padded cold weather gear, and holding helmets that matched the one left in his quarters. Snap wore a grin that could only be described as ‘unholy.’

“It’s an ice sport.” Nova said. “Gear up, we’re playing in ten.”

“How did you manage this much ice?” he said, throwing the strap of the bag over his shoulder.

“A lady never brags,” she said, tartly.

“What does that have to do with you?" he shot back.

“And scoundrels never reveal their sources,” she said with a smug grin.

“All right, where’s this gear?”

Ten minutes later, every X-wing pilot not in medical was geared up and clinging to each other in pairs as they tried to get their skates under them.

“I thought this would be a lot easier!” Jess complained, flailing in an attempt to stay upright.

“I don't see the problem.” Nova said, grinning smugly as she skated smoothly past her staggering squadmates. Suddenly she tripped, her skate catching the ice, as Poe executed a flawless backflip before skating backward toward her.

“Careful there,” he grinned as he turned and skated back to help Jessika.

“Somehow this wasn’t quite how I pictured this going,” Nova said.

~~~

“It got worse.” Snap groaned from the floor of the common room.

“How did no one know Dameron skates?” Oddy asked the room at large.

“I blame Karé,” Seren said from the stack of crates she’d collapsed over. “She’s known him the longest.”

“Shut up," said Karé. “I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had.”

Nova stood in the doorway surveying the carnage. “Okay, so maybe not the best idea we’ve come up with.”

“That’s an understatement,” Poe said coming up behind her. “I’ve never seen that many pilots crashing and burning at the same time.”

Nova ducked out of the way as every pilot in the room found something to throw at him. “You suck, Dameron!” someone yelled from behind the couch. “If it didn’t hurt so bad I’d throw this chair at you.”

They could hear him laughing as he made a judicious retreat down the hall.

“I’m calling a team meeting. Just as soon as I can move again,” Snap said, trying to roll over and failing.

“I’d offer to get ice, but…” Nova trailed off as the cursing started again.

Chapter Text

Seren and Nova have been looking even shiftier than usual since Poe got back, so being cornered by them in the hallway near his quarters isn't exactly a surprise.

Nova opens her mouth to speak first, falters, then starts again as her eyes sweep a careful appraisal down his body and back up. “Are you... is anything... severely fragile? On you? Because I am...” She takes a breath and lets the last few words out in a rush. “...I am going to have to hug you.”

Poe has already endured a few enthusiastic embraces today with less warning, and he's survived so far. “It's fine,” he says, and barely gets it out before she swoops in and locks her arms around him.

Seren’s standing well back from Nova’s unusual display of affection looking wary and resentful, and he hates to leave her out. He reaches out one handed to pull her into the hug, and she hops back a step and hisses. Actually hisses.

“She's mad at you,” Nova translates. Her words are muffled with her face still buried in his shoulder.

“She’s mad… at me? Okay... Well, good to see you're both still incredibly weird. Seren, what the hell?”

She steps back again, glaring. “Two days. You insisted on doing this alone and you said two days. And then you were just gone,” she accuses, like “gone” is akin to deepest betrayal and might require vengeance rather than comfort.

Maker, all he wants is a good night's sleep, and none of this seems like it's going to help him rest easy “When did you become the scary one?” he wonders in Seren's general direction. He can't be sure, but it sounds like she growls quietly in response.

“We thought you were dead,” Nova mumbles.

“No!” Seren snaps. “I knew you'd be back. I was just-” Her eyes narrow as she trails off, “I might, um, need to go... fix some things...” She’s already backed herself nearly around the corner. Now she steps back until she’s out of sight and takes off at an audible run in the direction of what can only be his personal quarters.

Poe flexes his arms lightly, trying to extract himself from Nova's embrace. “Can I just-”

“No.” She says, locking her hands together.

His head comes up as he hears Seren's retreating footsteps stop, then get louder again as she doubles back toward them. She pokes her head around the corner a moment later. “What's the code for the thing?” she says to Nova's back, still refusing to make eye contact with Poe.

“32497785,” Nova says, her reply slightly muffled by his shirt.

“Oh, right.”

Seren turns to go and Poe calls after her, “Are you seriously leaving me here alone to deal with this?” He moves his arm again, attempting to gesture at Nova, but she’s already gone.

Poe awkwardly pats Nova on the back, in case it helps with whatever kind of upset she is. “This is some elaborate ploy to prevent me from seeing what she's up to isn’t it?”

“No.”

“Are you going to let go, then?”

“No.”

“Listen, I appreciate the sentiment, but seriously-” He tries to pry her arms loose again, to no avail. Maybe he's a little weak from an extended torture session with the First Order, but not this much. “You are surprisingly strong,” he observes.

She doesn’t bother responding, just tightens her grip, minutely.

“How long is this going to go on?” He’s not whining. He’s 100% not whining.

“How long were you gone?”

“A few days.”

She pauses, like maybe she's got a more exact figure in her head, but doesn't share. “Well, there you go,” she says, like it concludes something obvious.

This is not going to work for that long, but he can tell arguing about it outright isn't going to work either. Besides, it is affection. Even if it's inconvenient and bizarre. If she keeps it up it’ll probably keep Snap from punching him when he gets back from his latest mission. That alone might be worth it. “Okay, new plan,” he offers. “Let's go to the common room and let you get this out of your system while Seren disarms or otherwise undoes whatever horrors she's left in my room. Fair?”

Nova considers it, then mumbles, “Fair.”

“Also, care to explain to me how I get kidnapped by the First Order and her first thought is booby trap his room?”

“You were late. She doesn’t do worrying well, so she put all her worrying energy into revenge plots.” Nova said it like it was completely obvious.

“Well that’s terrifying.”

~***~

Hours later, Poe wakes on one of the less threadbare couches in the pilots' common room. Nova’s passed out with her head against his shoulder. He's spent plenty of nights crashing on this couch voluntarily, so this isn't a hardship, but he'd like to reunite himself with his own bed in the near future. By now he's reasonably sure it should be safe enough there, if not entirely prank-free. He's even a little curious about what kinds of plotting his absence might have provoked.

He shifts out from under Nova until she’s horizontal on the couch. He’s turning toward the door when Seren clears her throat. He manages to suppress an obvious jump before he turns to face her. She’s sitting curled up in one of the many mismatched arm chairs the pilots had "requisitioned" over the last few months. Jessika’s fast asleep in the chair next to hers. That’s when he notices Snap’s also back from his mission and snoring lightly from the couch he's sharing with Karé, opposite the one Poe had just vacated. He glances behind him and registers most of the rest of Black Squadron and quite a few other Resistance pilots spread out around the room in dubiously comfortable sleeping positions.

Seren narrows her eyes again and then looks pointedly from him back to Nova. She doesn't say anything.

She doesn't need to.

Poe returns to the couch and settles in for the night. Nova curls up against him again with a contented hum, and he resigns himself, at least for now, to taking this whole mess as a compliment.

~***~

He expected the nightmares. It's the next logical step, really, after someone's been rummaging around none too gently inside his head. Those icy fingers combing through his thoughts – they left some marks. So it's not the waking up in a panic that surprises him, not the shaking or the scream dying in his throat, but the fact that the malicious voice that's taken up residence in his head fades so quickly once he registers a friendlier one saying his name.

“Poe,” she repeats. “You're safe.”

He opens his eyes. The room is dim, but not so dark he can't see Seren kneeling on the floor by the couch.

Bodies have shifted, and now he's stretched out with Nova’s face pressed against his chest. Nova’s eyes are half-lidded but intent on his face. She still has one arm draped around him. It's a little presumptuous, maybe embarrassing if he bothered to think too deeply on it, but it's very late and he's very tired and this feels a whole lot nicer than being left alone with his trauma.

“Who's Finn?” Snap's voice comes from behind Seren, clearly his little nightmare had woken up most of the room.

Poe rolls over onto his back his hands coming up to scrub at his face. Seren stands, stretching before moving to a different chair – the closest one to the couch, in fact. She still looks wary, but she’s let up enough to stay within arm's reach for now.

He hadn't even realized he'd been dreaming about Finn. It's all an awful jumble in his brain, the horror of massacre and capture and interrogation pressed up against the heady thrill of escape, and somewhere in the middle is a friend he had for a few minutes, who saved his life and might have lost his own in the process.

Poe presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and then stretches trying for casual. “Disgruntled stormtrooper. He busted me out.”

“A stormtrooper… named Finn?” Nova asks.

“They don't name them,” Seren says darkly.

“No, they don't,” Poe verifies. He doesn't trouble himself with how she knows that. “But the First Order and their serial numbers can just fuck right off. I didn't get my life saved by a number.”

Even Seren can't argue with that logic. “What happened to him?”

“I don't know. We stole a TIE fighter and-”

“You what?” Nova props herself up on one arm and looks at him with a mix of admiration and fury.

“How else did you think we'd get away?” We, not I – that wasn't deliberate, but he'll stand by it.

“Oh, I don't know. In something boring, maybe? Something forgettable enough for you to not share the details with us immediately?”

“I'm sorry; I had more pressing things on my mind than indulging your weird aeronautical perversions.”

“Oh, don't even pretend you're not the same way. I've seen you eye-humping every-”

“Guys,” Seren breaks in and Snap coughs unsuccessfully trying to cover a laugh. “The hero stormtrooper? I'm in suspense here.”

Poe shakes his head. “We crashed on Jakku. Took down some of the guns on the destroyer on our way out, but they got us anyway. Nav was shot, spun in hard. I think we both ejected in time, but...” He just shrugs. Everything from the crash until his arrival back on base is still hazy. If Finn hit the sand alive, though, it wasn't anywhere near him. That much, he would have remembered.

“And he's just gone? Just like that?” Jessika asks, her voice sleep rough but curious.

“Just like that.”

Seren ponders this for a moment. It’s the first time since he’s been back that she looks like herself and the difference is momentarily jarring. “Nova, do you think...?”

“Yeah, I damn well do,” Nova says, finally disentangling herself from him and sitting all the way up. She's still groggy, but already sharing the kind of knowing look with Seren that usually ends in what the official reports note as “Antics”.

Poe is still muddled enough, from sleep and from everything preceding it, that he's more curious than wary. “What?”

Nova looks back at him. “Don't worry your pretty head, Commander.” She only calls him that when her sense of military discipline is at its least disciplined. “I can't promise the news will be good, but we will find out what happened to your friend.”

“If he's alive, the Resistance owes him,” Karé adds.

“And if he's not?”

“We still owe him.” Seren says.

There’s silence for a minute, then Nova looks at Poe. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be getting some sleep, Dameron.”

Poe sighs, collapsing back onto the couch. “You're not wrong. You have no sense of boundaries, but you're not wrong.”

“That's the spirit,” Seren yawns.

The yawn is contagious. Now that Poe has managed a little distance from the worst machinations of his subconscious, exhaustion is dragging him down again fast. “Getting a little more sleep, Zanthar?” He says, gesturing to the third of the couch she’d been occupying.

“Nah,” Nova says.

“I think we have some work to do.” Seren says, grinning.

He's already starting to drift off again before he can formulate a suitably witty response.

~***~

Poe barely manages a full night's sleep before they're called out to Takodana. It feels like home, flying with these crazy bastards again, and he can tell by the comm chatter that they're beyond glad to have him back. Nobody even gripes about making the long atmospheric pass in under the First Order's sensors. That little piece of intel, courtesy of Finn, means they clear out the raid in minutes, without a single pilot lost. The rush of winning at something is good, almost as good as the feeling of flying itself, and though they all know that this battle is only the beginning or something bigger, the whole flight back to base buzzes with the sense of a party brewing.

And then his feet hit the ground, and BB-8 is there, and... and Finn is there. Alive and well, and just... there, right in front of him. It's almost too much to process, this savior kid back to light up his whole world. But there's always too much to process in a life like this, and he moves along with it like always. There's planning to be done, strategy and details to see things through, because a whole system is as gone for real as he only thought Finn was, and nobody here is about to let that go unanswered.

Aside from explaining things to General Organa, introductions don't even cross Poe's mind until he notices that every last pilot in the command center is watching the man who's just appeared out of nowhere wearing Poe Dameron’s favorite jacket. He spots Seren and Nova perched up high on a stack of crates marked “contraband.” If it weren’t so crazy, it’d be funny that they actually work at not bothering to cover up their extensive illegal supply procurement. Seren catches his eye first and elbows Nova, who's busy looking at Finn like she's trying to read his thoughts. She glances at Seren and then back at Poe, and mouths Finn? Seren cocks her head, tacitly asking the same.

It occurs to Poe, distantly, that he has maybe kind of missed the way they take one person's share of body language and split it between them sometimes, but they don't need to know that. He nods, just once, and turns back to the General. When he glances up again at the end of the briefing, they're already gone. He wonders whether he should warn Finn, but he can't imagine how he'd ever do the explanation justice even if they weren't in a rush. In the end he just sticks close as they file out and hopes for the best.

They're barely back out in sunlight before Finn ends up on the receiving end of an orange flightsuited tackle – evidently Nova is still working out her affectionate mood, and evidently it extends to him. “Thank you,” she mumbles into his chest, then clarifies - “Thank you for rescuing him.”

And Finn – he just rolls with it, just makes himself perfectly at home with this overzealous hug from a total stranger out of nowhere. He smiles and hugs back and maybe doesn't quite know what to say, but doesn't seem bothered in the least just to feel. Poe learns a whole new kind of heartbreak right then when he realizes just how starved for affection Finn must be after all that time in faceless, nameless white.

Some thought like that must hit Seren pretty hard, too, because before he can get a word out to explain, she’s there turning the whole thing into by far the most unlikely group embrace Poe has ever seen. “Seren, what the hell?” he complains. “You hiss at me and then hug a stranger?”

“A stranger?!” Seren objects.

“He's Finn!” Nova adds, as if that settles it.

Finn shoots Poe a good-natured but curious look over their heads. “Girlfriends, or...?”

Seren lets out a single loud “Ha!” that all but eclipses Nova's awkward giggle-snort.

“Just pilots, buddy,” Poe sighs, because there's really no other way to explain it. He wonders to himself whether TIE fighter pilots are actively discouraged from forming the same bizarre but unbreakable bonds he's used to among his squads. Yet another bad mark against the First Order if that's the case. “The one on your right is Seren, and on your left is Nova. If anybody around here tries to scare you with dire warnings about The Twins, this is who they mean.”

“I don't see the resemblance...” Finn muses as they both let go of him at the same time and step back to grin at him instead.

“It's not genetic,” Nova explains.

“Just metaphorical,” Seren says.

“And anyway,” Nova continues, “you're not in danger. Well, not from us.”

“Not from anyone!”

“That's right!”

“Anyone gives you trouble-”

“They'll have to get through us to do it.”

And as Nova and Seren make their shared promises, Poe sees gratitude, amusement, and the beginning of an understanding of what Poe meant by "just pilots" cross Finn's face.