He's gotta hand it to the kid. For a Stormtrooper, he's not that bad of a shot.
Sure, he's a little off at times, a little too slow on the draw, but with a cloud of TIE fighters two starships short of a fleet on their tails, Poe Dameron figures the guy is doing pretty good. Is certain, in fact, that with a little bit of practice, he might even get his own set of wings if they make it back to D'Qar.
Poe isn't certain of a lot of other things. Isn't certain if he's really here, in this cockpit, or if it's all just a dream, or worse. Worse, like mind-control worse, like he isn't really flying and he's still imprisoned and that masked freak is messing with his head so he can get all the little details that Poe fought so hard to keep safe. That would be some trick, wouldn't it? But he isn't sure. He isn't sure and that's the worst part. If it's a trick and he keeps on flying, he leads the enemy home; but if it isn't a trick, and he crashes the TIE thinking it's a dream...
Well. There could be worse ways to go, Poe thinks. His hands shake. Not a good sign for a pilot. If the kid asks him about it, he'll blame it on the adrenaline. If the kid asks —and what is the kid's name anyway?—, he'll flash one of his brightest smiles and say his prison meal came with a tumbler of Rhuvian Fizz.
He watches the kid blast another ion cannon clean through. Poe has to shout the question over elated cheers, and when the cockpit quiets down enough for him to hear the answer, Poe feels his brow furrow.
The kid gives him a number. A damn number. "FN-what?" he says, and the moment the words come out of his mouth, he tastes something bitter. Maybe it's all the excitement, he thinks. Maybe it's the capture and the torture and the escape, and now every little thing is making his gut turn. He rolls the number in his head a little, watches the digits get all mixed up, muddled, before the taste rises up again. It's gonna be a mess if he throws up in here. "Well, I ain't using it!" he shouts. "I'm gonna call you..."
Trimantium hulls sure know how to take a hit, but after a while, not even a good shield can keep all that hot metal in one piece. Hot air bursts from one side, cold from the other. If he wasn't sure about how real this was before, he is now. It wasn't the kid's fault. That starfighter came out of nowhere. He looks over the controls to see Jakku expand endless and gold in front of them, and then looks back at Finn to find a pair of dark, startled eyes locked on his.
Not a bad place for a baptism, he wants to say. But the force of his seat's ejection punches the air right out of him.
Sand. Hot and sticky. It looked better from high above. He's tangled in the strings and the kid's nowhere to be found. The ship is nowhere to be found, BB-8 is nowhere to be found, Finn is nowhere to be found, his friends and his maps are nowhere and Poe Dameron isn't sure he wants to be found.
When he gets to the nearest town, it hits him. He's drinking out of a well that might as well be filled with piss, sand and blood in his eyes, and all he can think of is that one little thing.
He's never seen a Stormtrooper's face before.
X-wing pilots are known to be hard drinkers. Well, most of them, anyway. The rest are well on their way towards it, and though Poe doesn't want to fall into that kind of stereotype so early on in his life, he can't help but admit that a good gulp of something strong does do wonders for those bad little midnight fever-dreams.
It's always the sand. Not yellow like Jakku, but black. Black like the sky on Mustafar. There's a body —'Please, Finn, please, no', Poe cries in his sleep, and in the morning none of the other pilots will look him in the eye— and no matter how deep he digs or how hard he tries, it stays there, buried, and Poe can hear muffled screams coming from below.
Yeah, a good gulp of something helps. Not in the mess hall, never in the mess hall. He doesn't want to give the younger ones the wrong idea. So he swallows down his portions, smiles and chit-chats with the new recruits, having to still his own tongue whenever words like 'honour' and 'glory' come up, and then puts his tray back with a goodbye to the cook. When he's in his bunk and the lights are out, he'll reach into his new jacket for the flask.
It works better than a glass of warm milk. This way, he won't have to think about having lost the Resistance's last hope. About the man that saved his life that he couldn't save back.
He savours the slippery burn of it. In the morning, his head's a little fuzzy, and he trips twice trying to get into the pilot's seat. But his hands are steady. His hands are steady, and that's all that matters now.
"That's my jacket."
D'Qar is pretty this time of year. Skies bright, earth lush with green, the air sweeter than any planet this far on the Outer Rim. At least, that's what it looks like to him right now.
He takes Finn in his embrace. It's more of a collision than an embrace, really, sudden and a little bit painful, and Poe imagines his vest's control panel leaving a mark on the trooper's dark skin when they pull apart. They're both breathing like that first time in the TIE, like they're getting too much air and not enough of it at the same time, dizzy and waiting to crash.
"Keep it," he says after, still holding on to Finn by the elbows. He doesn't quite feel like letting go. He doesn't feel like ever letting go, afraid it's just a dream, a rare good dream, and any second now it's gonna turn bad and Finn's gonna slip under the black Mustafar-like sand of nightmare-Jakku before Poe can get to him. "Keep it," he says again. "It suits you," and has to bite his lip to keep anything else from spilling out of his big mouth. It works, but only for a minute; and then he says, "You're a good man, Finn."
Poe wants to say more. A lot more. In case Finn doesn't know what this means to him, how important it is. How grateful he is, for all of it, for BB-8 and for the map and for putting an end to a lifetime of nightmares in a split second, and Poe wishes he had more than a handful of ways to tell him how. He doesn't say more. There's a frown on Finn's face as he tells Poe of an ally taken by that masked freak on Takodana.
Poe claps a hand on the guy's shoulder. He doesn't say more, doesn't say "anything for you," or some other sappy thing he'd have to explain with his go-to excuse of a tumbler of Rhuvian Fizz— but isn't sure he doesn't not say it, in some way. It's not his fault Poe wears his heart on his sleeve.
He bites his lip again, just in case. Keeps his teeth sunk there as they walk side by side until he catches Finn looking at him with a weird look on his face, looking at his lip that no doubt should have indents by now, red and swollen, and Poe realizes he's being an idiot. Downright unprofessional. A series of beeps sound somewhere near his feet. BB-8 seems to think so, too. He leaves Finn with General Organa, glancing once, just once, behind. Recalls imagining the mark his vest's control panel must have left on that dark skin and has to bite his lip all over again.
Dinner doesn't come with a good gulp of something. Maybe it's because the stores are running low. Maybe it's because Poe forgets his flask in the X-wing, maybe it's the fact that the new recruits are keeping him busy before the big fight. Maybe it's all that and more. It's not that he doesn't need it anymore now that Finn's back. It's not, he tells himself.
Poe washes his portions down with water and falls into a deep, dreamless sleep. He hasn't had one of those since his mother died. Before the war, before the New Republic. He knows better than to wake up with a smile on his face. But it's not like he can help it. It feels like a good day.
Of course, his mother always used to say he rushed to conclusions too soon. Trusted too soon, hoped too soon.
Starkiller is a different kind of monster. A frozen tundra yet, for some reason, Poe sees Jakku when he looks down at its vast, desolate form. He knows Finn is down there, under all that cold metal, under the white earth that brings half-forgotten dreams to memory. In those dreams, the earth is black. Poe tells himself that while he flies over Starkiller, plasma raining down on him from all sides, and he should be worried about himself, really, worried about himself and his crew, not Finn.
In those dreams, the earth is black. Black, not white like here, black, and Poe tells himself it's all gonna be fine.
"Anterior spinal nerves severed. Central cord partially damaged. Level three paralysis. The fibers are regenerating at full capacity. However, it is too early for a definite diagnosis. Endoskeletal support may be required in the near future—"
"Stop," he gulps. "Please, just— Stop."
The droid blinks at him. Its lightbulb of an eye flashes on and off. BB-8 makes a worried little beep, rolling by his feet, bumping its inoxium body against him in sympathy, and Poe reaches down to pat its dome with one hand. The other grasps the sheets. If he turns his hand a little to the left, just a little, he thinks, he just might feel warm flesh instead of freezing cold.
"Buddy..." he chokes out. He should have said more back then, after Takodana. He should have said everything he wanted to say while he still could. Now, he clenches his fist in the sheets. Finn looks so damn wrong sprawled face-down on the med bunk like that, an angry slash across his back. "When is he gonna wake up?"
"It is too early for a definite—"
"Can't you give me an estimate?"
The droid tilts its head. "Estimates are against my programming," it says, and Poe swears there's a hint of sadness in its monotone voice. "However, the fibers will take no more than three weeks to regenerate. I do not have information regarding the central cord."
Poe forces a smile. Just a little to the left, he thinks, and he'll feel warm flesh. "Hear that, BB?" he laughs. That bitter taste rises to his mouth again, that bitter taste he got when Finn gave him a number instead of a name, spinning around in the TIE like a compression fan knocked loose. The astromech tilts its optical lens, more silent than usual. "Three weeks. All we gotta do is wait three weeks," he gulps. "Ain't that the best news you've ever heard?"
Poe finds himself surrounded by trimantium hulls. Trimantium decks and trimantium handcuffs, trimantium prison cells. Imperial Destroyers have practically become a second home. It wasn't his fault, really. That starship came out of nowhere, as starships always do. He shouldn't have followed that Rebel distress signal to Jakku. Shouldn't have landed back on that awful spit of land. Should have known it was a trap.
Five weeks. Finn should be awake by now, shouldn't he? Poe asks himself that as another masked freak holds a live wire near his face. "I really thought the First Order had more style," he stammers, clenching his teeth against the pain. "What's the matter? Ran out of electrodes?" and pauses to laugh, "Ran out of Force?"
The man in the mask growls. This punk's an amateur, Poe can tell that much. He doesn't feel the next hit. After a while, electricity doesn't do a damn thing if a body's already all numbed up. "What is the location of Luke Skywalker?" the man shouts.
Poe chuckles. "Why don't you do us both a favour and get your buddy Kylo, alright? 'Cause that's the only way you're getting a damn thing out of me. Or is he still... indisposed?"
The interrogator draws back like a sensitive trigger. Even though Poe knows he won't feel it, he tenses up out of habit, closing his eyes tight and waiting for the next hit to come. Where will it be this time? Neck? Temple? Maybe somewhere lower, if the masked bastard is feeling adventurous, Poe thinks. His fists clench by his sides. One second. Two seconds. "C'mon," he spits, teeth grinding, "I'm getting sleepy here."
The only response is the buzz of the cable. Poe is tempted to open his eyes, so very tempted, but he figures the guy's just trying to catch him with his guard down. Then, a zapping noise, a muffled gasp, the thunk of a solid body against wet tiles. Poe's eyes snap open and—
"Stay calm, stay calm."
It's gotta be a dream. He feels the leather straps loosen and slip right off. Warm hands rub at his wrists, until they get the blood flowing. "You gotta be kidding me, pal," he says.
"Look, I know what you're going to say," Finn sighs. He's got the Stormtrooper uniform on, and it's like the first time they met on the Finalizer all over again. Poe smiles so hard his cheeks ache from it. He watches Finn kneel for the straps around his ankles, both of them taking big gulps of air, frantic, and Finn looks up to say, "Technically, I'm still in recovery. Technically. But you had to go and get yourself abducted—"
"Oh, man, I wanna kiss you right now."
He just can't keep his big mouth shut, can he? Poe laughs after he says it, like it's some kind of joke instead of what it really is, and hopes the interrogator put enough bruises on him to cover up the blush he feels burning his cheeks.
Finn loosens the last straps and helps him off the rack. "Can you walk?" he asks.
Poe has to throw one arm over Finn's shoulders to get himself to balance. Even with extra support, he'll have to limp his way out of here. He sees the way Finn won't look him in the eyes. "Yeah," he rasps, bitterness rising to his mouth. Damn it. Damn it, why couldn't he shut up, for once?
"Alright, listen, Poe. Let's make a deal," Finn says, and Poe tenses at the sound of his own name on the man's lips. "I get you out of this cell, and you get us off this ship. Okay?"
Poe nods. It feels like a hot lump of plasma's stuck in his throat. He watches Finn reach down for his helmet and click it in place over his head. When Finn finally turns to look at him, Poe can't see his eyes.
"You get us out of here in one piece..." Finn pauses to pull out his blaster. The tone of his voice is unclear beneath the mechanized distortion of his suit, but Poe gets the feeling that Finn is smiling under that mask, and then, "...I'll give you that kiss you want."
Poe's eyes widen. Before he knows it, they're running through the hangar for one of the TIE fighters and blasting their way out, blasting the other TIEs and the deck and the whole First Order a new one while plasma cannon fire rains down from every side, and Poe doesn't care one bit because they're brushing against the stars and Finn's shouting 'Did you see that?! Did you see that?!' and another starship goes up in flames.
Jakku expand endless and gold in front of them. They're both laughing even as they crash.
Poe loses his new jacket sometime between the fall and the ejection. At least, the water at the well doesn't taste as bad as last time, and at least the company's a lot better.
He tells Finn that after the rescue ship comes. Finn is still panting from the heat. Poe's thighs are burning and there's sand filling his boots to the very brim, but he doesn't mind. He wants to ask 'Did you mean it?', but somehow, it doesn't seem right. Not in front of everyone. Besides, the quiet's so nice, and Poe hasn't had a good nap in ages and...
When he opens his eyes, they're back on D'Qar. Finn pulls him to his feet, pulls his arm over his shoulders like before, even though Poe's legs aren't numb anymore, and presses them close. Poe wants to turn and bury his face in the man's neck.
"I know a place," he says the next morning. There's a hint of a smile at the corners of Finn's lips, like he knows what he's about to say already, and Poe can only imagine the matching blush on his own cheeks. "It's east of here. On the opposite shore. We could borrow a ship and..."
Operations are running slow, now that Starkiller's gone and the weight of its presence has been lifted off of every Resistance fighter's shoulders. Poe isn't dumb enough to think the fight's over. Not that he minds having a break. General Organa has them debriefed and dismissed early, and Poe almost misses the slight arch of her brow until BB-8 lets out an amused beep at them before rolling away into the morning air. That little drama mech. Poe ignores the voice at the back of his head that tells him all about how droids are known to replicate their owners' behaviour.
D'Qar really is pretty this time of year. Poe has to pull some favours for the freighter, but in minutes, he's got the engine running hot and Finn is packing portions for the both of them in the freezer compartment. Then, the sea shimmers below them. Finn refuses to take the wheel in front of him no matter how hard Poe begs, no matter how many times Poe tells him he's heard all about his adventures with the Millennium Falcon, with Rey.
When they touch down on warm sands, Poe slaps a hand on Finn's shoulder. Feeling the worn leather of his own jacket. Wondering, for a moment, what life would have been like —life being only a microscopic possibility in the hands of the First Order— if Finn hadn't been there to save his life. If Finn hadn't held on long enough in that icy tundra. Poe gulps.
"Hey. What's wrong?" Finn asks. That bright, lopsided grin of his is gone when Poe looks up, and he can't have that, no way, no sir.
"Nothing," he smiles. "C'mon."
It turns out Finn can't swim. Poe should have thought of that before spearing the guy to the ocean floor. Finn comes up sputtering, picking seaweed from his eyes, and the stream of curses that leaves his lips is enough to have the toughest damn pilot of the Resistance gasping. Poe never knew Stormtroopers could cuss like that. No, he must have picked it up it from someone in the Resistance. What has that rough Jakku girl been teaching him, anyway? Poe can't wait to finally meet her so he can ask Rey those things himself.
Finn clings to him even after he stops coughing up salt. It's no Naboo, this sea, and Poe knows the water will only reach their waists even a mile in, but he doesn't want to tell Finn that. Doesn't want to ever break apart— and when did he start being such a sappy mess?
A lifetime ago, under a different moon, Poe would have asked himself that question only to find his mother rolling her eyes, laughing, saying, "You've always been sappy, Poe, sappier than an old oak, but sap's what makes the tree strong, son, you'll see," and Poe would have laughed, too.
Now, he counts the seconds between them. Runs his palms down Finn's back, feels the long, jagged scar and the hard new metal of his spine under the skin. Afraid that one day some other evil bastard might give his guy a wound that can't be healed. Poe shuts his eyes and presses their foreheads together.
"Buddy..." he says. The beginning of every monologue of every day spent sitting by Finn's bunk in that med bay. But, now that Finn's awake, Poe finds he can't finish it.
Waves lap at their knees in the quiet. Poe thinks they'll be standing here forever, like a bunch of idiots, if he doesn't find the strength to get it all out now.
He tries again. "Buddy, I—"
Finn kisses him. Kisses him until Poe sighs into his mouth. Until the noise in his head dissipates and all Poe can hear is the breeze whistling through the palm trees. He should have seen it coming. But Finn is sometimes shy and sometimes brave and Poe's too dumb to know when it's time to give a little push or to ease off, so he ends up doing nothing. But Finn is sometimes brave. He should have seen it coming when Finn kissed him, and he should have seen it coming when Finn takes him by the waist and lifts him up.
"Oh, boy," Poe's eyes go wide.
"Is this okay?" Finn splutters. "Is this— is this good? This is okay, right? Does it feel okay?"
Poe doesn't do a damn thing else besides throw his head back and laugh. "Yeah, buddy," he says. Either the endoskeleton has given Finn an extra boost, or he's always been this strong and Poe just never got to find out sooner. He ignores the way his own body shakes at the thought of it. Ignores all those dirty little thoughts as Finn carries him to the edge of the shore and lays him down. "Yeah, it's good."
"I, uh," Finn kneels over him, staring. "I know what— I mean, I know, okay? I'll tell you that much. I've just never..."
Poe lets his lips curl in a lazy smile. "There ain't much to it, Finn," and just the sight of Finn's eyes sliding shut at the sound of his own name makes Poe want to die. He did that, he thinks. He gave Finn that name. It hasn't hit him until now, the significance of it. "Finn," he says and pulls Finn closer, pulls him right on top until there's not one inch to spare between them. "Finn. Finn." He wants to say it over and over again until the guy's sick of it.
Poe can't stop shaking. When Finn takes them both in his hand, it gets worse. Damn, he's a quick learner. Poe's body twists in the wet sand. Shouldn't he be the one on the wheel, this being Finn's first time and all? But Finn doesn't seem to need any help. Maybe he likes this better, all this giving, always so generous, Poe thinks.
After that, he doesn't think much. Finn keeps stealing the breath out of him with kisses and skilled hands. Gunner's hands. Pilot's hands. Jedi's hands. Damn, everything he touches, he learns so quick. He seems to learn Poe even faster. There's sand and water everywhere. Everything feels so warm and slick, and heavy.
"Finn, buddy, I'm not gonna last long like this," Poe groans.
Finn doesn't respond. At least, not with words. Poe feels Finn's breath hot against the jut of his jaw as he gasps. Feels the tremble of thighs between his own. Then, Poe has to make everything worse by looking down. Looking down and seeing his own cock moving in and out of Finn's hot grip, looking down and seeing the mess they've made of each other, and then looking up, up at hard muscle rippling under all that dark skin and up at Finn's face creased in pleasure and Poe can't take it, he just can't take it—
They finish the portions before Finn flies them home. Poe recalls dreaming of black sands and realizes, mid-flight, that he hasn't felt so peaceful since his mother was still alive. He won't tell Finn that. Poe trusts and hopes like no other, but he doesn't want to soil the good things between them with unpleasant memories. One day, he'll tell him. When they're old and wrinkled and the Empire only lives in bad dreams. Poe always was a sappy bastard.
Rey comes with a red sunrise. A half-moon high in the sky, ripping through the clouds in the Millenium Falcon and Poe's gotta hand it to the kid. For a scavenger, she's not that bad of a pilot.
There's a stillness in the air when the ramp comes down. Poe realizes he's holding his breath. Finn's practically buzzing right next to him, he can tell that much. There isn't a single man or woman on the landing platform that isn't. He wonders whether he'd be able to pick her out of a crowd like this. Whether the glorious picture Finn painted will match her in person. Poe doesn't think so. Glory is a fickle thing. In the face of hope, glory doesn't stand a chance. And from what Poe's witnessed so far, Rey is hope.
"C'mon," he whispers to himself. The suspense is killing him. Then, the hint of a human form. Poe's breath hitches. There she is. Hand-in-hand with a man that looks a whole damn lot like... "Oh, boy," he says out loud.
They stay there, Finn and him and Rey, after the crowds have had their fill of congratulations and embraces, and the landing platform has been cleared. Finn looks like a little kid at the sight of a hard puzzle finally completed. Poe watches Rey throw an arm around Finn's shoulders, ruffle his hair. When Poe sees her gaze finally land on him, he finds he doesn't know what to do with his hands.
"Hey," he says, trying too hard not to sound timid. "I'm P—"
"Poe Dameron! I knew I'd recognize you," Rey shouts. The girl's got a hell of a smile, Poe thinks. Infectious. He can't help the way his own face mirrors it until his cheeks burn. "Finn has told me all about you. Says you're the best pilot in the whole galaxy! In fact, he won't shut up about it."
"Hey!" Finn makes a startled sound of protest. But it's too late. Poe's already folded over with his hands on his knees, lungs burning with laughter.
In a few days' time, they'll be scattered across the galaxies again, new missions weighing down like trimantium. Poe tries not to think about the dark cloud hanging over their heads and the masked freak that almost ripped Finn from the world that probably wants to finish the job, and the First Order, and the Sith.
They stumble across the tarmac, tangled together with Rey's arms thrown over each of their shoulders. Poe tries not to think about that other stuff. He smiles and thinks, more truthful than hopeful for the first time in years, that it isn't all that bad.