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if you love me, don't let go

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i. Poe Dameron’s mother dies when he’s six.

He does not remember much of the day his father got the news--only how Poe opened the door to find a young woman with sad eyes, who looked down at him and said, “Oh, sweetheart,” in a sad, sad voice.

He does remember the funeral, though.

Here’s the thing: for a six-year-old, Poe had been a little short. So he had to climb up onto a stool to pay his respects, as it were.

He remembers staring at his mother’s dead face, at her closed eyes and clean uniform, and thinking, That’s not right. That’s not Mama. That’s not right.

He remembers walking through the graveyard, watching his mother’s coffin sink into the ground, pinching himself over and over because maybe, just maybe, this was all a bad dream--Mama wasn’t really dead, surely? He’d just. He’d just fallen asleep and this was a nightmare. That was all, yes. All he had to do to wake up was pinch himself awake.

He pinched himself so hard for so many times that a bruise formed on his arm, and Papa saw and held him close and told him, Poe, mijo, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

Some nightmares you can’t wake up from. That’s something Poe learned, when he was seven--some nightmares don’t have the common decency to stay nightmares.

--

(An interlude, after the burial:

“But Mom!” Temmin whines. “I don’t wanna be here! This suit itches and it’s boring and I wanna go home!”

“Temmin,” says his mom, quietly, kneeling down to meet his gaze, “Temmin, please--I know you want to go home, but Shara Bey deserves your respect.”

“I never knew her,” Temmin stubbornly says. He really doesn’t know why his mom is so bent on paying her respects to someone he barely even knows. He really doesn’t even know why he’s here at all. “So it doesn’t matter. Let’s go home.”

Something flashes in his mother’s eyes, and her jaw sets the way it does when he’s about to be lectured. “Temmin Wexley,” she says, sternly, steel in her tone, “I raised you better than this. Be respectful--Mr. Dameron’s just lost his wife. And Poe’s just lost his mother.”

“So?” Temmin huffs. “I don’t like Poe anyway.”

“So,” says Mom, “if I were in that coffin, and Poe was throwing a tantrum because he wanted to go home, would you be okay with that?”

“I’d punch him right in his face,” says Temmin, immediately.

“Exactly,” says his mom, standing up and pointing at a bench a short distance from the grave they’re at. “Timeout. Now. If you’re going to just throw a tantrum at a funeral, you can wait for me at a bench and think on what you did.”

Temmin huffs out a breath, then yanks his hand from her grasp and marches away from her. Fine--he’ll wait for her at this bench. He didn’t even want to be here anyway, just ‘cause Poe’s mom and Temmin’s mom knew each other doesn’t mean he’s going to like being here. Or this suit. This really itchy--

--someone’s already on the bench. It’s Poe, the sleeve of his suit rolled up, something purpling on his arm.

“What’re you doing?” Temmin asks.

Poe looks up. “Pinching myself,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Why would you do that?” Temmin asks, hopping up onto the bench. “That’s dumb.”

“Because this is a bad dream, and I just gotta wake up,” Poe explains, with all the assured confidence of a six-year-old. “But I’m not pinching myself hard enough, I guess.”

Temmin stares at him. “How d’you know this is a bad dream?” he asks.

“Because Mama’s not supposed to die,” says Poe. “She’s not. She’s only supposed to die when she’s like a hundred and ten.”

“Nobody can get to a hundred and ten, dummy,” Temmin huffs.

“There was a tortoise that did,” Poe insists. “Anyway, this is a bad dream, and I’m gonna wake up right now--ow!”

“That was a really hard pinch,” says Temmin.

“Not hard enough,” says Poe, jaw set stubbornly, just as Kes Dameron walks over and says, “Poe, what are you--Poe!

“Hi, Mr. Dameron,” says Temmin.

“Hi, Temmin,” says Kes Dameron, absently, before bending down to meet his son’s gaze. “Poe, mijo, what are you doing?”

“I gotta wake up,” says Poe.

“He thinks this is a nightmare,” says Temmin, and he sees Kes Dameron’s face crumple, sees his usually smiling mouth twist into a broken upside-down caricature of a smile, sees the tears welling in his eyes. “Mr. Dameron?” Temmin asks.

“Poe,” says Kes Dameron, “Poe--I’m sorry, I’m so sorry--this is real. I’m so, so sorry.”

Poe’s face just--crumbles, then. “But,” he starts, “but--Mama can’t be gone. She can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” says Kes Dameron again, his eyes sad, and Temmin suddenly feels as if he’s intruding on something precious, something private. The man wraps his arms around his son. “I’m so sorry, Poe, mijo--”

“She can’t be gone,” Poe’s saying, and it twists something in Temmin’s stomach and some part of him thinks of his own mother, of Nora Wexley and her steel spine and what would happen to him if she were just gone one day, “she can’t--”)

--

Shara Bey’s grave is a simple, black thing, tucked away in a small graveyard just outside of New York City. Poe still goes sometimes, between papers and exams and the hustle and bustle of life in the police academy.

“Hey, Mama,” he says, leaves crunching underneath his boots. “So, uh. It’s been a while since I last visited. Sorry about that.”

There’s no answer. The wind just blows, and Poe shivers, turns his coat collar up.

“In my defense,” he says, “I’ve been swamped with final exams.”

He imagines his mother’s chuckle, the curve of her smile. Would she have told him to study as hard as he could, like his father keeps reminding him? He likes to think so.

“Anyway,” he says, sitting down on the ground and scooting a little closer to the grave, “did I tell you about this guy I met? His name’s Muran--he’s cool, you’d have liked to meet him and Jess and Karé. They’re good people, and great to have on your side in group projects. Especially Muran, he’s--amazing.” He huffs out a soft laugh, thinking of Muran’s bright eyes and soft lips, says, “But I think they’ve decided to make me the de facto leader. Technically, technically it’s this guy named Pondo Baba, but he’s enough of a flake that I’m in charge most of the time anyway.”

He leans back on his hands, says, “So, anyway, about--three days ago or so, Muran shows up with Jess and Snap at my dorm…”

--

ii. The day of the Incident, as everyone will soon come to call it in the coming years, starts out normally enough. Poe hits his alarm clock, rolls out of bed, texts Muran with a hey, buddy and a smiley, showers, eats, then walks to work.

He’s on his lunch break when things start to blow up.

Everything--kind of blurs from there. He remembers shouting, remembers shielding a young girl from a blue blast that never came and looking up to see red, white and blue spinning through the air, remembers a red and gold blur flying through the street.

He remembers wandering through the streets, helping to haul survivors out--and, in time, hauling out more dead bodies than survivors. He remembers passing out on someone, sort of remembers being loaded onto a stretcher himself before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep.

Then he wakes up, and his father’s next to him.

“Papa,” he mumbles. “Hey.”

Kes nearly drops the magazine. “Poe!” he says, almost hugging him but thinking better of it at the last minute. Which is good, because there’s a distant ache in Poe’s side that does not spell good things for his health right now. “Poe, mijo, I was so worried--”

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” says Poe. “Papa, really. I’m okay. Just got a little scraped up.”

“The nurse said you had multiple lacerations and a broken rib,” says his father.

“Okay, maybe more than a little,” Poe amends. “But I am fine. Really.”

“A broken rib,” says his father. “That isn’t fine, Poe.”

“It’ll heal,” says Poe, sitting up even as his side protests at the movement. “I’m fine, or at least I’m going to be. I just--I have to check if everyone else is fine, too.”

And Poe’s a police officer, he’s trained to be observant, so he catches the moment a shadow flickers over his father’s face.

“Dad?” he asks. “What happened?”

“Temmin Wexley texted me,” says his father. “He said he couldn’t get a hold of Muran.”

Dread ties Poe’s stomach into knots, at the thought of it. “He’ll be fine,” he says, but even to him, his voice sounds hollow, the reassurance forced. They’d been looking forward to spending the weekend in Poe’s family home together. Muran--Muran’s fine. He has to be.

He has to be.

--

He’s not.

--

(An interlude:

Snap finds Poe sitting on a bench, just outside the cemetery where Muran’s just been buried. The rest of the mourners have dispersed, given Muran’s family their condolences, but Snap remembers the first time he ever met Poe Dameron, all those years ago.

“You all right, man?” he asks.

“Yeah,” says Poe, distractedly. His eyes are rimmed with red, as if he spent the whole of last night, and he’s hugging his knees close to his chest. Snap feels his heart crack, at the sight of his friend so vulnerable. “Yeah.”

“You don’t look all right,” says Snap, sitting down next to him. For a moment he’s half-afraid Poe will roll up his sleeves to reveal bruises from pinching himself, trying to wake himself up. “You can tell me. You know that, right? Me and Karé.”

“How are you and Karé?” Poe asks, looking up and smiling at him. Snap knows that smile. It’s that desperate smile Poe only ever wears when he wants to change the subject, the one that never quite reaches his eyes.

“We broke up last week,” says Snap, “but you already knew that because--”

Because Muran told you, the gossipy shit, does not make it past his lips.

Muran’s gone.

Muran is gone.

Poe’s face just crumples in front of him. He knows, too. Muran told him, and now here they are, two sad bastards alone at a funeral for one’s boyfriend.

“Fuck,” says Poe, and Snap decides to tug him closer and wrap him in a hug. Poe stiffens at the contact--they don’t do this very often, this hugging thing, but Snap’s pretty sure he needs one today. They all need one today.

Poe fists his hands in Snap’s shirt, like Snap’s a lifeline of some kind. “Fuck,” Poe repeats, as if he can’t articulate the rage and grief churning inside him in anything other than a curse. At who, Snap’s not sure. The Avengers, for not saving everyone? The aliens, for having the nerve to invade in the first place? Muran, for dying?

Himself?

He holds him close, says, “I’m sorry, man, I’m so sorry--”

“No, don’t be,” says Poe, voice muffled by Snap’s shirt. Which is going to be totally ruined now, probably. “It’s not your fault. I just--fuck.”

“Don’t curse at a funeral,” says Snap.

“Yeah, okay, point taken,” Poe mumbles. “God, I just--I want this to just be a bad dream, I want to wake up tomorrow and realize this was all just some horribly realistic nightmare and Muran’s not dead--”

“Poe,” says Snap, tightening his grip around his friend, “Poe. That’s not gonna help. You know that.”

“I know, I know,” says Poe, “but--god, fuck, he can’t be gone, he can’t--”)

--

Life moves on. Poe moves on--he’s done it before, after all. He finds someone else, but Sinjir doesn’t last, even if they break up amicably.

Karé, Snap and Jess never let up on him for actually seducing a lawyer.

Poe makes it up to Sergeant, gets put on desk duty, and then starts meeting Fulcrum in dark alleyways--first by coincidence, then on purpose. He keeps an eye out for things that might seem just a little bit off in his precinct, passes them off to her--Internal Affairs is a fucking mess, and frankly he doesn’t trust half the people there anyway.

He picks up a “defective” Roomba, paints it orange and white and names it BB-8, just for the hell of it. Somehow BB-8 becomes the closest thing he can have to an actual dog, which is great, because his landlord forbids pets but seems to like Roombas just fine, and Poe does not want to give up BB-8 at all.

He meets Finn, and it’s like choirs of angels have opened up just above him, singing Finn’s name at the highest volume possible. He maybe falls a little bit in love with him, even after--well.

Life goes on, even after Hell’s Kitchen explodes for a brief time.

Then Kylo Ren finds him.

--

iii. Mind control’s not like what it is in the comic books, is the thing. There’s no valiant, heroic struggle in the mind before the control takes over, there’s no horrified screaming inside the head when someone else is using the body as a glorified meat puppet. Can’t even use your voice, for that, can’t use your thoughts because not all of them are yours.

For months, Poe’s entire existence boils down to Kylo Ren’s deep voice, and the orders he carries out, the ones that dig their claws into his lungs and heart and brain and refuse to let go. The ones that drown him, and--and he can’t resurface, there’s a thick sheet of ice between him and the surface and air.

And the worst part about it is, as long as he’s under, he doesn’t want to emerge. Or Kylo Ren doesn’t want him to emerge, it’s hard to tell, the man’s orders are entwined so deeply in his very being that Poe can’t tell which thoughts are truly his.

How much of him, he wonders, is still Poe Dameron?

He’d look closer if he were allowed to.

“Take a vacation,” says Kylo Ren, handing him a cellphone, “you and I are going to meet with my superior. He’s told me that we require your services.”

Poe nods stiffly, not thinking about Finn or BB-8 and how worried they’ll be for him, and says, “Yes, sir.”

He dials the precinct’s number, lies--lies--to Syndulla when she picks up, laughs at all the right places when she jokes about the honeymoon phase. “Yeah,” he tells her, “I’ll let Finn know you thought of him.”

Is it gonna get me free drinks at his bar?

“Probably not,” says Poe, then, “see you in a month, Syndulla.”

Hey, Dameron, wait--

--

(An interlude:

Snap says, “I’m worried about Poe.”

“You and everyone sitting at this table, Wexley,” says Karé, waving a hand to her laptop. “Counting Jess here.”

Jess’s image on the computer screen waves a hand. Behind her is a view of her bedroom wall in Tibet, posters advertising for MMA tournaments and showcasing fighters for various styles. “Thanks, Kun,” she says. “Bring me up to date, guys. Why should we be worried?””

“Me especially,” says Finn. “That’s why Rey’s here.”

Rey Jones, private investigator, shrugs. Around them, the bar is beginning to wind down, a good chunk of the regulars leaving for the night. Or early morning, as the case may be. Finn’s quietly glad, because that means he and Rey and Poe’s friends can plan in peace, and he can get Kylo Ren’s fucking voice out of his head in the meantime.

“Okay, for those of us who’ve been out of the loop because they went to Tibet, ay-ee Jessika Pava,” says Snap, “Poe’s gone missing. Like, dropped off the face of the Earth missing. Concerning enough, because it’s Poe, but now Finn’s private eye best friend over here says she saw and stalked him to a meeting with a very shady asshole.”

“So far, we’ve got a name for the guy,” she says. “I recognized him--he came in a few months ago, to try and hire me, and he had this weird--thing, with his voice? Like, he almost made me want to do stuff I didn’t want to do.” She takes a sip of her free drink, and says, “His name’s Kylo. At least, that’s what he told me.”

“You’re not suggesting mind control, are you?” asks Karé.

“Yeah, we’re suggesting mind control,” says Finn, “‘cause we went to talk with him after we kinda-maybe stalked Poe to his location, and the next thing I know, I’m jumping off a rooftop because he said so.”

“Actually, you stalked me,” says Rey, “while I was stalking Poe.”

“I was worried!” says Finn. “And I am very, very sorry for that. I’m so sorry I let you have free drinks.” Which he never gives out, especially not to Poe--and something in his heart hurts, tightens painfully, because Poe is not here, is under the thumb of some bastard in black, can’t cajole Finn into pouring him a free drink, and he misses him.

Rey glances towards him, then slips her hand into his and squeezes, comforting, reassuring.

“Neither of you are being reassuring,” says Karé. “Also, what the fuck, mind control?”

“Honestly, in a weird way, it makes sense,” says Snap. “Why would Poe Dameron, he who never takes a vacation ever, suddenly take one out of nowhere and not even tell his dad or his boyfriend otherwise?”

Jess, on the computer screen, lets out a sigh. “Of course it’s mind control,” she says. “We live in a world where--where Iron Man’s a thing and aliens once invaded New York. Mind control’s not even a stretch anymore.” Her eyes flick to the side, and Finn wonders, suddenly, if there’s something she’s keeping back. For a wild moment, he wonders if it has to do with Poe, but Jessika Pava is in Tibet. Most likely, it’s something else entirely.

He discards the question, then, and instead says, “So that’s why we’re all gathered here. Snap, you’re a great hacker, can you dig up everything on this Kylo guy?”

“Hell yeah, I could,” says Snap.

“Great,” says Finn, looking to Karé now. “Karé, your job means you’ve got access to security cameras, right?”

“Yeah, and you want me to keep an eye out for Poe,” says Karé.

“And this Kylo guy,” says Finn.

“He’s all in black, usually,” says Rey, “dark hair, dark suit, pretty pale.”

“Okay, you’re going to have to be slightly more specific,” says Karé, “you’re describing about half the lawyers in Hell’s Kitchen.”

“He has snake cufflinks,” says Rey. “They’re not black, surprisingly. And his hair’s about--shoulder-length, kind of hides those ears.”

“He has very big ears,” says Finn. Somehow, that makes the prospect of going up against him again less pants-shittingly terrifying. “And also, you’ll know him because everyone he talks to suddenly does whatever he tells them to do.” He pauses, then glances at Rey and says, “Except Rey.”

“Because she’s just that cool?” Jess asks.

“Keep your superhero lady-boner in your pants, Pava,” says Karé, dryly. “But that narrows it down nicely. I’ll keep an eye out for Poe and a big-eared emo guy who makes people do stuff.”

“Don’t go near him,” says Rey. “We’ve lost Poe to him already. Finn nearly killed himself because Kylo told him to.” She leans forward, says, “I wish I didn’t have to ask any of you to help me, because I can do this by myself--”

“--but this is Poe,” says Snap.

“We appreciate the concern,” says Karé, “but Poe Dameron’s our friend. He’d do the same for us if we were in his shoes.”

“I’m not gonna let you go up against him alone, Rey,” says Finn, squeezing her hand like she squeezed his, reassuring. “You’re my friend. Poe’s my boyfriend. Kylo’s going down.”

“Keep me updated, all right?” says Jess, on the screen. “Wish I could be there, not training here. I can’t stand being stuck here while Poe’s missing.”

“We will,” Snap promises.)

--

iv. When Poe finally resurfaces, it’s after very nearly shooting himself in the head.

He’s--sort of glad, in a weird, twisted way, that the last order was put a bullet in your head. He doesn’t think he can stand knowing he killed someone he loved, he can hardly stand knowing he’s deliberately put his friends in harm’s way while under Kylo Ren’s control.

He spits the bullet out as Finn holds him close, eyes flicking to the gun he’d had till Rey wrested it away from him, its barrel twisted and useless. Oh, god, he thinks, the first thought he’s had in months that’s truly, completely his and no one else's, oh god, what did I do?

“Finn,” he whispers, hoarse, clutching at Finn’s jacket. His jacket, he realizes distantly, the leather one he used to wear all the time when he was off duty. It looks good on Finn, he distantly notes, somewhere past the horror and guilt that's got his insides in a tight grip, churning uneasily. “Finn.

“Hey,” says Finn, steady as a rock as he brings himself and Poe down to their knees, holding him so, so tight, “hey. Hey, Poe, you okay?”

Poe laughs. He can’t help it, the question is just so unnecessary, because how can he be okay, after the past few months. The laugh comes out hysterical, strangled, and echoes oddly in the room where Kylo had so kindly locked them, before going off to talk to his superior. “Oh, buddy, I missed you so much,” he says. “I--fuck, I’m sorry, I was--”

“Under mind control,” says Finn, fingers threading through Poe’s hair, “it’s fine, it’s fine. I’ve got you now, you’re free.”

“Not yet,” says Rey, “we’re still kind of locked in here.” She walks over to the door, then yanks on the doorknob hard enough that the door is pulled away from its hinges. “Or not anymore,” she says.

“You’re getting so many free drinks,” says Finn.

It’s--It’s absurd, to say the least, but Poe laughs, wet and real. “Oh, my god,” he says, “do I have to get superpowers for you to give me free drinks? Should I go dunk myself in toxic waste?”

“I was considering giving you free drinks too, but you know what,” says Finn, with a huff, “if you’re gonna dunk yourself in toxic waste like an idiot, I’m going to up the prices just for you.”

“Okay, okay,” says Poe, “no toxic waste.” He looks up now, sees Finn’s eyes, and for the first time in a long, long while, smiles. “Hey,” he says, quiet.

“Hey,” says Finn, one hand drifting up to stroke Poe’s cheek, reverent and warm. Poe leans into the touch, just a little bit--it’s been so long, since he was last allowed that much. “I’ll get you out of here. You’re gonna be okay.”

He doesn’t know about okay. It’s going to be a long, long time before he’ll ever be okay again.

He says, “Okay--but there’s stuff I gotta tell you and Rey, first. About Kylo. About his superior--you guys ever hear of somebody named Snoke?”

--

Things, eventually, settle, after the downfall of the First Order. Kylo is locked away somewhere very dark and very far away from New York, and good fucking riddance, thinks Poe. He can’t even spare some sympathy for the guy’s cousin--Skywalker’s not a half-bad person now, these days, but Poe can’t quite bring himself to talk to the guy, because inevitably the conversation’s going to turn to Kylo, and both of them have very different experiences with him.

Poe’s watching Dog Cops with the lights turned down low and the curtains drawn to give his poor hungover head a break, BB-8 contentedly whirring at his feet, when Rey walks inside with Finn, the both of them bearing Chinese--Poe would know, because he can smell it from his position on the couch.

“Hey,” says Finn, sitting down next to Poe. “I got you your favorite.”

“Hey,” says Poe, smiling at him. “You’re an amazing boyfriend.”

Finn blushes, ducks his head and scratches the back of his neck.

“Did we miss anything?” asks Rey.

“Nothing much,” says Poe. “Lieutenant Rottweiler finally admitted she liked the detective corgi back, though.”

“Oh, come on,” says Rey, with a huff, “I thought she’d end up with the captain!”

“Oh, no, we finally found a flaw in your perfect best friend,” Poe stage-whispers. Finn laughs, shoves playfully at his shoulder as Rey huffs and puffs about how the captain seemed so much more of a perfect fit for the lieutenant than the detective. “I mean, I’m just saying.”

“You’re an asshole,” says Rey, with a fond huff.

“I’m hungover,” says Poe. “And shush--they’re going to kiss now.”

Aww,” says Finn, leaning onto Poe’s shoulder. Beside their feet, BB-8 whirs happily.

Poe smiles, and closes his eyes.

This time, when he dreams, he dreams of his mother’s smile, and Muran’s voice, and Finn’s warm arms wrapped around him, and a soft kiss pressed to the top of his forehead, like forgiveness. Like home.

--

fin.