Poe tries not to wonder why General Organa has summoned him to her office today. Things have quiet these days as the Resistance focuses on repairs and their eventual evacuation from D'Qar. It's probably too soon for him to get another military mission.
He trusts her with his life, of course, would go to the ends of the galaxy if she asked for it, but she keeps her own council, and it's above Poe's pay grade to try to track her thought processes.
Her office is in her flagship, a consequence of years spent hopping from base to base. It's a small cabin, neatly appointed with Alderaanian art rescued from various private collectors over the years. Poe's favorite is probably the blown glass gingerbell sitting on the top shelves, its peach petals curled in a way that almost looks real.
Poe salutes as he steps into the room, even though he knows she doesn't like to stand on ceremony like that. Today, the general's wearing an expression that is so stony, you could break the teeth of a rancor on it. C-3PO lingers behind her as she sits at her desk. R2-D2 is projecting a map of the galaxy into the center of the room. It's not Luke Skywalker's map, just a regular one.
"Commander Dameron," she says by way of greeting. He's known her since he was a child, has seen her in every possible sort of mood. Today, her hair is pulled back in a severe bun, and the corner of her lips is pulled taut. She's made a decision that she's not entirely happy with.
Poe nods. "General," he says.
"I believe you know that I'm putting together a team to go find my brother," she says.
Poe nods his head again. "Yes," he says. It's been pretty obvious from the moment they brought the map back to D'Qar that they'd be going after Luke. The General has been keeping most of that planning under wraps, so not much has leaked out to Poe.
"Rey and Finn will be taking the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca," she continues.
Poe blinks. He'd assumed that she'd send a squadron, people with more flight and combat experience. They are running short on personnel, though, and he can see the wisdom in sending the people without predefined roles or jobs along with them. "Okay, sir," he says, waiting for her to continue. Maybe she'll tell him her reasoning or maybe she won't.
She folds her hands on her desk. "Rey is a capable enough pilot and Finn is a capable enough soldier, and Chewbacca has more experience with this sort of thing than the two of them put together, but I need someone who will be able to put the Resistance's interests first." There's a tension to her eyes, her mouth. As much as she would say otherwise, this mission is definitely personal, at least on some level, and she doesn't like the influence that has on her judgment.
"Understandable, sir," Poe says.
"We're in recovery mode right now anyway, after the losses we took at Starkiller base," she says. "We won't be running too many missions while we rebuild our fleet."
She's taking the long way around with this one. Sometimes, Poe wonders if it's supposed to be a test, to make sure her soldiers can still think for themselves. "You want me to go with them, sir?" Poe asks. He doesn't mind being sent off on missions, solo or otherwise, and he'd much rather be on the Falcon than stuck planetside, but he can't help but feel a little apprehensive. "Isn't Finn still in Medical?" Poe had visited Finn there a few times, watched as the medical droids monitored Finn's vitals, as Rey clung stubbornly to Finn's side and eyed Poe with cool suspicion. Poe doesn't blame her for it. She's not entirely wrong about Poe's intentions.
"Major Kalonia assures me that he'll be released in a few days," the general says.
"Who's going to be taking over my duties?" Poe asks. He's still grasping for a reason to stick around. Finn and Rey can handle themselves. Poe would just be a weird fifth wheel. And besides, they're still short-handed. The general's going to need every warm body they can get to help them move off of D'Qar.
The general isn't buying any of it. "Just like last time, Lieutenant Pava will lead Black Squadron while you're gone." She has this all figured out. As much as Poe knows her, she knows Poe as well.
"Of course, sir," he says. He coughs, and then he asks the question that's been on his mind for a while now. "What if Luke doesn't want to come back?" He left in the first place after all, made it nearly impossible to find him. That's not the behavior of someone who just wants to go on vacation for a while.
She sighs. Maybe she's been asking herself the same question. "Then it's up to you three to convince him," she says. "Dismissed."
"How's he holding up?"
Rey spins when she hears a new voice behind her. It's that pilot, Poe. The one who owns BB-8. The one who shows up at Finn's side almost as much as she does. "Better," she says. Finn's sleeping off a day in the bacta tank, hands splayed palm face up. She's laced their fingers together, so she can feel the warmth of his palm against hers.
Poe smiles tightly. He treats her like she's a skittish dune cat, ready to pounce at any moment.
Maybe he's not wrong.
The problem with Poe is he smiles too much. He's too friendly. It reminds her of the traders who would pass through Niima Outpost thinking they could underpay her for her scavenged goods just by flashing her a bright smile and saying a few nice words. He wants something from her, from them, and Rey doesn't know what that is.
Poe says, "I know you're headed off to find Luke Skywalker. I hope it's okay that General Organa wants me to come along."
Rey gives him a jerky nod. She doesn't know him that well, but both BB-8 and Finn seem to adore him, and she likes both of them well enough to trust in their judgment. Besides, it'd be good to have another pilot on board for when Chewie's injury is bothering him or when one of them needs to sleep. Maybe they'll even be able to pull shifts and get there faster. "Okay," she says.
His smile gets bigger, less hesitant. It's hard to ignore the fact that's he's quite handsome. "Great," he says. "BB-8 is coming too."
Rey smiles almost against her will. She can't help it. She loves having BB-8 around. "All right," she says.
"Great!" he says, possibly a little too brightly. "As soon as he's ready to travel, call me on the comm and I'll meet you guys at the hanger." His eyes flick down to the place where her hand and Finn's are joined, and his smile goes tighter. Oh, Rey thinks. She hadn't realized it was like that between them. She feels her stomach twist with jealousy, but she fights it down. It's not fair to do that to Finn right now, while he's still recovering.
Poe steps in closer, almost as if he wants to touch her, a friendly pat on the shoulder or a hug. She flinches away on instinct. She doesn't like to be touched by people she doesn't know, no matter how much they might matter to Finn. She's only talked to him all of twice.
He pulls away instantly, hands up where she can see them. She appreciates it when he turns and leaves.
When Finn wakes up again, it's the middle of the night. He can tell because the entire medbay is silent. All of the other patients are asleep, and the only noise is the soft hiss of the various machines. A med droid rolls over.
"You should be asleep, Master Finn," it says in a deep, soothing voice. Finn tries to wave it off, but it's a bit hard to move his hand. His arm complains when he tries. When did moving get so difficult?
"I'm good," he croaks out. He doesn't hurt exactly, but there's a tender, aching soreness where he knows the pain should be.
He hears a rustling on the other side of him, and he catches a blur of white fabric from his right side. Rey. She's still here with him. "Don't be stubborn," she says, "and listen to the droid." Her voice is a little fuzzy with sleep, sharp with bossiness. "We've got a long trip ahead of us." Right, he remembers agreeing to that before they put him in the bacta tank. Big trip to visit Luke Skywalker, unknown reaches of space, an important mission for the Resistance and for Rey herself.
Rey's hand is warm and heavy where it rests against his shoulder, grounding him. "All right," he mumbles, turning his head into his pillow.
His exhaustion catches up with him. He falls asleep immediately.
Rey works with Chewbacca to prep the Millennium Falcon for departure. They've spent the last few days fixing the ship up as much as possible: pulling out the last bits of the compressor, rewiring the motivator, changing out the ID tags to make it harder to track.
BB-8 and Poe have been helping out. Rey's still not entirely sure what to make of him, but he takes Rey's hostility in stride, and he shows a surprising willingness to take direction.
Poe is far less useless with engines than Finn ever was, and so Rey trusts him to go off and work on things by himself. Still, she finds herself going to check up on him. He and BB-8 will whistle songs in harmony as they do their repairs, lost in their own little world together.
"Used to spend a lot of time working on my old X-Wing," he tells her while they take a break in the main cabin. "Just the two of us, me and BB-8. It was a good little fighter, but resources were tight and sometimes the hyperdrive decided it just didn't want to work."
BB-8 chirps an annoyed agreement about how terrible the hyperdrive was. Rey laughs. Poe's kept his distance since that day in Medical, his smiles smaller and more muted and more honest, and Rey's found herself unbending a little bit in his presence. If he wanted something, he's not asking for it anymore.
There's a hiss as the front hatch opens. Rey looks up just in time to see Finn walk in. He's healed up. He's standing upright. He's a little shaky on his feet, but he grins from ear-to-ear when he sees the two of them together. He's out of his medical whites and back into Poe's patched-up jacket. She'd known he was going to be okay, but it's a totally different thing to see it in the flesh. Rey takes a lot of things on faith, but there's nothing quite like the real thing right in front of your face.
"So," Finn says. "Are we ready to fly yet?"
Poe shoots up from his seat and pulls Finn into a hug. He takes and gives physical affection so easily, and Finn welcomes it without hesitation. "Welcome back, man," Poe says.
Chewie howls out a greeting from the cockpit. He's been running checks on all the main systems, making sure that the Falcon will be ready to fly today.
Finn lets go of Poe and looks between all of them, a little hesitant. "General Organa just said that you guys were waiting for me here. She didn't really explain what's going on."
R2-D2 takes that moment to roll into the cabin. He had been working on programming the nav computer earlier. He chirps an affectionate greeting to Chewie and offers to show the map to the gathered group.
"Go ahead, R2," Poe says. He pats R2's dome in a way that makes BB-8 roll up to his ankle and nudge it jealously.
R2-D2 obliges by displaying the map -- the whole, completed map, now that he's seen BB-8's section of it. Rey can't help but look at it and wonder if it had all been worth it, all that violence, all that death, all for one man who didn't want to be found. But she wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for that quest, and she can't regret that at all.
Finn walks into the center of the holoprojection, his dark head haloed by brilliant blue stars. He reaches up and pokes at the dot at the end of the trail. "So that's the planet we're trying to get to?" he asks.
Poe nods, stepping into the map himself. "It's a pretty insignificant Mid-Rim world, far enough away from most of the interesting hyperlanes that no one would drop by as an accident. I think our best bet would be to blend into the usual traffic between D'Qar and Corellia, then we could circle through the Ganzik system, using the gravitational fields of the triple suns to mask our hyperdrive signature as we head in the opposite direction." He traces each of their turning points, and it seems like a reasonable route.
They all turn towards Finn, who would know better than any of them whether or not this will work. Finn says, "They'd have to be right on our tail or have a homing device on our ship if they wanted to track us. Their sensors don't go much farther than two star systems, and there isn't much of a First Order presence in that region. Too many Republic sympathizers."
"So we're agreed, then?" Rey asks. There's a hum in her blood, an instinct that she's learned to trust that tells her she needs to get to Luke Skywalker as fast as possible. The lightsaber at her side wants to go back to its master. She wants to get it there.
"Let's do this," Finn says.
Poe wakes from his nap to the sound of Chewbacca's snores. Here, the Falcon's lights are dimmed, and the rumble of the engines can lull any of their passengers to sleep, but it's obviously not a passenger vessel. The bunks are hard, with thin sheets. Poe's a soldier in a guerrilla army, though. He’s slept in worse places.
He wanders into the cockpit, where the swirling blues of hyperspace stream past the windows.
"No, that button," Rey snaps from the pilot's seat. She jams her finger in the direction of the exhaust control.
"Okay, okay," Finn says, pressing the button on the co-pilot's panel. "I pressed it."
"Good," Rey says, and she sends a brief flash of a smile in Finn's direction. Finn glows under her praise.
Poe coughs once, just to let them know he's there. Two heads snap in his direction. Rey flushes slightly. Finn beams at him.
"Hi," Poe says, trying not to let this get awkward. "How are we doing on time?"
Rey turns back to her console, all business. "We're on track. Should be another six hours before we reach Corellia." She presses a few more buttons, bringing up their location on the nav screen. Poe doesn't quite know what to make of her yet. She's guarded, fierce, clearly has Finn wrapped around her tiniest finger, and would move mountains to keep him safe. She's a competent enough pilot in her own right, though she doesn't quite have an instinctual feel for it yet. Her knowledge is more theoretical than anything else. That will change. Poe's sure of it.
Finn stands up, gestures to his seat. "I'll get out of the way..." He looks at Poe, uncertain, and Poe's seen enough green pilots, some cocky, some hesitant, who need a bit encouragement when they start out, a reminder that even at its worst, a ship wants to do what you want it to do. You just need to know how to speak its language.
"Nah," Poe says. He settles down in one of the back seats, even though he hates not being at the controls. "You seem to be doing fine on your own."
Rey glances at him once, a quick flash of gratitude. Finn sits back down.
"Okay," Rey says to Finn. "Now turn up the coolant. We're running a little hot right now."
Finn frowns at the board in front of him, trying to figure out what would be a valid move in this game. He presses a button on the game's console and watches as a Mantellian Savrips tears the head off a bug-looking thing. He doesn't remember it from any of his xenobiology classes. The games they played growing up in the Academy always involved a lot of logic puzzles and numbers. They were for sharpening the mind, not for providing entertainment.
"The nice thing playing against yourself is that you'll always win." That's Poe coming into the main cabin. He got another jacket from somewhere, this one a darker brown with blue stripes. It sits easily on his shoulders. He's got that cocky, sure grin that Finn remembers from their first meeting. At least one of them knows what's going on.
Finn shrugs. "I just wanted to learn the rules." It's right here. Chewbacca seems like a big fan. Finn's life up until now has either been orders or desperate measures. In those cases, he did the only thing he could do, whether it was either shooting down TIE fighters or picking up a laser sword. He's left untethered now that the immediate danger has passed, without a commanding officer to give him direction. He knows that he's here to protect Rey, and they're all going to fetch Luke Skywalker back to known space with them, but everything in between is more confused. Rey's up in the cockpit, flying with Chewbacca as her co-pilot, and when Finn left her there, she'd been completely focused by the task at hand. Rey always knows who she is and what she's doing. Finn both admires and envies her convictions.
Poe settles down next to him. "The waiting's the hardest part, definitely," he says, like he can read Finn's mind.
Finn blinks in surprise. He realizes in a moment that he barely knows Poe at all. He knows Poe's a great pilot. He knows Poe has great taste in jackets and names, knows that Poe hugs people without reservations, and that Poe fights for the Resistance. Anything more than that is a blank space. With Finn, with pretty much everyone else in the First Order, there wasn't much to know. They all did the same drills, were taught the same things. "So, how do you handle it?" he asks.
Poe shrugs. "Well, dejarik wouldn't be my first choice," he says, gesturing at the board.
"No?" Finn figures it must be as good a way of killing time as any other.
"Too stressful," Poe says. "All that violence. Sometimes you just want something to keep your body and brain busy."
He reaches into his pack and pulls out a metal cube.
"Holos?" Finn asks.
"Nah," Poe says. He twists the cube once and a pattern emerges on the surface of it. "Puzzle cube." He hands it over to Finn. "There are fifty-one distinct puzzles, but I like doing this one over and over again."
Finn figures the 'puzzle' part out easily enough. The goal is to slide a single round pellet through the maze and to the exit, which is marked with a small blue light. "Why?"
Poe's smile goes wry, "I'll let you on a secret. No one knows what the hell they're doing. Not me, not Chewbacca over there, not even Luke Skywalker. Even with his Jedi powers, he never knew what the future would hold. But at least with this puzzle, I always know how to solve it."
Finn fiddles with the puzzle box, getting a feel for the way its parts move and slide against one another. Some of the edges have been worn smooth with repeated use. There's something about the way Poe talked about Skywalker, though-- "Did you know him?" Finn asks. "Luke Skywalker?"
"Yeah," Poe says. "Knew him since I was in diapers. My parents both served in the Rebellion, back when the Empire was still in its prime. I thought he was a god for the longest time. I would make my mom tell the story of how he blew up the Death Star over and over again until she was sick of it." He seems wistful, lost in the memory of it.
The stories Finn heard about Luke Skywalker were always about how he'd used his Jedi powers to sneak aboard the second Death Star and manipulate Darth Vader into killing the Emperor. The Jedi, they said, had no limits on their power. It was good that Kylo Ren had joined the First Order. He could warp the fabric of space and time itself if he wanted to. "But you don't think that anymore?"
Poe says, "I was old enough when he left to see that he's just like the rest of us, making things up as we go along."
Finn looks down at the cube in his hands. rolls the pellet this way and that. He doesn't get very far through the maze and holds it out for Poe to take back.
Poe shakes his head, pushes the box back into Finn's hand. "Keep it," he says. His fingers wrap around Finn's own, strong and steady. He stands up, leaning forward, and Finn's breath catches in his throat for a moment before--
Poe lets go of his hand, smiling again. "Don't let the waiting get to you, okay?"
Rey lets Poe take one shift in the pilot's seat. She can tell he's been restless to sit in it since they left D'Qar but has let her or Chewie take it out of some kind of deference for the two of them.
A full grin spreads across his face as soon as he settles in, his hands moving across the controls on instinct. It's not so much that he's adjusting their course or their velocity. He's learning the ship. He's saying 'hello.'
Rey watches him out of the corner of her eye, trying not to let her attention drift too far from the co-pilot's diagnostic readings.
He's good -- as good as Finn said. Better than Rey, but not as good as Han. Though, as far as the stories go, Han had been with the ship longer than she's been alive. Rey's seen plenty of pilots come through Niima Outpost. None of them have loved it as much as Poe does.
She likes seeing it, likes watching it. The way his eyes flick over the controls and up again. The way he knows exactly which buttons to reach for and when. The way he always gives her instructions as requests instead of as demands. Finn's great at filling in the empty spaces, great at keeping everyone on their toes with his questions and his energy and his ferocity. Poe's quieter, simpler than that. Rey's discovering that she likes it.
They hurtle through hyperspace as smooth as anything. Then a shadow crosses over Poe face. She's about to ask him what's wrong, her mouth open, the words in her throat.
A dark spot shifts over her mind, and she closes her mouth. She doesn't need to ask. She senses it, too.
"There's an obstruction in the hyperlane," Poe announces. "We're going to have to drop out of hyperspace." His hands are already in motion as he says it, slowing down the Falcon and making sure he's got manual control in case they need to do any fancy maneuvers. Rey makes sure that all of the Falcon's shields are up and all of its systems are ready for what might be coming.
BB-8 rolls in and tweets an extra warning.
"Yeah, I think you're probably right about that, buddy," Poe says.
The blue streaks of hyperspace pull back into single stars, and the Falcon rattles for a moment before settling.
It becomes immediately clear what was obstructing the hyperlane. The neighboring systems are the ones who keep the lanes clear because blockages are bad for trade and commerce. But, Rey supposes, it's hard to argue with a fleet of Star Destroyers.
"BB-8, get Finn and Chewbacca," Poe yells over his shoulder. "They're going to want to be around for this."
Rey says, "We can turn around, try to use one of the less-travelled routes. It might be that they've set up blockades on all the major hyperlanes while they look for Resistance or Republic vessels."
She's about to call out for R2-D2's help with programming a new route into the nav computer, but Poe shakes his head. "I think they already know we're here," he says.
There's a growl from behind them, alerting them to the fact that Chewbacca has entered the cockpit and is not pleased about what's going on.
"Please tell me that's not what I think it is," Finn says.
"Sorry," Poe says. "But I'm pretty sure that's exactly what you think it is."
He flips some switches, and the Falcon pivots, flipping end-over-end to head in the opposite direction. Some of the sensors start beeping, alarms blaring.
"What's that?" Finn says, a note of panic in his voice. Rey thought she explained those sensors to him already, but maybe the lesson didn't stick.
"TIE fighters," Rey says. "A lot of them." More than they'd be able to take with just their two gun turrets. They're going to have to get out of here fast.
"Hold on," Poe says. "We're going to jump to hyperspace again."
Rey holds on.
Finn's still shaking a little bit when they drop out of hyperspace again. "So," he says. "Where exactly are we again?"
Poe shrugs. He doesn't look worried. Maybe that means everything's okay. "We didn't exactly have time to chart a course."
They're staring at a planet, spinning before them in blues and yellows and greens. It's probably why they dropped out of hyperspace. Bad form to crash into a planet at faster-than-light speeds.
BB-8 chirps something, and Rey turns her head to listen to him.
"He says we're in the Dalon system." She stares at the planet for a long moment, a frown creasing her face. "There's something down there..." Finn's never seen her like this before, this much outside of herself. It scares him more than he'd like to admit.
Poe’s eyes are on her. Finn can practically see the gears turning in Poe's head. "I'm going to jump to another nearby system and then jump back. That should confuse them if they're tracking our drive signature. We can hide out on the planet and figure out a better route while we wait for them to pass through."
Rey doesn't acknowledge him or his plan. Her attention is still fixed on the planet, like she can't look away. Poe's eyes flick up towards Finn. Finn nods. This is okay -- or it's going to be okay. Rey's doing some weird Force mojo, but that's how she saved him from Kylo Ren on Starkiller. She's done it before. She's got a handle on it.
Poe nods back. He looks to BB-8 who helps him punch in the coordinates. The ship turns, Rey's eyes still tracking the planet, and they jump away.
Poe lets Rey steer the ship when they land it while he takes the co-pilot seat. As soon as they jumped away, she snapped out of whatever-it-was, more like herself again. Poe knows from experience that the one surefire way to put a pilot at ease is to give them some time at the controls of a ship. She doesn't lead them towards the deserts of the northern hemisphere, the parts of the planet that most resemble Jakku, but towards the thickest jungle of the equatorial regions. Her expression is grim, focused, and she hasn't explained anything yet about what's going on in her head. The danger is too close for them to ask about it.
Finn can't hide the worry on his face. That makes Poe worried, too.
She leads them toward a clearing in the middle of the dense trees, large enough for the Millennium Falcon to land in.
Poe makes sure that the landing gear is extended and ready as they touch down. Rey's landing is a little rocky, but Poe thinks that can be excused.
Rey lets go of the controls as soon as she's done. Her hands are shaking.
Finn is at her side immediately. He's kneeling, a hand on her leg, eyes wide. "Hey," he says, voice gentle. "What is it?" Not for the first time, Poe wonders, where the hell did the Stormtroopers find this kid? He's open like a raw nerve, totally exposed. Poe can admire that kind of fearlessness. He never quite figured out the trick of it himself.
Rey closes her eyes. "There's something out there. It's like-- like it's waiting for us."
Finn's eyes go bigger. "Is this like a good-waiting or a bad-waiting? Because I'd definitely prefer one over the other."
Poe gets distracted by a beep from his console. "A couple of Star Destroyers just jumped into the system. I'm shutting down power so they can't trace our energy signature. The trees should give us enough cover in case they send scouts down." He flips a few switches, even reaching awkwardly over to Rey's console so that she doesn't need to worry about handling any of this.
Chewbacca growls out a suggestion.
"You're right," Rey says. She takes a deep breath. She opens her eyes again, something inside of her settling. "We should get away from the ship. We don't want to be here if they do find it."
Poe nods. "Okay," he says. "We can work with that."
It's not a specific thing that Rey can put her finger on. That's the worst part about it. It reminds her of when she touched the lightsaber for the first time. A whisper in her ear. A brush against her arm. She wishes she could ignore it, could turn away and flee in the opposite direction.
She can't. That's the whole point of this trip. She needs to find Luke Skywalker in order to understand who she is and what she can do. She's spent her whole life waiting, and that's not good enough anymore. This planet wants her to learn its secrets, and she wants to learn them too.
The air outside of the ship is thick and hot, choked through with humidity. It's like there's water everywhere, on her skin, coating her lungs, soaking her hair. There was a time when Rey would have loved the idea of it. The reality is a lot less pleasant than she might have imagined.
It's also -- it's loud amongst all those green leaves. There's howling and chirping and buzzing, like being inside an engine, except the sounds aren't steady, rhythmic, comforting. They're chaotic, random, overwhelming.
The sun is bright overhead, blazing and too hot where they're exposed without any cover.
"This isn't a natural clearing," she hears Poe say from behind her.
She turns. He nudges the ground with his boot, frowning.
She looks down. She hadn't noticed it before, but they are standing on a road, paved with white cobblestones. It's overgrown with grass and vines and weeds, but trees haven’t pushed up and through it yet. It reminds Rey of the wastes of Jakku, machines that had been half-claimed by the desert. She takes a breath of the sticky air. The road will lead them deeper into the jungle. She reaches for her side, for the comforting weight of a weapon, but she left the lightsaber in the Falcon. It didn't like this place any more than she does.
Finn leans in close, placing a hand on her shoulder. "We don't have to," he says, voice low. He glances back at where Poe, Chewbacca, and the droids are huddled together. "But wherever you go, I'm following you."
"I don't want to," Rey says as she breathes in more of the too-thick air, "but I think I need to."
Finn follows Rey's heels as much as possible, Poe flanking her other side. BB-8 rolls along behind them. R2-D2 and Chewbacca are covering their retreat. The trees and brush grow denser, but the white stones of the road don't get any more difficult to follow.
It doesn't take long -- maybe another thirty minutes -- before they reach what used to be a gate, the metal frame of it warped and twisted, the doors long since torn away. Beyond the gate is a town. It's hidden under the shade of tall trees, and the outlines of what used to be houses are visible. They were made of stone, and now they're crumbling, falling apart as the jungle tries to claim them. The ground is covered in fallen leaves and fresh grass. Finn doubts that even in its prime it was anything to look at. The town wasn't very large, not much more than a couple of streets and the decrepit walls that protected them.
They reach what might have used to be the town square, an open space ringed by other shelters. A raised stone platform stands in the middle of it. Some weeds have broken through the rock.
In front of Finn, Rey shivers. She's not cold. No one could be cold in this sort of heat. Her skin is dotted with beads of sweat.
"What is it?" Finn asks, his stomach sinking. This isn't something he ever trained for.
She shakes her head. "Something happened here. I can't-- it's not very clear. It's just impressions... feelings."
Finn takes another look around. There are markings on the buildings, old signs written in a language that Finn has never seen before. He spent nearly all his time in the Order in barracks or bases. Places like this are foreign to him. He's only ever learned how to read Galactic Basic.
"I think-- there's so much anger. So much pain." Rey reaches for him, grabbing onto his shoulder. She stumbles.
Finn manages to catch her, support her weight with his. Poe is at her other side, wrapping her other arm around his own shoulder. There are tears staining her cheeks and face. Her eyes stare at nothing. It's terrifying.
"Rey?" Finn asks, panic seeping into his voice. "Rey?"
"No!" she shouts, and it's her voice but it's not her voice at all. "I'll kill you all for this. Do you hear me? Kill you all!" She reaches out with one hand, reaching for someone, something.
The trees bend towards her, their branches shuddering, leaves rustling. Finn clings to her tightly. He has no idea what they'll do if she brings the entire forest down on their heads, but he has to try something.
"Hey," he says in the low-soothing tone he's heard some of the beastmasters use when they talk to the more skittish creatures. He knows she wouldn't appreciate that comparison, but she's not exactly in any position to argue with him about it right now. "Shhhhhh."
He pulls her in closer, wrapping his arms around torso, letting her chin rest on his shoulder. He's so focused on her that it startles him when Poe hugs the two of them as well. One of his arms is curled around Rey's back. His other hand rests just underneath Finn's armpit.
Finn sinks into it, the human heat and solidity of their bodies, and he hopes Rey can feel it too.
The rustling gets stronger, the sunlight flickering as the trees around them sway backwards and forwards. Finn can feel Rey crying, the heave of her chest against his. It's almost too much. Her pain bleeds into his own, and there are fresh wet tears on his own face, and his nose is stuffed up and--
Rey hugs him back. Her arms tighten around his neck.
The trees settle. The rustling slows, fades.
Poe pulls away from the hug with a rueful little smile that Finn doesn't know how to interpret. He pats Finn on the shoulder and turns back to find Chewbacca and the droids.
"You back with us?" Finn whispers into Rey's ear. She hasn't let go. Finn hasn't let go either. He hopes this is enough, that this is what she needs. He doesn't have a script for this, but he's getting better at it. Like Poe said, making things up as he goes along.
"Yeah," she says. Her voice sounds a little rusty, but Finn will take it.
Poe goes to check in on R2 and Chewbacca, make sure they weren't caught in any of the crossfire. Finn and Rey can work this out between themselves. Poe needs to focus on making sure everyone else is fine.
It turns out that everyone else was better than fine. They'd found the only shelter in the makeshift town that had anything resembling a roof and had started setting up camp there. The floor is mostly dirt at this point, and at least one of the walls has collapsed inwards, but there's still shade and shelter from half of the roof, which somehow has never caved in.
The Star Destroyers are still hanging around in the system, possibly waiting to see if the Falcon would reappear. It should be safe enough to stay the night and then make plans tomorrow morning. R2 has at least one antenna attuned to the skies overhead, monitoring all of the local communication. Chewbacca is taking a nap.
BB-8 burbles a note of concern about the rest of their crew. "I'm worried, too," Poe murmurs, but he doesn't have much else to say about it. Finn has a handle on it. The two of them work well together, balancing each other out. Poe's just here as extra backup. They don't need him looming over their shoulders.
Finn and Rey find them as the single sun starts to set. Their eyes are still bloodshot, but they've wiped their noses and dried their tears. "Hey," Poe says, smiling at them. Sometimes, it was best to let people pretend that everything was okay. "You guys hungry?" They'd brought some extra rations with them from the Falcon, the dried stuff that wouldn't require preparation.
"Yeah," Finn says. He grins and accepts the offered packet, barely sitting before tearing it open and wolfing it down. He reaches for one of the spare canteens and pours at least half of it down his throat.
Rey just nods, her smile thin, not quite reaching her eyes. She takes a packet and nibbles at the food inside.
Poe eats his own at a leisurely pace as the sky darkens, trying to watch the two of them without being obvious about it. They seem okay, recovered from-- whatever the hell that was out there. Poe knows that messing with the Force and the Jedi is about as fun as a pile of tantla testicles, but possession just might take the cake. What do you even say after something like that?
R2 beeps at them, breaking the awkward silence. "Yeah?" Poe asks. "What have you found?"
It spills out of him in a rush of tweets and whistles and chirps. It took a while for him to search his archives, but he can read the writing that this civilization used. He leads them towards one of the walls, better preserved than most, the roof sheltering it from the rain.
The writing is different from most of the writing they've seen already. Those have been formal, official, written in a clear, blocky style. This one is messy, the glyphs bleeding into one another. The room is dark, messy, empty. The doorway was once made out of metal. It's rusted over now. Grass breaks through the stone floors. What was this place?
"What does it say, R2?" Poe asks.
It's not quite a direct translation, but R2 says that writing says something to the effect of They wanted us forgotten, but we remember. We were here. Poe feels a chill roll down his spine.
"The gate," Rey says, "the walls. They weren't put up to keep people out. They were meant to keep people in, too." It's the first time she's spoken since the incident out in the town square.
She has that look on her face. Poe's seen it on Commander -- Master -- Skywalker and General Organa's faces when they've set foot on the site of a particularly ugly battle. But they're both soldiers. They're used to it.
Finn's eyes go wide. "This was a prison?" he says. He spins around, as if he's trying to match up what he sees with a First Order detention block.
"Yes," Rey says immediately. "No. It's--" She fumbles for the words. "It was meant to keep them separate. It was meant to keep them here so they would die away from everyone else."
"Who?" Poe asks, as gently as possible.
"I think--" she shakes her head, still fumbling, "they were like me."
"Force-sensitive," Poe fills in. It explains her reaction to it.
She nods. Her eyes are wet again. Finn wraps an arm around her shoulders
"We'll only stay the night. I haven't seen any fighters overhead, so they probably haven't found the Falcon. They'll be gone in the morning and we can get out of here as soon as possible." He shoots a quick glance at Finn to make sure he's not talking complete poodoo.
Finn nods, and that's that.
Finn doesn't sleep.
Well, he does, kind of. He drifts in and out, listening to the deep rumble of Chewbacca's snoring and attuning himself to Rey's huffing breaths. Finn wants to wrap his arms around her, wants to rest his head against her chest and listen to the beat of her heart. She'd probably object to that, though. And she looks comfortable where she's curled up next to Chewbacca. It's hard to compete against a giant, hairy pillow.
Poe sleeps more silently than any of the others, but sometimes, his foot will kick out, and he'll roll from his back to his front or onto his back again. BB-8 rests in low-power mode at his side.
At some point during the night, it starts to rain.
Finn drifts off again.
He's woken to the sound of growling. At first he thinks it's Chewbacca, dreaming about tearing the heads off Stormtroopers (hopefully Stormtroopers who aren't Finn), but it's too deep. Finn's learned the sounds of Chewbacca's grunts and snarls after repeated exposure to them. This is throatier, more of hiss at the end.
It's not Chewbacca. Finn's eyes snap open. Oh no.
"Uh, guys," Finn says. He's trying to keep his voice loud enough to wake the others but not loud enough to attract the attention of-- whatever it it out there. There's a doorway next to them -- nothing more than just a hole in the old stone wall -- and all the sounds of the jungle filter through it.
"Guys?" Finn says, louder this time.
Poe's the one who wakes up first. His eyes go bright and alert as soon as he opens them. Chewbacca's next, blinking awake. The droids power up at the same time, their systems slowly coming online. Rey's last, still tuckered out from their earlier adventures.
"What is it?" Poe asks, coming up to stand by Finn's side. His voice is pitched low, quiet.
"There's something out there." Finn says. "I heard--"
He doesn't have to finish the sentence. Whatever's out there growls again. Chewbacca lets out a low whine and raises his bowcaster, aiming it out the window.
Finn holds still. Waiting. They listen to their heavy breaths. Birds chirps. Insects buzz.
Then everything explodes into movement.
"Down!" Poe yells, tackling him to the ground. There's a whine as Chewbacca's bowcaster fires, a flash of brilliant light.
It's some kind of lizard-thing, as far as Finn can tell. Four legs, shining scales that reflect the light of their camp's dim lamp. It's huge, big enough that Chewbacca could ride on its back. It roars, exposing a mouth full of sharp teeth. Its breath smells of rotting meat.
It turns towards Finn and Poe where they're on the ground. Two long stalks, pale white and tentacle-y looking in the dim glow of their light sticks -- reach for the two of them.
Finn scrambles away as fast as he can on the floor. He tries to get to his feet without tripping over himself, but he can't get his legs to move the way he wants them to. He trips again. It's like with the rathtars. He can't. He won't--
And then he hears Rey's voice. "No!" she yells.
He turns in time to see her step in front of the creature, all fury and strength in the darkness.
She raises one hand.
Rey raises one hand. She closes her eyes.
She reaches for that light that Maz told her about. She grabs ahold of it and pulls at it with everything she has. All that's left of her: anger and desperation and aching fear. She needs to protect her friends. She needs to protect the only family she has left. She had dreams while she slept. Dreams of loss and sorrow -- families torn apart, men and women executed by the dozens. It's as if their ghosts still haunt this town. Death has taken so many people here. She refuses to let it take them, too.
The creature shrieks, the sound of it echoing in Rey's ears. It's still here, still close.
She reaches out again, already feeling around for that light, ready for another attack, but something stops her. A warm human hand slides into hers, larger than her own. Its squeezes her fingers.
She opens her eyes.
Finn's right there. His eyes are big and round, but still so beautiful, so alive. "You can stop. It's dead," he says, and there's a note in his voice that she doesn't like. It's what he sounds like when he's talking about massacres or the First Order. It's what he sounds like when he's afraid. Of her?
She looks at what remains of the creature. She hadn't-- she didn't know what she was doing at the time, just acted on instinct. The creature lies in a pool of its own blood. It reminds her of Ihe time that Constable Zuvio wanted to make a public example of a Rodian trader who got too handsy with Zuvio's merchandise. The smell lingered in the Outpost for weeks.
She glances at where she's torn off the creature's legs, pulled out its teeth, ripped out its tongue. The carcass twitches. Once, twice. Its tentacles flop around.
Rey pulls away from Finn and throws up her last meal onto the dirty ground. She feels hands pull back her hair, away from her face, but she can't look to see whose they are.
She did this. This was her doing. She had barely even thought about it, and then it had happened. Of course Finn's afraid of her. She's afraid of herself.
"It's okay. Shhh. It's okay. You did the right thing. We're alive. It's okay." That's Poe's voice in a tone she hasn't heard from him before, something gentle and soothing. Those must be his hands in her hair. "Come on."
She turns her head to face him, and there's no judgement in his expression. He understands it, then. Understands it better than she understands it herself. He places a steady hand on her shoulder, and this time she lets him.
Poe says, "R2 says the Star Destroyers have left the system. We can head back to the Falcon, finish getting out beauty sleep there. How about that, huh?" He squeezes her shoulder once and doesn't press for more.
Rey nods, not trusting her own voice right now. She can't bring herself to look at Finn.
Being in the Falcon again puts everyone at ease. Poe feels his own wave of relief when he steps back into the main cabin, where everyone is camped out for the rest of the night. The adrenaline is wearing off, exhaustion seeping back in. No one has the energy to negotiate for bunk space.
Chewbacca's low rumbling voice is speaking to Rey now, telling her about the Clone Wars he fought in when he was a young soldier on Kashyyyk. She nods along with his words, the smallest of smiles creasing her face.
Finn's still shaken. He's twisting the puzzle box in his hands, restless, tired and unable to settle. There's that raw nerve again. Poe sits down next to him. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Finn says. He twists the puzzle box, changing the puzzle. Resets it. Twists it again.
"Yeah, and I'm the Queen of Naboo," Poe says.
"Wait," Finn says, "I thought--"
"Figure of speech," Poe says.
"Shouldn't you be asking Rey that question?" Finn's still staring down at his hands.
Poe's not going to let him get away that easily. "You're deflecting. Rey's tough. She'll be fine."
Finn looks up from that. "What, and I'm--"
"A Stormtrooper who walked away from the First Order after his first real battle." It takes courage to do something like that, but it also means that Finn hasn't had time to develop the same callouses that the rest of them have.
That seems to do the trick. Finn deflates. "I-- sometimes it's easy to miss how much smaller the world was when I was part of the Order. Everything made sense. When we're out here, it's like sometimes I think I know what's going on, but then everything turns sideways." His body sways, listing towards Poe. Poe wonders if he even knows he's doing it. Not for the first time, Poe wonders if he could -- if he should --
But, no. Later. When they're not all bruised and shaken, they can revisit this conversation. When Finn's figured out how his relationship with Rey is going to work and if he's willing to let Poe in to be a part of it. Until then, Poe can wait. And want. His whole life has been about putting the needs of others over his own. What was one more thing to add to the pile? Poe says, "It's a big galaxy out there. Lotta stuff in it."
Finn goes quiet. He starts playing with the puzzle box again, but instead of just fidgeting with it, he starts to lead the pellet through the maze. He's intent, purposeful. "Thanks," he says eventually. He looks up at Poe with rueful smile, and that's when Poe knows he's going to be okay, even if he isn't okay right now.
"Any time," Poe says, smiling back. He pats Finn on the knee and stands up. He'll give Finn his space. He can wait.
In the morning, Rey does feel better, more settled in her own skin. It's nice to be on a ship again, far away from the-- town. She can still feel the residue from it, like psychic dirt, clinging to her mind.
Poe greets her when she rises from where she was sleeping on one of the hard benches in the main cabin. Sometime in the night, Chewie must have draped a blanket over her. It slides down her shoulders now.
"Better?" he asks. He's sitting at a table, a tray filled with his breakfast in front of him. He's eating some of the native fruit from D'Qar, the bright red ones that are the size of her thumb, along with some kind of yellow bread topped with poptree syrup. Her stomach rumbles at the sight of of it.
She nods. "I'm glad you're here," she says. He's a stabilizing influence, both on her and on Finn. She appreciates having him around.
He stares at her for a moment, studying her as if he's surprised by her bluntness, but he recovers quickly. "Just so you know, I'm not only doing it for General Organa's or the Resistance's sake."
That makes sense to her. "You care about him," she says, nodding in Finn's direction. Finn has curled up into a ball where he's sleeping on the hard deck floors, lightly snoring. It settles something inside her to see him like this, resting, safe.
Poe's eyes drift over Finn's sleeping form but only for a moment. His gaze meets hers again. "I care about you too."
It startles her in a way that she didn't expect. It was easier to think, to let herself believe that Poe was here for Finn and Finn was here for her. It kept things simple. Single lines drawn between them. Now it's clear that the truth is far messier than that. "What are we planning on doing next?" she asks.
BB-8 beeps out a different question.
Rey shakes her head. "I-- what was on that planet. I need to talk to Master Skywalker about it. I don't know what it was yet." She had more dreams while she slept, more pieces to the puzzle, but there are still gaps, blank spaces that he might be able to fill in for her. She stands up and stretches, taking a seat next to Poe. She's not sure how close she should allow herself to be. It's not that she's afraid or intimidated by him, but there's a politics to boundaries that is confusing here. Finn will let anyone in without asking. Poe isn't nearly so unguarded.
Poe says, "R2, you want to bring up that map?"
R2 whistles an affirmation and projects the map into the air in front of them.
Poe continues. "We may have shaken those Star Destroyers for now, but they'll be looking for us now that they know we're out here."
Rey can see where he's going with this. The First Order may be battered and licking its wounds, but Rey's learned from experience that injured animals are often the most dangerous ones. "You're worried about our new ID tags and our hyperdrive signature," she says.
"Exactly," he says. "You and Chewbacca did a good job back on D'Qar, but they've gotten a good look at us after the modifications."
Despite his words, he doesn't seem bothered by this, and maybe that's just how he always is, the calm at the center of the storm. Rey can't sense any strong emotions from him, either. She says, "You have a plan."
Poe points to a another system. "That's the Talesia system. Only a few parsecs from here. Mostly known for its arms manufacturing, not all of which is strictly legal if you know what I mean. We should be able to find someone there who's willing to trade credits for new IDs without asking too many questions."
"And then we can be on our way," Rey says.
"That's the idea," Poe says.
Rey stands up and starts walking towards the cockpit.
"Wait," Poe says. She hears the awkward clatter of his tray he when he stands up too quickly. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to start the engines. There's no point in waiting around, is there?" She wants off this planet. She wants out of this system. She wants to feel like she belongs in her own skin again. She wants to complete her mission. She grabs the lightsaber and clips it to her belt, grateful for the comfortable weight of it at her side.
"All right," Poe says, standing up, breakfast still only half-eaten. "I'll come with you."
Rey says, "You can be the co-pilot."
Poe's spent enough of his life lying to planetary officials that it's second nature for him now. This time around, he tells them that he's a representative from a small planetary militia looking to purchase new blaster rifles and thermal detonators.
The officials accept the story without comment. They've probably heard variations of it enough times that they're bored by it.
Rey is tight-lipped and silent through the whole exchange, focusing on weaving between the tall towers that make up the capital city, Talesion, so they can reach their assigned landing pad.
Talesia's not more than a hunk of empty rock, settled mostly because it was rich in thermite. It's an ugly planet, and the factories belching black soot into the terraformed atmosphere have only made it uglier.
Their assigned landing pad is fine. It's a bit shabby. Parts of it have rusted over, and at least two of the guide lights are broken. Poe would have been more worried if they'd treated them like big shots.
"If it's anything like some of the other manufacturing planets I've been on," Poe says, "we'll want to make nice with the local salesmen before heading to the undercity."
Rey says, "Okay." She's grim-faced and determined, ready to tackle anything this planet might throw at them. Thankfully, it's probably easier to deal with than the last planet they were on, but it'll be disgusting in a different way.
BB-8 burbles out a question.
Poe shakes his head. "I think it's better for you to stay with the ship, buddy. Where we're headed, they probably steal astromech droids for fun."
BB-8 whines at that, but he quiets when Poe pats his head.
Finn wakes as the Falcon extends its landing gear. It's always especially loud when it does that, aging metal moaning and wailing as it's forced out of its usual position.
He sits up, clearing his head as Poe walks into the main cabin. "We're going out to see if we can find some new ID tags for the Falcon. I've talked to Chewbacca, and he says that he's going to stay with the ship, see if he can modulate the hyperdrive engines enough to make our signature less distinctive."
"Where exactly are we again?" Finn says. He feels like he's missed part of this conversation somewhere along the way.
"Talesia," Poe says.
Finn's eyes widen. "Isn't that place mostly controlled by the Hutts?" The First Order doesn't do business with the planet, but he's heard through the scuttlebutt that resources might become tight enough that they might have to go through new contractors for their weaponry.
Poe shrugs. "At least that's better than being controlled by the First Order, right?" He pops open the main hatch and pokes his head outside.
Rey strides her way into the cabin, a pack slung over one of her shoulders. "Are you coming with us?" she asks.
Finn scrambles to his feet. "Yes," he says. "Of course. Yes." He likes Chewbacca well enough, but he would hate to be left behind while they got to go explore this new planet.
Rey smiles at that, wider than he's seen in awhile, and Finn's heart flips over in his chest.
As Poe predicted, there's a Twi'lek waiting for them on the landing pad as soon as they exit the Falcon.
"Ah, Captain Breznik is it?" the Twi'lek hisses in guttural Huttese. "We are delighted to have you with us today." He bows his head, his head tails dangling over his shoulder.
Poe nods. "Yup, that's me," he says. Finn and Rey hang back and keep their mouths shut, letting Poe do the talking. Poe's relieved. They're both charming in their own ways, but both of them are far more used to fighting their way out of a bad situation than talking their way out of it.
"The Jultan Corporation welcomes you," the Twi'lek continues. "We have a warehouse not far from here, and it would honor us if you were to come and survey our stocks. Very reasonable prices today. Your--" his yellow eyes flick to Rey, "-- woman --" then to Finn, "-- and bodyguard would also be most welcome."
Poe can almost hear the two of them bristling at the assumptions, but he figures that it's as good a cover as any. He tosses his arm around Rey's shoulders and tries to look possessive of her without having to put his hands in places that will earn him broken fingers later. She's only a couple inches shorter than him, so it's a little awkward, but Poe's makes it work. He flashes the Twi'lek with a breezy smile. "Thanks, but no thanks," he says. "We're thinking of doing a little window shopping first."
The Twi'lek has been through this enough times that he knows how to take a hint. He just bows and says, "We hope you'll reconsider," before making his exit.
As soon as he's out of view, Poe takes his arm off of Rey's shoulder. She glares at him. "What was that for?"
Poe pitches his voice low so that only Rey and Finn can hear him. "Three soldiers on an ancient Corellian freighter is going to draw some unnecessary attention on us. One couple and their bodyguard doesn't scream 'we're with the Resistance' quite so loudly."
"Why do I have to be the bodyguard?" Finn asks.
Poe raises one eyebrow. "Would you rather do all the talking?"
"Okay, fine," Finn says with a sigh. "I'll be the bodyguard."
It's not so bad, pretending to be Poe's 'woman'. Rey has gone through far more unpleasant experiences in the past. He doesn't try to drape himself all over her body the way she's seen with some of the traders who have come through Niima Outpost. He doesn't slap her ass when she turns to say something to Finn. For the most part, he just holds her hand. Sometimes he'll place his hand on the small of her back, firm and gentle and steady, and something in her chest flutters at the touch.
Finn glowers a bit whenever Poe does that. Finn's irritation ripples in the Force, but it works well enough for his role as bodyguard. Rey tries to smile at him a bit more, to brush her hand against his. It's all pretend. Finn has to know that.
Talesion is big, bigger than any city Rey's ever been in, and it stinks of commerce and desperation and violence. All of that emotion surrounds her, pushing in. It can be suffocating. She yearns for the silent emptiness of the Star Destroyers on Jakku. She grits her teeth and lets Poe lead them where they need to go.
The undercity is even worse, choked through with greed and fear and lust. It sets Rey's teeth on edge. It doesn't look much different from the overcity. It's made up of the same wide, straight streets, the same prefab buildings. It's just a little darker, a little dingier. The people wear a little more armor. The natural light is dim on Talesia -- it's too far from its closest star -- and the soot-dark skies glow orange from the artificial light of the city. Rey hates this kind of not-darkness. She never had to deal with it on Jakku.
"You're very pretty for a human woman," an intoxicated Nemoidian says to her. They're passing by a cantina, music and light spilling out from its open blast doors. Another Nemoidian laughs, and the group of four of them all come closer to take a look.
Rey bristles. She doesn't have her staff, and she doesn't have her lightsaber, but she has years and years of experience with uncomfortable comments. She turns, clenching her fists, ready to reach for the Force if she needs to fight them off. She can see that some of the other pedestrians are starting to take an interest, heads and eyes turned in her direction. She prepares herself for a fight. The lights nearby start to shake, rattling with her power.
But then there's a hand on her shoulder. Poe again, his body pressed against her side. He leads them away from the cantina, and the group doesn't follow them. Three against four is decent odds, but probably not decent enough to risk anything.
"Hey," Poe says, soft, his nose brushing her hair, his breath warm on her cheek.
Rey unclenches her fists. The lights still. She takes a deep breath, grateful for the reminder that he's here, that she's not alone anymore, that she can rely on people other than herself. "Thanks," she says to him, and she's not sure the words can contain the depth of her gratitude.
He shrugs, unaware of what he's done. "You're welcome."
Talesion is so far removed from the life that Finn had in the First Order that he's having trouble processing it all. It's messy, all curves and angles and clutter, where Finn is used to neat lines.
There's aliens everywhere. Big, small, of all different shapes and colors. And it smells, not just the way human odors smell (and Finn got more than enough of that in sanitation) but something so much more confusing than that. Not just from all the bodies, but from the street vendors selling street food and the speeders that soar by.
They end up in a shop cluttered with used ship parts. There's a Bith behind the counter who's resting his head in his hands. Maybe he's bored. Finn can't read Bith expressions, especially with those big black eyes.
"What about this one, my precious little tooka?" Poe says, He holds up a piece of metal scrap so that Rey can inspect it. She leans in, over his shoulder to get a better look at it. Finn tries not to wince at the sight of them together. Rey never seems to hesitate to invade Poe's personal space.
It's bad enough with all of the -- pretending -- and hand-holding and Poe's fondness for ridiculous pet names. Rey's never been overly affectionate, and she's always been careful about keeping her distance. But Poe's been allowed inside. She's been holding back from Finn since that creature attacked them. She agreed to go along with Poe's ridiculous plan. Maybe she's just decided that Poe's a better version of Finn. Does she plan to swap them out for one another like she's planning on swapping out the id tags?
She frowns at the part that Poe’s holding up for inspection, her disgust plain on her face.
Poe puts a hand at the small of her back. Finn watches as she relaxes into Poe's touch, and he tries not to feel his heart sink in his chest.
It takes them a few hours, but eventually, they do come across an elderly Sullustan merchant named Dileep who lets them pick through her crate of id tags scraped from junked ships. Her shop is dim and shabby, but Rey likes the way it smells of musty engine grease. It makes her feel at home.
Rey makes sure to take a second look at the id tags after Poe does a first pass. Finn leans over her shoulder, curious about what she's doing. He's not overbearing about it, just... there. His shoulder presses against her own. There's a sweet furrow between his eyebrows that she wants to smooth away with her thumb. They haven't talked since they were on the planet. She doesn't know what to say. But here they're on a mission. They're both focused on the business in front of them.
"They're a little rusty, but these'll do," she says, to the both of them. These tags are from another old CEC freighter, similar enough to the Falcon to pass muster.
Poe takes them from her hands without saying a word. He's watching the two of them with a fond look on his face, and Rey ducks her head. If she looks back, she'll blush.
"We'll take them," Poe says in awkward but serviceable Sullustese to Dileep. He hands over a handful of credit chits. The Republic may be gone, but there are still plenty of places that value its currency. "It's been great doing business with you."
"I've never fully been able to understand the mating rituals of humans," Dileep responds, "but I hope the three of you have a happy and long life together with many healthy young."
"Thanks," Poe says, flashing a bright smile without missing a beat.
They pass through one of the main streets in Talesion as they head back to the ship. It's the main shopping district, as far as Poe can tell, full of brightly glowing neon lights and holoprojectors on every street corner advertising their wares.
It's a barrage of visual noise. Poe's pretty good at tuning it out for a most part, but one of the holoprojectors is showing a newscast, and the subject of it catches his attention.
"The First Order announced today that they are in the process of launching an attack on the Outer Rim planet of D'Qar in the Ileenium system, which officials claim hides a secret Resistance base," the human newscaster announces in formal Galactic Basic. The news report flips to a projection of a fleet of Star Destroyers soaring into the Illeemium system.
Poe's stomach sinks. Yeah, they all knew that the First Order would be coming for them, especially since their system was compromised. General Organa was preparing everyone for evacuation when they all left on the Falcon together. But what if-- he should be with his squadron, making sure there's enough transport shuttles for all of the base personnel. He should be covering their retreat, making sure no scouting patrols get lucky. He should--
Rey squeezes his hand, leans in close in a good enough approximation of intimacy. "They'll be all right," she says.
Poe closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "I feel like I should be there." He can feel Finn's presence behind his left shoulder, quiet, not coming in any closer. The Resistance is his whole life. If they find Luke Skywalker again and the Resistance is just...gone, then what? Maybe he should have argued more, that day in the general's office. He's not one to refuse orders, but maybe it would have been better--
"General Organa wouldn't have sent you with us if she believed that you'd be more useful with them," she argues.
Poe tries to smile, but he's pretty sure it's obvious how fake it is. "You guys don't need me," he says. "You could have handled all of this stuff on your own."
Rey blinks, rearing her head back for a moment. "Of course we need you," she says, and it's the incredulous tone of her voice that sells it to him more than the words themselves. "Finn and I-- yeah, maybe we could have muddled our way through this ourselves, but that doesn't mean we don't need you." Poe's always been a pilot, a good one, and a soldier. He's always known what it means to be expendable. She's not talking about that, not just about him as a set of flight skills and an ability to lead a squadron. She's talking about him as a person. It feels strange and rare and precious.
Poe takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says. She's right. Of course she's right. General Organa sent him to Jakku because her first priority was always to get Luke back. She's done enough evacuations in her life that she could do them in her sleep. Jessika can keep everyone in line. Poe's here because he's needed here, and it's not like him to leave a mission half-done. They have a Jedi Master to find.
They're all bone tired when they get back to the Falcon. Finn didn't even have to do anything and he feels like he could sleep for weeks and never get back up again.
Chewbacca has, thankfully, managed to make the necessary modifications to the hyperdrive. He spends a good thirty minutes with Rey in the engine room explaining the exact mechanisms with which he was able to modulate the hyperdrive frequency without slowing down the ship. (The conversation in Wookiee moves entirely too fast for Finn to keep up with, but he catches a few key phrases.)
Finn leaves them to it and wanders around the ship, looking for a way to be useful. He finds Poe in the cockpit, figuring out how to replace the id tags.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Poe says to BB-8. "I'll be careful not to get electrocuted when I'm working in there." He pries the cover off one of the panels, revealing a mess of wires that makes the Stormtrooper in Finn shudder a little.
"Hi," Finn says, settling down in the co-pilot seat.
"Hey, buddy," Poe says, a bright grin lighting up his face. "Here to help out?"
"Uh," Finn says. "Kind of? You looked like you kind of freaked out back there."
Poe shakes his head, turning to face the panel, and it's the first time he's ever refused to meet Finn's eyes. "It's nothing. It's just hard to hear news about the Resistance second-hand."
Finn's been a soldier. Finn's had his own squad. He knows what Poe means. "Yeah," he says. "But you're okay now?"
Poe glances up and grins. "I'm where I need to be. I'm following orders. I'm doing what's best for the Resistance and the galaxy. Why wouldn't I be okay?"
Finn takes a deep breath, summoning his courage. "What Rey said back there, it goes for me, too. We do need you, and if you like Rey and want to-- to-- flirt with her, that's okay with me. I'll get out of the way." Finn's chest hurts, and he thinks about talking some more, about babbling until the silences are filled up with something other than him imagining Rey and Poe--Rey and Poe together--together in a way that Finn only knows about through the few holovids he watched while convalescing in Medical.
Poe frowns at that, his brow furrowing. "It's not like that," he says.
For some reason, that just makes Finn's chest hurt more. "Don't hold back for my sake, okay? You guys deserve to be happy." Happily ever after, right? That's how this works? Maybe Finn hasn't earned anything like that for himself, but the two of them definitely have. They practically glow with how good they are. Finn's a messed up ex-Stormtrooper who ran away at the first chance he got. He's the odd man out in this situation.
"Finn--" Poe says.
"And okay, so maybe I like you guys a lot, and it's really confusing, and I'm pretty sure this whole thing is going to kill me. Not literally, of course, but--"
Poe takes that moment to kiss him.
His lips are dry, a little gritty with dust and dirt. His right hand cups the back of Finn's head. Finn doesn't quite know what to do, so he freezes in place, mouth parted as Poe draws him in closer. Finn can feel his hands flail a bit, not certain of how to move them or where to place them. He's warm, heated up and confused, and a new sort of knot forms in the pit of his stomach.
But then BB-8 lets out an annoyed beep, and Poe pulls away. "It's not just Rey," he says to Finn. His eyes are dark, heavy-lidded. Finn thinks about kissing him again.
"Uh," Finn says. He's not quite sure his brain is working yet.
Poe runs a hand through his hair. "BB-8's right. We have a lot of work to do. When things shake out, we should sit down and talk about this, you, me, and Rey."
"Uh," Finn says again. It takes longer than that for his brain to reboot.
Poe slaps him on the shoulder. "Thanks for being understanding, buddy."
Poe takes the first piloting shift, so Rey sleeps.
She dreams she is in the jungle again. She is standing on the steps to her house, which is small and ugly and terrible, and she is talking to her neighbor.
"They keep killing us," she says, "and we keep on coming back."
Her neighbor bows his head. "It seems like the Curse does not want to leave our people so quickly. It is a heavy burden we bear."
She snorts, sneering at his acceptance, his complacency. She has spent the last twelve cycles of the sun in this place. She has seen the way they take the children. She has felt the echoes of all the other Cursed who have died on this ground.
They were taught in the schools about how the Cursed were once considered the Blessed. They protected the villages, cleared the fields during the harvest, kept the livestock hale and healthy. But then one of the Blessed turned her gifts against her village. She slaughtered her enemies. She burned the fields of neighboring villages. She swayed many of the other Blessed to her side, and the villagers realized that it was not a gift but a curse. In the end, those first Cursed were poisoned by a group of villagers who managed to access their grain without their knowledge. From then on, the Cursed were to be placed in their own village, were never to be taught how to use or understand their Curse, never allowed to bear their own children. At times they were killed in groups, gathered into a mob and then slaughtered all at once.
And now they were here. The Cursed were still Cursed. The villagers still feared and hated them. No one -- not them, not the other villagers -- would ever be free of the cycle.
She says, "We are stronger than them. They have no real means of keeping us here." She can see it, the rivers red with their blood, and she can hear it, the sounds of their dying screams.
Her neighbor pales. "No! We have been put here for the safety of others. We must not use it!"
She laughs. The Curse hums in her blood. She burns with it. They say that the gods have given them the Curse as a punishment, a reminder that their powers can only be wielded by divine beings. She knows the truth. The Cursed are divine beings, and the others are simply jealous and fearful of their powers. She will show them their weakness as she strangles the last remaining life from their bodies.
She reaches out for the Curse, reaches out to kill all who seek to do them harm, and--
Poe can barely keep his eyes open as he makes his way back to the Falcon's sleeping quarters.
Finn's up in the cockpit, being Chewbacca's co-pilot. BB-8 and R2-D2 are trying to be as helpful as possible. Poe left them to it, wanting to give Finn some space, and to be fair, he needs some time to himself, too. It's been a long, confusing, exhausting day. Poe's been trying to hold it together for all their sakes. Piloting the Falcon was comfortable, a chance to lose himself in the familiar, but they're in hyperspace now, There's not much to do.
He's ready to get some shut-eye. He's trying his best not to think about what's going on with the First Order's attack on D'Qar. He's trying his best not think about the conversation they're going to have later, the one where he might get a polite (or not so polite) thanks-but-no-thanks from Finn and Rey. It was a bad idea to kiss Finn just then. Everything between them has been thrown off balance. A moment of weakness from Poe, and he's already screwing everything up.
When he gets to the sleeping quarters, he finds Rey thrashing in her sleep. Her long hair fans around her face. Her eyes are squeezed shut. Her breath is ragged and uneven.
Poe rushes to her side, the adrenaline spike bringing him back to full wakefulness.
He shakes her, trying to get her awake. At first, she flails against him, her arms and legs kicking out, but he holds on. Any soldier who's experienced war has had nightmares. Visions of their squadron being turned into dust or taking the a blaster bolt to the chest. Poe's had his own share of bad nights.
She settles eventually, her breathing evening out as her eyes blink open. "I was--" she starts to say.
"You don't have to explain anything to me," Poe says. He'll allow her to keep her secrets.
She shivers like she didn't even hear him. "It's that settlement we found on the planet. It's still in my head." She stares at the bulkhead. Her voice is barely louder than a whisper.
Poe sits down next to her, giving her a shoulder if she wants it, but she curls in tighter to herself. "Yeah?" he says.
"It scares me," she says, "They were so angry down there, about what the others had done to them. It just kept repeating, over and over again, and now--"
"Kylo Ren is the way he is because he made a choice," Poe says. "You have your own choice to make. You always have that choice."
She holds up one hand and flicks her fingers. A hydrospanner comes flying in and slaps into her palm with a smack. She turns it over, staring at it like she still doesn't believe it's there. "There's so much inside my head. I'm not sure I know what choice I even get to make."
"It'll be easier when you find Luke," Poe says. "He's been through all this before." He doesn't bother mentioning that Luke's experience was with one of his students turning against him. She already knows that and doesn't need to hear that now.
She looks at him with big, sad eyes, and Poe's chest clenches at the sight of her pain. "Will you stay?" she asks. She sounds fragile, like Finn when he's wallowing in his self-doubt. Poe's always respected her strength, but he respects this, too, the willingness to allow yourself to be hurt.
"Of course," Poe says. She leans her cheek against his shoulder and curls around his arm, closing her eyes. The exhaustion catches up to him again, making his eyelids heavy.
They sleep like that, sitting upright on her bunk.
When he wakes, Poe finds that Finn joined them as they slept. He's snoring against Poe's other shoulder.
Chewbacca howls an excited growl from the cockpit when they get close to Master Skywalker's planet. Rey's spent the morning cleaning out the combustion manifold, letting herself listen in as Poe teaches Finn the rules of dejarik, smiling to herself as Finn gets more frustrated and Poe gets more smug. Something has shifted between the two of them, and her position has shifted with it. She should try to figure out their new shapes, their new configurations, but she's not ready to face the reality of it just yet. It's easier to work on the ship, to pour all her confusion and her uncertainty and her love into the Falcon for now.
At Chewie's call, she sprints towards the cockpit. He shifts over to the co-pilot's seat, giving her the controls as they drop out of hyperspace. It's a beautiful planet, spinning blue and covered with white clouds. As they bring the Falcon into the atmosphere, she sees that the blue is a giant ocean, dotted with tiny islands. It's so big and so alive. Most of that life is beneath the surface, not visible to her limited human eyes, but she can feel the reverberations of it all around her. Her other dream-- the one she had back on Jakku. It looked like this. It felt like this, too.
"Is that it?" That's Finn's voice behind her, tinged with awe.
R2 beeps out a confirmation from where he's jacked into the nav computer.
"Did the early Jedi just really like swimming?" Finn asks. He's getting better at reading the droids' tone, if not their actual words yet.
Rey smiles. She breathes in. It's just the processed recycled air of the Falcon, but here, surrounded by the Force, it's like she's breathing in the tranquility of the planet itself.
Rey claims she can find Luke Skywalker by herself, but Finn's glad when Poe insists they go with her. She lands the Falcon on an outcropping of the largest island at the bottom of a steep set of stairs that lead into the mountains.
Finn watches as she gathers a pack, a canteen, a few extra sets of rations, the lightsaber, her staff. She's frowning, clearly troubled by something, and Finn wonders what she and Poe talked about last night before they fell asleep. Poe doesn't seem any more likely to share than Rey is. Finn's jealous. Of course, he's jealous. But he can still feel the warm press of Poe's lips against his own, so maybe he's just being selfish.
Chewbacca lowers the main hatch, and the three of them head towards the stairs. It's a cloudy day, damp with mist from the water, cooler than Finn would have thought. Rey leads the way, her eyes fixed upwards, towards the top of the mountain.
They climb for nearly half a day. The steps seem to get steeper as the day wears on. Finn's never shied away from hard work, but it's still grueling. His legs are tired. They're going to ache tomorrow. Poe makes sure they take breaks despite Rey's impatience to carry on, and it's hard to beat the view they get of the rest of the island and the ocean below. The Millennium Falcon is nothing more than a speck at the corner of their vision.
Finally, they reach a set of ruins, built into the mountain in a way that's protected from the wind and rain. The buildings are all made of stone, and the insides are hollowed out, empty. Finn peeks inside a few of them and wonders if this is really how the Jedi used to live. All that power, holed up in these tiny little rooms. Doing what? Kylo Ren stalked around the galaxy on the whims of Supreme Leader Snoke. Darth Vader served the Emperor in a similar way decades before. Stories were that the old Jedi served the Republic and their ways were shrouded in mystery.
They don't stay long. Rey presses them to keep climbing upwards, up to the very peak.
At the top, they find a hooded figure, alone, facing away from them. But Finn knows. There's only one person it could be. Poe and Finn hang back. They're here for her, but this is her job. This is her mission.
Rey steps forward. She reaches into her pack for the lightsaber. She holds it out to the lone figure.
Poe holds his breath as the figure turns, its face hidden in shadow. Two hands -- one human, one robotic -- pull the hood away from its face.
And then, there he is. Luke Skywalker. Poe hasn't seen him in at least a decade, but he's still instantly recognizable. His beard has more white in it. There are more lines on his face. The wind picks up, blowing his hair about.
Luke's eyes take in the three of them, but they fix on the lightsaber. He recognizes it. The guarded hesitation in his face gives way to sorrow. Poe can't see Rey's face, but he knows the set of her shoulders. He can imagine the strength of her expression. The two of them are strangers, but they've been brought together. The Force works in mysterious ways.
"I was wondering when you'd arrive," Luke says to Rey. He nods towards Poe. "It's good to see you again, Lieutenant Dameron."
"It's actually Commander now," Poe says.
Luke half-smiles, and Poe can almost think of him as the pilot who would haunt the hanger in his full robes, who would sneak out in one of the X-wings early in the mornings when he thought no one else would notice. "Congratulations," Luke says, "Commander Dameron." He turns to focus on Rey. "Come, I imagine we have a lot to discuss."
Rey follows Skywalker into the temple (and it must be a temple, because the village out in the jungle was pain and sadness and loss, this place is filled with peace and tranquility and the most fragile sense of joy). It's a large stone structure, the largest they've seen on the planet so far. The doorway is unmarked, but it's huge, at least twice Rey's height and seven people could walk into it simultaneously. Inside, it's dim, made up of long corridors. A few windows let in natural light.
Finn and Poe have been left behind in what must be Skywalker's current living quarters. Jedi business, Skywalker had said. Neither of them had seemed particularly pleased by that, but it's really hard to argue with a Jedi Master when you're a guest in the ruins he's squatting on.
"So you're the one who's meant to replace me," Skywalker says as he walks by her side. He takes the lightsaber from her hand and inspects it, running his fingers over the handle, the buttons, the blade emitter. His expression is impossible to decipher.
"I-- Maz Kanata was the one who found your lightsaber," Rey says. "I didn't really have anything to do with it."
Skywalker tilts his head to his side. "That may be true, but she decided to give it to you." He tucks the lightsaber into his robes, and Rey feels a distant pang at losing it, even though this was her mission all along.
He leads them into a room that feels particularly silent, particularly still. In the center of the stone floor, a series of concentric circles have been carved. "I'm not a replacement," Rey insists. "I can't do what you can. The Resistance needs you. General Organa has been searching for you for a long time."
Skywalker gestures to the center of the floor. He settles in a cross-legged seat inside the circle. A single hole has been cut in the ceiling, and a soft, gray light fills the room. Rey's not sure what he expects, so she sits down across from him, mirroring his posture.
"You're unsettled," he says. His eyes are unnerving when fixed on her in this light, like he can see right through to the very center of her.
She hesitates for a moment before answering honestly, "We had to stop by a planet on the way here-- in the Dalon system. We found something there."
"Dalon system?" Skywalker says. He rubs a hand over his beard. "Ah, yes. Dalon. You must have visited Moer. I never visited it myself, but I saw a few references to it in the Jedi archives on Coruscant. The old masters mentioned that the atrocities committed there left behind a scar in the Force."
Rey shudders, remembering the memories that don't belong to her. "I've been having dreams about it."
Skywalker doesn't look surprised at all. "The masters mentioned that, too. That kind of scar leaves an impression on the minds who experience it. I don't think your visit there was a coincidence."
"Why?" Rey asks. She can't possibly think of what she was supposed to learn, what she was meant to experience.
"The Force seeks balance. Light and darkness. Peace and war. The Moer tried to eliminate the Force-sensitives from their population, but in every generation, new Force-sensitives were born. It's a reminder that the Force will have its balance. What are a few sentient lives in the face of that?" He shrugs. "A long time ago, I decided that I was done being a plaything of it."
"Because of Kylo Ren," she says. Han and General Organa's son. Skywalker's student. Her would-be torturer.
"The cycle was repeating itself," he says with a heavy sigh. "All of the work that I'd done had been for nothing. But I knew the Force would produce another, someone who would balance out Ben's place in the Force in my stead."
"Me," she says. "You mean me. That's why you say I'm your replacement."
"If you wish, I can train you here. Teach you as my master taught me. But this fight is yours now, not mine." The corner of his lips curls up into a small smile. "I finally understand why Master Yoda was so fond of his swamp."
"Your sister -- General Organa -- asked me to bring you back with us. She wants your help in the fight against the First Order."
"I'm not surprised. Leia decided she wanted to spend more time fighting the remnants of the Empire than she wanted to study the Force. I can't say I blame her. We had different paths to walk."
"But--" He's not what she expected. He's colder, cynical in a way that she hadn't prepared herself for. She thought they'd understand each other when they met, but she doesn't understand him at all.
"We should go back to your friends," he says. "I'm sure they're eagerly awaiting your return." He stands up. His knees crack as he does it.
Rey stands up as well. She's still trying to digest what he's told her.
"I saw that you came in on the Millennium Falcon," Skywalker says. "What did Leia have to do in order to get Han to come back as well?" His smile transforms into something more of a grin. She thinks of the stories she'd heard back on Jakku, about the friends who'd fought together to bring down the Empire. Han had been what she'd imagined, aged but still full of swagger and mischief. She wonders how Skywalker's friendship with him must have worked.
Rey hates that she's the one who has to tell him the news. She wishes she had Poe's gift with pretty words right now. "Han's dead," she says. "Kylo Ren killed him."
The smile slides off of Skywalker's face, and he looks like an old man again. An old, tired man. He closes his eyes. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that that's what got him in the end. Han did have a lucky streak a mile wide. "
"Chewbacca and R2-D2 would like to see you again, though. They came with us, but they're staying with the Falcon." Maybe Chewie will be what it takes to convince Skywalker that the galaxy still needs him.
His expression doesn't change. He waves her off. "We can save the reunions for later," he says.
They walk out of the temple together, back into the cool gray light of the planet. The feeling of serenity dissipates. He's given her answers, but all she's left with is more questions.
Finn tries not to pace in the middle of the room. The stone hut that Skywalker's been living in does not have much more than a cot, a few lights, some cooking equipment. He might have more stashed away, but Finn's not really interested in digging through the guy's stuff when he could crush Rey's head just by thinking about it.
Poe's almost preternaturally calm about it all. He's sitting down on one of the stone alcoves, gazing out of one of the windows towards the ocean below. His eyes are far away, and Finn wants to hear more stories about Luke Skywalker, but he's not sure if that would make the waiting better or worse. A bird outside screeches.
Then there's the sound of footsteps, and Rey appears in the doorway, Skywalker a few feet behind her. Poe leaps to his feet. Rey's clearly shaken after talking to Skywalker. Finn watches as Poe pulls her into a hug. Finn's grateful for that. Poe gives great hugs.
"If you'll excuse me," Skywalker says, "I have a few things to meditate on."
Finn wonders what Skywalker could possibly have to meditate on that he hasn't meditated on in the last ten years already, but he doesn't say anything. Finn's not worried about Skywalker. He's worried about Rey.
When it's just the three of them again, Rey's quiet, thoughtful. She takes Poe's place by the window, gazing outside. She's not crying or anything, which means that Finn doesn't have to go out there and strangle Skywalker with his bare hands. But it's still a close thing.
Poe sits down next to her and says, "You want to talk about it?"
She looks up, shooting a quick glance at Finn, and shakes her head, a jerky motion. "It'll be fine," she says.
Poe clears his throat. "So, uh. What do we do next?"
"He's refusing to come back with us," Rey says. "He said he's willing to train me here, but that it." She frowns, frustrated and angry. If it were Finn, he'd be worried about being smacked in the face with her staff, but he imagines that Skywalker's been threatened by things far more dangerous than that.
"I've known him longer than either of you," Poe says. "I'll go talk to him myself." He stands up, catching Finn's gaze as he heads for the doorway. The message is clear. It's your job to look after her right now.
Rey breathes out as Poe leaves. Her shoulders slump.
"Hey," Finn says.
She looks up, and with the light behind her, he can't read her expression.
Finn continues, "Are you okay?" He sits down next to her. She doesn't pull away, but Finn doesn't want to push his luck.
"I'm fine," she says, clipped and dismissive.
It's something about the way she says it, because Finn thought they were friends, friends and maybe something more. "Did I do something wrong?" he asks.
She blinks at him, confused. "No," she says. "Why do you say that?"
"The way I see it, you'll talk to Poe, but you won't talk to me, and maybe that's just me, but it's messing with my head." They've been through so much together. He doesn't know why she doesn't trust him anymore.
"Oh," she says. She curls into herself, drawing her knees up to her chest. "It's not anything you did."
Finn's just confused right now. "Then what is it? Do you-- Is it that you just like him better?"
"What? No!" She looks down at her feet, a lock of her hair falling down around her face. "It-- it's that no one's looked at me the way you look at me either, and I didn't want that to change."
"That's not going to change just because you're upset about something," Finn says. He reaches down to hold her hand. Rey is the most amazing person Finn's ever met, and it's impossible to believe that anything that could change that for him.
She uncurls at his touch, turning her palm so that their fingers can lace together. "I-- I'm scared of what I am, what I could be." Another breath, and if Finn looks closely enough, he can almost see the fear in her eyes. "I saw what Kylo Ren was like. I felt it. I don't want that for myself."
"It's a choice you make," Finn says, thinking of the moment when he refused to fire his gun, when he went into Poe's cell and busted him out. He thinks of his nerves, his fear, but also of his conviction. He didn't want that life for himself anymore, and he didn't have to live it. "It's a choice we make every day. Trust me on that one. I've been there."
Rey breathes deep and then lets it out, a sigh of relief. She tilts her head to the side and rests her head against Finn's shoulder. She's warm. Her hair brushes against Finn's neck. "Poe said something similar, earlier," she says, "but it's nice to hear it again from someone else. Thank you."
"It's nothing," Finn says.
Poe follows Luke to a stone platform that ends at the edge of a cliff, looking out over the ocean. It's a gorgeous view, blue water as far as the eye can see. Poe's never spent a lot of time thinking about the Jedi religion, but he can see why they'd be drawn to a place like this, a tiny speck hidden away from the rest of the sentient galaxy.
"Commander Dameron," Luke says, turning to face him. "I'm guessing you're here to make your own case."
"Kinda," Poe says. "I just wanted to catch you up on what you've missed. Like, I don't know, the Hosnian system getting blown up by a First Order weapon." Luke was part of the founding of the New Republic. He knows the significance of what's happened.
Luke freezes. "That was a week or two ago?" Poe should wonder how he knows that, but he's given up trying to follow what people can do with the Force.
"Yup," Poe says. "We managed to destroy the weapon, but we took heavy losses." They'd had a memorial service as soon as they'd cleaned up the worst of the battle. General Organa had given the speech, and her expression had been grim and severe. Poe can remember the first time Allo Etsy set foot in an X-Wing and almost flew it directly into the side of a nearby mountain. He can remember the Abednedo screams Etsy let out when ground fire had taken his fighter down. They were at war. They lost people. But it never got easier.
Luke gives him an uncanny look, but Poe doesn't have an secrets. "Is that why my sister sent you specifically?"
"Not really," Poe says. "She also sent me to get the missing part of the map from Lorn San Takka on Jakku before that. She's been looking for you a long time."
Luke folds his hands into his robe and sighs. "I'm not surprised Lorn gave up my secret. He never did approve of my plan."
"You're one of the people who taught me that all that matters are the actions you take and the things you're willing to fight for." Poe still doesn't get it, why Luke just up and left it all behind, and he's still not sure how to ask the question. But he does still remember the Luke Skywalker his mother used to tell him about, the one who always believed in doing the right thing, in putting his life on the line if it could make a difference.
"I think I did believe that once," Luke says. He turns to face the water. "It's been a long time since I last felt that kind of optimism."
"Either way, Rey's going to need training," Poe says. "She--"
"You care about her," Luke interrupts, "and about him, the one who used to be a Stormtrooper."
Poe doesn't even bother denying it. He's not ashamed. "Yes," he says.
A look of pity crosses Luke's face. "A Jedi isn't allowed attachments. That was my father's failure. If she wants to become proficient in the Light Side of the Force, she won't ever be what you want her to be, for you or for him."
Poe swallows. It was a stupid dream, wasn't it? Wanting something like that. "It's her choice. I can't make it for her."
Luke sighs. "You've gotten wiser," he says. "I don't think I was expecting that."
Poe knows that he's thinking about a younger Poe, one who was always sneaking off to the hangers, driving his parents crazy trying to keep up with him. "I was a punk," Poe says. "I wanted to be like you so badly."
"I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Luke says.
The next morning, Rey's training begins. Master Skywalker wakes her at the crack of dawn and has her show him her skills with a staff. They do drills for hours and hours and hours, until her arms feel heavy and her legs don't want to hold her upright any longer.
Lunch is made up of pickled seaweed, harvested from the ocean a few weeks ago. It's salty. The aftertaste lingers on her tongue.
The afternoon is spent in meditation. He asks her to focus on her breath, to feel the flow of air into and out of her body, to be aware of the sensations in her fingers, her toes. It's a different sort of hard work, and by the time the sun sets, her mind is so desperate to think thoughts again that they rush back in all at once, leaving her restless and disoriented.
Over the last night, she'd picked out her own hut that she'll be staying in during her time training, a bigger one a few houses down from Master Skywalker's own rooms. It looks like his. A few rooms, a stone slab that works as a cot, a window that looks out over the ocean, enough space for Finn and Poe to stay there with her. As she gets closer to it, she can see it glowing with artificial light. It's a relief to see it again after a day of hard work.
She finds that Finn and Poe have also had a busy day. They've carried sheets and and pillows up the mountain from the Falcon. R2-D2 is now puttering around, helping to sweep the floors and dust the surfaces.
"Hey," Finn says. He's grinning brightly as he sets up a bioluminescent light fixture in one of the corners. It glows a soft, warm blue. "How was it?"
He's been hovering less than before, but there's a weight to his attention that she's not sure how to deal with. "Difficult," she says, "but good, I think."
"Great!" he says, and there's something off about the way he says it, a little too high-pitched. He's radiating a sort of agitation. Once, it would have been nothing more than a soft pressure against the back of her head, but the training today has rubbed her raw enough that it feels like a vibration in her teeth.
"What is it?" she asks.
"Nothing," he says, his eyes shifting away from her face.
"It's definitely not nothing," she says. She wonders if she could reach inside his head right now, root around there to see what he's hiding. She did that once to Kylo Ren when he was trying to work his way into her own head, but it had felt slimy and invasive. She doesn't want to do that to Finn.
"I kissed Poe again!" Finn says, all in a rush.
"Wait, what?" Rey says. "When did you even kiss him the first time?"
"Er," Finn says. "The first time was totally his fault." She thinks he might be blushing, but the color of it doesn't show on his dark skin.
"And this time it was yours?" She's too tired to deal with this. Her body is exhausted. Her mind is too sensitive to everyone and everything. She's seen the ways in which Poe and Finn have circled each other. She knew that this was inevitable. She just didn't expect it to sting like this.
"We were talking about you," Finn says as he tries to save this conversation, "about how we felt about--"
She closes her eyes, feels the reverberations of his desperation, his yearning in the Force. Master Skywalker's already given her the lecture about strong emotions, about finding her center, and she can already feel the ways Finn's emotions shift her off balance. "I can't," she says.
His brow furrows, and she thinks about how she'd like to touch it again and about how what she wants doesn't really matter anymore if it ever did in the first place. He says, "We'd hoped that you felt the same about us."
"It's not that simple," she says. The weight of the galaxy feels heavy on her shoulders.
He's silent for a long moment, but then he pulls her into a hug, strong arms wrapping around her back, and presses a gentle kiss against her forehead. "We'll be here, okay? Whatever you need."
She nods, her throat tight with unnamed emotions, and she lets herself have this at least one more time.
The lessons drag onwards. Finn gets used to the new routine. He spends a lot of time with the puzzle box, twisting it this way and that, getting a sense of what Poe was saying, both about the waiting and about the way they're all stumbling through life without much direction.
Chewbacca climbs up the mountain to visit them on the third day and gives Skywalker a big hug when they see each other again, letting out an affectionate growl, and even lifting Skywalker a few inches off the ground. Skywalker laughs at that, hugging back with more affection than Finn even though he was capable of.
Poe uses their now-copious amount of free time to make contact with General Organa through backchannels, ensuring that the Resistance escaped before the attack on D'Qar. She seems amused by his concern. "Really, Commander Dameron. We were able to survive without you with us for a few days." Poe cringes a little as she says it, which only makes her laugh.
After that, Finn kisses Poe to distract him from his worry. They've been doing that a lot lately, leaning on each other, holding each other up. As good as it is to have Poe, it's hard not to feel like something's missing. He knows Poe feels it too, and so they're careful, hesitant with each other. A different kind of waiting and yet the same.
Rey gets quieter. She'll say a few words to them, but she's lost in thought most of the time. She's focused on her training. They see her at nights and in the mornings, but it's like she's not really there.
Finn's worried about her. He tries not to be worried around her, because he knows she can feel it. That means that he's worried when he's around Poe.
"What-- what if it changes her so much we don't recognize her anymore?" Finn asks. They're been washing the Falcon all morning, scrubbing the windows and cleaning the antennae, and they're taking a break on a nearby rock. The breeze ruffles Poe's hair.
Poe runs a gentle hand down his back. "Sometimes people change," he says. "Sometimes you like who they end up becoming, and sometimes you don't. That's just how life works."
Finn tucks his nose into Poe's shoulder. He hadn't realized how much he had relied on Rey's physical affection until she stopped giving it. He's glad he has Poe with him or it would have been unbearable. "I miss her," Finn says.
Poe pulls him closer, his hands strong and warm. "Me too, buddy," Poe says. "Me too."
"Focus," Master Skywalker says.
Rey focuses on the rock he's pointing to. It's about the same size she is, in a quarry not far from their households. She can feel its weight where the gravity of their planet is drawing it in and down. She reaches out, feeling the power around her, in her. She grabs hold of the rock, wraps it up in the light. Gravity fights her. She fights back, lifting the rock into the air.
But she fights too hard, and the rock goes flying, soaring out into the ocean. It makes a splash when it lands. She can't hear it from all the way up here in the mountain, but she can see the ripple it makes, and she feel the moment when it hits the water.
"Well," Master Skywalker says, raising an eyebrow, his hands held behind his back. "We already knew you were strong. What you need to learn is control."
Rey bows her head. "Yes, Master," she says. She seethes in frustration, though she knows that emotion is unbecoming for a Jedi.
"You know," he says, "I do understand what you're going through. When I first went to train with Master Yoda, he pretended to be a dotty old hermit in the middle of a swamp as a kind of test for me. I wanted to strangle him when I figured it out. He made me do this exercise upside down while in a handstand."
Rey wonders why he's telling her this. In her mind, Luke Skywalker, Rebellion hero, will always be a different person from Master Skywalker, cruel sadist, but she's beginning to see where the lines blur between them. "Yes, Master," she says again.
He must know her well enough to see her frustration, because he stands up, changing tactics. "Perhaps we should try a different strategy," he says.
Rey sighs. "You're going to say meditation, aren't you?"
"You are learning," Master Skywalker says with an arched eyebrow and the faintest hint of a smile on his face.
He leads them back into the temple, to the chamber they talked in when she first arrived.
"Come on," he says. They both settle into a cross-legged position.
"What am I supposed to meditate on today?" she asks. A lot of times it's about 'peace' or 'tranquility' or 'the nature of the Force'. She's gotten better at reaching for her power while she's here. On some days, the Force is vast and warm and comforting, and on some days, the Force is wild, a whirlwind of unsettling emotions. She's not sure what kind of day today will be.
Master Skywalker says, "Right now, we're going to meditate on clarity. There's something on your mind that's holding you back. I'd like you to think about how you might be able to clear away that distraction."
Rey closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Master Skywalker is right. She visited the Falcon this morning, where Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8 were working on ripping out the last bits of Plutt's modifications and cleaning up the interiors of the ship until it was almost sparkling and new. They'd all greeted her warmly, big hugs and even bigger smiles, and they'd even let her rewire the engines. But she couldn't help but watch Poe and Finn as they worked and joked together. The way Poe will slap Finn on the back and the way Finn will elbow Poe in the side. The smiles they have for each other when they think she isn't looking.
She knows that they don't mean to hurt her, that she herself was the one who told them 'no,' but doesn't mean she likes seeing what could have been hers slip away from her fingers. If -- when -- they go back to the Resistance, she might have to deal with this every day.
She's also a Jedi. A Jedi must have mastery over her emotions. There is no passion, there is serenity.
She focuses on her breath, the rise and fall of her chest, the faint dusty smell of the room around her, the sensation of the hard, cold stone underneath her bare feet. Her mind tugs her back to that night on Moer, to the creature that tried to attack them in the night. She allows herself to return there, the way Master Skywalker instructed, to bend to the will of the Force and follow where it leads.
Then she's no longer in quiet, stone room filled with a soft gray light. She's in the jungle again, surrounded by heat and humidity and the buzz of insects. She opens her eyes. She's facing down that fearsome creature, her arm is outstretched. Her chest is filled with the familiar feelings of hopelessness, despair, fear, and anger.
The creature roars, the sound of it echoing in her ears. She takes another deep breath, tries to center herself the way Master Skywalker has taught her. She can't-- she can't-- That sense of peace eludes her so far away from the silence of the temple. Her heart hammers in her chest. Her breath comes too fast. If she doesn't act quickly enough, they'll be eaten out here, on this planet in the middle of nowhere. She can't let that happen.
She hears gasping breaths behind her, and she doesn't even need to turn to know who they belong to. Finn. Her first friend. The first person who has ever thought that she was worth coming back for. She centers herself on that, the steadiness of his faith, unwavering. She feels a phantom reminder of Poe's hand on her shoulder in the undercity of Talesion, the moment when she really believed that it isn't just her any longer, that this isn't a journey she has to take alone.
She reaches out again, her heart full of feeling, what she feels for Finn and Poe and General Organa and for Chewie and even for BB-8 and R2-D2. She reaches out, and she pushes.
This time, the creature lets out a howl and rears back, settles. It closes its mouth, hiding its teeth, not quite docile, but not threatening anymore. She didn't know it had eyes, but now she can see them on the ends of its stalks, huge and black and shining. She can feel the echo of its feelings in her head. It was just afraid, just like them, afraid of the new smells in its territory, afraid of what it might mean for it and its children. She can feel the way the creature understands her, not the sophisticated concepts of interstellar travel or war, but the care that Rey has for her companions.
And now Rey knows why the Force brought her to that planet, why it showed her the things that it did.
She comes back to the dusty room, comes back to the silent temple filled with gray light. She opens her eyes. Master Skywalker is meditating across from her, a frown creasing his face.
"You're wrong," Rey says to him, and she stands up, and she walks out.
She finds Finn in their little hovel, smoking some freshly-caught fish over a cooking stone. "Oh," he says when she enters the small room they've designated to be their kitchen. "We weren't expecting you back for at least another couple of hours." He smiles wide enough to show his teeth, and she can feel his genuine joy at seeing her vibrate through the Force. He's beautiful, as radiant as the Jakku sun.
She nudges him away from the cooking stone and kisses him, lips meeting lips. He lets out a shaky breath against her mouth, tilting his head down so that she doesn't have to stand on tip-toes. She rocks back onto her heels. She doesn't have much -- any -- experience with this, but that doesn't really matter. She just wants to feel their closeness again.
A cough behind her interrupts them. She jumps back, unable to hide her own blush. When she turns, she sees Poe there. One of his eyebrows is raised, but other than that, his expression is carefully impassive.
"Sorry to ruin all the fun," he says, his voice light, teasing.
"It's not like that," Rey says. She bites her bottom lip, and she's not feeling guilty about it, not exactly.
"Oh, I know from experience that sticking your tongue in Finn's mouth is definitely fun," Poe says. The corner of his mouth twitches, and a wave of amusement radiates from him.
Finn squawks a little at that. Rey laughs, leaning into his warmth, knowing that he'll be there to support her. His hands settle on her hips.
Poe expression turns serious. "So, uh," he says, "do I get one, too?"
"Of course," she says.
Poe grins, crinkling the corners of his eyes, and she can still feel his smile against her lips when she kisses him.
Poe rubs Rey's feet as she rests her head in Finn's lap. Her eyes are closed, and she's smiling, blissful. Poe can see a hickey that Finn left behind on her neck. Her feet are calloused and strong, and not for the first time, Poe wonders what her life must have been like before BB-8 found her. He's heard bits and pieces of it, but Rey's not exactly one for oversharing.
The three of them are still full from dinner and rested from sleepy makeouts after dinner. Poe likes the way the two of them look like this, peaceful and happy and at ease in the blue glow of the bio-lights. He's pretty sure they haven't had enough of it in their lives. He remembers what Luke had said, that first day, about how this wasn't something they could have, the three of them. He knows that Rey said something similar to Finn. Poe is happy that things have changed, but he's not sure what the price of this happiness will be. "Luke's not going to kill us for this, is he?" Poe asks.
"No, I don't think he will." That voice comes from the doorway and not any of the three of them. Luke walks into the room and settles down on one of the other benches. "I'm not surprised to find you here with them," Luke says. He's speaking directly to Rey, and there might have been a time when Poe would have been annoyed by being ignored like this, but he gets that this is way outside his expertise. All Poe can do is be here for Rey in the aftermath.
Rey opens her eyes. "You wanted me to find my balance," she says. "This is what keeps me balanced."
Luke studies the three of them tangled together. "Yes, I guess I did tell you that," he says. He sighs. "Things in life, they don't last."
Rey sits up, stares him down with all plasteel strength that Poe's come to admire in her. "I know that," she says. "That's why we need to hang on to them as long as we have them." She grabs hold of Poe's and Finn's hands, squeezes their fingers. Poe squeezes back.
Luke nods. His eyes go soft with sadness. "And what happens if you lose them?" He's speaking from experience, Poe knows.
"Then I remember why I loved them in the first place," Rey says. "You cared enough about the Rebellion to fight with them before I was even born. I care enough about the Resistance to fight with them now."
Luke shakes his head. Poe can't ever imagine regretting fighting in the Rebellion, but maybe Luke does. "All this fighting, and does anything really change? When you study history, you discover how doomed we are to repeat it."
"Maybe," Rey says, shrugging, "but I'm going to make the same choice your sister did. I'm going to keep fighting. There's too much at stake to stop."
Luke sighs. "Leia's always been a better person than I am."
"We're going back tomorrow," Rey says, which takes Poe by surprise, because they haven't discussed it yet. "You can come with us or you can stay here. Your choice."
Much to everyone's surprise, Luke bursts out into laughter. "Now I definitely understand why Master Yoda was always hitting me with his stick," he says. He takes a deep breath, and something sets on his face. For a moment, Poe sees the man he worshiped as a child, all that strength, all that kindness, all that conviction. "All right. Maybe there's something to youthful recklessness after all. I would like to see my sister again." Luke's eyes flick up to meet Poe's eyes for the first time since he entered the room.
"She misses you," Poe says. "It's not like she says anything to any of us about it, but we can tell." The general doesn't speak about Luke often, but when she does, her voice will deepen, thick with emotion. She's always kept Luke's secrets, though, and Poe has never asked after them.
Luke closes his eyes. "I miss her, too," he says.
It's the first time Master Skywalker's been down to see the Falcon since it landed. Rey's made the trip down the mountain a few times already, but he's never seemed interested, even though the ship is almost as legendary as Master Skywalker himself.
Rey makes one last trip to the temple while the others are packing. She finds that familiar, dusty room and soaks in the serenity it provides, but she knows she won't need it anymore. She's going to be taking her serenity with her. It's a good visit, though, a chance to say her thanks to the Force.
The four of them climb down the mountain together. It's easier in this direction, though they're weighed down by their packs. Master Skywalker gives her a lesson on the earliest Jedi, how they separated themselves in peaceful contemplation until a war broke out in the galaxy and a splinter group decided that inaction in the face of conflict was against the will of the Force. Maybe there's a moral to the story, but she thinks it's his own way of saying goodbye to the place.
When they finally reach the Falcon, she watches as Chewbacca lets out a joyful howl at the sight of Master Skywalker, pulling him into another hug. R2-D2 beeps loudly and cheerfully and almost seems to purr when Master Skywalker pats him on his dome.
Poe drapes an arm around her shoulders, and Finn clutches her hand tightly in his own. She smiles. This, in its own way, is the will of the Force.
There's something in Master Skywalker's expression when they step into the cockpit. It reminds her of his expression when he saw her holding out the lightsaber to him on that first day, something huge and painful and true. She watches as he runs his hands over the panels, the controls, with a reverence that she's only seen him show for the Jedi temple before.
"You can take the first shift in the pilot seat," Rey says. He used to be a pilot himself, she knows. Maybe he misses it as much as she would.
He shakes his head, but he's smiling, looking the youngest he has since she's met him. "No," he says, his voice gentle. "It's your turn now."
Rey takes the pilot's seat. Poe settles in next to her. Finn and Chewie are just behind them. She runs through the pre-flight checklist, getting the Falcon ready to fly again.
"Everyone ready?" she asks. She glances at Poe, who's been busy at the co-pilot console. He nods at her.
"Let's do this," Finn says.
She flicks a few buttons, firing the Falcon's engines.
They rise up and up and up over the ocean and into the clouds. For a moment, they linger at the edge of the atmosphere, with the blue and green of the ocean beneath them.
Then they break through and there's nothing but them and the stars.