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Always comes around again

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The Falcon is quiet. The initial elation prompted by survival against all odds has ebbed in the face of exhaustion and grief. The latter seems to blanket the ship like an electric charge, the air so thick with it Poe can almost taste it.

He wishes it were louder. Anything but this echoing, tired silence, anything to distract his brain from the yawning pit of guilt and grief. He has already been turned away from the cockpit twice, told to ‘get some fucking sleep, Poe, for fuck’s sake’ (Chewie) and there isn’t much else to do now that they’re set on a course and the Falcon seems to be running smoothly for once. Most everyone else is asleep. Finn is still sitting next to Rose’s still form – don’t think about her bright-eyed sorrow for her sister, killed on his orders, don’t think – but Poe is loathe to disturb his vigil. For all the snatches of time he had spent at Finn’s bedside, he doesn’t feel he has the right. He doesn’t know if Leia is sleeping, but he can’t quite bring himself to face her yet anyway. They will have to talk, and soon, but right now he needs a little more time to lick his wounds and stop this damn spiral of guilt before it gets out of hand. Needs to accept his part in the catastrophic events of the last day and move on nonetheless, keep that spark of hope burning, however much the might of the First Order now overshadows the galaxy. That’s what the Resistance was founded for, and that’s what their task continues to be.

Yeah, all thirty of us who are left.

His eyes feel gritty, as if the sands of Jakku still stick to him. No one has slept in the last twenty-four hours, but Poe hasn’t exactly been sleeping well for a while. It would almost be easier if he had given up entirely, if that spark of fire, of hope, weren’t still alight buried deep in his chest. He still believes, whole-heartedly, in the goals of the Resistance, in fighting for the galaxy’s freedom from the tyranny of the First Order. But. (There didn’t use to be any buts.) The weight of the dead is becoming harder to bear with every new casualty, and right now? Right now they have nothing more than a beat up freighter which flies like a dream, and while that’s far more than he’d dared hope for just a few hours ago (a quick death) it’s still not exactly enough to take on the entirety of the First Order. Even with a Jedi and General Organa on board.

His thoughts keep spinning on, in ever tighter circles until he feels like he’s corkscrewing in an unstable X-Wing and he knows he should rest, should conserve what little strength he feels he has left, but instead his feet keep ghosting along the curves of the Falcon, past the snoring and past those so deeply asleep they make no sound at all.

He halts next to the dejarik table.

C’ai is conked out on the curved bench, his lanky form wracked with shivers.Abednedos like warm temperatures, and he doesn’t even have a blanket. Poe turns on his heel, and heads for one of the storage chests he remembers from his last time on the Falcon. It was years ago now, but Han never did seem to change anything. The chest is empty, save for one big throw that looks disturbingly like a cross between a Wookiee and Bantha pelt, but if it’s anything it’s warm, so he grabs it and ignores the small cloud of dust rising into the still air. Poe gently drapes the blanket over the other pilot gently so that C’ai doesn’t wake and lingers long enough to make sure the shivers die down.

A sudden tightness in his chest almost makes him gasp. No, not sudden – his chest has been tight for a long while now, but this vice-like squeeze around his heart is new. There should be other pilots sleeping here. Just that morning he had sat in the mess with Tallie and the rest of Blue and Green Squadron, worried but cheerful enough. An endless litany of names, friends and comrades, people he had commanded.

Poe barely notices when he slides down the wall to land on the floor, cold with the chill of space. Fingers clutch at his mother’s ring in an instinctive gesture he had outgrown a decade ago. He doesn’t need to close his eyes to see ships exploding in front of his mind’s eye, fighters and transports alike. Ships full of his friends, his life. A wail builds low in his chest and he swallows convulsively to keep it trapped in his throat. Now is not the time. If he lets go now, he won’t be of use to anyone.

All it takes is one stray thought, growing and shaping, fed by despair: I wish I could go back and change it. The Force and its unquiet ghosts are listening.

The edges of his mother’s ring dig into the soft flesh of his palm. Heartbeat. Smooth metal. Heartbeat. Poe closes his eyes.

 

 

The first thing he notices is the humid, warm air brushing against his nose. Not the blanket covering him, hardly luxurious but comfortable enough, not the mattress he’s lying on, or even his sleep clothes, but the air. No air on a ship feels like this. Poe opens his eyes to find what looks like the pock-marked stone ceiling of his little room on D’Qar above his head. It looks exactly like he last saw it, the morning of the evacuation, even with that dubious reddish stain in one corner. He almost expects BB-8 to roll in any moment, beeping about his meeting with Leia like they did that last morning.

The door opens. Poe turns his head and there’s BB-8, rolling right up to the bunk and swivelling their head to look up at Poe with their dark lens.

[Meeting with Badass General in half a standard hour! My Pilot needs to begin morning routine.]

Poe stares. That’s exactly what BB-8 said to him, down to the particular trill of fond exasperation that usually marks their nickname for Poe. He blinks. He has never had a dream this detailed before – it’s like a memory replay except that in the memory, he should already be patting BB-8’s dome and swinging his feet out from under the blanket.

He doesn’t move. BB-8 whirrs and rolls another inch forward to gently bump against the bunk.

[My Pilot is awake and should move now. Average length of morning routine: 20.5 minutes.]

That’s new. BB-8 hadn’t said that last time because Poe had already been moving. If someone has invented choose your own adventure dreaming without telling him he’s going to be so cross. Slowly, he inches one hand over to his other arm and pinches the sensitive skin of his underarm. The hurt feels distressingly real. All of this feels distressingly real.

Clearly losing their patience, BB-8 bumps against his bunk again.

“Hold your freighters, buddy, I’m coming,” he says, on autopilot, and wonders why his voice sounds so normal because either he’s gone completely around the bend or there’s some weird Force shit going on. Chances are sitting at around 50/50 right now.

Poe does get out of bed then, because whatever is going on doesn’t seem like it’ll stop happening if he pretends he’s sleeping for a while longer, and besides, even in a fucked up hallucination he doesn’t want to disappoint Leia by being late for no good reason. Well, no good reason he can tell her about anyway. Just imagining that conversation makes him grimace.

Oh, hi General, I seem to be reliving the last day of my life in excruciating detail, how is your morning going?

He can see the expression she’d wear, her patented ‘flyboy antics’ exasperation underlain by a measure of warm, sincere fondness that a younger Poe would never have dreamed could one day be directed at him by his idol. And then she’d probably ask him where he’d managed to find a stash of alcohol that potent and why he hadn’t shared it.

-

The meeting, when he finally makes it there with two minutes to spare, goes exactly like he remembers it and Poe is too dazed by the impossibility of his current existence to contribute much. He foregoes breakfast and makes his way to the hangar instead, so he can lean against his precious, undamaged Black One. He desperately needs to get his head in order before he goes up, and that isn’t going to happen if he goes to the mess hall where his mind gibbers He/She/They/Xe are going to die in the face of almost every person he encounters. Mostly hidden beneath the fighter, he rests his forehead against one of Black One’s landing gears. The cool metal soothes the fevered pounding in his head. For a long while he only manages to breathe, in and out.

When he next looks up, Tallie is walking past on her way to her A-Wing, helmet under one arm. Dead dead dead. Are these living beings he sees, or spectres of memories conjured by his overtaxed mind? He hadn’t seen her outside the mess hall last time, but surely he knows all of his pilots’ routines well enough to extrapolate.

The possibility that this is real, that he has somehow been given a second chance to fix all the things that went wrong today, is equally as terrifying. Too much power and responsibility on one set of shoulders. The wrong set of shoulders.

Yet, even as that thought occurs, he straightens, reaches for his helmet. That’s what superior officers and their orders are for, after all. This time, he’s going to follow them, instincts be damned.

-

Half an hour later, the last of the dreadnought’s surface cannons goes up in a ball of flame and he banks his X-Wing sharply to head back towards the Raddus.

“You heard the General,” he says. “Fall back to the cruiser.”

Aborted noises are coming through his headset, protests half-voiced, but when he turns his X-Wing around he sees the bombers retreating back into the shadow of the Raddus, smaller fighters flying escort. He breathes out. Perhaps those pilots and gunners won’t die today. Perhaps. The dreadnought at their back, in addition to five Star Destroyers, isn’t exactly a comforting spectre – they are fleet killers, Poe wasn’t wrong about that the first time around, but he has to hope that Leia’s call was the right one.

She didn’t know we would be tracked through lightspeed though, a small voice at the back of his mind insists and Poe grimaces.

He lands in the hangar with less flair than usual. BB-8 doesn’t beep about Finn as the canopy opens, but then he’s a few minutes early. In fact, if he goes to the medbay now, he can probably stop Finn from walking around the ship naked in that leaky suit.

He has only taken a couple of steps when Leia’s voice stops him. “Commander, a word.”

The General is waiting outside the stream of pilots, face grim and eyes piercing.

“Do you know why I ordered the retreat?” she asks when he has stopped beside her.

He meets her gaze evenly, though he wants to flinch with the memories assaulting his mind. “The attack would have been a costly one for the fleet. I believe we could’ve taken out that dreadnought, but our bomber squadron isn’t trained for targets that big. You weighed the risks and decided the loss of pilots and ships wouldn’t be worth it.”

Leia’s eyebrows twitch upwards. “Indeed. I see you’ve put some thought into this.”

“I… didn’t agree with your assessment,” he admits, teeth worrying at his lower lip. “Not sure I do now, either. We were well-placed to take out that dreadnought and there’s no saying what kind of damage it will wreak in the meantime. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see where you’re coming from.”

If there’s anything he wants more than for the First Order to be burned to the ground, preferably by him, he wants for his pilots to live.

“That’s all I’m asking for.” She nods and he can almost see the sadness pressing down on her shoulders. “There comes a time when sending even one more person to their death is almost unbearable to think about. I hope you will never have to fight for that long, but remember it.”

A faint smile dances across her lips. “Oh and Poe? Nice flying out there. Not everyone can clear out the defences of a ship that size with such efficient flair.”

“That’s what you keep me around for,” he says easily, but Leia shakes her head.

“I keep you around for a whole lot of reasons, mijo, and your flying isn’t the foremost one, spectacular though it is.”

She leaves before he can think of anything to say in reply, so Poe shakes his head silently and heads for the medbay. He’s halfway there when he realises he should maybe be bringing Finn clothes, if only to avoid embarrassing himself, since Finn didn’t seem to have cared much.

He makes it back with a bundle of clothes, the badly-patched jacket on top, just in time to see Finn try to sit up and bounce his head against the canopy. Poe drops the clothes on the nearest chair and hurries over to the medical bed.

“Finn, calm down,” he says, as soothing as he can manage because Finn looks like he’s panicking and if anyone has a good reason to do so right now it’s Finn. “You’re with the Resistance, in the medbay on our cruiser.”

“Poe?” Finn’s struggles slow down. “I’m with the Resistance?”

“Yeah, buddy,” Poe says and doesn’t even try to hide his confusion when Finn starts laughing. Instead he busies himself getting the medical capsule further out of the way. He puts in some effort to keep his gaze above Finn’s shoulders because that’s what any decent person would do. Should do.

Giggles petering out, Finn sits up, with no sign of his back paining him. Suddenly his eyes widen. “Rey! Where’s Rey?”

He slides off the medical bed in an attempt to stand on his feet before Poe can reassure him, and even as Poe says, “Rey is fine, she’s gone to find Luke Skywalker,” his hands are already snapping forwards to catch Finn as his knees start to buckle. “Hey, hey, take it easy, all right? You’ve been in a coma for a while there.”

Finn doesn’t seem to think much of it, just nods tightly – he clearly isn’t happy with Rey’s absence, and even after only a few minutes in her presence Poe can sympathise. Inconveniently, this is the moment Poe realises that he’s holding onto Finn while he’s all but naked, the leaking suit all that’s between his fingers and Finn’s smooth skin.

“Here, sit down again for a moment,” he says, resolutely Not Thinking About It, and luckily Finn does as he’s told. Poe lets go and pretends his fingers don’t tingle. “I’m just gonna get you the clothes I brought, okay, buddy?”

Somehow that makes Finn frown. “I broke your jacket.”

Turning back with trousers, pants, and a shirt in his arms, Poe smiles. “It’s all right, I fixed it.” He pauses. “Sort of.”

Finn has started to stand again, steadier this time, and begins to strip off the still dribbling suit, completely unselfconscious.

Of course he does.

Poe shoves the clothes at him. “Try these on. I eye-balled your size, so if anything doesn’t fit we can try to scrounge up something else.”

Poe turns his back on Finn under the pretence of heading for the jacket because some things are just a bit much to ask of his self-control.

He realises he’s lost track of the time a heartbeat before the ship drops out of hyperspace with the slightest of tugs.

“Shit, I need to go.” And he really does. He needed to be on the bridge five minutes ago. Poe drags a hand through his hair, searching for the right words. They refuse to come. Finally he says, somewhat lamely because anyone who has ever said he was smooth was clearly lying, “Make yourself at home Finn.”

The jacket is still hanging on the chair, but maybe it’s for the best that Finn discovers it on his own.

-

Poe steps on the bridge, ever so slightly out of breath, just as the proximity alarms start wailing. When he reaches her side, Leia’s face is grim.

“They must’ve tracked us through hyperspace,” she says and Poe keeps silent as exclamations about the impossibility of such a thing ring across the bridge. Even with his foreknowledge, he still has no idea how they can prevent the First Order from tracking them.

At the moment only the Star Destroyers can be seen out the viewport and the first green turbolaser blasts start impacting the shield as Leia gives orders to turn the ship around and retreat further.

For a moment Poe thinks they might even make it. Then the dreadnought drops out of hyperspace, closer than the Star Destroyers, and his hopes crumble.

“Tell the bombers and escort ships to scramble,” Poe orders, because if this cruiser is going down they at least shouldn’t take the smaller craft who can still escape down with them. He has no illusions that the Raddus isn’t the primary target, with the bulk of the Resistance on board. “Anyone who can get to the hangar is to take off and retreat from the cruiser. They are cleared to jump to hyperspace.”

No one contradicts him.

Kaydel relays his orders and outside their escort begins to turn away, slower than Poe would like but hopefully quick enough. A glance at the nearest screen shows that several fighters have managed to leave the hangar, A-Wings and X-Wings nimbly falling in line with the bombers and medical frigate. Poe can only hope that the First Order ships can’t somehow track them too, but right now he has more pressing problems.

The dreadnought can fire four times in quick succession and Poe doesn’t have to calculate long to realise that they won’t make it. The first shot impacts the shields with enough power to send the Raddus careening forward. After the second shot the bridge is lit up with red lights and the blaring almost mask Kaydel’s shaking voice.

“Shields at 10%. Breach imminent.”

Eyes still on the viewport, Poe holds out his hand and grips hard when Leia slides her own weathered one along his palm, comfort and benediction.

Together they stand as the third shot comes.

At least it’s a quick death, as deaths go.

 

 

Poe wakes with a gasp and he’s burning, unbearable heat licking at his skin –

Humid air drags in through his mouth, slightly wet and a little bit warm, but there are no flames, no explosion, no drag of escaping air into the vacuum of space. Above him the drab ceiling looks down accusingly, taunting in its immutability. That damn stain is still there.

He raises a trembling hand, stares at his fingers, reddish with flowing blood even though he can remember dying, as vividly as he can now see the stubborn oil stain between his thumb and forefinger that no amount of scrubbing in the fresher had eradicated before he had gone to bed.

He doesn’t feel like he’s dead. Not that he’d know. Maybe this is what being dead feels like.

The door swooshes open, admitting a cheerful BB-8 already beeping a greeting.

[Meeting with Badass General in half a standard hour! My Pilot needs to begin morning routine.]

Poe blinks. Right. So this is happening again. He’s on D’Qar again, the Resistance is evacuating again, he’s going to watch almost everyone he knows die again, or perhaps die himself. So much for death being a permanent impediment.

BB-8 beeps concern.

Poe reaches down to pat their dome. “Yeah, I’m all right,” – lie – “I’m coming.”

BB-8 whirs their own version of comfort, bumping against his limp hand. He swallows past a sudden lump in his throat. “Thanks, buddy. I’m lucky to have you.”

BB-8 beeps something that would just about translate to ‘damn right you are’, except for how those little trills underlying everything are BB-8’s own version of fondness. They are directed at Poe a lot.

[Meeting?]

“Yeah, yeah.”

He gets out of bed. As he’s brushing his teeth and trying to get his wayward hair under control, Poe thinks through his options. Whatever the reason – and he hasn’t ruled out a mental break of epic proportions yet – he seems to be reliving the same day, ever since he’d closed his eyes on the Falcon. Or died. He shivers slightly. That’s going to haunt him for a while yet, as if he hasn’t got enough things haunting his sleep already. Either way, he wakes up back in his bed on D’Qar, in a base about to evacuate. Last time he had changed things – his actions had changed things. Admittedly, they had all died, but if he can try again, make it better? If he has a chance?

He doesn’t know if anything he does in these loops can permanently change the course of events, doesn’t know if this whole thing is even real

His mouth firms. He’s going to try for as long as it takes to get everyone safely out of this mess.

Only when BB-8 beeps at him through the closed fresher door does he realise he’s been blankly staring at his own reflection in the mirror for long enough that he’s in serious danger of being late to the strategy meeting.

He doesn’t pay much attention to what’s being said, he knows it all already after all, but takes the time to plan his own strategy. The dreadnought has to be destroyed. There’s no way around it. The Raddus can outrun the Star Destroyers long enough to matter, but the dreadnought doesn’t allow them that luxury. To destroy the dreadnought, he needs the bombers – the bombers which were blown out of the sky to the last one in the first run-through. That’s unacceptable. On the one hand, he knows how it happens. He remembers the way the TIEs attacked, the suicide run that took out three of their bombers and caused their formation to fall apart. On the other hand, however good, he is only one person, in one relatively small ship. He can’t be everywhere at once.

The easiest way to avoid the slaughter would be to get off D’Qar before the First Order even arrived, but Poe has already run the numbers. From the moment he woke up, the Raddus still needed half an hour to arrive – it had been halfway across the galaxy before its recall; the Echo of Hope was supposed to be their evacuation ship, faster and stationed closer to D’Qar, but it had been destroyed along with Hosnia. Once the Raddus arrived, the transports which weren’t busy bringing fuel from the base up to the cruiser would start ferrying people up, but there were too many of them to manage in less than three waves and that ate up time. The Resistance had grown in the last year, though it still wasn’t anywhere near as large as the Rebellion in its heyday. Poe held out a thread of hope that the destruction of the Hosnian system would galvanise more people into fighting against the First Order, but it was getting more tenuous by the day and had all but snapped on Crait. Perhaps when the remnants of the Republic organised themselves sufficiently, but he wouldn’t put any money on that happening any time soon.

So. Him in a starfighter, trying to turn the tides of war it is.

-

“Retreat, Poe, you’ve bought us the time we needed,” the General says over the comm channel and Poe’s heart falls. He has dreaded this moment.

“Respectfully, General,” he starts, mouth dry, “I don’t think that’s the right call. We need to take out that dreadnought or it will obliterate us.”

“Commander!” Her voice snaps like a whip. “Retreat now, that’s an order. The ships are ready to jump.”

If he weren’t in the cockpit of his X-Wing, about to blow up the last of the dreadnought’s surface cannons, Poe would press his eyes closed. There’s no way for him to tell her that jumping to hyperspace won’t save them from the dreadnought without sounding like he’s lost it.

“Denied, General,” he manages to get out past clenched teeth. “I know we have to destroy the dreadnought. Court-martial me later if you must.”

This time he keeps the channel open, but Leia doesn’t say anything else. His thumb presses on the trigger. The last surface cannon goes up in flames, and his loyal squadrons advance from behind. They follow him to whatever end; these days that feels a lot more like a terrible privilege than it used to.

-

This time around he pays even more attention to the overall TIE formations, at first not deviating from his behaviour the first time in this battle. Then they start losing bombers and his flying becomes as aggressive as he can make it with the glimpses of foreknowledge he can draw on. He explodes TIE after TIE, turning tighter, quicker than he thought possible (even in a ship as well-loved and maintained as Black One). He shouts orders to pilots who can be in better positions and that helps too.

It’s not enough.

They’re down to four bombers and Poe can barely see that he has made a difference. No, he has, there are fewer TIEs and their flying has become less practised, more erratic, but they still won’t make it with any numbers to speak of. Then the TIE starts its suicide run on the bomber formation and Poe is – Poe is not in a good position to stop it. He hadn’t forgotten about the disaster that had taken three bombers out at once, but his efforts have pushed him lower than he needs to be right now. Desperation burning behind his eyes he corkscrews up, as tight as he can make it and his cannons clip the TIE, causing it to spin and the shots that had been aimed at Cobalt Mace scatter at him instead.

BB-8 screeches and Poe doesn’t quite have the time to say, “I’m sorry, Beep” –

At least he doesn’t have to see Leia’s disappointment this time.

 

 

The third time he wakes he knows exactly where he is, despite the hammering of his heart and the phantom taste of ash in his mouth.

He also wakes with the knowledge that he needs to talk to General Leia.

It would have been easier, only a few days ago – before his mind was invaded, before he gave up Resistance secrets, before… He can still feel the stinging heat of the slap, the utter shock he had felt when her hand connected. He deserved it, but once rationality had come rushing back in, he did also realise this: he may have deserved it, but that doesn’t mean that she was right in doing it. Which really only makes him feel worse – for his actions to have pushed her so far, he really had to have been out of line. Granted, the week Leia had had would’ve pushed anyone close to the breaking point. While Poe had mourned the loss of friends and pilots and an unviolated mind, she had lost half her world in one fell swoop. A stubborn, argumentative, often absent half, but as Poe understands love that hardly diminishes the grievousness of her loss.

But all that is getting away from the point, the one he hardly wants to admit to himself. That his faith in Leia had been shaken ever so slightly – not grievously so, he’s certain, and if he were to be asked he would still say without a moment’s hesitation that he would die for Leia Organa and everything she stands for, but the possibility of finding that her trust in him was not quite as absolute as he’d thought… that he is afraid of.

He makes it to and through the meeting on autopilot, feeling as if his heart is going to hammer out of his chest any moment.

When they’re done, a few quiet words are all it takes to set the conversation in motion.

“General, can I have a word?”

Whatever she sees on his face makes her nod sharply and wave the others on as they file out of the room.

Once they are alone she faces him with worry in her eyes. He must truly look wrecked. “What is it, Poe?”

He dredges up a wan smile. “How are you with believing the impossible?”

“With the life I’ve lived?” Her eyes crinkle, somewhere between serious and privately amused. “Above average I’d say.”

Poe searches for the right words. How exactly do you tell someone that you may be caught in some kind of time loop? Or maybe that you’re going mad. He swallows, opens his mouth.

Somehow what comes out is “I have died twice in the last two two days.”

Her eyes go wide and he winces. He could’ve worded this better. Literally any other sentence would’ve been better.

“What are you saying, Poe?”

“I’m saying,” and now there’s an edge of desperation in his voice he can’t suppress, “that I keep reliving the same day and that I know how the First Order is going to destroy us.”

She stares at him, eyebrows rising, and Poe has to bite back a laugh that would’ve been more hysterical than anything else, spreads his arms to gesture at his dishevelled appearance, the weariness he’s sure must shine from his eyes.

“Tell me, do I look like someone who’s lying?”

Her lips quirk. “You’re the worst liar I’ve ever met and I was married to Han Solo for thirty years. You believe what you’re saying, though you must admit that it’s not the most… natural of claims. I can’t say I expected this when I woke up this morning.”

“Weird Force shit,” he mumbles under his breath because at this point he’s pretty sure that’s what it is – no crazed hallucination could be this extended, detailed, and real – but not quietly enough for Leia to miss.

“I expect so, yes,” she says calmly, and Poe’s eyes snap up.

“You…?”

“Believe you? Yes, Poe, I do.” She smiles at his gob-smacked expression, eyes gentle and kind. “You are a good man and I don’t for a moment think you would lie to me, especially at a time like this. If being Luke Skywalker’s sister has taught me anything it’s how to accept that the Force sometimes moves in mysterious ways that none of us understand. Part of the reason I never wanted anything much to do with it, in all honesty.”

Her gaze turns serious once more. “Tell me.”

It takes everything he has not to burst into tears right here, in front of Leia Organa, who has just thrown him a life line that he had half expected to be a noose.

Leia waits him out. She may not know what exactly it is that’s made him so emotional, but she has always been uncannily good at reading people and Poe is an open book at the best of times.

He takes a deep breath. “We don’t manage to evacuate in time, the First Order catches us in orbit. Five Star Destroyers and then a dreadnought jump in. We flee, because no one is quite that suicidal, but they track us through hyperspace. If the dreadnought is still functional, it obliterates us on the other side. If we destroyed it, we survive a little longer, but eventually the fuel runs out. In the three times I’ve lived it no more than thirty of us have made it through and that’s only because Rey and Chewbacca came back with the Falcon.”

It feels paltry, seven sentences to summarise hours of fear and grief, but it’s all he has to offer until Leia starts asking specific questions.

But for a long moment Leia doesn’t do anything but reach out to steady herself on the desk, eyes shadowed. Then she looks up at him, gaze piercing as if searching his soul for the answer to a question she can’t voice out loud. The beginnings of a frown on his forehead smooth out again when she sags with something very much like relief.

“You haven’t lost hope yet.”

His fingers grasp around the ring at his neck before he can stop himself, and Leia’s eyes soften again.

“No,” he says, voice hoarse. A hundred other words crowd in his throat – none of them make it past his lips. “I can’t lose hope. I can’t.”

She nods, and suddenly she’s General Leia Organa again, steel in her backbone and purpose in her bearing.

“All right then. What’s our next move?”

He checks his chrono. “We have less than half an hour to come up with a plan before I have to be in the air. And find a way for me to get through to you quicker the next time around. Should there be one. I don’t really know how this works.”

“I expect you’ll figure it out.” She goes quiet, eyes on one of the tactical readouts still hanging in the air. “We used to have a codeword, in the old Rebellion. Only to be used for things of the utmost importance. If you say it, I will listen to what you have to say.”

Curiosity stirs. “What is it?”

He has never seen Leia grin before, but that is undoubtedly what she is doing right now. “Womp rat.” At his nonplussed look she adds dryly, “Don’t ask. Han and Luke came up with that one.”

“All right, womp rat it is. I hope this is going to work, Leia.”

She fixes him with A Look. “I know my own mind, mijo. Now, what are we doing about this impending space battle?”

Any sense of accomplishment he might have felt evaporates.

“The dreadnought is the problem,” he says baldly. “For the Raddus to have a chance at escape, it needs to go down. We managed to take it out once, but it cost us the entire bomber squadron and their crews – the bombers are too slow, too big a target, especially in the standard attack formation. I was considering only taking two bombers on the next run and defending them with all we’ve got, but that’s risky too. It would only take two unlucky shots for our attack to fall apart.”

“And the dreadnought doesn’t have any weak points?”

Poe shakes his head. “No exploitable ones we’ve found, aside from how easy it is to take out their surface cannons with a small fighter. That’s why we need the bombers.”

Strangely, she smiles at that. “Only you would call a run like that ‘easy’, Poe.”

A blaring klaxon interrupts anything he might’ve sad.

“Attention, all personnel, the second wave of transports is set to depart. All personnel assigned to this wave make your way to the transports now.”

Leia’s face tightens. “What’s your plan?”

Poe’s throat is suddenly tight. She didn’t even hesitate. “Get as many people on the support ships as you can and have them bug out somewhere else than the Raddus. Chances are they’re tracking the biggest ship in the fleet and not the smaller ones. I’ll coordinate the dreadnought attack, and we’ll go in with two bombers defended by all the smaller fighters we can muster. Get people working on how the hell the First Order can suddenly track us through lightspeed and if there’s any way we can stop them that doesn’t involve boarding their ship. Finn and Rose figured out the little we know last time, so they might be good people to get on this. Start developing a plan what to do if our distress call doesn’t get answered by any of our allies.”

At her pointedly risen eyebrow, he shrugs. “I’ve had time to think about it.”

“And we’re out of time,” she says, as the klaxon sounds again. “We’ll proceed as you have outlined and I’ll keep you updated for future reference. Now get in the air, flyboy.”

Poe salutes smartly, feeling something very much like determined hope beat against his breastbone and only turns back for a moment when she calls, “Oh, and Poe? May the Force be with you.”

-

Half an hour later he has come to the conclusion that the Force is very much not with him, or if it is, it’s the most reticent bastard he has ever come across.

In front of him Cobalt Mace explodes in a plume of fire and he swears under his breath. He hasn’t lost too many of the fighters yet, has only had to listen to two friend’s choked off screams as their ships blasted apart, but they’re still too far out from the dreadnought. The second bomber won’t make it, even with all fighters protecting it and its crew. There just too many farking TIEs.

At this stage, only some really, really desperate manoeuvre could possible save them. Good thing those are his speciality. Poe pulverises another TIE almost absent-mindedly as his mind flashes through the options and screeches to halt at a particular one. The smile that spreads across his face is more of a baring of teeth.

“All squadrons, listen up. I’m going to distract as many of these TIEs as I can – continue to protect the bomber with everything you’ve got.”

Acknowledgements filter back through the comm in his ear, but there’s also Tallie’s voice, tight with exertion but no less determined, “Poe, don’t you dare sacrifice yourself – ”

A flick of his finger changes his channel only to hear. “I promise I’m not trying to get myself killed, but it’s a risk I need to take. I might make it, I’m the best pilot in the Resistance, remember?”

“Fuck, don’t – don’t try to make this better. We both know there’re too many of them. I fucking promised Kun, Testor, and the rest of your insane squadron that I would have your back.”

Fondness rises through his throat, even as he turns his X-Wing towards the dreadnought’s bridge. “You are. You always have done. Now go be Green Leader, Tallie.”

She swears at him once more, but as he starts to accelerate, she doesn’t follow, stays near the bomber, and when he switches back to the general channel he can hear her barking orders to the rest of his pilots. His pilots. They’re a stupidly brave lot.

Poe streaks towards the bridge, looking for all intents and purposes as if he’s bent on crashing into it – a suicide play that the Rebellion has resorted to before as a last resort, which lends him credibility. Two heartbeats pass, and he almost thinks they’ve called his bluff. Then TIE fighters start peeling away from the battle ranging around Cobalt Hammer and pursue. It’s a relief, as much as anything that will probably get him killed can be a relief.

Without the boost he used up on his first approach of the dreadnought, which takes too long to charge anyway and they should really get the engineers to do something about that, the TIEs are that little bit faster even than his X-Wing and laserfire starts streaking past him well before he has made it to the bridge. He swerves, tags one of them, curses as a glancing hit makes his already overworked shields flicker.

“Any progress made on the tracker?” Poe says into his comm, and it’s a testament to how long he’s been flying that his voice is even and doesn’t waver.

There’s a short silence from the other end.

“Are you asking me this because you’re about to die?”

If it wouldn’t have interfered with his increasingly desperate manoeuvring, Poe might’ve winced. He can only offer the truth.

“Yes.”

He hears Leia’s sharp intake of breath, but Leia Organa has never been anything other than steel wrapped in human form. “No progress,” she says briskly and only someone who knows her very well would be able to hear the edge of pain underneath everything else. “There hasn’t been enough time, and if what you’ve told me is correct, now there won’t be.”

Poe is spared from answering – she’s right, of course she’s right – because he sees the end coming. He has successfully distracted enough TIE fighters that the second bomber will make it, would’ve made it, but he’s flown himself into a corner and there’s no way he’ll be able to avoid blasts from all sides. Somewhat cynically, he thinks that he seems to have attracted the better class of TIE pilots with his stunt. More importantly though, he has some ideas as to how to avoid the same happening again in the next run.

He dies with the smallest of smiles on his lips.

 

 

At the first drag of humid air in his lungs Poe sits up so quickly he almost falls over again, head reeling. His hair is sticking up in all directions, sleep-tousled in a way that Jess once called unfairly attractive but he just tends to find annoying, and he’s pretty sure he’s pulling on his shirt the wrong way around, but he only takes the time to relieve himself in the fresher before he’s out of the door.

Only a quick, mildly accusatory swivel saves BB-8 from rolling into his legs halfway down the corridor and they beep an inquiry. It’s an unusual sight to find Poe Dameron out of bed before he has to be up.

“Going to see the General,” he tells Beebee, giving their shiny dome an automatic pat. “Can you go warm up Black One? We’ll need the ship in top condition today.”

BB-8’s dome slides back a bit as if they’re giving him a suspicious look, but they beep their consent anyway. While Beebee is rather good at seeing through Poe’s banthashit, they are also good at prioritising, and checking the ship over could save both of their lives later.

He’s early enough that Leia is still in her quarters, and though he tells himself he should come across as less crazy than last time he told her, what he actually does is blurt out “Womp rat” as soon as the door opens.

Leia blinks at him, hair falling down her shoulders partly free and partly in braids as if she’d just been in the process of pinning it up.

He must look a fright, unwashed, hastily dressed, hair all over the place, but it only takes her a moment to shake off her surprise and beckon him in.

“How did you know about that?” she asks, voice a little tight but otherwise composed. “Only three people were ever aware of that code phrase and one of them is dead, the other hiding somewhere in the back end of nowhere.”

Poe drags his hand through his hair, both to distract himself from the anxiety in his gut and to try and tame the curls at least a little. “You told me, twenty-four hours ago in about twenty minutes.”

Leia’s gaze goes steely and he winces, rubbing at his eyes. Stars, he should really just never talk again.

“By which I mean, I’m caught in some kind of time loop and keep reliving this day over and over again. Last loop I told you about it and you said you would believe me quicker if I said ‘womp rat’ because I should have no way of knowing that code phrase.”

She leans forward. “Did I say anything else?”

“Well, you told me not to ask about it because Han and Luke came up with it and I probably didn’t want to know, which by the way, is not true, and you agreed that ‘weird Force shit’ is probably the answer to what’s happening.”

“That does sound likely,” she says with a sigh, closing her eyes for a moment. She looks tired, and strangely soft with her hair a wavy halo around her face, but Poe has no doubt her mind is busy running through all the implications behind one of her Commanders turning up at her door first thing in the morning looking like death warmed over and claiming he’s been reliving the same day because of the Force. “Do you know what a womp rat is?”

He shakes his head.

“It’s considered a vermin race on Tatooine, rodent-like. Sounds pretty harmless until you realise that Tatooine is a death planet and they’re big enough to reach your hip, have really sharp teeth and hunt in packs. Explains quite a lot about my brother, in retrospect.” She looks far away in recollection, but it only lasts for a moment before her gaze returns to him, sharp as ever. “Sit down and tell me what you know. Do you know how to do an Alderaanian mourning braid?”

Poe is surprised enough at the question that he sits down without thinking about it even as Leia turns to present her hair. “I haven’t done one before, but if it’s the style you’ve been wearing since Starkiller I can recreate it.”

She nods and gestures for him to get on with it. Skin prickly with the consciousness of the honour she’s doing him with this deceptively simple request – he knows enough about Alderaanian custom to be aware that braiding another’s hair is usually only done by family members – he takes strands of hair and begins to braid. Poe is good with hair and the whole base knows it ever since that time he braided Jess’ hair into a diamond pattern at a party, so once he gets going he can focus on giving his report.

Leia listens quietly as he recaps what’s been happening to him over the last few days, though he keeps it mostly to information pertinent to strategy – the First Order’s ships, tactics, how much time they have.

As he pins the finished braid in place, hands feeling slightly bereft now that they’re out of a job, she sighs. “What do you recommend? You’re the one who has the most complete overview of the situation.”

“You would trust my tactical assessment?” he asks around a sudden lump in his throat. He has outlined what happened in that first loop, but she doesn’t really know the extent of his failure, not like that past Leia did.

Her eyes narrow at him, chiding. “I’ve always trusted your assessments. Your instincts are very good, Poe, and you’ve led your squadrons well. This is on a larger scale, yes, but you do have the training for it.” He opens his mouth, though he doesn’t know what to say, but Leia holds up a hand, old and worn yet still strong. He focuses his gaze on one of the rings on her fingers and listens. “I only know what you told me about what went on the first time you lived this and even with that it’s clear that you blame yourself for the choices you made. Maybe they were the right choices and maybe they were the wrong choices, but I can tell you now that every leader makes mistakes, and every good leader feels the burden of lives lost under their command. Don’t let doubt and guilt eat you alive, Poe. That’s a quick way to become stardust.”

She waits for him to nod, silently past the constriction in the his throat, then continues, “Now, tell me what you would do.”

So he lays out the plan again, starting with the evacuation of the support ships, the attack run on the dreadnought, getting Finn and Rose onto trying to figure out the tracking technology, hiding on Crait if necessary. That latter part he is less sure about, only having lived through it once, but it was Leia’s plan in the first place so he isn’t surprised to see her nodding.

“We’ll have some time to figure out the second part while in hyperspace and then running from the destroyers,” he adds.

Leia folds her hands in her lap, rings glinting in the light. “You don’t advocate changing our jump coordinates to be closer to Crait?”

He shakes his head. “Currently our biggest asset is my foreknowledge, and I don’t know whether it would change things too much. Besides, we’ll look more convincingly desperate and caught off guard like that. If we can figure out how to disable the hyperspace tracking we can always jump again, even if it’s a short one.”

“I doubt we would be able to look anything other than convincingly desperate,” Leia says on a sigh, and that she would admit as much in his presence instead of upholding the facade of a stoic, assured leader tells of her trust in him.

“Rebellions are always desperate,” Poe says, drawing a smile from her.

“You really couldn’t have grown up to be anyone other than you are, Poe,” she tells him, rising from the sofa with a quickly stifled groan. “We’ll go ahead with your plan, but do keep me updated throughout. It’s a heavy burden to carry on one set of shoulders.”

It echoes Poe’s own earlier thoughts and he nods sombrely. “I promise. And I’ll try not to get myself killed.”

Her eyes glitter at him. “See that you do, Poe Dameron.”

Poe leaves her rooms with his head held high.

-

Maybe all he needed was for Leia to order him, because the next run is successful. They have lost four smaller fighters – names he will mourn but even Poe’s stubbornness has limits and he knows, with foresight and hindsight, that he can’t get the attack run to be any safer than this – but none of the bombers. Black One is singed a little and BB-8 is still squawking at him about acceptable risk parameters, but his distraction worked, the dreadnought went up in a very satisfying ball of flame and they’re all back on the Raddus five minutes later.

-

He knows the exact time that Finn wakes up now, and makes it a point to be there for a few minutes to calm him down. Finn can surely do with the reassurance, he thinks, but maybe Poe is only fooling himself because it certainly does him good to see Finn up and about, warm eyes open and full of life. Even if they do repeat their first conversation almost word for word.

Before he reluctantly takes his leave to get back to the bridge, he shows Finn to Poe’s assigned berth with an offer to stay as long as he wants.

“You can go wherever you want, of course, but just in case you want a quiet place, yeah?”

Finn’s answering smile probably means he’s done something right anyway.

-

The next step consists entirely of preventing the decimation of his pilots and the command staff, which means they need pilots in the air as soon as their pursuers emerge from hyperspace behind them.

“You can put us all on yellow alert in the hangar. It wouldn’t take two minutes to take off and start defending the cruiser.”

Leia looks a little like she wants to groan. “I’m going to have to have a feeling again, don’t I.”

Poe can’t quite help his grin. “That would make things easiest. Just think of it this way – you’ll get even more respect when it turns out your mysterious feeling was bang on the credits because we need to defend the ship as soon as we come out of hyperspace.”

She gives him a dirty look, but can’t exactly deny that she’s ordered people about on the strength of a – presumably Force-induced – feeling before. She has never been wrong either.

“Fine. Get yourself ready, Commander. Do you have time to brief Finn and Rose? You can draw in other mechanics if you want, but I recommend keeping this quiet. We don’t need panic before it’s absolutely unavoidable.”

Poe nods. They still have half an hour before they come out of hyperspace – plenty of time. As he goes to find Rose, he runs through his mental list of Resistance personnel currently on the Raddus. Most of the mechanics and ground crew were sent on the support ships. They will be the ones helping the Resistance regroup, despite not getting much of the ‘glory’. Left on the cruiser are mostly command personnel who generally seem to be stubborn about abandoning ship in the face of danger and fighter pilots. All of which leads him to come to the depressing conclusion that there’s no one here who would know more than Rose. They’ll have to make do.

Privately, he’s relieved that he doesn’t have to tell his story to a stranger.

Rose, it turns out, is guarding the escape pods, briefly making him wonder how she and Finn had met the first time around before he pushes the thought aside.

“Hey,” he says softly, squatting down next to her. Her eyes aren’t blotchy from crying this time, but the grip she has on her crescent moon necklace is tight enough to whiten her knuckles.

“Poe! Uh, I mean, Commander – ”

She makes aborted movements to stand up, but Poe waves her down again, smiling fondly. “I told you before that Poe’s fine. No need to stand on formality.” He falls silent for a moment. “She made it out, you know? Paige. Took out the dreadnought too.”

Rose nods, and there’s no mistaking the pride in her eyes. “I know, it was brilliantly done. But I still wish she were here.”

Poe can’t honestly say the same, but that’s only because he can still vividly remember ships and transports exploding in silent bursts of flame, so he nods.

“I’m sorry to have to ask this, but are you capable of helping with a project? Hush hush, but I promise it’s important.”

Rose sits up straight so quickly he almost thinks he can hear her spine cracking. “Of course! I’ll do whatever the Resistance needs.”

Poe smiles at her, unbearable fond, and just for a moment wonders whether that’s what Leia sees when she looks at him, all blind faith and ideals, feet already in the air before she says jump.

“Come on then. Let’s find Finn.”

Her eyes grow wide. “Finn? As in, Finn, the hero of Starkiller?”

“Exactly that Finn. He saved all our lives.” Poe leans in close and adds, voice a conspiratorial whisper, “He’s even better in person.”

Rose squeaks, which is both adorable and entirely the correct reaction to Finn. Poe sympathises.

Finn is still in Poe’s assigned berth when they make it back to the upper decks, looking very much like he’s trying not to show just how lost he is.

At seeing Poe, his entire face lights up and Poe almost misses a step.

“Hey buddy!” he says, and easily goes into the hug that Finn is telegraphing a need for. “It really is good to see you out and about.”

“Not as good as it is to be out and about,” Finn returns – a point Poe is happy to accede to. He’s trying not to pay too much attention to how Finn is now wearing an entire shift of Poe’s clothes and it wasn’t even Poe’s fault. Finding him his own things had simply not been a priority in the chaos of the evacuation.

When he turns to her, Rose’s eyes are flicking between him and Finn, something entirely too knowing in her gaze.

“Finn, meet Rose,” Poe says quickly, before she can decide to say whatever it is she’s thinking, “she’s one of our best mechanics. Rose, Finn.”

Rose waves a little, and then turns a little red when Finn smiles at her in response.

“Hi,” she says, “it’s so great to meet you, Finn. You did so much to help the Resistance.”

“Rey did much more than me,” Finn protests, but Poe’s pretty certain it’s pleased embarrassment he’s radiating, not true mortification.

“Are you kidding? Without you the shields would’ve stayed up and Starkiller would’ve destroyed us all.” Rose throws him an apologetic glance. “No offense, Commander.”

Poe waves her off. “No offense taken, it’s only the truth.”

Before he can say anything else they’re off again, and for a while he’s too happy seeing Finn open up to someone else to interfere. Yet however much Poe wants this meeting to turn into a mutual appreciation session, he’s painfully aware of the time constraints on their survival, so he reluctantly clears his throat.

“Guys, I’m really glad you’re getting along and normally I wouldn’t rush you at all, but we need to get going on figuring out this thing.”

Finn turns to him, frown replacing the smile and Poe tries very hard not to feel like he just maliciously dimmed the sun. “What’s going on?”

“So, here’s the thing,” Poe starts, not entirely sure how to go on but knowing he has to, “we’re not really as safe as we think we are. The First Order has somehow figured out how to track a ship through hyperspace. I don’t have to tell you in how much shit that’s going to land us.”

Rose and Finn staring at him with an eerily similar expression of ‘what the fuck, Poe’ (he knows that expression, the people around him wear it a lot when he comes up with plans they consider reckless) perhaps isn’t the ideal outcome, but it could be worse.

“What,” Rose says.

“How do you know that?” Finn asks.

Poe’s brain stalls. He’s going to have to tell them, isn’t he? So far only Leia knows the whole truth of the mess of Poe’s current existence, and somehow he’d managed to avoid thinking about the fact that Rose and Finn would undoubtedly want to know how the hell Poe has suddenly developed prescient abilities. (If he ever actually wished for those, he’s seriously regretting it now.)

He takes a deep breath, hand nudging at the ring near his breastbone through the heavy cloth of his flightsuit before he can control the impulse. “We only have time for the short version. I promise I’m not just making this up and the General knows already, all right?”

Rose somehow manages to look even more worried, but Finn only nods solemnly. Poe has no idea what he did to deserve that kind of trust from the person who rescued him and finished his mission, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling warmed by it.

“I’ve been reliving the same day, this day, several times. I know what happens until about” – he checks his chrono – “eighteen hours from now. Given the hyperspace tracking, it didn’t turn out so well for any of us, and I’m trying to change that. For that I need your help. All clear?”

Finn and Rose are both back to staring again.

Before Poe can say anything else, the corridor warning lights start flashing and Kaydel’s voice comes sounds over the speakers. “Attention all flight personnel. Yellow alert – stand by in the hangar.”

Immediately the sound of running feet reaches down every corridor. Poe shakes his head, blinking away the flashing lights.

“Look, I need to get to the hangar. Go speak to the General if you want verification, but please, get to work on this, yeah?”

Rose stands a little straighter, gaze sharpening back into something other than stupefied – and entirely understandable – surprise. “Yes, sir!”

Poe groans quietly. If he had time he would argue about the address, but instead he just carefully claps Finn on the shoulder as he passes by before breaking into a trot towards the hangar. BB-8’s going to give him an earful for being late already. No need to make it worse.

-

“Green squadron, form up on Blue One and defend the hangar bay. Defensive formations, don’t stray too far from the Raddus. Blue squadron on me, same deal, but we’re defending the bridge.”

“Acknowledged, Black Leader,” Tallie says, other pilots chiming in from the background.

They fall into formations like they were born to it and Poe manages a smile that’s only a little grim. Compared to the dreadnought, defending the Raddus while it powers out of the range of the destroyers almost feels easy, as long as Poe doesn’t think about the fact that it’s Kylo Ren in one of those black fighters swarming them. Or about how much he wants to blow that monster out of the sky. The TIEs fall back before he can seriously think about giving in to the temptation. Poe watches them go, Black One hanging motionless just outside the Raddus’ bridge and thinks that maybe it’s better this way. He doesn’t need to know whether he would’ve been capable of making that choice. He does know that he wouldn’t be able to look Leia in the eye ever again if he killed her son, no matter how twisted a monster Ben had become. No matter what he had done to Poe.

His com-channel clicks to life – a quick glance at his dashboard shows a private line to Green Leader.

“Poe? What’s going to happen now?”

He swallows past his dry throat. “We continue fleeing. My money’s on the fighters being ordered to bug out soon. There’s little more we can do to help against five Star Destroyers.” He pauses. “You’re going to have to lead them. At least until you meet up with the rest of Black Squadron. Then you can fob the job off on Karé or Snap.”

“I’ll be sure to tell them you said that,” Tallie says dryly, but there’s a waver in her voice that makes his heart clench. “You’re not coming?”

The helmet is a heavy, comforting weight on his head as he shakes it. “My place is with the General. You’ll be fine, Tallie.”

“It’s not me I’m worried about!”

He sighs. “Yeah, I know. But I can’t give you anything better.”

“Just make it out of this mess alive, Poe,” Tallie says, urgency making her voice louder. “That’s what you can give.”

The loyalty of pilots is a staggering thing.

“I’ll do my best,” he replies, and it’s only half a lie.

He spends the short flight back to the hangar simply breathing, BB-8 quietly tootling in the background.

-

“So, we’re still alive,” Leia says, sitting down next to Poe, who’s slumped into an alcove near the bridge – just out of the way enough to have some privacy on a ship that isn’t filled to bursting because they’d put as much personnel onto the two supply ships as possible before they bugged out.

“Yeah,” he says, rubs at his eyes. “We’re good. Doing well.”

He doesn’t need to look up to know she’s studying him critically, but she doesn’t say anything about his obvious exhaustion, nor the fact that he probably looks like he’s about to fall apart. Desperate times, he supposes.

“Is this the first… loop we’ve come this far?”

He nods. The more loops he lives through, the more he has to condense down his experiences when briefing her in the morning. There’s just not enough time.

“Which means we’re flying blind again,” she sighs, leaning against the bulk-head in a way someone might’ve called a slump on any other person.

“I did live through it once, the first time,” Poe reminds her quietly. “Is Crait still the plan?”

“Haven’t come up with a better one.”

Poe stares sightlessly at the opposite wall, running though the future like a simulation. “The fighters will have to bug out, then. They would draw attention to the transports. It’ll be fun to bet our continued existence on the First Order being too lazy or overconfident to do a complete scan of the system.”

“I never did understand you flyboys’ humour,” Leia grumbles, though she rests a calming hand on Poe’s hair. He only just resists drooping further to give her better access, as he mumbles, “That’s a bald-faced lie. You can out-snark all of us, General.”

He does smile then, enjoying the smug look that flashes across her face.

Leia’s fingers make small soothing motions across his scalp, and for a few blissful moments Poe almost feels relaxed.

“You should go with the fighters. They will need their leader.”

Drooping eyes flew open. “That is not happening. I’m not leaving you, or the bulk of the Resistance.”

“Thanks to you, the bulk of the Resistance is already gone. They will need leaders.”

He crosses his arms over his chest. “So does that mean you’ll agree to taking Black One instead of me?”

The glare she sends him speaks volumes in itself, and entirely proves his point. Stalemate.

“Uh,” says a new voice, and when Poe turns his head he finds Finn shifting from foot to foot in the hallway. “Is this a bad time?”

“No, no, it’s fine, Finn.” It’s surprisingly easy to summon a smile in Finn’s presence, despite his worries. Finn is still wearing Poe’s jacket, too, and he can’t deny the small thrill that passes through him at the sight. “Were you looking for me? Where’s Rose?”

“She’s still working on the hyperspace tracking – we’ve got a list for you to look at when you have a moment.”

The shifting grows more pronounced. Poe frowns. “Are you all right, buddy?”

Finn’s gaze cuts to Leia, who raises an eyebrow.

“I was just wondering about, well, about Rey. You explained the tracker, but she’ll be walking right into a trap.” His expression tightens. “And the First Order would love to get their hands on her.”

Well, he isn’t wrong about that.

“What do you propose?”

A surprised expression appears on Finn’s face, as if he hadn’t expected them to listen to him. He straightens, feet finally stilling on the floor. “Take an escape pod or a fighter, with the tracker on board, and get as far away from here as possible. It doesn’t have to be me,” he adds hastily, though Poe is pretty sure his face isn’t reflecting any judgement. “It’s just… we might all be fucked but that doesn’t mean we have to drag Rey down with us. She deserves better.”

Poe sighs. “You’re not wrong. What do you think, General?”

“As the expert on the current situation, I’m happy to leave that call to you, Commander.” Leia’s face softens. “Though I will say that it would do my heart good to know young Rey to be safe.”

Poe only just stops himself from pointing out that Rey is with Luke Skywalker, and probably safer than any of them. Instead he does his best to think it through. Rey saved the remains of the Resistance by lifting the rocks away from the cave exit the first time around, and the Falcon’s air support had been helpful as well. On the other hand, if they lost enough people to fit on the Falcon then Poe had already failed, and would rather relive this blasted day yet again. And he didn’t even know if it was the beacon that drew Rey back to them, or if it had been some kind of Force thing.

As a leader he should probably be ashamed that in the end his decision is made by the pleading look on Finn’s face and the memory of the joy on Rey’s young face when R2 had completed the map, but as a man, Poe couldn’t choose differently. Sometimes the small picture matters too.

“Take Black One and BB-8,” he tells Finn and the smile that breaks out on Finn’s face is as radiant as a Yavin IV’s dawn. “They can fly the X-Wing just fine outside combat situations, and they’ve been wanting to see Rey again anyway.”

“Thank you, Poe, thank you,” Finn rattles out, fingers clutching at the beacon bracelet that Leia hands him without protest. Then he suddenly frowns. “Wait, what about you? Are you taking someone else’s ship?”

“I’m staying here, Finn,” Poe says gently, both sad and a little bit selfishly pleased to see Finn’s face fall. Leia snorts quietly, clearly finding some amusement in the scene that’s currently eluding Poe. “My place is here.”

“Ah,” Finn murmurs. “I guess that makes sense.” Then he draws Poe into a tight embrace, unselfconscious and warm, and Poe all but melts into him. Leia is definitely laughing at him on the inside, but he doesn’t even care.

-

Poe watches his fighter squadrons power away from the Raddus out the bridge’s large viewport, lights blinking out one by one as they jump into hyperspace. Some half-hearted turbolaser fire from the Star Destroyers chases them, but the fighters are small and quick enough to evade them easily. At this distance he can’t tell which one is Black One, but his murmured ‘good luck’ was meant for all of them anyway. Mostly. His ears are still ringing from BB-8’s vocal protests against leaving Poe behind yet again. He hadn’t even pretended that BB-8’s unwavering loyalty hadn’t choked him up.

“It’s down to us now,” Leia says beside him, eyes trained on the same sector of space, and he nods. At least there’s some relief in knowing that, for however long this day will last, more of his friends are safe.

Kaydel steps up to both of them, buns even tighter than usual. “General, the transports are nearly done fuelling up. We’ll be in range to head for Crait in ten minutes.”

“Prepare the evacuation.” Her face draws tight. “And we need someone to stay and pilot the Raddus.”

They all know it’s a suicide job – a necessary one, if they want to have any chance at convincing the First Order that the Resistance is still on board when they finally take out the capital ship, but Poe is still glad that this is not a call he has to make.

“I’ll do it,” a melodic voice speaks behind them.

They’re still facing the viewport, so only Poe can see the devastation passing across Leia’s face for the fraction of a second before she pulls herself together and turns.

“Amilyn, you were supposed to be on the medical frigate.”

Holdo shrugs her dainty shoulders, bracelet jangling gently. She still stands out, colourful in a sea of military drabness, but without the taste of desperation on his tongue Poe finds it easier to truly look at the woman behind it. She has just volunteered to die for the Resistance, but he can see not an ounce of fear in her bearing – a hint of regret, maybe, when she looks at Leia, but nothing more.

“I am where I need to be.”

Poe can tell Leia wants to argue, wants to rail against losing yet another friend, but they’re on the bridge without even a hint of privacy and she can’t turn away a volunteer for a mission she didn’t want to assign in the first place.

Holdo’s gentle smile says she knows all of this.

Poe looks away – it’s the least he can give them.

-

Like every pilot he has ever known, Poe hates being on a ship he isn’t piloting himself. Even when it’s a slow, lumbering transport. Especially if it’s a slow lumbering transport.

No one’s shooting at them. Yet.

He really hopes this will work, because when he went to get an update from Rose what he got mostly boiled down to a list of ways the hyperspace tracker isn’t functioning and so far no ideas how to combat it that don’t involve boarding a Star Destroyer. If he has to go through the loop often enough for her and Finn to come up with something at this pace, he’s going to go insane. Probably. Who knows how many times a person can die before they lose it. Not something he’s keen to test empirically.

Despite his white-knuckled grip on the edge of the bench, Crait keeps growing larger in front of them. No blasts from the Star Destroyers start targeting the transports. The obliteration of the Raddus as Holdo rams the ship into the Supremacy plays like a silent holo on the console viewscreen. Beside him, Leia doesn’t make a single sound, stands still and silent like the strongest rock that only a century of erosion could move, and Poe’s heart hurts so fiercely for her that his breathing becomes strained.

On the other hand – and he really should’ve thought of this earlier – when they make it down to the surface, all transports accounted for, the old Resistance base cave isn’t actually big enough to fit all of them in. So much for hiding.

Their signal for help goes out. No reply. The proximity alarms start wailing not long after – the First Order didn’t buy their ruse.

Poe closes his eyes as yet another plan turns into ash and when he opens them again Luke Skywalker is striding towards the little command room off to the side where Leia had retreated.

Minutes tick by. Outside the First Order’s army gets set up. There will be no futile defense attempt, no sacrifice of ground troops and pilots in a desperate bid to stop their battering cannon from firing. It hadn’t been worth it last time, the few minutes bought with their defiance and blood.

Skywalker emerges first, looking surprisingly unruffled for just having lived through a reunion with the twin sister he’d abandoned years ago. He looks at the Resistance members gathered in the cave, huddled together in expectation of the First Order battering down the door any moment now.

“I can buy you the time to get off the ground,” he says, voice carrying to the edges of the space with no apparent effort. “I suggest you get ready.”

For a moment no one moves, then people start to scramble. Some head for the tunnels leading outside to man the two transports that didn’t fit in the cave, if the First Order hadn’t destroyed them already. Everyone else divides up onto the transports parked all around them. Poe makes a note of which one Leia heads for when she emerges from the side door.

Skywalker’s gaze lingers on Poe. A nod of the man’s head has Poe following him off to the side of the cave and relative privacy.

“The Force moves strangely around you,” Skywalker says. His voice still sounds almost exactly as it did years and years ago on Yavin IV, in the shadow of a force tree. A little rougher perhaps, but whatever drove him to hide from the galaxy hasn’t banished the warmth from his voice or eyes – only tempered it with grief.

“Long story.”

Skywalker’s gaze is as keen as ever. “An interesting one, no doubt. So much time, and yet there’s never enough of it when we need it.”

Poe can’t help the graceless snort that erupts from his nose. Skywalker’s eyebrows rise.

The decision to ask him is an easy one. Skywalker won’t remember this, and he’s the only being Poe knows who has a snowball’s chance in hell of knowing anything about the cause of his current predicament.“I don’t suppose you’ve come across anything like time travel, time loops in your studies of the Force?”

Skywalker doesn’t physically shift, but something in the air around him changes, sharpens.

“Not much more than oblique references,” he says, not looking at Poe anymore but somewhere past his left shoulder. Skywalker’s mouth quirks. “Are you meddling?”

That… hasn’t cleared up Poe’s confusion at all. He turns, but there’s nothing but dark cave wall in the direction Skywalker is looking at.

“Uh, Master Skywalker?”

Skywalker’s gaze refocuses just as the battering ramp’s first shot impacts. He steps closer, rests are solid hand on Poe’s shoulder.

“May the Force be with you, Poe Dameron.”

Poe is still blinking in confusion when the Jedi Master turns and heads towards the hole in the massive door, a lonely silhouette surrounded by flames. He could swear he’d heard a mutter of ‘you’re going to need it’, but that must’ve been his imagination right?”

He shakes his head at himself and takes off running for Leia’s transport. No way is he going to let anyone else fly that thing this time. Leia greets him in the cockpit and he barely has time to strap himself in and get the engines warmed up before, with a crunch loud enough to be heard inside the transports, the massive, durable door that’s supposed to be able to withstands all kinds of assault simply tears itself from the rock and flies outward towards the battering cannon.

“Go go go!” Poe shouts into the comm channel and manoeuvres the transport out of the cave behind the first transport.

To his relief they’re met with two transports already in the air and he takes a moment to silently thank the First Order’s impatience in getting at the Resistance for targeting the door first. And their arrogance for thinking the order in which they attacked wouldn’t matter.

Down below, he can see Luke Skywalker standing, hands raised and only a rapidly disintegrating chunk of metal between him and the bright blaze of the firing cannon. Poe knows they’re not going to see him alive again. The grim slant of Leia’s mouth says she knows it too.

The first TIEs start swooping in and now Poe has other problems, like keeping them alive long enough to even make it out of the atmosphere, never mind where they’re going to go because fuel reserves are low as it is and the transports lack a hyperdrive. Maybe they should’ve tried surviving in the caves of Crait instead.

If it weren’t for Poe’s piloting skills they would’ve been disintegrating debris in less a minute. Two other transports have already exploded and couldn’t even spare a second to accept their passing. They’re sitting ducks, reliant on shields in the face of the much nimbler TIE fighters picking them off one by one.

A third transport explodes to his left, the glare blinding even in Crait’s light sky and Poe has to swerve hard to avoid the same fate. The TIE who was just about to start a strafing run on Poe’s transport jerks as a blast catches one of the side panels, spirals off into a second TIE before plummeting towards the salt flats.

An unmistakeable roar over the Resistance frequency comm-channel, twinned with a woman’s triumphant shout, announces the Falcon’s arrival before the ship itself appears in Poe’s view, swooping gracefully to take out another three TIEs in quick succession. Poe almost smiles – so they hadn’t followed the beacon after all. Chewbacca and Rey are giving them a chance. A slim one, but a chance nonetheless.

It doesn’t take long to realise the chance is too slim. Chewbacca and Rey are still doing a stellar job of clearing out TIE fighters, but it isn’t enough. They’re down to two transports, and the other one is already trailing smoke. Poe grits his teeth, throws them into another corkscrew that this fucking ship isn’t built to allow, passing under two TIEs’ green blasts.

A gnarled, old hand lands on his shoulder, spreads calm.

“No one could’ve done better,” Leia says.

Poe desperately drags the controls to the side, missing yet another round of laserfire by inches, and grits out, “It’s not enough.”

The worst part of dying isn’t the brief agony of fire – it’s the sudden punch of vacuum into non-functioning lungs.

 

 

This time he wakes screaming.

Apart from that lovely change, things remain largely the same this try and the next. The manoeuvre against the dreadnought is mostly worked out now, though Poe does adjust his strategy in a few little ways to minimise risks to himself – Leia would be proud – and so is the defence of the Raddus. He makes sure that Finn and Rose start with an up to date catalogue of knowledge regarding the hyperspace tracking problem. Once, he has to explain his looping before they even start. The other time they get absorbed into the mechanical problem so quickly that they don’t even ask.

Both loops end on Crait. The first time under fire from the cannon, setting the world ablaze as they stand facing the exit and fiery extinction, Leia and Finn on either side of him. The latter he still regrets – Finn could’ve been safe with the other pilots, but Poe had made the mistake of telling him the truth when he asked about Rey (“it doesn’t matter, buddy, she comes anyway”) and not only because Poe knows himself to be a staggeringly bad liar. The second time they try not landing on Crait at all, but hiding the transports on the other side of the planet doesn’t work either. The First Order seems to be determined enough to wipe out the Resistance that they spend as much time as they need scanning to make certain there’re no survivors – and when they do find survivors, unarmed transports are helpless in the face of TIEs and turbolaser fire.

In the quiet moments before death he makes a list of the things he has learned. When he dies, the loop resets. Whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing, it seems it requires him to stay alive. How to take out the dreadnought. How to defend the Raddus. All the many ways in which they all die. Luke Skywalker’s grieved, knowing look. Leia always believes him, though he never quite manages to squash the fear that she will think him mad. He knows that he doesn’t deserve that trust, especially now that he is the only one who still remembers how badly he had failed her, but treasures it more than he can say nonetheless. The trust of Leia Organa is no little thing, in a galaxy as frequently desolate as theirs. Dying for the Resistance is everything and nothing like he imagined it to be.

 

 

Poe is getting used to the feeling of dying. It would probably concern him more if he had ever been particularly afraid of his own passing – he doesn’t want to die, but when one dedicates one’s life to keeping everyone else safe, personal safety takes something of a backseat. If he ever does make it out of these weird-ass loops he’s going to pay for it, he’s pretty sure, because there’s no way he can get used to dying and resetting as if real life is just a shitty simulation and not start using even more risky manoeuvres, but that’s a worry for future Poe.

The thought brings him up short. He hasn’t really thought about what these loops might mean – or about the fact that he has no idea how to stop them from happening. He had been so focused on improving on his first disastrous run-through and saving as many people who died then as physically possible that he hasn’t considered the ramifications of it all. What if the loops never end? What if he just ends up trapped in this nightmare day forever? What if, one of these days, he simply dies and the loop doesn’t reset and it’ll all be for nothing?

Poe’s breathing has gone erratic, chest tight as he struggles to keep air flowing, struggles to stop his thoughts from spiralling. He’s on D’Qar. Right this very moment no one is trying to kill him. Everything is fine. No, everything will be fine, eventually.

It’s BB-8 who finally fully gets him out of the panic attack, beeping concernedly at the side of his bed. His little droid already has more experience with these ‘human defects’ than Poe ever would’ve wanted.

“Thanks, Beebee,” he finally says, voice grating through a rough throat. “I’m all right now.”

BB-8’s answering bloop is distinctly doubtful, but Poe can’t really blame them for that. He doesn’t really believe himself either.

“I need to go talk to the General. Can you run diagnostics on Black One? We’re gonna need the ship in the best shape it can be today.”

BB-8 wheels back a little, to give Poe the full brunt of its accusing dome tilt. Poe reaches out a leaden arm to pat it. “I know, I know. I’m lucky to have you as a partner.”

[Damn straight,] BB-8 beeps and rolls out the door.

It takes Poe another minute to manage getting upright. The panic attack has left his muscles achy and a headache throbs behind his eyes. All he wants to do is wrap the sheets around himself and pretend the world doesn’t exist for a while. Unfortunately, if he does that, his world really will cease to exist, courtesy of the First Order. With a deep sigh, he shuffles into the fresher.

-

By now, Poe could probably braid an Alderaanian mourning braid with his eyes closed. He has just finished off the last strand of hair as well as his truncated report about the mess of a situation currently in progress, when Leia turns around, eyes solemn on his face. He freezes.

“You look tired.”

A rusty laugh escapes his throat. “Leia, I’ve lived this day seven times now and that wouldn’t be fun even if it weren’t such a complete clusterfuck of one.”

She surprises him by reaching up to draw along his crow’s feet with fingers as gentle as her eyes. It takes his breath away a little, this capacity of hers to find gentleness under the unbending steel that life has forged her to be.

“It’s not just that, isn’t it, Poe?” A dying star’s infinite sadness spills from her eyes. “My son did a terrible thing to you, and I didn’t give you the time to grieve or to heal. And from what little you said, I did not do right by you the first time you lived this day either.”

Poe feels uncannily like something heavy just hit him in the stomach, arresting his breathing. How did she know? How did she know when he so carefully skirted around both of those topics?

Because she knows you, idiot.

It suddenly hits him, how surreal it is to have this conversation with the person he needs to have it with and yet not the person he needs to have it with. He’s never going to meet that person again – Leia is still Leia, but even a day’s worth of differing experiences can shift opinions, viewpoints, actions. It makes Poe’s head hurt. His life hasn’t made sense for days now and even that statement isn’t technically accurate depending how you look at it.

“There will be time later to heal,” he says, but it’s half-hearted and the dubious look he receives in reply well-deserved.

“In three years I outright fought for the Rebellion, we didn’t once slow down enough to let our various traumas catch up to us and try to work through them. I don’t believe for a second that you would do any less for the Resistance.”

He doesn’t need to agree out loud for her to know the truth of her statement.

“Would you have done the same?” The question makes its way past his lips before he can stop the words and he winces. Maybe he needed to say, but he already knows it’s a stupid thing to ask. Leia is still the same person – if she lived through the same things that first Leia lived through, she would’ve acted exactly the same. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that.”

“What did I do, Poe?” Leia’s hand moves to cup his cheek, forces him to look her in the eyes. “You need to say it out loud. What did I do?”

He breathes, in, out. He can still feel the sting. “You slapped me, on the bridge. Didn’t pull it either, right before you demoted me. And then you were dead, floating in space, and then you were injured, unconscious and so cold.” His mouth quirks, mirthless. “Then you stunned me, shot me right in the middle of the chest. I would’ve done as you asked, you just needed to say –

He breaks off.

Now she is the one who looks tired. But her fingers don’t move, she doesn’t flinch back from him or his words.

“I am not now and wasn’t then in the best frame of mind. I wouldn’t have lived this long if I hadn’t learned how to compartmentalise enough to function, and function for others even in dire situations, but if you think I haven’t been emotionally compromised by Han’s death, the destruction of the Hosnian system, and the irrevocable proof that my son has turned into a monster bent on snuffing out everything I have ever loved in this galaxy, you would be mistaken. It’s no excuse, but it’s context that I think you need to hear.” She sighs. “And that’s not taking into account that I have a temper.”

He almost laughs at that, and she must’ve read the impulse on his face for she quirks a smile. “Threepio has been spreading rumours that I’ve mellowed, but that’s hardly accurate.”

When she gestures for him to bend down, he goes willingly and doesn’t startle when she rests her forehead against his, just like his parents used to do.

“Listen to me now, mijo. No matter the circumstance, I should not have hit you. You did not deserve it and I know will have regretted it later. I can’t speak for the other things for I wasn’t there, but I know that much. I shouldn’t have hit you.”

Poe squeezes his eyes shut, moisture gathering in the corners as he tries to keep his breathing even. Some hurt deep inside has splintered upon hearing these words, transformed into cleaner, smaller pain that can now fade entirely.

“Thank you, tía.”

 

The exchange almost makes the rest of this loop, the fire and death and puzzled faces worth it.

 

 

Certain patterns are starting to emerge and Poe is finding it harder and harder to keep reacting like a normal person to people he has seen die several times. Or, for that matter, to generally act like a person who isn’t on the edge of a mental breakdown. Which, in fairness, he probably is, but that doesn’t mean he needs to take it out on other people.

“You look tired,” Finn tells him solemnly, gaze skirting up Poe’s body in a way that he thinks he should appreciate more, but he’s getting kinda tired – hah – of people saying that.

“Look, buddy, I love you, but can we lay of the unhelpful observations because yes I’m tired and no no one can do anything about it?”

Finn blinks. “You love me?”

Poe’s mouth goes dry and before his brain-to-mouth filter can engage he says, “Yes, of course! In the totally normal way that I love everyone on this ship! As you do.”

“… Are you high, Poe?”

Given how thoroughly Poe is embarrassing himself right now, he probably shouldn’t get stuck on thinking how cute Finn’s narrowed gaze is, even though the suspicion is directed at Poe. Wait, is he trying to check his pupil size?

“Yep, totally, head in the clouds until it’s floating, that’s me,” Poe says and beats a hasty retreat. He can brief Rose alone this time. He’s got an idea about Crait that he needs to talk to the General about first anyway.

-

Leia agrees to try out his idea, less because she expects it to be successful, Poe thinks, and more because they both know they’re rapidly running out of options and it’s at least worth a try, so Poe finds himself in back in the cockpit of Black One as other pilots scramble into their fighters all around the hangar.

Once everyone looks to be settled, he clicks on his comm. “Listen up, folks. We’re going to be providing cover for the transports if the First Order doesn’t take our bait. We’ll do a microjump to the edge of the system, your droids will have the coordinates, and if the First Order hangs around we’ll get down to Crait and bail the sitting ducks out. Any questions?”

A chorus of ‘no, sirs’ chimes through his headset and he allows himself a smile. He would take any one of his pilots over ten First Order ones if given the choice.

“All right then. Have your wingmates’ sixes and try not to die. Black Leader out.”

-

They do better, for a little while. With his entire squadron of fighters at his back, they can defend the transports – if there were any place to run to they might even have made it. But there isn’t. The transports and fighters both start to run out of fuel, and the former can’t even jump to hyperspace. One by one they start to fall, until Poe wants nothing more than to scream in the echoing confines of his cockpit. Further up in space, the Raddus flashes into pieces and takes the Supremacy with it.

It’s when he sees Leia’s transport go down that Poe closes his eyes and allows the next shot aimed at him to find its target. His father, he suddenly thinks, would’ve been horrified. His son so very literally dying for Leia Organa after all.

Finn is already dead.

 

 

He’s starting to miss sleep – real sleep, not snatches of unconsciousness or the brief stretch of nothing between loops resetting. On the upside, it means he doesn’t have to deal with the nightmares. Besides physically he should be as rested as he was that first time on D’Qar; yet even while living it he underestimates the mental toll crazy Force shenanigans are taking on him until he doesn’t wake up one loop.

He’s vaguely aware that there are things going on around him, BB-8 beeping worriedly, footsteps, a hand on his brow, someone he’s almost certain is Leia murmuring with such grieved sadness in her tone that he almost fights through the currents keeping him under –

“The edges of his mind are still ragged. He needs rest.”

– a cooling sensations brushing along sore spots in his head whose existence he’d ignored for long enough that he’d almost forgotten, more hands lifting him up.

He doesn’t wake before the Raddus falls apart in the face of a primed dreadnought and slips into death quietly.

 

 

Poe has started to lose track of what number loop he’s in. In fact, he’s getting more and more… distracted in general, only making it through the dreadnought fight and the defence of the Raddus on autopilot. At least the many repetitions were good for that. These days Leia looks perpetually concerned whenever she looks at him and the worst thing is that she isn’t even wrong to be. Poe definitely feels like he’s losing it, and the lack of progress in figuring out how to get everyone through – and ideally off – Crait isn’t helping at all.

Time, he has decided, is an absolute fucker.

-

“We’ve figured it out,” Rose half-shouts, breathless, and Poe springs up from his seat in the corridor nook that has become more or less his refuge at the speed of light.

Any elation he might’ve been tempted to feel dies when he gets a glimpse of the identical looks of downtrodden misery on Rose and Finn’s faces.

“All right, hit me,” he says because if it’s bad news he can at least get the explanation before the last of his hope drains away.

“It’s pretty ingenious actually.” Rose does grudgingly impressed rather well. Finn is still silent. “Any ship moving through space creates a disturbance in the vacuum around it. The First Order has figured out how to fine-tune sensors to pick up these disturbances, ship imprints so to speak. They’re unique to each ship, depending on size, engine type, mass inertia, if they’re broadcasting on any frequencies, Cronau radiation...”

Poe rubs a hand over his eyes. “So what you’re saying is that there’s no way to disrupt the signal they’re latching onto because it’s being generated simply by moving.”

“Pretty much.” Finn’s serious eyes meet Poe’s gaze head-on, despite the fear he sees there. “It would be possible to shut down their tracking equipment for long enough to get away, but that requires infiltration of a Star Destroyer.”

“Yeah, we tried that. Didn’t go so well. Any other options?”

Her moon crescent necklace has left marks in Rose’s palm. “It isn’t foolproof technology – if you moved something big between the ship and the ship tracking it, it would confuse the signal. And they need to be within a certain range to pick up the fluctuations.”

Poe cocks his head. That almost sounds like a possibility. “Given our top speed and what those destroyers can do, how many hours would we need to be in hyperspace to lose them?”

The silence stretches too long and his heart sinks.

“Six hours,” Rose whispers, “and that’s the most optimistic number we could scrounge up.”

“Is there any way of potentially countermanding this?” Poe demands, fingers twitching in that way they always do when he felt a particularly strong urge to sit in a cockpit and get his hands on fighter controls. He has spent seven loops, six deaths and the repeated deaths of every Resistance member to get this information. It’s miraculous that Rose and Finn managed to get this far, but it still feels like nothing less than utter defeat.

To his surprise, Finn shrugs. “Rose says it should be possible to build something that would hide or at least obscure the imprint. I bet Rey could do it, she can fix pretty much anything. But we don’t have the time or the resources necessary for that.”

Poe slumps. Right. Hope for a future that he’s increasingly less certain is ever actually going to happen. Still, that’s a glimmer of good news at least.

“Thank you both,” he murmurs and dredges up a real smile from somewhere, “you’ve helped a great deal by figuring this out. I wish I could tell you it will make a difference right away, but if we manage to make it through this your work will be invaluable.”

It doesn’t cheer them up much, but then Poe isn’t particularly cheered either. Still, he feels like he used to be better at inspiring hope in others. We are the spark that will burn the First Order down. Had he really said that? It feels so long ago now. These days it was a lot more ‘desperately trying to keep Resistance members alive’ than ‘anywhere near causing the First Order significant damage’. Or maybe that wasn’t quite true – the loss of a dreadnought and Snoke’s ship and Snoke, if Rey is to be believed (and if he’s going to believe in anyone other than Leia it would be her), that’s not insignificant. It just pales in comparison to all the lives lost to get this far. A distant part of Poe understands that he’s starting to conflate the loops, feeling like more people die than the Resistance actually has, deaths looping into one another until they become a horrifying mass of a body count, but logic, in this situation, really doesn’t stand a chance.

It takes him far too long a moment to realise that Finn and Rose are looking at him expectantly, waiting for… what? Directions maybe. For him to act like the leader he’s supposed to be.

“Rose.” It comes out a little scratchy and he clears his throat. “C’ai was having some trouble with his X-Wing earlier – could you help him take a look at the systems? He could use an experienced tech like you.”

Rose nods sharply, a spark returning to her stance at the thought of something to do. “Yes, Poe. We’ll get his bird fixed up in no time.”

She heads off with something that almost looks like an aborted salute, leaving only Finn.

Poe jerks his head towards the alcove and tries not to remember his last disastrous one on one conversation with Finn as they both sit down.

“I really am sorry, Poe,” Finn says in a rush, eyes glued to the blue upholstery. “We tried so hard to find something workable, but...”

Poe leans over a little to bump his shoulder against Finn’s. “I know you did your best, and it’s not your fault that there isn’t anything. No one could’ve done more. And I’m really fucking glad you found the answer, you know? That’s pretty amazing for the little time you had.”

He can add ‘bashful Finn’ to the already exceedingly long list of adorable Finns.

“You gave us most of the information to start with.”

“Information that you and Rose compiled in the first place,” Poe rebuts immediately, because he’s not letting anyone sell themselves short in his presence, especially not Finn. “I was just the technically incompetent messenger.”

That makes Finn smile. Poe mentally congratulates himself.

Then Finn asks, “Is there anything else I can do? I know things are, uh, not great right now” and Poe’s temporarily buoyant mood disappears.

“You’re not wrong there, buddy. But all the tasks that are left are pretty tall orders – making those transports handle less like lumbering beasts, figuring out how to defeat the First Order fleet with one small capital ship and a handful of fighters, that sort of thing.”

“Surprisingly I don’t have a fleet of my own in my back pocket,” Finn says dryly. “Or magic powers. Any slightly more achievable goals on offer?”

As loath as Poe is to even think it, sending Finn to the bridge would probably cause more havoc than it would help, so he says, “You could go help Rose in the hangar. BB-8 will like the company.”

Finn sighs quietly, probably at what he perceives at Poe fobbing him off, before nodding with the same kind of sincere determination he has so far applied to every other situation. “Wouldn’t want BB-8 to get lonely after all.”

“They are a sensitive soul,” Poe agrees solemnly, only to ruin it with a grin. “Thanks, Finn.”

He watches the other man leave, broad back hidden by the familiar leather of Poe’s jacket, until he turns a corner. Then Poe bends his mind to the problem at hand with renewed determination.

“Right, come on then. Backup plan,” he mutters to himself, fingers ghosting over the soft upholstery. The Mon Calamari build surprisingly hedonistic warships.

He has till their eradication on Crait to come up with something, anything else to try in the next loop. They could try to escape to some other planet, but realistically nowhere in reach would play out any better than Crait without outside support, and they’re a little short on that. Besides, it would muddle the variables even further – Poe has spent too many loops now figuring out every detail of what happens and how he needs to react to it. Wasting that wouldn’t help anybody and certainly not him.

“Wait, wait.”

Backup. Outside support. What had Finn said? A fleet of my own in my back pocket. The signal failure on Crait still loomed large in his thought, but that had been aimed at the galaxy at large. There are still some people he knows to be loyal and resourceful – instead of telling his pilots to meet up with Karé and the rest of Black Squadron, why not ask them to come to their aid? It would be a stretch, certainly, they’re not exactly close to D’Qar and Crait, but if he comms them first thing in the morning, they might make it to Crait before it’s too late.

Slowly, he begins to smile. Not a fleet, maybe, but the next best thing: Black Squadron.

 

 

Poe wakes up, nerves screaming for a phantom second, then drags himself out of bed to find the nearest comm station.

He tries Karé first – they go back the longest, and she’s the one you really want to have at your back in a crisis. Besides, to his sleepy brain it’s Karé is enough of a reason already.

“Poe?” Karé’s voice crackles through the speakers and he all but slumps in relief. “Is everything all right? We weren’t scheduled for a call till tomorrow.”

And because Poe has never claimed to be artful or diplomatic in his wording, he dives right in.

“Karé, do you trust me?”

They are on audio only, but he can hear the sudden frown in her voice. “Of course I trust you. What’s going on, Poe?”

“I don’t have time to explain everything right now, but D’Qar is evacuating and we’re running out of time.” The edges of the comm console are digging into his palms. “I need you, Snap, Jess, and Iolo to scrounge up armoured freighters with the capacity to carry forty people each and fly them to Crait. It’s an old Rebellion base, I’ll send you the coordinates.”

Silence from the other end. Then, “What?”

Poe pushes an agitated hand through his hair. Please, Karé. “Freighters, Karé. Ideally ones that can keep up with the Millenium Falcon. We need something more manoeuvrable than those transports on the Raddus. With guns.”

“Nothing in that size class can keep up with the Falcon,” Karé snorts. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Poe?”

“As much as I can,” he says honestly, “but I’m pretty damn certain on this. I can have the General send you an official order in a little bit, but I need you to get moving now. You’re still on Corellia, right? There should be plenty of suitable ships around.”

“How much time do we have?” Karé asks and Poe all but sags in relief. “And how mad is the General going to be if we end up stealing the ships?”

That’s his Karé. “Do what you must, Leia will forgive you. You have a little over ten hours to get to Crait – I’ll send you a full briefing packet once you’re in the air. Fly safe.”

“Acknowledged, Commander.”

Karé signs off, and Poe goes to find Leia. He’s behind schedule, but the spiel is practised enough at this point that he should be able to condense it where necessary.

-

However hard he tries, Poe doesn’t manage to relax at all in the following hours. Once he’s done writing the most detailed mission dossier in the history of mission dossiers (exact time to land on Crait if achievable, the specific ravine to land in, watch out for crystal critters, and on and on), the worrying starts. Whenever he isn’t in Black One, flying, nervous energy jitters along his nerves, until Leia tells him quite firmly to get the hell of this bridge you’re making everyone nervous, Dameron. Chagrined, he goes, because he just can’t help it. He has no control over what’s happening with Karé and the rest of Black Squadron whatsoever, can only sit and wait and play his well-rehearsed part and, frankly, Poe has always been shit at doing nothing. Exhibit A: the first dreadnought attack. Exhibit B: the mutiny. Exhibit C: his complete inability to keep his mouth shut when in dangerous situations. Exhibit D – alright, maybe he should stop thinking about this.

After the third time he jumps violently simply because a crew member walked past his little alcove, Poe gives up and goes to his assigned quarters. In all the runs aboard the Raddus, he hasn’t once been in there longer than a few minutes. The door opens to his code and he stops just past the threshold. Somehow, he’d managed to forget that he’d led Finn here, after breaking him out of medical. Good going, Poe.

Then Finn looks up and smiles brightly, and all self-recrimination vanished like dew under the sun.

“Hey, Poe. Everything all right?” Finn puts aside the datapad he’d been perusing, thankfully ignoring Poe’s moment of panic as he tries to remember if he’d stored anything embarrassing on it.

“Sure, yeah, fine,” Poe says, and probably couldn’t have sounded less like he’s, in fact, fine. “Just can’t settle, you know? I’m not great at waiting for things to happen.”

Finn nods sympathetically. “Sometimes I think all of my life before this” – he waves his hand vaguely around the room – “was just waiting. Interspersed with pain, but still mostly waiting.”

Poe finally remembers that he’s still standing in the doorway like an idiot and moves to sit down next to Finn. Close enough to be present, far enough that Finn can choose to keep that distance between them, if he so wants.

Finn leans in against him.

“And here we are, offering you more waiting,” Poe murmurs, holding still with some effort. He doesn’t want to break this moment, the fragile blossoming of something good.

Finn snorts. “You’re offering plenty, believe me.” He shifts a little, turns to face Poe fully. “Do you think we’ll make it?”

Even if he’d wanted to, Poe couldn’t have lied to the earnestly brushed away fear in Finn’s eyes, tempered by determination. As soon as he’d heard that Rey would be rejoining them in the fray, all of Finn’s energy had driven towards making it to that point – and then keeping her safe. But maybe, Poe thinks a little furtively, maybe Poe himself has a little bit to do with it too.

“I think we’ve got a good shot,” he says. He hasn’t told Finn about the looping yet, not this round when he and Rose aren’t needed for the hyperspace tracking conundrum anymore – he deserves to know, probably, but Poe is so tired of shocked faces, of explaining his fucked up current existence. “Better than it could be anyway. My friends are good at what they do, and as loyal as they come. If they can make it to Crait to help us out they will.”

Finn seems to consider that for a while. Then he nods once. “You believe in them.”

“I do.”

Their shoulders brush, two leather flight jackets that were once worn by people more famous than they.

“Then I can believe in them too, for a little while,” Finn says, and Poe can’t help his reflexive smile, though he half thinks it’ll give him away.

-

This time, Poe goes down to Crait again. He can’t say it’s easy handing Black One over to someone else, even one of his own pilots whose ship got damaged in the attack run on the dreadnought – and nothing had convinced BB-8 to stay with their ship, not when [My Pilot] is going somewhere else – but he’s best-placed to find the exit from the Rebel base, not waiting with the rest of the squadrons just outside the systems in case they’re needed to back up the freighters later.

If the freighters don’t come, if Karé, Jess, Snap, and Iolo haven’t made it here in time... then it won’t matter anyway.

The scene plays out just like that very first time, plus a rather greater number of Resistance personnel hiding in the cave and minus a suicidal run at the cannon. Luke Skywalker strides out through the hole in the blast door, haloed by fire and looking every inch the hero so many children had grown up hearing about. Poe doubts any other being in the galaxy could’ve captured the First Order’s – Kylo Ren’s – attention quite so thoroughly, except perhaps for General Leia.

He tears his gaze away, murmuring a quick goodbye under his breath, and follows the gentle chiming of the crystal critters down the side tunnel. The boulders lift away from the blocked entrance and then there’s Rey, somehow looking equally like a hero, carved from the same substance as Luke. The Falcon sits behind her, almost unassuming.

As Finn rushes past him into Rey’s arms, Poe’s eyes dart left and right and suddenly he can’t breathe because there are four beautiful freighters sitting more or less in a line along the ravine. Karé’s waving at him from the cockpit of the nearest one, and Poe salutes her before he manages to kick himself back into breathing. These magnificent fuckers.

Okay, so maybe the freighters actually look more like somebody else’s banged up leftovers, but Poe doesn’t have to look hard to find turrets mounted on the nearest one, and this kind of freighter class is still miles more manoeuvrable than those blasted transports – especially with Black Squadron at the controls.

Down by his legs BB-8 beeps inquisitively, and Poe snaps into action.

“All right folks, folks, forty to a transport, let’s get this moving. We don’t know how long Skywalker can hold them off.”

People start streaming past him, and with them comes excited murmuring, born from relief of freedom in their grasp. They aren’t quite there yet, Poe knows, but they’re so close that if he lets himself truly think about it now, hope will come roaring through him so strongly that failure might actually crush what’s left of him.

It barely takes five minutes for everyone to board and then Rey and Finn are waving him and Leia over to to the Falcon, BB-8 at their heels. There’s a grim flinch to the quirk of Rey’s mouth that is mirrored on Leia’s face, but neither say a word for all that Poe can guess what that’s about.

The ship isn’t quite at capacity, but when Poe makes it in from the ramp he’s greeted by a wall of noise. Several people stop him to offer thanks, or worse, congratulate him on his recent actions. In short order his head is pounding, breathing uncomfortably shallow, and he blindly searches for a way to retreat.

His pilot’s feet take him towards the cockpit on autopilot, and he enters just as Chewbacca pushes down the hyperspace lever. Poe only barely keeps to his feet at the resulting minor jolt that would normally barely even register. His sluggish brain has only just caught up with where he’s got to – and he knows he should probably not be here, this is Rey’s and Chewbacca’s domain, their safe place now that the rest of the ship is invaded – when Chewbacca turns and spots him.

Instead of the annoyed grumbling Poe half expected, Chewbacca howls something long and mournful, unintelligible to Poe’s very rudimentary understanding of Shyriiwook, and stands. A large, hairy paw comes down on Poe’s shoulder with none of the force Wookiees are famous for mustering. Poe doesn’t move, just looks into Chewbacca’s knowing eyes and trembles.

Shaking his head, Chewbacca pushes him into the copilot’s seat, howls something else and leaves the cockpit – all before Poe has fully processed that he’s sitting in the copilot’s seat in the Millenium Falcon and he’s too damn tired to properly appreciate it.

He loses track of time for a bit, just breathing in and out and trying not to panic, until light footsteps herald another arrival.

“Have we made it?” Leia asks, coming to stand next to him. She doesn’t move to sit down in the empty pilot’s chair.

Poe swivels his head where it’s resting on the chair, but can’t get himself motivated enough to sit up straight. “It’s by far the best outcome so far.”

It’s a non-answer and not even a day like the one they’ve just had would stop Leia from calling him out on it. She raises a brow.

“I want it to be the last loop,” he admits, eyes sliding off her face to focus on the stars streaking past the cockpit. “I don’t think we could manage a better outcome than this, but I don’t know how any of this works. Maybe I’ll just keep living this day indefinitely. Maybe the outcome doesn’t matter.”

Leia doesn’t say anything. He has always appreciated that she never lies to him.

The stars are starting to morph into patterns, like clouds sometimes do. To distract himself, Poe says, “You know there’s one other thing I never managed to figure out. Why me? Out of all of us, why me?”

He can hear the smile in Leia’s voice. “Oh Poe, have you never noticed that the Force is drawn to you?”

“I’m not Force-sensitive,” he protests, but Leia is already shaking her head.

“Rey has known you for little more than a few hours and she already adores you. Before he ran away to play hermit on a deserted island my brother used to be quite fond of the little boy who hung around the academy with big plans to become a pilot. I’m certainly more than fond of you.” She shrugs. “Or perhaps growing up in the shadow of a Force tree had unforeseen effects. Luke told me they’re quite a rarity.”

“Did he now,” Poe mumbles, because the idea that something as removed from him as the kriffing Force could be invested in him, tree or no tree, is entirely ridiculous and he’s already wishing he hadn’t opened this particular crate of broken-down ship parts.

Then Leia says, voice unaccountably gentle, “You need to sleep, Poe,” and an icy shower races down his back.

Poe has never in his life felt more than tired than he does right now, but not even the worst nightmares after Jakku had managed to make him as afraid of going to sleep as this time loop has. He can’t close his eyes. He doesn’t want to go back again, he’s too tired, too empty to try again, to fail again. Could it not be enough?

Leia leans over him, eyes kind as she brushes her hand over his forehead.

“Sleep, Poe.”

The Falcon is quiet now. He closes his eyes.

 

-

 

Epilogue

 

Leia watches the planes of Poe’s face smooth out in sleep, somehow highlighting the exhaustion burned into every line that remains. She has already fielded a concerned comm call from Captain Kun who wanted to know why Poe looked like ‘several parsecs of bad space’, concerned questions from Finn and even Rey along the same lines, and now Chewie’s grumbling about ‘taking better care of the cub’ and there’d been no answers she’d been able to give them.

They would have to talk soon, she and Poe, whose shining light and unflinching morality and loyalty gives her hope even now – about all the things she wants to bury and forget. His vague evasions when questioned about her actions the first time he lived through the evacuation. The toll beyond exhaustion that this experience must have demanded of Poe. His torture at the hands of Leia’s own son, and the scars that remain on his psyche even now.

But for now, for as many hours as she can possibly give him, he deserves his rest. The faint presence hovering near her shoulder radiates approving fondness at the thought.

She has run the Resistance for years – she can persevere, can manage a day without the man who will soon be her second-in-command.

As you have always done, dear sister, Luke Skywalker says before his presence fades away.

Leia takes one more moment to breathe in the peaceful quiet of the cockpit, wrong somehow without Han’s chatter or Luke’s amusement at Han’s antics – one moment to mourn what was. Then she squares her shoulders, the General once more, and goes to coordinate her troops.

 

-

 

Poe opens his eyes to the sight of the messy, banged-up cockpit of the Falcon. Dry shipboard air runs through his lungs, not a hint of humidity anywhere in the air. Outside, stars slip by at dizzying speeds.

Fortunately he’s alone – there’s no one to ask questions about the silent tears running down his face.