Poe had held it together until he and General Organa were sent off to snatch a few precious hours of sleep in one of the few private bunkrooms on the Falcon - rank hath its privileges, everyone else insisted, and Poe didn’t have the energy to argue - but as the door finally closed behind them Poe finally lost the iron control he’d been holding over his emotions and collapsed down onto one of the bunks, putting his hands over his face and weeping like a child. General Organa had put a hand on his shoulder, warm and undeserved comfort. “Poe,” she had said quietly.
“My fault,” Poe choked out. “My fault - Snap and Jess and Tabala, the whole kriffing disaster - my fault - Force, I would give anything to do this day over again -”
“Oh, Poe,” General Organa said, voice full of grief and compassion. “I wish it worked like that -”
And she bent and pressed her lips to Poe’s forehead.
The kiss burned like cold fire, like the void and the consuming flame.
Poe wakes to BB-8’s insistent alarm-beeps, and rolls to his feet to discover that he is standing, not in the tiny bunkroom of the Millennium Falcon, but in his own messy room on D’Qar. He stares around in shock, then realizes - this must be a dream, there’s no other explanation. “I’m up, Beebee,” he says. “What’s the date?”
BB-8 projects a calendar, and Poe stares in blank astonishment. The day of the evacuation - the day everything went so very wrong. He knows this is a dream, but maybe - maybe he can pretend, for a little while, that he can change things, can do things differently.
“Thanks, buddy,” he tells BB-8, patting the little droid on the head, and scrambles into his flight suit, packs his few essential belongings hastily into a duffel and heads for the transports at a trot.
General Organa still doesn’t like his plan, but it worked last time - the first part, anyhow - and so Poe argues just as hard this time, and ends up sitting in space in front of a dreadnought again, listening to BB-8 burble dubiously about their chances of surviving. “Happy beeps, buddy,” he murmurs. “We got this.”
He stalls General Hux as long as he can, taking great pleasure in the rising levels of anger in the bastard’s voice, in the way Hux rants for longer each time - it’s always fun to use an enemy’s weaknesses against them, and Hux’s weakness is definitely his inability to do anything evil without monologuing about it first.
And then, when he can’t stall any longer, Poe goes for the dreadnought’s dorsal cannons, taking great joy in dodging everything they can throw at him and taking each of them out, one perfectly-aimed blast at a time. This is what he is good at, what he is meant for, this is what the son of Shara Bey was born to do.
The TIE fighters come boiling out of the dreadnought at just about the same time, but Poe knows where they’ll be coming from now, and the blast that ought to take out his guns misses entirely, and he blasts the last dorsal cannon from the dreadnought’s hull with almost manic glee -
And General Organa’s voice comes over the comm: “Break off, Dameron, the cruiser is loaded. Retreat.”
Poe takes a deep breath, and flips on his comm to the squadron-wide channel. “Break off, guys, we’ve done what we came for,” he says firmly. “Rendezvous with the cruiser at the planned jump point. Go!”
One by one, his squadron of fighters and bombers replies, a chorus of “Aye, sir,” ringing in Poe’s ears, and then he turns his X-Wing and sends it streaking away from the crippled dreadnought, dodging TIE fighters until he’s far enough away to punch through to lightspeed. Silently, he promises himself that that dreadnought is still his - someday, someday soon, he’ll kill it. But not today.
He comes out of hyperspace to see his squadron, X-Wings and bombers alike, snapping into place around the cruiser as they settle into normal space again.
Poe sends the bombers in to dock before the fighters, keeping his squadron hovering around the cruiser, and for all it’s the sensible thing to do it’s also because he’s waiting, heart in his throat, and - yes. Kriff it. There’s the damn First Order ships again, snapping into existence far too close to the beleaguered cruiser and her escort ships, already spitting TIEs. The TIEs are going for the cruiser, of course, but this time - this time Poe’s fighters are already launched and ready.
“General,” he says into his comm, and the reply comes instantly: “I see them, Dameron. Do what you can.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and sends his squadron forward, ordering them to stop those TIE fighters at all costs. He goes straight for the fancy-ass command ship, knowing he’s probably not going to be able to kill it but hoping to distract its pilot from the cruiser. If Poe dies - well, if Poe dies it’ll only be fair. And can he even die in a dream, anyhow?
The command ship’s pilot doesn’t want to be distracted - Poe can’t bear to think the name of his enemy, because if he does he’ll be lost to either terror or insane rage, and neither will be useful - but Poe is good at being annoying, and manages to shoot the tip of one of the ship’s wings off, which really gets its pilot’s attention. Poe leads the command ship’s pilot in a twisting, corkscrewing, crazy dance across the battlefield, managing by luck and the skin of his teeth to dodge every blast - sometimes managing to dodge so that the command ship’s blasts hit TIE fighters, which makes Poe grin like a hunting panther - until finally some signal from the First Order ships must call the TIEs and the command ship back, and Poe wheels around to see that the cruiser is out of range of the full force of the capital ships’ blasts - save for the orbital guns on the dreadnought, which keep up a steady firing, their blasts splatting off the cruiser’s shields but acting as a dreadful reminder that they aren’t yet anything like safe.
“Come on back, Poe,” his comm says, and Poe sends his nearly-depleted X-Wing back towards the cruiser, counting the other X-Wings as they settle to the deck and nearly weeping with relief as he sees that there are more - far more - than there were the last time through.
He’s swinging down from his cockpit when he sees Kaydel waiting for him. “Officers’ meeting on the secondary bridge,” she says. “Immediately.”
“The secondary bridge?” Poe asks, feeling the blood drain from his cheeks. “No.” No, it can’t be, he did everything right this time -
“Couple of TIE fighters got in a direct hit on the bridge,” Kaydel says as they jog through the corridors, BB-8 whirring at their heels. “We lost Akbar, Statura - almost everyone. The General got blown out into space but she used the Force to bring herself back, you shoulda seen it - but she’s unconscious.”
“Kriff,” Poe says, and means it.
He’s one of the last officers onto the secondary bridge, sliding into an empty place as Commander D’Acy steps into the middle of the open space at the center. She lays out the recent events in clear, sparse words, and then steps back to cede the floor to Admiral Holdo.
Poe takes a deep breath and listens, really listens, to what Admiral Holdo says. There clearly is a plan, even if it’s one he’s not privy to - well, one he isn’t supposed to be privy to, at least, in any scenario where he’s not living this day for the second time through. He doesn’t try to get Admiral Holdo to tell him what’s going on; she’ll do that in her own sweet time, and trying to talk her into it will just get him on her bad side. Instead, Poe goes to make sure his remaining fighter pilots and all his bomber pilots are settled in, and does the rounds of telling them all that they did amazingly, just perfect, well done them, and then retreats to his own room and sits down hard on his narrow little bunk, letting his head fall back against the wall and staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. Snap and Jess are still alive. Tabala isn’t dead yet. The bomber pilots - all of them, alive. So okay, he didn’t manage to save the bridge - he’s not a god. He can’t have done any better, even in a dream.
He’s still trying to figure out what he could have done better when the door opens and Rose and Paige Tico come piling in, with Finn hard on their heels. “Poe,” Finn gasps. “Poe, we think we have a plan.”
Poe straightens and tries to think as Finn and Rose and Paige lay out their crazy strategy. It didn’t work last time, but last time Paige was dead - maybe this time it would work - but then again, Poe is trying to fix his mistakes, right? To not be the hotheaded flyboy who got everyone and their sister killed last time. To not think he knows better than General Organa and Admiral Holdo, without access to the information they have and he doesn’t. And yeah, maybe it grates that they don’t tell him everything, but he’s an adult, and he can damn well act like one.
So he puts the call through to Maz, because having as much information as possible is important, and then he looks at Finn and Rose and Paige and says, “Alright. That’s as solid a plan as we can put together on short notice. Now let’s go see what Admiral Holdo thinks.”
Admiral Holdo hears them out without any expression on her face, and then she shakes her head. “It is useful to know how the First Order is tracking us,” she says calmly. “Thank you for bringing me that information. But it is not necessary to our current plan for the tracking device to be disabled, and therefore I cannot authorize such a mission.”
Poe raises his hand to still his companions before they can start protesting. “Ma’am, we’re all eager to help in any way we can,” he says. “I know I’m just a flyboy, but I’m damn good at that, and Finn put that plan we just brought you together in about ten minutes; I bet if you gave him any strategic problem you liked, he’d find a damn good solution. Tell us what we can do to help. Please.”
Admiral Holdo pauses, looking them all over thoughtfully, and then nods. “Very well,” she says. “Our current plan will work much better if the orbital guns on that dreadnought are not functioning. Put together a plan to disable them and bring it to me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Poe says, deeply relieved to be given something to do, and herds his friends back to his room for the planning session to end all planning sessions.
“We’d still need a codebreaker to get into the dreadnought,” Finn says once they’re settled around the room with ration bars. He’s leaning against Poe’s shoulder, both of them crammed onto the narrow bunk, and Poe is slightly distracted by Finn’s warmth and nearness. “But that’s only if we want to disable the guns. If we just want to destroy them, we can probably do it without a codebreaker. We just need to get close enough to blow them up.”
“How heavily shielded are they?” Rose asks, bent over a hologram schematic of a dreadnought and frowning ferociously. “And - there aren’t any dorsal cannons on that side of the dreadnought, are there? Wait, no, obviously, if they’re dorsal.”
“No, no ventral cannons,” Finn agrees.
“And we took out all dorsal ones,” Poe adds.
“And if we get close enough to the dreadnought’s shields, we might be able to get bombs through, or fighters,” Finn says. “The shields are mostly calibrated against energy blasts. Just like what you did earlier, Poe - get in too close for their long-range defences.”
“If they’re focusing on the cruiser and her escorts,” Paige says slowly, “would the First Order notice very small ships leaving the cruiser?”
“Probably not,” Poe says. “That’s how we were going to get you to Canto Bight, right?”
“Right,” Finn says. “Do you think Admiral Holdo would be willing to sacrifice one of the escort ships for a diversion?”
“How do you mean?” Poe asks, frowning.
“Empty one of the ships, drain as much of the fuel as possible and transfer it to the cruiser, and then set it on autopilot in an interesting direction. Make it look like - make it look like we’ve had an internal division, and some of us are trying to flee. They’ll believe that.” Finn has a look of great concentration on his face, and sketches figures in the air as he explains.
“So the escort ship takes off thataway, and while the First Order are watching and hunting that ship down, we get a couple of X-Wings and a bomber out under stealth and wait.”
“Wait?” Paige asks.
“Wait,” Finn says. “Wait until the First Order ships have gone past us, and then come in behind and below the dreadnought, quiet as we can, until we’re just outside their shield range. Have the bomber aligned so ‘down’ is towards the orbital guns - perpendicular to the dreadnought’s bottom, you see?”
BB-8 projects a little image of a bomber next to the dreadnought hologram, turning it until when it drops its bombs, they should travel along the bottom of the dreadnought and impact the base of the orbital guns.
“Exactly like that,” Finn says. “Thanks, Beebee. So we get off as many bombs as we can before they notice us, and then - how fast is a bomber?”
“Not fast,” Paige says immediately. “Pretty damn slow, actually.”
“Right,” Finn says, nodding. “So drop the payload and then evacuate the bomber - have a two-seater X-Wing if we’ve got one, or maybe an itty bitty fast shuttle - and get the hell out of there. Circle back around to meet up with the cruiser.” He shrugs. “There’s a lot of things that could go wrong, but…”
“But most of those things can be solved by someone who’s good at shooting things from an X-Wing,” Poe says, grinning.
“Yes,” Finn says, grinning back. Rose and Paige give each other a long look over the holographic dreadnought, then nod.
“Alright,” Poe says. “Let’s take this to the admiral.”
Admiral Holdo gives them a very skeptical look when they lay out the bones of their plan, but she also nods. “The medical ship is nearly out of fuel,” she says. “It has maybe another hour at most. We can evacuate it easily enough, and make it look like it’s chosen to leave the fleet. Take a shuttle, two X-Wings, and a bomber, and enough pilots for all of them. And Commander Dameron -” she gives him a wry look. “Be careful. I don’t want to have to tell the General I got her favorite flyboy killed.”
“Yes, Admiral,” Poe says, grinning.
He’ll be one of the X-Wing pilots, of course, and Paige will pilot the bomber. Rose can pilot, though not as well as her sister, and he gives her the shuttle, because he’s not stupid enough to tell her she can’t be responsible for picking her sister up after Paige scuttles the bomber. Finn...honestly can’t fly an X-Wing, and the shuttle doesn’t have any guns, but it’s better to have him along than leave him on the cruiser to fret, so Poe sticks him on the shuttle and puts him in charge of communications with the cruiser and among their little group. That leaves him with one X-Wing still unmanned, and he mentally runs through the roster of his surviving pilots - blessedly longer than it was the first time he did this - and decides that Kare is probably his best choice.
About then, Poe realizes he’s treating this like it’s real, and not a dream. But - could a dream be so detailed, so very elaborate? Poe’s dreams are usually fairly fuzzy things, all odd events and stretched timelines and occasionally desperate quests to find the refresher. This is far too real to be one of his normal dreams.
And General Organa is a Force-user, and a powerful one. Poe doesn’t know what is and isn’t possible with the Force. Maybe - maybe his own regret, nearly strong enough to kill him, and General Organa’s compassion, and the Force running through her blood, all worked together to fling Poe back in time, to give him another chance to get this right.
Well. If so, he’s not squandering it. Already he’s kept most of his pilots alive - already he’s changed things for the better. And since Finn and Rose aren’t going to be trying to sneak aboard Snoke’s massive ship, there’s no chance anyone on that ship will overhear the plan to evacuate the cruiser and head the transports for Crait, and with luck - or the will of the Force - Poe’s comrades won’t be shot out of the sky on their way to the dubious safety of the Rebel base below.
They collect Kare on the way down to the boat-bay, and Poe briefs her quickly. She gives him a long look that he can’t quite read.
“That’s never one of your plans,” she says at last. “There’s not enough fancy flying.”
“No,” Poe admits. “Finn’s.”
“Huh,” Kare says. “I think I like him.”
Poe shakes his head ruefully. “We’ll let him handle strategy from now on,” he suggests. “I’ll take tactics.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kare says, and claps Finn approvingly on the shoulder as she heads for her X-Wing. Finn raises an eyebrow at Poe, who shrugs.
“So I’m better at fancy flying and fast talking than strategy,” he says. “We can’t all be good at everything.”
“Fair,” Finn says, and follows Rose onto the shuttle.
Admiral Holdo’s voice comes over their comms a few minutes later. “Medical ship is heading galactic east, and will be passing through our shield in thirty seconds from my mark. Head out to galactic southwest, and the Force be with you. Mark.”
“Got it,” Poe says, and sends his X-Wing sliding out of the boat-bay, every stealth program running at full strength. Behind him, the shuttle and the bomber and Kare’s X-Wing are shadows against the starry sky. They move very carefully away from the cruiser and its single remaining escort, Poe holding his breath as they pass through the shield. This is the moment of truth - if the First Order has spotted them, they’re doomed.
The dreadnought’s cannons swivel to the east, and the medical ship vanishes in a blaze of glory. And then the dreadnought goes back to pounding away at the cruiser’s shields, paying no attention at all to Poe’s tiny squadron.
“Thank the Force,” Poe breathes, and leads them “down” and away, so that they’ll be well outside of sensor range as the big ships pass them by.
Poe has never enjoyed waiting, and sitting quietly with all the stealth systems up and everything else powered as low as it will go, watching the First Order’s capital ships slip silently by and the cruiser flee desperately in front of them, is an experience he doesn’t care to repeat. He can’t even talk to anyone to pass the time, since they all know that any communication is a chance for the First Order to overhear them. After a few minutes of jittering he reaches up to wrap his hand around his mother’s ring on its chain about his neck and begins to sing, every song he can remember her singing to him when he was young, lullabies and ballads and silly little ditties she made up just for him.
That distracts him enough to keep him from twitching right out of the cockpit, at least, and finally the capital ships are far enough in front of them that it’s safe to move.
“Alright, buddies,” Poe murmurs into his comm. “Let’s go.”
They slip forwards through the void, the silent stars hanging all about them, and Poe bites his lip and watches the sensor screen, tracking the faint red line which is the edge of the First Order’s shields nervously. They slide closer and closer and closer, and Poe is beginning to wonder if they’ve made some sort of dreadful mistake when BB-8 finally beeps.
“Halt,” Poe says into his comm. “Paige, fire when ready.”
“Aye aye,” Paige’s voice replies, very quietly. The bomber is perfectly aligned. Poe waits, barely breathing, as Paige must make a final few adjustments. The seconds tick by like hours.
And then the bombs begin to drop, arrowing away from the bomber in perfect flat lines along the bottom of the dreadnought, passing through the dreadnought’s shield without a pause. Poe tracks the first one with his eyes until he can’t see it anymore, black against the blackness of the capital ship, and then looks down at the little screen where his ship’s much keener sensors are still tracking the tiny balls of destruction.
There’s a pause, probably much shorter than it feels, and then the first bomb makes contact, and the explosion is bright as the birth of a star. Poe feels himself grinning, a sharp feral expression, and tears his eyes away from the glorious sight to check that Paige has scuttled the bomber. The last bomb streaks away from them, and there’s a single long moment, and then the bomber’s airlock opens and a single tiny figure goes shooting across empty space to the open airlock of the shuttle, which snaps shut behind her, and Finn’s voice over Poe’s comm says, “Got Paige. Let’s go!”
Poe and Kare flank the shuttle as they head “up” and away from the bomber. TIE fighters come boiling out of the capital ships, aiming for where Poe’s squadron was, and Poe is just starting to worry that the scuttling charges didn’t work when the bomber goes up in a glorious blast of shrapnel that takes out three TIE fighters and damages two more.
“Loop west,” Poe says, watching the TIE fighters scatter to look for them. “Keep stealth up, but redline it - we want to get as far away as possible before we hook back.” The cruiser is far ahead of them, and the second escort ship has lost fuel and been evacuated (Poe hopes) before the First Order’s cannons destroyed it. It’s going to take them a while to reach the cruiser, even at their best speed, but they have a little time. There’s another four hours before the cruiser’s fuel reserves are gone, and Poe, glancing at a star map, sees that they’re a little more than two hours from Crait.
“TIE fighters on our tail,” Kare says, voice crackling a little with tension, and Poe grins. Finally, something he can shoot at.
“I see ‘em,” he says. “I’ll take the ones on the left. Rose, keep going, we’ll catch up.”
“Aye aye,” Rose replies, and Poe turns his X-Wing with a little more flair than is maybe necessary and heads for the left-side handful of TIE fighters with a whoop of glee.
Poe guides his X-Wing into the boat-bay almost clumsily, blinking back exhaustion. He’s been awake for almost twenty hours now, and he’s going to need some strong caf or some sleep or both. Preferably both. But the orbital guns are out of commission, and it sure as hell looked like the explosions might have damaged some of the dreadnought’s engines, too, because it’s fallen behind the other capital ships. One less thing to worry about, especially if it decides to head back to wherever its base is. Presumably Hux will think that two capital ships and Snoke’s monstrosity are enough to deal with a single Resistance cruiser. Force willing, he’ll keep thinking that for long enough for them to get away.
Finn and Rose and Paige are waiting on the deck when he clambers out of Black One. “We did it!” Finn says, grinning, as Poe falls into his open arms. “The dreadnought’s out of commission!”
“Your plan worked,” Poe agrees, grinning back. “Nice aim there, Paige, I don’t think I’ve ever seen better. Good show with the shuttle, Rose. And nice shooting, Kare,” he adds as she joins them. “Not that I need to tell you that.”
“One of these days I’ll beat your kill-count,” Kare says amiably. “Well done, everyone. Shall we go make our report?”
“No need to go anywhere,” Admiral Holdo’s crisp tones come from the doorway, and they all turn to see Admiral Holdo and General Organa, looking a little weak but back on her feet, standing there with matching smiles. “That was very well executed, Commander Dameron.”
General Organa nods. “Well done,” she says quietly, and Poe thinks his heart might actually burst with pride. This time, he has lived up to what she expects of him. This time, he has not failed.
“You have an hour until evacuation commences,” General Organa says. “Go drink some caf, you look about done in.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Poe says ruefully, and pulls Finn towards the door.
“Evacuation?” Finn asks quietly. “We’re evacuating the cruiser?”
“The cruiser is being tracked,” Poe says. “But we’re far enough away that with any luck, they won’t be able to spot small transports under heavy stealth, and will think that the cruiser is still full and fleeing.”
“Ah,” Finn says thoughtfully. “That...could work, yes.”
“But where are we going?” Rose asks from behind Poe. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even recognize the star chart.”
“Nobody’s told me that,” Poe says, quite truthfully. “But if I had to guess, I’d guess the General knows about some old Rebellion base nearby.”
“Oh,” Paige says. “That makes sense. Then we can get a distress signal out, call for help. Someone must have a couple of capital ships they can send along.”
“I hope so,” Poe says, grimacing as he remembers, in that dreadful other day, the silence as their distress calls went unanswered. “In the meantime, though, I need caf or I’m going to fall over.”
Finn chuckles and steers Poe towards the mess. “You’ve already mostly fallen over,” he points out, and Poe realizes he’s leaning quite heavily on Finn, and stumbling with every other step.
“I’ll fall over more,” he says, with as much dignity as he can muster.
Finn pours him into a seat and goes off to get caf, and Rose and Paige and Kare claim a second table and settle in for what looks like some serious gossip - Poe is just glad they’re getting along, since sometimes the rivalry between the X-Wing pilots and the bomber pilots can get nasty - and BB-8 nudges against Poe’s knees, beeping happily. They did it. The mission worked.
Maybe this ‘think before leaping into an X-Wing and shooting things’ plan is going to work after all.
Poe takes his place in his X-Wing again an hour later, and listens carefully to General Organa’s last instructions: stick close to the transports, keep stealth up, don’t do anything stupid. They’re keeping as many X-Wings as they can, though there’s no way to bring any of the bombers along on this silent exodus, and Poe is just praying that their stealth is good enough to make it down to Crait. Force willing, the lack of traitorous thief relaying their plans will be enough to keep them safe a little longer.
He’s lifting off when he notices that - yet again - Admiral Holdo has stayed behind. Kriff. That’s...stars, he’s going to have to watch her die twice, isn’t he. There’s nothing he can do about it but salute as he takes his X-Wing slowly past her, and she returns his salute with a solemn nod of approval that leaves him simultaneously warm with pride and cold with the knowledge of her certain death.
Then he’s out in space again, BB-8 burbling happily, and he takes his place next to the transport that has General Organa and Finn on it, and makes a quiet, private resolution that if worst comes to worst and they are spotted and fired on, and he sees a blast coming for this transport, he’ll put his X-Wing in the way. Better to die quickly than watch Finn and General Organa die.
They move in utter radio silence, all of them cloaked so hard that even knowing where everyone is, Poe almost can’t spot them on his display. The cruiser continues on its path, drawing fire just the way it’s meant to, and Poe watches it go out of the corner of his eye and mentally salutes again, to an officer he’s proud to have served under, even for so little time.
They move towards Crait at what seems like a snail’s pace, as fast as they can go without breaking stealth and still not nearly fast enough, and Poe chews his lip bloody as the minutes tick by and the First Order continues to fire on the cruiser and the Resistance transports get closer and closer and closer to safety.
And then, just as they are almost within the planet’s atmosphere, a cannon blast comes streaking in from behind them and takes out the last transport in the group. Poe swears aloud, tasting blood and despair, and General Organa’s voice over his comm snaps, “Cancel stealth! Get down to the target - now!”
Poe stays behind her transport, though, waiting until it lands inside the vast cavern to put his own ship down, and scrambles out of it in time to see another transport blown up - another - another. And then they are all down, all the remaining transports and all their escort X-Wings, and the giant door is sliding slowly, painfully slowly down over the entrance, and Poe counts up the remaining transports and shakes his head in wonder. Twenty-five. Twenty-five of thirty. Five times as many survivors as there were the last time.
And then he hears Kaydel swear, words he didn’t even know the young woman knew, and goes sprinting over to the ancient display she’s just booted up, in time to see Admiral Holdo wheel the cruiser around and aim its bow towards Snoke’s massive ship and burn every last drop of fuel as she jumps to lightspeed.
Snoke’s ship comes apart, one entire wing sheared away, tumbling through space with its engines gone and explosions going off in every corner. Poe realizes that there’s a crowd behind him, all gaping at the ancient, staticky display.
“Hot damn,” Kare breathes. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Neither did I,” Finn says, sounding awed and horrified in equal measure. “Kriff.”
Kriff is right, Poe thinks absently. Talk about taking an honor guard to hell. “Hey Kare,” he says. “I think you want to start thinking about beating Admiral Holdo’s kill count, not mine.”
“Yeah,” Kare says, sounding dazed. “Hey Finn, what’s half a supersized star destroyer’s crew?”
“A lot,” Finn says dryly. “I think it’s gonna take you a while, Kare.”
It’s Rose, though, who says, “Now what?”
“Now we wait,” General Organa says wearily. “We’ve sent out our distress signal. It only remains to see who comes.”
There’s apparently some confusion among the First Order fleet, because Poe manages to catch a good two-hour nap before Finn shakes him awake with the news that the First Order has landed walkers and an enormous cannon. “It’ll blow right through that door,” Finn says anxiously. “And we haven’t been able to find any other way out.”
“There’s gotta be at least one,” Poe says. “Nobody would build a secret base without a back door. But - ugh. Let’s go see how the General wants us to deal with that cannon.”
The General is looking grim when they join her. “I think,” she says, “that this is going to be on you, Poe. Do the X-Wings have enough fuel for a strafing run?”
“They do,” Poe says firmly. “Finn, what can you tell us about that cannon?”
“You’re going to have to get a perfect down-the-throat shot,” Finn says grimly. “It’s basically all armor except right there. And if it fires, it will go through anything that’s in front of it. X-Wings. People. That door. Anyone behind the door, so it’d probably be a good idea to move anything you don’t want blown up to the sides of the cavern.”
“Got it,” Poe says. “Alright. Kare, Snap, Jess - get everyone together, we’ll do a quick briefing and get in the air. With your permission, General, I’d like to go jump in my X-Wing and blow some stuff up?”
“Granted,” General Organa says dryly. Poe salutes and gathers his pilots up as he heads for the ships, counting them and thanking the Force for every one who’s lived long enough to be here now. Maybe he’ll lose them again during this mission, but there’s always that threat; that’s part of being a Resistance fighter. At least he won’t be losing them due to his own pigheaded idiocy, though. At least he’ll be doing something worthwhile.
“Right, mission target is the cannon,” he says, once the very brief briefing has been given. “Mind the TIE fighters. Watch each other’s backs. Come back if you can - every one of you is damn well irreplaceable. Hear me?”
“Aye, sir,” rises from two dozen throats, and Poe nods sharply and swings up into Black One, BB-8 slotting into position behind him.
“Let’s do this thing!” he says, and the hatches in the door swing open, just far enough to let the X-Wings and the ground troops out.
There are TIE fighters, of course, and that damned command shuttle hovering above everything, but the X-Wings are a lot faster than the speeders Poe remembers using last time, and more maneuverable, too. And they’ve got a lot closer to numbers parity with the TIE fighters, which certainly helps. Poe is helplessly, desperately proud of his pilots, who fly rings around the technically-faster TIE fighters, dodging blasts by margins so narrow it looks like they ought to be dead a hundred times over, even managing to crash several of the TIE fighters into the walkers, resulting in a five-walker pile-up.
And he’s awed all over again when the Millennium Falcon comes swooping in, firing with deadly accuracy, and decimates the TIE fighters before drawing them off to leave Poe and his X-Wings a clear shot at the cannon.
But the cannon begins warming up to fire before any of them can get into position to fire that perfect down-the-throat shot, and Poe swears vituperatively and orders them all back and up. They can’t block the cannon’s beam. They can’t do anything.
The door is blown open, and Poe is readying himself to sell his life as dearly as possible when his comm crackles and General Organa’s voice snaps, “Get back in here, all of you. On the double!”
“What the General said!” Poe orders, and his X-Wings go streaking in through the still-smoldering gap in the door, Poe last in line - first out, last in, privilege of being the commander - and their pilots come scrambling out of the ships in time to see Luke Skywalker - Luke Skywalker - walking calmly out through the burning gap to face the enemy.
“Poe,” Finn says, grabbing Poe’s shoulder. “We’ve been scouting the tunnels while you were out there - we’ve found a way out - the crystal creatures, they showed us - come on, we have to go. He’s buying us time.”
“Alright, everyone follow Finn,” Poe says, and herds his pilots forwards, following the ground troops and the General and what’s left of the command staff and mechanics, through the tunnel and up, tight corners and narrow passageways and the ever-present fear of Stormtroopers behind him, until at last they reach the dead end Poe remembers, the gap that’s only large enough for a crystal fox.
And again, just as Poe remembers, the rocks lift away, revealing Rey looking like a goddess of the Light. Finn charges forwards to embrace her; Poe chivvies the Resistance fighters past the two young heroes and into the open cargo bays of the Falcon. They’re going to be backed in like kriffing sardines, and Poe really hopes the Falcon’s air reserves hold out, but it’s a far better chance than they had even five minutes ago, so it will definitely do.
He gets hauled up into the actual living area by Finn and Rose, and collapses onto a couch with a sigh of relief as General Organa finally comes up the ramp and Rey closes it. Chewbacca takes them up with a yowl that might be triumph and might be grief.
“Well done,” General Organa says, once they’re safely in hyperspace, heading Poe-doesn’t-know-where in a ship that’s become a legend in its own right. “All of you, very well done.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Poe says, and curls up on the couch and falls asleep, praying to the Force that this has not, in fact, been a dream.
He wakes up on the Falcon, the day after D’Qar’s destruction, and for a minute he lies there with his eyes closed, not sure if his second chance really was a dream. But he is out in the main room, not a private bunk, and he can hear Jess and Snap squabbling in the tiny galley, and Rose and Paige are apparently teaching Rey and Finn a variant of sabacc.
Poe sits up and opens his eyes, and thanks the Force for giving him this undeserved boon.