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War has made us wise

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There's no such thing as alone in the Resistance anymore. There never was before Crait, except what space you could give as a matter of courtesy, but after, after it's not only courtesy, it's life and death and regimented eye contact. Poe's used to the rule "Don't look someone in the eyes before caf." But "before caf" is too hard to track without a star to follow. Everybody needs their space inside their own heads. There's no space at all outside them.

There is no space to apologize in. It's too late for that.

They sleep in shifts, eighteen or so to a room that would've bunked one or two, before. They're stacked two in the original rack, four to six on the floor, swapping out every eight hours, and that's only counting people with the size and smarts of General Organa. Porgs and other little ones winkle their way in any old where. BB-8 and the other droids spend as much time as they can powered down, not taking up floor space or energy. It's lonely without them, no matter how many biological people there are.

Wookiees, all two of them, get a bunk each, not because nobody'd share with them in the cold of the black, but because one bunk just isn't big enough for two people if one's a Wookiee except if one's one on top of the other by invitation.

There is just enough space for pleasure, because it's possible to be in a room filled with other people and silently ignore the fact that some of them are making love, if none of you ever talk about it. Everyone needs to feel alive if they can.

Rose heals. Finn curls into her warmth and Poe lets him go completely for whole half-hours at a time, smiling at the ceiling as she sighs, because she deserves to have some joy.

Rey comes back to herself enough that her eyes see the world around her, not just the Force moving, and tangles her fingers with Rose's, with Finn's. She's beautiful when she's alive and with them.

Finn runs his thumb over Poe's lower lip one evening in the crowded dark and Poe kisses his palm, then turns his face away. He nudges Finn with a hip so he's closer to Rose, to Rey, to their warmth and welcoming arms.

Finn kisses his neck, then says in his ear, "You sure?" not whispering, because whispers carry.

Poe lies, "I'm fine," just as softly, like he always does when Finn offers.

He's aching with loneliness, surrounded by too many people--not enough people, and he counts all of them every shift. He's choking on all the things he should have and shouldn't have done, and all the things he wishes he could say. Most of them aren't for Finn or to Finn or about Finn, but that doesn't make them any less real, or the weight of them any less heavy.

Someone tugs on his hair, his ear, with a small, calloused hand. He doesn't know whose it is until Rey says, "It's okay." So much strength around him. They could power the whole Resistance with their faith. They are, more or less.

Poe wonders what she can hear him thinking. The Jedi need stricter rules than everybody else: no meeting people's eyes before caf unless they say your name twice, and no reading their thoughts ever. "Yeah," he agrees, though it's not. "Kiss him."

Someday, if they all live and love long enough, if there's space enough in their hearts for him, he'll get to see them in a bright, open bed with nobody else hemming them in on all sides. It'll be glorious, if it happens.

He doesn't mind Rey picking that thought out of his mind one bit. Let her have his images of her kissing Finn, his dreams of the way Rose's fingers clench in pleasure, the beauty of the arch of Finn's back, whole again, as he gasps in silent orgasm, so practiced. There's no shame, no failure in loving them. There are tomorrows with Finn, tomorrows with Rey, tomorrows with Rose, tomorrows where they kiss him goodbye, tomorrows where he clasps their hands together at a bonding ceremony that doesn't include him and kisses them on the cheek and bounces their babies on his knee. He could smile through all of those and mean it.

The loves that burn with a vicious whisper of failure in the back of his mind are the ones he hopes she can't see: all the kisses and caresses he shared with people who are lost, all the tomorrows he thought he might have with any of them that will never be, the weight that their loss is his kriffing fault.

He doesn't deserve the comfort his wonderful friends give each other or the pleasure they share.

For the all the people who are gone, he'll tell Finn to kiss the woman who can save herself and the woman who knows how to save him from himself. They'll celebrate.

For every moment of ignition that burned away someone's life, he'll let himself want and go to sleep wanting. He can burn cold for a while.

That works for a few weeks, until they're on a moon in the Outer Rim and everyone floods out into a swampy marketplace like it's the best thing they've ever seen, BB-8 zipping out on Finn's heels and Poe right behind them, except that the General catches him by the back of his jacket. "Poe," she says, with that tone that makes him feel like she's going to tell him off for being out of uniform.

Uniforms aren't on the list of things anybody's had the luxury of caring about since before Finn was Finn. Her hair is perfect. Her hair was perfect the day Alderaan burned, the day the second Death Star burned. He's seen the holos. The day her hair isn't perfect, he'll start seriously worrying about the survival of the Resistance.

"Yes, General Organa?" He turns and salutes.

"Did I say 'Captain Dameron'?" The light's behind her and she looks taller than she is. She usually does. "Step into my office. Poe."

Her office is her quarters, which is shared with some number of other people. All of them are out on the planet stretching their legs and breathing some good boggy air right now, unlike Poe, who watches the General sit in the one chair that's still set up and assumes parade rest because there are some lessons his mother taught him that stuck. Be brave as hell, get as close as you can before you take your shot, and take your dressing-down with composure.

Except it's hard to stare off into the middle distance like he knows he's supposed to when the General snorts at him. "You're not here because you screwed up."

"Then why am I here?" Poe's not sure what title to finish that sentence with. She raises her eyebrows at him when he hesitates. He says, "Please?"

Her lips twitch. "Because you'll listen to me."

"Yes, ma'am," on pure spinal reflex.

"And because the Resistance is too damn small anymore for you to stop talking to your bunkmates--let alone anything else--and me to not have to hear about it."

Poe does not blush in front of the General, not since he was sixteen and got over the first staggering crush he had on her. He's positive everyone in the Resistance loves her to some degree, or they wouldn't be there. It's not the same as the way he loved her then, the poems he wrote for her, the way he would have fought Solo for her if Solo had vaguely acknowledged he was anything but a snot-nosed kid.

The way he would have punched the hell out of Solo when Solo left for good. Him and everyone else in the Resistance.

Point is, Poe doesn't blush in front of her. Not even when she alludes to his bunkmates maybe mentioning that he's not having sex with them.

If something was going to make him blush in front of her, that would do it. It got him blushing in front of the two pilots left from his wing, neither of whom believed for a second that he wasn't actually getting down and dirty with his bunkmates at every possible opportunity until he got BB-8 to speak up for him.

He gives it a good try, anyway.

"Yes, ma'am," he says, and finds that focal distance for dressing-downs. It's much easier than remembering she's a person.

She sighs. "Poe."

"Yes, ma'am?" He's not going to look at her again.

"We can trade your bunk arrangements if that would ease things."

"That's not at issue, ma'am. My bunkmates' interpersonal relationships don't upset me." He can hardly say that without getting choked up. If he couldn't hear Finn's pleasure in the night, he wouldn't be as sane as he is. If he didn't know Rey was as happy as she is, if he wasn't sure Rose could laugh and gasp and that her breath could catch in bliss, he wouldn't feel anything good.

"All right. Not like I can offer you quarters on some other ship right now." She gives him a long look. "You want to be set down somewhere, next time we fuel up?"

He feels himself go more than spacer-pale. It's been too long since he was downside. "Ma'am." His throat closes up. Poe doesn't carry a normal blaster on the ship, but he takes the holdout out of his boot and puts it at her feet where it's safe. "If you want me gone, I'll go straight out on airlock on your order, whether there's dirt on the other side or not."

She stands, slamming her hand on the table. "Poe Dameron, you listen to me." The General looks like she's twice his height. "You made mistakes, and now the pretty young people around you are starting to put a few of their own mistakes and griefs behind them and be in love. Are you going to let yourself heal or sit there and fester?"

"I made a lot of mistakes."

"Yeah, captain. And I'm in charge of you. You didn't make any one of those mistakes alone."

He takes a few breaths around the shape of that thought.

"General Organa?" he asks.

"Yes, Captain Dameron?"

"If I talk to my bunkmates and take on porg-mucking-out duties and general sanitation duties for the next decade, do I have some hope of making commander again before the end of the war?"

"Huh. That's optimistic." She presses her fingers together. "You think your bunkmates want to talk to you and the war's going to end?"

"You taught me to hope, General."

"Talk to them, you stupid flyboy. The last thing you want is for them to lose you before you manage to get things between you figured out."

It has the force of an order and a benediction and a curse, all in one. He bows his head and she kisses his brow, her lips dry and warm against his skin. "Yes, General Organa. I will. Thank you."

"Good. Now get the hell out of my office and find your people." The dignified Princess of Alderaan, General of the Resistance would never in a million cycles swat Poe Dameron on the ass. That's his inner teenager dreaming because he hasn't gotten laid in much too long. Surely.

He goes.

Between the stall with six-legged amphibs-onna-stick and the women hawking four muddy varieties of fern pickle, Poe finds Finn trying to talk Rey into eating a chunk of salted fish and Rose handing her fried bread. BB-8 is scanning both of their handfuls. "Hey," Poe says, wondering if he should've bought some of the local food to add to their standing picnic.

BB-8 bumps his knees and welcomes him. He says, "Hey, buddy, hey," and pats its head, because that's one welcome he can take without any guilt. It's not his fault they've had to put as many people as they could into cold storage.

He would've liked to have volunteered for a few cycles in cold storage himself.

"Hey!" Finn says, with a hopeful look at him. "Try this."

The salted fish is not too far removed from one of the traditional foods from Yavin. "I wouldn't buy a barrel of it, but it's not bad."

"I had more fish on Ahch-To than I want to talk about." Rey wrinkles her nose. "No."

"It's nothing like fresh fish," Poe reassures her.

Rose laughs. "That's true. It's still fishy, but the salt's strong, too, and you can have the bread after to take the taste away if you hate it."

"Just try a little bite," Finn says. "Didn't you ever have to eat things that weren't standard rations?"

Rey holds out her hand. "Fine." She tastes it and shrugs. "It's not as bad as the fern."

"I think that bottle was so cheap because the pickle went bad but the woman wouldn't admit it," Rose says in a stage whisper. "It hadn't changed shape, and BB-8 said there were no toxins present, but it was so bitter." She eats another piece of the fried bread, then hands some to Rey and offers some to Poe.

Their fingers touch. It's been two weeks since he touched her outside of helping her work. There's no spark of energy, no sizzle of romance. Poe's fingers get a little greasy and the bread is sweet after the fish. He says, "Thanks," and she smiles at him. He wants to kiss her. He wants to kiss all of them, to take their clothes off and run them through the cleaners, get rid of the swampy water and the brine from the fern pickle, love them and hold them and touch them until everything tastes like them.

"Everything okay?" Finn asks.

"Sure," Poe says.

BB-8 runs over his toe and reminds him that he'd just had a meeting with the General, and that he should report honestly to his team.

"Yes, how is the General?" Rey asks, in case he was inclined to ignore his droid.

He's not going to blush in front of Rey any more than he blushed in front of the General. He might get a little flushed, though, what with his commanding officer getting involved in his love life, and not quite in the way he used to wish she would. Maybe if he asked her politely one of these nights, after they find a solid base, but that's his inner teenager dreaming again.

"She's perfect, same as usual. Wishes you all the very best, better than me, but I was the only one she had to send you, so--hi. Sorry I've been holding you at arm's length. I was trying not to hurt you, but I guess I was aiming directly at my own foot." He spreads his hands.

Finn embraces him first, by a very slim margin, then Rose, then Rey, and BB-8 is calling him the kind of names the General would if she'd heard that speech. They sound a little sweeter in Binary than they would in Basic. With any luck, the good people of this swamp don't have any moral convictions about folks kissing in public. If they do, the Resistance will be on their way sooner than planned and with fewer fern pickles than they might like, because Rose is going to outrage their sensibilities, and Finn buries his hands in Poe's hair the second she lets him up for air and kisses him just as sweetly, and then nothing will do except that Rey gets a turn too.

"I wanted to go shopping," Finn says, "but not now. Not if you've changed your mind."

"I don't know what I'm up for, other than keeping you company." Poe gets the words out between kisses with the three of them.

"We won't push," Rose promises.

"I bet there's no one in our quarters," Rey says breathlessly. "We could do anything you like. Even if it's nothing."

Rey takes Poe's hand in hers, her saber callouses harsh and firm against his palm, and starts for the ship. Finn takes his other hand, just as firmly. BB-8 tells him they are going entirely too slowly, but promises to guard the door until they've all had a turn.

Rose laughs. "I don't think that's in the standard astromech programming."

BB-8 tells her that self-improvement is necessary for all individuals around Poe, especially Poe.

"No kidding," Poe says, and tries not to trip when Finn tugs him a little faster. If he can allow himself to hold Rose, that will be more than he has had. He wants to stroke Rey's hair while she kisses Finn and trace the way Finn smiles when he's naked, in the light for once. He wants, more than anything, for them to feel safe with him.

The General nods to them as they head back to the ship. Rey checks the hang of her lightsaber with her free hand, and Poe laughs at himself. It's not his job to keep these people safe, not like this. But if he's very lucky, he will have a few minutes' grace to make them happy.