Actions

Work Header

Always the Next Morning

Work Text:

 

He doesn't know where they're going.

They're pointed, roughly, away from the Core, keeping to the less-traveled hyperlanes. The first day out from Crait, Finn and an Ops guy Poe doesn't know very well set up a scrambler for their radar signature, so that at different times in a twenty-eight-hour cycle they look like a livestock freighter, like the kind of cutter pirates often use, like a personnel transport of the kind favored by mining companies.

Finn and Tycho worked quietly and steadily while Rey and Chewie held the helm and Poe circulated, taking stock, asking questions, listening to the answers, assessing capabilities, giving encouragement and comfort where he could. Not all the people onboard were people he knew well, and plenty of the people he knew well were dead.

He must have passed General Organa ten, fifteen times that night, where she was sitting at a turned-off dejarik table in one of the rooms whose purpose was unclear. People were sleeping, propped or prone, around the walls, and she was frowning at a datapad, making impatient little marks with the stylus. Poe kept trying to catch her eye. The third time, she said without looking up, “I'm trying to pick out the ones who wouldn't throw in their lot with an army in retreat but might change their tune for a limping band of fugitives. Some people prefer long odds.” The seventh time she simply raised an eyebrow at him. Late into that first cycle, he walked by again and her head was pillowed on her arm, her mass of hair slipping from its anchorage and listing to one side.

“Let her be, I think,” Connix said when he asked if he should have woken her. “She does that sometimes.”

On the one hand, they all have to be everywhere; on the other hand, on a ship the size of the Falcon, there isn't much everywhere for them to be. And the Falcon, all due respect to Han Solo may he rest in the Force, is a piece of shit. Figuratively from the get-go, and literally now that it has porgs nesting in it and twenty-six people using one fresher with one commode.

The second day out from Crait, Finn volunteered to jury-rig another using an exhaust duct that had been bypassed for reasons lost in the dense mists of time. He assures Poe that he's making progress, between everything else he's doing: rationing food supplies (he's become de facto quartermaster) and analyzing incoming transmissions and and putting in time at Rose Tico's bedside. “You shouldn't have to do that anymore,” Poe said when he offered to improve their sanitation. “That's not who you are anymore.”

“I'll do whatever needs doing,” Finn said, and Poe took his point. “How you feeling, though, buddy?” he asked, and Finn looked at him like he was speaking Old Galactic, which he supposed was a fair response in the circumstances. He really did want to know, though.

If what needs doing is the riskiest and most frightening thing, then that's what you do, even if you know it'll kill you. And if what needs doing is the dirtiest, grossest, most boring thing, then that's what you do. When Rey rounds up Connix and D'Acy and C'ai to teach them the use of rescue tape and pressure gauges, they follow her lead. When hands are required to change the dressings and clean the wastes of the three people who are being kept under sedation, Poe takes his turn along with the rest. It makes him wish he'd paid more attention to almost everything, but it also makes him more determined to keep everyone moving, living, safe and free. And it does a lot to keep him from thinking about the dead.

Food is a problem. It becomes slightly less of a problem when Rey stalks into the engine room and stalks out again a few squawk-filled minutes later, trailing a few feathers and with four fat corpses hanging from her staff. It doesn't take long to get sick of grilled porg and porg eggs, not to mention the porg jerky she's drying over the hot pipes, but there's protein and fat to be had and Rey, Poe is finding out, isn't one to let anything go to waste. (What the porgs have found to eat, he's glad he doesn't have time to think about.)

When she's not hunting or dressing out, where he sees Rey most often is making running repairs—a job and a half—or taking her shifts at the controls, or standing with Finn trying to get her breathing under control. But when he comes to the part of the cargo hold they've marked off as the infirmary, just as often as not she's there, too.

At first he thinks Rey's dozed off with her hand in Rose's, but her posture is deeply alert. “Are you—doing something?” he asks. “Is that something you can do? Are you healing her?”

Rey opens her eyes very slowly, as if she's coming back from somewhere. “I'm...reminding her to be whole,” she says. “How to be whole. I'm encouraging her body to heal itself. Sorry, words are a bit strange for a minute when I'm doing this.”

“Did I mess it up or--”

“No, it's all right. Sit with me.” She unfolds her legs, scrambles up, waves at the edge of the bed. All of her movements are purposeful, powerful, clear. He likes her, and she scares him: he doesn't really understand what she can do, and the parts he does understand scare him more, in a way. The First Order wields their Force user as a weapon. Rey is a person, but what will the next stage of this war make of her? What will they be tempted to ask her to do? And what if she does it?

On the other hand, it's partly down to her that there's going to be a next stage. And it's true that there's a touch more color in Rose's cheeks than yesterday, that her breathing seems deeper, less strained. Poe may have been by a few times, thinking of Paige, and also--”She saved Finn,” he tells Rey, sitting and feeling the pallet dip.

“He told me.” She's been holding Rose's hand, and now she gently disengages. “I think I better switch to Torsten now,” and she indicates one of the other patients under sedation, a recent recruit, someone Poe didn't know well when they were conscious. Not part of the mutiny. “Are you staying?” she asks.

“I better not. Just came to check on—you know, everyone.”

Her look says she isn't fooled, a startling if softened reflection of a General Organa Special. But she doesn't make an issue of it. “Come fetch me if anything starts leaking or, you know, emitting fumes, or making weird noises. I mean, weirder than usual.”

So Poe returns to the upper decks, where he half expects there to be ten emergencies waiting for him. But everyone is quietly, grimly going about their business; Chewbacca's in the pilot's chair and Nien's copiloting, Connix is frowning over an encrypted transmission, there's a smell of porg stew coming from the galley. The remaining personnel are resting so as not to strain life support, or cleaning their blasters; Tycho and Nassreen are stuffing a pillowcase with feathers. And Finn—Finn is coming toward him, beaming like a private sun. “We've got an offer of safe harbor,” he says. “Undenon 3, as soon as we can get there. Coordinates are on the display.”

“Great,” Poe says. “Finn, that's great.” If he says it enough times, maybe it'll start to sound like he believes it. “What do we need to know about Undenon 3?”

“I'm pulling up the information now, but it's gonna be old. Databank stuff. The Falcon's not connected to the holonet. But it's one of the General's numbers, she said it checks out. It's a good distance from any sustained First Order presence, and we only need to refuel once to get there.” Finn hands him a datapad with a cracked screen and a melted corner. “Here's a list of space stations between here and there where we might be able to do that—these have been updated more recently, they should still be okay. You're gonna see some coordinates twice but that's 'cause I made the list twice, once by safety and once by directness of route, so you can make the best call.”

“Most to least or least to most,” Poe says weakly.

“Most to least, Poe, c'mon, who does least to most?”

“Who's our contact?”

“Guy named Lando Calrissian.”

 

*

 

Of all the Heroes of the Rebellion that his parents used to tell stories about when they hit the right intersection of tired, stoned and happy, Calrissian is the one Poe knows the least about. He was up with the Rebel fleet at the Battle of Endor, he took the killshot at the second Death Star, “but I didn't really know him, he didn't mix in much,” Poe remembers his mother saying—a memory he didn't know was there, lodged in the folds of his mind, because why would he remember that? But he can hear her saying it, can smell the mix of spice smoke and hot oil from the fritters she'd just finished making, can feel the sense he always had when he was very small of his parents moving neatly around each other in small, warm, yellow-lit spaces.

Why had it come up at all? Calrissian had been in the news, maybe, some dramatic financial coup. That's the one thing Poe feels sure he knows about the man: that he's a wheeler and dealer, a profiteer. The kind of person his parents (especially Kes) would normally talk about with scorn: “You don't get rich by acting right.” He wonders why a person like that would respond more warmly to, as Leia put it, a limping band of fugitives. The Resistance isn't exactly indicating a high return on investment right now, and what it has to offer—he still believes this—can't be paid for in credits.

He does still believe it. He does.

Every few hours, in an angle made by the edge of the blast doors or in the galley when it's his turn to cook, he lets the grief take him, and the shame. Doles it out to himself, the way he'll spoon out soup later—soup is a terrible thing to try to eat in a craft that's trying to shake itself to pieces, but it's the best way he knows to make their supplies last. He lets himself go sick and swimmy and distant, feels the bile come up in his throat, and swallows it back down.

Poe knows that sooner or later, someone's role in the Resistance will have to switch from “keeping things going” to “trying to make something happen.” Every cycle that passes, every parsec they traverse, every liter of fuel they burn, brings them closer to that moment. And he doesn't know what the something is, and he doesn't know if he's the person who should know. Leia told everyone to follow him, but where he led them was a rock wall. If Rey hadn't been there to lift it for them, all his leadership would have come to nothing, and the Resistance would've died underground.

He knows where they're going next, at least. But he doesn't know what they're going to do when they get there, and he's more worried than he wants to admit about what they might have to give up.

 

*

 

The twenty-six of them sign onto the plan before docking at Station Besh Besh (the name of which sends BB-8 rolling in a circle chortling): stay in pairs or trios, don't attract attention, no drugs and no fighting, be back in six hours or we're leaving without you. In fact, most people bolt straight for the public baths, the sonics on the Falcon being wildly unequal to their task—a deciding factor in choosing this refueling point.

Finn and Poe agree to guard the ship while she's taking on fuel. Chewie and Rey stay behind also, to investigate a power coupling that it's not safe to work on in flight, and repair some asteroid damage to the hull. General Organa is down in the cargo hold with a blaster, keeping watch over the sleepers.

Poe offered to stay mostly because he wants people to be able to find him if they need him, and to get everyone away if things go sour. But standing with Finn in the docking bay while faint growls and the sparking sounds of the arc welder drift down from above, in the roaring echoes from the high ceilings and the shuffling hum of sentient traffic, feels surprisingly good. Poe doesn't think he could handle direct light from a real sun right now, or the smell of living soil. The machined, metallic bustle of the station is just right.

Lodged in a pocket seam, he finds a credit chip with enough petty cash from a previous mission to buy them a bottled drink from one of the passing carts. It's cold and tart with a tinge of sweetness. He hands it to Finn, whose eyes widen at the taste, and after that they pass it back and forth until it's gone.

He wants to say something to Finn that's not practical, not part of the scramble for survival. Before this flight, their longest conversations to date were the ones planning the slicing mission, and before that, their little chat on the way off the Finalizer. He trusted Finn then, trusts him now, without knowing him. Now as then, it's not just desperation: this is a good man. A smart one too, it turns out, and a skilled one. What else does Poe need to know?

Maybe nothing, but he wants to know.

“Tell me...” Every question is bad, at least for an opener. You can't ask a former stormtrooper to tell you something about where he grew up, and you can't ask someone who just got back from a failed and dangerous mission to tell you about how it went. A couple people did ask Poe when he made it back to D'Qar base, and he'd barely held it together. “Tell me what you see,” he settles. “When you look around the station, what stands out to you?”

Finn looks at him oddly. “Like, tactically? Escape routes? Potential hostiles? What am I looking for?”

“No, turn that off for a second. Or like...” Force knows he doesn't want them to miss an actual threat. “Add to it. I know you notice stuff. What do you notice?”

Finn takes the question seriously, as he takes all questions except the ones about how he's feeling. He looks to the left, and Poe takes the opportunity to admire his profile. Finn's beauty struck him early and the impact crater it made in his consciousness has remained sharp and clear, despite everything that's happened that he would have expected to blur it, despite everything he knows now about Finn that's more important and more impressive than how he looks. Which is terrific. Really, extremely good. “I don't know the names of lots of sentients,” Finn is saying. “Who are those dark-green people over there?”

Something Poe knows not from Finn but from First Order propaganda: to the Order, there are humans and vermin. It surprised him, in fact, during the preparation for the assault on Starkiller, how quickly Finn appeared to adjust. Now it also occurs to him that they could make more use of this than they have so far: how many species have assumed that this was just another squabble among humans that would work itself out? How many of them might be swayed by knowing that the Order would just as soon wipe a nonhuman population off the face of a planet as cut a deal? Something to think about, something to try, something that means they're not done. “Those are Trandoshans,” he says. “They look like traders, maybe.”

“How can you tell? They're not carrying stuff.”

“Trandoshans deal in tech and information, or at least that's what they've been doing recently. What they're selling could fit in a little pouch, about like what they have.” He indicates the beltpacks both are wearing. “But they could have anything in there. It's more about how they're moving.”

“I see it,” Finn says, because of course he does. “Every time they pass someone, they kind of drift toward them, and then they drift away again. Evaluating potential customers, right? And that person over there is nervous about something, look how they're hugging the wall and kind of turning and snapping back.” He grins. “This is much easier from far away. Faces are still tough for me.”

Poe wants to kiss him for about six reasons at once. He settles for looking where Finn's looking and sees the person he means, dressed in traditional Dandoranian garb (he knows from Pava's collection of holos) (but he's not thinking about that right now) and hunched around their bulky torso as though they're in pain. Behind them is a droid chivvying a trio of small children. “Those look like the kids who helped us in Canto Bight,” Finn says. “The jockeys.”

The bottle, empty of moisture, starts to desiccate and crumble in Poe's hands. “Tell me about them.”

“They were about the same age as cadets, stormtrooper cadets I mean, and once Rose showed them we were with the Resistance they--”

“Death to the Children of the Silver Dawn,” shouts the hunched-over person in Dandoranian garb, and explodes.

The blast sends Poe flying and fills the hangar with smoke. He's being lifted and dragged; he's coughing, and the person holding him is coughing, and the person holding him is Finn, saying in a muffled voice, “Can you get your shirt over your mouth? C'mon, I'm getting you onboard.”

“Where's everyone?” Poe asks, or tries to ask. He can't tell if the blur is on the inside or the outside of his eyes, can't tell if his voice is weak or if his ears are deafened “The rest—”

“I'll go back out.” Then Finn's passing him to someone else, someone less able to hold up his weight, so he tries to take more of it back, takes a step and then another and then another down into darkness.

“Hi,” says a voice, one he should know, coming from the side of him. He turns his head, which hurts. Rose Tico is looking at him: she's sideways, but he's sideways too, and because of how they're positioned they can look each other in the face.

“Rosie,” he says, using her sister's name for her.

“Finn,” she says, looking wild.

“No, it's--”

“I know who you are! I mean is Finn okay, did he—did it work--”

He can't fathom what she's talking about—did what work? The suicide bomb? That's not how she'd ask—and then it clicks, of course. This is the first time she's been awake since she foiled Finn's own suicide run. “It worked,” he tells her. “He's fine. You've been out for a while. Stuff's been happening.”

“What kind of stuff.”

He runs over it as efficiently as he can: off Crait, in the Millenium Falcon, on their way to safe harbor. “We had a little mishap while we were refueling,” he finishes. “That's why I'm here. But he--” It occurs to him, sickeningly, that he doesn't actually know if Finn's fine, this time. A few minutes of sporadic effort interrupted by waves of nausea and dizziness get him up on an elbow and looking around. It's just him and Rose and Torsten and Marakkal in the infirmary—which means Finn's either fine or—

“I have to get up,” he says, scrabbling with his feet against the pallet, pushing through the aches and twinges, they don't matter if—“I have to go—see about something--”

“No you don't,” Finn says, stepping into Poe's sightline, weighing his shoulder down with a big hand. “Tell me what it is and I'll--” He stops, and Poe has no trouble at all understanding why. “Rose,” he says, turning, taking his hand away. His deep voice has a crack in the bell of it when he says her name a second time.

“Oh good,” Rose says, “it did work.” Poe looks at the underside of the upper deck, ringing and creaking and shadowing with footsteps crossing it. “But you knew,” Finn says, “you...talked to me,” and Poe, who's been paying very close attention to Finn's tones of voice lately, doesn't miss the carefulness with which he says it.

“I did? The last thing I remember is turning to knock you away from that cannon thing.”

“Yeah,” Finn says, and now his voice is warm, “you sure did do that.”

“I wasn't going to let you die, idiot,” Rose snaps back, and Finn's saying, “Well, you didn't,” and Rose is saying, “Poe caught me up a little but—this is it, right? It's just us now,” and Finn's saying, “Yeah, but we have some offers of backup coming in, finally,” and Rose is saying, “Let me up, let me help, I want to help. I can help keep the ship running at least, I can smell the coolant leaking.”

“I think Arun should look at you first.” Arun is their remaining medic. “And you, too.” He looms into Poe's field of view again. “What did you need to see about?”

“You,” Poe says, because why bother? “I didn't remember getting back to the ship, I didn't know if you made it back too.” He heaves up again. “Look, I'm fine, all I got was what, a little smoke inhalation and a shock concussion? That's a normal day in the cockpit for me. Was anyone else injured? We're underway, so I figure there wasn't any real damage to the--” He stops because Finn's palm is covering his mouth, in a move so unprecedented that it takes him a minute to also register how very much he likes it. It's a feeling from another context entirely, bright and fleshy and out of place here.

“One of the things I've been learning,” Finn says in a reasonable, cheerful voice, “is that my expectations about recovery are shaped by the stormtrooper program and they're maybe a little unrealistic. In the last twenty cycles you've been blown up twice, crashed once, and been through a Force interrogation, and I think you've slept maybe three hours in every twenty-eight since we took off. I think you can lie down for a minute. I'll brief you, okay? Can I take my hand away now?”

Please do not ever take your hand away, Poe doesn't say or try to say. Nor does he mention the dead. He nods with exaggerated obedience, which hurts, and, “I got shot in the chest with a stun beam, too,” he informs Finn instead.

“What? You did? Who shot you?”

“General Organa.”

“Wow,” Rose says. “I did miss a lot.”

Finn touches Poe's cheek with the knuckles of the hand that was covering his mouth. “I'll be back in a few with what you need to know,” he says. “Or I'll send someone down. I think Arun's sleeping, but I'll send them down too as soon as they're awake.” He moves to the edge of Poe's vision and says to Rose, “Don't you go anywhere, either,” and then his footsteps echo away.

Poe turns his head again to look at her. She's the one staring upward now. “Rose,” he says, “Paige died because of me. A hundred percent. I know 'sorry' is like—like a bad joke—but I wanted you to know I know that.”

“Paige died because of the First Order,” Rose says, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. “And, okay, maybe you a little bit. Like three percent. I was angry at you, but I'm not as much anymore. I'm just trying —I really don't remember anything after I turned that stupid monoski thing to knock Finn off course. Force, I'm so glad he's alive.”

“Me too.”

“My whole midsection hurts.”

“Yeah. I heard Arun mention broken ribs and a bruised spleen. And some head trauma, which maybe explains the memory thing. When I've gotten hit in the head, stuff usually comes back after a few days if it's going to.”

“I don't even know what my spleen does,” Rose says mournfully. “I hope I didn't need it for anything.”

They lie quiet for a while after that. Poe liked Paige Tico, liked her disgust for the First Order and her fierce love for her sister, but she was a hard person to know. Hardship and responsibilities had beaten the playfulness and the openness out of her, and he sees now that she was fighting to preserve it in Rose, sees the capacity for hope and joy that Paige fought and died to protect.

He wonders what it was that she said to Finn that Finn doesn't want to get specific about.

It's Connix, not Finn, who reappears next and provides the status report that Finn promised. No other injuries—everyone else was clear of the docking bay—and only a little superficial damage to the Falcon's plates. They're approximately two cycles out from Undenon 3, resupplied with the amounts of food and fresh water they'd budgeted for. The real problem is that the problem Rey and Chewbacca were fixing is still not exactly fixed, but Rey thinks she can bypass a few things and keep them going long enough to dock and do the more extensive work, and does Poe want some soup?

He doesn't. He asks her to see if the Children of the Silver Dawn are people they need to worry about or people they might be able to work with. While they're talking, Arun comes down as well, knuckling their eyesockets. They examine Poe briefly and brusquely, clearing him for return to duty, then turn to Rose. “Should I stay and get caught up?” Poe asks.

“Not necessary, probably an impediment. I'll report later.”

So he stumbles upward, uses the fresher, checks in with Andreas and Ezelle and shows D'Acy how to finish off the seam she's mending. Goes to the cockpit to tell Rey that Rose smelled coolant leaking, before remembering that of course Finn will have told her. The two of them are sitting as they often do, side by side, hands loosely joined, not talking. He looks at the backs of their heads for a while before coming in far enough to make them look up.

“All okay?” he asks. “Need me to take a turn?”

“Come here a second,” Finn says, so he does, to the right of the copilot's chair. Leans on the instrument panel and watches the stars stream past the viewport, their motion the one constant sight of his life. He's waiting for Finn to relay some necessary piece of information, but what Finn does instead is take his hand—a day for unprecedented things involving Finn's hands, this one—and say, “We're almost there.”

“You always think it'll be better when you get somewhere,” Rey says, obviously an installment in an ongoing conversation that Poe hasn't been privy to. But he does understand that this is them making him privy to it, that Finn's hand in his is an invitation of a kind. He says, “Let's figure out what we need to do to make it better,” and the long quiet moment before they swing into a discussion about what to ask for on Undenon 3 that's half preliminary plan, half wish-fulfillment fantasy, lets him hope that they know he meant more than that.

But the lesson Vice-Admiral Holdo taught him is not, perhaps, exactly the one she meant to teach, and he wants to know what they meant. So he says, “I wanna be clear here, we're talking about our long game, too, right? What we're fighting for.”

They both turn toward him, and Finn says, “Right,” quickly, the way he does (Poe is starting to know) when he's trying to act like he knew something all along. When he's bluffing or, more charitably, catching up. Then he says, “Ow,” because Rey has elbowed him hard. “That too,” she says. “Yes.”

 

*

 

“I don't want to address people,” Leia says, and there's a trace of irrationality and petulance so utterly foreign to his knowledge of her that it fills him with terror.

“It's not addressing. You just have information none of the rest of us have. It's the same as when Chewie told us which parts of the ship we better not lean on.”

In these onboard days, most of their communications have been functional. There's his knowledge of her grief: losing Han and Luke, giving up on her son, and carrying the weight of all the dead he's carrying too. But with the rest of the Resistance, all of whom have their own dead and their own monotone answers, the conversations opened up after a few days, at least enough to talk about who they miss, or what they fear, or what their life was like before. Things he should have known about the people he was fighting with, but didn't until now.

With Leia, between them, there's his guilt and shame, the impact of her hand and of her blaster and most of all of her distrust, his knowledge that her distrust was partly right and partly wrong. Maybe one he could have dealt with; the tangle of the two has made a noose for his tongue. He's asked her only for the things he's asked of everybody else onboard. He's genuinely frightened now that in doing that, he's missed something essential slipping away from her, that the time when she was fully and wholly herself has passed, and that whatever it is that he can't stand to say to her or hear from her he'll never get the chance to say or hear.

He doesn't want to have to comfort her.

He doesn't want to want comfort from her.

He's losing track of how to tell when it matters what he wants.

And in all of this, she's still the best person to tell them what it would be useful for them to know about Lando Calrissian.

Apparently she recognizes that last part too, because she says, “Okay,” getting to her feet slowly and making her way into the center room—the one with the dejarik table—where they gather when there's something they all need to hear, and where about a third of them sleep. The feeling in the room changes subtly when she enters, as it always does.

Because he's been talking with them, and because he has led people before, Poe knows that when (if) this bunch is back on multiple meals a day, with a set of stated objectives and some resources to carry them out, they'll generate dissension about what should be done and who should do it and how. The survival mode that's draining them is also keeping them together; when they can lift their heads above it, something else will have to keep them together. If it's not General Organa, with her expertise and her insight and her fairness and her charisma—if they're not doing things because those things are what she wants—what will they do? Is Poe supposed to provide that for them, now?

Right now, though, they still have her to listen to, and Poe doesn't miss the relief with which some of them hear the firm gravelly tones of her voice, the difference in their demeanor when she's speaking. “Lando Calrissian is an old friend,” she explains. “He provided some of the initial outlay for Resistance materiel, and his contacts have been useful to us in the past. He didn't respond to our original distress call, which makes me suspect that he didn't and doesn't want to be seen helping us, especially if we look like we still have a chance. He protects his own, and that extended to Han and Luke and to some extent to me, but it didn't go as far as the Resistance, and his business dealings...”

Connix is taking notes, and Rose is frowning in a way that makes itself felt across the cabin. She's up and around, more or less, though he catches her wincing a lot. The Falcon seems happier, less panicky, under her and Rey's combined ministrations. The two of them hit it off instantly and unsurprisingly: ninety percent of their conversation, from what Poe can gather, consists of griping about the ship's original design, previous maintenance, and current condition.

Rose is now propped against a strut with eight porgs perched on and around her. One of them is preening her hair. Poe wonders fleetingly whether she and Rey have had the porg jerky conversation yet, and can't decide whether he wants to be there when it happens. “But then how do we know he won't sell us out?” she calls out now, when there's a pause in Leia's flow of explanation.

“The first thing Lando did about the Rebellion was betray us,” Leia says. “I understand now a little more now about why he did it, and he risked his life plenty of times for us later. I'm not arguing with you, Rose, we need to use caution.”

“What can we do to keep him on our side this time?” Finn asks, and Poe's heart swells because it's such a good, practical question. And keeps swelling, because Tycho asks another question and so does Ezelle and so does Chewbacca, and they're all good questions, and they're not just asking Leia--“What's the quickest turnaround we could do if we have to leave in a hurry?” Ezelle asks Chewie, and, “Are there any, you know, like Force things you could do that he might want done? Like maybe he wants a barge moved or something?” Potts asks Rey (and gets smacked by Nien for his trouble). Rey says, “The Force isn't just about lifting rocks,” which is a joke now, they have jokes, and Dell says, “I want to put in a word for Arun, they've been taking care of us with splints and spit, and I think medical supplies should be a part of any deal we cut.”

It's partly the renewed hope that has them so alert, he knows, and hope is tricky: it can leave you stranded or keep receding into the distance. And they'll still look for a leader or a scapegoat or both if this doesn't work out. But he seeks Leia's eye, and this time catches it: she sees what he's seeing, and she's glad about it too.

They rough out a list of requests and priorities, and Rey, Rose and Chewie lead the team that will be responsible for a quick exit if they need one. Finn and Connix will lead the team trying to get a handle on Calrissian's ties and resources, and Poe will lead the negotiations with Leia supervising. Everyone else will keep their eyes open and try to look woebegone but determined (“Which won't be hard,” Potts adds) and take full advantage of any culinary and sanitary facilities that present themselves.

“Just take it slow,” Rey cautions, “it's not good to eat too fast after you've been hungry for a long time. Speaking of which,” and she picks up her staff where it's leaning, and strides toward the cargo hold in search of tonight's meal, hopefully their last onboard for a while. Conversation becomes widespread and diffuse, and Leia leans back into the curve of the wall.

Poe starts to make his way over to her, moved by an impulse he hasn't felt in days, when Rey comes trudging up again, chased by a wave of squawks and shrieks, her hair in disarray and her face and shoulders streaked with guano. Everyone quiets and stares. “Well,” she says, “it's a good thing we're landing tomorrow, because I don't think the porgs are going to let us eat them anymore.”

“You were eating them?” Rose demands, outraged, and then starts giggling. “It's a porg Resistance!” Poe knows from experience that laughing is hell on broken ribs, and he sees her trying to shift away from the pain; Finn, who's sitting next to her, puts an arm around her and helps her straighten. Rey gazes at her in exasperation, but slowly the smile wins out.

 

*

 

They send the two remaining comatose patients down the ramp first, having lifted them up pallets and all, and a couple of medtechs meet them halfway to guide them. Calrissian comes to meet the rest of the Resistance himself, presumably as earnest of goodwill and reassurance. Nien Nunb and Chewbacca both greet him with enthusiasm and a lot of gesticulation. He has both a cape and an entourage, and Poe can feel Rose bristling.

His own reaction's more complex. He trusts Finn and his team to detect and respond promptly to an over crisis, but he doesn't know yet how they'll be with picking up the more subtle signals, the what-ifs and the if-thens. With Rey and Finn, Calrissian lays on the charm, but Poe has used charm as dazzle camouflage a time or two. He expects the man to do the same to Leia, but instead he folds her into his arms and draws her head down to his shoulder, natural and easy. She's put on the cloak she came onboard the Falcon with; the two of them stand there like a memorial stone draped in a curtain of fabric, just for an instant, before Calrissian holds her away with both hands. “Princess,” he says.

“Don't,” she says. “Lando--” and he pulls her close again, and she's the one whispering, “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”

The strangeness of this follows them into the compound where Calrissian's people are headquartered. There's food waiting, in quantity—spicy noodles and greens and a mountain of fresh fruit. “I remember what it was like coming off a long haul,” Calrissian explains, and reiterates Rey's advice to take it easy at first. The courtyards and entrance halls were elegant in a bland way, but the back room where the food is laid out is spare and functional.

Leia's making introductions, and Calrissian takes Poe's hand with the suggestion of a bow. Appraisal and amusement show faintly in the set of his mouth under the neat silver mustache. “Shara's son,” he says, and Poe says, “That's right. Good to meet you, sir.” Might as well lay it on and give him the chance to say, “Lando, please,” which he does.

The first part of the negotiations, the storytelling part, starts while they're still eating at the long, low plasteel tables. Nassreen, who was a journalist before she was a sapper, helps Poe give Lando the version of events that Leia agreed would probably work best. Lando gives good listening face, making the right sounds at the right moments, hardly ever overdoing it.

This is the point at which Poe shakes himself a little bit: healthy suspicion of Calrissian's intentions and follow-through is one thing, but the story they're telling is a painful one and he has no reason to think that the man isn't, in fact, pained by it. When they're through, Lando says, “And I assume you have a wish list,” no bite to it, just matter-of-fact.

“Yeah, I can give you the preliminary rundown now and something a little more comprehensive when I've had some rest.” He won't rest much, probably, but that's his own business.

“Why don't we wait then,” Lando says, rising. “I'm going to go make sure my other guests are comfortable, and we can talk in the morning.” He walks over to the next table, his cape swaying a little with his steps.

It's true that planetary evening was descending when they landed, heavy banks of fog rolling in. All of them are on ship's time, but all of them are also exhausted. Members of the entourage show them to staff dormitories, where a few strangers—employees, presumably—are already dozing.

Space knows no night, and Calrissian can sell them out at any time, but inviting the First Order to come roust them from their sleep seems unnecessarily dramatic and cruel. What's left of the Resistance settles into their first actual bunks in days, and BB-8 and Threepio trundle over to the charging stations.

No one comes for them in the night. In the morning, Poe treats himself to a session with the sonics and a quick sideways hug when Finn comes into the big room where there's fresh food laid out. They fit together nicely. “All okay?” Poe murmurs.

“Okay enough. I couldn't get anything last night about what we're looking for.”

“Me either. Try again today?”

“You know it,” Finn says, and adds, “You get any sleep?”

“A little. You?”

“Some. Not enough, though. Got out of the habit, I guess.”

“I hear you, buddy,” Poe says. “Maybe being planetside will help.”

“No,” Finn says, “Or maybe, after awhile. But I slept worse on Starkiller, when I was stationed down there, than I ever did onboard.”

Every piece of information Finn shares about himself is precious to Poe at this point, and just hearing this one makes the morning feel a little bit brighter. So does the little squeeze around the waist that Finn gives him before they move apart. There's caf, too, which he hasn't had since they left D'Qar. The smell of it makes Poe's head swim and his mouth fill with saliva, and he's half afraid of what it'll do to him after so long without. He pours himself a careful third of a cup; after the second sip he can almost feel his hair growing.

More of his crew files in, mingling with the neatly dressed strangers who probably work here—doing what, he still isn't sure. They move well and seem cheerful; the humans among them look healthy and well-fed, and so do the nonhuman sentients as far as he can judge. Poe sees the wariness and disconcertedness among his veterans, even the ones from worlds and cultures and income brackets where people looked and acted like this all the time. He wonders, a little bit, whose dream this is they're living out, if it's what they wanted for themselves, a means to an end of their own or just in service to someone else. If anyone would fight and die for just this: a clean cafeteria, a well-defined role, clear skin, no surprises.

Breakfast gives Poe a chance to circulate, check in, firm up the day's general plan of doing laundry and keeping eyes, ears and other sensory organs open. Later on, Poe and Leia go into Lando's office, soft chairs and a window overlooking the spaceport, and get down to brass tacks. While technically they need everything, their most pressing needs are a base, ships, and income—any kind of financial backing, really, the deeper the better. Lando raises his eyebrows. “Not people?”

“We'll get the people,” Poe says, fantasizing briefly and vividly about recruiting the clean and bright-eyed CalCorp employees he saw at breakfast, just enough of them to make it difficult to do whatever this company does. “But we have to have something for them to do when they come to us, and someplace to put them.”

Lando sighs. “Where have I heard this before,” he says. “Join the Rebel Alliance, someone else will foot the bill. Stirring speeches work great on people with no money and not much to lose. I've invited a few potential backers for dinner tonight, but let's talk about how you're going to sell this. Practice on me.”

Leia is looking impatient. “I've been talking funds out of people against their self-interest since I was sixteen.”

“Not you,” Lando says. “Don't look at me like that, Princess, I know a changing of the guard when I see it. Go ahead, son, pretend--” a twitch of a brow, a slight quirk of those soft-looking lips-- “I'm a rich but somewhat tight-fisted industrialist with untested principles and a vague notion that the First Order might be good for business. Make your case.”

Gods, he's irritating. But he's also on the right track, so Poe takes a breath, fixes his face, pitches his voice, and launches. This isn't new territory for him, though it's a skill set he's neglected since the Resistance became more of a shooting war, and he never used it for stakes as high as these. Lando plays up to it, deftly imitating a mix of squeamishness, self-protection and a muddled desire for things to be okay that probably comes from years of observation.

The winning out of the first two over the third is infuriatingly plausible; Poe would be impressed if he weren't so frustrated, and if Leia weren't watching the two of them as if she were in a box seat at the Coruscant Opera House. “Three things,” Lando says, dropping character. “You'll be able to do this better when you're armed with a little more data, which I'll give you before tonight, along with some notes on who you're dealing with. That part's not your fault, but it'll be your fault if you don't take advantage of it. Second thing, go ahead and let them see you're tired. Let them think that they can be the one to stand between you and giving up. But third thing, they also kind of want you to give up, because the First Order's propaganda machine has done a pretty solid job of casting the Resistance as the source of conflict considering they're the ones who incinerated seven planets. 'Unrest,' 'instability,' stuff like that. So for someone like I just described, you're trying to peddle the impression that the Order is the source of instability. Now show me what you'd say to someone who knows perfectly well how lucrative instability can be.”

They practice with different personae until Poe's voice is hoarse and the space between his eyebrows aches from not glowering.”Good,” Lando says finally. “Now the last thing to remember--”

“--Is that none of this may play out the way I expected, and I may have to improvise,” Poe finishes for him, and Calrissian laughs, a real belly laugh full of warmth, his crow's-feet bunching. “You'll do fine,” he says, and Poe appreciates that he leaves off the son this time.

Later, drinking and standing around with the potential backers in question, he works the room. He takes the irritation and the desire to please and the patience he's been practicing and the fierce love he feels for everyone who's doing their best, in their newly washed gear, to hold up their end in this part of the fight, and he pivots it into conversation after conversation, noting his own false steps, filing reactions. There are things about it that are like flying—the need for pinpoint attention and quick changes of course—but even when he feels like a conversation's going in the right direction, there's no exhilaration, no pleasure in it. The people he's talking with have the qualities Calrissian lampooned, but they're also people, and he can't tell if his inability to see them as machines that will spit out credits if he hits the right sequence of buttons is a bug or a feature.

When the liquor's about two-thirds gone, he takes a break to lean against the wall where Rose is standing foursquare and scowling, her cheeks and forehead flushed red. He follows her gaze, not far, to where Lando's chatting animatedly with Finn and Rey. “Why does he like this kind of thing?” she says. “I don't get it.”

“I think they're talking about Han Solo,” Poe offers—he caught the phrase “hauling rathtars.” “I know Lando knew him, and they...” Worked with him? Flew with him? Watched him die? He knows a little bit about that encounter, some from Finn and a fuller story from Rey, from when he the helm while she tried to get the gauges to display something more than a suffusion of yellow.

“Oh. I guess that's different. Sort of. But I meant all of this,” she gestures with a small square hand. “What people have to do to live like this.”

“That sounds like something my dad would say.”

“Is he still alive?”

“When we left D'Qar, he was.” When what was left of Rapier Squadron defected, they made a little detour, and Poe got a long fierce hug and the coordinates of an old Rebel dead drop. Last he checked, Kes had mostly-successfully routed an infestation of stem borers, was a little shorthanded for the harvest, missed him, loved him.

Kes's membership in several interplanetary granges is also the reason that food supplies won't be as much of a problem as they could be. A good portion of their produce on D'Qar came from Yavin and its trade associates. Poe hopes they'll be able to set it up again, if they do manage to base the Resistance somewhere else. If he never eats another ration bar or porg egg again it'll be too soon.

“I know your mom died,” Rose is going on. “Paige used to talk about her, it was like one of her things, Shara Bey and Sanna Starros and Leia Organa and Evaan Verlaine. When we were trying to sleep she'd tell me stories about the women of the Rebellion and how they fought for freedom in the galaxy.” She takes an automatic sip from the glass in her hand and makes a face. “This is too sweet. I think that was the most she got to be a kid, ever, but she really needed it. She really believed in heroes.”

“Well,” Poe says, “she was one.”

“Yeah. She was.”

Dead heroes, he hears in Leia's voice, and pushes off the wall to talk to more people with too much money.

The evening winds down and Calrissian's associates and acquaintances file out, leaving a trail of half-promises. “Now I have to wonder if any of them are gonna sell us out,” Poe gripes, and Lando, sudden at his elbow, says, “They won't. They know I'd find out it was them, and they need me. But I do need to point out that you should have thought of that before.”

“Somebody has to trust somebody at some point,” Poe says, because he's ground down and sick of sparring.

“That's so very true,” Lando says. “Relatedly, want to help me kill this bottle?” He holds up something that looks like it was unearthed from a brassbound trunk in a Jedi's hut. “This is the good brandy and I'm surprised they left any, but maybe they didn't know what it was.” He's close to Poe, close enough for his cape to waft a little of his body's warmth across the space between them. “Come this way.”

The room where he takes them is not the business office of the morning's—rehearsal? Audition?--but could also be described as an office: there are chairs—still comfortable, but deeper, more worn and pummeled—and a dataport and a projector. Over the desk hangs a mask that looks like it has some sort of ceremonial significance; on the shelves, chunks of various metallic ores, greenish-black and silvery blue.

“Thanks for setting that up for us,” Poe says, as Lando waves him into one of the chairs. He's not feeling particularly grateful at the moment, but he knows that's partly reaction—to some extent, his assessment of these people overlaps with Rose's and his dad's—and he knows damn well that without Lando they'd be in a much worse position. Lando produces small ceramic cups from a desk drawer, pours for both of them, and lifts his high. “To the Resistance,” he says, an eyebrow arched.

Poe matches his expression and raises his cup. The brandy has a smooth, sweet burn going down, curling through him, igniting the liquor he's already downed but has been rationing throughout the evening. He still needs to stay sharp, he reminds himself. The night's not over. “What do you get out of this?” he asks.

“You haven't told me yet,” Lando smiles. “I thought we'd talk about that tomorrow morning. Or afternoon, more likely, at this point.”

“Right.” Great. Smooth, Dameron, definitely inspiring confidence. “I mean, in general.”

Lando shrugs and sips. “Trouble can be lucrative. I'm a gambler, and I get to gamble with high stakes. And I slightly lower the odds that my ex-husband will haunt me.”

“Your ex-hhhh,” Poe is just tipsy enough to say.

“You didn't know about that? Han and I got married for a grift—can't remember what it was now—and we stayed like that for oh, a good five standard solar cycles. We weren't together the whole time, but we didn't get it dissolved until he decided he wanted to make an honest woman of your General, there.”

Poe doesn't have anything intelligent to say about this. He never got to know Han Solo, who was estranged from General Organa before he, Poe, came on the scene, but he sure heard about him—from Kes, mainly, who'd been with the Pathfinders on Endor and had plenty to say about Han's personal recklessness and his care for his people. (“And his cute little ass,” Shara would say, teasing. “C'mon, you're telling me you never, not even once when I was out on night drills--”

“I didn't want to get my balls handed to me by Leia, thank you very much,” Kes would always answer back. “Or you.”

“I only would've been mad if you didn't let me watch.” )

Poe was little when he overheard these conversations; he was slightly older when he imagined flying around the galaxy with the dashing Han Solo and the noble Chewbacca, doing the bidding of Leia Organa, who always knew what would be best for the galaxy. Chewie, Poe has come to know, is a very good person, courageous and patient, but “noble” isn't exactly the way to describe him. And as for Leia--

“I miss him,” Lando is saying. “I miss him a lot today. We hadn't seen each other in a while, I knew he wasn't doing so well when he last visited, but I kept offering to help him out with a cash infusion and he finally just walked out on me. He was good at that. Always one foot out the door, always the rest of him begging you to beg him to stay.”

“How long did you work together?” Poe tries, because that seems like the safest possible question of all the ones he has.

“Before the Rebellion or after it? Before, shit, since we were kids. Just one grift after another, following our noses. Then there was a situation, ended with us falling out and him taking the Falcon, and we didn't speak for a while until he showed up at my door on Bespin. After the Rebellion, we worked together on and off just about until Ben was born. And then after that it was just a visit here and there, sometimes I'd put some business in his way, or he'd be passing through and we'd make some time together.”

Lando takes a breath that Poe can hear. “Apropos,” he says. “Are you interested—?”

It's not a surprise to hear, not a surprise to look within himself and see the answer: how it's been taking shape over the past couple days, readying itself to rise to his lips, to enter the air that's electrified now by Lando's unfinished question. Poe feels that heightening, that escalation of what could be, but there are other factors here, things to know besides how he wants and how he's wanted. He asks, “Is this part of the deal?”

“Would the deal be off if it was?”

“Not necessarily.” His voice is shaking a little, though he doesn't mean it to. “I'm interested either way,” he adds. “I just like to know what's going on.”

Lando sighs. “I guess that's fair,” he says. “It isn't. Or it's a different kind of deal. Two people who've lost something, with something to give each other. But I don't know what I could say at this point that would make you believe that.”

Poe doesn't, in fact, totally believe it. But along with his distrust or in spite of it, he stands up, and plants a palm on each padded arm of Lando's chair, and leans a long way in, and kisses him.

And fuck, it feels good to want and to have in the same moment. Poe had forgotten how simple sex can feel even when it's not, and now Lando's hands, his soft lips and the prickle of his mustache and the sweetness of his breath and his nearness and his urgency are all reminders. All surrounding their bodies, marking out the ground where the two of them can meet.

He sinks to the floor between Lando's spread knees, mouths and breathes through cloth, Lando's hands loose on Poe's shoulders, in his hair, then moving to undo fasteners. Lando has a nice dick, hefty and well-shaped, and it's no hardship at all for Poe to lick and suck and caress. He listens for the inarticulate sounds that tell him he's doing well; he relishes the pressure, the momentary panic, the work of taking Lando deep. The pleasure of taking his time, of making it their time together, so that he doesn't know how long it takes for Lando to lift or drag him up for another kiss on the mouth, a string of kisses.

Poe's mouth feels puffy, his face hot, his dick hard and seeking. Hands on his shoulders, once pulling him up and close, now hold him away, and they can see each other's faces: Lando's expression is that of a man who's holding on tight to his manners, and that gives Poe a sense, powerful and tender, of what it means to Lando to be courteous—kind and controlled. His tone when he asks, “You like to get fucked?” is held so carefully between solicitous and demanding, despite the bluntness of the words, that Poe's heart overflows for him.

Another desk drawer contains condoms and lube and a box of disposable washcloths, which Poe brings within easy reach before undressing. He straddles Lando's lap and rides him, knees braced against the sides of the chair, grunting with each upward thrust. Poe feels the effort of it, has one of those strange out-of-body moments where he sees rather than feels his teeth set in his lip, and then is swept up again in the feeling of Lando stretching him, moving in him, catching against him, flaring over and over. His hand splayed out on Lando's breastbone, Lando's hand working Poe's cock--“Yeah,” he says, “more,” and Lando gives it to him, panting, till Poe can no longer name what it is they're doing, only feel it shaking him to pieces.

His arms feel weak but he holds himself up long enough for Lando to groan and thrust a few more times and then slump back. Poe lets himself sink forward a little, lets his lips meet Lando's forehead.

It seems like the best way to disengage is to stand up, so he does that, and uses the washcloths he found in the drawer to wipe them both off, reaching behind himself, cleaning Lando's cock and his chest. “Throw those in the incinerator shaft and come back here,” Lando says, and something about crossing the room and returning feels more intimate, more exposed, than everything they've just been doing. The chair, which worked okay as a prop, now makes everything weird—does he sit in Lando's lap? At his feet, like a pet? Perch like a porg on the upholstery?

Lando seems to sense this too. He stands—a little creakily, the first sign of age Poe's seen in him—and retrieves his shirt, hands over Poe's drawers and trousers with a kiss on the cheek.

“Why didn't you answer our first distress call?” Poe asks, zipping up.

There's a fractional pause in Lando's motions, between the second and the third button of his shirt. “I wasn't the one who received it. I was offworld. And not all my staff are briefed, it isn't safe. I told Leia that, your first day here.”

Poe says nothing, because she didn't tell me is what a bratty kid would say, or a follower looking to dodge responsibility, or a bad leader. Even though the last time someone didn't tell him something, people died who didn't have to. He thinks, I don't want to be like I was, but I don't want to be like she was either.

“You're learning,” Lando says, very gently. “Learning is shit. Han and I used to piss and moan about it all the time.” He's back in his worldly-wise, advice-giving, near-avuncular mode. Poe thinks he liked it better when they were both yearning and straining toward each other, and wonders if Lando like it better too. “You have to use everything you've got. You can't spare anything.”

That, and a promise to get down to the real negotiations the next day, are what Poe takes with him back to the dormitories. The corridors are empty except for him and a couple of those little toaster-sized cleaning droids, which scoot out of his way, but he has the feeling he's being watched. He wouldn't be surprised if there's surveillance tech in the compound—it seems like Calrissian's style, or one of his styles. Much good may his walk of shame do whatever CalCorp employee is drowsing over the displays right now.

He opens the door to their sleeping quarters, and now the feeling that someone's watching him is justified: Finn is sitting up, and the dim violet glow from the hallway brushes his face and his open eye.

“I'm glad it was you who came through that door,” he says, almost subvocally quiet, and that's when Poe notices he's holding a blaster.

“I'm sorry,” Poe says. “I should've--”

“Yeah, you should've,” Finn agrees. He beckons with the hand holding the blaster before apparently realizing what that looks like, laying it on the floor and beckoning some more. Poe sits on the bunk next to him, furious with himself. He says, matching Finn's whisper, “I know, I know we can't afford for me to fuck up.”

“We just didn't know where you were. We figured it was fine, probably, and we figured you were with Calrissian since we didn't see him either, but Rey and Chewie and Tycho and C'ai are all out at the Falcon in case we needed to take off in a hurry. It's not just you, Poe, none of us can fuck up. We have a little slack, but not that much.”

“I know,” Poe says. “I'm sorry.”

Were you with Calrissian?”

“Yeah.” Poe still smells like him, like his mouth and his brandy and his sweat and the floor of his office.

“Were you. Uh. Negotiating?”

Poe can't help laughing, but he bites it back to keep the noise down. “We were fucking around,” he says. “You can probably tell.”

“I thought maybe.” Finn makes a little sound in the darkness like he wants to say something else, but takes a while to get to it. “I don't really know how to ask this but, um, did you want to?”

Poe wants to take Finn in his arms and not let go. “Yeah, I did,” he says firmly. “I understand why you'd ask that, but yeah. He wanted to and so did I. I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I was going but I”m not sorry I went.”

“And were you negotiating? I thought it might have been part of the deal. That could be true and you could still want to. I'm sorry if this is bad to ask.”

“Nothing's bad to ask,” Poe says. “I thought so too. He said it wasn't. I mean, of course he could be lying, but--”

“I believe you if you believe him,” Finn says. “It's just that he hasn't actually asked us for anything yet, has he? And he seems like the kind of person to drive a hard bargain.”

Poe just waits for him to hear himself.

“Oh no,” Finn says, and Poe loses it, they both do, snorting and wheezing and clutching each other, repeating, “Drive a hard bargain,” and laughing harder until someone hisses from a nearby bunk, “Would you kindly keep it the fuck down.” They manage to for a minute but not much longer—it's the kind of laughter where they're too tired to stop, and for Poe at least it's the first time he's laughed at all in days, tendays, moonphases. Finally they sputter out, still holding onto each other. “Fuck,” Finn says, soft again. “We should sleep.”

Poe shifts his weight and plants his feet to rise—he's going to ache tomorrow, he can feel it starting up.

“Stay here,” Finn suggests, tugging him back down with a hand on his arm. “There's room.”

“You want me to?”

“I'm asking, aren't I?”

“Yeah,” Poe says, “okay,” and lies down; Finn swings his legs up. They can lie side by side and not even really have to squeeze. The bunks are wide enough to accommodate an array of sentients and body types, probably a good investment in the long run. Finn is warm and smells good, and Poe is glad, actually, that he had sex earlier tonight because instead of getting worked up and having to talk himself down, or fretting about why Finn wants him there at all, he's wrung-out enough to just take this for the gift it is, to lie next to Finn and sleep.

But there's a question he still has, and because he can tell from Finn's breathing that he's still awake, Poe says, keeping it soft, hoping that will help: “Something I haven't known how to ask but I want to know is how you're feeling.”

“You've been asking,” Finn says. “I've noticed. I just don't have much practice in answering that, or knowing what the answer is, or anybody wanting it. Keep asking me, though.” After a minute he adds, “Rose gave me a hard time for liking Canto Bight, and she was right, those people are shit, but it was really nice to look out over the sea.”

Poe dreams about the first man he loved. Not a nightmare and not a sex dream; they're standing on a dock somewhere, looking out over a foggy bay, and Muran comes up behind Poe and puts both arms around him in a way they rarely stood when Muran was alive. A clever, brave, funny and demanding man, Muran, an endless fountain of delightfully crude sex and jokes and bravado alongside his real and unparalleled courage, but his moments of tenderness were rare. Yet even though Poe can't see his face in the dream, there's no one else it could be.

In the morning, he leaves Finn asleep and hits the sonics again—he likes to be clean and every day could be the last day he gets to for a while. True to his prediction, Lando is nowhere in evidence, and Poe takes the opportunity to check in with everyone else. He, Rey, Rose, Finn and Leia have bounties on their heads and have agreed not to leave the compound, but everyone else has been out and about in the port. They have information to share, not just about what they've seen but about how they're managing, what they're able to think and feel now that they've had some space and time.

Rose is adorably grumpy with a hangover. Poe pours her some water before taking the investigative team's reports: Lando has let Connix loose on a holonet terminal. She's found that the hunt is up for them, but not so much in this sector, which might mean that if the sugar tuber baron that D'Acy talked with last night comes through, they could dig in here for a while, build support.

C'ai has been talking with port workers, loaders and customs people, posing—apparently with success, and on their own initiative—as a smuggler looking for options, and has gathered a surprising amount of data on traffic patterns; they think the Resistance should get going while the going is good. (Poe, who has slept with C'ai in a pilots-with-benefits way a time or two, had no idea they harbored this desire for undercover work, and makes a mental note.) C'ai and Connix start debating in an undertone, and Poe feels comfortable leaving them to it and moving on to—

Leia is sitting with Nien Nunb, sipping caf, wearing the cloak she wore on the bridge of the Raddus over her breeches and vest. “Morning,” she says, and motions him to sit. “Tell me how it went for you last night.”

For a queasy second he thinks she's talking about Lando. But of course she's talking about the backers' party. So he gives her a rundown on the conversations he had, which feels like reporting to her, like old times, but in a way that doesn't fit quite right anymore; and then she gives him a rundown on the conversations she had, and it feels strange, not like quite she's briefing him; and then they discuss options and courses of action, and it feels like a discussion, maybe not the one they need to have, but a one they need to have, if they're to move forward. And the vagueness and the fretfulness seem to have vanished: she's even a step ahead of him.

There are a couple people he talked with last night that they agree might respond better to an approach from her. Nien—who after all has, like Leia, seen two generations of combat and guerilla fighting and intrigue and seeking leverage and scraping by—chimes in with his assessment of one of the ship manufacturers, and Chewbacca hovers for a moment before taking two heaped plates back out to the ship for himself and Rey. They've discovered a problem with the air mixers that will need to be fixed before takeoff to keep them all from suffocating.

It's that feeling—the feeling that, maybe in spite of him, things are going well—that makes Poe ask Rose if she'll come sit in with him and Leia on this next round of negotiations: “I feel like your attitude toward Lando could be kinda healthy.”

Her face falls. “Oh no,” she says. “No no no. I'm not—not a talker, I'm not good at convincing people to do things, or telling them, I'm just--I don't want to—no.”

So he brings Potts and Finn along instead when he goes to talk with Lando as instructed—Potts because he wants someone in on this who's just an ordinary Resistance person, not a leader and not a Jedi, and Finn because he's anything but ordinary. Lando shows no traces of last night's late hour or alcohol consumption or sexual antics; he's fully urbane and courteous again, with a big smile for Finn, a hand on the arm for Leia, a grave handshake for Potts, and for Poe a very slight bow.

Poe sums up where they are after last night's introductions and conversations, including what sounds like their best option for a new base: a shipbuilding boomtown that went bust, on a binary moon on the inner edge of the Outer Rim. Lando nods, his expression registering, mostly, just attention. Then Poe gets into what's left, what they'd ask of Lando: basically, it comes down to a lot of money and a little money-laundering. “We want to leave you with the option of keeping your name out of it,” Poe finishes.

“Thoughtful. And the money's a gift, or--”

“We'd take it as a gift,” Poe says frankly, “but if you need it to be a loan--”

“One-half of one percent,” Lando interrupts, “per fiscal cycle, to be paid in the event of a decisive First Order defeat. In the event of a First Order victory, I doubt I'll have the chance to collect, name or no name.”

It's a steal, much better than the lowball estimate that he and Leia and Connix had come up with. “Thank you. That's generous.”

“Don't thank me yet,” Calrissian says. “I also want the Falcon.”

No one says anything. No one moves.

“I'll set you up with three new-model corvettes,” Lando's going on imperturbably. “Fuel-efficient, comparable firepower, good in and out of atmo, state of the art botanical respiration systems. It's going to take more time than you have to fix those air mixers, and you can't just replace 'em, because they don't make 'em like that anymore, and the stuff they do make won't play nice with the parts of her that are still working.”

Poe wishes he could look at Leia without making it totally obviously that that's what he's doing.

“She's unsafe in other ways too. Every lowlife in the galaxy knows her,” Lando says. “Han had a varied career, we all know that. And it's not just that. I saw her silhouette stenciled on a wall on Oremoke, with the starbird superimposed. And Chewie and your girl Rey have used her to piss off the First Order not once but twice.”

“Three times,” Finn pipes up. “Rey and me, when we got off Jakku the first time.”

Lando gives a little nod as if to say, I like this guy.

“But the Falcon is Chewie's,” Finn adds. “He needs to be here if we're talking about this. I'll get him.”

Poe didn't know that , though if he'd been thinking about it he might have. Or if he'd asked. He turns his head to watch Finn leave, and that gives him a reason to turn it again and look at Leia after all. He's surprised: she looks tired, but also amused. “Businessman,” she says. “I didn't know you were so sentimental.”

Lando performs affront like a holonovela actor. “Sentimental, Princess? Me?”

“Why else would you want her? Corellian light freighters are a drug on the market.”

“Not with the modifications Han put in. I'm a middleman now, but I still take an interest in the industries. The Falcon's one of a kind, but what if she weren't? The people who designed those corvettes I'm going to give you would love to get their hands on her.”

“Modifications,” Leia says, and closes her eyes, the smile lines around her mouth deepening just a little. It's probably just as well that Finn returns at that moment, with Chewbacca in tow, in the sense that a tug tows a container ship into dock. Poe still doesn't understand Shryiwook, but he's learned to read Chewie's tones and body language over the past few days: if the Wookiee was incredulous or angry, he got it out of his system before entering the room.

Lando reiterates his spiel and Chewie listens with apparent interest, even though Poe knows Finn will have briefed him on the way into the compound. When Lando's through, Chewbacca reaches over the desk and palms Lando's shouder, and says something.

Lando's face tilts up, looking soft and shocked, and then he turns his head into the fur of Chewbacca's wrist, rests his forehead there and closes his eyes. The air in the room feels still, and charged, and changed. Finn's standing behind Poe's chair, hands on the back of it. The warmth of his chest reaches the back of Poe's head, and he wants to lean toward it.

When Lando sits back up, some of the softness remains in his expression. “So, then,” he says. “Three corvettes, the loan, and we'll need to work out the details of how to handle the funds. Poe, you'll be my liaison for that? Or who?”

The next few minutes are mostly logistical, but they're overlaid by the feeling of that moment when Lando turned his face aside. Poe still doesn't know what Lando was reacting to, but he knows that being satisfied with the plan going forward, which he mostly is, seems secondary to whatever it was.

“I'll see you at dinner,” Lando says when they wrap up. Chewbacca says something, and Lando says, “Yeah, stay.”

As the door closes behind the rest of them, Poe asks Leia, who's wrapped in quiet, “What did he say? Not just now, before.”

“That Lando didn't need to get into all that,” she says. “That he could just miss him.” She sighs. “I didn't pick up on that either, I let myself get caught up in—what I thought we were doing, I thought we were fencing, trying to get something out of each other, but we were on the same side.”

She might be saying it just for herself, but it feels like an offer to him, too, a chance to restore—no, not restore. Just to meet, in this new place. “What do you do when you're not?” he says. “When you're wrong, or someone else is?”

They walk out into the courtyard. It's a foggy day, like most days here; the mist is cool and clinging. “You try to move them,” she says. “Of course you do. I could have ordered those bombers back myself. You ever think of that?”

He hadn't. Not once.

“And Amilyn--”

“She should have told us,” he says.

“I'm inclined to think that now, myself. And you should've looked harder for solutions that didn't involve sending people holding information about Resistance plans into enemy territory, and then feeding them more of it while they were there. We were all stumbling around in the dark. Can we slow down a little bit? These stones are slippery.” It's true: he has a tendency to increase his pace when he's agitated, and underfoot is slick and mossy in places. “Some of that is war,” she says, “and some of it is just—people. We try to do what's right, sure, but if you live, you live with the mistakes.”

“It makes it hard,” Poe says. “To be glad I made it.”

She puts her hand on his arm. It's the first time she's touched him since she hit him. He doesn't know if she needs help with her balance or just wants the contact, but they walk the rest of the way around the courtyard like that before going back inside.

But he feels like he's still stumbling around in the dark. “I keep missing things,” he says while he and Finn are cleaning their teeth. “I would've kept following Calrissian's lead on what he wanted the Falcon for.”

Finn spits. “Chewie knew them for years, right? That had to come from him.”

“Yeah, I guess. But I should've known about Chewie inheriting the Falcon, and I didn't.”

“That's why it's good there's more than one of us.” They walk together through the corridor, toward the dorm. “What I don't know, maybe you know. What you can't do, maybe I can do. Do you know how different that is from where I'm from? Stormtroopers are interchangeable. Supposed to be. And you're not supposed to pick up anybody else's slack. But here—it took me a while to get used to. But I like it.”

“Oh,” Poe says.

“What, oh?”

“It just hadn't occurred to me to think of that as a plus.”

“Sure it's a plus. I mean, it'd be great if everybody always thought of everything and knew how to do everything. But since we don't--” Finn shrugs. “You got us as far as you could, and then I knew enough to bring Chewie in, and then he knew enough to figure out what was really happening. It's like with me and Rose and the slicer—I mean that's how it was supposed to work, if he hadn't stooled us out.”

Finn sits on the bunk where they slept last night and starts unlacing his boots. “I still feel a little dumb about that,” he adds. “We trusted him, even though he was kind of telling us the whole time that we shouldn't. I mean, we were pretty low on options, but still.”

Poe thinks about saying something like You did the best you could, or some other version of telling him not to feel bad, but he has just enough sense not to. “I wish it had worked,” he says instead.

“Me too. I wish any of it had worked.” He pauses. “You gave me an order, back on Crait, and I disobeyed it. And then Rose—I mean, that wasn't an order but she didn't listen to me. And I'm here, and she—it turned out she was right, it probably wouldn't have helped much, and she lived and I lived, which—but how do you know? When I woke up on Jakku I was like, Okay, at least I'm not taking orders from anyone anymore. And the slicer had this whole 'live free, don't join' thing, which, like, if what you're free to do is just to be a piece of shit, I'll pass. But I was trying to die for the Resistance. So how do you--” He lines the boots up neatly under the bunk, toes level with the edge. “How do you know what to do to get to the right thing? And if you don't know, who do you listen to?”

“I was talking about this with Leia earlier,” Poe says, surprised and a little pleased by how close their thoughts were running. “I don't know either. Sorry, I know that doesn't help much. I'm glad—it's good that you laid it out like that.”

“Yeah? Good, I guess. It's not just—abstract, it's going to come up again, so I kinda need to know.”

“I do too. Maybe we can talk about it more, talk to some of the others. I can't think right now, I'm pretty beat.”

Finn swings his feet up and flops back. “You want to stay here again tonight?”

Gods, does he. “Yeah,” he says. “If you--” He stops, because Finn is looking at him with a kind of wry patience. “Okay, yeah, I heard you ask.”

He takes his own boots off, lines them up like Finn's, something he hasn't done since his Republic Navy days. They lie shoulder to shoulder. “Tomorrow I guess we see those corvettes,” Poe says. “And start taking on supplies.”

“You looking forward to flying again?”

“I didn't realize I was missing it, but yeah.” He took plenty of shifts at the Falcon's controls, and Rey keeps insisting how maneuverable she is, but compared to Black One she steers like a bantha in rut. He wonders if he'll get to fly an X-Wing again—not that it went all that great the last time. He wonders how it'll feel to fly something brand-new.

 

 

*

 

The flight to the binary moon is uneventful, if you don't count the run-in with privateers that forces them to test the handling and firepower of the new ships—all there is, right now, of the Resistance fleet. Poe and C'ai are taking shifts piloting one, Rey and—to everyone's surprise—Leia another, and Chewbacca and Nien the third. The porgs are mostly in the second ship, though a few stayed behind in the Falcon, Lando regarding them with a mix of disgust and resignation. Also with Rose in the second ship are the four CalCorp employees she recruited right under his nose.

Before they left, moved by both desire and and affection, Poe walked over to Lando and asked, “You want some company tonight?” And they did spend a good part of the night together, lying down, taking their time. Still, Lando sent him away before dawn.

Connix, Finn and Arun have stayed behind to supervise the purchase of their first round of materiel, an order they won't be able to fill until they know the conditions at the new site. These, it develops, aren't as bad as they might be: some of the shipbuilding machinery is still operational, and Ezelle knows how to operate it; there are bunkhouses, freshers and kitchens, built for the workers; a few maintenance droids wake up when they get the generators up and running. Poe sends a triple-encrypted shopping list to the team on Undenon 3, thinks of Finn reading it and making faces over it, and then sends out his next comm to check on the progress of a small but heavily armed cult who has reasons of their own—somewhat unhinged reasons, but reasons—to foil the First Order in the system where they're based.

Other than smelling significantly better, life on Siyak Base is similar to life on the Falcon. Everybody has to do everything, there are some things that have to be done that no one is good at, he's tired all the time, and the lighting isn't great. Siyak and its binary twin Muyak circle a gas giant whose size helps stabilize its wide orbit around a huge and elderly star. Everyone is a little cold, and colors are strange: blues become mauves, grays go brown, humans look flushed and yet chilled. Rose rigs lights in one of the common areas that are a little more what most of them are used to, yellow and white, and harasses everybody into doing their indoor tasks there.

The tall, straight-backed, bright-eyed, sound-toothed CalCorp recruits don't exactly follow her around like the porgs do, but their heads swivel toward her when she's speaking; it's not true that she's not good at talking to people. One of them, Tarfia, wants to learn to fly, and attaches herself to C'ai, which first amuses and then delights them. Poe's never heard them sound so happy.

Indeed, in spite of the endless round of tasks and draining surroundings and astronomical odds, people are clumping up in pairs and trios, dissolving and reforming. As he predicted, they're arguing more among themselves now that they're not in a constant state of emergency. Poe keeps half an ear out for anything that seems like it might escalate to the point of blowing up in all their faces; he tried to rope Leia into doing it for him, but she brushed him off. “I'm not too old for it yet,” she told him, “but I'm too old to make a fuss about it.” She's taken on the task of liaising with Lando over the question of finances, and it seems to make her happy and sad in equal measure.

There are good surprises. Nassreen figures out how to make bombs with porg guano and oxidized duraluminum. Operatives who were in the field during the evacuation are starting to figure out where they are and report in, as are a few squadrons from the Republic Navy that were out on patrol or otherwise at a safe distance when Starkiller took its first shot. Siyak's twin has a methane atmosphere, making it easier to seek alliances with sentients that can't handle oxygen and are, as far as the First Order's concerned, expendable: a force composed largely of Ctenophites and Reredoi establishes itself on Muyak and communicates through energy-devouring holocalls.

Maz Kanata puts them in touch with smugglers willing to make the runs for supplies and transport personnel. The second of these drops off ten crates of ammunition, ship-piercers and incendiaries, with a symbol like a curled teardrop scratched on the underside of one of the lids. It looks vaguely familiar to Poe, and then more familiar when he sees Rose see it, grip her pendant, spit on the ground, and walk off.

“We need to be prepared for him to sell us out again,” she tells him later, when she's calmed down a little. He knows she means the slicer, but he asks her to fill in the details, which she does: it's not a part of the story he's heard in full, till now. “I don't like him being able to get to us,” she finishes. “I don't even want that ammo, even though I know we need it. He probably thinks it's an apology.”

Poe asks, “Do you think we need to take any precautions besides the ones we're already taking? Is it worth trying to track him down and take him out?”

She's got the look he's learned to recognize as fear of a decision going wrong. “I don't think I should be the one to make that call.”

He knows this is a carry-over from the failed mission, but he can't let her out of this one. “Rosie--” he calls her that more often now—“with Finn away, you're our best source on this. You dealt with him, you know what kind of threat he is or isn't. I'm not sending people after him just on your say-so, I'll bring it to the Purple House, or you can, but your initial assessment's gonna help a lot.”

The Purple House is the meeting place for the fifteen or so people eager, or at least willing, to take an active share in the large-scale planning and decision-making. The other forty-seven or so say they want tasks to carry out and a description of how they fit into the overall plan. This has worked so far, but with their numbers growing, so does the risk of infiltration and the difficulty of sharing information generally. Poe has made a private vow that if he ever replies to a question with the phrase “need to know” he's going to ask to be relieved of duty, but trying to figure out what people actually need to know—and trying to learn what they know that he needs to know and doesn't yet—is taking a lot out of him.

At the moment, anyone can sit in on any meeting, and Rose takes her place with the rest around the “table”, really a ring of barrels that once held machine lubricant. Lube jokes abound when the topic of a meeting is less serious, or so serious that someone has to say something that was funny last time. So do jokes about greasing palms and squeaky wheels getting the grease. There are two chairs, one of which always goes to Torsten, who will never walk well anymore.

There's other stuff to discuss, most notably a response from the Protectorate on Maridun that D'Acy is cautiously optimistic about, but eventually they get around to the question of the mysterious boxes of ammunition. Rose speaks her piece, getting more animated as she goes, as her fear of making bad decisions and leading people into trouble is balanced by what she does know and is sure of. “But if he works with Maz, should we be worried that that line is compromised,” one person says, and another says, “Nah, everybody meets at Maz's, he could've slipped a couple crates onto the loader or sent 'em with somebody,” and Leia with a trace of her old manner says, hard-eyed, “I would distrust mysef before I'd distrust Maz Kanata.” Back and forth, limited personnel and security risks, a potentially useful operative for the right price and a piece of double-dealing slime, a waste of time and effort and a chance to nip a threat in the bud.

After listening to them go for a while, Poe makes the final call: to add a search for the slicer to the list of tasks for the next operatives to pass through Takodana and adjacent systems. No one's entirely happy with this. And yet there were moments during the argument, and other moments that have stood out to him during the days on Siyak, where he feels like not just what they're moving towards but the motion itself is right. In those moments, he feels like maybe he's doing this well.

It's not like with Leia, where Poe's jump is their how high. But it seems to him (though of course he could be wrong) that all this back-and-forth while they're rebuilding is part of it, and by the time they need to move to the attack, they'll know him well enough to listen and to trust.

He hopes they'll be right to.

He's also worried about Rey. She takes her turns on every shift, but all her spare moments go to practice: combat at night when fewer people are awake, meditation on the edge of the scrub at dawn and at dusk. One afternoon he runs across her in the yellow-lit common room, her quarterstaff and the broken pieces of her lightsaber and a set of tools all forgotten on the table, her hands gripping the edge.

He recognizes what's happening, has seen it before. She told him and Finn, their first day on the Falcon: “I don't think it's a risk. I've just started being able to control it. But I want you to know, in case.”

He reacted very badly, then, and it was from a great distance that he heard Finn say, “What do you think we're gonna do, exactly, if you can't control it?”

“Bring me out of it,” she'd said, “bring me down if you have to,” and stood very straight and fierce until Finn put his arms around her. It gave Poe time to come back from the thick-tongued helplessness that had fallen on him, thinking of a hand on his mind, clawing through it and taking. He understands now that that's not exactly what's happening to her, and that what's happening doesn't—probably doesn't—make her a threat. 

“Rey,” he says, moving the weapons and tools and spare parts out of reach first. “You here?” He doesn't touch her. Waits. The air crackles: it's not a metaphor. Poe is about as Force-sensitive as one of his mom's fritters, but he can feel the energies gathering around her.

And dissipating. “I'm here,” she says, but she doesn't sound sure.

“Is he?”

No,” viciously, “he's not.”

“Can you relax your hands for me?” He gets her to let go of the table, then talks the relaxation down her body, her neck, her shoulders, down to her feet. Watching the tension leave, he tells her about the most recent message from Finn, which includes an ETA of approximately three planetary days. “He used an extra twelve lines of code to send his regards to you and Rose, not by name obviously, he said, 'my best friend and the porg whisperer'. What's that face?”

“Oh,” she says, sounding more ordinary, “Rose kissed him when he pulled her out of the wreck, back on Crait, and he's fussing because she doesn't remember it, and it's making him peculiar. Now you're making a face.”

He must be, but he has no idea what the face is. This hadn't occurred to him, although it does make a few things make sense. “He told you that. Did she tell you anything?” The two of them have continued the pattern they established on the Falcon of being a two-woman repair crew, and take a lot of their rotations together.

“He didn't tell me it was making him peculiar. I said that. I don't know how she feels about him. I do know it's easy to think you're feeling one thing when you're feeling another thing. I mean it's easy to mistake things for other things.”

“And you?” he asks. “I know you...matter to each other.”

“I don't know,” she says, picking up a wrench and ratcheting it closed, then open, closed then open. “I don't know what we are to each other, only that we are. It's not like the thing with Ben, the Force bond thing.” He knows who she means when she says “Ben,” but it still takes an effort to identify the man she knows as a foolish, cruel but complex person with the monstrous invader of his mind and destroyer of his private peace. It's an effort he resents having to make.

“It's the opposite of that,” she's saying. “That's unsettling, it's sort of horrible and sort of compelling, we're always trying to win, to change each other. Finn and I, we settle each other. We just wish each other well, and we're never so well as when we're together. I don't want anything from him except for him to be well, and with me.” She makes an impatient movement with the hand that has the wrench in it. “I'm bad at saying things,” she adds fretfully. “I didn't have anyone to say anything to.”

Poe thinks that she's just articulated one of the best definitions he's ever heard of a certain kind of love, even though it's not the kind he feels for Finn himself. He wants all kinds of things, and he's about made up his mind to tell Finn about them, one way or another, when they're together again. But this with Rose complicates things. If she isn't interested now, does it matter if she was interested before? If Finn is interested, is he holding back from acting on his interest because she doesn't remember hers?

He voices this to Rey, and she points out waspishly that the best way for anybody to find out anything about anybody is for the first anybody to ask the second anybody, and that not doing that causes people to waste a lot of time. Poe judges that this means she's fully returned to herself, gives her shoulders a squeeze, and goes to find something to eat and not think about anything. He left their new coordinates in the dead drop as soon as he knew them, and as long as none of the hundred things that could have happened have happened, they should have a shipment of grains and dehydrated vegetables soon, and maybe a message of love along with them. He wonders which season it is on Yavin 4, rainy or dry.

As if it weren't enough that it never gets fully light, the base never gets fully dark, because the livid orange of the gas giant dominates the sky night or day. But it's night, nonetheless, when he stops by the hangar (one major advantage of the site's shipbuilding history), just to see if anyone's working late. They have ships now, and ammunition, and personnel. Intel is coming in and infrastructure is falling into place. The day when it'll be time to put those things into action is coming soon.

Leaning against the corrugated wall, Rose is sitting in a nest of the new blankets that literally fell out of the sky, borne down by an enormous and anonymous parachute. A porg is nestled up against her side. Rey's head is in her lap, and Rey's hair is loose, and Rose is stroking it, not really combing it out but sort of sleeking it down. She looks up at Poe over Rey's sleeping head and her face is serene, gentle, not the stream of expressions and reactions and challenges that he usually sees. For a moment, in the half-light, she looks as old as Leia, someone who's weathered a life's worth of changes and garnered a life's worth of wisdom. Then she just looks like herself.

Poe makes his way to the bunkhouse, and the grief, which hasn't hit him for a while, swings into him and grinds through him. He's marginally aware that there's cold metal at his back, that the scent the scrub releases at night is coating the lining of his nose and throat and making him gag. The fact of their absence, all those lives, the waste of them, fills him and drives him right out of himself.

The lean, coaxing arm around his shoulders, the honey-voiced urgings forward are coming from Dell, who Poe doesn't know all that well and doesn't really like much. She leans on his shoulders until he sits down on his bunk, stoops to take his boots off for him, lets him sink the rest of the way toward the night. In the morning, he finds her and thanks her, even though he doesn't like her any better.

When the container ship wallows into atmo three days later, it's planetary night again, and Poe finds out about it when he comes out of the fresher rubbing his eyes and sees the craft hulking in the middle of their landing field. His heart makes a kind of flopping motion, and he takes the first step of a run before figuring how unlikely it is that Finn would still be onboard. And then there is Finn, coming out of the mess hall with his usual purposeful stride, walking toward someone or something not Poe, very obviously catching sight of him, grinning hugely, and changing his direction.

They hold each other tight. “Welcome to the Resistance,” Poe says. “Again.”

“Wouldn't miss it,” Finn says, and steps back from him. “You eat breakfast yet? Rose says you haven't been eating breakfast.”

Okay, you brought her up, Poe thinks, and jumps in with both feet. “Rey told me about the kissing thing,” he says. “Is that something you want to keep doing?”

Finn takes the question in stride, in a way that suggests he's been thinking about it, waiting to talk about it. “I don't know. If she does? I feel weird about it.”

“Because you do or because you don't?”

“Breakfast,” Finn says, nudging him and starting to walk back in the direction he came from. “Because it's weird for me to know something about her that she doesn't know.”

“Weren't you just at breakfast? I mean, you could tell her. Ask her. Whatever.” He's cribbing from Rey here, which means, no doubt, that Finn has already heard whatever he's saying. He's not trying to fool himself about the first thing Finn would do when they made planetfall.

“Because I also--” Finn stops both walking and talking. “Ask me how I'm feeling,” he says.

“Shit,” Poe says, really ashamed. “Damn it! I'm sorry. How are you feeling?”

“So good,” Finn says, “so good to be back with you,” and leans to Poe, and kisses him.

The kiss lasts, then breaks, then lasts, then breaks again.

“Smooth,” Poe says, with the very little breath that he has left. He hadn't meant to be smiling, but smiling, it turns out, is what he's doing.

He gets another big grin back. “You liked that? I sorta got it ready. I was thinking about you, you know, after you left, about how much better it was when you were around, and it got to the point where I thought I should probably see if you wanted—” Finn turns shy, which is incredible to see—“what I wanted. When I got here. And now here I am. Do you?”

“C'mere and I'll show you,” Poe says, and so they end up next to the container ship after all, screened more or less from the main part of the base, leaning against the still-warm stabilizers. It feels like a long time since he's been warm all the way around, pinging metal at his back and Finn plastered up against his front.

“Oh,” Poe says, and, “yeah,” and, “Finn,” getting his hands everywhere he can. Even pressed close like this, there's so much Finn to touch, shoulders and nape and hips and ass and the small of Finn's back where Poe can hold on tight while Finn kisses his neck and says, “I like that.”

“You like what? Tell me so I can do it a million more times.”

“My name,” Finn says. “I like my name. I like when you say it--” he returns to Poe's mouth, and breathes,“like that, like you just did. A million might be a lot, though.”

“Maybe over time,” Poe suggests, faintly because Finn's sucking on his neck again.

“Yeah,” Finn says, “that sounds good.” He brings his mouth back to Poe's, kissing the corner first, then full on, tongue probing and twisting, making Poe sway against him, not to say wobble a little bit, for the pleasure of being held close, held up, by Finn's arms, of rolling his hips a little just to confirm that Finn's getting as hard as he is, wanting him just as much. He can't decide if he's being conscientious or obnoxious when he pulls away a little to say, “This still doesn't answer the question of how you feel about Rose, though.”

“I guess I'll see. I guess we'll see together. Is that a thing people do?”

He sounds uncertain again. Poe dives in for another kiss or three. “People do all kinds of shit,” he says in between the third kiss and the fourth, “but yeah,” between the fourth and the fifth, “that's one of the things. Anyway, I'm in.”

“For what? You mean for me and--”

“For whatever,” Poe says, “like you said, we'll see, but if you're there, I'm there.”

Finn's expression goes from startled, spreading into pleased, his smile slow and brilliant this time and then shading into slyness. “You have anywhere else to be right now?”

Right here, on my knees on the ground, with that dick down my throat. “I sort of do,” Poe is compelled to admit. “I have a meeting with—stop laughing.”

“Sorry,” Finn says, pulling him in again, kissing him once more on the lips.

“No, it's funny. Cockblocked by my responsibilities. It is funny.”

“That's gonna happen a lot, isn't it? You have to be there for everyone, not just me.”

And that feels amazing, too, in its own way: to hear Finn speak out, plain and clear, what he sees, to have Poe be who and what he's looking at. “Probably,” he admits. “But there's so much I want to do with you. To you.”

“Over time,” Finn says, tucking his arm around Poe's waist and drawing him along. “Can we walk like this? No, not really, it's kinda awkward.” He lets go, takes Poe's hand instead. “Catch me up. How are we doing on ammo, you got anything besides what we brought? Did any of those alliances D'Acy was talking about pan out?”

Poe answers his questions, and asks some. “Oh, and I'm gonna need an inventory of everything you brought back.” They cross the base, filling up now with its unfolding daytime life. Connix and Arun are supervising the unloading of their bounty. People who got close to Finn during the stints on the Falcon or Undenon 3 greet and welcome him as they pass. Poe feels himself centered and anchored by their activity and purpose, by the synchronized swing of his arm and Finn's, their voices and silences in turn, their hands joined, the pivot and the rhythm of the work and the companions of his life, however long it lasts.