Rey takes some jogan fruit and bread the first time. Her first meal after arriving back at the Resistance base, after Starkiller. The bread is a miracle - fresh baked and still warm, dusted with spices. A whole portion. She tucks the food in her tunic and takes it with her, out of the mess hall, past the tableful of pilots complaining good-naturedly about the low quality and scarcity of their rations.
The words hardly make sense.
Who complains about food?
Finn doesn’t, but Finn’s asleep in a bacta tube.
“I’ve never had jogan fruit before,” she tells him. It’s afternoon, after a lengthy debriefing with General Organa and Admiral Statura, and the medidroids have left them alone. She had eaten her fill in the mess hall, but she takes the fruit out and starts peeling it anyway. “It’s sweet. I like it. You’ll like the food they’ve got here. There’s so much of it, and you can get some whenever you want.”
When she goes, she stashes one of the fruits under the bench. She’ll be back later, and if she doesn’t eat it, she figures Finn will. He might be hungry when he wakes up.
They assign her a room. A whole bunk, all to herself. Poe Dameron, squadron commander, the best pilot in the Resistance (they keep telling her), the man whose jacket Finn was wearing, takes her through the pilots’ quarters. Down the hallways and up the stairs, the first door on the right.
The room looks exactly as the previous occupants left it. Rey can feel lingering echoes in air - urgency, determination, reckless exhilaration - pilots on a mission. The Starkiller mission, she realizes.
“Sorry, give me a minute.” Dameron runs a hand through his hair, starts gathering clothing and sweeping up gear. There isn’t much to gather. “Surprised the vultures at Logistics haven’t been through here already. They had my bunk packed up and reassigned about two seconds after I went missing on Jakku.”
“I’m sorry,” Rey says, fidgeting with the edge of her tunic.
Dameron waves her off. “Imagine Emtrey’s surprise when I come back demanding the return of every last one of my starship models. And the hair gel. Very important, that hair gel is to me. Unfortunately he’d incinerated it already.” He gives her a mournful look that pulls an involuntary twitch out of the corner of her mouth.
“You got your room back, though,” she says.
“I did. And it’s still there for me to go pass out in for about sixteen hours, thanks to you and Finn.”
The dim light catches the line of his shoulders, the (non-gelled) hair falling over his eyes. She thinks he must be handsome, this man whom Finn needed for a pilot, but right now he mostly looks exhausted.
“I’ll get Emtrey to collect all this,” he says, when there are two small piles by the door. Less than what she had in her AT-AT. Well, none of these Resistance fighters had to hoard for survival. They can just go to the mess hall, the armory, and ask for what they need.
A distant memory of a woman’s admonishing voice rises up and prods her. “Thank you,” she says dutifully. Dameron nods, eyes on her face, and she can almost physically feel the weight of his regard on her skin. Just one more to add to the stares that have been trailing her like a Teedo scavenger since they arrived on base. He leaves, and she hovers uncertainly in the middle of the room.
The closet looks like a good place to start. She puts the last of the bread and fruit in it and leaves to go back to Finn.
The next day, Rey eats two entire bowls of bantha stew in the mess hall, stashes some jerky snacks in her closet, and is in Finn’s room deciding on whether to eat the bread or put it next to the fruit under the bench when Dameron walks in on her.
“Hello,” he says, like he was expecting her to be there - looking guilty and exactly like she was in the middle of tearing into a hunk of bread half the size of her head. (There’s just so much food here. And they just give it to her.)
“Hello,” she says through the bread.
Dameron’s still in his flight suit, unzipped and tied off at the waist, and she can smell sweat and engine grease on him. He sits down on the bench, those steady eyes on Finn’s floating form. “How’s he looking?”
Rey hastily swallows. “They said his spine’s still regrowing.”
Dameron grimaces. “Sounds unpleasant.”
“Yeah,” Rey says, because it is. “Dr. Kalonia said he’ll be decanted tomorrow morning.” The medics had put Finn in bacta as soon as they got him off the Millennium Falcon, but it could only do so much for an injury that severe, and the medidroid told her the Resistance’s supply was limited. It would lengthen his recovery time by months.
Dameron frowns. “Think we might be taking a small detour next mission,” he half-murmurs to himself. Catching her sideways look, he says, “Ninety-five percent of the bacta in the galaxy comes from two cartels on the planet Thyferra.”
“Oh,” Rey says. And then, “Oh.”
He’s a commander in the Resistance. He could make that happen. He could convince General Organa to bring back enough bacta to make Finn good as new again.
“How did you meet Finn?” she asks.
Dameron looks surprised. “He didn’t tell you?”
“He did.” Excitedly and with a lot of pacing and hand-waving, during the hyperspace jump to Takodana, while she dug into one of Solo’s ration packs. (“He was so good, Rey. Like I could totally believe he’s the best pilot in the galaxy. Just us and a squadron of TIEs, no sweat. He could fly anything.”) Rey tears off another hunk of bread. “But I want to hear your side of it.”
She’s not doing the best job of concealing the challenging note in her voice, and Dameron swings his leg over the bench to face her directly. He’s all soldier, now, assessing and evaluating. But Rey’s stared down thugs and predators and Kylo Ren, so she meets his eyes and lets him see her evaluating him right back.
“Finn saved my life.” Dameron smirks a little. “It figures, they’ve broken me, I’m about to die, and I manage to find the one trooper in the galaxy who can improvise. He walked right in and bluffed me out of the interrogation chair, got us all the way out to the hangar. Three levels of checkpoints and hallway patrols, easy.” His eyes slide over to Finn’s tube, and she catches a wave of frank admiration coming off him. “Not a bad shot with a cannon, too. Finn is a miracle, is what he is.”
Rey looks at him for a long moment.
“There’s some fruit under the bench.”
Dameron blinks at her.
“I can tell you’re hungry. Here.” She reaches down and comes up with the jogan fruit, still firm and ripe, and tosses it to him. He catches it on autopilot.
You’re welcome, the woman’s admonishing voice says. “You’re welcome,” she tells him and folds her legs under her, goes back to eating bread. She can always replenish the stash under the bench later.
Dameron is still blinking at her, before he shakes himself and smiles at her for real. He produces a knife from one of those handy pockets - Rey makes a note to ask for a flight suit one of these days - and starts peeling. “I don’t think we were ever formally introduced. I’m Poe Dameron.” He holds out a slice of fruit. “Call me Poe.”
She smiles back and takes it. “Call me Rey.”
Rey is leaving the commissary that evening, her requested survival rations and emergency tool kit tucked into a waterproof carisak, when BB-8 runs into her - quite literally.
[Friend-Rey - Friend-Rey - set course to the command center - Designation: Skywalker-R2 is rebooting!] it beeps at her in one long, somewhat garbled string and rolls off immediately, motors whirring.
“Luke Skywalker’s old astromech droid is coming out of hibernation.” Poe goes past at an easy jog, throwing a beckoning smile over his shoulder. “You coming?”
She has got to stop running off after stray droids and their humans, honestly.
It comes clear five minutes later when the powered-down astromech droid she’d spotted in the command center projects the starmap it had apparently been storing the entire time. And of course BB-8’s fragment slots perfectly into it. Rey stares uneasily at the X in the center, swallows past the confusing roil of emotions in her throat.
Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Even Rey, growing up on that forsaken hellhole of a planet, had heard of him, the name being whispered more often than not - when it wasn’t spoken through a sneer. Datacards scavenged from starships, hacked together in the computer she traded six months’ worth of scrap for, gave her tantalizingly confusing mentions of Skywalker in outdated dossiers and mission files.
She’s already almost died for him.
She has his lightsaber clipped to her belt.
Elation/fear/certainty flashes through her as she looks at the map, and the holographic stars seem to twist around her head. She knows, without knowing how, that the Resistance is not going to send spies, or diplomats, or pilots to find the last Jedi Master. They are going to send her.
Rey. These are your first steps. Glimpse of a weathered face, silver beard, eternally kind eyes. Behind him, a desert planet. Not Jakku.
Across the room, General Organa draws in a sharp breath.
Across the base, Finn still sleeps.
Green trees and abundant water spread as far as Rey can see on this planet, but the rise and fall of the wind in her ears is the same. She times her inhales and exhales to it, and lets her shoulders relax, unwinding the tension in her spine. This isn’t at all like meditating atop a rotting starfighter hulk in the desert. She misses that a little, but she thinks she’ll take the shaded, grassy hill over potential sunstroke every time.
She closes her eyes and breathes out.
--A black storm in the Force
howling with fury, cold as ice on her arms, scorching as the lightsaber he stabs at her
(Finn lying still in the snow)
--Golden sun-tinged power
coursing through her limbs, thrumming through the blue blade in her hands, crackling with sheer raw joyous
She breathes in and lets her awareness expand, spreading out to encompass the growing flowers on the hill, the small furry lifeforms in the trees, the worms in the earth. The X-Wing squadron running drills on the horizon. The woman approaching from her left.
“Medical decanted your friend Finn this morning,” General Organa says, sitting cross-legged on the grass.
Rey breathes out and lets her awareness shrink back down to just herself while the General waits patiently. Her stomach growls and she absently dips a hand into her pouch, starts munching on a handful of gallaflower seeds. “He didn’t wake up, though.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she watches the other woman shake her head. “He was attacked with the Force, as well as the lightsaber. That kind of wound takes more than bacta to heal.”
“Finn’s strong. He’s the strongest person I know,” Rey says fiercely. She needs to believe that with every fiber of her being, and she will.
The General spreads her fingers in a placating gesture. “I have no doubt of that.”
Rey eats another seed, and waits.
“We will watch over him for you,” Leia Organa says gently, and Rey can hear the promise laced through her voice. Compellingly so. “He’s a hero to the Resistance, now. That’s hundreds - thousands - of people invested in his protection and recovery. We won’t let--”
“I don’t know any of your people,” Rey says, blunt. “Who’s to say there won’t be someone who looks at him and sees stormtrooper, First Order and then...he can’t defend himself right now.”
“That’s not how we do things here,” Organa says, but Rey shakes her head stubbornly. Finn came back for her. She has nobody else, and neither does he.
Organa smiles. “I think having a commander of the Starfighter Corps in his personal protection detail might count for something,” she points out, and yes, those crinkles around her eyes are distinctly amused.
Rey considers the way Poe had looked at Finn. Considers that he’s been in Finn’s room almost as often as she has, despite his duties. Considers that the General might have an argument - maybe.
“You won’t send him on missions while Finn’s recovering?” she goads, because there’s no way a general could promise something like that.
Organa raises an eyebrow. “I can’t promise that. But,” she says over Rey’s objection, “I can promise that Commander Dameron will personally oversee Finn’s security should he be sent on a mission, and he’ll pick people he trusts. I suspect he’ll do it whether I ask him to or not.”
The wind is loud in Rey’s ears. She takes a deep breath for calm. “What makes you think I can bring Master Skywalker back? You couldn’t. He’s your brother. And you’re…” a princess, a general, a galaxy-famous legend. Rey points at herself. “I’m nobody.”
“If he doesn’t want to be brought back, he won’t be,” Organa says simply. “I don’t know what will happen when you find him. I’m sending you anyway because you are the strongest Force-sensitive being I have met in my lifetime, and quite possibly the last hope for the Jedi.”
Rey squints at the other woman. What?
“And,” Organa leans forward, catches Rey in her tractor beam of a stare, “because you want to go.”
Rey keeps her gaze steady, though her mind is reeling. She thinks, unbidden, about taking BB-8 to her AT-AT instead of sending it on its way. Thinks about the moment when she resolved to help the droid get back to the Resistance, 60 portions be damned. About being inexorably drawn to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber in Maz Kanata’s castle. About years of uncanny intuition and split-second luck creeping over into full-blown visions in the last week.
“Search your feelings, Rey,” Organa says, almost gently, almost the same way as Maz. “Why do you think Luke’s lightsaber came to you and no one else?”
The truth is: the First Order raid had forced her off Jakku in a hurry, but she’d already decided to leave. Before Finn, before BB-8, before that last night looking up at the stars in her scavenged pilot’s helmet. Before all that, she’d seen her future in the lines of an old woman’s face - her arthritic hands cramped around a scavenged engine part, endlessly scrubbing for a half portion, a third, a quarter. The sun beat down on her neck, and she scrubbed, and she knew she couldn’t wait much longer.
The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.
Rey looks the General of the Resistance in the eye and asks, “How soon can I go?”
The workers in the mess hall have started giving her extra rations without asking. She replenishes the stash under the bench in Finn’s room with two snack bars and another jogan fruit, which she’s developed a taste for.
Dr. Kalonia still hasn’t given Rey an answer to how long Finn will be asleep.
“They’ll finish evacuating the base in three days,” Rey tells Finn. “I’m slipping out with Chewbacca and R2-D2,” her breath catches, it’s so strange to think of herself in the company of legends, “in the next convoy. They want to throw off potential watchers in the confusion.”
That’s so friggin’ cool, Rey, she imagines Finn saying, his expression alight with excitement. In the Millennium Falcon, right?
“Yeah. I’m going to fly the Millennium Falcon. To go find Luke Skywalker. I still can’t believe it.”
Someone had washed the sickly sheen of bacta off her friend’s skin, and now he really does look like he’s just asleep. He could wake up at any moment, jump out of bed. Grab her hand. Go flying with her.
Rey swallows and looks down, fidgeting with the datapad Poe had given her. She’s been tearing through the Resistance HoloNet during the long hours in Finn’s room, looking for clues to make sense of the disparate fragments and images she’d seen on Takodana, and in Kylo Ren’s mind.
(Every mention of Darth Vader makes her skin crawl.)
“You’re going out in the final convoy. They’ve upgraded the medbay in the Sungrass - she’s a fat old tub, maneuvers like a drunk Hutt, you’ll hate it - and they’re going to make sure you’re completely taken care of the whole way to wherever they’re going.”
Someone should make sure he doesn't wake up alone, she thinks abruptly, and then relaxes - because of course Poe will make sure of it. He understands. Still, she makes a note on the datapad to remind him.
“Ello Asty. Lujayne Forge. Peshk Vri’syk. Bror Jace. Ton Phanan. Falynn Sandskimmer...”
Assembled pilots and Resistance personnel hold their drinks high as Jessika Pava reads out the litany of the Starkiller dead. All but seven pilots in Red and Blue Squadron. Unseen insects chorus in the forest around them, chirping counterpoint to her voice, surrounding the makeshift bar and dance area they’ve set up in the clearing.
Leaning against a tree at the edge of the gathering, Rey closes her eyes against the multicolored lights strung high above her in the branches, reflecting off a hundred raised glasses. She’d dreamed of Lujayne Forge and Ton Phanan, woken up with dirty jokes and whispered confidences she shouldn’t have known running through her mind. The two pilots had lived in her room just long enough to leave their imprint, and then they’d gone off to die, while Rey had lain unconscious in Starkiller.
Her fingers cramp with the desire to strangle Kylo Ren.
When she gets herself under control again, she opens her eyes. There’s a band striking up a catchy tune across the clearing. Jessika’s making her way through the crowd, her speech done, and she slings a leg over the stack of crates piled next to Rey. She’s holding two drinks.
“How are you doing?” she asks without preamble. She hands Rey a drink. It’s bright blue, sweet and strong, but nothing compared to the life-threatening moonshine Mama Araña used to distill at Niima Outpost in scavenged evaporators.
“The two pilots who were in my room, I keep dreaming about them,” Rey blurts out, and snaps her mouth shut when she realizes what she’s said.
“Ton and Lujayne.” Jess visibly swallows and tosses back a healthy swig of the alcohol in her glass.
“I’m sorry,” Rey rushes to say, but Jess shakes her head.
“Ton went down shooting a TIE off my tail. Lujayne cleared the way for half of Blue Squadron before she died. High-mortality profession like ours, that’s really all you can ask for.”
“To die fighting?” Rey can understand that.
“To die fighting for something that was worth the sacrifice.”
They both fall silent for a while, sipping their drinks and watching dancers swaying together in the middle of the clearing.
“Ton asked Lujayne out,” Rey says, haltingly. “The second day they were roomed together.” Faint echo of hysterical laughter, and rueful chagrin. “She...turned him down.”
Jessika’s chuckle is low and only a little strained. “He tried his hand with just about everyone in Blue Squadron.”
“Even Poe. I told him not to do it. He went ahead anyway and wasted a perfectly good bottle of Whyren’s Reserve into the bargain.” Jess lounges back on the crates, settles into a pose that allows her to lift her glass to her mouth with a minimum of movement. “You think our dear commander is an incorrigible flirt, Ton flirted like he breathed. Darling this, sweetheart that. Being half-cyborg - and a sarcastic son of a bitch - slowed him down not a single Coruscant minute.”
“Did Poe turn him down?” Rey asks. She sits down on a large tree root and leans forward, fascinated.
A positively gleeful smile spreads across Jess’s face. “So, Ton won the whiskey in a sabacc tournament between squadrons - the base alcohol supply’s still not recovered - and smuggled it onto his X-wing when they got sent to retrieve intel on Lorrd. The library planet,” she adds. “Said he was going to wait till they were both so bored, literally anything would seem like a better alternative.”
“And the whiskey?”
“What do you think? I told him it was a stupid plan, Poe’s way more susceptible to an old-fashioned home-cooked Yavinese dinner, but in fairness to Ton, the Lorrd run really is that boring.”
Poe had spent a good twenty minutes earlier in the day waxing poetic about Yavinese cuisine, describing to Rey in detail the rich smokiness of grilled meats wrapped in plantain leaves, the sharp heat of roasted chiles, the spice and tang of at least six types of sauce. Rey couldn’t really conjure up those flavors in her mind, but she could read those sense-memories in the dreamy, nostalgic expression on Poe’s face. “No, I’d go with the home-cooked dinner. Definitely.”
“Yeah. So they’re planetside, picking up the intel, and Ton talks Poe into a drink before they head back to base. What they don’t know is that the Lorrd University Department of Quantum Library Theory had dissolved into infighting and one of the splinter guerilla factions was taking over the street they were on. Declared it a sovereign nation and everything.”
Rey considers it for a moment. “Guerilla librarians?”
Jess laughs. “Exactly. Ton’s barely taken a sip when a blaster bolt nails the bottle and it explodes all over them. They end up in a running lightfight all the way back to the spaceport, completely covered in blood and whiskey, total disaster. They’re blasting out of the atmosphere when Poe turns to Ton and tells him thanks, but no thanks. I can’t imagine why,” she finishes sardonically.
“Dunno, sounds kinda romantic to me.” (“Stop taking my hand!”) Rey smiles. “That’s how Finn and I met.”
Jess raises her eyebrows at Rey, licks sticky blue drink off her lips. “Oh, really? So explosions and mayhem are what gets you going, huh?”
“That’s not-- I mean, we met right when the First Order raided Niima Outpost, they were looking for BB-8, and just about everything exploded, but that’s not--” Jess is grinning, and Rey discovers she’s blushing hotly. “All right, yes, I like Finn. Of course I like him. He came back for me. No one’s ever done that before.”
The other pilot is radiating curiosity and sympathy, but Rey’s thoughts turn to Finn, still asleep - and remembers that she’s leaving him in less than a day. She can’t speak for a minute. “What about Lujayne?” she asks, finally.
It’s Jess’s turn to be silent for a long moment. “What about her?”
“She was…” Rey pulls on her dream-memories. “She was from Kessel. And very kind.”
“She was beautiful.” Jess’s shoulders slump, her eyes suddenly tired. She smiles again, but it’s full of raw grief in the way her smile for Ton Phanan had not been. “Kessel kills people, kills your spirit, leaves you a dead and dried-out husk whether you’re still moving around or not. Lujayne wasn’t like that.”
“Was she a prisoner?” Rey asks, hesitant. She’d only ever heard of Kessel as the Imperial prison planet, home to the worst kinds of criminals. Jess shakes her head.
“No, she was born there. Her father was a teacher, volunteered to rehab inmates so they could come back out to civilized society.” Jess is staring out at nothing, absently tracing the lip of her glass with a finger. “She got that caring spirit from him. Statura kept saying she was more social secretary than pilot, but I didn’t see him trying to keep twelve pilots and their egos from vaping each other. Lujayne was the heart of the squadron,” she says fiercely. “We all loved her.”
Were you in love with her? Rey wants to ask, but she’s pretty certain she doesn’t have to. “I’m sorry,” she says again.
Jess doesn’t seem to hear her. “She threw the best parties...she was always trying to get us to do team bonding, organized all the outings, took care of all of us.” Her voice breaks, a little. “She had the best hangover cure recipe. The only one that actually kind of worked.”
“What was it?”
Jess grins, a real one. “Bacon. Lots of it.”
A few minutes later, a big man with a beard emerges from the crowd carrying an entire pitcher. “Knew you were good for something, Snap,” Jess greets him, breaking off from the story she’s telling Rey about the time she, Lujayne and Ello Asty serenaded the entire hungover Starfighter Corps post-sabacc tournament with a homemade sound system rigged specially for blasting the Beastie Boys (a hip-hop band, whatever that is, apparently they’re very loud).
Snap tops their drinks off, then sprawls himself comfortably among the tree roots, sipping straight from the pitcher. They drift into piloting talk.
“So where do you think we’ll be assigned next?”
“Probably recruitment missions,” Snap says. “Lot of empty berths to fill, after… it’s not going to be easy.”
Jess bares her teeth, a fierce expression in her eyes. “The only easy day was yesterday.”
“Truth,” Snap says with feeling. He raises his glass and they toast to it.
Other pilots and crew come by, offering drinks, staying to commiserate and gossip. Snap and Jess introduce the stream of faces and names to Rey - Iolo, Karé, Bollie, Ooryl. Crowd noise ebbs and surges against her ears like the fitful wind right before a sandstorm. During one of the hushed moments, she catches the sound of gently plucked notes, clear in the evening air, and then she can’t listen to anything else.
Murder of crows fly by
turning the blue sky
The voice is familiar - though she’s only ever heard him humming, filling Finn’s room with formless melody as they waited, absorbed in their respective datapads.
The crowd ebbs again, and she can see across the clearing to where the band’s set up. There’s Poe, of course, bent over an instrument with glowing blue strings. The sight conjures up memories of other gatherings - bonfires rendered into tiny sparks in the vast wasteland, booze both local and exotic being passed from hand to paw to mandible, all the scavs and villagers and merchants raising their voices to all the songs of their home planets.
Why should I
care where they go?
They can’t take me with them
I’m just a speck in the snow
And past the ships that outpace the sun
Gather ‘round, my beloved ones
For the forest calls us home
Poe finishes the song on a final crooned, “Home,” to scattered applause. He doesn’t move or acknowledge his audience, head still bowed over his instrument, hands moving absently over the strings. Rey imagines him with his eyes closed, lingering in the space between song and reality.
Conversation surges back up, and someone moves into her line of sight, blocking Poe from view. “Nice to see he finally decided to join us,” Jess says with an acid edge that Rey can’t quite decipher.
“We’ve all been busy, Jess,” Snap says in an equally undecipherable tone. She snorts and tosses back her drink, then holds it out for Snap to refill. There’s an undercurrent of tension running through the easy camaraderie from before. Rey shifts uncomfortably.
They drift along in silence, and Rey’s about to excuse herself to grab some food, when Poe himself shows up with yet another glass of blue alcohol and an amiable, “Hey, everyone.”
He also has a meat pasty in his hand, which he passes to Rey before she quite realizes what he’s doing. He seats himself on the ground, leaning back against her tree root. Rey blinks at him, then crams a large bite of pasty into her mouth. “I liked your song,” Rey tells him through the chewing.
“Thank you,” Poe says. From her perspective, looking down on him, she can see the corners of his eyes crinkle.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Jess says abruptly. Poe raises an eyebrow.
“Saw you this morning at work, Jess.”
“No, I mean,” she gestures out at the party, “like this - off-duty. Socializing. Taking care of what’s left of your squadrons while they drink themselves stupid every night, now that Lujayne’s not here to do it.”
Now both of Poe’s eyebrows are up. “If you have something to say, you might as well say it.”
“You--” Jess starts, and folds her lips tight. “You’re here, tonight, and you can’t think of why your pilots might be a little upset?”
Poe’s mouth turns down at the corners. “Kriff, Pava, what do you want me to do? Break down sobbing in the cockpit in the middle of a training run? Fall to my knees on the tarmac, beat my chest, start screaming No at the sky?”
“They’re dead, Poe. Lujayne’s dead, Ello’s dead, Ton’s dead, Peshk-- seventy percent of your pilots just gone. And we’ve all seen you,” Jess says bitterly. “Never mind your own pilots, you can’t wait to go off-duty and spend every waking hour you can get away with the stormtrooper and little miss Jedi here.”
Rey straightens, stung by the wave of grief and anger coming off the other woman, by the cold fear uncurling in her mind over Jess’s words. She’d been so friendly… “His name’s Finn,” Rey snaps. “And that stormtrooper saved you all, I can’t believe--”
“Poe.” She glares at him, then at Jess, who’s staring down at her drink, face flushed. “If any of you even try to touch him--”
“Rey, please.” It’s soft, almost private, even with their audience, and the plea in his voice almost cuts through her fear and fury. Fine. She’ll let him have his say - for now. She exhales and deliberately slumps against her tree root, though every muscle stays coiled.
Poe takes a long breath, and then leans his head back, eyes closed, his hair just brushing Rey’s thigh. Even furious, she manages to notice how his eyelashes feather over his cheekbones in the moment before he starts talking.
“Today, I wrote condolence messages to 17 families. ‘I regret to inform you.’ ‘Died in service to their cause.’ Seventeen times. And then I put in the first set of recommendations for who I want to fill 17 open pilot positions. Preferably, I’d like experienced pilots - but realistically, I’m going to get a mix of good, middling, and completely green recruits. We’ll get a month to train everyone up to standard, and then we’ll be assigned our first mission as a new wing - if we’re lucky.” He doesn’t open his eyes. “The Resistance has been under-strength, and it’s always going to be under-strength, so we’re not going to get lucky.”
Jess opens her mouth, but Poe holds up a hand, eyes still closed. “Starkiller had a higher-than-normal mortality rate due to the target being a specialized murder deathball - but even so, the stats say that half of my pilots will get themselves vaped within their first five missions. When that happens, I’ll have to find more recruits to fill those positions too.”
He opens his eyes but doesn’t move his head, staring unseeing out at the tree branches above them. Rey looks down and sees seventeen dead pilots in his gaze, in the exhausted bags under his eyes.
Jess says, low and vicious, “They were our friends. They were your friends, they were people we loved.”
The skin around Poe’s eyes tightens, a microscopic flinch. “They were-- the Resistance-- you’re my fucking family, Jess,” he rasps. “But I still send you out to die every time we go out on a mission.”
“You might be the next to die,” he snaps. He picks his head up, looks straight at Jess. “Okay? Or it might be Snap. It might be Bastian, Nawara, Riv. It could be me next. I’m sorry. I don’t sit around weeping because if I let myself do that, I’m thinking about which one of us is going to die next, and that fucking terrifies me.” He sighs, a shuddering breath. “I can’t do that. I have to do my job. And if you want to survive your next five missions, you’ll learn to do yours, too.”
Jess flinches, a lot more visibly, full-body recoil. Her eyes are shining in the dim lights. “I’ll do my job just fine, Commander.” She swings her legs off her crate, stands up in a rush that has Rey stiffening, assessing for threat. Poe doesn’t move. They hang on the barest thread of a moment, and then Jess spits, “Tomorrow,” and strides off towards the bar.
Rey lets out a breath at the same time Poe does.
“You know she was with Lujayne, right?” Snap says quietly.
“Yeah.” Poe’s shoulders come down and he slumps back, bumping into Rey’s leg. “She needed to get it out, but she knows I’m right. I think.”
“She does. And you’re right. But…” Snap looks at Poe, considering.
Snap sighs. “You could stand to do more about morale. The Resistance needs us, but none of us are fit for anything but milk runs and escort duty.” He shakes his head. “I’ll go talk to her.”
The big man heaves himself up and disappears into the crowd. As before, they drift along in silence for long minutes. Rey picks uneasily at crumbs in her lap. “Will the Resistance really send you out with only seven pilots?” she asks, finally.
Poe stirs, but his reply is slow in coming. “No. Right now we've got pilots borrowed from Cobalt, Stiletto and Dagger to make up our numbers, so we can run missions if we need to, but. Everybody’s under-strength and nobody’s happy.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “If it weren’t for the increase in new recruits, for a while there was a good chance Command was just going to disband Red and Blue and reassign us to existing squadrons.”
“You’d still be flying, though.” Poe had let her crawl all over his T-70 X-wing that afternoon. Nestled in the cockpit, Rey’s fingers had positively itched to start ignition sequences, punch up the retro thrusters, test the sublight engine. She can’t think of anything more amazing than doing that for a living. Flying through the stars, every day.
Poe turns his head towards her, reaches up to touch her knee. “That’s right. Takes more than one murder deathball to keep a couple of pilots like us on the ground.”
Pilots like us. The warm flush that steals through her feels very nice against the cool evening air. She hides the feeling away in her mind, like a secret. “Thanks for the food,” she says.
“Oh, it was no problem.”
“I’m still hungry.”
Rey watches Poe smile, upside down, his cheeks lifting and making the corners of his eyes crinkle again. “Well,” he says, getting to his feet. “There’s more where that came from. Shall we?”
He holds out his hand.
She grins up at him and slides off the tree root. “I know how to walk without you holding my hand,” she tells him, and turns to lead the way.
It’s dawn when Rey lets herself into the mess hall. Even as early as it is, she’s already encountered people out on the base paths, checklists and grav floats in hand. Today’s the day the second convoy ships out.
She slept lightly and uneasily, dreams full of a messy jumble of images. Sand. Ships. Blood and snow. Green hills and stone steps. More water than she imagined existed in the galaxy.
Rey slides into line, still savoring the experience of someone just giving her food without demanding something in return for it. The person doling out breakfast this morning is one of the nice ones, a Bothan named Pel’ath, who winks at Rey as she ladles an extra helping of gravy over nerf sausage.
Jessika Pava looks terrible. The pilot is down at the end of one of the long tables, her head propped up on one hand while she picks through her food. She doesn’t move as Rey sets her tray down across from her.
They eat quietly, until, “I’m sorry,” Jess mumbles. “For what I said. About Finn. I didn’t mean-- I know he gave up a lot, to help us.” She takes a deep breath. “He’s safe here.”
Rey’s jaw clenches for a long moment before she can make herself relax. She knows, she knows - carved into her heart, into the heavy pulse of the Force around her - that her destiny is to find Master Skywalker. But for Finn...she’d almost walked away for him, once. Surely even the Force would understand why she had to know he’d be safe before she could leave him behind.
“I’ve never lost someone I cared for,” Rey blurts, “because I never had anyone to care about.”
Except now she has Finn.
The stash under the bench in Finn’s room has been replenished with two snack bars and a bottle of water, neither of which Rey remembers putting there. She has a sneaking suspicion who did, though. She adds a packet of jerky to the pile before taking another look around the small room where she’s spent most of the last few days.
She doesn’t remember all that many proper good-byes in her life. Her memories include Unkar Plutt ignoring her as much as possible, unless she had something to trade. Being spit on by his thugs, or various threats as she left, head held high and spine ramrod-straight. Mama Araña’s mumblings trailing off as she stared into the distance and forgot Rey was even there. Aside from a few travelers, most of Niima Outpost’s residents were beyond good-byes.
This is what she does remember: a woman teaching her to say please and thank you. A man reading to her from a faded paper book. A woman kissing her on the forehead when she was hurt. A man telling her, I’ll come back, sweetheart. I promise.
She kisses Finn on the forehead now.
She tells him, “We will see each other again. I believe that.”
Poe’s in the doorway when she straightens up.
He runs a hand through his hair. “I know they’ve already provisioned the Millennium Falcon,” he starts, and then stops. Rey experiences a funny feeling in her stomach when she realizes the best pilot in the Resistance is nervous. “But I made this, last night, for you.” He holds out a foil-wrapped, rectangular package for her to take.
When she unfolds a corner of the foil, the sweet, rich fragrance that rises up seems to take over her senses and her mouth instantly floods with saliva. “What is this?”
“Pastel de banano,” Poe replies, the Yavinese syllables rolling off his tongue. “Had to substitute a few ingredients, but it’s as close as I could get it to my abuela’s recipe.” The smile he gives her is as sweet as the aroma of the loaf in her hand. She thinks of him walking to the base kitchen alone, after the party in the forest had finally wound down, giving up half a night’s sleep on the eve of a mission to bake it. For her.
“Why?” she finally asks.
He shrugs. “It’s nice to have something other than ration packs to eat on a long haul. And...” He seems nervous again. “I hoped it would serve as something good to remember the Resistance by.”
Rey looks up from tucking the pastel into her carisak to wrinkle her forehead at him. “I’m coming back, you know. I have to.” She thinks for a moment, then adds, “I want to.”
Some of the tension melts out of his posture at that. He flips her a half-salute. “Good to hear. I’ll make tamales for you and Finn, Dameron-style.” He pauses, clears his throat. “We’ll be waiting for you. Wherever you are, whenever you come back.”
The urge sweeps through Rey like a summer flash flood, and it’s easy to give in. She catches a glimpse of Poe’s surprised expression before she collides with his chest, but he throws his arms around her without hesitation. He smells like engine oil, soap and grass and his body feels satisfyingly solid against hers. She tucks her face into his neck, doesn’t miss the shiver that passes through him at that. She hides her smile against his skin. “You make dinner, I’ll tell you about the time I built a speeder out of junkyard scrap and spit.”
His ribcage expands once, twice. “Looking forward to it.” When she pulls back, the smile he flashes could light up a Star Destroyer. “May the Force be with you, Rey.”
“May the Force be with you on your detour,” she responds. Poe arches an eyebrow. Rey tilts her head. “Thyferra, remember? Bacta for Finn?”
“Well, yeah.” Poe reaches into a pocket and pulls out a datapad. “I’ve already added ‘execute hostile takeover of ridiculously powerful bacta cartels’ to the flight plan.” He waggles the pad at her.
They grin at each other. Poe moves past her into the room, makes himself comfortable on the bench with the ease of familiarity. He reaches down to pluck the packet of jerky from the stash, looking amused. “Thanks for the food,” he says with a wink, and something in Rey’s chest lightens.
“Good-bye, my friend,” she says. She leaves the medcenter with a steady step, walking towards the Millennium Falcon - ready to look ahead.