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His father never had forgiven him for not going into smuggling and his mother, well. Let’s just say he was beginning to regret not using the shade of Han Solo’s long, storied, and occasionally overblown shadow to protect himself from his own bad decisions. And if he’d gone into swindling planets’ worth of constituents for power so he could then spend his time wheedling other powerful people for a little more power, he wouldn’t be here regretting every moment leading up to this one. This one right here. This perfect, stupid, bullshit moment.

Having an epiphany about the man you were pretending to date in the middle of a job? Not the best thing ever.

Playing an endless game of whack-a-political-injustice sounded pretty good right about now compared to that. Having Kanjiklub on his ass for debts owed would have been a dream, too. Just about anything other than this would have been amazing. Better both of those things than realize you were personally and professionally fucked and it was your own damned fault.

For the first time ever, he thought maybe his parents had had the right idea all along.

“You want this or do you need a minute?” Poe asked, waggling an both an ice-filled glass and a bottle of incredibly obscure whiskey in Ben’s face. Poe Dameron, of Dameron-Bey Drive Yards. Poe Dameron, who flew charity races and engineered new and better and faster racing ships for the sheer joy of it. Poe Dameron, the man willing to wear a formal suit despite hating it because it was good for the people who worked for him and he’d do anything for them. “I know, I know. It’s really good shit, should be kept on a dusty shelf never to be enjoyed, but I’m buddies with a gal who knows a guy and I need a favor. You’re supposed to pull out the big guns for that, right?”

Poe Dameron looked really, really good in formal wear. Ben knew this because he was witnessing it right now, having found his way to Poe’s apartment in the middle of him getting ready.

He shouldn’t have done that. Might have kept him out of this situation entirely. Or at least he’d have put off this realization a while longer. There had been no reason for him to show up unannounced.

But he’d done it anyway. And now he was paying for it.

“You need a favor?” Ben asked, toneless. Because Poe needed a favor and Ben was in the middle of a breakdown and of those two things, focusing on the former was somehow more appealing.

Pulling the cork from the bottle with his teeth, Poe nodded. “Yeah.” The response was mushy and inarticulate, but Poe got his point across all the same. The dark liquid glugged as Poe poured a more than generous portion, enough that it would probably have cost him the equivalent of a meal in credits if he’d ordered it at a bar. Handing the result to Ben, he plucked the cork from his mouth. “I know you’re not really a ‘go forth and socialize with the empty-headed masses’ kind of guy, but I’d… appreciate the backup.”

“Backup?” Ben replied weakly as he looked up at Poe.

“Not tonight obviously. Short notice. It’s rude. I get that.” His hand twirled through the air as he turned away, placing the bottle on the table near where Ben sat on Poe’s too-comfortable couch. Then he dropped into the chair across from Ben and sprawled, pinching the bridge of his nose. He groaned theatrically, low and annoyed. “But if you’re willing to be my date to one of these things…”

Ben swallowed. “We are dating. You have the right to ask me.” Why are you encouraging him, he asked himself, incredulous. Why are you calling what you’re doing dating? That’s the last thing you should be thinking about. “It doesn’t have to be a favor.”

“Doesn’t it?” His eyes twinkled as he lifted his hand to his forehead, keeping it there like a shield. It was a playful gesture and an endearing one. Ben tried to hate it more than he did. “Well, I still don’t like foisting my work off on people I like. So: a favor and my eternal appreciation. Are you in?”

Sighing, Ben glared at the ceiling and counted backwards from three before he let himself swallow a fair portion of the whiskey Poe’d given him. It might’ve been the smoothest thing he’d ever tasted, the heat of it going down just the right side of burning, with enough flavor to make you think you weren’t drinking something strong enough to strip the paint off a ship if you had the mind to waste it on a project of that sort.

“Wow,” he said finally. “How long have you been holding out on me with this?” Better to distract both of them than answer that question. Tapping the base of the glass, he looked down at the drink in his hand. Sometimes, the greater the expense, the bigger the lie you had to tell yourself about the quality. Not here. Not with whatever this was.

Ben felt guilty even drinking it. Then again, he felt guilty about a lot of things regarding Poe these days. Everything Ben knew about him suggested he was a good man with a good worth ethic who ran a lucrative, honest business. In a galaxy full of the most dishonest beings alive.

Honest.

That was more than could be said about Ben.

“Good?” Poe asked.

“Yeah.” He scoffed, as good-natured as he ever got. Rather, as good-natured as he himself ever got. He knew how to pretend to be otherwise. He pretended all the time. That was his job. But not with Poe. In the particulars, at least, Poe let him be who he was, liked who he was. It was just the big things that were a lie. Some of them anyway. There was one lie that he wished didn’t have to be one. “I’d say that much for it definitely.”

“Only a month or so. Until I got really desperate.” Grinning with pleasure, Poe let his hands fall to the armrests, fingers curling around the edges. His head fell back against the plush leather beneath his neck. Ben imagined he was continuing to grin up at the ceiling. He certainly sounded more upbeat when he spoke again. “Does that mean you’ll do it?”

No.

“Yeah,” he said instead, his blood thudding in his ears as loud as alarm bells. No, no, no. What are you doing? “How soon do you need to leave tonight?”

Poe’s gaze flicked to the chronometer on his wall. His lips pursed together and a flash of his teeth was visible where he bit at the corner of his mouth. “Dunno. An hour, maybe?”

Ben finished his drink, the heat of it settling, hard and immovable as a boulder, in his stomach. That was more than enough time for him to change. This wasn’t the first chance he’d had to be someone’s date at an event like this. He knew the ropes. “I can be ready.”

Leaning forward, elbows braced against his thighs, he lifted his eyebrows. “You’re sure? You really don’t have to…”

Ben pushed himself to his feet and crossed the floor, abandoning the glass on the table as he passed it. By rights, Poe was the one doing him the favor here even if he didn’t know it. Bringing Ben along meant more threads to pull on, more ways he might exploit the competition. He should’ve been gratified that Poe wanted him to come along for that reason alone. Instead, he was happy because Poe wanted him to come along at all.

If he knew…

Poe’s chin perched on his hands as he peered up at Ben, a look of promise and gratitude in his eyes. What would he see if he told Poe the truth—the entirety of it, the parts that made him look bad and good both? The truth which was this: that he’d been hired to poke at the weak links in Poe’s company, stumbled into a dalliance with its owner, and assumed the same about him as he assumed about everybody he encountered in his line of work.

The truth was he’d made a mistake. He’d misjudged. And he was too cowardly to own up to it for fear of what Poe would say or feel.

But before he could do anything, even consider voicing the necessary words, Poe grabbed him by the hem of his shirt and pulled him down for a kiss. He wanted to grab back, take hold of anything he could reach, but Poe was doing a fine enough job wrinkling his own suit, Ben didn’t need to help him. “You’re kind of a dick when you wake up in the morning and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you roll your eyes at me when you think I’m talking too much,” Poe said, amused, against his mouth, “but you sure know how to make it up to a person after the fact. Thank you.”

Ben turned his head and cleared his throat and hoped to any of the millions of pantheons in the universe that his cheeks wouldn’t go red at what Poe’d said. Gruff, unable to look at Poe even though it was so very awkward from this distance and angle, he said, “You’re welcome.” Straightening, he brushed at his shirt and tugged at the hem. “I should probably…”

“Yeah, yeah.” He stretched up and shoved at Ben’s shoulder, dragging himself to his feet, too, with a self-conscious groan. “Go get ready.”

Ben got as far as the door before Poe spoke again. “At least there’ll be one upside to all this, huh?”

“What’s that?” Ben asked, curious.

“I’ll get to see you out of that consulting slicer chic you roam around my offices in for once.” Lifting his hands, he framed Ben between his thumbs and forefingers. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like it. I like you.”

“You just want to see if I clean up nicely?”

Poe lowered his hands and frowned. “I didn’t say that.”

Ben did that thing where he rolled his eyes when he thought Poe talked too much. He forced a smile onto his face and wished he was just the consultant who roamed Poe’s halls. “I make do, Dameron. No complaints so far.”

After pouring another measure of whiskey into the glass, ice now melting, Poe touched the rim to his temple. “In that case, I look forward to also having no complaints on that score.” He grinned, free and easy, as jealousy raged in Ben’s chest. He didn’t think he’d ever been as happy about anything in his life as Poe was right now—and for no reason at all.

Maybe if he ever had been, he wouldn’t be in this line of work.

But he was and now he would have to figure out what to do before things got even more out of hand.

After tonight.

After tonight, he’d make that decision.

Until then, perhaps he could enjoy himself.