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the centre, holding

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It’s only anger that keeps him flying. There’s no more damage one man in one ship could inflict that they wouldn’t just laugh off, and he isn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him die. So Poe keeps flying, in the direction the survivors scattered in, faster and faster, speed a substitute for movement and rage and despair.

His vision is still blurred from the explosion, or from the shockwaves that cracked his head against the controls. One or the other. He tries to hang on to that: the algebraic perfection of his shot that detonated D’Qar’s satellite mines just as the first destroyer made orbit, the pure white light that filled his horizon for a fraction of a second. Poe’s anger is going to last longer than that.

His incoming comms still show the last message the First Order sent, before he fired:

>You lost, scum

>we’re going to hunt down every last one of you

>wipe you out

>it’s over

Hyperspace flashes by. His hands shake and his face is wet. Blood from the collision; tears. He took out a destroyer, but the First Order have many destroyers. Hundreds of Tie fighters, thousands of troops. The Resistance has nothing now. It doesn’t even exist.

Poe only slows down when he runs out of fuel. BB-8 has been warning him, but he shut off the audio after a while. His breath is heaving and he didn’t want the droid to hear.

**

When they pick up a signal, he hopes it’s not people he knows personally. It’ll be easier to get his game face back on with strangers, offer a bit of leadership, fake that there’s some way forward after this, that they aren’t just running for their lives. He’s not going to run, anyway. What would be the point?

No one answer’s BB-8’s hail, so maybe they crash landed. Maybe he’s just going to get a close up view of what an explosion looks like, bear physical burning witness to how the Resistance has been wiped out. He sets Black One down on the planet anyway, a three-mooned, mountainous place full of huge golden trees. There’s no smoke, no sign of a ship, no sign of life, nothing.

He drops his helmet on the mossy ground and stumbles a few steps to higher ground, scans with the macrobinoculars again. Still nothing.

Then a figure emerges from behind the trees, and calls his name with something that sounds like joy.

**

Finn sort of collapses into his arms, or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s mutual collapse, exactly the sort of thing he can’t afford right now. But just for a second, just for a second, he can’t pull away. The vibrant, undeniable life of him, his breath loud in Poe’s ear, might be all there is left, and Poe lets himself cling. He’s losing the anger that kept him going, but he refuses to cry. He can’t do that to Finn.

“There is no way you survived that, how did you survive that?” Finn’s saying into Poe’s shoulder.

“Stayed till the first destroyer made orbit, blew everything up. Flew away really fast.”

He’s pleased with that. It’s just the right note of bravado, of success against overwhelming odds. If he owes his brave face to anyone, it’s to Finn, Even if it’s all he has to offer.

**

Finn’s not alone. Poe had lost track of him in the chaos of the evacuation, but he made it off the planet with Rey and a small freighter full of people. Poe knows all of them.

Rey comes out and hugs him, then drops to her knees to greet BB-8. Her face is dirty and she’s clenching her teeth, but when she speaks her voice is quite steady.

“I know, BB. It is bad, but I’m glad you’re here at least.”

She glances up at Poe like she means to include him in that, a plural ‘you’. Step up, Dameron.

“Are you all ok here? Anyone hurt?” he asks. “Any other ships located?”

Rey shakes her head. No, no and no.

They’re all gathering round: a mixture of ground staff, a cook, a weapons tech, a medic, red-eyed and desperate. They’re already looking to him for something - leadership, hope, a way forward, and he isn’t going to let them down. Even if it’s all lies, even if he knows everything is over and the First Order has won, he can still give them that.

“This is not the end,” he begins, channelling every speech he’s ever heard General Organa give, the ones she gave before he was born that he’s only read about. “As long as a single one of us is left alive, there’s still a Resistance. We don’t give up, you hear me?”

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Finn watching him, grim faced but nodding in agreement, and he takes a deep breath and continues.

**

Before they can pretend they’re going to fight back, they need shelter. The freighter will sleep four comfortably, six uncomfortably, and there are twenty of them. Twenty survivors out of two thousand, nine hundred and seventy. Every time he thinks of the number, he finds he can’t really believe in it. It isn’t possible that so many people are lost, that the base is lost. All those lives cut short, and no-one to stand against the First Order any more. It can’t be real.

There are agents scattered across the galaxy who must be still alive, and if Poe hadn’t stayed to blow those mines, maybe the First Order would have got all their data and hunted them down too. There may be other ships, there have got to be other ships. Poe saw ten, fifteen, blown out of space, but he didn’t see all of them go down. Not every single one. So there’s still hope.

Rey’s already hiked 20 kilometres north and east and found nothing. Finn takes an overnight survival pack, fastens a blaster at his hip and sets off south, and Poe goes with him.

**

The woods don’t seem real. When did he last walk in golden woods dappled with sunlight? Nearly all his work planetside has been in cities, in populous places where somebody knows something he needs to know, something General Organa needs to know. She might be dead now. None of this can possibly be real.

There aren’t really dry leaves crunching underfoot, those aren’t birds singing in the canopy above his head. He’s going to wake up and find the infiltration never happened, the invasion never happened, the First Order fleet wiping them out never happened. And then all of it happens again, every few minutes. Every time he’s distracted by picking a path through the trees, by the pure physical challenge of making his body move uphill on soft ground or the slant of the light making the leaves dance, it’s as if he forgets. He’s not aware of the forgetting, but the remembering hits him in the pit of his stomach every time. A stone he has to swallow, and keep on swallowing, that lurks inside him and drags him down.

Only he can’t give in to it. He’s the senior officer here - for all he knows, he’s the most senior officer left. It’s might be just him, and Finn, and Rey, against the might of the First Order and the regime they want to impose on the galaxy. Finn knows even better than he does what that means; Finn knows better than anybody.

He turns to look at Finn, a step behind and to his left, and there’s nothing Poe can say to make it better.

“You wanna take a break?” is the best he’s got. They’ve been walking for hours. A break is a good idea, a reasonable, responsible thing to do for people who have a reason to survive.

Finn frowns. “Sure.”

24 hours ago the chance to hike in the woods with Finn, to sit on the soft dry ground and share a canteen of water and some energy biscuits would have been an unasked for joy. To see the sun on his face, the strength of his body as he walks, the delight he takes in the freedom just to be outdoors with no purpose. The closest Poe can get to joy now, as he drinks cool water from a canteen that was at Finn’s lips a moment ago, is an ashy relief that at least Finn isn’t dead. If anyone was going to survive this massacre, that it could be Finn. And Rey; she’s Finn’s closest friend, and with the power she has -

No, even with the power she has. She’s one person. What can one young woman, even a Jedi, do against the fleet he saw bearing down on them, which hated him enough to comm him and taunt him with the destruction of everything he had, everything he believed in, everything he was fighting for?

He has to close his eyes against it or he’ll go under.

“You ok?” he asks Finn. It’s a good distraction technique: think about the people under your command, worry about them. And Finn’s the best of them. “I mean, as far as anyone can be right now.”

Finn's sitting with his elbows on his knees, looking down at the leaves. He doesn’t answer right away. “Yeah. Hasn’t sunk in yet, I guess. But yeah.”

“We’re gonna regroup, ok? Things may look pretty bleak right now, but we’re still here. We’re still fighting.”

Finn doesn’t say, yeah, with our bare hands and oh, maybe a stick, against an entire fleet, but the downward tilt of his mouth certainly implies it. He’s just too kind to rub Poe’s nose in it.

So fine. Poe’s got to step up to make him feel it. It’s easier to do if you actually feel it yourself, if you’ve got the hope you want to give to the others, but you don’t actually need it.

“You hear the story of back in the Rebellion, when they lost Hoth?” he begins, and Finn shakes his head. “Well, they had it just as bad as we got it now, plus it was cold…”

Head on one side, Finn listens to him. Whether he’s convinced or not Poe really couldn’t say.

**

At dusk they find a village built high in the massive trees. Not Ewok, but maybe a sister race.

He and Finn aren’t in uniform, they’re just two traders who had to land in the forest and need repairs. Maybe this planet would side with the Resistance (what Resistance? The Resistance is gone) and maybe it would side with the First Order, but this isn’t the moment to find out. They eat - something unidentified, the name given but neither of them understand - drink a little, go back to the warm, bare room they’ve rented.

What Poe needs is some real, concrete plans for things they can do. Or rather, Finn needs him to have real, concrete plans. The 18 people back at the ship need them too, but they aren’t here right now and Finn is. It’s harder to keep that brave face on for Finn - Finn knows him pretty well.

“Can we really keep doing this?” Finn asks, back turned and head bowed as he takes his boots off.

“Yes,” Poe says at once. “Yeah, we can. We find the survivors, we establish a new base, we go to General Organa’s financial backers and we buy new ships and new weapons. I’ve got a lot of contacts, I call them up, call in all the favours -”

But Finn has turned and is pressing his lips tight together like he’s fighting nausea, like Poe’s speech is falling flat, flat, flat.

“And if the First Order come for you,” Poe tells him, “they gotta go through me first, you got that?”

He takes a step towards Finn. Finn shakes his head - disbelief? Don’t do that?

“I mean it, Finn. If General Organa didn’t make it, if there’s no one more senior left, then I step up. I’m here, you’re here, we don’t give up - ”

He isn’t expecting it when Finn gets right up in his space, grips him hard by the shoulders. For a second he even thinks Finn is going to hit him - impossible, but so was the total loss of the Resistance base, the crushing defeat they’re standing in the ruins of. If he’s living in a universe where that can happen, maybe Finn will hit him.

Finn doesn’t hit him; he shakes him once, not very hard. More like a clench of his hands in Poe’s shirt, but Poe’s so surprised he sways with it.

“Can you just - stop it, ok?”

“Stop what, buddy?” he barely breathes.

“Pretending like it’s all fine, like you’re fine!”

Poe stops with his mouth open, this close to saying, but I am fine! How fucking stupid would that be right now, how insulting to Finn? He doesn’t say anything.

“When we find more survivors -” atta boy, Finn, believing there are more survivors, that they weren’t all picked off by the destroyers and Tie fighters - “you can do it for them, but just, stop. Doing it to me. I know what the First Order’s like. You don’t need to pretend.”

“What do you want me to say? That I think it’s all over, the First Order have won and we’re all gonna be wiped out? How is that gonna help, Finn?”

“It’s not supposed to help, it’s just supposed to be honest! I don’t want the propaganda! I know in public you’ve got to do it, for morale, but you don’t have to do it to me.” His voice trembles on the last word.

Poe’s hands have come up to hold on to Finn in turn. He’s gripping him by the upper arms, the two of them facing each other in this tableau of almost-aggression.

“I dunno if I can turn it on and off, Finn,” there’s a crack in his voice that he can’t afford. “But I know what you - I get it. I’m not lying to you, I’m - I’m just tryin to find the things we can hope for, otherwise I go down.”

Finn’s gazing at him so intently, from so close, that Poe can feel his breath, see the tiny back-and-forth flickers of his eyes. In this low light they’re all pupil, rich brown of his irises turned black.

“Tell me what the losses are,” Finn says. “Share it, at least, if you can’t put it on and off.”

Poe takes a deep breath, steels himself.

“I don’t know. I saw them taking our ships out one at a time, and we were so outnumbered out there. Could be - it could - it could be everyone except us, Finn. Maybe even the General. I don’t know. I didn’t see her transport make the jump. I couldn’t keep track of everyone.”

Finn raises his hand very slowly, and with the pad of his thumb wipes away the wet on Poe’s face.

“That’s what I figured,” Finn whispers. “But you blew the satellite mines. Got one of the destroyers.”

“Yeah. Yeah I did, Finn. Uh. How - how many people. How many on that?”

Finn doesn’t look away. He doesn’t want Poe to pretend and he isn’t going to pretend to Poe. “Thousands. Maybe ten thousand.”

Poe just nods. Lets go of Finn’s arm to rub one hand over his face. “Yeah, so there’s that too. That I did. So I’m - I’m - I don’t know, man. I’m not thinking about any of it.”

“Ok. Yeah. I understand that,” Finn murmurs. Finn’s looking at him like he can see right into him. “But how are you - uh, are you ok, Poe? ‘Cause I get it, if you're not. You don't need to act like you are, with me. Honestly, I'd rather you just - lost it with me than put on a show of how you're brave and determined and, and uh, undefeated, or whatever.”

Poe closes his eyes. He's not brave, not brave enough to look at Finn and answer any of this.

“I never thought this would happen. I never thought - even after they had me on the Finalizer, and I saw what they had - all the troops and the ships and the equipment and everything. I still never thought we were gonna lose, you know?”

Finn’s just looking at him, hearing him out.

He doesn’t say we haven’t lost. Finn just nods and says “Ok,” leans in to rest his forehead against Poe’s. His hands are still warm on Poe’s shoulders, Poe’s still gripping his upper arms. He can feel the hard strength of his biceps through his shirt.

When Finn kisses him, gently but right on the mouth, unmistakable, it’s even more shocking than the idea that Finn might hit him. In the same magnitude of improbability.

Poe is so surprised he doesn’t have time to react before Finn pulls away, just enough so they can look at each other. “Well then if you want to, I think we should do this,” he says. “There isn’t any chain of command any more, and if we wait -”

If we wait, we might never get the chance. Any consolation left to us, we have to take it now; the future where we could regret how it changed our friendship might never come. Poe hadn’t realised how firmly he used to believe in that future until now; how carefully he’d been treading around Finn so that some day he could do it right.

“Yeah, ok then,” he whispers, and leans in.

**

Poe’s had years to learn his body’s responses to loss, to fear, to adrenaline. This is both normal and not, the way he’s always dealt with death and something totally new. What starts soft, an expression of the way he feels for Finn, turns hungry and fierce and about how he wants him. The whole point is that you aren’t thinking, you do what your primaeval instincts tell you to do to survive. Some people make babies out of this - Poe was probably one of those babies - but he’s never believed the theory that it’s just about survival of the species, procreation. It’s about connection, it’s about not being alone, it’s about reaching out to another living creature. Another living creature who wants him.

Poe steers them across the room to the bed, ends up with Finn heavy and alive on top of him, pressing him down into the mattress with his whole body. They can’t pull apart even long enough to get undressed: Finn just pushes up his shirt to suck stinging kisses to his ribs and belly. Finn flicks his pants open like they’ve been doing this for years, sucks him off with the sort of desperation Poe remembers from being much younger than he is now. It all feels like it’s happening to a much younger version of himself, someone with fewer defences, whose physical reactions are all there in the open for Finn to see, every shudder and gasp as Finn touches him.

There are tears leaking from the corner of his eyes when he comes with a sob, flings his arm over his face as he jerks and rides it out bright and intense.

But he doesn’t want to hide. Uncovers his face and reaches out to touch Finn’s shoulder. Blinks up at him and lets him see. No more pretending with him and Finn.

Finn moves up and braces himself on his elbows, looks down at him so solemn and honest it’s unbearable. The way Finn’s face looks is going to break them both open, but then maybe that’s the point.

Poe tugs him down and kisses him because he wants to kiss him, not to stop Finn from seeing him. Rolls them onto their sides and slides a knee between Finn’s legs, feel him hard in his pants. Finn gasps at his touch, arches into it, undoes the buttons himself when Poe fumbles.

Rolls onto his back when Poe pushes at his hip, and the noise he makes when Poe sucks him down is the only thing Poe wants to remember about today. That broken little noise and the silk of Finn’s cock filling his mouth completely and perfectly, so he can’t think about anything else. He can just breathe in the smell of Finn, concentrate on how hard he is, how his length slides right to the back of Poe’s throat, how he trembles ever so slightly when Poe cups his balls, high and tight against his body.

He grabs hold of Poe when he comes, one hand on the back of his neck and the other digging in to his shoulder, and Poe chokes and swallows and doesn’t try to pull away.

**

They curl up close afterwards, facing each other with their legs intertwined, Finn’s hand warm on the back of Poe’s neck. Poe pulls the blanket up over them, feels Finn’s heartbeat in syncopation with his own in this tiny private space that’s still standing.

“If all we can do is hit and run, guerrilla attacks, I still wanna do that,” he says softly. “If they’re coming for us anyway, I’m gonna go out fighting.”

Finn runs his fingers through Poe’s hair, right at the nape where it sends shivers down his spine. “Ok, yeah. Yeah, let’s do that.”

“You think Rey will stay?”

“Rey will definitely stay,” Finn smiles. “She really loves your droid, for a start.”

**

There’s something slick in the overnight survival pack, and later Finn uses it to slide two fingers inside him, work him open until he’s shaking and incoherent, right on the edge. He comes with Finn’s cock filling him, clenching around the thick length of him as Finn pants out his name, over and over.

**

Dawn is breaking pink through the trees when Poe wakes, and for a second of suspended time he doesn’t remember any of it. Then he sees the explosion behind his eyes, the Resistance base and the destroyer and he will never know how many lives disintegrating into the blackness of space, and he chokes off a sound as he remembers all over again.

Then, at his side, Finn stirs, and he remembers that too. A tiny point of light, but enough to see by.

**

Rey comes running full pelt towards them as they approach the camp, calling out high and bright, “The general! General Organa, General Organa’s coming -”

One more point of light; the centre, still holding.