Actions

Work Header

No Man is an Island (the Drowned World remix)

Work Text:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me. - John Donne

 

All she could smell here was water, and it was badly throwing her off, although she tried not to show it. The water of the drinking stream flowing right outside the window of the guest quarters in Poe's parents' house, like a raucous cantina party all night long. The water hanging in the air, even before the rain started, every day; they had arrived in the middle of "monsoon season," Poe said with affection, before the hurricanes began, but when it rained heavily every day like clockwork for almost an hour and a half precisely and then stopped like a faucet being shut off. Then the sun came out and the world was washed clear, drenched, shining. Almost too much. Water ran heavily off every leaf, pattering into the soaked ground, and they were in the lowlands so nothing evaporated overnight. The grass and flowers were impossibly wet in the morning, loaded with dew, and Rey ran her finger gently along the stems just enough to pull them back and see the water spray off in the sunlight. Inside the little hand-built stone house, it was still damp: the walls were cool to the touch, like the covers on the bed and the rush matting on the floor, not just cold but like they were swollen with water too. The hand-drawn bush maps pinned to a board in the living room curled along the edges, paper rippling like water. She thought she could smell even the salt water far down on the warm beaches, lapping ceaselessly at the coastal sands.

You both deserve a little R&R, the General had said, smiling, which was nice, but Rey, ever attuned to waterhole gossip, had picked up rumours around the canteen: Kylo Ren fucked with his head, bad. She thinks he might wash out. -- Shut the fuck up, Dameron's never washed out of anything in his life. Then why is she sending him away? -- And what about that little desert rat? She did something weird, everyone says so. Rey sifted and picked through the whispers as if she were scavenging back on Jakku and came up with too few nuggets: the General was worried about Poe, not that he'd wash out, but that Ren had hurt him, too much, in some way that couldn't be helped. Leia had already lost her son, her brother, her husband....the price, some said, even for an ambassador and general, was too much to ask. But Leia had paid it without being asked, as the measure of what she had to endure, for being able to do what she had to do. Rey recognized this kind of pitiless bargain: it had been the law of the land on Jakku. No wonder the regular people here didn't understand it.

As for her, she knew they were worried that she might suffer culture shock as they called it, not know how to talk to people or eat at a table or sleep in a bed, like there'd never been anyone else on Jakku to talk to and tell her of these things, like forks were fairytales. Poe tried to explain a little about the base and how it ran, while they were still staying whole days with Finn, one on either side of his bed, each holding one hand. But he wound up being more shocked than she was. He was visibly upset at her idea that they'd have to pay for what they'd received, like food and clothes, that they owed a debt, and might have to enter into a service contract to pay it off. "I guess if you joined up," he said dubiously. "But no, you guys are....refugees, I guess. You don't have to....they won't want you to pay." But Rey knew, and she knew Finn knew, how much their lives and food and shelter and clothing were worth -- she'd known since she had been old enough to know anything. There was always a price. And the price always had to be paid, somehow.

But she did trust Poe, even if he did seem very naive about some things, and no one had urged her to sign anything or join a dubious partnership, or even told her in the mess hall they wouldn't give her a sandwich just because she'd missed breakfast. "Maybe if we did something big," she said doubtfully; maybe then they wouldn't have to pay, not right away.

Poe laughed, in that way he had, not like he was laughing at you but genuinely delighted in the oddness of what you'd just said, no sneering or pity in it. "You guys are something big!" he declared. Rey was still holding Finn's hand, and at Poe's praise, she squeezed it as if Finn had heard him too, in spite of his perfectly expressionless face and the medical machines keeping his breathing even. We won't be gone long, she promised him in her mind. You'll be all right. We'll come back. And you'll wake up. She had said those things to him out loud, too, before she and Poe had packed up and left, when Poe had put the little pink flowering bush on the table at the foot of Finn's bed so he could see it when he woke up. It was small, scrawny even (Poe muttered something about medbay greenhouse choices) but not picked, it wouldn't die. "Make me look bad," she'd joked to Poe, and he had replied, a little shocked, "But it's from both of us," and showed her the tag stamped with their names.

And here they were on Yavin 4, in the dead time before the logistics of moving the base and the ships and the people across whole systems were worked out, before Finn might wake up, before the best navigators and cartographers would spread out across the galaxy as far as they could, looking for the self-exiled Jedi master. Poe had said he'd wanted to visit his home, before the change -- but Finn couldn't go, and Rey couldn't leave Finn. But the General promised to send them a message herself if anything about his condition changed, anything at all. And Poe had said, with a Han Solo grin, "Aw, you wouldn't leave me down a wingman, would you?" and she hadn't gone with Han, and she still wondered what would have happened if she had. So she'd said yes, and the General had smiled.

Yavin 4 was green, not green like D'Qar had been but a wet, raucous, violent green -- birds shrieking in the trees, quick rustlings in the undergrowth everywhere that seemed to surge forward just when you turned your back, green water, even a green sky: the horizon had flashed bright green the day they'd landed, just after sunset, and Poe had said "Oh, that's good luck!" and threw his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her tight. Then he'd explained how the atmosphere was acting as a prism and refracting the light through the water in the air at a certain angle. "I guess that seems strange, hunh," he said a little self-consciously, but Rey shook her head. It seemed as strange, or as not-strange, to her as all the other effects of so much water, everywhere. The nights were dark velvet, with almost no temperature drop after the sun went down, no lingering chill in the air if it drizzled after midnight. The sky was suffocatingly close, the stars as near as the fruit on the trees. The day after they'd landed, Rey had stood and then sat on a rock outcropping for over an hour, watching the great dark sheets of rain walking over the mountains that loomed even in the distance. When she breathed in, she could feel the water entering her lungs, the air not harsh and dry but damp, almost palpable.

Poe had grown up here, and he didn't laugh at her bewilderment, but he was a part of this place, like the tree he had shown her in the front yard that his parents had planted. He'd flown away, but his roots were here, sunk deep in the earth. He was a native of Yavin, and the military -- his mother had been a pilot, too, and his father a sergeant -- and the Rebellion: he was a "Death Star baby," he joked, like other second generation fighters whose parents had come together after that first great triumph, the one they counted the years by: BBY, ABY. On Jakku she hadn't counted years, or hours, only days, since the difference in seasons hadn't been enough to really matter, certainly nothing like the difference between night and day. He told her nice stories about his parents acclimatizing, or failing to: the time his father had tried to eat a pretty fruit, not realizing it was a chrysalis, or brought home a brightly coloured poisonous snake as a pet for his toddler; the time his mother got stung by a wasp-bird that usually had a fatal effect and wasn't sickened at all, and how the settlers had made an antidote after analyzing her blood. He talked to her about how to read the coming weather in the way the clouds piled upon the horizon, dark and soft or white and mountainous, the way the tops of the trees tossed in the breezes, how insect songs slowed or stilled. She'd listened as if he were briefing her, trying to memorize it all, when he stopped and said, again, "This is a pretty weird place for you, I guess."

"No, I like it -- I do like it," she said, not wanting to be rude, or for him to think his love for it was strange. "But it's so....full," she laughed, and it was good because he laughed too. "There are so many things, everywhere -- birds and bees and flowers and insects and trees and trees and trees -- oh, and vines -- on the trees -- no, it's beautiful. But," she added, helplessly honest, "it's really....hot."

Poe just laughed at her. "You were on Jakku!"

"That's different! It wasn't like this at all. Everything was -- baked. Like clay. Here it's so close." There was one particular outcropping of rock by her old home, so weathered there was an overhang almost like a small cave, with a shallow depression where condensation gathered and she could stretch out on the stone, safe from the things in the sand, and dip her finger into the tiny puddle of water to suck, and feel deliciously almost cool. People thought the sun was relentless in the desert, but there was always shelter, how else could anything grow? like the green spinebarrel flower that had signalled to her that she could live, thrive, even in the badlands. (She wondered if the spinebarrel flower grew here, too, worlds and worlds away -- if it grew anywhere else, it might be here, where every flower that had ever grown seemed to be.) But water was everywhere here, filling the ocean, the plants, the air.

"You know where they're moving us," Poe teased. "The brand-new Resistance base, on a wintry moon of Thule. Like when we were on Hoth" -- that was how he spoke, how he thought, although he couldn't have been there -- "nothing but ice, and snow. And rocks. Oh, and then there's more snow, and more ice -- and just for a change, some rocks -- "

"Does it ever get cold here?" Rey asked, feeling the water in the air against her face, water on her skin turning into sweat, condensing in her clothes. On Jakku, you wound yourself around with layers and layers of soft thin cloth: baggy leggings that met the tops of high boots, a sheer undershirt and a vest and a thin blouse under a long crossing shawl of thicker fabric, a rolled cloth around your neck that could serve as a breathing mask or full veil, a slashed skirt that could double as a jacket with hood. Going barefoot would be madness. Here, Poe spent most of his time in nothing but worn shorts and a thin half-open shirt meant mainly to keep the insects off. It didn't get cold but there were smudge fires going to discourage bugs, outdoor cooking fires (some kitchens were outbuildings connected by a breezeway or nothing at all; who would be foolish enough to build fires in living quarters?), campfires for coffee.

"Some, in the highlands. You have to go pretty far up, though."

"Aren't there any cooling units?" It was her experience people who hadn't grown up in hot places sometimes prized cooling units more than food; wouldn't Poe's parents, or their friends, the other rebels, have felt any need for them?

"Sure, if you don't mind running into ghosts," Poe muttered, which seemed so off-key she stared at him. "Nah, that's a joke. There's a big system in the old base -- in the temple I showed you?" She nodded, remembering the huge gravity-defying overhang of the entrance, the great black shadow like a mouth opening up into a huge hall populated by echoes, which he'd said had been the hangar bay for the Rebel fighters. This was mountainous country, straight up and down, and even when there weren't mountains there were the temples, and the old lookouts and high radio towers, moss crawling up their sides and vines creeping down from the top. "I know all the ins and outs pretty well, I helped my parents clear a lot of stuff out -- just us, by hand -- after a lot of people left, there were more advanced bases on other planets. This one's kind of a backwater." But he smiled, face bright with affection. "So the Rebels built this base over the old temple, right, so all these meeting rooms and barracks and store rooms and canteens are right over some weird little places. Places that are kinda spooky, like in some of the underground bunkers, there're these dead ends -- like a blind hall that looks like it's going to link up with another passage, but instead there was just this wall -- and there was a well they said was bottomless, you could throw a rock down and hear the splash, but you couldn't ever lower a bucket deep enough to bring anything up and even if they did, nobody would've swallowed any. But one friend of mine...." His voice dropped, his face became extra-serious, and he drew closer to Rey, touching one arm as if trying to underline the secret urgency of what he was telling her. "He said he'd gone into one of those little passageways, that looked like it was a dead end, but there was a little hole in one wall, and he went through that, and there was a turn, and then another turn, and then there were so many turns he lost count, and he wound up in this tiny, completely bare room he couldn't even stand up in -- he had to crawl through -- and it must've been right at the very dead center of the temple, designed that way by whoever built it. And then he turned around and he saw -- "

"When can we go?" Rey said.

He released her arm, his laugh tipping his head back, showing the long clean line of his throat. "Anytime you like. Tomorrow. They do say -- okay, it's history, right? Not scary stuff. But. Thousands and thousands of years ago, there was a lost race, the Massassi. Ancient warriors. They were the ones who built the temples, and then the Sith conquered them and wiped them all out, and that's the temple the Alliance made into a base, right? And some people say, you can still maybe....feel the Sith. Or even the Massassi. My dad always said it was just crap people said so the temples wouldn't get trashed." He sounded a little embarrassed at how serious he'd become.

"And what do you say?" Rey asked. She felt a little oppressed at the weight of all that history, knowing it, being able to walk around in it; in the starship graveyard, all that survived were fragments, salvageable bits and pieces; the sand scoured everything else away. Eventually, the desert wore away everything. She knew water could wear away rock, but here it was like the water took living shape in all that green, force made visible. She'd seen a tree still standing at the very edge of one cliff, half its giant network of roots exposed, clutching at nothing, but weathered, living, durable, the tangle usually hidden underground revealed to be nearly as big as the living leaves. The nightly desert winds would have stripped it in days.

"Are there ghosts? Like maybe, are there traces of those people left, even from that long ago?" Poe frowned, seriously considering the question. "I don't know....I do feel like there's this....air about the place. It's why I needed to come back," he admitted, surprising her. "It's not that I need to see where I grew up or where my parents are buried, or something....but it's this whole place. All this" -- he gestured wildly, taking in the temples and settler houses and near-jungle and cliffs and ocean far down below -- "was almost gone! It was almost blown up, they were going to kill it, everything on it. But it's all still here. Everything's still living. It's the most alive place I know, that I've ever been." Rey saw, watching his face, he did love this place, the planet, almost as if it were a person. For her, loving or hating Jakku had been equally pointless: it was where she was, where she stayed hoping to hear of her family, where there was no hope of leaving by herself. So she had....not made the best of it, as people had said, but made of it what she could, what she had to. But for him, this place meant something good: the whole planet was his talisman, a symbol of not just survival but triumph, a tangible reason to hope, real as the flowers you could pick. "I come back here when, when I need...." He blew out a long breath, eying her. Most people wouldn't see, wouldn't think to look, behind the bluff hearty laughing mask of the fearless pilot. Rey just waited.

They were sitting on mats on the damp grass underneath the little tree Poe's mother had planted, in the front yard before she and her husband had built their house, or had a child. Poe had excitedly told her all about it even before they'd got here, it was an actual living legend: Luke Skywalker himself had given Poe's mother a cutting, a piece of wood from a Force-sensitive tree (which made no sense to Rey, but she didn't ask) and she had gotten it in the ground the very first day they'd come. At first everyone had thought it was dead, or that she hadn't known how to do it right -- "This is why you don't ask pilots to farm" -- but after months and months, during which Shara had set her jaw and kept watering the frail little stick, it had started to extend thin branches, which had, agonizingly slowly, started to blossom. After its slow start it had grown swiftly and was now about forty feet high, with several levels of pleasant umbrella-like branches spread out and floating above the single trunk, now covered in yellow and white blossoms, and bearing thick fleshy tart yellow fruit with surprisingly red seeds. The settlers who looked after Dameron House for Poe tended to it like it was a baby. Now Poe reached up and patted the trunk, for reassurance.

"When I feel like I've lost," he said. "Lost big. I mean. It wasn't just -- just -- the fighting, or the crash, the...." All his charming glibness was gone, and he spoke as if each word hurt his throat. "When I was on Jakku, I thought I was dead. Or in some kind of....I don't know. Everything hurt, my head felt like it'd been split open, I kept seeing mirages, what looked like pools of water, then they'd disappear. But I just kept....going on."

"That's what you do there," Rey softly agreed, and he tried to smile at her.

"Yeah. But that was....I knew I could die. That I probably was going to die. But it....I could keep going on. Keep trying. But when he" -- his hand closed on the tree trunk again -- "when he was in me, it was like he broke something. Like I just gave up. And I did, I gave it all up, I told him everything....I didn't even have to tell. He just ripped it out. And it feels like....it didn't get put back. I don't know. That's why I had to come back here. Run back home." He released his hold, and laughed bitterly. "When I'm here I know who I am -- who my parents were, where I grew up, where I came from, that it's going to be....all right. Not even that we're going to win, but everything's going to....go on. Keep going on. That we'll make it. No matter what. He doesn't feel that way." Rey shook her head, unable to say anything.

Poe looked at her, one hand tearing up grass next to him, the other clenched tight by his side, holding himself back. His eyes were wide with grief and rage. "How did you fight back?" he asked, his voice low but ragged. "How did you resist? It was all anyone could talk about, for a while. How you beat him -- no, you did. A couple times!" he said incredulously, and Rey had to laugh, fighting tears herself. "How did you do it?" and Rey heard the unspoken, anguished real question: Why couldn't I? What if I have to try again? Will he pick open my mind and split it like a piece of fruit, for him to eat and throw away, again?

"I don't know," she whispered, trying not to look down, holding his gaze. "If I did I'd tell you. But I don't know."

Poe nodded, then let go of whatever invisible enemy he was struggling with, his hands lying loose by his thighs.

"When my mom used to talk to me about the Force," he said quietly, after such a long pause at first Rey thought he was changing the subject, "when I was just a kid, I thought....'Oh cool,' you know? I didn't understand. Or maybe I did get it, back then, sometimes they say there's nothing to understand. It's not something you can pull apart, like....an engine. Or a physics problem. I still don't think I understand it. Or believe in it." He looked suddenly at her. "Do you?"

Rey took a long while to answer, feeling her way around her own thoughts as if she were climbing the terraced gardens he'd had shown her, far up on distant hills. "I....don't know what happened," she said finally, unhappy with her own ignorance. "I don't know how I did what I did. Nobody seems to, really. That's why they say....said I need training." She'd overheard that, along with words that didn't make sense to her -- highly force-sensitive, other muttered things about genetics and blood lineage -- someone else had angrily broken in after that, and been hastily quieted --destiny, something about the ancient lightsabre (she kept it safe, in her room under her pillow when she slept, tucked in her clothes everywhere else. She put her hand on it now). "I know something happened," she said more strongly. "I know I was able to fight him. And if I can, why can't someone else too? He can't win. Not forever. Not over everything. It's like you said -- everything goes on. He's part of it too."

"They think Luke Skywalker can fight him," Poe said; he eased down, propping himself on his elbows and promptly getting the back of his shirt dirty and wet, although he probably didn't care. "They think you could find him. -- Luke."

"I know," Rey said; the General had said something to her about it just before they left, that made it sound like the map wasn't the only reason Rey was there, or the only way to find Luke.

"Do you think you could use the....you could? Find him -- bring him back?"

"I don't know," Rey said, exasperated with the question she'd been asking herself every night for the past few weeks while she'd been trying to get to sleep. "What else did your mother tell you -- about the Force? There were some little books back on the base but they were all like riddles."

"Oh, maybe the Whills stuff? That's....yeah, they're a little weird." Poe made himself more comfortable, leaning his head on one hand, stretching his other arm out until his fingers met a patch of sun, which he wiggled them in as if it were water. "Let's see. She told me....it wasn't all that fate and destiny, magical mystical mumbo-jumbo -- "

Rey laughed and said without meaning to, "That's what Han called it." But Poe didn't seem sad; he just grinned, a shadow of his usual lazy smile, and said "Yeah, that's where I got it."

"Han told us it was true, too," Rey said impulsively. "Me and Finn. He said, 'The crazy thing is, it's all true, the Force, the Jedi. All of it's true.'"

Poe didn't answer right away, but ran his fingers gently through the grass and little weeds, as if trying to make up for how violently he'd ripped at the ground earlier. "Let's see....it wasn't about magic, miracles, all that stuff. Well it was. But she said that was like the....by-product. What you could do when you really understood. She said, it's like everything is....connected....not just that, everything's part of everything else. At a certain level, there's no difference" -- he raised his hand -- "between my hand, what's making up my hand, and the air, right? It's all matter, it's all the same. It looks different. But where it matters, it isn't. She said it was about....learning to see. See what's really there, what really exists....it's the same matter, or sometimes she'd say, energy. There's nothing chopping it up. Everything exists. We think there's divisions, we make distinctions." He tried again, seeing Rey's skepticism. "We see, here's the tree, here's me and you, under the tree, the grass, the ground....but even those are all connected. The tree can't be apart from the ground, right? It can't exist without it. At what point do the roots and the earth touch, what separates them....are they really different?" He let his hand flop back on the ground. "Sorry, I'm really messing this up. Maybe it's easier when your audience is six."

"I'm sorry, I'm not trying to -- I don't mean to just tear down what you believe, it's -- "

"Oh, I don't know if I believe it. I don't know if there's anything to believe. If it's real, if my mom was right, it goes on without us, right? It would just be....the way things are. Like you said, how things go on....everything survives. It might be in a different shape but it still lives. Whether you know it or not, you believe it or not....it's something you can do."

"I bet you could do it too," Rey said.

Poe smiled at her, sadly this time. "That's what my mom used to say."

After a little while Rey said, "Did she really teach you to fly?"

"Before I could walk. No, that's a lie. But they did freak out one time around when I started walking, couldn't find me anywhere, they panicked -- thought a giant carnivorous orchid or a grenade fungus'd gotten me. They finally found me asleep in the cockpit of her old fighter plane, under this strung-up tarp -- way up high! Nobody knew how I got there. Maybe I did fly. But yeah, she took me up in it. One of my first memories."

Rey smiled back, but asked, "And you really went -- scavenging, with your dad?"

"Oh, yeah....that was a lot later, I was nine, ten maybe. We'd go out with a big old airsled, half the time we had to drag it up the steps, and most of the time it was junk, but he was able to use a lot of it to fix up our house. There was a lot of rebel stuff still lying around, most of it was rotten, but you could still see stuff like pins, badges....medals....even before she took me up, my mom let me play with her old helmet -- "

Rey broke in, delighted, "Oh, I did too! I mean -- not with your mother's -- but - there was this old flight helmet I found, and it almost had my name on it -- Resh, Enth, Herf," she carefully spelled out. "I used to wear the helmet, and I'd pretend I was her -- or we were pilots together, going out to explore."

"Now that sounds like a good story. The adventures of Ræh and Rey, intergalactic pilots. Like sisters. Twin sisters. Comrades."

Rey leaned down and over Poe and kissed him -- it wasn't her first kiss, but it was the first one she'd wanted to freely give. It was clumsy and closed-mouthed, and she felt her teeth press into his lip. Poe wrapped one arm around her waist and she tensed, but he drew her down beside him so they were both on their backs looking up into the covering arches of yellow on white. "Don't throw rotten fruit at us, oh magical Force Tree," Poe muttered, and Rey giggled. Under the shade of the tree it was fragrant and almost cool, if not the almost-cool under the rock in the desert, but maybe something better, with Poe's warm arm around her and his face in her unbound hair. She could feel him against her, skin to skin, his mouth against her neck, and put both hands on his arm, feeling the bone and muscle under his warmth.

"I know you can find him," he murmured a quarter inch away from her ear; this was the only way he could say it, unable to look at her but nearly face to face. "But what if he's really lost? What if he won't -- what if you can't make him come back?"

Rey gripped Poe's arm tighter. "It's been a long time," she said. Maybe too long. "But we'll find him, Poe. I know we will. We'll find him." And then we'll bring him home.