Poe starts. General Organa is standing in the door to the med bay, watching him with her eyebrows raised, waiting on a response, and he feels caught out, like a new recruit breaking protocol to see if he can get away with it. He has to remind himself he's doing nothing wrong before he stands up, squaring his shoulders. “General. What can I do for you? I've been reading through some reports.”
She nods past him, at the bed where Finn is still asleep. “How is he?”
“Same as he's been since they brought him from Starkiller, ma'am.” He glances again, like that might have changed in the last three seconds. “If this is about the base move, he's been in the bacta tank enough that he'll be safe.”
“Hm.” She looks back at him. “We've had a holo from Rey. I want to officially give you the duty to receive her reports and give information to her in return.”
Poe blinks and only just keeps himself from blurting out a question. “I assumed you would want to do that, given the importance of her mission.”
“The mission is important, but she won't be receiving confidential information. You have a droid equipped to receive and send messages at the appropriate distance and encryption, and … well, you'll see. With me, Dameron, your reports can wait. You need to hear the message if you're going to respond to it.”
Poe looks over at BB-8, who beeps inquisitively. “Yeah, buddy, you come too. The monitors can keep an eye on Finn for a while.”
“You've been there a lot,” says the general as they start walking.
There's nothing accusatory in her voice, but Poe still wants to squirm. There are a hundred reasons he's at Finn's bedside when they've only known each other, objectively, for a matter of hours. Some of them are better than others. “Paperwork can get done anywhere. And I don't ...” He sighs. “There aren't a lot of pilots to supervise. We need to recruit, when we find a new base. Starkiller wasn't the end of it.”
“I know that.”
Of course she does, better than anything. Poe doesn't need to ask if she can still feel Ben—Ren—out there somewhere. “Permission to recruit, then?”
“That's not the nightmare I'm trying to figure out right now, Dameron.”
Poe doesn't try to make conversation again until they reach the communications room. It's quieter than usual, late in the evening local time and a lot of staff power going to find and secure a safe new base instead of fielding communications between officers on missions. “You sure you want me in on this?” he asks while she brings up a saved file, BB-8 coming up next to her, ready to act as a projector. “Anything real about—about Skywalker has been classified all along. You sent me for the map, but that's one thing and this is another.”
“Luke isn't the one making the reports. Rey is. I have my reasons, Dameron. Now, do you want to see the message or not? Otherwise you can do your return message and just hope you know what to respond to.”
“Point taken.” Poe turns to BB-8. “Ready when you are.”
“BB-8, play message.”
A bit of static, and then Rey's face, her sightline just off where the camera is until she reorients. “R2 says it's smarter to send a recorded message than to try to set up a live conversation,” she says, without a preamble. She sweeps her hand behind her. “I'm here, obviously.” A pause in the recording. “What do you mean you aren't recording my surroundings as well? Fine, we'll discuss it for the next time. You asked me to tell you how things go on Ahch-To, and what I see.” She sighs. “He is here. Luke—Skywalker—I don't know what to call him. I've asked him to come back and he hasn't answered. I've asked him … I've asked him a lot of things. He hasn't sent me away. I don't know if I should come back.”
“I can't make decisions like that,” Poe starts, and the general hushes him.
“Tell—please tell me how Finn is, when you send a message back. If he's awake, I'd like to speak to him. If he's not … please tell me how he is.” She looks away, looks back, and Poe wonders if she knows how open her face is. “I'll send another message if anything changes.”
It cuts off abruptly there, and BB-8 pauses on the image of her reaching out to switch the transmission off. Poe turns to face General Organa. There are a lot of questions that are too big to ask, or too petty to ask, and he doesn't ask any of them. “You should introduce me, and give her some orders. All I can really do is tell her about Finn.”
“That's the most important part. Everything else is a wild shot in the dark.” She squares herself up. “BB-8, record transmission. Rey, this is Leia Organa. I'm glad you've made it there safe. I'll look forward to whatever information about your surroundings R2 can capture. More information about your conversations with Luke would be appreciated. Stay there for a while. Learn what you can. Tell him what you know. Tell him to talk to Chewie, because Chewie deserves that and if I know Luke he's avoiding it.” She sighs, a flicker of looking tired before she's a general again. “Send messages when you can. Your primary point of contact for now is going to be Commander Poe Dameron, through BB-8. He'll field your messages and give you updates. Commander?”
Poe moves into camera range and waves, laughing when BB-8 chirps, impatient with the lag in information when he has to gather his wits. “Hello, Rey, it's Poe Dameron. Glad to hear that you landed safe, and I'm jealous you got to fly in the Falcon again. BB-8 will send you our specific transmission coordinates with this message.” General Organa is stepping slowly out of range, and Poe takes the opportunity to lean in a little closer. “You asked about Finn. He's still asleep—the doctors aren't worried yet. They said it's normal after this much trauma, especially when we can't keep him in the bacta tank for too long. I'm with him as much as I can be, and I'll send you a message as soon as he wakes up—better yet, I'll let him send you a message. In the meantime, I'll have to do. Send me a message as often as you like, and I'll get back to you as fast as I can, with information from the general if there is any. Dameron out. BB-8, end transmission.”
“There,” says General Organa, and she relaxes and she's Leia again, who's sometimes his mentor and sometimes his general and sometimes just a tired woman who's lost too much and still meets life with wry humor. “That will be good.”
“Do you think she's lonely?” he asks, testing the boundaries. “Is that why you want me on this?”
“I want you on this for a lot of reasons, Poe. But she cares about Finn more than anything else here and you care about him too, so I think she'll trust you.” She grips his shoulder. “BB-8, send the transmission. Poe, go back, read your reports. Sleep in your own bed tonight. Don't think for a second the med staff haven't told me how many times you've nodded off in there.”
He could argue with that, but there's no reason to. It's easier to sleep in the med bay, where he feels useful even when he's half-asleep, and where he doesn't have to walk past empty bunks to get to his own, but he can only indulge himself for so long. “I will.”
Negative. Apology. From designation-Rey.
It's only been two days, but they didn't say anything about how frequent her reports should be. Poe wants to snap and tell BB-8 that next time it can wait until morning, but BB-8 cares about her too, knows her better than Poe does. “In the future, unless she marks it priority, please wait until I'm not asleep to let me know. For now, you can play it.”
There's the projection of Rey again, this time with a thoughtful frown on her face. “Poe Dameron.” It seems like she's testing out every syllable to see if it meets her approval. “I'm sending this to you. And to BB-8—hello to you, BB-8, I'm glad to hear from you. And from you. Commander.” She looks like she swallowed something sour, saying that, but she relaxes again a second later, as much as she ever seems to relax. “Thank you for telling me about Finn. I hope he wakes up soon. Please tell him I didn't want to leave him.” She coughs. “R2 says that proper images of where we are would make a suspiciously large data pack the First Order could track, so if you want them, I'll have to send them just before you move bases.” A pause in the transmission, her face freezing and back a split second later in a different position. “He isn't talking to me much, still. He invited Chewie for dinner—he taught me how to fish. Luke, I mean. Not Chewbacca. I've asked him if he can teach me more about the Force. He doesn't seem sure yet. He still hasn't said yes or no about coming to you. That probably means no for now.”
“I'd guessed that,” he tells the recording.
“But I'm going to keep trying. You can tell Leia that. The general.” Sour again, when she says the title. She can't be used to them, the way she grew up. There's a lot Poe doesn't know about that, but from what little he saw on Jakku, there wasn't anything like a military, let alone one with ranks. “He hasn't told me to go away. He's willing to share his food and his water with me. There's hope, I think.” She looks away again. “Keep telling me about Finn, Poe Dameron.”
The transmission cuts off there.
“I'll do it in the morning, buddy. We'll play the message in the med bay for Finn, and I'll answer her there.”
BB-8 doesn't seem pleased, but there aren't any more alarms, so Poe takes it as grudging permission to go back to sleep.
One of the med droids, perhaps curious at the sound of Poe's voice above the whisper he usually uses with Finn, glances in at them, only to retreat upon seeing that Poe is making a report.
“Much as I would love to see the home of the temple of the Jedi, intelligence doesn't need images yet that I've heard, so secrecy is definitely the priority. You could tell me about it, though, all the scenery, and whatever else you're doing when you aren't following Luke Skywalker around asking him to come home. I'm glad you're still trying. We could use a Jedi.” He tries out his best smile. “Or maybe two, if he decides to train you. I don't have any orders from the general, so you keep doing what you're doing, and I'll keep playing your messages for Finn. If he won't wake up for me, maybe he'll wake up for you.” That's a little too much honesty, but maybe Rey will appreciate that. “BB-8, end transmission.”
BB-8 moves, a signal the recording is over, and swivels to indicate Finn, then back to Poe. Designation-Finn dormant, unable to perform mentioned function.
“Sometimes even when humans are in comas like this, there's evidence they can hear people talking to them. Or at least we like to think there's evidence.” Poe frowns and looks at the biobed. Finn sleeps on, too blank to even look peaceful. “I guess it's gambling. If he can hear things, I want him to know someone's here. If he can't, well, it just means I'm talking to myself.”
A whir of processors, and then BB-8 is rolling over near Finn's biobed, volume raised several decibels. Designation-Finn, wake at once. Friends are worried.
Poe laughs, mostly because he thinks at least part of BB-8's intention was to be funny. “Might take a little more than that.”
Three seconds of full-on alarm blast later, Poe is laughing for real and they're both being kicked out by the medical staff, all of whom are rightfully enraged at all the noise around their patients.
A smug beep, with the message paused.
“Yes, you win,” says Poe, and waves his hand. “Keep going, I have drill this afternoon.”
“You asked about where on Ahch-To I am. It's a little island in the middle of the ocean. I had to ask Skywalker what that is, an ocean. So much water you can't see to the end of it, even though you can't drink it. There's a spring we get our water from, underground. There's grass, and there are caves to sleep in, and the only other land in sight is bare rock, a few little islands birds land on. I had to ask about birds, too, and islands. I don't know how Skywalker got here. There's no ship, no speeder, not even a boat. Can Jedi float themselves across the ocean? Or fly?” The echo of binary on the recording, R2 probably answering, and Rey laughs. It makes her look years younger. “He's spoken to R2 and Chewbacca now, privately. He doesn't speak to me much. He started meditating, and I've taken to doing it with him. He hasn't stopped me, or told me I'm doing it wrong. Or right.”
“The Jedi were a huge part of history. I know the Order was destroyed, but isn't there information?” Poe asks no one in particular, and gets a scold from BB-8 for talking over the message.
“—right,” she says again, repeated back, BB-8 not wanting Poe to miss a second. “He mostly seems very sad.” As he would be, given everyone he's lost. Poe can't feel too sorry for him, though, not with the fresh memories of Ren—Ben—in his head. “I told him about Han. He says he knew. I haven't asked about it. I will, if you or Leia asks me to.” A skip in the recording. “Thank you for telling me about Finn. Maybe it seems silly, when there hasn't been any change since I left, but he's—I want to hear about him. Anything you can say.” An abrupt movement, her hands just at the edge of R2's recording frame. “That's all,” she says, and the transmission ends.
Poe should find the general and ask if she wants Poe to tell Rey to ask Luke Skywalker about Han Solo, but he can't imagine her response. She's anything but fragile, not showing her grief around the base, but that doesn't make her happy or anything close to it. Instead, he straightens up, prepares himself to give a report. “BB-8, should we do our message now?”
Orders from designation-General?
“I don't know. We can always send a message. No law saying she can't have two in a row.”
Good. Designation-Rey needs company.
Poe doesn't think Rey would describe herself as lonely, but he also doesn't think she can be anything else, after a lifetime on her own. “Okay, then. BB-8, record transmission. Rey, I might send you another message soon, in case the general has anything to say or any messages to pass on, but I figure it can't hurt to send a message just between us. It's not silly, to ask about Finn. I just wish I had more stories.” He leans back. “Did he even have the time to tell you how we met? He saved my life, but he had no exit plan. Maybe he did it for the wrong reasons, but he did it even though I was shooting at his friends only a couple hours before.” That sounds like the kind of speech he's made at too many service funerals, and Poe frowns. “Never mind. I'm not good at telling stories about the living. We'll tell you together when he wakes up.” He freezes after that, a long enough pause that he might want to edit it out before he sends it to Rey. “The doctors say it's only a matter of time now. That his mind may have gone wandering but he'll come back. Then the two of you can tell me how you met, too. BB-8 has told me a version, but I'd like to hear yours too.” Rey and Finn are already turning into legends around the base. Poe's not sure how he feels about that, but he knows if he were gone, or if he died, they might turn him into one too. Maybe that's why it bothers him. “I'm hoping maybe there's some information around here, about being a Jedi. If he isn't going to tell you, there's got to be something. Nothing worse than a gift when you have no idea what to do with it.”
Another too-long silence, until BB-8 interrupts. Terminate transmission?
“No, no, sorry. Rey, let me know if there's anything we can do for you here. I'll send you a message again soon, after I've talked to the general. In the meantime, I hope you keep learning new things, even if it's the names of the different species of birds around your island.” He could leave it there, but on impulse he says “Tell Skywalker that Shara Bey's son says hello. I didn't ever meet him, but maybe he would appreciate the greeting. I'll send you another message soon—and I already said that. But I mean it. Take a swim in the ocean for me, I can't get away to one of D'qar's right now. BB-8, end transmission. And edit out the dead air, please, for the sake of the file size.”
She slows down in the hall to let Poe catch up to her at a jog and raises her eyebrows the second he falls into step. “What can I do for you, Dameron? I have a different wing double-checking the new base, and we aren't recruiting until we've done that safely, so this must be about Rey.”
“I just wanted to update you. She says that things are happening slowly, but he hasn't asked her to leave yet, and he hasn't said he'll train her, but he's letting her try to meditate with him.”
She almost laughs. “That's Luke all over. He always said he didn't have the kind of education that makes for a good teacher, but he can't help himself.”
“In the meantime, do we have anything here about the Jedi, for Rey? If he's not going to teach her ...” Poe walks a few more strides, and she lets him have the space to order his thoughts. “She was very, very lucky to get by Kylo Ren once.” She winces, and Poe doesn't apologize for using the name Ren chose even if he feels a little sorry that her son rejected his name along with everything else. “He's more experienced, and he must be looking for her.”
“Very good appeal. I'm going to put you in a senate seat someday, if you don't get yourself shot out of the air.” It's Poe's turn to wince, but he doesn't object to any of it. He knows she has plans for him, for all of them, in the event they all live to see peace. “We only had one Jedi to teach new students. Everything was all in the same place, because there was no reason to space it out. Almost everything we had was destroyed.”
Poe sighs and tries not to be angry at a hundred people who don't deserve it. “Nothing I can use to help Rey, then?”
“Luke is the best help for her, Poe. Trust that. And she's probably the best help for him. You've got no reason to trust him, but call it a leap of faith.”
Poe wants to say that of course he trusts Skywalker, but the problem is that it's hard to trust legends because it's hard to remember they're real people. “Any messages for either of them?”
“R2 is keeping me updated on general progress, and I think Rey needs a friend more than she needs a commanding officer right now. But you can tell her hello.”
Poe is in the med bay again, recording where he can keep one eye on BB-8's projection and one eye on Finn's biobed. There was a spike in his brain activity during one of Rey's messages, so he's going to keep playing them for him as much as he can.
“Luke Skywalker, he told me he grew up on a moisture farm, and water is important on planets like ours, but it's not really the same thing as growing plants, is it?” She glances away from the camera and then back. “I'm still meditating with him. He doesn't seem to use the Force much. I tried to move a rock the other day and only got a headache, but I felt better after I meditated. Maybe it means I'm learning. He talks some while we eat, now. Mostly about our surroundings, the birds and the plants, but I mentioned your mother. He said that he gave your family a special tree. There aren't any trees here, but there's green.” She sighs, looks around her, maybe looking at her surroundings to see what else she can describe for him. “Every time I get a message from you I expect to hear that Finn is awake, that something has changed. Sometimes I wonder if I learned the Force right, maybe I could call him back. I don't know what the doctors are doing, though. Maybe more than the Force could.”
Poe hardly knows her, but he still wants to wrap her up in a hug.
“Thank you for telling me about him. I know you must have other things to do, but you and I know him best even if we haven't known him for long. I like hearing about him from you.” She jerks up straight. “I have to go. He's actually calling for us.”
The transmission ends abruptly, as she straightens and turns away, and Poe frowns until BB-8 asks if he wants to send a return message. “Not yet. We'll wait a day. See if there's a change for Finn.”
“Record transmission,” he tells BB-8 once he's finished frowning at the schedule. “Rey, hello. The birds sound amazing. I couldn't name the huge bird you're talking about without some kind of picture. You can draw one for me when I see you again, and I'll show you the gardens in return. We move too frequently to plant them in the ground, but we need vegetable matter, so we have hydroponics just like the First Order ships do. There's going to be lots of green at the new base—mountains and lakes, with grass in between, and we're moving into a cave system, which already sounds damp to me, but we always adjust.” He tries a smile. “What did Skywalker want you for, when you sent that message? I've been curious. Maybe he just wanted to show you a new kind of fish, though. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up.”
Finn's monitor, behind him, beeps, and Poe turns so fast it almost hurts his neck. A brief spike, but still a spike. They're coming closer together now, though the med staff still refuses to make predictions. BB-8 chides him for inattention a few seconds later.
“Sorry, Rey—I'm going to leave that in this transmission because it was Finn's fault. There are a few spikes on his monitor, enough to prove to us that he's still in there, and trying to wake up. He's got a lot of stress to sleep off, a whole lifetime's worth. I'm trying not to hurry him, but I really want to. I'm going to be away from him for almost two days while we move bases, and BB-8 needs to be with me. I'm sorry I have to leave him. I'll send you a message as soon as I land to tell you all about him, though. I promise. First minute I can get away.” That's no note to end a message on. “The tree he gave my mother is a tree from the Jedi Temple, I'm pretty sure. Maybe it's near where you are. Maybe you can convince him to take you there. Apparently there are trees somewhere on that world. Do you ever miss the desert?”
That's not much better, but there's another spike on Finn's monitor, then, and he loses his train of thought again until BB-8 reminds him they're still recording.
“There's the monitor again, Rey. He can tell I'm talking to you, apparently. I should go, see if it's unusual that there's been two spikes so close together, but I'll send you a message soon.”
Message received, designation-Rey, BB-8 tells him once he's jogged through the barracks, scooping up a pair of Snap's shoes and Testor's newest flight sim, which must have got wedged somewhere when half the pilots were in her room for a party the other night to say goodbye to the base. Will we listen?
Poe isn't due back to communications for another half hour. There's enough time to listen to what Rey has to say and send her something quick back. “Yeah, buddy, let's listen. Maybe she's excited there's been so much activity on Finn's monitors.”
“Is Finn okay?” she's asking immediately, as soon as her image appears in front of him. “I can't work out the time conversion between us, how long it takes to get the messages. It varies, I think, with the movement of the planets. Are you back with him? I'm glad he's closer to waking, but that just makes me more worried about you and BB-8 having to be away from him. And I'm worried about you too, and Leia. I can't feel Kylo Ren out there, and Luke says—I haven't got there yet, have I?” She pauses, and he can see her will tension out of her shoulders even in the shaky blue holo. “I don't know if we're training, but if I ask him a question now, he answers. I don't know why. I haven't asked that question yet. I haven't asked him if he'll come back yet either. Getting answers means asking different questions, I think.”
She looks tired, this message, and she seems to be wrapped in some kind of thick blanket. It must be nighttime where she is, and she's recording before bed. Poe wishes again that he knew more about what it looked like there, that R2's hardware were new enough to record more of their surroundings without making the data packets suspiciously large.
“He says he hasn't been to the temple in a long time. He's afraid the tree there may be dead, but I said yours isn't, so why should he think this one is? And if it is, perhaps he should train new Jedi in your parents' home.” She smiles, triumphant. “He thought that was funny, and didn't even tell me he doesn't intend to train new Jedi. Even though he's training me. But he's very careful not to use the word Jedi.”
That's interesting. Poe will have to mention it to the general next time they can talk in private.
“I think I'm learning fast, but I don't know how much there is to learn after this.” She frowns. “He says Kylo Ren is alive. I think I knew that. But he's not going to attack yet. And if he's looking for me, he can't find me. Or Luke. So for now, I think we're safe.”
There's another unpleasant conversation ahead of him, because Poe hates telling the general more about her son and his plan to choke off everything he was brought up to love. He's coming to like Rey's messages, and Rey, for her own sake, but he still wishes reporting on what she says could be someone else's responsibility.
“I should sleep soon, but I did want to send this. Let me know when you're safely at the new base. You'll have to send me the first message then, so we can get your coordinates.” She yawns, ungraceful and long enough that Poe laughs a little. “You asked me if I miss the desert,” she says at the end of it, like it follows logically. “I don't know. Maybe. Sometimes. Everything is so loud and different and slippery.” Her nose wrinkles on the last word and he laughs again. “But I don't think I miss it. Even if I regret that I'm not there sometimes. Tell me about your home. What's it like there?”
That's the end of the message, and BB-8 doesn't let the silence linger before interrupting Poe's thoughts. Return message?
“Yeah, I think so. Record transmission. Rey—I'm not back with Finn yet. I'm still here on D'qar, but I'm leaving in a matter of hours. I just wanted to send a message to say that I'm glad you're getting some training, and that you're getting some questions answered. And if Luke Skywalker wants to train Force-users in my father's back yard, I'm sure he would be welcome. My father misses me around the place, I think. I'll tell you about my home some other time, when I'm not in the middle of packing up, but I'll talk to General Organa as soon as I can about what you've been telling me. Maybe she'll be glad to hear it. I certainly am. End transmission.”
Poe thinks about Rey talking about regretting leaving Jakku, and about Luke Skywalker not wanting to use the word Jedi, for the rest of his scout through the barracks, and by the time he gets back to communications, he's settled enough to tap the general on the arm. She tilts her head, considering him. “Another message?”
“There's been some news.” He offers her his arm. It's mostly senior officers around. They won't mind a little levity from a commander to his superior officer. “Mostly good. Let's walk and talk about it.”
Poe records a message for Rey almost as soon as he lands at the new base, in the carved stone corridor right outside the medical bay, his hands shaking so badly he has to clasp them behind his back, BB-8 rocking back and forth in excitement until Poe starts to speak. “Rey, he woke up. Just for a few seconds, while they were in transit, not even long enough for them to tell him where he is, but he woke up. He's going to be fine.”
Message complete? BB-8 asks when Poe can't scrape together anything after that.
“I'm sorry,” he says, to BB-8 and to Rey at the same time. “I meant to tell you about the scenery here, it's beautiful here, you'll love it when you come. There are lakes to swim in, they're much easier than the ocean. And it's warm, but not too hot. Everyone is relieved to be here, happy for a new start—and I guess Finn is too. I promise next time he won't wake up alone.” He takes a deep breath, but that's all he can find to say. “End transmission.”
Behind Poe, there's a minor uproar, but Poe grasps for the water he was drinking while he worked and gives Finn a quick sip of it, tipping his head up so it doesn't spill. “Yeah, Finn. We're in a new base, and you've been unconscious for a long time.”
Most people would ask how long. There's a whole list of questions Poe is expecting, but he can't say he's surprised when the first one that he gets out is “Rey?”
“She's with Luke Skywalker.” Finn's mouth opens, shuts again. “She didn't want to leave you. She and I have been sending messages back and forth for a little while now. I'll play them for you when we've got the time. She misses you.”
“I miss her,” says Finn, even though he's been asleep and Rey was with him five minutes ago as far as he's concerned. Poe thinks so, anyway. No one really knows exactly what happened in the forest on Starkiller except Rey and maybe the general. And now maybe Finn. “She's okay, though? She was hurt, she was—”
“She is fine. A whole lot better than you, buddy.”
“Commander Dameron,” Dr. Kalonia says sharply behind him, probably alerted to what's going on by the med droids. “You and Finn can discuss current events once I've examined him. Out of the way.”
Poe squeezes himself in the corner and listens as Finn answers control questions (his name, which he stumbles over, his age, which he measures differently, if anything hurts, which makes him look briefly terrified) and report on a dozen different things, spitting out automatic answers, more tired with every one until he falls back to sleep without saying anything more to Poe.
Dr. Kalonia pats him on the arm on her way out of the room. “He'll sleep a lot for a while, but it's sleep, not unconsciousness. He's out of danger.”
Out of danger. Poe sits back in his seat, too excited to go back to his work, and watches Finn while the medical staff drains out of the room.
He's still watching, only a little bit of work done, an hour later when General Organa stops in, clasps his shoulder and goes to stand next to Finn's bed. “He'll have a lot of questions to answer, in the next while,” she says, a clear warning. “Normally, when you trust him like you do and when he trusts you I would have you do it, but I think this kid needs a friend more than I need an easy informant.”
“Thank you. I'll do it if you need me to.”
“I've already got you on one sensitive project. You should just get to be friends with this one.” She turns to look at him, half a smile on her face. “Just so you don't have to ask, he has official clearance to watch Rey's messages. We have enough eyes on him that I'm not worried about the information leaking.”
Poe swallows. “Thank you.”
The general doesn't speak again, but she stays by Finn's bedside for ten more minutes.
Poe smiles at the rush of words, even if it only proves how awkward they've been together before.
“He has mentioned something about taking a trip in the Falcon. Not off Ahch-To, but elsewhere on it. Maybe to the temple. I hope so.” Poe does too. For Rey's sake and for Leia's. “Chewbacca seems excited about it, and R2 even more so. This island seems very small for all of us, even though they've all spent longer times in closer quarters.” She frowns. “It's small for me. I may have hated the desert, but at least there was space there.” After a quick glance away, she looks back. “I don't have much else to say. I just wanted to thank you for telling me about him. Please keep doing it. It makes me want to fly back there right away, but I'm glad to hear it anyway.”
The message ends as abruptly as all her others.
Poe is in his bunk for once instead of in the medical bay, since he gets a lot less leeway now that Finn has woken up, and he looks around, a little at loose ends. It's a small, irregularly-shaped space with a low ceiling that Snap told him solemnly must be assigned to Poe because anyone else would scrape their head, and it doesn't feel like home yet, not nearly as much as the uncomfortable chair next to Finn's bed does.
Record return message? BB-8 inquires.
“Not yet. We'll wait for the next time Finn is awake and get him to record a message. But I should go talk to the general and let her know they're thinking about visiting the temple. Seems like the kind of news she should know, anyway.”
BB-8 beeps an affirmative and, when Poe doesn't move immediately, prods his legs.
Poe laughs. “Fine, fine, I shouldn't put off reporting to my superior officers, I get it. Come on, let's go.”
Finn has been conscious for a total of three and a half hours since Starkiller, Poe is told. Poe isn't sure whether the fact that he's already bored is charming or sad. “We'll work you to the bone later,” he promises. “When we haven't so recently seen your actual spine.”
“But I'm going to be allowed a datapad when the quartermaster has time to get a secure one for me, and Poe says he's going to take me swimming, and I'm going to send you messages whenever BB-8 and Poe have the time to let me.” He yawns, so wide Poe winces in sympathy for how his jaw must be cracking. “I don't want to bore you,” he says when he's done, “but I wanted to say hello, make sure you know that I'm okay. I'll send you another transmission as soon as I have something to say.” He glances at Poe. “Do you have anything to say?”
“BB-8? Let's let Finn fall asleep off-camera.” Finn mumbles something about not being tired, heartbreakingly young, but Poe and BB-8 both ignore him, and Poe crouches to get a good angle. “There he is. I'll make sure he sends you lots of messages, and then you'll only have to deal with me when the general has orders or questions to transmit. Speaking of which, she hopes you do end up going to the temple, and anything you can tell us would be appreciated. Not from a tactical level, just because we want to know. She officially cleared Finn to hear anything I hear from you, so you don't need to worry about sending us different messages.” He owes Leia more thanks than he can say, for doing that. She didn't have to.
Finn mumbles something again, and Poe pauses to listen, but he thinks he's just agreeing. He's looking forward to a time when Finn isn't always on the verge of sleep.
“We're all happy he's awake, here. He's on limited visitation while medical makes sure he's okay and gets him debriefed from growing up in the First Order, but everyone is looking forward to meeting him for real. They want to meet you too, but one hero at a time.” Poe grins. “I've lost all my shine, with you two around. I'd be offended if I didn't like you so much.”
“You're plenty of a hero,” Finn argues in a slur, rallying.
Poe twists to frown at him. “Get some sleep, Finn. You can argue with me on messages with Rey some other time.” Finn frowns right back, but he settles a little more easily into his bed, and Poe turns back to the camera. “He's argumentative. Really, you're doing us all a favor, keeping him occupied. Send messages as often as you want, and he'll be filling R2's data banks with them in days. In the meantime, Rey, good luck with your trip to the temple if you go. I'll let you know if General Organa has something to say. BB-8, end transmission.”
When he turns around again, Finn has gone to sleep.
Finn is awake and upright today, watching Rey's projection with rapt attention. He's been awake and alert for five hours, and someday soon Poe might get to stop counting the hours Finn is awake. “Does the Force do that?” he asks, nose wrinkled.
Poe shrugs, smiling at BB-8 when the transmission pauses halfway through the motion without Poe having to ask for it. “Your guess is as good as mine, buddy. My Force sensitivity isn't very high. Sorry, BB-8, keep going.”
“Everything is so big,” Rey continues, slowing down, eyes wide with remembered awe. “There are trees—Poe, is the tree at your family's house that big? Like you'd never be able to see the top, even if you climbed? You never said. And there are buildings off the temple, where people could sleep, I think, but the temple itself is massive too, so big you could fly the Falcon inside it and so high ...” She sketches a shape in the air, a curve so tall it makes a space that big look narrow. It's hard to imagine the scale. “I wish you could see. I'll draw you a picture when I come back. Luke showed me a few things when we were there, and I think—I think he wants to train me, but I don't know if it's really Jedi training. You used the saber too, Finn. I should have asked to wait until you woke up so I could bring you with me. Don't you deserve to learn? I hope you're watching. You were the one who answered me last time. I suppose that means there's no news from the Resistance. Tell me how you are, though. And BB-8. About the new base if you can, too. And I'll tell you if Luke teaches me anything you should know about.”
The transmission ends there, leaving Poe feeling a little wistful and Finn looking that way. Poe claps Finn on the shoulder. “I'll give you some time to answer that while I go inspect some X-wing repairs. I haven't had anything from the general, so you can send when you're done. She'll be glad to hear from you.”
“She asked you a question,” Finn says, frowning. “About the tree. Are the repairs that urgent?”
“No. But you two are better friends than she and I are, and talking about my childhood home can wait for another message. Next time, I promise.”
Against orders, BB-8 points out, mutinous.
Finn doesn't understand binary yet, but he's starting to understand BB-8's tones, and nods decisively at the sound. “You should say something.”
“She wants to talk to you, Finn, I promise. Tell her hello and I'll sit down and tell her all about home soon. I had plenty of private messages with her. You deserve some too.”
Finn still doesn't look happy, but he doesn't object out loud, so Poe gives him a gentle slap on the shoulder and goes to the hangar to check over the repairs they're doing to try to get the Resistance's fleet back in fighting shape again.
Poe can't help laughing when the message cuts off there, even though BB-8 clearly disapproves. “Has Finn watched his transmission yet?”
Yes. No reply made.
“Probably she told him not to transmit back without me. Fine, all three of you win, see if I try to be nice and give the two of them some privacy again. Come on, let's go find Finn and send Rey a message.”
Finn is actually being allowed to move around the medical bay now, so it takes Poe a little looking to find him, taking inventory of the contents of field emergency kits because he can't seem to bear sitting around with nothing to do. He beams when he sees Poe, setting aside a bottle of disinfectant. “I had some medical training for field injuries. Maybe I'll train for more. I like it here.”
“That's because you haven't seen the rest of the base yet. I'm going to requisition you something that floats, and then I'm going to take you out to the lakes.” Poe drags a chair from across the room to sit next to Finn's station. He's sitting, moving without pain from what Poe can see, and it's too much of a relief. “You want to be a medic, though? That's great. Even if Rey might be disappointed you're not going there to become a Jedi.”
“Are all Jedi fighters? I don't know if I want to do that.” Finn goes back to examining the resupply orders he seems to be filling in.
“I don't know. Skywalker's the only Jedi I really know of, and he had to be a fighter. Back when there were enough of them, there were probably Jedi who did other things.” Finn's shoulders are tensing, and Poe tries the one subject that will make him relax every time. “I had a message from Rey, scolding me for not joining in on your messages these last couple of times. When you've got time for a break from that, maybe we could send one together.”
Finn's face lights up. “She said I should wait for you to send her a message back, and I want to tell her about helping out here.”
“Then let's send her one.” Poe tugs his chair around until he's sitting close enough to Finn that they brush elbows, and BB-8 rolls into place right away. “BB-8, record transmission. Rey, I'm sorry I've been scarce. I wanted to give you and Finn a chance to catch up in private, but if you want me around I won't say no!”
“Why would we want to be private from you?” Finn asks, all puzzled frown, and turns back to the camera when Poe doesn't have an immediate answer to that. “Hi, Rey! Look, I'm up on my own now! I can't walk much, and I'm still sleeping a lot, but I'm up, and I'm here helping in the supply room. I was just telling Poe that I might do some medic training.”
“And I was just telling him I'm going to take him out to see a lake soon. Going outside is important to recovery, and he hasn't smelled the fresh air on this planet yet.” Poe grins. “And what was this about getting knocked over by a bird? I have to hear this one. Aren't you supposed to be too in tune with your surroundings to be surprised like that?” Finn elbows him, frowning, and Poe squeezes his arm. “She knows I'm teasing, Finn—I'm teasing, Rey. In case you were worried. Though it does sound like a funny story.”
“It's your turn to tell a story,” says Finn, facing Poe. “Rey told me you promised to tell her about home, so you should tell me too.”
Poe hums, considering, and settles so he can see BB-8's camera and Finn at the same time. “I'll tell you two about how my parents went to the award ceremony after the first Death Star was destroyed and how my mother swears I was born the exact length of a gestational period after that day.”
Finn, it turns out, is amazing to tell stories to. He soaks it all up wide-eyed, asking about the scenery and Poe's parents, until BB-8 tells them that the video file is getting large enough to be suspicious. “You should tell us a story next time, Rey,” Finn says when Poe quickly winds the story to an end. “I don't really have any.”
“You've got plenty.” Poe looks directly at the camera. “I'll talk one out of him before our next message and make him send it your way. But you should send us stories too, anything you've got. We can reminisce about getting sand in our underwear on Jakku.”
“Worst planet in the galaxy,” Finn mutters, but he's beaming again a second later. “We'll send another message soon, Rey. When I'm out of the medical bay so I have stories for you too.”
“He'll tell you about swimming,” Poe promises. “BB-8, end transmission.”
“Poe,” she says right off, serious but with a smile on the edge of it. “I'm glad to see you back on the messages. And I was glad to hear your story about the award ceremony. I played it for Luke too, I hope you don't mind. I think perhaps it did some good, listening to a story about him being a hero—but maybe you'll hear a little more about that soon. I've sent another message to the two of you, telling you about the bird during training, but I wanted to say thank you for not just leaving the messages to Finn. I know you're probably busy there. Luke has said that you must be. I'm glad you're not too busy for this.” She frowns, looks away, looks back. “You don't have to respond to this on your own. I just wanted to thank you. So thank you.”
The message cuts off there, and leaves Poe smiling as he starts his day and makes his way to the medical bay. Finn's going to be out and in quarters within a week, and he's cleared to go outside for a short walk, and now they have a message from Rey to answer on top of the rest of the good news.
Finn seems to be in a good mood too, when Poe makes it to him, already up and dressed and leaning on the walking frame they fabricated for him while he needs the support. “We've got a message from Rey,” says Poe. “Do you want to watch and reply now, or wait until we get to the lake?”
“Lake,” says Finn immediately, to Poe's surprise. “I know she can't see the scenery, but she'll be happy I'm in a different place.”
“Then let's go. I'm told it's a beautiful day out there.”
It's humid with evaporating rain and the grass is long enough to give Finn trouble navigating with his walking frame, but Poe is glad for the fresh air and Finn keeps twisting to look at their surroundings, grinning with every new insect or cloud. He's seen terrains, as a stormtrooper, but Poe doesn't think he's seen much scenery.
The nearest lake is just a short walk away, through a stand of trees, and Poe keeps to a slow stroll, letting Finn take his time maneuvering the ground while BB-8 rolls on ahead, and finds them a dry rock to perch on once they get to the shore. “We won't go swimming today. I think Dr. Kalonia would kill me if I got you in the water without her say-so. But it's good to be here.”
“It is.” Finn settles on the rock, pushes his walking frame to the side, watching the lake the whole time. It's a good day for it, insects landing and taking off, making ripples that shimmer in the sun. “I do know how to swim.”
“Terrain training?” Finn nods, and Poe leaves it. Finn doesn't like talking about his training any more than Poe likes talking to him about it, so he leaves the questions for other people, the people who need to know the training of the people they're going up against. “Do you want to take in the scenery for a while, or record our message?”
Finn frowns. “Scenery first,” he says after a weighty pause. “I have to see it if I'm going to tell her about it.”
They don't talk much while Finn looks at the scenery. Poe keeps an eye on the insects and waits for Finn to look around, take in everything, catalog all of it. “Looks like the insects aren't interested in biting us,” he says the first time he catches Finn fidgeting. There's no transition between activity and boredom for him. “That will come in handy when we start swimming.”
“That's good. I had terrain training in a swamp once, and my whole squad spent hours in medical when we came back because of the insects.” Finn taps his hand against his leg a few times. “We should listen to our message.”
BB-8 rolls over immediately, abandoning investigation of the surroundings, and Poe settles closer to Finn on their rock. “BB-8, play Rey's transmission for both of us.”
Almost immediately, there Rey is, smiling for both of them. “Poe, Finn, I promised to tell you both about the bird during training that almost knocked me over. Luke tried to teach me to meditate just sitting there, but I couldn't sit still, so he told me to stand on my hands, said one of his masters did the same thing. So there I was, on the high ground of the island, feet up in the air, trying to feel the Force while Luke meditated, and next thing I knew, something clipped me so hard right in the ankles that I went right over.” She makes an expression of exaggerated surprise, gesturing in the air. “And I look, and there's a bird flying right back to try to get me again, and there's Luke laughing at me a few feet away, telling me I should have felt it coming in the Force!” She grins, pauses for the laughs that they oblige in giving her even though she won't know they laughed, and then settles, a little more serious. “I think he's a little happier now. I hope he is. He talks to R2 and Chewbacca more regularly, and he's training me. He doesn't call it that, but he is.”
The general is going to be relieved to hear that. Poe is too, just for Rey's sake, and for Finn's. Finn is beaming, when Poe glances at him.
“I've told him that you'd be glad to hear from him, there, that even if he doesn't want to come back he should at least talk to his family. I've told him a little about—about Jakku, and why I was there. I don't know. Maybe it will make a difference. And in the meantime at least you can tell the general that he's happier and that he's helping me.”
Poe doesn't know much about Jakku, but from Finn's expression, he knows more, and Poe can make a few guesses, from the stubborn jut of Rey's chin and the way Finn looks sad and sympathetic even though his childhood was nothing to envy either.
“Finn, are you moving around yet? Poe, you should tell more stories. You still owe me a story about your home.” She glances behind her. “He offered to cook us both dinner tonight, since I'm not very good at cooking fish, or anything but dehydrated rations. I should go. Send me another message soon, both of you. Together or apart.”
They let the silence stretch out after her transmission flickers out to a stop, and Finn is the one to break it, a smile on his face. “We should send one back now. I want to know what Jedi training is like, and tell her about being outside.”
“Let's do it, then. BB-8, record transmission.”
“Rey,” says Finn, almost over the last syllable of the word. “I'm glad he's talking to you more now! And that he's making you dinner. I don't know how to cook either. They feed us army rations here, but they taste better than the ones they fed us in the Order. But I'd like to try a meal someone really cooked sometime.”
“We'll do it to celebrate soon,” Poe promises, already sorry he hadn't thought of it. “There's a supply kept for anyone who wants to cook a little for themselves, and I know some basics. Enough to make sure you don't have too bad a time, your first time eating food outside an army. Rey, when you come back I'll cook for you too, though maybe you'll be better than me by then.”
“I'll learn too. I'd like to know how to do that.”
“There.” Poe grins for the camera. “We'll cook you a meal when you come back. Everyone else will be jealous.” After a second, he leans forward, gets a little more serious. “I'm going to let the general know that you're getting some training, and that things are going better now. She'll be glad about it. And any time he wants to talk to her, he can send a message through BB-8 and I promise I won't watch beyond confirming that it's him and not you.”
There's a stretch of silence then, before Finn frowns and BB-8 reminds them the recording is still going. “I don't really have any other news. Poe, do you want to tell her a story?”
“Only if she promises to tell us anther story about Ahch-To. Rey, I'm taking that promise as read. You have to tell us about the scenery or the birds or training with Skywalker. And in return, since we're talking about food, I'm going to tell you the story of my father's disastrous attempt to cook for my mother's family after they got married.”
It's one of the best Dameron family stories Poe has, and he tells the long version until he has to speed up the end because Finn is starting to fidget where he sits and that probably means he needs to go back to more comfortable seats before he collapses. “There,” says Finn, sounding pleased, when Poe has wound the story to a close. “Next time maybe I'll have a real story for you, Rey, one that happens outside the medical bay. And Poe is right, you should talk to us too.”
“We'll send you another message soon,” says Poe. “Both of us,” he adds. His presence in this message is one thing, but he has to acknowledge that he got her other one too.
“Soon,” promises Finn. “BB-8, end transmission.”
“Come on,” says Poe after a few seconds. “Let's get you back to base. You can rest, and then I can teach you how to play card games. By the time you get out to bet with my squad mates, you'll be ready to beat them all, and I'm looking forward to it.”
Poe grins. He'd feel a little guilty, interrupting Finn's new privacy, but Finn is obviously glad to see him and obviously in the middle of a message to Rey, BB-8 there to record it. “Hey, buddy, I heard about your adventure, thought I'd stop by. If you're in the middle of a private message, though, I can come back. Have you heard from Rey?”
“No, she's probably busy. But I figure we can send her two messages in a row. Come over, you can join in.”
Poe does, sitting on Finn's new bunk next to him. He's in a tiny corner, away from important operations on the base, but from the way he's beaming, he doesn't care at all. “Rey, you might know more than I do about Finn's day so far. I get back from running simulations with a new recruit and hear that Finn's been given quarters and already fleeced Pava out of half her funds for the cycle.”
“I'll tell you the whole story from the start in a minute, just let me finish it for Rey.”
Poe listens to the story, the tale of Finn's whole first day being released from medical care, and grins at the right points and keeps quiet. “Do you have anything to add, Poe?” Finn asks at the end, when he's discussed the food in the mess hall and the piece of fruit someone let him try.
“No, this is your message. I'm just lending my presence. Rey, next time I've got a good story I'll send you a message. Though you owe us one, don't think I'll forget that. It's been three days. I really hope a bird hasn't knocked you off a cliff.”
Finn frowns. “You have to tell us if you're hurt. Maybe you're just busy, though. I hope you're just busy.”
“Maybe they went back to the temple, or somewhere else on Ahch-To. Or maybe they're on their way here—we all hope you will be soon, Rey. But take as much time as you need to train.”
“We'll send another message soon.” Finn reaches out to squeeze Poe's arm. He's a lot freer than Poe would have expected with his touch, once Poe stopped and thought about how he must have grown up. “I'll tell you about whatever Poe ends up cooking me or teaching me to cook.”
“We'll be able to make you a feast by the time you come back.”
“Even if you come back really soon. BB-8, end transmission.”
Finn was smiling for most of the message that Poe saw, but he deflates as soon as BB-8 rolls away a little. He's probably tired, judging from his adventure in the mess hall with half of Poe's squad, and he's probably missing Rey too. “I didn't get to hear most of your story,” he says after allowing a few moments of silence. “You should tell me too. I especially want to hear about the look on Pava's face when you beat her, because I bet it was great.”
Finn is beaming again so fast that Poe could almost think he imagined him being sad, and Poe settles in to listen to anything Finn wants to tell him.
It ends there, and leaves Poe almost bursting with curiosity and excitement. He doesn't want to get the general's hopes up if Skywalker doesn't actually send a message, but it seems more hopeful now than it has before, and he really wants to be optimistic about it.
“BB-8, record transmission. Rey, let me know if Master Skywalker wants me to transmit alternate coordinates for him. I'll have to talk to someone in communications to see who else has a secure droid, but they'll all be glad to help. Thank you for letting me know. I don't know what I would have done if I got a message from him without any warning. I haven't had one yet, but I'll be on standby, just in case.” He frowns, thinking of something less businesslike to discuss. “I made a meal for Finn last night,” he finally says. “He'll probably tell you all about it. We don't have the rations for dessert that isn't the occasional fruit shipment right now, but next time I get some leave, I'm going to buy some candy for you both. If anyone deserves it, you do. And sometime when we have better access to flour and sugar, I'll do some baking. My dad was always pretty good at it. But if you get Skywalker back here to the general, I'll go on a mission for supplies myself and bake you all a cake. I promise. BB-8, end transmission.”
It's early in the day. He's not expected for drill or inspections or meetings yet. Poe gets up and goes to find Finn to tell him about the message.
“Not from Rey?” Poe asks, already on alert. “Is it addressed for me?”
Affirmative. Not designation-Rey's voiceprint.
“Okay, let's get in private before we do this. Send a message to communications that I might need to speak to General Organa, and if you can catch Finn in the medical bay let him know I might be late for dinner.”
Poe makes a point of not running for his quarters, because it looks suspicious and because it means he has his hopes up. Rey could have a cold messing with her voiceprint, or Chewbacca could have recorded a message for the general, or a hundred other possibilities.
Still, when he tells BB-8 to play the transmission, he's not quite surprised to see a half-familiar face projected before him. “Poe Dameron,” says Luke Skywalker, with the edge of a smile on his face. “I hear that you're the point of contact for the Resistance from Ahch-To. I wonder if you would be kind enough to pause this transmission and allow my sister to hear the rest of this message?”
“BB-8, pause transmission,” says Poe, and he can feel himself grinning even as he wants to cry. This is what the Resistance needs, and more than that, it's what the general needs. It's not going to fix anything, but it will give people some hope. That matters. “Come on, let's go see if we can find the general and give you and her a little privacy.”
General Organa is in the communications room, and Poe must be doing a bad job of keeping his expression neutral, because she straightens the second she sees him and dismisses everyone within seconds. “Tell me you have good news.”
“The best we can expect right now. Message from Skywalker. I haven't listened to the whole thing, he asked me to stop after greeting me so you could see the rest in private. You can give him alternate communication coordinates so you don't have to go through me.”
“Believe me, I intend to.”
“BB-8, you're with the general, she's fully authorized to see this message and anything else she wants replayed. Ma'am, I think I'll go find Finn in the medical bay, if you want to find me I'll be there for an hour or two.”
She nods, a little jerky. “Thank you, Dameron. I'll brief you if there's anything you need to know.”
“Thank you, ma'am.” He leaves her alone with BB-8, since she's obviously itching for a chance to listen to her message, and makes his way across the base to the medical bay. Finn is sorting drugs, talking to one of the medical droids about the procedures they're used for, and he turns a grin on Poe as soon as he sees him.
“I wasn't expecting to see you yet. Do we have a message?”
“No, but General Organa does, so BB-8 is with her. We'll record one for Rey later on. In the meantime, tell me what you're doing.”
Finn wants to ask, Poe can see him take a breath to ask the question, and he's not sure if he feels better or worse when he shrugs it off after just a few seconds and starts in talking about the latest he's learning while sorting supplies for the medical staff.
It's most of an hour before the general comes for him, BB-8 rolling along in her wake. She doesn't look any different from usual, and Poe tries not to act any different when he stands up to greet her. “Did you get what you needed from BB-8, ma'am?”
“Yes.” She looks at Finn, then back to Poe, and raises one eyebrow. “Luke didn't say anything about returning, but he said a few other things that need saying. He has an alternate way to contact me, Dameron, so you shouldn't be interrupted again. Of course, you're both still welcome to be in contact with Rey, but it will be on a less official basis.”
“We'll still be in contact.” They've made that clear enough, Rey and Finn. Poe isn't going to stop sending messages now. It would hurt Rey, and Finn, and Poe, though he doesn't like to admit that part.
“Of course we will,” says Finn, firm and smiling. “Did he—do you know if she knows if he sent a message?”
“I believe she does, but he didn't say specifically. You can feel free to mention it to her.” The general smiles. “Maybe there will be a little more pressure on him to come back if we can work on him from both ends. You certainly have my blessing to try.”
“We will, ma'am.”
“Thank you, Dameron.” Her nod extends it to everything, bringing her the message from her brother, maybe even taking on the assignment as point of contact for the people on Ahch-To. He nods back, and she makes a point of checking the time. “We all have duties to execute. Dameron, Finn, I'm sure I'll see you around the base,” she says, and walks away before either of them can answer.
“Maybe we should send Rey a message,” says Poe, and grins when Finn's face lights up.
It's the thing no one on the base is saying, and Poe almost wishes she hadn't said it, because it makes Finn frown, and Finn was so happy today, with a new message from Rey and permission from the medical staff to take a short swim in their lake.
Like Rey can hear the thoughts, she shakes off her frown. “But I do like it here, while I'm waiting. I'm learning to swim in the ocean, so it will be easy to learn in a lake. Mostly Chewbacca is teaching me, since Luke grew up in the desert just like I did, and let me tell you, he smells when we've been swimming. But it always smells like salt and earth here, so I don't mind too much. It's different. I ask Luke about Tatooine sometimes. He says it's not like Jakku, or at least the part of it I'm from—our moisture farms were all in the southern hemisphere, and we didn't have anything like Mos Eisley, at least not close enough for me to go.”
“Doesn't surprise me,” mutters Finn, who has settled into a hatred of Jakku that Poe would find hilarious if he didn't agree at least a little.
“I owe the two of you a story, or maybe a few by now, but I don't have many good stories from Jakku.” She frowns. “I liked looking at the stars. They changed more often than the sand did, and you could see them most nights, except when there were sandstorms. I used to sit out when the temperature didn't drop too much, eat my food outside and then stay up to see the stars. I hadn't been out of the atmosphere before Finn and I took the Millennium Falcon, not that I remember. It was amazing to see the stars in every direction.”
“I can't believe you let her drive you off-planet if she hadn't left atmosphere before.”
“If I'd known, I probably wouldn't have.”
“That wasn't much of a story,” she continues, looking troubled. “I told you I don't really have them. But you said once, Poe, that when Finn woke up you would tell me together how you two met. You haven't done it yet. I'd like to hear that. In your next message, maybe you could tell me. And next time I'll come up with a better story.”
That's the end of the transmission, leaving Poe frowning and Finn looking a little stricken. “We'll send a message back,” Poe decides, because she seems to need it, for whatever reason. Maybe thinking about Jakku upset her. “We'll tell her all about our daring escape from the First Order, and then we'll tell her about Snap finding that flower that's big enough to build a house on. Ahch-To may be the home of the Jedi, but I bet it doesn't have those. Maybe it will get her back here sooner.”
“You think so?” Finn is looking at him now, sharp, and sounds just as much like he's trying to reassure Poe as he does like he's being reassured himself.
“Hey, it's worth a try. BB-8, record transmission.”
Poe thinks maybe they're cheerful to the point of sounding fake while they're recording, trying to send some happiness across the galaxy to Rey, but Finn sounds sincere and solemn when he says, at the end, “We want you to come back, but we'll be here sending you messages until you can, no matter what,” and he thinks that's what's going to matter most to her.
“They have a lot more troops left than we assumed they would when their primary base went down,” she says into the silence between them, and pours him a splash of some kind of alcohol that smells antiseptic it's so strong.
“Recruitment is high right now,” he offers, taking the glass and cradling it in his hands. She doesn't even pick her glass up off the desk. “You've fought wars against the odds before.”
“They tended to come down to a few people.” Her smile is wry. “And a Jedi, which I'm not. I have faith in my troops, Poe, but the Force is hard to defend against, and I'd like our odds better with Luke here. And Rey.”
“Has he said anything about coming back, now that he's talking to you?” Poe dares to ask. Nobody mentioned Skywalker for the whole meeting and the absence was telling enough to make his heart sink. “Rey keeps saying she hopes he's softening, that they'll come sometime, but I don't know if he's mentioned it to you.”
“I haven't mentioned it to him,” she says, and shrugs in answer to whatever she sees in Poe's face. “It's delicate. I don't want to send him running again, so I tell him what's happened, and what's happening, and I ask him about what it's like there and how Rey's training is going, and we don't talk about him coming back.”
“Maybe you should. He needs to know that we need him.”
“He knew we needed him a lot of times over the years, Dameron. I don't think me saying it out loud is going to make the difference. I'm just hoping Rey makes the difference. He's training her. It's a start.”
“We don't have time to play the long game, General.”
She finally takes a sip of her alcohol, and her grimace prepares Poe for what he's going to have to deal with when he raises his own glass and follows suit. “Right now I'm just telling him that a lot of things I blame him for on bad days aren't his fault. That's not playing a long game, that's just getting over the first hurdle. At this point, you'll probably have more luck with Rey.”
“I'm going to keep trying,” Poe promises. “I want her around, Finn wants her around, and the Resistance needs them.”
“Maybe you should tell them that.”
Poe nods, considering that. “Maybe I will.”
She raises her glass and toasts him with it, and he does the same, swallows the rest of what she poured him even though it makes his throat burn. “Get them back for me, Poe. If anyone can do it, you can.”
He wants to tell Skywalker that he owes this to them, that they need him and there's no reason for him to turn his back now, but he doesn't know him that well. He'll leave that for the general, when she has her brother back and can tell him just what she thinks of him leaving in the first place.
“There's lots of wilderness here, lots of places you could stay if you don't want to stay on base. Maybe Rey told you, Master Skywalker, about the lake flower you could build a house on. There are lots of lakes, lots of trees—a whole planet here waiting for you, just a speeder ride away.”
That might be tempting for Rey, but she's not the thing holding them there on that island. Skywalker saw a lot of the galaxy, before he exiled himself.
“Rey has me waiting here for her, and Finn, and you have people waiting too. We stopped a base that could destroy planets, but the First Order still has troops and tricks up its sleeve and we lost a lot of people. Even if you don't want to fight, you can train Rey, you can support Leia, you can fly a speeder if that's what you want. But we need you all back.” Poe takes a deep breath. “Please.”
BB-8 chirps a query when Poe lets the silence go on too long after that.
“You don't have to take my orders, or listen at all, obviously. I just wanted to say it, in case it hadn't been said in so many words. We need it, and maybe you do too. Jedi get involved in things, and we want to be able to factor you two into our strategy, and you should be able to count us into yours. Train Rey, but train with us too. When it's over, you can go back to Ahch-To. I'll fly you myself if I need to. You've earned your retirement. But at least think about coming back. Dameron out. BB-8, end transmission.”
It feels inadequate, but it's more than he's tried before, and if nothing else, he thinks Rey will appreciate how much she's wanted.
“Cut that dead air out, would you, buddy? And maybe put in your own message for R2. Any reminder of the history they've all got with us is a good thing. Send it whenever it's ready, and I'm going to get some sleep.”
“Is it marked private?”
“Then let's go find Finn. Whatever she's saying, I bet Finn is going to want to hear it.”
Poe wants to get his hopes up, wants to be able to shout good news as he jogs to Finn's quarters, but he keeps quiet instead and tries not to think too much about it until Finn opens the door with a beam on his face. “I told Dr. Kalonia I want to go swimming and she says she thinks it could be good for me now that my skin is all healed over, so we can—”
“We have a message from Rey,” Poe says, even though he wants to hear the rest of that, celebrate and take Finn up on it. They've dangled their legs in the lake, but he hasn't been swimming, since he didn't want to do it without Finn, and he'd like to. “It's marked priority. Do you mind giving it a listen before we go?”
“Am I allowed to listen?” Finn instantly looks worried and Poe hates it, but he steps out of the doorway and lets Poe in. “Come on, sit down on the bed.”
“You're allowed to listen to anything, the general said so. You don't have the means to inform on us anyway. BB-8, play transmission.”
There's Rey's projection, crying with a smile on her face so bright Poe's heart hurts just looking at it, and Finn grabs for Poe's hand like it's instinct to be holding on to him while they weather whatever she has to say. When she breathes in, it's almost a sob. “Poe, thank you.” Poe starts grinning, can't help it. “I think—I think he's doing it more for me than for him, that maybe he thinks I'll be trained before the battle comes and he can leave, but that doesn't matter, you convinced him. You did it.” Finn's hand squeezes tight around his. “We're coming there soon. A few days, I think—Luke wants to go to the temple to make sure it's the right choice, wants to pack his things, but we're coming, we're coming to you. Finn, are you watching this? I promised I would come back for you and I am.”
“She's—Poe, what did you say?”
“I don't even remember.”
Rey wipes her eyes, still smiling so wide it must be hurting her face. “I can't wait to see the lake where you swim, to see what it's like to swim in a lake instead of an ocean. I want to see that flower. There aren't a lot of flowers here. Luke had to describe some for me. He says they aren't usually that big, so I want to see it. And I'll get to. You two will show me, won't you?”
“Of course,” says Finn, fast and reassuring, like she can hear him.
“I don't know if I'll have the time to send a message soon, if we're going back to the temple and if he wants to do some last pieces of training before we go to you, but we'll need to communicate about coordinates and routes to get there. I think Luke is going to tell Leia, she'll know what to do about that. Maybe he has already. Or maybe she sent coordinates to R2, I could see her doing it.” She presses her hand over her mouth, and there's a skip in the recording. “I don't have anything else to say. Thank you both. For waiting. For getting me there. I'll see you soon.”
That's the end of the transmission, and BB-8 is almost immediately rocking back and forth, all excitement. Finn is still holding Poe's hand, tight, and his eyes are glistening. Poe's probably are too, judging by the way his throat is tickling. “I think we should go find the general and make sure she knows before we go to the lake,” Poe says when he trusts his voice. “Do you mind?”
“No. No, I want to tell her too. I'm always giving them bad news.”
“Useful news,” Poe corrects, but he stands up and pulls Finn to his feet with him. He doesn't bother dropping his hand. They could both use the steadying. “Come on.”
They get a few odd looks, passing through the maze that is the cave system they're settled in, but it's all worth it from the look on Leia's face when they get past C3PO and into her office. She's already red-eyed but cleaned up, and she manages something close to her usual wry raise of the eyebrows when she sees who's invaded her privacy. “I take it you heard they're coming home.”
It shouldn't make sense, to call it home when neither Rey nor Luke have ever been here, but Poe just grins. He can't help it. “I guess I convinced them.”
She smiles, and it's brighter than he's seen since before Starkiller. “I guess you did.”
They must have hailed the communications room from hyperspace, because while Poe is still dithering, wondering whether to run for the ship or for Finn in the medical bay, Finn comes hobbling out into the sunlight on his cane, faster than the doctors would probably want him to. That makes it easier to run over to him so they can watch the Falcon land together, watch it lower its ramp while the general walks as fast as she can without actually running right for it.
“She's here,” says Finn, sounding a little dazed, and Poe takes his arm to walk him over there, because he can see people coming down the ramp now, and they're far enough away that they're going to have to fight the growing crowd to get to Rey.
He doesn't have to worry, because as soon as Rey comes in sight, shouldering her way past Chewbacca and only stopping long enough to give Leia a clasp on the shoulder, she's looking around for them and, when Poe lifts a hand to wave, running at them with enough purpose to part the crowd.
There's a commotion near the Falcon, Leia hugging her brother or maybe hitting him or maybe both, but Poe can't pay much attention, because Rey barrels into them full speed and the only reason they stay upright is because Finn is clever at bracing with his cane. They're an awkward and unsteady tangle of limbs, Rey's head tucked under Finn's chin and her arm slung around Poe's shoulder in a way that nearly strangles him. She smells like ocean air and she's laughing and Finn is crying and Poe holds on until someone, probably one of his pilots, whistles at them.
“I promised I would come back,” she says, in Finn's ear, but they're all pressed close enough that Poe can't help hearing it. She pulls back after that and grins at them both. “Poe Dameron, I'm glad to see you when we're not on opposite sides of the galaxy. Thank you.”
“Thank you for coming back.” When he peers across the crowd, they're subject to a lot of attention, but most of it is on Leia and Luke Skywalker, who are still talking at the bottom of the Falcon's ramp, attended by R2-D2 while Chewbacca greets some of the senior staff. “We should probably get you back to the important people.”
“You're the important people,” she says, looking at him like he's an idiot, but after a moment she gets between them, holding Finn up on one side and leaning into Poe on the other until he puts an arm over her shoulders. “Come on. I'll introduce you to Luke. He wants to meet you both.”
Considering Poe almost scolded him in that last message, Poe isn't exactly sure about meeting him, but Finn still looks breathless with happiness and Rey is smiling like three suns coming out, so Poe lets himself be tugged along when she starts walking. “Then we'll show you around,” Finn says. “There are caves, and there's our lake to see, and—”
“I can't wait,” says Rey, grinning over at Poe like they're sharing a secret.
Poe was expecting it to be awkward, talking to Rey face to face instead of at several days' delay, but it already feels easy, like she's just what he and Finn have been waiting for ever since Finn woke up. “Neither can I,” he says, and steers them over to the Falcon.