Eventually, there’s a bad mission.
Embarrassingly, it’s on a standard patrol call through a trade route when a Star Destroyer drops out of hyperspace and suddenly it’s not open space but instead thick with TIE-fighters, and Poe loses two of his squadron in the first minute. They’d been coasting on a bit of a high since Starkiller, and most of the visible First Order operations had retracted significantly, but still.
Idiot, idiot, idiot.
[More incoming!] he hears BB-8 beep out from behind him, and sure enough a smaller ship appears alongside the other, and immediately starts to open fire.
He barks out one order, which is to split formation and to get back to base whatever the cost. They have been left with no room to manoeuvre, and it’s too tight to stick together, but he’s with some of the best pilots in the galaxy. Regardless, he tries to buy them time, which means he has to circle around Mandalore, which adds in an additional three cycles in the passage he’s forced to make before he gets back to D’Qar.
He’s fairly certain that his communication system has been damaged, but he still radios General Organa in the hope of response, of which there is none. One of the engines has caught heavy fire, and he can feel that one or two of his ribs might be broken from an extreme whiplash he received when half a dozen TIEs forced him towards the side of a moon. Overall, Poe isn’t doing so great.
[Identified injury to both the ship and Friend-Poe,] BB-8 tells him the first time he tries to go into hyperspace.
“Give me some logistics: can we get back to base?” Poe asks, watching the computer shudder violently before starting up again.
[Yes,] says BB-8 and, after a pause, [if we do not first explode.]
“Good enough for me,” Poe says, and then they’re gone.
He appears again in the outskirts of the Ileenium System, and he has to flash a light at the sentry when his comm refuses to pick up messages. Maybe as a way of insurance, he’s followed back to the planet by several older scale ships. When he does land, he sees an unusually large crowd grow just outside the range of his T-70’s wings, and as the canopy swings back he sees Karé sprint up the hill, climbing up the ladder and almost pulling him out of the cockpit.
“I… what-?” Poe manages, before Karé’s grip tightens and she shakes him violently, which does nothing for his chest. He wheezes, “Karé – Karé my ribs-”
He’s released once they make it to the ground, although she ends up holding him anyway as he struggles to breathe, one hand pressed gently just below the fractures.
“Idiot,” she tells him, “Poe Dameron you’re an idiot.”
[Correct,] burbles BB-8.
“I’m your commanding officer,” Poe tries.
What Poe has clearly missed, either by just not thinking about it or that he was distracted with trying to get as many of his team out alive as possible, is that they, in turn, might have assumed that he might not be alive.
The idea of dying on a botched patrol assignment of all things Poe finds very insulting, but he keeps it to himself.
He’s almost carried by his squadron to the med-bay, loudly protesting all the way as they refuse a stretcher on his behalf, until he’s violently manhandled onto a bed and his helmet is torn from his hands. Then there’s half a dozen separate hands, feeling up and down his chest and without meaning to, he’s arching up in pain, trying not to cry out.
Poe’s not sure if he succeeded, because when his head stops pounding the room seems to have been cleared, and there’s only some kind of probe pressing against his bare skin, feeling cold and raising goosebumps on his flesh. There’s a soft tug as his dogtags are pulled aside, and he feels something jab into him.
“Stay calm, Commander Dameron,” says a smoothly accented voice. Naboo, if he had to guess. “This is an anaesthetic so we can sew your ribs back together.”
And then, he knows nothing.
When he comes to, which his internal bodyclock tells him is now closer to evening than afternoon, there’s a warm weight on one of his arms, with calloused fingers rubbing against his other hand.
The air tastes too fresh, which means he’s still in medical, but he feels way too comfortable despite the weird, sticky abrasive of the bed beneath him, and the paper thin hospital gown he can feel ghosting over his ribs.
“Poe?” Finn. Abruptly, he feels the warmth leave, and he wants to reach out for it, but his body doesn’t seem to be working. There’s another touch, this time on his cheek, and though it feels like pulling a starship from the sand he manages to crack his eyes open. Shapes remain blurred until he manages to blink, and then Rey appears, then Finn. They seem to be shining as they look down at him.
Or maybe that’s backlight.
“Hey,” he says, although his mouth doesn’t seem to be working either because it’s more of a “heee…”
He sees Finn frown, and Rey says something to him, but it sounds like they’re underwater. Poe hates anaesthetic.
Poe fumbles, but he manages to put a clumsy hand on Finn’s shoulder and give it a pat, before it drops like lead back onto bedsheets. Finn smiles at him then, and Poe tries to mirror it but based on how he’s been going so far, he probably just looks drunk.
“We’ll be here when you wake up,” he hears Rey say, and then the weight is back and he’s gone.
When he wakes again, the chain of his dog tags is pulled almost taut, and he can feel through the minute vibrations that someone is turning them over in their hands. His head feels clearer, and he manages to open his eyes with limited effort, taking in the sterile room, and the two people sitting in front of him. It’s definitely evening now, but he isn’t sure if it’s the same day.
“Have you two been here the whole time?” He finds himself asking, instead of saying hello.
Finn starts, dropping the dog tags so that they fall heavy onto his chest with a soft clinking noise, and Rey leans in closer.
“They tried to kick us out for dinner,” she tells him. Her eyes are red. “But since we’re…” she pauses, and makes a vague hand gesture, “we convinced them to let us stay.”
“You shouldn’t’ve-” Poe starts, but then Finn interrupts him.
“We thought you were dead.” He says in a hard voice.
“I… oh,” Poe says, lamely. He looks between them, feeling guilty, even though he had no choice of contacting them if he couldn’t even get a hold of the General.
“I didn’t,” Rey tells him, but Finn gives her a flat look. “I did… once. You nearly crashed.”
“Yeah, on a moon,” Poe says, swallowing a few times, watching Finn’s face.
“You’re not allowed to do that,” he’s told. “Not since last time.”
“Finn, it’s not like I wanted-”
“They said you didn’t even try to go into hyperspace,” Rey interjects.
“I had to draw their fire, so-”
“They told us you died. That there was no way you’d made it out of that firefight.” Finn says, but his voice sounds smaller, and his grip on Poe moves from his hand up to his neck, pressed fat over his heartbeat.
“It was no more extreme than my audition for the Resistance,” Poe says, which is true, but the joke seems to fall flat. “I was doing my job. I was protecting my squadron.”
“And who protects you?” Rey asks.
“Well, you two, usually.”
“Well we weren’t there, were we?” Rey says, sounding impatient.
“BB-8 protects me,” Poe tries.
[BB-8 does no such thing,] says a familiar voice from the floor. [BB-8 convinces the T-70 to keep flying when Friend-Poe is being an idiot.]
“Traitor,” Poe hisses at it, and Finn seems to stiffen, eyes going back to the dogtags.
“They said they’d send out a search party for you,” Finn says after a pause, then he picks at the chain. “I didn’t know… I didn’t know they’d do that.”
“If I’d died,” Poe says gently, trying very hard to swallow the guilt at his expression, “or maybe if I’d taken a little longer getting home, they would have deployed a small search team, probably half a squadron, to look for my body.” He pulls up the dogtags. “These are made of titanium, and they have a tracking unit. They’re designed so that if my ship explodes,” Rey makes a small noise, and he reaches for her hand, “they can verify my identity, you see?”
Finn takes them from him, turning them over in his hands. “This isn’t… the First Order never did this.”
“Finn-” Rey starts.
“Once you died, you died.” Finn laughs, sounding very tired. “Though I guess that’s what to expect since they didn’t even give us names.”
“Finn…” Poe says.
Finn breathes out noisily, and then leaves forward until his head is resting against Poe’s collarbone. After half a moment, Rey follows him, her head pressed on his chest above his injured ribs.
“Is this alright?” She asks him, and Poe nods, trying not to breathe too deeply.
“Don’t do it again, please,” he hears Finn say, and the weight shifts briefly as there are warm lips pressed against his own, and then he’s asleep.
Poe tries not to think about it, and after his ribs heal he gets distracted by other things.
He doesn’t really notice that Finn likes to hold his hand in their bunk, in the mess hall, thumb rubbing over his knuckles, and that Rey constantly checks as though to make sure he’s still there, digging her hands into his hair and pulling. There’s a weird sort of fixation on his dog tags as well, to the point where the two of them reach forward to touch them in quiet moments when they’re alone, tugging them out from the collar of Poe’s shirts, warming them by their touch, using them to tug Poe forward into heated kisses.
Once, he sees that Finn has been gripping them so hard that Poe’s name has imprinted on his flesh, dug as neat letters above his serial number.
They check in, constantly, to the point where Jess starts to wiggle her eyebrows at him whenever they land after a mission, and Iolo gives him a knowing look.
“I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking,” Poe says firmly, “but I can tell you that it’s not true, and to please never think of it again.”
Jess’ eyebrow action only seems to increase.
He’s lying in between them later, once Rey has returned from that place in the Force that only she and Luke seem to be able to find, and he finds himself turning his dog tags in his hands, over and over. They’re standard, and have lost their shine over the years, though they seem to have worn down further over the past several weeks. He knows his father wears his mother’s beside his own, three instead of two complete pairs, the other cut from the chain and lost in the void of space.
Finn makes a quiet sort of sigh, shifting so that he’s lying further on top of Poe, one leg crammed between his own, his hand on Poe’s neck.
“Does everyone get them?” Finn whispers. Poe has to stop himself from jumping in surprise. From where Finn’s lying, Poe can’t see his face.
“Yes,” Poe says. “Everyone in the base, anyway. Anyone directly involved with the First Order.”
“Stormtroopers weren’t encouraged to go back for each other,” Finn tells him quietly, tracing a pattern on Poe’s chest that he realises spells FN-2187. “I had this… maybe I shouldn’t call him a friend. A teammate, I guess. We called him Slip. I used to get in trouble because I’d always go back for him instead of completing the mission objective.”
“There’s nothing wrong with compassion,” Poe says, but Finn shakes his head.
“They would have just- Slip wasn’t important, like I wasn’t important. This whole idea,” he picks up the dogtags, “I just… I guess I’m grateful?”
“For the Resistance being different? I don’t know. For knowing they’re looking out for you when you’re up there.”
Poe doesn’t reply, and Finn moves his touch further down to his abdomen.
“I think Rey feels the same,” he says, his voice dropping even lower. “No one ever looked out for her either. She chose to be alone, she said. And we’re down here, and we know where you are, and that even if…” he swallows, “they’ll go back for you. For these.” He taps the dogtags with one hand, and the other moves to Poe’s thigh, pulling at his leg, turning him sideways. For the first time, he looks into Finn’s eyes, and sees that they look a little red and puffy.
“Finn,” Poe says, “they’d go back for you too.”
Finn shrugs with one shoulder, like he can’t quite believe it. “Maybe.”
“Definitely. You and Rey both.” Poe gives him a miniscule shake. “You’re important to us.”
He gets a kiss for that, and a drowsy murmur from behind him as Rey tells them both to be quiet, and can’t they have emotional conversations that she wants to be a part of when she doesn’t have to get up early to try and change out the fuel gauge in the Falcon?
“It’s not exactly procedure to give out dogtags with no surnames,” General Organa says, sounding patiently amused. Poe is standing in front of her, snapped to attention, hands behind his back.
“I know, ma’am,” Poe says, “but considering the circumstances, I feel as though it’s necessary. To repay them for their service.”
“Last time I checked, neither of them are retiring.”
“It’s the thought that counts, ma’am.” Poe shifts a little awkwardly, before sighing. “Listen, I… they were concerned, about my dogtags.”
The General cocks an eyebrow.
“It was a strange concept to them,” Poe says, “and I feel like getting their own would really help them understand their place here.”
The General looks at him, considering. “Have you discussed this with them?”
“Define vaguely,” she says.
“They aren’t expecting their own,” Poe says, “I know that much. I’d really appreciate this, ma’am. I’d owe you one.”
“If we’re keeping count,” she tells him, “you technically owe me thirty seven.”
He gives a salute as she walks away, feeling the chain around his neck as though it were burning, before making his way out of the room. It’s still early in the day, so he finds himself pacing outside the room until Connix, a lieutenant, appears at the door, a small package in her hands.
“The General said to give these to you,” she says, and then winks.
Poe tries not to blush, and holds the parcel under one arm. It’s light, and chinks softly between each step.
He finds Rey out in an open field. She’s alone, but Luke’s pack is sitting in the grass, so he mustn’t be too far off. She’s sitting on a stone, staff balanced across her knees, both eyes closed. As he approaches, she smiles, shifting until he’s in range, and then springs forward, staff hitting his legs and sending him sprawling backwards onto the ground. Her weight feels steady and familiar across his hips, and she beams down at him.
“I think that’s cheating,” he says. “You’re supposed to keep your eyes closed.”
She laughs, hair hanging into her face. He tilts his head back, catching a glimpse of the package, having landed some distance away. Following his gaze, Rey frowns, and he watches as it springs forward into her hands. He shivers against his will, and her other hand strokes the inside of his wrist, before she hands it down. Even though the angle is awkward, Poe still manages to get it open, while she watches him curiously, until he pulls out the thin chain, holding it up.
Rey stares at it, then at him, then back again, before taking it with trembling fingers, turning it over.
She squints at it, stroking the surface.
“We don’t know your surname, so that’s blank. But everything else… it’s got the tracking beacon. It can’t be broken.” He winks at her, and watches as she leans back, dropping it gently over her head until it nestles on her chest, shining in the sunlight. She looks down at him with wide eyes.
“I didn’t ask for one,” she says.
He tries to shrug, but it’s difficult.
“You didn’t have to,” he replies. “I just thought you and Finn might like your own.”
“I..” She swallows, hard, and clenches it in a fist. “I do. I really do. Thank you.”
He takes her cheeks in his hands, and presses a kiss to her forehead.
Finn has a similar response, only he spends a lot of time just staring at himself in the mirror, watching how they look over his jacket, eyes reading over his name again and again.
“They look good,” Poe offers from where he’s sitting on the bed. “They suit you.”
“I’m a born soldier,” Finn mutters, half to himself. “But a soldier to a cause now, I guess.” Then he turns. “Thank you, Poe.”
“I wanted to do it,” Poe says, feeling weirdly pleased. “You two are malnourished orphans who deserve better. I need to spoil you as much as possible before you catch on.”
Finn snorts, before looking back at the mirror.
“Finn,” he says, then stops.
“It looks a little blank,” Finn says, then flushes. “Which is fine. It looks great.”
“I gave you a name off the top of my head,” Poe says, “but if you and Rey want surnames, I think you should pick those out for yourselves. They can be important as first ones.”
“Jess says they mean family,” Finn says, his tone questioning. Poe shrugs.
“Yeah, or people share names because they want to, or they change names sometimes.” Like Ben Solo.
Finn nods with this new information. “So I can just… pick one?”
“Yeah, and then talk to a tech about getting it put on the tag,” Poe says. “Got any in mind?”
They look suspiciously shifty when he gets back from another reconnaissance mission, both of them in his room despite the hour. They’re both still wearing the tags though, so Poe takes that as a good sign.
“Should I ask?” He says, dropping his helmet onto the dresser and shaking out his hair. “Did something happen?”
“Yes,” says Rey at the same time Finn says “No.” They look at each other. Finn scratches his neck, looking at the floor.
“Are you okay?” Poe asks, trying not to get worried. They both look fine. Like, as fine as usual. Which is very fine. Be quiet, he tries to tell his brain.
“You know how much we loved the tags,” Rey starts awkwardly.
“We do,” Finn interjects. “We really do.”
“But they felt blank,” Rey continues, before hurriedly saying, “and General Organa agreed with us!”
“Okay?” Poe says, confused.
They look at each other again.
“We didn’t want to offend you,” Finn says. “Or overstep anything. We’re both new to this, but she said it was fine, so…”
Then they both walk towards him, dogtags flat against their outstretched palms, text-side up. Poe leans forward squinting, before feeling his stomach drop, and pleasant heat appearing in his abdomen. He looks at them, then down again, and reaches forward to take their free hands in his.
Now, instead of blank spaces beneath the names Finn and Rey there is Dameron, printed in neat, block letters.