When Poe dreams, he dreams of a blue-green tree, dappled and strange and beloved.
It isn’t really his tree, Pops says, but Mama laughs and pushes Pops’s head like she’s trying to shove an idea out of his ear and she says, of course it’s Poe’s tree, didn’t she risk certain death so her baby boy would have it? And wasn’t it given to her by the savior of the galaxy himself, to keep safe? And so Poe gives it water every morning, reads it bedtime stories every night — everybody likes bedtime stories, even trees, this is a fact — keeps Mama and Pops informed of all the new leaves that unfurl.
Pops says there’s something unnatural about the way the tree has grown in just a couple of years, but Mama says their little boy is growing, too, and best that he grow under the shade of his tree, isn’t it? And Poe doesn’t understand but he watches the branches bend and curl to let him climb up amongst its leaves, a fortress and spaceship and cathedral, just for him.
Poe meets the first love of his life in the branches of his tree.
He’s hiding, up here where his parents never find him. Mama wants him to wash his face and Pops wants him to change his clothes and not act like a hellion for five minutes, please, there’s someone important coming for dinner. But important people are always big and loud and they ruffle his hair and pinch his cheeks and then they ignore him. Someone important won’t care if he doesn’t ever come down from his tree ever. Maybe neither do Mama and Pops; it’s gotten dark and quiet, and that’s when he remembers the bedtime story Mama read to him last night about the wild huerkan who roam the streets looking for children who don’t brush their teeth. He starts to get concerned.
Mama shouts something in the house that he can’t hear, but is probably his full name followed by a “you little devil.” The back door opens and he hears “—Elnya Dameron, you little devil! Wherever you’re hiding, you’d better get inside this instant!”
“I think I know where he is,” someone says, a voice Poe doesn’t know.
There’s more talking that Poe can’t hear, and the door closes. Poe holds tight to the branches. Mama hasn’t even taught him how to use a blaster yet; what if the huerkan try to drag him out of the tree and eat all his bones up?
“Hello?” says a voice from just beyond the shelter of leaves. “Can I come in?”
Poe hasn’t ever heard of a huerka being this polite, so he says, “Okay?”
There’s a rustling of branches and a man peers in, pushing leaves away to stand inside Poe’s hiding spot. Poe looks down; the man’s feet are on the ground, but his eyes are level with Poe’s. They are blue eyes, kind and very bright. “Thank you for inviting me in,” says the man. “Am I addressing Mr. Poe Dameron?”
“Yes please,” Poe says, because Mama says manners are good for impressing people.
The man smiles, clearly very impressed. “A pleasure to meet you, Poe. I’m Luke.”
“Are you important?” Poe asks, frowning. He doesn’t look like any of the important people from before. He has gold hair and a funny sort of nose, and he’s dressed all in black like Poe does when he’s pretending to be Dark Fader and L’Ulo is the Jedi Master. He doesn’t look scary, though. He looks nice.
And he looks confused. “What do you mean?”
“Mama said someone important was coming to dinner but they never want to play with me or read to me or tell me anything,” Poe says, trying to convey the depth of his woe. “They just want to talk to Mama and Pops and nobody talks with me.”
Luke smiles, wide and happy. “Well then, Poe, I can promise you that I’m not important at all.”
“Good,” Poe says, heaving a giant sigh and flopping back on his favorite branch, grown wide and flat so he can press his back up against it and stare up at the sky peeking through the leaves. He absently brushes his hand down another branch, telling it thank you because his tree is nice to him, almost as nice as the man leaning against the trunk and looking around. Like Poe’s tree is really neat, which of course it is, but most people don’t notice.
Luke says, “I understand you’ve been taking very good care of this tree.”
Poe wonders if this man is named after Luke Skywalker. He pulls himself up again and says, “Mama said it’s mine, and you have to take care of your things especially if they’re alive because if you don’t they can die.” It was a scary thing to find out, and maybe Luke doesn’t know about it yet, because he looks surprised when Poe tells him. He doesn’t seem very old — not nearly so old as Mama and Pops. And Mama and Pops have to tell him stuff all the time so he doesn’t forget, like about taking care of the tree or washing his hands after he uses the bathroom. Maybe Luke doesn’t have a mom or dad to tell him things like that.
“Really? You’re clearly a very conscientious young man,” Luke tells him, and Poe is so pleased that he doesn’t even ask what conscientious means. “I wonder, Poe, would you care to come in and have some dinner? I’d like to hear more about your tree and how it’s doing. If you don’t mind,” he adds, and Poe thinks he must really not be the important person after all, which is a relief, because Luke is already much more interesting than any old important person anyway.
Poe reaches out for Luke’s arms to grab onto so he can get down, and Luke holds him very carefully, like he’s hardly ever helped anybody out of trees before. Poe takes his hand because that way they’re two people who look like one big person, and maybe the huerkan won’t come and eat up their bones if they hurry back to the house really fast. “Are you named after Luke Skywalker?” he asks Luke as he pulls him along, because Luke probably doesn’t know about the huerkan. “He’s the last Jedi and he’s got a lightsaver and he’s magic. Did your mom and dad name you after him?”
Just then Mama opens the door. She’s got her hands on her hips which means she’s mad, so Poe does a battle plan and hides behind Luke’s legs. “You little — I am so sorry, Commander,” Mama says.
“It’s fine,” says Luke, laughing, dragging Poe out from hiding and putting his other hand on Poe’s shoulder. It’s strange and chilly through the glove, even though Luke’s hand that’s holding his feels warm, like the tree does, like sunshine on his face. “We had a very informative talk. He wants to know if I’m named after Luke Skywalker.”
Mama laughs as if he just told a joke, but Poe doesn’t even mind because they get inside and there’s real yucca for dinner and a cake for dessert and Luke thinks his X-wing models are cool and they play space battles until Poe gets tired and lies down on the sofa, his head in Mama’s lap and his feet stretched out to touch Luke’s leg where he’s sitting on the other end. Mama and Pops and Luke are talking but he doesn’t mind; just lets the sound push and pull over him.
“So does he — is he…” Pops says.
Luke answers, “No, Mr. Dameron—“
“Thought I asked you to call me Kes, Commander.”
“I thought I asked you to call me Luke.”
Pops chuckles. “Fair enough.”
“The tree doesn’t… imbue people,” Luke says. “At least not in any of the texts I’ve read. I’d say your son has about as much of the Force as Shara here. Enough to become a damn good pilot one day, if he wants to. Not enough to—“ Luke pauses, and there’s the weird sound that comes from whenever Luke moves his right hand, the one with the glove on it. “Not enough to put him in danger.”
Poe falls asleep clutching his X-wing model, thinking that whatever Luke wants him to be, he’ll be the best in the world. The best in the galaxy.
The second time Poe meets Luke, he’s almost two whole years older and loads smarter, not like those dumb little kids who can’t even go to school yet. Poe comes running into the house one afternoon, full of news about Mr. Klyaxos being allergic to bees and how they all had to e-v-a-c-u-a-t-e the classroom until he stopped expanding and how Mx. H’un taught them how to spell evacuate and allergies and a-n-a-p-h-y-l-a-x-i-s and then there was singing in the grass outside. But instead of just Pops there like it usually is when he comes home, Pops and Mama are both at the kitchen table drinking coffee, and Luke is sitting with them.
Poe forgets to breathe.
Luke notices him first, and grins. “Hey, Poe! Good to see you.”
“This is going to be incredible,” Pops mutters, which Poe doesn’t understand because Luke is already incredible.
“Shh,” Mama says, pushing his head with her fingertips.
Luke ignores them, which is the right thing to do whenever grownups are talking anyway. “How’ve you been? Your mom tells me you’re in school now. Pretty neat.”
Poe wants to say something, but mostly what he wants to do is drag Luke out into the backyard where Mama’s A-wing is and show him all the controls that he’s learned, tell him all about vectors and velocity (which he can spell!) and make sure Luke knows that Poe is going to be the best pilot just like he said he would be. And he wants to show Luke how big the tree’s gotten (it always seems the same size to Poe but Mama’s got holos that she takes every year on Poe’s birthday next to his tree, and Poe is getting taller but his tree is almost as tall as the house now, blue-green leaves soft in the breeze) and tell him all about the big storm this summer that struck the tree and tore off a whole branch leaving a hole where Poe can store his best snacks and maybe secret messages if he ever becomes a spy and explain to him about the f-e-r-t-i-l-z-e-r that he’s researched that’s the best in the whole system even though Pops says it’s too expensive and that weird old tree doesn’t need to get any bigger. Maybe Luke can convince Mama and Pops to buy it anyway. And most shameful of all, Poe wants to ask Luke if he still wants to play with his spaceship models, even though he’s six and a half years old and only babies play with that stuff anymore.
After a few more seconds of agonized silence, Mama gets up from her chair. “Do you want some milk and cookies?”
“Yes please,” says Poe, instinctively, at the same time as Luke, which makes Pops and Mama and Luke all laugh for some reason.
Poe gets to tell his story about Mr. Klyaxos and Luke even asks to hear the song that he learned today, even though Mama just groans and Pops says, “You’re a real glutton for punishment,” which is weird. Poe sings him his song and Luke says he’s got a very strong voice, and then Poe can’t help himself anymore and he grabs Luke’s hand (he still has a glove on it, Poe wonders why just his one hand is cold when the rest of him is so warm) and pulls him outside into the sunshine.
This time the tree is big enough that Luke can climb up too, which nobody but Poe ever does and it makes Poe’s heart pound to think that there’s somewhere that’s just for him and Luke. Luke thinks that the secret hideyhole is great, and his legs dangle down, his arms crossed and resting on another branch. “This is an excellent tree, Poe. You’ve done a wonderful job with it.”
Poe stares at his feet where they’re swinging too, carefully keeping the same rhythm as Luke’s. “My dad won’t let me get fertilizer for it to help it grow more. He says it’s too expensive for some weird old mystic tree.” He pauses. “What’s mystic mean?”
Luke smiles, and rests his chin on his arms. “It means… different. Special.”
“Are you mystic?” Poe asks.
Luke laughs. “That’s a good question. You know,” he continues, before Poe can press the issue, “I have a tree just like this one.”
Poe gasps. “Really? With the blue and green leaves and everything?”
“Really,” Luke confirms, nodding. “In fact, your mother and I got the trees at the same time.”
“So your tree and my tree are twins?”
“Exactly,” says Luke. His eyes crinkle up when he smiles and Poe feels warm right down to his toes, but he can’t let himself get distracted.
“Is your tree as big as mine?” Poe asks. Having a tree that’s twins with Luke’s is great, but he wants his tree to be the best.
Luke shakes his head, solemn. “No. My tree is still in stasis; it’s smaller than you are. I have to find a home that’s as special as this one before I can plant it, and it’s taking me a long time. That’s why I wanted to come and visit, so I could get tips for what I should do once I find that place.”
So Poe tells him exactly what kind of fertilizer to get and how he needs to read to it every night and water it every morning and make sure to thank it for being the best tree it can be. “Because it’s yours, so you’ve got to take care of it,” Poe says.
“I remember,” Luke says, reaching out with his left hand and touching one of the leaves. “All right, Poe, I’ll do exactly as you advise. And maybe one day my tree will be almost as nice as yours.”
“Both of them are nice,” Poe says, determined to be fair now that he knows his tree is better. “Come on, let me show you my spaceship!”
Luke is, sure enough, amazed by Poe’s skill. “You’re already a pilot, I can tell,” he says. He runs his hand over the dashboard. “You’ll be in an X-wing in no time.”
“Have you flown an X-wing?” Mama has, but she only ever says that Poe can’t fly one until he’s mastered the A-wing.
“I have,” says Luke. “Quite a few of them, in fact.”
“Are you really Luke Skywalker?” Poe asks, because at school they’d seen newsvids of the battles, and sometimes they interviewed Commander Organa and sometimes General Solo and sometimes Commander Skywalker, and in class Poe sat and squinted at the pictures that looked like Luke, but flat and distant and faded. He asked Mama about it once and she said he would just have to ask Luke when he came back, and Poe was so dumbstruck at the thought that Luke was coming back to him that he mostly forgot about the other thing. But now, seeing Luke at the controls, he remembers.
Luke doesn’t answer for a minute; he just stares out the viewport, like he’s watching for something. “That’s a good question, too. Yes, that’s my name.”
“Why’s it a good question? Are you the Last Jedi? Did you really blow up the First Death Star? Did you murder the Emperor and Darth Vader? Did you fight the Stormtroopers with the Ewoks?” That’s the most important question, really, because Ewoks are cool.
Luke laughs and picks him up out of the pilot seat, swinging him up over his shoulder. “Come on,” he says as he sets him down on the ground. “If we don’t get back to the house, your mom and dad will eat all the rest of the cookies without us.”
He leaves again after dinner, even though Poe makes an excellent case for why he should stay over and even offers to let Luke sleep in his room. Pops greets this with a guffaw and Mama tsks something about corrupting the youth and Luke says he would love to stay but he has to go back and read his tree a bedtime story. “Just like you told me to do.”
Pop snorts. “What?” Mama pushes his head.
But before Luke leaves for good, he goes out to his shuttle and comes back inside with something behind his back. “Here,” he says, presenting it to Poe. It’s a blast helmet, like the holos of Mama when she used to wear them. “If you’re going to be an ace pilot, you’re going to need one of these.”
“Get out of here, you cradle-robber,” Mama laughs and kisses Luke on the cheek, which Poe didn’t even know was a thing you could do to other grownups but he wonders how old he has to be before he can kiss Luke on the cheek.
Luke laughs and hugs Pops goodbye, then bends down and puts his helmet on Poe’s head. “Remember to always trust your gut and fly with your heart.”
“That’s terrible advice,” Mama huffs, but Poe nods so hard that the helmet almost comes off, and Luke smiles. “And I’ll let you know how my tree does. Thanks for all the tips.”
“You’re welcome,” he says, but even being polite doesn’t keep Luke there any longer. Poe runs out into the yard and watches Luke take off, his astromech droid beeping irritably.
“Well kid,” Pops says, plucking the helmet off his head and handing it to him, “What do you think of your buddy Luke there?”
“I think he’s the most mystic person in the whole world,” Poe says.
The third time Poe meets Luke isn’t at Poe’s house at all. Mama and Pops have decided they’re all going to take a vacation to Naboo, someplace that’s far away from Poe’s friends, Poe’s A-wing, and Poe’s tree. “It’s just for two weeks,” Mama says, bemused, while Pops tries to pack.
Poe very carefully unpacks everything Pops puts in the suitcase and places it back on the shelves or in the drawers that he can reach. “What happens if my tree dies while I’m gone?” he demands. “Or if somebody steals the A-wing?”
“Nobody, but nobody is stealing the A-wing,” Pops says, putting him in a headlock while Mama goes back into the drawers and pulls out everything he just put away. He tries to wriggle free but Pops just rubs his knuckles on Poe’s head, laughing. “And nothing bad’ll happen to that damn tree.”
“We’ll have Abuelo come by and read it the newspaper every morning,” Mama promises.
“That’s totally not what he’s supposed to do!” Poe wails, and slumps in Pops’s grip, defeated.
Mama sighs, and looks at Pops. “How Luke thinks Poe is supposed to be a good influence is beyond me.”
“Luke?” Luke thinks he’s a good influence? “Are we going to see Luke?”
“Great,” Pops says, and lets him go.
Which is how Poe finds out that Luke is coming with them to Naboo — “meeting us there,” Mama corrects — and his sister and her husband and their son, who is only six, not eight like Poe is, but Luke suggested they all get together for some “much-needed downtime.” Which Poe agrees with, because school is really hard now. He has been having a lot of serious problems with multiplication. “And Luke is going to leave his tree behind,” Mama points out. “So if Luke thinks it’s okay, then your tree should be fine, don’t you think?”
After that, Poe has to work extra hard to get his parents packing fast enough so they can go already.
“I think he’s trying to fob Poe off on this poor Ben kid,” Pops mutters as they load up the shuttle, Poe being careful to put his helmet in the cubbyhole so that he can show Luke how he cleaned it up and repainted it (well, Mama repainted it but he supervised).
“Pretty sure it’s too late for that,” Mama says, and tells Poe to say goodbye to his tree because liftoff is in five.
Poe runs out into the backyard, feeling the warmth of his tree reach out to him as he gets closer. He wraps his arms around its trunk and gives it a kiss, like grownups do on the cheek. “I’ll be back in two weeks,” he tells it, “And I left a stack of all your favorite stories on the table and I told Abuelo to read those to you and not the newspaper, but please don’t die if he just reads you the newspaper. And I set up a sprinkler because he might forget about watering so you should be okay. I love you. Don’t be sad while I’m gone, I’m going to a whole other planet and I’ll get you new stories to read, okay?”
Mama lets him take them out of atmo, standing between her knees in the pilot’s seat and the bank of controls, and even lets him stay up front as she makes the jump to hyperspace. He watches the stars stretch and spin around him and he thinks that there can’t be anything better in the whole galaxy than this feeling.
Naboo is full of beautiful pale buildings and bright sun, cheerful citizens who smile at Poe’s black curls and curious questions about the food, the dresses, what’s that man holding onto that balloon for? They land at the port in the capital and make their slow way along the boulevard, Mama frowning at the directions in her pad. “I don’t think this is right,” she announces at last, after they’ve been walking for more than an hour. Poe isn’t tired, exactly, but he keeps having to switch holding his helmet from one hand to the other and he’s afraid he’ll drop it. (Pops keeps offering to put it on the packdroid, but Poe won’t dishonor himself like that.)
Pops peers over her shoulder, then they all three look up at the palace gates they’re standing in front of. “No way,” he says, but it sounds a little bit like a question.
“Maybe it’s where the princess is staying, and she’ll tell us where we’re staying,” Mama says, pressing a button at the gate.
“Maybe Luke is going to get a foot up his ass the next time I see him,” Pops mutters.
The gates open to reveal a big, lush lawn that reminds Poe of home, everything green and beautiful, even though it isn’t messy like Poe’s backyard. A tiny little lady with long brown hair and a clever smile is coming down the steps and across the pathway. Mama and Pops both bow low, and Poe (very worried about dropping his helmet) does the same thing.
The tiny lady makes a scolding noise as she pulls Mama and Pops up. “Just because I’m horribly abusing my relatives in order to score this place,” she says, waving her hand at the palace behind her, “Doesn’t mean I’m anyone worth bowing to.”
“That’s not why anyone bows to you, your highness,” Pops says.
The tiny lady laughs. “You’re a charmer, Dameron. I like you. Shara, it’s wonderful to see you again. And this must be Poe. I’m Leia. My brother Luke has told me so much about you.”
Poe straightens up so he can look closer at her. She doesn’t look much like Luke, but her smile is nice and he can feel that same warmth from her as he does from his tree, or from Luke — although his tree is like sitting in front of a fireplace and Luke is like the hottest day of summer, where you can’t breathe for a minute while the heat melts into you. This tiny lady is more like a blanket straight from the fresher, toasty. “Hi, Leia,” he says, and sticks out his hand the way Mama has taught him.
She takes it firmly. “I hope you don’t mind staying with us,” she says, addressing all three of them. “It was Luke’s idea, but I think it’s a very good one. We could use some company.”
Mama looks aggrieved. “He said we were staying somewhere — well, he sure as hell didn’t mention a palace, that son of a bitch.”
“That’s my mother you’re talking about,” says Leia, grinning. “He said you’d never agree to stay with us if we told you the street number.”
“Your Highness,” Mama sighed, “This isn’t a a street number - it’s an entire street.”
Leia shrugs. “This was the smallest palace they would give us,” she says. “So we’ll all have to make do. Speaking of which, Shara, Her Majesty has already issued a royal decree that the three of us have drinks at the Palace tomorrow night. Strictly saviors of Naboo only; no men allowed.”
“I tremble and obey, Your Highness,” Mama says, and Leia links arms with her, laughing as they lead the way up the stairs.
The visit doesn’t get off to a promising start; Poe is introduced to Leia’s even tinier son, who promptly runs away and hides under the couch where his dad is sitting.
“Yeah, this is pretty normal,” says Ben’s dad, whose name is Han and who wears an honest to gosh blaster on his hip. Poe is pretty sure Han is the coolest person ever. “Don’t worry about it, kid. He’ll come out once he’s figured out you’re not going to bite his head off. There’s a playroom—“ and he waves vaguely around, “Somewhere, if you want to go find it.”
Poe does, desperately, because somewhere that’s a palace is sure to have the most amazing playroom of all time. But he wants to see Luke first, so he just says, “Thank you, sir,” and goes to sit in a chair in a corner, putting his helmet on his lap.
Mama and Pops go talk to Han, but Leia crouches down next to his chair. “It’s all right if you want to go play,” she says, looking worried. “I’ll make sure he comes and finds you once he gets here.”
Once again temptation beckons, especially since Poe can see Ben peeking out from under his dad’s seat; there’s going to be limited time to have the playroom all to himself. But Poe’s duty is clear. “It’s okay,” he says. “I want to wait. It’s nice here.”
Leia glances up at Pops, who makes a complicated gesture. “All right, then,” she says, and goes to talk to the other grownups.
He’s not lying; they’re on the top floor of the palace, in a large room with no roof, just the walls meeting blue, clear sky. Even the sunlight looks different here on Naboo, brighter and clearer, and it limns everything with a golden sparkle that Poe’s never seen before. Despite that, it feels cool even out in the sun; Poe huddles in his seat and wishes he’d brought a jacket.
They get served fruit and cheeses and the grownups talk, and Ben eventually crawls out in order to have some food, then slowly creeps over to where Poe is still sitting, looking wary. Poe leans away from him; Ben feels hot and scratchy, like putting your hand too close to a candle.
“What’s that?” Ben asks, pointing at the helmet.
“A blast helmet,” Poe said, and doesn’t add, “duh,” because it’s important to be nice to young people.
“Why are you holding it?”
“Because I want to show it to Luke.”
Ben makes a face. “Why’d you wanna show it to Uncle Luke?”
Poe tries to do the math. If Leia is Luke’s sister that Mama talked about, and Ben is Leia’s son, does that mean that Luke is his uncle? He’s pretty sure it checks out, but he’s not happy about it. “Because I feel like it.”
“Can I see it?”
Ben’s hands are covered with fruit juice and bits of cheese; Poe holds the helmet away from his sticky fingers. “No.”
Which starts the first (but not the last, by any means) fight between Poe Dameron and Ben Solo on this trip. By the time the grownups get them separated, Ben’s lip is bleeding and he has a handful of Poe’s hair clutched in his fist.
“Your Highness, General, I am so sorry—“ Mama says, as Pops checks him over for injury.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” he demands.
Poe frowns. “Those are both thumbs.”
“You’re fine,” Pops decides, and gets back to his feet. “He’s fine — how’s Ben?”
“He’s not going to be fine for much longer,” Leia’s saying grimly, Ben tucked neatly under one arm. He’s kicking a lot but it doesn’t seem to be doing much. “And please, don’t apologize; it’s not—“
“What’s going on?” says a voice from the doorway, and Poe looks around wildly for his helmet because Luke is here. Only now it’s on the floor, rolled away under a table, and even from here Poe can see fruit stains and dirt on it. He’s going to hate Ben Solo forever, he decides. An infinity of forevers.
The grownups all go and greet each other and stand around talking (except for Leia, who announces that Ben is grounded until he can learn to accept “no” for an answer, so he might be in there until he dies, and takes him away still kicking and screaming), which gives Poe an opportunity to sneak over to the helmet and try to scrub it clean with the sleeve of his shirt.
“It looks all right to me,” Luke says from behind him. He sits down on the floor next to Poe and examines the helmet thoughtfully. “In fact, it looks better than it ever did when I had it.”
Somehow that just makes things worse. Poe can feel tears pricking at his eyes. “But I put it in a special decontamination bath and rinse and I polished it and Mama repainted it with me helping and now it’s all ruined again,” he says, mortified at how he can’t control his own voice from getting high and thin and wailing.
Luke sighs and pulls Poe in for a hug, and Poe is way too old to be a crybaby but if it gets him a hug he’s willing to sacrifice his dignity a little bit. “I know how it feels to worry you’re disappointing someone,” Luke says into Poe’s hair. “You did a good job, okay? I promise.”
Poe nods against Luke’s shoulder, and tries to tuck himself in further. “Okay.”
“Are you cold?” Luke says, surprised. “You’re shivering.”
Poe thinks about it. “No,” he says. He’s not anymore; it feels like the sun’s come out, even though it’s been bright and cloudless all morning.
“For goodness sake,” Mama says, seeing them on the floor. “At least wait until he’s turned sixteen, Luke! There are laws.”
The fourth time Poe meets Luke, Mama’s been dead for a week. Nobody says that; they say she passed away, or she was taken too soon. Abuelo says that the goddesses of the air took her back into their own, and lights his candles to pray on the sacred mountain. Maybe that helps him feel better. But Poe is almost ten years old and he knows what that stuff really means. She’s dead. They scattered her ashes and that’s that.
Pops is at work. Poe should be at school but the first day he went back everyone looked at him funny, like he’d grown an extra head or lost an arm. When he came home there was nobody there, and when Pops got back a few hours later he didn’t ask how school was today, didn’t ask if he’d done his homework, just made dinner out of the ‘wave without saying anything. They ate in silence and when Poe looked up at Pops, Pops was staring at the wall right above Poe’s head, like Poe wasn’t even there.
After that, Poe didn’t see the point in going.
Instead he spends all day up in his tree, dragging up books to read, mostly books about flying and spacecraft specs. He doesn’t understand a lot of it, but he reads it out loud and his tree’s branches rustle in the wind, blue-green and safe. Sometimes there’s a minute that goes by where Poe forgets that his mom is dead and burned up, and he has to remember really fast because forgetting is worse than anything else.
That morning he climbs up with a mechanic’s guide to the X-wing and a bag of juavos juice, making plans to maybe come down for dinner, but he doesn’t think Pops would care, really. He can climb so high up in his tree now that nobody can come and get him down, here in the highest branches that are still young and bend under his weight. This high up, he can see the faint outline of Yavin’s gas giant against the sky, can see the other moons come up. He reads for a little while but mostly he just watches the sky, thinks about Mama and how she’d tell him stories of being up there, away and alone and free.
He doesn’t remember going to sleep, only waking mid-fall; the branches whipping at his face and leaves tearing in his fists as he tries to grab hold. He opens his mouth to scream and he’s not falling anymore, floating a few inches away from the ground. He puts his hands out carefully, his palms flat against the damp earth, and he can feel himself slowly drifting down the rest of the way, until he’s on his hands and knees, heart pounding. He looks up at his tree. “Did you do that?” he asks.
“I did,” says Luke. Poe scrambles to his feet and sees him at the backdoor, leaning against the frame.
“What are you doing here?” he blurts, rubbing his hands to get the dirt off. He can feel his knees sticky with mud and there’s a pain on his cheek, but it’s not important.
“I came to see you,” Luke says. “I got here a little while ago, but I didn’t want to bother you until you were ready to come down.”
“Did you—“ Poe gasps in realization, “Did you use the Force?”
Luke smiles sadly and Poe remembers, he can’t believe he forgot again, no wonder Mama died and burned up and left him if he can’t even keep remembering she’s dead. “Just a little bit,” he says, putting his thumb and forefinger together, and Poe tries to smile back but he can’t, he’s not good enough at pretending and his pants have mud on them and the last time they got cleaned was when Mama cleaned them and he’s dirty and tired and for the first time he feels too small, like he can’t fit everything inside anymore.
He crumples onto the ground, curling himself up against his tree, and cries — he can’t help it, he doesn’t want to but it’s like they’re pulled out of him every time he tries to breathe and he’s panicking, because what if he can’t ever breathe again without feeling like this? What if the rest of his life, for whole entire years, nothing happens without hurting?
Suddenly there’s arms wrapped around him, and he’s lifted up into Luke’s lap with his face hidden against his shoulder. It should be mortifying but Poe grabs handfuls of Luke’s jacket and holds on. He can hear Luke saying something, even though he can’t hear the words over the sound of his own sobbing. After a long time — Poe doesn’t know how long, maybe years — he can feel his breath coming back, gulping for air. He could turn his head and stop pressing his face into Luke’s chest, but he’s too warm, he just wants to stay here for as long as he can. Luke’s chin is resting gently on his head and he’s quiet now, not saying anything.
“Am I going to feel like this forever?” he asks, muffled in the fabric of Luke’s shirt.
He can feel Luke shake his head. “No, not forever. You’ll feel like this for a long time, though. I’m sorry about that. But you will, one day, feel better than this.”
Something about that is reassuring; that even though it might last for a whole other week or even a month, maybe, Poe won’t feel like this until he’s a million years old. Then an ugly thought occurs to him. “How do you know?”
“My family was killed,” Luke says, matter-of-fact.
“Your parents?” Poe asked, astonished. Nobody had ever told him that. “Were they murdered by the Empire?”
“Well — yes, I suppose. In a way. But they both died when I was just a baby. I didn’t really know my parents at all,” Luke says. At this, Poe actually lifts his head to gape at Luke. He can’t imagine not ever having Mama. Luke sees his expression and pushes the hair out of Poe’s eyes, smiling. “But I still had a family, even after that. My aunt and uncle raised me. I loved them very much.”
Even through watery eyes, Poe makes a face. He can’t imagine being raised by Tio Hous, who smells like licorice and farts all the time. “Did they get murdered by the Empire?”
“Yes,” says Luke, tucking Poe’s head back under his chin. Poe presses in closer, curling into the warmth and squeezing his eyes shut. “They died when I was nineteen.”
“They both died? At the same time?” Poe can’t imagine that. Pops has been quiet and angry and doesn’t talk, and Poe wished last night that Pops had died instead of Mama, but thinking of both of them gone is worse than anything he can imagine. “What did you do?”
Luke sighs. “I was very sad for a long time. I got better, but I still miss them.”
“Did you cry?”
“Of course.” Luke looks down at him, very serious. “It’s important to cry, Poe. Your mother was a wonderful person. She made things better while she was alive; a bright spot in our galaxy. You’re right to be sad that she’s dead.”
“Pops said we can’t dwell on it,” Poe says. “He says we have to be brave because that’s what she would want.”
Luke makes a considering noise, and shifts him slightly in his lap, settling his back against Poe’s tree. “Your father is a very smart man,” he says, and Poe is old enough that he knows there’s a “but” coming. “But don’t ever think it’s brave not to cry, Poe. Stronger people than you or me or even your dad have to cry all the time, and they’re better for it.”
Poe goggles at the idea that anyone is stronger than Luke, but he doesn’t argue the point, just curls up tighter and keeps his eyes closed. They stay there until the shadow of the house spreads over them, until Poe can hear his father come home and call out his name.
The first time Luke rescues Poe, he’s three systems away from Yavin and trying to sell his miniature pod-racer collection to a couple of merchants who say they can take him a lot further away than that. They’re just about to strike a deal when Poe feels something spreading across his cheeks, like the beginnings of a blush. He looks up and sees a hooded figure near the front door looking around, and he knows he has to get out of that cantina.
“Sorry, gotta go,” he tells the traders, grabs his collection and dashes for the rear exit (all the best books talk about how space pirates always find out where the rear exit is). He’s out the door and safe when a hand grabs the collar of his shirt.
“Going somewhere?” and it’s not Luke’s voice, it’s a stranger, tall and grinning and Poe doesn’t know what’s in his other hand but he doesn’t want to find out, so he throws his collection at the man’s face, yelling and kicking at his shins. He should have bought a blaster. The man just laughs — and then chokes, letting Poe go to claw at his throat. He collapses to his knees, his eyes wide and terrified. Poe skitters back and bumps into someone.
Luke, dressed in a black robe with the hood up, lifts his eyebrow at him. “Fancy seeing you here,” he says, and with a wave of his hand the man is gasping for air again. “I’d leave this system if I were you,” Luke tells him, and Poe knows that’s not just advice. “Go learn how to fish. Live better.”
The man staggers to his feet and goes running up the alley, away from them. Luke lets his hand fall before turning back to Poe. He doesn’t look all that happy to see him.
“What brings you to the Lorentian system?” Poe says, aiming for casual.
Luke doesn’t answer, just blinks. “You’re taller,” he observes, as though it’s surprising.
“I’m twelve,” Poe points out. He’s twelve in three weeks, anyway, which is practically twelve.
“You’re a menace,” Luke contradicts. “Go get your toys.”
Poe wants to argue that they’re collectibles, but after getting dumped in the questionable puddles of the alleyway, he’s pretty sure nobody’s going to trade for them. He goes and gets them anyway, puts them back in his knapsack where they’ll stink up his two changes of underwear and three pairs of socks and his knife. Luke watches him the whole time, not saying a word, and after Poe gets everything he turns and walks down the alley. Poe looks at the cantina door, wonders if he can make a break for it before Luke chokes him almost to death, too.
“Don’t even think about it,” Luke says over his shoulder.
Sighing, Poe trudges along behind him. He expects them to go to the port and whatever fancy shuttle Luke brought with him, but instead Luke makes his way to the empty junkyard where Poe had stashed the A-wing, its motivator completely fried and about as useful as a paperweight for talvoths. “How did you know it was here?” Poe asks. “Did the Force tell you or something?”
Luke snorts. It’s not a sound Poe would expect, coming from this black-hooded figure who looks like Luke but is a lot scarier. “Your father has a tracker on it. You really should do a more thorough pre-flight inspection, Poe.”
Poe scowls up at Luke. “So what, you work for my father now? Go get him stuff he can’t bother to get himself?”
That brings Luke up short. “Poe,” he says, reproachful. “Your father is very worried about you.”
“He doesn’t even show up when I run away,” Poe says. “He doesn’t care, he just doesn’t want anybody to think he forgot about me.”
“He didn’t forget,” Luke says, reaching out to touch Poe’s shoulder.
He jerks away. “No, he just wants to. That’s why I left. That way he doesn’t have anybody he has to deal with.”
Luke sighs. “How are you more trouble than all thirty-seven of my students combined?” he mutters, like he’s not even talking to Poe. “Come on,” he adds, “Let’s go fix your ride.”
“Students?” What students?
So they spend the next three hours pulling out bits of the ship’s engine and banging on things with hammers while Luke tells him about the brand new Jedi Academy. “I’ve got kids as young as five and grownups older than me,” he explains, frowning at a burned-out compressor. He’s long since discarded his cloak and there’s an oil smudge on his cheek, which Poe can’t stop staring at. “The old academy used to just take children, but it doesn’t really make sense — I mean, sure, if you want a bunch of Jedi who don’t know how to crack a joke. But just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Look at me.”
Poe is looking, and this time Luke catches him doing it. But instead of frowning or asking why he’s staring, he smiles. “Thanks for listening, by the way. You’re pretty good at it. Get ready to reconnect the secondary mains, will you?”
Nobody except for Luke ever talks to Poe like a grownup, but that would probably sound like something a little kid would say, so instead Poe asks, “Are they all humans?” as he climbs onto the pilot’s seat so he can reach up the secondary mains. They’re almost done, and faster than Poe thought it would take. Maybe he could convince Luke to be his mechanic if the whole academy for Jedi doesn’t pan out.
“No, actually,” Luke says. “There’s —“ he pauses, stares up at the ceiling in thought. “There’s more humans than there are any other species, but only by one. We’ve got five humans, four Ranats, and everyone else there’s either one or two. Oh, except the Ewok triplets.”
It sounds amazing. “Where is it?”
Luke gives him a look, which Poe doesn’t think is as intimidating with that smudge on his cheek. “If I tell you and you run away there, your father’s going to be mad at me.”
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll just run away back here and find that scary man again and get horribly murdered,” Poe counteroffers, and Luke laughs.
“It’s on Endor, for the moment,” he says, tossing Poe the harmonic puller as he gets up. “But we’ve been thinking about relocating.” He leans against the pilot seat, peering up at the wiring Poe’s splicing together. “My sister is taking over the base on Yavin Four; she wants me to bring the academy there.”
“To Yavin Four? You’d live on Yavin Four? All the time?” Poe squeaks, and wobbles on the seat. Luke grabs at his waist to steady him and Poe feels hot all over, blushing furiously, but Luke Skywalker is smiling up at him with an oil smudge on his cheek. Poe wonders if Luke would let him wipe it off with the sleeve of his shirt, careful, leaving him clean.
Luke lets go of him. “Leia says it’d be more convenient to have the Academy and her Institute under one roof. I think she just wants me to teach some of her classes for free.”
“So if you move the academy to Yavin Four, you’ll be one of the teachers at the Institute?” Poe asks, trying to sound casual even though it’s the most important question he’s ever asked in his whole life.
Luke shrugs. “Perhaps. By the way, are you still thinking about going to the Institute? You used to talk about wanting to be a pilot for the Fleet.”
Poe can’t really handle that question right now, so he concentrates on the last two wires, catching them and letting them twine together the way the old bioelectrodes like to do. There’s a wheezing sound and then the engine comes whirring back on, the lights blinding. Luke grins up at him, extends his hand to help Poe down.
Poe takes his hand and jumps.