Poe stared out over a pool of choking, twisting white fog. He didn't need to be a Jedi to know there was something mystic about the place. The meandering air danced in front of him, and he felt like he should be able to see through it to the water underneath. But he couldn't. The way forward was shrouded.
Poe swallowed in a quick, nervous gesture, and looked back to Rey. "Are you sure?"
"No." Rey shook her head, her dull hair barely managing a limp swing along her cheeks. "I've squeezed every drop of information I can out of those texts and I just...I don't know. It might not work." She slumped against the wall, dark shadows under her eyes, skin hanging sallow along her bones. She was pushing too hard on too little food. They all were, these days.
"If anyone could make it work, it's you," Poe said, reassuringly. "That's not what I mean. This…it could undo everything."
"Everything needs to be undone," Rey's voice was quiet, but firm, showing the strength that had carried their shabby Resistance through. "Tell me I'm wrong."
Poe couldn't. He had thought things were grim after Crait—the entire Resistance fitting onboard a single light freighter. But that was before the First Order had unleashed their bio-weapon, killing the food supply on fifteen different agricultural worlds in the New Republic. The First Order had held their prepared food stores hostage for obedience, and with no other choice, the New Republic struck a treaty. Surrendered.
That had felt like the end of everything to Poe. But no, the worst was yet to come.
The First Order had celebrated. The galaxy was theirs, their bug had been effective. Too effective. It didn't stay in the crops. It jumped to bloodsuckers, then to rodents, who carried it onto ships and spread it around the galaxy. In a matter of weeks, the First Order's food supply was damaged too. The galaxy was dying—system by system, fractured into a hundred million little fiefdoms desperately trying to stay alive.
Nobody was celebrating, anymore.
It had to be undone. Poe nodded. "When...when will it take me?"
"I don't know," Rey sounded tired. No, Rey was tired. They all were tired. "Just...when we can fix things. The Force knows. We have to trust it." Rey looked out over the fog. "I'm sorry to send you alone."
"They need you. If this doesn't work...they need you more. You going to be okay?" Poe couldn't help but ask.
"I don't think any of us are, if this doesn't work," Rey scrubbed at her eyes, and then suddenly, impulsively, pulled Poe into a hug. Poe wrapped his arms around her (too thin, but they all were, these days) and rested his chin on her shoulder. Rey squeezed him tight. "I know you're the right one to go. I don't know how, but I do."
Poe closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "Trust the Force."
"Pretty much all we can do," Rey agreed, pulling back. Her hands lingered at Poe's shoulders, brushing some imagined lint off his shirt. "Right," she took a deep breath, steeling herself, then pulled away entirely. "Into the scary fog time-travel pool with you."
Poe gave a weak grin. "I've always admired your inspirational speeches."
"Speed it up, Dameron, you've got a galaxy to save." Rey returned his weak grin with one of her own. "May the Force be with you."
"And with you." Poe turned to the pool. He clenched his hands into fists, closed his eyes, and jumped. He fell through the fog, through the water, and then, through time itself.
He landed on sand.
Poe didn't know anything else, but he did have that bit figured out. The grains under his cheek were scorchingly hot; a passing gust of wind sent still more against his eyes.
Poe groaned, wiggling his arms free from where they were trapped between his body and the...dune? Poe couldn't tell, as he tried to push himself up on his forearms. Everything was bright. Everything was hot.
There was a grunt, and Poe felt a sun-baked blaster barrel press firmly against the back of his neck. There was a disapproving string of syllables, and though Poe couldn't speak the language he could understand the intention, clear as day.
Move and we shoot you.
Poe stopped moving. The blaster lifted off his neck, more syllables were thrown his direction.
Poe shook his head, hoping the gesture translated. "Basic?"
There was some muttered conferring, before a heavily accented voice asked, "Documents? You have?"
There was a triumphant noise, and rough hands grabbed at his body, hauling him upright. For the first time Poe could see what was going on.
He didn't like it. Sand unending to his right, and to his left, a shabby desert little town built around a couple of landing docks. He had no idea where he was, no idea where—or when—the Force had sent him. And, an even more dismaying sight, five rough-dressed thugs around him, blasters ready and grim faces.
The hands that hauled him upright started rifling through his pockets. Poe gave a grim smile. They wouldn't find anything there, at least. With no idea what he would need to do or where he would be going, he hadn't brought anything with him.
Besides, if this hadn't worked, if he was only in another where and not another when...well, the Resistance would need the supplies more.
Poe was not reassured by the noises of triumph when his pockets came up empty. The language he didn't understand was called to a scarf-wrapped willowy figure, who responded in Rodian, and Poe could finally catch a few words.
Considering those words were, "alone" and "young" and "slave" Poe wasn't at all reassured.
"Hey," Poe said, trying to figure out some way to talk them around. "I'm glad you guys found me, I took a wrong turn back at the sand dune that's just a little taller than the other sand dunes, and, let me tell you—"
One of the thugs casually shot the ground by his feet, and Poe fell silent.
The thugs continued to confer around him, finally grabbing him by the elbow and starting to force him into their landspeeder. Poe grit his teeth. Nothing good was waiting for him on the other side of that landspeeder trip. If he was getting free, this is when he had to do it.
Poe took a deep breath, waited for his chance, and—
"Hey!" a voice said, faintly, nearly drowned out by the hum of a landspeeder, coming up on them in the distance. "Hey!" it called again as the landspeeder got closer, Poe's unwanted companions starting to mutter to themselves and ready their weapons.
Heedless to the danger, the landspeeder continued its approach until it pulled up alongside the group. A humanoid figure, wearing loose beige clothes and their face wrapped in a scarf (everyone in this desert was more prepared for the heat and the sand than Poe was), jumped out and started walking towards them.
"What do you think you are doing?" the...man (Poe was pretty sure that voice sounded male, maybe even human) asked, his voice indignant. "Anchorhead is paid up. The Hutts have no right to enforce around here."
Hutts. Okay, probably Hutt Space, possibly Outer Rim. Poe had definitely traveled through space. Anchorhead sounded vaguely familiar, but there were thousands upon thousands of little backwaters like this one.
The thug (no, the Hutt enforcer, Poe realized, putting the pieces together) who spoke Basic was chosen through a mutter-and-shuffle method to speak with the speeder driver. "He no have documents. No citizen. No claim. Ours."
The figure folded his arms. "Well...of course he doesn't have documents. That's why we were going to Anchorhead. To get some."
Right. Poe thought, a hysterical little giggle in his head. Documents. Go into town and just buy some documents. From the Document Store.
It also occurred to Poe that he might need to get some water in him, and into some shade, because he was starting to get a bit delirious.
"You know him?" the enforcer asked.
"Obviously. We got split up. I told you to wait for me," the figure turned to Poe and tilted his head, a gentle chiding in his voice. Poe was briefly taken back to the old rebel base on Yavin IV, visiting with his parents, his father crouching down to look at Poe seriously and remind him that he couldn't just go running off, it wasn't safe.
Poe was gripped by grim amusement. No. This wasn't safe at all. He fought down his delirium enough to run a quick threat analysis—one mysterious, possibly-friendly stranger was better than five Hutt enforcers who wanted to sell him for a quick handful of creds. Even if the beige man did want to sell him, Poe had a better chance one on one.
So with a quick wave to the enforcers, Poe stepped toward the stranger. "Sorry," he said, filling his voice with the same chagrin he had used with his father, all those years ago.
The enforcers weren't happy about things, grumbling and muttering to themselves. Still, they let Poe get in the speeder, and they let the speeder leave.
Poe let out an explosive sigh as they left the enforcers in the dunes, speeder pointed toward the town. "I can't believe that worked. Thanks for interrupting them."
"Of course. They really shouldn't be operating that close to Anchorhead. They had no right to—kriff." The figure looked in a mirror, and Poe twisted in the seat, seeing a dust cloud coming from the dunes, making good speed to come up on their tail.
"Are they really going to attack this close to the town?" Poe muttered, as he started thinking through the angles. The enforcer's speeder didn’t have any attached blasters that he could see. Of course, their personal ones would more than make up the difference...
"No…" The man sounded more irritated than worried. "They're just calling the bluff. They're going to follow us. It's fine!" The figure took a hand off the steering column and waved it at Poe reassuringly. "I'll loan you some money to get a copy of your docs. They won't touch you if you can prove citizenship. Too much trouble."
Poe winced. "Um."
The figure's hand dropped. "You're not—"
"Nope." Poe glanced back over. "Okay, you've been great, but I need to get out of here. Look, I'm going to hit you, not hard, just enough to make it look good, and then I'm going to run for it. Thanks for the—"
"Woah! Hit! No!" The man brought his arm up defensively, words tumbling out quickly. "Look I don't want to be hit and, no offence, you have no water. You'll die in half a day, even if you do somehow manage to avoid the enforcers. I can get us out of this. No hitting required. Trust me." The man turned, and Poe, for the first time, was close enough to see his eyes through the folds in the scarf. They were blue, and they were pleading. "Please."
Poe flattened his lips together. "Fine."
They wound into the town (for a given value of 'town'; it was really more a collection of sandstone and duracrete shelters, with winding paths of packed-down sand between them) until the man stopped the landspeeder in front of a shabby building built out of sand-pocked metal. A small sign out front proclaimed that it was the Imperial Register.
Imperial. That couldn't mean…
How far back had he traveled? When Rey said he would travel to a time and place where he could fix things, Poe figured she meant…the research lab where the bioweapon was being developed, before the outbreak. Maybe even the First Order base before they had managed to build Starkiller. In his most fanciful imaginations, he had been delivered to the Jedi Temple, providing a dire warning to the General's brother before Ben had turned and the temple had burned.
But...Poe stared in befuddlement at the sign, was the Empire still standing?
The man took Poe by his elbow and dragged him through the door. As the door hissed shut, Poe caught a glimpse of the enforcers pulling up outside.
"Okay," the man said, reaching up to untuck his scarf. "Documents, we can do this."
Poe, glanced back at the door, the sign seared in his memory, and muttered, "I really doubt I'm anywhere in the system."
"Can't get you citizenship documents," the man muttered, his voice clearer now that it wasn't muffled by the scarf. Poe took a deep breath and forced himself to think. He looked back at his would-be rescuer.
Who was shoving the scarf back from the top his head, revealing a face that Poe knew. That lots of people knew. Kriff, that everyone knew, trillions upon trillions of sapients in the galaxy would recognize that face.
Luke Skywalker—as fresh-faced and young as the day he became the successful destroyer of the Death Star—was standing in front of him.
"Need a land grant to get a moisture farmer licence, can't even get you a travel visa without citizenship documents…" the last Jedi, the savior of the galaxy was muttering, in a backwater metal box of an office, bare except for two faded recruitment posters and a holoprojector perched behind blasterproof glass, a button on the wall next to it.
"Maybe a business licence? Repair—no, you need to demonstrate apprenticeship…maybe trade..."
Poe felt panic rise in his throat. He wasn't born yet. Him. Poe. Hadn't even been born yet. His mom and dad were—alive, oh Force, they were both alive and with the Rebellion and they wouldn't know—
"Could be a really delayed birth registry!" Luke said, brightening. "Or…"
Nobody knew. There was no one alive who would recognize him, everyone that he might have known would be like...this...this creature out of holovids. Poe had met Luke Skywalker, had even known him, in a way—the Jedi had been a friend of his parents (and Poe's most enduring childhood crush). But this young version was removed from the man he knew. This was the face of legends, unworn, unweathered.
"Hm," the legend said, sighing. "Yeah. I think we're going to have to get married."
Poe blinked, that was enough to drag him back to the present. "What now?"
"The only two options I can think of is that I am registering your birth—much delayed—but in order to do that I'd have to basically vouch that I was there where and when you were born, and I don't think I can sell that."
"Well, yes, but—"
"So the other option is that I marry you. I'm documented, freeborn citizen, I have a right to take a spouse. And that gives you the documents!" Luke said, sounding pleased he had solved the puzzle.
"Are you…even old enough to get married?" Poe asked, looking down at the very-much junior Skywalker in horror.
Luke narrowed his eyes. "Of course," he said, sounding offended to his very bones. It would have been more impressive if his voice hadn't cracked. "I'm eighteen."
Poe groaned and buried his head in his hands.
"Look, I'm trying to do you a favor," Luke hissed. "Either we go over there and register a marriage or you walk back out there and try your luck with five armed thugs. I don't like your chances."
Poe glanced towards the closed door, then back at Luke, glaring up at him. Poe looked around. "Does this office have any other exits?"
"No," Luke said flatly.
Poe looked back at the door, very seriously considering his chances against five armed thugs.
"You don't even have a blaster!" Luke grabbed Poe's elbow and started walking toward the button. "Come on, stop being dumb."
Poe moved along with Luke, numbly following. Luke wasn't wrong. His odds were terrible. And he needed...he needed to fix things. While marrying a painfully young Luke Skywalker was definitely not in any of his plans...he would have more freedom than if he were collared and sold. So he grit his teeth and let Luke usher him toward marital doom.
Luke reached over and pushed the button. From behind the glass, the holoprojector turned on, and a life-size man flickered into blue-static life in front of them. He sat in an uncomfortable-looking chair, datapad in front of him. An unexceptional bureaucrat, except—
His uniform nearly took Poe's breath away, straight out of every war-holo from his parent's generation. It was shabby in a way films never showed, though—unbuttoned at the collar and loose around the wrists, stained and frayed.
"Yes," the man said, glaring over at them, setting down the datapad. "What? Calling me here without official business is a misdemeanor punishable by—"
"We're here to register a freehold marriage," Luke cut him off.
The man looked them both up and down with a lazy sort of curiosity that made Poe's skin crawl. He fought the urge to move protectively in front of Luke. The clerk smirked at Poe when he finished, reading some of Poe's discomfort and apparently relishing it. The man reached for his datapad, pulling up forms and waving at them. They appeared in front of Poe and Luke. Without another word he turned away from them and buried himself back in his datapad.
The forms themselves were standard enough. Luke started filling them out first, verifying his name, registered birth, citizenship, the sorts of background details that were now completely erased from Poe's life.
"You're up," Luke said, stepping aside so Poe could fill in his side of things.
Name. Right. He couldn't go around calling himself Poe Dameron. Not when there was a Kes Dameron around that might ask questions. He considered one of his various aliases, and his stomach churned. He couldn't give up his name, too. He could keep Poe.
He reached over and typed it in, pausing before the last name.
Luke cleared his throat. "Skywalker. That's the..." Luke cast a quick, incredibly suspicious looking, sideways glance at the clerk. "I just realized in all our long and serious conversations, we never talked about this," Luke said, over-enunciating his words. "You're not from the freehold. Since you're joining, you'd take my name. Skywalker."
Poe blinked, but, not having any better ideas, keyed in the name. Something strange caught in his throat as he saw the scrolling text: Poe Skywalker.
Well, that felt nine different sorts of wrong.
Luke called to the clerk. "Okay, we're ready."
The clerk ignored them for a good thirty seconds. Anger itched along Poe's neck. Finally, the clerk waved his hand, and their documents showed up on his screen.
"Right...right...huh. Would have put money on the babyface being the creditchaser." The man looked up at Poe. "Nice work."
Poe took a breath, ready to snarl, but Luke laid a hand in the middle of his back, rubbing in circles. "It's fine."
"It really isn't," Poe muttered.
The clerk smirked. "Right, it's true love. Like I don't know how you dust-brains work." The clerk shook his head. "Let's get this over with. You are registering a homestead ceremony taking place on the Lars Freehold into Imperial Record. You are aware this will bind you by galactic law, and dissolving the marriage will require a legal divorce at any Imperial registry. You will have the rights, privileges, and obligations afforded to spouses everywhere in Imperial Territory, do you acknowledge?"
"Yes," Luke said, his voice firm. His hand pressed between Poe's shoulders.
"Yes," Poe managed to choke out.
"Then congrats, you're married. Thirty creds for a copy of your documents."
Creds changed hands, documents were transferred, and Poe found himself numbly staring at proof that he was now married to Luke Skywalker. Well, the hysterical part of his brain thought, You did come back to change things. This is certainly a change.
Not the change he had intended, though.
The documents, however, worked, valid enough to send the Hutt enforcers away in a snarling huff. Luke gave a satisfied nod. "It's not worth it for them, picking on people with protection. If they went after you now, it'd ignite a lot of tensions with the freeholding farmers."
"Makes sense. Okay, let's go get divorced."
Luke gave him a dismayed look, and an uneasy feeling built in Poe's chest. "Luke..."
Luke shook his head. "They're going to be watching you. If we leave separately —" Luke broke off, hands twisting in front of him as he worried at the issue. "It could put me, and my family, in a lot of danger if it became clear we were lying. I...look, it's not permanent, but we definitely have to leave town together. So let's get back to the farm, and we can talk about options then."
"Back to the farm," Poe said numbly. "Where your family is."
"Yeah, don't worry, it'll be fine. I'll just explain things..." Luke said, guiding Poe towards the landspeeder.
"The Hutts were going to enslave him! It wasn't right! They were nowhere near their enforcement territory!" Luke said, loud enough to be heard clearly from the other room, his voice high and defensive.
Beru said something, low and serious. Poe couldn't make it out.
Poe, for his part, was focused on holding very still. The blaster Owen had trained on him stayed steady, and Poe didn't want to test the seriousness of that threat.
The argument between Luke and Beru continued outside, Luke getting fainter until he too fell into silence. Owen's eyes didn't leave Poe's. Things were awkwardly quiet, and Poe fought down the urge to make the first comment. Anything he said would dig them himself in the hole, at this point.
"Here's how this is going to work," Owen finally said. "We're going to give you an uplink, you're going to use that uplink to call for a pickup. You are going to get on that ship and leave."
"What happens to Luke then?"
"None of your concern, stranger." Owen's jaw set.
Poe swallowed. Well, that was fair. "I'll leave, but I don't have a pickup."
"You need to be off-planet for Luke to be safe. Now's not the time for pride. I don't care if you ran away from a job or you're fighting with your family, now's the time—"
"They're dead!" Poe snapped, emotion surging over him. His mom long in the ground, but his dad...Yavin IV had been hit hard by the food shortages, and the Resistance hadn't been able to do a damn thing about it. His dad was...and Poe hadn't been able to—
Poe gave up on composure, burying his head in his hands. Hopefully he wouldn't get shot for that, but he couldn't hold it together any longer. Sobs shook through him; a child's grief for the mother he lost and despair for the father he couldn't save.
Owen sighed. "Well, shit." And then, to Poe's surprise, a moment later a big broad hand settled on Poe's shoulder. "Too many damn orphans in the galaxy," Owen muttered, but his hand stayed warm and steady.
By the time Beru lead Luke (still sullen with a set jaw and folded arms), Owen and Poe had worked something resembling a deal out.
"He's stranded," Owen announced to Beru, "We're stuck with him. He'll work a year on the farm as a part of the family holding, and we'll give him a percentage of the take, just like we would if this whole thing wasn't a sham. He can use that to buy a trip off-planet, and Luke can get the marriage annulled due to abandonment."
"Yes! Abandonment! That was my plan," Luke said, which was apparently his half of an argument Poe had missed.
"A year? Owen, you can't..." she trailed off at the firm shake of Owen's head.
"The only other option is to kill him now and bury him deep."
Poe and Luke made identical noises of protest. Beru turned to Luke, "Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided that going off and getting married was a part of a reasonable plan."
"I should have considered that you guys might turn into murderers?" Luke said, all exasperation with no real heat.
Poe watched the back and forth, realizing that while Owen and Beru might not like Poe, Luke was utterly sure they weren't going to kill Poe. There wasn't any urgency to his protest. He had always known they'd treat Poe fairly. Luke was just...being a kid, arguing with people who might be angry with him, but definitely loved him. Poe felt another surge of sadness at his own loss. Something about seeing Owen and Beru made it stronger.
I can save them.
The thought hit Poe so hard it nearly knocked him over. Luke was orphaned young, orphaned not too long from now. Poe didn't remember all the details but he knew it happened here. At this farm. Maybe, if Poe was here, if Owen and Beru trusted him, Poe could save them. Luke could keep his parents a little longer. Who knew how the world would bend differently, if that were the case?
"Well," Luke said abruptly, a few steps into an argument that Poe had missed in his revelation, "If he's staying, I guess he's sleeping in my room."
"No!" Owen, Beru, and Poe insisted at once.
Luke glanced over at Poe, looking confused. "We are married. Legally."
"No," Owen said again, glaring at Poe, which Poe felt was very unjust. "We'll put a cot in the garage for you."
"But, if the enforcers come..." Luke protested.
"If enforcers make it far enough into the homestead to notice a cot in the garage, we've got a different set of issues," Poe said firmly, gratified to see Owen's brisk nod. "The garage is fine."
It really was fine, Poe realized, as he sat on the edge of the cot in the darkened garage. The garage hummed with machinery and stank of oil, but he had lived so much of his recent life on ships crammed to triple occupancy, that an actual bed in a room and moderate silence felt like pure luxury.
Of course by now, any dry patch of ground probably would have been enough to get him off to sleep. Poe reached down to slide off one shoe, then the other, weariness in every motion. He'd been running for so long. He was so tired. Poe flopped back onto the bed, tucking his hands behind his head and closing his eyes.
The thrum and thunk of machinery should have been soothing. He should already be asleep. But now, alone in the garage, an uneasiness crept in, an itch between his shoulders and a crawling in his throat. He wasn't going back. He had to fix things. He didn't know how. Panic started to thread in, mixed with exhaustion, Poe's mind churning in useless circles and refusing to let him rest.
There was a soft hiss of the door, and Poe shot upright, scrambling at his hip for a blaster that wasn't there.
"Poe?" Luke's voice came, a whisper barely heard over the machinery.
"Luke?" Poe blinked, and out of the grey darkness the form of Luke slowly became evident as Luke picked his way over to Poe.
"I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to be in here," Poe said, rubbing his eyes as his heartbeat settled back down again.
Luke made a dismissive noise. "They're just worried you're going to take advantage. I know you better."
Poe snorted. "You've known me all of four hours longer than they have." As Luke got closer, Poe realized he was carrying something, a basket or bowl of some kind.
"They were an important four hours," Luke said, shoving the bundle at Poe, "Here. I realized in all the excitement we didn't get dinner. I thought you might be hungry."
Poe hadn't thought about food. He had gotten used to not thinking about food, not when there wasn't anything to be done about it. Focus on the task, push the hunger to the side. But Poe's stomach, now awakened, growled hungrily.
Luke chuckled. "I see I guessed correctly. It's nothing fancy, just some broak."
Poe had no idea what broak was, but it smelled amazing. As he reached into the basket, he pulled out a small pastry, smelling rich and savory. Poe dug in with enthusiasm, groaning in delight as he broke through the shell of pastry and the flavor spiced meat exploded on his tongue.
"Good?" Luke asked.
Poe nodded, not pausing to speak, and scarfed another two down before he forced himself to slow down, actually pay attention to how his stomach was feeling. No reason to cram everything in there and make it feel miserable. There wasn't a galactic famine going on right now. There would be more food in the future.
"Thank you," Poe said as he fought the urge to lick his fingers. "I must have been hungry."
Luke gave a soft smile. "I brought water too—have you used an UltraSeal pack before?"
Poe shook his head.
Luke gave a smile. "Thought not. You're not from Tatooine, are you? Where are you from?"
Poe flinched back from the question. "I...uh, I was—" Poe had thought of a few covers in case he was asked that exact question—independent mercenary just separated on bad terms from a squadron, tradesman down on his luck, a mystic on a solitary spiritual journey. But none of those covers had been designed with the Empire in mind.
More importantly, none of them were designed for a husband. Someone Poe would be stuck with, day in and day out, for the next...however long. "It's not nice," Poe finally said, the words entirely honest. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Of course. I'm sorry. Um." Luke paused, looking around the room. "Oh yeah! The UltraSeal."
Luke demonstrated how Poe could seal and unseal the small waterskin, so that no water was wasted when Poe wasn't drinking it. "It's important," Luke explained his fingers brushing alongside Poe's as he worked the clasp. "In the desert. To watch your water."
"Makes sense," Poe said, more distracted than he wanted to be by the brush of Luke's fingers against his. "I should probably get some sleep now. Thank you."
"Anytime," Luke said, grabbing the basket and standing. "Sleep well! My room's just at the top of the stairs, if you need anything. You're welcome to come in." Poe raised his eyebrows. Luke gave a little laugh and ducked backwards. "We're married," he said, as if that explained things.
"Only technically," Poe said, "And I'm really enjoying the part of the plan where your parents don't murder me, so I should go to sleep, and you should get out of here."
"Fine," Luke huffed, picking up the basket and waving as he left.
Sleep came quickly to Poe, after that.
Life as a moisture farmer wasn't easy, but it was oddly familiar. Poe had grown up on a farm, and every summer from the time he could walk to when he left for the academy, he had volunteered to work in the fields as the melons got ready for harvest. And by volunteered, Poe meant that he had been politely and firmly informed that he was going to "volunteer," and he had absolutely no choice in the matter.
Which wasn't so different from this situation, come to think of it.
So Poe was well-versed at using water to grow things. Now, instead, he was using things to grow water. He could handle the slight logistical reversal.
Owen and Beru kept Poe close—he always worked paired with one of them. Poe wasn't sure if they were more worried he was going to run off and get their family in trouble with the Hutts, or if they were worried he was going to find Luke and do nefarious things to the young man he was technically married to. Well, either way, Poe's goal was to get Owen and Beru to trust him, so he stayed close, kept his head down, and worked as hard as he knew how.
As the days went by, stretching into one week, then two, Poe felt like he was making progress. Owen started gesturing him over to the neighboring vaporator, instead of insisting Poe stay glued to his side. And, after a too-close tussle with a womp-rat pup (which Poe handled by running very fast and jumping in the landspeeder, showing excellent evasion skills and a sense of terrain tactics) Beru even gave Poe a small blaster, saying that Poe needed some way to defend himself that wasn't running like a startled skittermouse and hoping he didn't get chomped.
They still didn't give him any chance to be alone with Luke, though. At least, not intentionally.
Poe hadn't been able to stop Luke's nighttime snack runs. No amount of reminders that Luke's parents really really wouldn't like it if Luke were in here seemed to phase him. And truth be told, Poe didn't have the strength to protest much more than that. Owen and Beru were hardworking and sensible, but not good conversationalists. Poe got lonely.
Luke was good company incarnate. He'd bring food, for one, which Poe still couldn't take for granted. And then he'd let Poe eat, running a conversation himself but finding ways to draw Poe into it. He learned what the sore spots were in Poe's past and skated around them, and somewhere in that conversation Poe found pieces of his past that he could talk about. Favorite foods and childhood misadventures, droid stories and odd hobbies. All carefully stripped of markers of time and place, but still, there was something universal in the telling.
And flying. Despite the sometimes panicked scramble to remember which ships had been built when, it was their most exciting conversation. Flying was flying, from the thrill of breaking free of gravity until your ship kissed the earth again, and there was plenty of stories to tell.
"And then Biggs and I—you remember Biggs, right?"
"Best friend, currently off at school."
"Right! Okay, so we were out by Beggar's Canyon and—by the way, Biggs' sister had come along—and we were flying through these stone arches—I'll show them to you sometime, they're just barely big enough to fit a speeder through. Anyway, Vichie—Biggs' sister—is taking her turn and she goes into the loop and just...doesn't come out the other side. Biggs and I were terrified, I mean, Vichie is the closest thing I have to a sister too and..."
Leia was out there, somewhere, right now, on...
On Alderaan. On an Alderaan that hadn't been destroyed yet. Was there a chance...? Was there any way that Poe could...? Alderaan got destroyed because Leia was captured, what if Leia never got captured? Poe could stop it. Poe could give Leia a universe where she didn't have to grieve her home.
"You okay?" Luke asked, nudging Poe's shoulder.
Poe shook his head, coming back to the darkened garage and the planet he was trapped on. "Yeah I just...tired. Think the day caught up to me."
"Okay," Luke said, a little dubiously, hopping off of Poe's cot.
(He had started perching there, working his way on edging closer and closer to Poe as the nights went on. Poe was a little worried what would happen when Luke edged close enough to touch. Luke was trying to play it subtle, but his younger self was artless. It was painfully clear to Poe that Luke was very interested in Poe. And Poe couldn't deny that Luke was appealing. If Poe wasn't careful, their marriage could wind up not being a technical marriage at all.)
"Have a good night," Poe said, settling back in his cot, closing his eyes, and rolling toward the wall.
He didn't sleep.
He needed to get off Tatooine. He needed to get to Alderaan, and find Leia and...what?
Leia would be like this Luke, not the General he remembered but her younger seed. This Leia had no reason to trust him, he wasn't this Leia's right hand man. He needed a story that would be believed, not an extraordinary tale of time travel and and a dire future.
Or....or. He needed some way to be believed. There were fairly accurate neuroscans, ways to tell if someone was lying. He could demand to be hooked up to those. Of course, machines could be beat, it wasn't a guarantee that they'd believe him, that they'd act.
Too bad Luke was so young. The older Luke could have looked Poe over and known the truth in an instant.
(Had done it, in fact, on one notable occasion. Right before Poe had defected to the Resistance, he had met Luke, nodded, had a perfectly cheerful and neutral conversation. Poe had flirted a bit. That always threw the Jedi off and Poe got a thrill out of it. Nothing strange about their short conversation.
His father had shown up twelve hours later, dragged Poe out of his berthing and off-base, before rounding on him and demanding to know what Poe was thinking. Defection?
Poe had been furious with Luke, once Kes had confirmed that was his source. Poe just barely managed to talk his father out of reporting him, pulling out every earnest explanation for why the Resistance was important to Poe, to the galaxy. In the end, Kes had hugged Poe and let him go. Kes had hesitated, his hands on Poe's shoulders, and Poe didn't need to be a Jedi to feel his father's pain. How dare Luke force them to have that miserable, aching conversation?
Of course, as time went on, and Poe became more aware of his own mortality, the anger turned to gratitude. Luke hadn't shared Poe's plans with the military leadership. But he had made sure that Kes had the chance to see his son off. To give them both some closure.)
So, yes, Poe could use that sort of prescience now. But the Luke who brought him snacks was a far cry from the galaxy's savior. He hadn't come into his own yet. He hadn't been picked up by Obi-Wan and...
Obi-Wan was still alive. Obi-Wan was on Tatooine! Obi-Wan could—well, probably. There was a decent chance, at least. Poe had to find him. He racked through his memories, what he knew. He knew that Obi-Wan had brought Luke to the Rebellion after living on Tatooine...in the desert somewhere?
Poe sighed. He was going to need some more information. His mind churned through options for a little longer, until exhaustion finally won, and Poe dropped off into sleep.
The next day was long and exhausting, more backbreaking work that Poe hadn't gotten used to yet. Poe had quiet conversations with both Owen and Beru about local threats—feral animals, mostly. Poe learned a lot about their breeding patterns and how that impacted aggression. When he tried to steer the conversation to dangerous people, though, they both became tight-lipped.
"You stick to animals," was all Owen had said, before shortly gesturing for the plasma welder.
Beru given him a little more to go on. "Just about everyone is dangerous. But there's politics to who attacks when, and you don't know them. Worst comes to worst, we'll tell you who to shoot."
Neither of them mentioned a desert hermit, and Poe wasn't going to press either of them further. They were terrifyingly observant, the pair of them. He was half-surprised that Leia wasn't the twin that had been raised by these two—something about the way they could look and see more than you had ever intended.
Luke, however, was a much easier target. That night he slipped into the garage and Poe put his plan into action. They started talking about local legends. Poe shared about a totally fictional childhood favorite, a mysterious spirit-man that was supposed to live in solitude in the mountains near Poe's family farm. Luke, taking his cue beautifully, started sharing about the mysterious old hermit out in the Judland Wastes.
Poe laughed and gave a theatrical shiver, shrinking back slightly and ducking his head, "It's a good thing those stories aren't real. It always terrified me, when I was a kid."
Luke got a devious look in his eyes and scooted closer, leaning in to say, "Oh, but he is real."
Poe protested, leaning towards Luke. He ducked his head and looked at Luke through his lashes. Luke smiled, bit his lip, and shared everything about where 'Old Ben' could be found.
Poe hated himself for that conversation. He hated that he was taking advantage of Luke's rather sweet crush. Hated that he was the sort of person now who could. He also knew that he'd do far worse, for the chance to stop the future he knew was coming. He milked the conversation as far as he could without being suspicious, then let out a massive yawn.
Luke gave a short chuckle. "I guess it is getting late."
Poe gave a rueful nod. "Guess I should sleep. Though who knows if I'll be able to, after that story." Poe gave an overdramatic shiver.
"You'll cope," Luke said, and after a moment's hesitation, laid his hand on Poe's shoulder and squeezed.
"Night," Poe said, forcing himself to smile.
Luke got up and left and Poe tucked himself in and turned toward the wall. For the second night in a row, he did not sleep. This time, though, it was on purpose.
Poe listened as Luke's footsteps made their way out of the garage, then quieter, up the steps to his room. Poe counted to a hundred, took a breath, then counted to a hundred again. And then, every muscle in his body screaming to move, to act, he held very still and counted to a hundred one final time.
Then Poe got out of bed. He grabbed his UltraSeal waterskin, still full from when he went to bed. He reached into the box of hand-me-down desert gear—Owen's too loose in the shoulders and belly, Luke's too tight. Poe grabbed Luke's old underclothes—the thin layer worn close to the skin - and Owen's protective wrap. Poe had a pair of goggles now, too. And then, wincing a mental apology to Luke and Owen and Beru, who all deserved better, Poe got to work hotwiring their landspeeder.
The dunes whipped past Poe as he nudged the landspeeder into action. It was an old speeder (even aside from the fact that they all were, to Poe), and it was built for endurance, not speed. Still, the old girl was agreeable enough on the turns, and Poe felt a little giddy thread of joy run through him.
He was flying again. It had been too long.
He flew more carefully through the rest of the freehold. He hoped he could find Ben that same night, but if he couldn't, he'd rather leave little trace of his passing. Owen and Beru would want their speeder back, and Poe would rather their neighbors not be able to help them find it.
Once he made it past the last edges of the farmland (and wasn't it strange to think of sand dunes as such) and into the wastes he opened things up, taking the landspeeder through its paces and trying to find its top speed.
Poe reviewed what he knew. Northeastern edge of the wastes. In a cave. Had been seen most reliably along the Windlass Crevice—apparently a canyon cut deep into dark stone, running north-south through the wastes. Poe's plan was to find the canyon and drive it, keeping a sharp eye out for habitation.
Sapients always left marks of their presence, no matter how hard they tried to live simply. Machinery and waste and if nothing else—light. Every culture that developed eyes had a grudge against the night.
Four hours later, when Poe hadn't yet found the canyon, he started to get concerned. It was a big desert, and Obi-Wan was one man. This was a fool's errand. Poe grit his teeth. The whole thing had been a fool's errand. So what? It had to be done. Poe had to find the Jedi.
Poe didn't really start to worry until the sun came up. He pulled his cowl up and over his face, but the sheer heat of the desert was overwhelming. Poe's waterskin—which he had taken such careful sips from during the night, was getting drained all too quickly. He could feel his lips start to crack, could feel his body losing water.
Still, he gripped the steering wheel harder, feeling the skin around his knuckles start to crack. He hadn't thought to wear gloves, and his exposed hands were getting sun-scorched. He continued on. He could handle blistering hands. He had to find Obi-Wan.
An hour later he drained the last of the water.
An hour after that, the horizon started to blur, shimmering heat splotches merging in his vision.
Fifteen minutes after that, he blinked and cleared his eyes only to realize he had drifted and a large boulder was right in front of him.
He scrambled for a grip on the wheel, his shaking fingers refusing to find purchase shit, he needed to turn, he needed to t—
There was pain, then there was nothing.
It was all very confusing, after that.
Shouts, hands pulling him, hurting him, handling him. Poe tried to writhe away from the grip, but he was too weak to move. Noise, an engine. Noise, an argument. Poe moved weakly, his body protesting every motion. Rough hands pinned him down, a patch against his neck, then—no pain. Poe fell to blackness again.
He stirred, there was water against his lips. He drank, greedily, and it was pulled away too soon. "No more now. You'll make yourself sick," a voice said, harsh and commanding. Leia? He should do what she wanted...
More water, still taken away too soon. He was laid down somewhere soft, somewhere dark...
Pain again, warm firm hands holding him in place (not cruel, not kind, just firm), and then relief.
The next time there was water, Poe recognized the person holding the bag. Beru. She caught him looking, and stared back, her mouth set in a firm, unhappy line. "You're in a world of trouble, young man. Are you well enough to speak?"
Poe tried, he did, to explain, to apologize, but the words came out garbled, when they came out at all.
"Rest, then," Beru said. "There's no point berating you before you're well enough to speak for yourself."
The next time Poe woke, he still felt half-asleep. The painkillers were thick in his system and he felt slow and muzzy. Still, something had woken him. Tentative footsteps padded toward his bed. Poe couldn't quite manage to get his eyes open, but there was a sense of familiarity to the steps. Luke. Poe had no idea how he knew, but he was certain. Those were Luke's steps.
"I shouldn't be in here," Luke said, his voice tight and angry. It was a tone as foreign as the steps had been known. The bed depressed next to Poe's head, and the next words sounded exhausted. "I guess that's not new. I never should have been in here. There. The garage. With you. But I was so sure—" Luke choked off, and took a handful of heavy breaths before he said, "I was excited, you know? Of course you know. You used it. I figured it out. Obviously. You were looking for Ben."
Poe thought he should fight his way free of the fog. He should get his tongue under control and give Luke an apology. Whether or not Luke would accept it, he certainly deserved one. But his tongue still felt like a traitor, and he didn't trust himself, even if he did speak. So Poe stayed still and silent, and Luke kept talking.
"And I just...told you. And then you ran. One waterskin and no protection! You should have died." Luke's voice abruptly went soft as he said, "You almost did." And then, soft fingers brushed against Poe's forehead, tracing up through his curls. "You know the thing that got me? Your hands. You didn't cover them, and they were so blistered and cracked and it wasn't right, seeing your hands like that."
Luke sounded so genuinely upset that Poe was seized again with a desperate desire to apologize. It was worth it, he thought, to risk it coming out wrong. Poe tried to stir, but his body resisted, and all he managed was a slight shift.
Luke shot up off the bed next to him. Poe managed to get his eyes open, looking at Luke.
Before Poe could say anything, Luke glared at him. "You could have just told me. I would have helped," Luke hissed, before pivoting on his heel and stalking out the door.
"'M s'rry," Poe mumbled at the shut door, before he let sleep claim him again.
Poe, later, would realize that Owen had featured nowhere in his fuzzy recollection of his healing. Any vague wonderings he had at the time about Owen's absence were easily attributable to anger. The Lars homestead had every right to be pissed at Poe.
Frankly, he was surprised Owen and Beru hadn't left him to die in the desert. It would have solved their unwanted son-in-law issue nicely.
So, as Poe hadn't noticed Owen's absence, he didn't have any reason to note Owen's return. Which is why when Owen came storming into the room Poe was recovering in, Poe didn't even consider that he might be in danger. Owen slapped a dermapatch against Poe's skin, Poe quickly felt blackness rush up again, and the only reaction Poe could muster was a hazy sort of confusion before he fell into insensibility.
He woke up in binders, legs shackled to each other, hands bound behind a chair. Poe felt an uneasy ghost of his time at Kylo's mercy rise in him, but he forced it down. He was a long way away from that place. And time.
Poe took one more steadying breath, then looked up to consider the room. He wasn't alone, there was—
All the breath was knocked out of Poe again. "Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Poe had never expected the end result of his mad race into the desert would be the old hermit conveniently coming to him.
"Yes," the old man said slowly, and there was a heavy menace in the word. "And I'm very interested in how you know that name. And how to find me. Cooperate, inquisitor, and this will go much better for you."
"Inquisitor?" Poe asked, even as his mind supplied the answers. They were the Empire's agents, dedicated to hunting down the remaining Jedi. Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Poe had appeared out of nowhere, wound up married to the son of Lord Vader, and had—as soon as he learned Obi-Wan's location—proceeded to hunt down Obi-Wan.
That really was a very reasonable explanation.
"I'm not!" Poe protested, a skittering panic crawling up his throat. "I'm—" Poe's breath came in quick gasps, suddenly back on Starkiller, suddenly Kylo in front of him. "I'm not—no—"
Obi-Wan took a step back, and Poe's panic receded. He didn't try to talk, just took a few shaking breaths, steeling himself for what was to come. This wasn't the same, Poe told himself. He was not in the hands of the enemy. These were good people, but ones who had no reason to trust him.
A quiet voice inside Poe's mind wondered if that was a difference that would mean anything, in the end.
"I will know the truth, by the end of this," Obi-Wan said, no longer threatening, in the light of Poe's no-doubt obvious terror, but still firm.
"Good," Poe choked down his fear enough to say. "That's why I wanted to find you. I have a story no sane person will believe, but everyone needs to."
"And what is that?" Obi-Wan asked, an ice lurking in the edges of his words.
Here we go.
"In about a year, give or take, the Emperor is going to unveil a superweapon called the Death Star. It's a laser installation with the strength to blow up a planet, and its test subject will be Alderaan. It succeeds. I know this, because it's in my history books."
Poe paused, looking at Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan raised one eyebrow, an impossibly mild expression of disbelief, considering the circumstances.
Poe licked his lips, trying to be clearer. "The future gets...unbelievably bleak. The Force sent me back to stop it. But I can't do it alone, and the only person I could think in the galaxy who would believe me…" Poe trailed off with a shrug.
"Is someone who can read your mind." Obi-Wan shook his head. "It's certainly not a cover story I anticipated. There is no record of the Force interfering in such a manner."
"Not quite true." Poe closed his eyes, the memory of dozens and dozens of conversations with a frustrated Rey running through his mind. "Ahsoka Tano and Ezra Bridger both mentioned a 'world-between-worlds' that allowed travel through time in private correspondence. Master Ohsno theorized that, as the Force exists in all space and time simultaneously, the Force may be used to manipulate the latter the same as the former. He was refuted by Master Quopa, who insisted that would be impossible, not because of a limitation in the Force, but because it was the nature of life to be bound to time in a way it was not to space. Additionally…"
Poe trailed off as he realized that he was starting to ramble.
Obi-Wan coughed. "I am not familiar with the Masters Ohsno or Quopa."
Poe gave a tired smile. "Jedi knowledge was obliterated. You died before you could pass much on to Luke, Luke's students were all slaughtered, and Luke died before he could pass anything on to Rey. Rey is the one who pieced together enough to figure out how to send me back. I'm afraid I don't know her sources."
Obi-Wan looked faintly green. "If this is true, I'm fairly certain you should not be telling me any of this."
"It needs to be changed. I need to fix things. Saving Alderaan is the best thing I can think of. But I need your help." Poe took a breath. "And for that, I need you to trust me. So please, confirm what I'm saying to be true."
Obi-Wan reached forward and pressed three fingers against Poe's temple. Poe shuddered, fighting the instinct to pull away.
"This would be easier if you let me in," Obi-Wan said, his tone wandering between being gentle and annoyed.
"The last time I was tied to a chair with a Force user in the room they didn't ask permission," Poe snapped back. "I'm trying."
Obi-Wan's hand dropped. He gave Poe a long considering look, then pulled out a small remote and pushed a button. With a whine, the binders dropped off of Poe's wrists and legs. Obi-Wan watched him cautiously. Slowly, Poe pulled his hands around to the front, massaging his wrists as he settled his hands in his lap.
"Better?" Obi-Wan asked.
Poe nodded. "Much."
"Good," Obi-Wan said. "Let's try again."
Poe closed his eyes, and it was easier not to flinch away from the press of Obi-Wan's fingers, from the mirrored press of his mind. Poe took a slow breath, and as much as he could, welcomed Obi-Wan in.
An eternity later, fifteen minutes later, Obi-Wan backed out of Poe's mind again.
"I'll speak with Beru," Obi-Wan said, his voice distant, eyes fixed on a nonexistent horizon. "We need to go to Alderaan. I'll convince her, she'll convince Owen."
Poe slumped down in the chair, a spine-wracking shiver running from head to toe. It was done. Obi-Wan believed him. It was done. Obi-Wan's fingers returned, to his shoulder this time, as Obi-Wan gently said, "I'm sorry for the necessity of that."
Poe tried for a confident smile, certain he was falling far short. "Likewise. Those aren't memories I'd wish on anyone."
Obi-Wan responded with a tight shiver of his own, his hand falling away from Poe's shoulder to cup his own opposite elbow. "We'll talk to Bail. He will trust me, and we will see what can be done." Obi-Wan paused, considering Poe. "You should rest. This sort of work is draining under the best of circumstances. And these…"
Poe's throat tightened, spector of a black cloak and black mask in the room. "Not the best."
"No," Obi-Wan said flatly. "Poe...if you're inclined...healing has never been my strongest skill, but I believe I can mend some of the scars left by that clumsy interrogation."
Poe smiled. For some reason, the description of Kylo as 'clumsy' rather than 'horrifying' or 'monstrous' was healing, all on its own. "Let me think about it."
Obi-Wan inclined his head, then left the room.
Poe wrapped his hands around the shuttle's yoke, something settling in him as he leaped to space. Back to the stars, his most consistent home.
Poe, remembering Han's old stories of close calls and interrupted flights, stayed vigilant even as they slipped through hyperspace. They were a year early, but that didn't mean things couldn't go wrong.
No one else seemed to share his wariness, and Poe heard the bustle of life in the cabin behind him. Murmured conversation, some laughter, and then, with a snap-hiss that was achingly familiar, the hum of a lightsaber. Poe's throat caught in his chest. This was it. This was how Luke started. This was the bridge between the bright young man Poe knew, and the figurehead he would become.
There were steps behind him, and a body settled down into the co-pilot's seat. Poe looked over. Owen.
Poe waited to see if Owen had something he wanted to say. It wasn't a surprise when Owen didn't. After a few minutes of silence, Poe finally said, "I brought a lot of trouble down on you. I didn't....if I had seen another way..." Poe shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said again, hoping that Owen would forgive his lack of eloquence.
Owen took a slow breath, and let it out as a long sigh. "We spoke with Ben. There was danger coming for my family?"
Poe thought of Luke, orphaned the whole time anyone alive in Poe's universe had known him. "Yes," he said, feeling the truth of it.
"Then we're fine," Owen said shortly. "There was always trouble coming. I prefer the kind that warns me."
They flew in silence a little longer, the sound of training behind them. Beru gave a stifled exclamation, and with a sigh, Owen stood up again, muttering something about making sure the boy didn't lop a limb off.
Poe was glad Owen wasn't looking at Poe with that pronouncement. He didn't quite manage to keep the wince off of his face.
Before he left the cockpit, Owen clapped a hand on Poe's shoulder. No words, just a reassuring squeeze, but Poe felt he knew Owen enough to understand the intention behind it. Like Owen said, they were fine. Poe gave a brisk nod, and Owen patted his shoulder as he withdrew.
Poe flew in silence a while longer, just him and the stars. It was calming, watching the points of light stretch and bed past him. It always had been.
New footsteps sounded behind him, a familiar stride, mixed with the fresh-salt pang of recent exertion. Luke flopped down in the copilots seat. Poe couldn't help but chuckle to himself at the difference between the way Luke and Owen sat. Owen sat still and silent. Luke sprawled.
"You used me," Luke said, without preamble.
Poe closed his eyes. "I did," he said simply, before looking over at Luke. "I'm sorry."
"Are you really? You were trying to find Ben. You found him." Luke tilted his head, considering Poe.
Poe weighed his next words carefully. "I'm sorry for the method. I should have found another way."
"You should have just trusted me. I would have run off with you. Then you would have been better prepared." Luke snorted. "One waterskin."
"Next time," Poe said, a smile playing at his lips.
"Yeah." Luke paused. "Oh, I forgive you," he said, almost as an afterthought. "Did you know?"
"Know…?" Poe prompted. He knew a lot of things. He wasn't giving Luke this one for free.
"That Ben was planning on training me."
"Yes," Poe said, deciding honesty wouldn't hurt.
"Is that why you married me?" Luke asked.
Poe gave a strangled noise, turning to look at Luke aghast. "I tried very hard to not be married to you!"
"It could have been a good act!" Luke folded his arms, a mulish set to his face. "You're a very good liar."
"Ouch," Poe said, trying for mock-offended, but the barb had stung. He was a good liar, for all that he had never wanted to be.
"No, I'm sorry, that's not fair," Luke ran his hands through his hair. "It's just a lot, you know? All this—I've never even been off-planet before."
"You're going to do great," Poe reassured him. It was, he thought, a sentiment borne out of knowing who Luke was now, even more than knowing who Luke could become.
Luke swallowed. "I hope so." He caught Poe's eye, holding it for a second before smiling, an expression that caused a corresponding warmth to root in Poe's chest. "Thanks," Luke said softly.
"You're welcome," Poe said, smiling back.
The moment shifted, some tension forming between them. Luke's mouth fell open and he leaned in, an unsteady, hitched movement. The urge to meet him halfway hit Poe, harder than it had before. Maybe it was the revealed destiny, maybe it was the giddy excitement of being off Tatooine, but for the first time, there was a small part of Poe that wanted to take what Luke was offering.
Poe jerked back, turning himself toward the stars, maybe a little overly obvious. Not as obvious as Luke, though, who audibly sighed next to him. "I guess I should...get some food in me. Take care, Poe." Luke gave a little wave and was gone.
Poe sank back into his seat. He hadn't expected that any part of Luke's crush would hold past Poe's betrayal. Still, taking advantage of it was the worst sort of thing Poe could do. Luke was still touched by destiny, he was still the Force's favored son. He wasn't for Poe.
Poe was here to fix things, nothing more.
Holding that thought firmly in his mind, Poe guided the shuttle towards Alderaan.
What was awaiting on Alderaan was the strangest and most exhausting debriefing of Poe's life.
After they landed, Obi-Wan met with Bail and Breha, then Breha left and took Owen, Beru and Luke away. Poe was called in, and Obi-Wan urged Poe to share his story. Bail didn't trust Poe, but he did trust Obi-Wan, and so, despite how utterly unbelievable the story was, the wheels started to turn.
A few holocalls later, Poe sat in a room surrounded by legends. Bail Organa was there, of course, enormous and imposing. Even if Poe hadn't seen holos, he would have known Bail. Leia was written into every gesture he made. Or rather, Poe supposed, Bail was written into Leia. Leia would have been happy, Poe thought, to know she carried her father's legacy so clearly.
Next to him sat Mon Mothma, not yet the distant and imposing leader of the New Republic, now an exiled senator, just a handful of years older than Poe. Despite that, she still breathed command. And continuing left, Admiral Ackbar, already a hero if not yet a legend. Then, finally General Airen Cracken, head of intelligence and security, a freedom fighter in his bones. Two from the civilian leadership, two from the military, all loyal, through and through.
Bail couldn't have picked a better group if he had tried.
Poe told them everything. Who he was, where he was from, the fact that he had traveled through time and space to get to them. They disbelieved, of course, but they trusted Bail, who trusted Obi-Wan, who trusted Poe.
Once they were past the disbelief, then things got tricky. They drilled him for details. Poe sweated out every ounce of military history he had learned, charting the course of the Rebellion as he best remembered it—the Death Star tragedy, the triumph against it, the aggressive expansion, the Mid-Rim retreat. Battles and strategies he had studied in flight school. More personal stories he had heard from his parents, from Leia—Hoth and Endor and Bespin.
He shared about peace.
He shared how it fell apart, piece by piece, until the galaxy burned.
"I wasn't expecting to go this far back," Poe said, in conclusion. "I don't know why the Force sent me here. But stopping the Death Star before it destroys Alderaan...if we can do that, it would make a difference."
He didn't tell them that this was a personal mission, as much as a professional one. Leia had always been filled with a deep and untouchable ache for her homeworld. He wanted to give Leia a universe where she didn't have to mourn her home.
Personal reasons or professional ones, the council of legends agreed. The Death Star had to be stopped.
To stop the Death Star they needed to find it. Poe remembered enough to know that Jedha had been stripped of kyber for the Death Star. If he could track the shipments, he could find the project.
They gave Poe a shuttle and a cover. Poe was now officially Alderaani, with a long and distinguished career serving as one of Bail and Breha's intelligence officers. Poe was also given one Winter Retrac, who was introduced to him as another Alderaani agent. Poe blinked, nodded politely to Winter, then took Bail's elbow and politely dragged him off to the side.
"You need to read her in if she's coming with me," Poe said.
Bail shook his head indulgently. "She won't question your cover, even if she knows it isn't true."
"That's not what I'm worried about. She's got an eidetic memory and is a savant at reading microexpressions. She may not get enough to figure it out, but she will get enough to wonder whether or not I'm crazy. Read her in, or keep her here."
Bail glanced back over to Winter. "You know her, I take it."
Poe gave a lopsided smile. "She taught interrogation tactics to the Resistance. She's terrifying."
Bail gave a pleased smile at that. "Alright, I'll talk to her. Bring her into the fold."
After that, everything went very quickly. Maps and supplies, logistics and strategy, these were things he knew well. Poe found himself relaxing into the preparations, until he took a quick step backward and managed to crash into someone.
"Ouch," Luke said, lifting his foot off the ground and rubbing it, oddly graceful as he balanced on one leg.
"Sorry," said Poe. "You surprised me."
"Yeah, you were really focused. So," Luke swallowed. "Alderaani spy, huh?"
"I am," Poe said, with very technical honesty.
"Explains some things," Luke said, his smile like a peace offering. "You're...off now?"
"I had some important intel I needed to get to Obi-Wan. Now it's time to act on it."
"I guess I'm going to be busy too." Luke ran his fingers through his hair. "Jedi training. With my sister. Did you know about that one too?"
Poe gave a rueful nod.
Luke threw his hands in the air. "You could have told me! I get mission secrecy and all, but you should have told me I have a kriffing sister!"
("You need to tell tell them," Poe said to Obi-Wan, folding his arms. "Nothing good comes of them not knowing."
Obi-Wan looked reluctant, and Poe brought to mind his memories of Luke's mechanical hand, of Leia being disgraced in the Senate and threw them at the Jedi. "Tell them. Or I will.")
"Did they tell you why it was a secret?" Poe asked.
Luke's face fell. "It's...I hoped—I mean I think every orphan dreams that their parents were heroes. Not—" Luke took in a big shaking breath. "I don't know what to do with this. I've mostly been ignoring it." Luke scrubbed his face, then tilted his head and gave Poe a considering look. "Weren't you scared of me?"
"Scared?" Poe said, surprised.
"Yeah. You knew I had this connection to the Force. You knew I...who my father was. Is. Weren't you scared of me?"
"No," Poe shook his head slowly, looking for a way to explain that wasn't, 'I know your future self,' which…wasn't actually the most important thing, once Poe thought about it. "I've known a lot of people, good and bad. And who they were came down to their choices. I've known people with the best start in the world that went wrong, and people with all the odds stacked against them become the finest people I've ever met."
Luke's hands had curled into clenched fists. "But...my father…"
Poe reached out, taking Luke's right hand and uncurling it. He smoothed his fingers down Luke's palm, brushing over where Luke's fingernails had pressed red crescents into the skin. "You're going to need to figure that out. But I will say this. The way I see it, I've already met your father, and he's the good man that raised you."
Luke stared at where their hands joined, before looking up at Poe, something thoughtful on his face. He nodded distantly, then used Poe's hold on his hand to tug Poe into a hug.
"Stay safe out there," Luke said, his arms around Poe's neck.
Poe's hands flittered, before finally landing between Luke's shoulder blades. "No promises. But I'll see what I can do."
The hug lingered, a second, two seconds, three seconds longer than it should have. Poe closed his eyes, before squeezing Luke tight and stepping back. "You're going to do great, Luke."
Luke took a breath, lifting his chin, then gave Poe a sharp nod. He looked for a moment like there was something else he wanted to say, but then changed his mind, tossed Poe a smile, and left.
Poe wondered what it was that Luke was going to say, but planning swept him up, and he didn't think of it again.
Or rather, he didn't think of it until about six hours after he launched, when he and Winter were thousands of lightyears away from Alderaan.
"Shit," Poe said, slapping his forehead.
Next to him, Winter made a curious humming noise.
Poe gave her a sheepish smile. "I forgot to divorce my husband."
Winter tilted her head.
"It's a long story," Poe explained.
Winter gestured at the stars flying past them in lazy white stripes. "We have time."
They had about two days together, crossing the galaxy to get to Jedha. They talked, reviewing plans and mission briefings. Within the first six hours of their journey, Winter had managed to pry out of Poe the awkward story of his and Luke's first meeting and subsequent marriage.
Winter's eyes kept twitching with amusement as she calmly said, "I trust you're better prepared for this mission. It would be complicated if you wound up with two spouses."
Poe and Winter's first stop was Jedha. The plan was to find some weak spot in the kyber supply chain. Two weeks in, they managed to find the same cargo pilot who originally defected with the plans. That was a stroke of luck Poe hadn't even thought of anticipating.
Poe used every trick in his book to win him over, plying the man with drinks and guilt trips in an effort to flip him. To his chagrin, it was Winter who succeeded, by simply saying, "Would you have taken this job if there were any other real choice?"
Bodhi Rook had glared at her and left. Two days later he found them and said that yes, he would join.
From there, they burned another week riding along with Bodhi's supply run taking the kyber to a depot. Poe felt antsy with every passing hour. They had about a year, as near as Obi-Wan and Poe could tell, until Alderaan's destruction. Plenty of time.
But then the depot turned out to be just a link in a supply chain, and they spent four tense weeks trying to figure out how to get into the depot to stow away on a long-distance hauler. The waiting made them stressed, the stress made them irritated, and finally, Bodhi snapped.
"I'm telling you," Bodhi slammed his hands down on the table, "between the lack of pressurization in the cargo bay, the fact that we don't know how long the trip will be, and the scrupulously calculated weight requirements, it's just about impossible to sneak on. It would be easier to knock the pilot out and steal the thing."
Poe and Winter exchanged a long look.
"Oh no," Bodhi said faintly.
So they hijacked a long-distance space hauler. They did their best to pick one that was heading to the construction site.
The good news was that the hauler was, in fact, on route to the Death Star construction site. The bad news was that they accidentally managed to get themselves routed to land in the kriffing Death Star itself. Poe muttered a profound thank-you to whoever had equipped himself and Winter with Imperial IDs, and they managed to bluff themselves off the ship.
"Mess on the fourth level is the best one, the rest are still under construction," the helpful security guard informed them. "Looks like you all are due for your mandatory rest. We'll get an alternate crew to take the hauler back."
"Thank you," Poe said, covering up his panic as he watched their ticket off the Death Star leave without them.
"This is fine," Poe muttered as they tried to look like they knew where they were going. "I'll figure something out."
"Any idea what?" Bodhi asked, worrying at his lower lip as his eyes darted wildly around.
"The security guard seemed nice," Winter murmured softly. "Maybe he's single."
"What?" Bodhi asked.
"More real plans, please," Poe gritted through his teeth.
Well, they knew where the Death Star was, now. Now they just needed to get off the damn thing. They needed to contact the Rebellion.
"The problem isn't stealing the ships," Bodhi said, two days later after they completed their long-distance pilot mandatory rest period. "We're pretty good at that. The issue is actually escaping Death Star's local system. We're blockaded in here. They're watching the ships carefully. Unless we steal something that can outrun a turboblaster, we're stuck."
"Is there any way to just get far enough to send an undetected message?" Winter asked. "That's really what we need. After that"—she shrugged—"we knew it was risky when we signed up."
"We don't need to leave the Death Star for that. Anything this big has got to have a decent communications hub," Bodhi said. "Just need to sneak into that and get a message off."
"Let's do that," Poe nodded.
Easier said than done. The base was the size of a small moon. Even with half the base closed off for construction, just finding the comms center was a daunting task. A day and a half later, and they still weren't quite sure where it was.
"Are we entirely certain this is necessary?" Winter asked, as they snuck back out of pilot's barracks, stolen uniforms bunched in their hands. "We already have uniforms."
"Cargo pilot uniforms. They stand out too much. Should blend in better, now."
They found an unused closet and took turns tugging on the Imperial Greys. Poe felt like a cartoonish villain out of a children's holo he used to watch. He distantly wished he had a mustache to twirl.
Bodhi grunted, adjusting his own collar with a wince. "You are aware these are TIE pilot uniforms, right?"
Poe gave a grin. "Come on. Haven't you ever wanted to be an ace?"
"I mean, TIE pilots don't have any reason to go to the communications hub. At least one of us needs to steal and wear some officer's pips."
"I call that one," Winter said, and started steering them toward officer berthing.
From there, it was a simple matter of hacking the database to make sure their personnel records matched their new rank pips, then finding the comms hub, then waltzing in like they owned the place. Poe and Bodhi dashed off a frantic message to the Rebellion while Winter distracted the comms officer.
They did it.
And then there was nothing to do but wait. On an enemy base. Surrounded by a blockading fleet.
"We still can't actually get off the station. Which is fine," Bodhi pointed out, in a very reasonable tone that Poe strongly suspected was deeply sarcastic.
"It is fine," Poe reassured him. "We just have to keep our heads down until the Rebellion gets here. We can make it out during the battle."
"I have several problems with that plan," Bodhi said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"But do you have a better one?" Winter asked, sounding hopeful. "Because I agree, Poe's plan is awful."
"Hey. That hurts."
They managed to use their stolen uniforms, their stolen ranks, and the hacked computer system to bluff their way into berthing in the pilot's barracks. They then spent the next few days pretending to every squadron that they belonged to a different squadron. They kept it up for one day, then a week, then a month had passed them by and Poe was starting to get worried.
"They got the message, right?" Bodhi asked, crossing and uncrossing his hands. "What if they didn't?"
"Maybe it's time to re-evaluate our escape plan," Poe said grimly.
So of course, it was three days later, just as they were scanning the hanger looking for a ship they could steal that might be fast enough to break the blockade, that the Rebel Fleet arrived in-system.
"This is good," Poe reassured them as klaxon bells went off and they ducked around a corner to avoid the uniformed troops pounded toward the hanger. As the booted running faded in the distance, Poe said, "We can steal a pair of TIE fighters and run for the nearest Rebellion capital ship."
"I mean sure we can steal the TIEs but explain to me how that would not end up with the Rebellion shooting us down immediately," Bodhi hissed, as the three of them snuck back closer to the hangar again.
"That's what IFF codes are for," Winter said calmly.
"And you just happen to have them laying around...oh, right," Bodhi backtracked, tapping the side of his head. "I guess you do."
Winter gave a rather satisfied little smile.
"Alright, if we take TIE fighters, Winter, you can be a gunner. Bodhi, can you fly one of these?"
Bodhi gave him an offended look. "I may have flunked out of fighter pilot school but I did manage to get the basics of how to get it off the ground, thank you very much. Can you fly the thing?"
Poe grinned, remembering a different defector. "I can fly anything. Just...don't forget the parking tether."
Bodhi rolled his eyes. "I'm not a rank amateur, thank you very much."
"I have the guards pattern," Winter said abruptly, cutting across their conversation. "Go now."
Which is how Poe, after seeing Bodhi and Winter safely to the other side of the Rebellion's lines (they only got a little bit shot at in the process) wound up flying against the Death Star in a stolen TIE fighter.
Not even in his wildest dreams about being involved in grand battles had he imagined anything remotely close to this kriffing awesome.
His TIE (which he privately named Black Two in a fit of nostalgia) was a nimble little thing. It was an unshielded deathtrap, to be sure, but it was quick off the block and could spin as tight as a Twi'lek grav dancer. It reminded him of his mom's A-Wing, more than anything else, fast and responsive.
Poe looked out over the tactical display scrolling over his TIE's dashboard. He had given Rebel leadership all he had on the Death Star, its construction, and its flaw. It had been hard to leave, after that, and not stick around and make sure that Rebellion leadership made the right plan with the information Poe provided them. But these were the heroes Poe had grown up admiring. He had to trust them to do their jobs, while Poe did the job only he could do.
Now, Poe could see that it was paying off, with larger ships providing support but staying well out of turbolaser range, and the bulk of the battle being carried by the snubfighters, all lining up for a shot on the in-construction Death-Star's vulnerable core. The fact that the Death Star was still under construction meant that it would be a difficult shot, not an impossible one.
They might just pull this off.
"Joining us for the party, Skywalker?" A voice called over his comm. "I'm General Merrick, I've heard a lot about you. If you'd like to give us a hand, I've got a few ideas on how to use a stolen TIE fighter."
It took Poe longer than usual to respond. "Happy to assist," he finally managed to reply.
He had forgotten he was Skywalker. That name, this battle, it had some very specific connotations. Was Luke even in the sky? It suddenly felt wrong to Poe, that he had no idea what his accidental husband had been up to for the last six months.
But this was battle, and there wasn't any time for those sorts of thoughts.
Poe loved Merrick's plan. Poe would spend the battle tight on the tail of one of the Blue Squadron fighters, with the goal of making it look like that ship was being harried already. It worked a treat, confused enemy TIEs flying away from targets they were about to engage with, only to find themselves shot out of the sky. Poe would get that fighter into a good battle position, then swing around to another fighter, and run the whole con game over again.
They'd catch on, sooner or later, but for a few glorious moments, Poe ran the battlefield.
Poe fell into the focus that came with dogfighting—all his attention on his ship and the enemy, a deadly dance in the black. Poe had been many things in his life, defector and spy and commander, but flying had always felt like the thing he had been created to do.
Poe felt grazing fire shudder against his port solar array wing. He gave a tight grin. Looked like someone had figured it out. Poe threw himself into a tight loop and found himself facing another TIE fighter. The enemy TIE pivoted and dove, showing real skill, and Poe gave up the charade and chased after.
He got close, spitting fire that just barely missed the enemy ship’s command pod. Poe hissed in disappointment as the TIE swerved free. The ship should have come around for its own raking run then—Poe had left himself open for it. Poe started a slow spin that would let him deflect without losing track of his enemy in the sky. But the TIE didn't come around, it dove instead.
Well, if it was so eager to make itself prey, Poe certainly didn't mind hunting. He threw himself after.
About three seconds later he realized this TIE wasn't prey. It was bait. Four more TIEs swarmed out from underneath him, and, gritting his teeth, Poe realized he was in real trouble. He cast a glance down at his display, realizing sheepishly that he had let himself get lured out of the Rebellion's zone of control. He was alone.
Well, he had managed to get the Rebellion to the Death Star nearly six months ahead of schedule. Regardless of his own personal fate, he had definitely changed things. So if this was his end, a rookie mistake in the most famous battle in history...well...there were worse ways to go.
He wasn't going down without a fight, though. He wrenched at the controls, pivoting his TIE and climbing away from the trap.
But as Poe went up, an X-Wing came screaming down, narrowly avoiding clipping Poe's transparisteel cockpit window with how close the pilot was. Poe blinked, realizing his new friend had used Poe's TIE fighter as cover, planning their course so perfectly that the new TIEs had no idea an X-Wing was approaching. Three died neatly to blaster fire, and Poe was able to pick off the fourth.
Poe swung his ship around to find the bait TIE that had caused all the trouble, intent on knocking them out of the fight as well. But just as Poe came to bear, that TIE dissolved in blaster fire too. Poe looked around for a second escort, but no, it was that same first X-Wing, executing a 180-degree turn with impossible speed to get itself in position to fire.
Poe wondered who the pilot was. Dreis? Merrick? Someone with eons of experience, certainly.
Poe's comm clicked on, and a cheerful voice said, "Hey, Skywalker, gotten a bit off course there?"
It wasn't Merrick. Or Dreis. Or anyone with a frighterloads of experience. Still, Poe was smiling as he clicked his comm on, "I do seem to have wandered a bit off-course. Thanks for the rescue, Skywalker."
Luke left the comm line open to laugh, which was wildly unprofessional, and very endearing. "It's good to hear your voice," Luke said, sounding fond. "Come on, let's get back to the fight. You can fake being my tail."
Luke went racing off, and Poe threw himself into pursuit. It was an exhilarating challenge, trying to keep up with Luke. Poe had known Luke-the-Jedi, and while he had heard stories of Luke-the-Pilot, they always rang as secondary in his head. Luke was good, but Poe had known a lot of exceptional pilots. He had doubted that Luke would stand out that much.
Poe had been wrong. Poe had been unspeakably wrong. Luke flew better than he had any right to. He had talent, but it was honed by a skill Poe hadn't expected. But that could be said of any excellent pilot. It wasn't right for Luke. Luke flew like the Bright Gods of the Black Night had blessed him, had anointed him their messenger and sent him flying between their stars.
Poe gave a fierce smile and opened his intake vents wide, screaming after Luke.
Luke dragged him back to the main battlefield, and Poe heard over the comms, "Welcome back, Red Five, where the hell did you go?"
"Just saving our stolen TIE fighter," Luke said cheerfully. "Are we back with the defense net?"
Whatever the time traveller’s equivalent of nostalgia was flared in Poe, and he was achingly glad that with whatever else he had changed, Luke was still Red Five. Chance? Or should Poe give the Force more credit? Either way, he was glad to see it happen.
"No, it's our turn on the trench. TIE pilot, join up with Blue again, those trench canons will tear you apart."
"Acknowledged," Poe said, unable to totally squash the part of him that wanted to take a shot at the thing. The Death Star. Now that would be a story to tell...
It wasn't Poe's time, which meant it wasn't Poe's story. Probably for the best it wouldn't be him, anyway.
Poe swung his way back into the defense net, accepting with good grace the ribbing that came with his blunder. "She's faster than your slow darlings," Poe shot back, word for word his mother's taunts. "Easy to get carried away."
Poe started tracking the enemy contacts with an air of distraction. It was hard to focus when he knew that Luke was setting up for his own run at the Death Star. And sure, there was no guarantee that the universe would bend the same way twice. It should be statistically impossible, to have the same pilot make the shot with this many variables different.
"Red Five, is your targeting computer malfunctioning?"
"Red Five, if your equipment is malfunctioning, abort run."
The Force had always loved Luke Skywalker.
Poe started turning his ship away from the battle, driving by a sense of inevitability.
"He—he made the shot! Repeat, Red Five confirmed hit!"
Poe toggled his comms on and informed the local friendlies, "Come on, this is one light show we don't want to see." He then flared his engine and ran for the capital ships, leaving the X-Wings behind.
Two A-Wings came up and flanked him, one playfully flipping over and pacing his TIE. Poe grinned and looked up. They were close enough that he could see the pilot through the transparisteel window, grinning in return. The pilot tossed Poe jaunty salute.
Poe had to fight to keep from jerking the TIE fighter. He knew that gesture. The A-Wing shot out in front of him, leaving Poe behind to whisper to himself, "Mom?"
His stunned reaction only lasted a few seconds. Then the Death Star exploded, and the world was filled with joyous cheers.
Poe set the TIE fighter down in the large hanger on the Profundity. He was less than graceful as he tumbled out of the ship, something that he was tempted to blame on the strange design of the thing, but more honestly was due to his shaking knees. All the adrenaline that had kept him running during the battle was draining out, leaving Poe trembling. Poe grabbed at the ladder, bracing himself against it, as relief did its best to knock him to his knees.
He had done it. The last six months of his life had been entirely focused on making this moment happen. Even before that—he honestly hadn't had a chance to catch his breath from the moment he had begged the map to Luke off of Lor San Tekka. But now—now he had done it. The Death Star was destroyed, and Alderaan wasn't. Jedha wasn't. Even the Profundity, the ship his feet were planted on, had been dead and gone before the Death Star exploded, in the other universe.
He had changed things. Would it be enough? Would it be better?
There was a shout across the room, and Poe looked up to find Luke being grabbed about the shoulders and shaken by another pilot in Red Squadron. With a start, Poe recognized the man. Biggs Darklighter, Luke's childhood best friend, lost to the Death Star, in Poe's universe.
Not in this one. Poe licked his lips, smiling as he watched the scene.
This world would be better, Poe was sure of it.
Luke glanced up, his face lighting up as he caught Poe smiling at him. Luke started towards him without a second thought, tearing across the landing bay and, before Poe realized what was happening, threw his arms around Poe's neck.
Poe—surprised, but still caught up in the moment—wrapped his arms around Luke's waist and hoisted him up in a gleeful little twirl. "You did it!" he laughed into Luke's ear. Luke's arms tightened around Poe's neck, and if he said something, Poe missed it, lost under the noise in the hanger.
They stumbled together as Poe set Luke back down on the ground, the two of them nearly tipping over. But then the crowd of pilots trailing Luke crashed into them, keeping them upright. There were more hands, more hugs, people congratulating Luke (and Poe, but that was mostly because Luke was standing next to him).
The crowd reached a mob consensus and Luke was lifted up above them, and they carried him along the hanger in a rowdy parade. One of Luke's thighs wound up draped over Poe's shoulder, the other was braced by Wedge Antilles (so much younger than the battle-hardened mentor Poe knew it took Poe four covert glances to place him).
The party that followed was a raucous, undignified explosion of cheer. Poe let himself get caught up in it, enjoy the ebb and flow of excited pilots. Someone put some music on, alcohol started appearing from various hidden places, other crew started appearing, pressing their way into the hanger with hugs and congratulations.
A glass of something that smelled like jetfuel was pressed into his hands, and Poe's stomach turned. The press of people was starting to be too hot, too much. As appealing as the idea of losing himself in the moment sounded, Poe didn't think he could. The celebration wasn't for him not really. It was for this universe, these people, and Poe was too far separate to enjoy it.
He handed off the alcohol and extricated himself from the crowd, watching the fray with a commander's rueful eye. They were going to be in trouble if any actual battles happened in the next twenty-four hours or so. Pushing his way to the edges, he saw Merrick and Dreis (Blue Leader and Red Leader, two more men that the Death Star had claimed in Poe's universe). Poe wound his way over to the men, nodding as he came up.
Dreis and Merrick both looked puzzled at Poe's approach. Poe realized with a wry bit of amusement, that while he had grown up with their holos in every text on military strategy worth reading, the General had no idea who he was.
"Poe," he said by way of introduction when he got closer, lifting his voice to be heard over the crowd. After a moment of hesitation he added, "Skywalker."
Merrick's face cleared. "Skywalker! That was some damn fine flying out there."
"Even if you did get a little lost," Dreis added wryly.
Poe ducked his head, allowing the mark with good humor. "I just wanted to let you both know that I won't be drinking tonight. In case..." Poe trailed off, his hand waving over the increasingly inebriated crowd.
Merrick gave a slight smile. "Mmm, I'm seeing some command potential with you."
Poe turned back to the crowd to hide his flinch, trying not to think of all the people who hand once been his responsibility. "I'm happy to help out wherever I can."
"We'll figure that out later," Merrick said easily, "And your flight-readiness is noted, I'll make sure it's passed along to anyone who would need to know." He paused, his brow furrowing. "You know, I have made sure we won't be without a sober fighter compliment tonight, if we need it. While your presence would be appreciated, it's not required. Sure you don't want to enjoy yourself? The way I see it, tonight's for you. You and the other Skywalker."
Poe shifted, feeling an itch between his shoulder-blades. "I've been running for six months. I should at least get a good night's sleep before I make any unwise decisions with alcohol."
"Smart man." Merrick clapped him on the shoulder. "Sure you're a pilot?"
Poe gave a short laugh at the self-derogatory joke and excused himself again. He stayed to the fringes of the wild party, watching with real pleasure as victory was celebrated. There were so many more people left to celebrate, this time.
"Surprised you're not out in the middle of that," a quiet but familiar voice came from his left elbow.
Poe turned, smiling at Winter. "All we've been through, I don't think I have any energy left. Certainly not enough for..." Poe gestured vaguely.
"True. I'm—" Winter cut herself off, laying a hand on Poe's elbow as her eyes fixed on a target Poe couldn't make out. "Would you mind waiting here for a moment? There's someone I'd like you to meet."
Winter wound off through the crowd while Poe was still managing to form the affirmative. Poe waited for an awkward minute or so, before she reappeared, with a figure that was both achingly familiar, and astoundingly strange.
With a knowing smile Winter said, "May I present Princess Leia Organa, Heir to House Organa and Antilles, Duchess of—"
"Oh for the love of...we're not at court," Leia cut her off with a smile, which was returned by Winter in kind. She turned back to Poe, folding her arms and arching her eyebrow. "So you're the man who stole my bodyguard."
Poe's smile was a ridiculous thing, watery and lopsided. It was all wrong for the moment, but this was Leia here in the flesh, using the same affectionate chiding she had used with him so many times before. "Just borrowed," he managed, hoping he was keeping the shake out of his voice. "I returned her in one piece."
"Are you alright?" Leia asked, her voice softening.
Poe gave a sharp incline of his head, just barely managing to stop from turning it into a salute. "I will be, sir. It's just been a long day."
"Highness is the traditional address," Winter murmured, giving him an understanding smile.
Poe narrowed his eyes at her imperceptibly. As Winter was one of the six people that knew Poe's real history, she knew exactly what this introduction meant to Poe. He'd have to thank her for it.
"No, I think I like the sound of sir." Leia graced Poe with a smile. "I'll permit it." She then paused, and stepped forward and laid a hand on Poe's shoulder. "Winter told me some of what happened. You've done good work. You should get some rest."
("I'm trusting you, Poe," Leia had told Poe, when he was first tempted to give into despair after the New Republic had surrendered in order to feed its people. "Things are going to get worse. You're one of the people I'm counting on to make sure it gets better again. I have faith in you, Commander.")
A fresh batch of unasked-for tears cropped up, and Poe wiped them away, his relief and exhaustion overpowering the thin thread of embarrassment that tried to wind its way through the conversation. "Thank you, sir," Poe said, addressing a Leia from another time and place, just as much as the one in front of him. He took a slow breath, and rallied himself back to this present. "Just need to figure out where there's a quiet bit of ground that will hold me."
Leia furrowed her brow, gesturing for Poe to follow her over to a wall console. A moment later, with a soft noise of satisfaction, she gestured at the holodisplay. "There we go. I knew you had assigned quarters. Here, let me show you…"
Armed with her instructions (and her unknown benediction), Poe gave the hanger one last look before he went to bed. He found Luke, after a moment, still in the center of an enthusiastic group of pilot orange. Poe gave a satisfied nod and turned to go.
Before he managed to get out the door, another face caught his eye, also in that cheerful orange, a messy spill of black curls refusing to stay in her hairband. Poe's breath caught as he got his first really look at his mother in nearly two decades. She looked happy. Good. He had always remembered her looking happy.
His mom paused mid-gesture, catching his eye from across the room. Her face brightened in a curious sort of recognition, and she beckoned him over. Poe shook his head, held up a hand, and fled.
He couldn't handle being a stranger to his mother. Not right now.
Poe found his room, surprised at the relatively large size of the single quarters. Bail must have pulled some strings, Poe thought as he stripped numbly, down to his boxers and undershirt before tumbling into the bed. Thoughts swam around, satisfied triumph and exhaustion and a bone-deep loneliness he hadn't let himself feel before. As dizzy with exhaustion as he was, it didn't take long for sleep to win out over his overworked brain, and he drifted off.
He woke up too soon after, going to high alert as he turned to the door, realizing the hiss of the unlock had set him off. Poe tensed, six months in the field making him grip his pillow like a weapon, ready to do what needed to be done.
He knew those footsteps.
Tension drained out of Poe again. They were the same footsteps that had crept their way into his room, night after night, despite his protests that Owen and Beru really wouldn't like this very much at all. They seemed a little unsteady though, and sure enough, the figure silhouetted against the light from the hallway was listing alarmingly.
"What are you doing in my room?" Poe asked, trying for irritated and failing, instead coming out embarrassingly warm.
"Wha 're you in my..." Luke slurred as he stumbled over to the bed.
The door slid shut behind them, and in the sudden dark Poe felt, more than saw, the ungraceful flop of Luke into his bed. "Hey, you…"
A hand blindly patted its way across Poe's chest. Poe blinked, his eyes adjusting again to the dark, and he could finally see that Luke giving him a vaguely lecherous grin. "Na' tha' 'm complian'ng."
Poe took a minute to parse that sentence. "This isn't your room. Nice try."
Luke gave a laugh and started wiggling under the covers.
Poe protested, "Hey, come on, I'm trying to sleep..." He trailed off as Luke pressed his forehead determinedly against Poe's bicep.
"Everythin' spins," Luke said mournfully, his word muffled by Poe's bicep. "Make i' stop."
"How much did you drink?" Poe said, regarding the hunched figure, having to fight to keep his hands from running through Luke's hair in comfort.
"People kep' givin' drinks. Woul' be rude, say no." Luke sighed, nuzzling closer. "This 's nice. 'M glad're here."
Poe considered the effort of rallying Luke enough to get him out of bed. Then he'd have to figure out who knew where Luke was actually berthed, which would mean explaining this situation to someone else, not to mention the effort of actually getting Luke there. It could take an hour, maybe more, and Poe was tired. Too tired to fight.
So instead he sighed, and said, "We'll figure this out in the morning. You're going to have a terrible headache."
Luke gave a soft groan. "'S long as 's no' spin'ng. I feel bad."
"You're going to be okay," Poe said softly, giving into the urge and reaching over, cupping the curve of Luke's nape in his palm and holding him still. "Promise."
Luke gave a soft sigh of contentment. Poe felt as Luke's limbs slowly loosened, his breathing becoming deep and even as he fell into sleep. Poe gave Luke's sleeping form a rueful smile. He really shouldn't be encouraging this sort of thing. Gossip travelled like wildfire in a ship like this, and a lot of eyes would be on Luke. Destiny would be grabbing him, soon enough.
Poe felt a slight ache at that thought, looking down at the sleeping form of his accidental husband. Of all the people in this time, Luke was the one most excited to see Poe, just for Poe's sake. He'd miss that, when it went away.
Poe was lonely. He hadn't really realized it, too busy running from one problem to the next. But he was out of place here. A piece that didn't fit, didn't belong. He was trying to build a better future but...this was, practically speaking, a suicide mission. He wouldn't be going home. There wasn't a home to go to, anymore. Temporal erasure. Everyone that knew him was gone.
But Luke...well, Luke didn't know him, either. Luke liked him, though, and Poe enjoyed having that attention. He could admit that, now. He had missed Luke while he was gone, and was excited to see Luke when he returned.
Poe sighed, letting his hand drop away from Luke's head. How selfish. Luke had a destiny, and it didn't involve staying shackled to some idiot he met in the desert.
Poe rubbed between his collarbones, trying to soothe the sudden ache in his chest. He took a deep, steadying breath and rolled away from Luke, trying not to let Luke's soft noise of unconscious dismay pull too firmly at his heart. He resolutely closed his eyes, and willed himself back to sleep.
Poe woke up a scant inch from the wall, a warm body pressed all along his back. He tried to twist so he could sit up, but as he started to move, a hand wound around his chest and pulled him close. Poe blinked, disoriented, before he remembered the night before.
Apparently, Luke was a very opportunistic cuddler.
Luke wiggled, and his hips hitched, and Poe gave a slow blink. Oh. Luke's hand played up a little higher, fingers curling over the edge of Poe's undershirt collar.
Lust shot through Poe, and it took every ounce of his self control not to moan at the light scrape of Luke's nails. It would be so easy, to grind back against Luke, to roll over and cover Luke's body with his own, to wrap Luke's legs around his waist and kiss Luke senseless.
Luke would let him. Would welcome him. He'd been so obvious in the way he wanted Poe. Poe could have this.
Poe carefully reached up, wrapped his hand around Luke's forearm, and untucked himself from Luke. He sat up, trembles running through his body as he fought his aching want back under control. What was that? He had come so close to taking advantage.
Luke had been so sheltered, his life had changed so much. Poe was just the person he met at the right place, right time. It didn't make Poe special. Luke may want him now, but he didn't really have any idea what the future held for him.
Whatever it did hold, it wasn't Poe. Poe quirked a bitter little grin. He certainly knew that.
(Poe's crush on Luke Skywalker had been two parts understandable idolization of a hero, one part much more complicated wanting of a man he saw as kind and good. Luke knew, of course, he was a mindreader, and Poe took perhaps too much pleasure in flustering the normally taciturn Jedi.
The crush had faded, as the years had gone on, but never really died. At least, it hadn't died until Luke's temple burned and he had fled, leaving Leia alone. Poe had found that unforgivable, and there went the last of his lingering adoration.)
Poe took a deep breath, staring down at this Luke's sleeping form. He was muttering and restlessly trying to find the body that had disappeared out from his arms. Wiggle by adorable wiggle, he moved to curl around Poe again.
Poe made himself a promise, that whatever else he wound up doing in this timeline, he'd do what he could to give this Luke a better future, too.
Maybe he already had, Poe thought hopefully. Whatever fractures in Luke that had torn open with his temple's destruction...maybe they had formed early. Maybe with his parents around...with Obi-Wan still around...support could make all the difference.
Poe reached down and shoved at Luke's hip, trying to untangle them so he could get out of bed. Luke made an indignant noise, then a confused one, then he rolled over to his back and stared up at Poe, blinking slowly.
"I think I'm still drunk," Luke said. He reached up and rubbed his eyes. "I didn't think that was supposed to be possible, after you slept. Maybe I'm hallucinating. Are you a hallucination?"
Poe laughed, unable to help himself. "If you don't have a pounding headache and want to die, then yes, you are drunk. But no, I'm not a hallucination."
Luke wrinkled his nose. "That's just what a hallucination would say. Why are you in my room?" Luke paused, then after a moment added, sulkily, "The real Poe would never be in my room."
"You're in my…" Poe trailed off, as a thought slowly occurred to him. "Luke. Is this married couple's housing?"
Luke's eyes went wide in realization. "That's right! We're married! Maybe the real Poe would be in my room!" Luke paused, glancing up at Poe, his eyes going wide with worry. "Oh no."
Poe reached over and patted Luke's knee, which seemed to be the safest lump of blanket to touch without being suggestive. "It's fine. I've had some stupid drinking nights myself, no judgement here. I am, however, going to insist that you take advantage of my experience and drink a lot of water."
"But then I'm going to have to pee."
"Better than the alternative. Come on, hup," Poe hoisted himself over Luke, and went to the 'fresher to grab a glass of water. He returned to Luke, supervised that glass's consumption, then trudged back to the 'fresher to get a fresh cup. He made Luke drink that too.
"I'm gonna slosh," Luke said, sighing and poking at his own belly.
"You'll thank me later." Poe fought back a laugh. "Try to get some more sleep."
Luke gave him a dubious, disoriented glare, before nodding slowly, deliberately. The nod went on about three seconds longer than it should have, before Luke all at once collapsed and wiggled back into the bed, pulling the covers up over his head.
Poe turned away from the bed and shoved his fist in his mouth to keep from laughing. He shook his head, and with that bit of levity, started his day.
It turned out that going into the field for half a year with minimal contact meant that debriefing was, to put it politely, a kriffing nightmare. Poe spent a miserable five hours trying to reconstruct six months, before they finally took pity on him and released him for lunch.
Poe collapsed into a chair in the mess, sandwich in hand that he nibbled at while blankly staring across the table, trying to let his overheated brain calm down. Poe, too slowly, realized a body had slid into the table across from him, he blinked a few times and figured out that it was Luke.
"I'm the one with the hangover," Luke said, his voice a little raspy, "Why do you look so bad?"
"Debrief. Talked for five hours," Poe said, shortly, his voice rough from how much he had been speaking lately.
"Oh." Luke wrinkled his nose. "That's awful. Well, misery loves company," Luke toasted Poe with a literal slice of toast. Probably the only thing Luke's stomach could keep down.
"Yes." Poe gave Luke a contemplative look. "Speaking of company…"
Luke glanced up, shifting as he caught Poe's eye, looking a little guilty.
"...why does Rebellion leadership think it's appropriate to assign us married couples housing?"
Luke gave an overly-innocent smile. "Well, I mean, you were very clear that you were a top secret spy. I figured I shouldn't say anything that might contradict your cover story."
Poe arched an eyebrow, "Uh-huh."
Luke tried to maintain his look of calm innocence, but he collapsed and buried his head in his hands. "Pilot berthing is so gross."
Poe bit back a sympathetic laugh, and tried for an expression of serious disapproval. "So you decided to pull married rank?"
"No!" Luke said defensively. "The quartermaster figured it out on her own about a month ago. She was reshuffling berthing with some new assignments, came over to me and apologized that she hadn't realized I had a husband that was on long-term reconnaissance, and since he was due back soon would I like to move into shared quarters now?"
Poe flattened his lips, the misery on Luke's face causing him far too much amusement. "And you said yes."
"Tell me you wouldn't," Luke bit back. "Pilot berthing is six to a room, and everyone thinks that the sniff test is the peak of personal hygiene!"
"You want to glorious highs of flying in a squadron, you have to take the unhygienic lows, too." Poe shook his head, remembering his own dismaying times in the New Republic Naval Academy.
"I know," Luke sighed. "I really wasn't sure what to do with your cover, though." He rubbed absently at his temples.
"I guess we will need to figure how we're explaining that we know each other. Probably something along the lines of, 'aid to Rebellion operatives.' Let me check in with Intel, see what the cover story is." Poe paused, looking at Luke again. "You doing okay?"
Luke dropped his hand from his temple, fixing Poe with a mild smile. "I may have had a bit too much to drink, last night."
Poe barely managed to turn his laugh into a cough. That was certainly an understatement.
"Yeah, yeah," Luke waved a dismissive hand. "In retrospect I can see exactly where I went wrong. Right about the fourth blue thing with the swirly green thing in it. At the time though, it seemed very rude to turn the drinks down." Luke rubbed his neck. "The pain patches are mostly holding up. I still feel like I gargled a bunch of sand, though."
"I guess you would know, desert farmboy." Poe gave Luke an affectionate wink.
Luke gave him a dirty glare in return. As Poe watched, the glare faltered, taking on a chagrined air. "Um, speaking of dumb things I did last night, sorry about..." Luke coughed. "I'm just not used to sharing a bed with someone else, and it gets really cold on ships, and I was really too out of it to realize that you were even real..." Luke winced. "Those are all excuses. Just...sorry."
Poe gave Luke an affectionate smile. "Forgiven. If we can't get the quarters straightened out, maybe we put up a pillow wall or something."
Was Poe imagining it, or did a disappointed look pass Luke's face? "Sounds good."
Poe looked at his chrono, and sighed. "I think that ends my break. Back to talking forever."
"Good luck," Luke offered, giving Poe a sympathetic wave as Poe left.
They did not get their quarters straightened out.
Debriefing went on hour after painful hour until Poe stumbled back to the shared room, too tired to even implement the discussed pillow wall. Luke was a gentleman, though, and the night passed innocently enough.
Debriefing didn't end the next day. Or the next. On the fourth day, Poe was finally set free, only to be whisked away an hour later to a quiet strategy session with the six people who knew his secret. Poe briefly considered refusing and returning to quarters to sleep for two days straight. But no, this was important.
Besides, Winter was there too, looking calm and unruffled amidst the Rebellion's grand strategists. He couldn't let her down. She'd never stop teasing him, in her polite, quiet, merciless manner.
So, over the next three days, Poe learned the current state of the Rebellion, and in return was mined for any information that could give them the edge in the aftermath.
The Rebellion had a fleet about three times the size as they would have after Yavin, more trained officers and more men. They were so much better equipped militarily it was nearly unbelievable. Politically, however…
"The Empire is claiming we performed a terrorist strike on a "civilian space station."" The sarcastic sneer around the claim was evident in General Cracken's voice. "Unfortunately, we don't have much evidence to refute them. We were too neat in our execution. Maybe we should have let them blow up a couple planets, first."
Bail and Poe both stiffened, and Cracken held up his hands. "A joke. We do need to figure out our approach though." He nodded to Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. "This is your arena."
"We can release what we know," Mon started, thoughtfully. "But without proof we look like we are scrambling to cover ourselves with the most ridiculous cover story possible."
Poe rubbed his chin as he tried to think of corroborating evidence. His head pounded from the sheer amount of information that had gone in and out of it in the week since the Death Star was destroyed, but he was determined to make sure that the Rebellion was in the best possible situation to take advantage of the aftermath.
Bail started musing, "The debris field should— "
"No," Ackbar cut him. "The Empire moved in to secure that almost as soon as we jumped out of system. Trying to gather enough salvage to support our story would be a fast way to throw away our military advantage."
Poe blinked, straightening. "Galen Erso."
Confused faces greeted him, before Cracken's cleared. He said, "The scientist that planted the flaw in the first place."
"We know he's primed for defection. He's practically a hostage in the first place. We know where he is. He can testify to what the Death Star can do. And tell me that the Rebellion couldn't use a scientist with that much knowledge in its development corps."
Slow nods started around the table. Another hour and it was sorted out. Poe would take a team to Eadu, to free the scientist and hopefully turn the tide of the propaganda war, while the Rebellion back home did their best to take advantage of their military victory.
As everything broke up and people started to file off, Poe caught up with Bail and Obi-Wan. "Sorry for interrupting, I need your help with something."
Both men turned to look at him, politely interested expressions on their faces.
Poe cleared his throat, feeling suddenly awkward as he said, "I need to get to an Imperial Records office, so I can divorce Luke."
Obi-Wan and Bail shared a significant look.
Bail started, saying slowly, "That...may not be as easy as you think it is, Poe."
Poe folded his arms, looking over at Obi-Wan. "I know you don't want me to stay married to your Jedi trainee."
Obi-Wan made a disgruntled face. "Bail may be right. There is...a complication we haven't informed you of, just yet."
Poe on the floor, back against the wall near the end of the hanger bay, staring out at the stars. It was an old thinking spot. He had always found something comforting about the sky beyond the forcefield.
There was a throat cleared, and Poe looked up to find a hesitant Luke standing next to him. "Can I...sit?" Luke asked, gesturing at the patch of floor next to Poe.
Poe patted it. "Be my guest."
Luke slid down next to Poe, fidgeting as he got comfortable. He wound up settled in a contorted position with one leg tucked underneath him and the other hugged to his chest. It looked painful, but Luke seemed comfortable. "Obi-Wan talked to me. It was pretty obvious, really, once I took two seconds to think about it."
Poe nodded. "Good. We should figure out what we want to do."
"I think that if we put our bounties together, we might be worth more than the net worth of the farm. No, we’re definitely worth more than the farm. We might be worth more than the entire freehold put together."
"I'm not sure you're wrong." Poe shook his head. "Kriff. We walk into an Imperial Records office we'll be in binders inside of five minutes."
"Not...necessarily. If we pick the records office right, someplace out of the way, with a remote hookup, we might be able to complete the divorce paperwork before they realize it's us." There was a tight, unhappy twist to his mouth, as he shifted to take a sideways look at Poe. "If, you know, it was really important to you."
Poe shook his head. "Not worth the risk. Unless, for you—"
"No, no," Luke quickly said. He sighed. "So. No divorce until we...win the war?"
Or until Poe died. He decided not to offer up that idea. "At least not officially. But, you know, we could make things clear to the Rebellion. Be divorced in everything but legal records. Then you could feel free to…date? Whatever you want."
Poe had an uneasy pang in his chest, as he thought about the way Luke hugged Biggs. Poe would bet that they had dated in the past, or whatever passed for dating on Tatooine. He had a distinct sense that he was keeping Luke from the way Luke's life was supposed to go.
"I…don't think I'd do that," Luke said slowly. "I think that marriage means something to me." He shrugged. "It's silly, I know. But I was always taught that it's a serious contract, not to be entered into lightly…"
Poe coughed, raising an eyebrow.
"Hey, deciding to save your life was not a 'light' decision!" Luke protested, a smile lurking around his eyes. He shook his head, amusement fading to a reflective expression. "But even though we didn't mean it to last, I don't think I could pretend it didn't exist."
A sigh escaped Poe, as a heavy feeling of guilt settled on him. No getting out of this easily.
"Not that I expect you to be the same!" Luke said quickly. "I'm sure you have this whole...life that I'm keeping you from."
Poe fought down a bitter laugh. "I really, really do not." He looked over at Luke. "You know, I think it means something to me too. My parents found a lot of joy in their marriage. It was important to them. I don't think I could ignore that."
Luke's smile was bright and hopeful and it did strange things to Poe's heart. "Alright, then. Married it is." He scooted a little closer to Poe. "You know…if we're going to be actually married…"
Poe raised an eyebrow, and Luke blushed.
"It's not a ridiculous idea," Luke said, a stubborn set to his jaw. "You have to know that I like you, by now. Even if we weren't married I'd be…trying something, I'm sure."
("…too young," said Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, in another place, another lifetime. "It's inappropriate. Go preen somewhere else." He gave a pointed turn, leaving his back to Poe. There wasn't anything for Poe to do but grumble and exit the room again, the stiff collar of his newly-assigned dress whites digging into his neck.)
Poe, nineteen and hungry in ways he couldn't even understand yet hadn't found that a satisfactory answer. Poe doubted that this Luke would take it any better than Poe had, all those years ago.
"...important." Poe finally finished. To the galaxy. To the rebellion. And, yes, to Poe himself. "I refuse to rush into something we'd regret later."
Luke, inexplicably, brightened at this. "So you're saying there is something. Between us."
Poe gave Luke a sideways glare that did absolutely nothing to temper Luke's enthusiasm. "I'm saying…" Poe chose his words carefully. "That if there's a thing, it's a slow thing. A very slow thing."
Luke tilted his head to the side, and gave a short nod. "I can live with that."
Poe left the next day. He felt vaguely guilty about it. His conversation with Luke still felt unfinished. And yet, the longer they waited, the more danger Galen would be in. The universe couldn't wait for Poe to sort out his personal life.
He also felt vaguely guilty about his team. He'd have the newly formed Avalanche Squadron with him, an offshoot from Red Squadron that included both Wedge Antilles and Wes Janson. Aside from the (almost-familiar by this point) panic of working with old idols who were too-young and didn't know him, Poe was disoriented by the fact that in his timeline, there had never been an Avalanche squadron.
There should have been a Rogue Squadron, forming right about now. Wedge and Wes both should have been on it, along with Luke. But no, Poe supposed it made sense. The Rebellion hadn’t suffered the heavy losses that forced them to restructure.
But it still felt bitterly wrong, breaking up the Rogues.
Less wrong was the fact that the mission also included a shuttle, piloted by one Bodhi Rook. After learning what the target was, he had practically muscled his way onto the team by calmly and clearly pointing out that he was the only person on the entire kriffing base that had ever been to Eadu. Leadership had come around to his way of thinking quite quickly.
The shuttle's team included a small infiltration unit. The part of Poe that loved military history was quietly giddy that the unit included both Cassian and K-2SO. He was running a mission to Eadu with half of the original Rogue One team.
The mission itself was either going to be incredibly simple or a deathtrap. In the simple version, Bodhi took them in, landed the shuttle, there were only minimal guards on the station that, after all, got most of its security from its privacy. They could be in and out in a couple hours.
But there were so many pieces that could go wrong. The engineers could be dead, killed in retaliation for their project's failure. The Empire could have some advanced warning, and they could jump into a trap. Or even without the warning, there could be some high-level Imperial visiting, leaving a Death Star in orbit to pick them off.
To Poe's surprise, it was the incredibly simple option that won. Their team was able to slip in and free not just Galen but his entire engineering team of nine.
"I wouldn't trust their loyalty entirely," Galen said to him in an undertone. "But we know something has gone wrong with the project. We're cut off, here, and fear is growing. They'll stay quiet until we're safely away."
So Poe's triumphant little team didn't jump straight back to the main base, but to one of Mon Cala's massive ships. The scientists were trundled off for warm blankets, hot beverages, and a round of polite questioning where they could be kept very far away from any critical information about the Rebellion.
Doubts about their ultimate loyalty aside, showing up and effectively doubling the Rebellion's R&D department was quite the coup. Poe stuck with Dr. Erso, who was surprised and relieved that he didn't have to explain to a serious General Cracken that he had been a defector all along.
"Yes, we know," Cracken said, a smile twitching along his lips. "Brilliant flaw. The whole thing went up like a pyrocracker."
Galen blinked. "It's...it's gone?" At Cracken's nod, Galen took a deep gasp and then, very quietly, broke apart.
"We're hoping," Cracken said, offering Galen a clean handkerchief, "that you'll be willing to say a few words about the monster the Empire was forcing you to build. We were too efficient, you see, and we have a bit of a PR problem at the moment."
"Yes," Galen said quickly, "Of course."
Poe, now satisfied that his plan had actually worked, decided to rest and refuel. He grabbed some food and found a viewport to fold himself into, eating slowly and watching the stars. He wondered where Luke was, in the night sky. He played his eyes across the galaxy and amused himself with guessing.
With Red Squadron, probably. Poe still felt guilty about breaking up Rogue with his timeline meddling. Poe reminded himself that it was a good thing that the Rebellion had enough forces to split off into different teams. Luke would get the chance to learn from veterans, instead of being thrown into command alone. That had to be a good thing.
Poe spent some time musing about other unintended changes he had made, and decided to make a quick stop before heading to bed that evening.
The next morning Galen (entirely on his own and with absolutely no prompting in the form of a late night chat with Poe) sprung a demand on his Rebellion saviors. He emphatically requested that they help him find his daughter. The Rebellion acquiesced quickly, and Poe smiled to himself at the knowledge that Jyn Erso would have a chance, in this universe, to make a difference once again.
He wasn't expecting to get assigned to her hunt. Something in the glint of Cracken's eye told Poe he knew exactly who had put that thought into Galen's head, and Poe could very well take care of that complication himself. Fair enough.
Poe headed back to Yavin IV, where he'd have more resources to put to the task. Poe tried not to get too excited that he'd have the chance to see Luke again. Between transit time and the mission, he'd been gone a couple weeks, now. It wasn't so much that he missed his absent husband, he was just curious how Luke was doing with his newfound heroism.
And if he kept telling himself that, he might just believe it eventually.
He didn't get the chance to find out how Luke was doing, though, as Luke was gone when Poe arrived.
"Red Squadron has been deployed," Obi-Wan informed Poe.
Poe swallowed down an irrational flash of disappointment. If Obi-Wan caught it, he was polite enough not to react. "I'm surprised you haven't kept him for Jedi training," Poe said instead.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "It's clear from your memories that being a part of a squadron was a good experience for Luke. Besides," Obi-Wan quirked a smile, "Luke isn't the only one who could use some training."
Poe looked down the hallway, finding his interrogator. An angry-looking Leia Organa stalked toward him, lightsaber hilt clutched in one hand. Poe smiled and waved.
Leia brandished the lightsaber hilt. "He's drilling me. This is your fault somehow. You brought him here."
Poe ducked his head. "Sorry, sir."
Leia did not look mollified, and glared at him.
"Have you learned any good tricks?" Poe tried instead.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat in disapproval. "I would appreciate it if you did not describe Jedi training as tricks."
Poe opened his hand in apology, flashed a grin at Leia, and decided to retreat from the conversation while he still could.
It took another three weeks of groundside intelligence gathering before Poe found a lead worth chasing. He deployed with Cassian Andor and K-2SO, the latter announcing, "This seems like a great deal of effort to find someone who serves no tactical advantage."
"Keeping a valuable asset happy is a tactical advantage," Cassian countered, checking his blaster.
"I just think there are better ways to spend our time," K-2SO opined. "Ones that could involve, for example, destroying fortified structures with large amounts of explosives."
"I never should have given you access to that detonite," Cassian said glumly. He slid a sideways glance over to Poe. "He'll stay on-mission," Cassian reassured Poe.
"Of course." Poe gave K-2SO a conspiratorial smile. "Don't worry, there's always a chance we'll need to blow something up."
"I don't need you to coddle me," K-2SO said coldly. He did, however, pack a crate full of thermal detonators onto the shuttle, much to Poe's amusement.
They didn't wind up needing the thermal detonators. They did wind up needing K-2SO.
The lanky Imperial security droid held a struggling Jyn Erso up in the air, glowing eye to organic eye, as Poe reeled from the solid hit she had gotten in with her truncheon.
"Ow," Poe said, trying to clear the fuzz in his mind.
"We have a message from your father, Galen Erso," Cassian said, much more helpfully. "He's fled the Empire and found sanctuary with the Rebellion. He's wondering if you wanted to join him."
Jyn stopped kicking, rotating slightly in K-2SO's hold to look at Cassian. "Go on," she said slowly.
The ride back was a bit awkward, Poe letting Cassian pilot as he strapped himself in, head pounding. He pressed a cold pack to his temple while Jyn did her best to pretend he didn't exist. In a fit of petty drama, Poe gave a couple soft miserable groans. Jyn didn't flinch, but the corners of her eyes did tighten, so Poe called that a win.
Jyn's hesitant reunion with Galen, who was waiting at the base of their shuttle ramp, made every aching minute worthwhile. Another thing fixed, Poe thought, as he took himself off to his room to sleep off his concussion.
Poe gave a wry smile when he got to said room and found a piece of flimsi stuck on top of the dresser.
Looks like I missed you. Flying with Red Squadron's been exhausting, but great.
We went to
Biggs tells me I have sand for brains and need to learn the meaning of OpSec. He's so mean.
Anyway! Sorry to miss you but I'm off again, with Obi-Wan this time. Hope Intel hasn't been running you too ragged.
Poe smiled at the note, carefully folding it up and tucking it away in his bag, feeling unaccountably pleased.
Poe was kept on-base, after that, Intel insisting that he help with analysis of the unfolding tactical and political situation. Poe complied, but didn't find staring at datascreens for days at a time particularly stimulating. So he found some time for a side project.
Poe folded his arms and stared at the TIE fighter. "It's doable."
"It's a lot of work," was Wedge's opinion, staring balefully at it. "Is it actually worth it?"
"How many new recruits have we lost because they don't actually believe how fast these things are? A-Wing's are a decent substitute for training, but having an actual ship…"
"I can see the value," General Dodonna gave a sharp nod. "Alright, Skywalker, your side project is approved. I'll divert some resources for you to retrofit your TIE into a training vehicle."
"It's not my TIE," Poe demurred.
Wedge gave a disbelieving snort. "Sure it isn't."
"It's the Rebellion's TIE," Poe insisted, grabbing Wedge by the elbow and dragging him off toward the mechanic's bay. "Come on, Antilles, you're helping."
Fully weaponized blaster cannons were stripped out, replaced with lower-powered lasers that could score training hits against X-Wings. Wedge and Poe argued about installing shielding. Poe grumbled that it would make the TIE less combat-accurate. Wedge asked whether or not Poe wanted to get blown up by the first cadet that made a dumb mistake.
Poe installed the shielding.
The project took longer than Poe wanted it to, days stretching to weeks. It wasn't Poe's main job. Intel took up most of his daylight hours, feeding him reports. Poe scoured the reports, tried to figure out what he could add, and then submitted his notes to Cracken.
"Analysis based on confidential source" was a stock phrase overused in his reports. The truth, "I know because I'm a time traveller," Poe felt was just a bit too unprofessional.
After a long day of that, Poe looked forward to his evenings stuck in Black Two's guts, where everything was simpler.
Finally, two and a half weeks after he started, his girl was ready for her first test flight. Wedge claimed first go, insisting he had the right as the person who had helped Poe the most. Fair enough. It was a lot of fun, dogfighting against Wedge, taking the TIE through its paces as they hunted through the clouds.
(Senator Antilles was a dour-faced legend around the Academy. Retired and political, Wedge wasn't often called upon to pilot. Those rare days when he deigned to fly a few rounds against the trainees were more exciting than any holiday, the whole campus turning out for one of the few lucky spots. The day Poe got the chance to fly against him was seared in Poe's mind as one of the best of his life, even though he was shot down in a matter of minutes.)
This Wedge wasn't as polished, and Poe had a decade or so more flying experience than he used to. Made it more of an even fight and Poe was sweating by the time he pulled off his victory. Wedge hopped out of his X-Wing and shook Poe's hand with a serious nod of respect. Poe returned it in well-earned kind.
"Alright, that does it, I'm fighting Intel for you," General Merrick, who had been watching the dogfight, announced. "You're a born pilot, and we need you training, at the very least."
Poe's days became much more bearable, after that. He only worked half a day in Intel, the rest of the day spent honing the Rebellion's snubfighter force. He was an instructor for the newest of the trainees, most of the time, convincing them that yes, TIE fighters really were that fast. The rest of the time he spent with the experienced veterans, teaching and learning tricks in turn.
Poe loved it. He had always expected to become an instructor after his stint with New Republic military, happily teaching recruits for as long as he had enough strength to get himself up in the sky. But then the First Order had risen and Poe's future had taken a sharp left turn.
This felt like a personal restoration.
"Not bad, Six, but remember—instinct will only get you so far. You need to be able to think in combat, or you're going to be a liability," Poe gently chided Al'brrrst Dchngr, a four-armed insectoid that answered cheerfully to his more-pronounceable nickname.
Al'brrrst gave a clicking acknowledgement, which cut off into a shrieked yelp as an X-Wing swung out of the clouds and drove straight towards them. Poe leapt his TIE fighter in front of the student in an instinctive defensive maneuver, whirling on the interloper.
"Nice reflexes, Skywalker," came a familiar voice over general comms.
Poe gave a shaky laugh in the cockpit, before keying his own comm on. "That was a dirty trick, Skywalker. It's rude to scare the trainees."
"And their trainers?" Luke said, a grin audible in his words.
"Well, it's my job to scare them." Poe deliberately misinterpreted his question, smiling madly.
Al'brrrst cut into the channel, rasping a question about whether or not he was really needed for this?
"Go ahead and land, Six, we'll pick up later."
Al'brrrst acknowledged and dove for the ground.
"You landing too?" Luke asked.
"Well, that depends," Poe said, feeling a little reckless.
Poe flared his thrusters, swinging under Luke and popping up on his other side. "Wanna dance?"
"Oh," Luke said, delight obvious in his voice. "You're on."
They didn't land again for another two hours. It took Luke's craft insistently signaling its low fuel alert to drive them apart, laughing as they drew their dogfight to a close.
If dogfight was even the right word for it. It was more a stunt show than a dogfight—Poe had stopped trying to score a hit on Luke, just having fun surprising him. They flew and dipped and jostled in furious pleasure, calling out insults and compliments alike over the comms.
It was fun, there really wasn't a better word for it. It wasn't until he and Luke were heading for the ground that Poe also realized it probably wasn't the best use of Rebellion resources. He toggled on a private comm line and he made a quiet apology to Captain Dannesra, the round-cheeked, bright-eyed, absolutely lethal leader of the current Gold Squadron, who was overseeing today's training exercise.
"It's fine, Skywalker," Dannesra reassured him. "It's fun to see you cut loose. Besides…I have some ideas for stuff we can do with that footage…we'll talk later. Reunite with that husband of yours, now."
There was a strange thrill in Poe's limbs as he landed, a nervous excitement at getting to see Luke again. It had been a long time—three months, four? Poe had lost track.
Luke landed first, and Poe caught a flash of blond retreating to talk to the mechanics as he swung out of his TIE. Poe paused at the bottom of the ladder, looking at Luke's X-Wing. Contentment drew a small smile to his mouth. It felt right, having Luke around again. Poe wondered about the implications of that as he turned to do his own walkaround.
Poe rounded the second solar array wing, looking for damage. He pulled up short when instead he found a Luke, poking his head out from around the black metal and grinning.
"Heya," Luke said, and then unceremoniously wrapped Poe up in a hug, twining his arms around Poe's neck.
Poe let his own arms settle tight around Luke's waist. Luke felt different in his arms than he had when they'd last embraced. There was more honed muscle to him now, and his grip on Poe felt more assured, less spontaneous. Poe wasn't sure how he felt about the changes, but he still knew how he felt about Luke, resting his chin on Luke's shoulder as he said, "Hi."
The hug lingered, too long again, but Poe justified it to himself as a well-earned reunion. Whatever else Luke was to him, he was also Poe's friend. Poe had always hugged his friends.
When they pulled apart, Poe could see how flushed and giddy Luke was, a large excited grin on his face. "That was so much fun! They have you flying now?" Luke asked.
Poe nodded, taking another step back, reasserting the appropriate space between the two of them. "Training, mostly."
"Maybe we'll get to fly together again. I hope we do. You're amazing."
"Not so bad yourself." Poe became uncomfortably aware that this sort of chat was getting dangerously close to flirting. He cleared his throat. "I suppose you need to…debrief, or something like that."
Luke shrugged. "Jedi business this time, more than Rebellion. I'm making Obi-Wan handle the reports. I am, however, getting very hungry."
"Want to grab some dinner?" Poe asked, utterly failing on the 'stop flirting with your husband' front.
Luke's smile made Poe scramble to remember why, exactly, he was trying to stop flirting in the first place.
Luke pushed his fork through the orange mash of indeterminate origin that was the only thing left on his plate. "I'm so tired," Luke confessed. "It was just...intense. I think Obi-Wan is trying to find important historical sites for the Jedi that aren't totally overrun by the Empire. I can't even tell you if we succeeded."
"That sounds frustrating."
Luke waved his fork dismissively, flinging a bit of orange mash onto Poe's cheek. Poe narrowed his eyes and used his index finger to very deliberately wipe the mash off, glaring the entire time, as Luke fought back giggles. Poe reached forward and took both the fork out of Luke's hand. And then the plate from in front of Luke.
"Go on," Poe said, tucking into the orange mash. It wasn't bad tasting. Though, Poe probably would have eaten it anyway. He still hadn't managed to take food for granted.
Luke looked down at his hands like he wasn't certain what to do with them. He folded them in front of himself and went quiet for half a second, before looking up with an excited, "Oh! It hasn't all be bad. I can do a backflip now."
"A ba'flp?" Poe mumbled around the orange mash. He swallowed. "You're using the grand cosmic power of the universe to do backflips?"
"I think it's supposed to be applicable in combat."
Poe made a face that he hoped expressed what he thought about that nerf-brained example of a battle strategy.
"Gents!" Captain Dannesra waved from across the room as she trotted over to them. She wasn't alone, Commander Dreis, leader of Red Squadron was there with her. Luke's eyes went wide and he gave a quick, short nod to his immediate commanding officer.
"Glad to see you're back, Skywalker," Dreis said. "We've missed you on the squadron."
Luke ducked his head. "I've missed the squadron too. I think I'm being assigned back to you, now."
"Actually what we came over here to talk with you about." Dreis's eyes flicked over to Poe. "Both of you."
"You want to put Poe in Red?" Luke said giving his commanding officer an excited look.
Poe's eyes went wide and he shook his head in a short negation. "We can't start a policy of having married couples fly together."
"Ah, yes, no, that would be—" Dreis cleared his throat. "We weren't thinking that. But we did have an...assignment that the two of you may be able to assist with. Together. Captain Dannesra will tell you more."
Poe's eyes narrowed. He had been in one service or another long enough to be wary of any Meaningful Pause Assignments.
Luke, who hadn't learned to be suspicious yet, cheerfully turned to the Captain and asked, "Oh, what?"
Dannesra, catching Poe's expression, gave a grin. It looked innocent, on her cherubic face, but Poe knew better than to trust it. "Well, you know that since our dazzling military victory, we've been...struggling, a bit, with our public relations image."
Poe felt a cold knot of miserable foreboding twist in his stomach.
"Now, Dr. Erso has been very helpful from a technical standpoint, explaining that we did, in fact, destroy the greatest terror the galaxy would have ever known before it got the chance to get off the ground. Go us!" Dannesra gave a small clap. "But data is one thing, stories are another."
"Do you want us to share what it was like going up against the Death Star? Sort of a pilot’s eye view?" Luke asked, leaning in with entirely too much enthusiasm considering where the conversation was heading.
Poe knew what came next. Flattery, some polite cajoling, and the next thing you know he was volun-told to smile for the holovids and think of the greater good. The Resistance had used his face for more than one promotional material. But Poe had been younger then (and drunk for the first few impromptu photo sessions). He hadn't expected this sort of thing to follow him across the years.
"Well, that's certainly a part of it!" Dannesra said, "But, we're hoping for something more comprehensive, honestly. You two are a compelling story. The intelligence agent that brought us news of the Death Star and the ace pilot that destroyed it, married to each other!"
"Oh," Luke swallowed, looking at Poe. "So more of a...personal thing." Luke finally seemed to realize what he was being lead into.
"Nothing salacious," Dannesra reassured him. "We're not a gossip network. But, frankly, the two of you are gorgeous, charming, and occupy key roles in the Rebellion. We need more relatable faces than Mon Mothma and Dr. Erso."
"I...um," Luke gave an anguished look over at Poe.
"I know it's an imposition, but this is another way to fight for the cause," Dannesra said, leaning in to press her point.
Poe reached out and took Luke's hand, a possessive little gesture that he hoped would translate to the Captain. "We need to talk about it," Poe said firmly. "Alone."
"This isn't an obligation," Dries cut in, angling himself in such a way that was a clear 'back-off' to Dannesra. "It would help the Rebellion, yes. But if you're miserable in front of a camera, that's not the message we went to send, either."
"Sorry," Dannesra said, after a minute. "My wife's in the Rebellion's press corp. She pretty much is the Rebellion's press corp. I know she's been looking for someone exactly like you two. It could really make the difference for our perception. I got over excited."
Luke gave an agreeable nod.
Poe arched an eyebrow. "I appreciate how your apology manages to heap on yet more guilt."
Dannesra gave a sunny smile. "Whatever it takes. You don't stay in the skies by playing it safe."
Poe squeezed Luke's hand, let go, and waved Dannesra off with a casual flick of his fingers. "We'll talk about it."
"Suppose that's reasonable." Dannesra waved. "Alright, I should get back to wrangling my people. Take care, Garv."
Dries waved as she went, turning back to Luke and Poe. "This really is optional. You'll experience no repercussions for declining. Either of you."
"Do they really need us, though?" Luke asked.
Dries gave a half-shrug. "If we want to expand, we need recruits. That's the way the math works."
Luke gave a thoughtful grunt, and after waiting a moment longer to see if there were any more questions, Dreis left too.
Luke shifted, looking over at Poe.
Poe ran his fingers through his hair, giving an uneasy glance around the mess hall. "You want to go back to the room and…talk?"
Luke paused, and then cocked his head at Poe. "So you kept the shared room, huh? Didn't give it up?"
Poe gave Luke a lopsided smile. "Well, I didn't want to put you back in the mercies of pilot berthing."
"Right. And where would you have ended up, I wonder?"
Poe opened his mouth to respond, before he realized... "I don't know," he said, a thread of unease running through him. "I don't really have a..." Place. Home. Purpose. Poe had burned his purpose up on the altar of sacrifice, throwing himself out of time to find a better future. He had passed on what he knew, and now...
Now nobody really knew what to do with him, least of all Poe.
Luke laid a hand on Poe's elbow, a hesitant, light touch. "I...talking with some of the troops, here, it seems like when spies spend a long time out in the field, it's hard to settle back home."
Poe gave Luke a lopsided smile. He was never going home. But the analogy was close enough, he supposed. "Something like that."
"Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad to have you here." Luke squeezed Poe's elbow, and then with a gentle nudge guided Poe up and away from the table, back toward their shared room.
Thirty minutes later, after two trips to the 'fresher and a harrowing ethical moment when Luke had started stripping in front of Poe without so much as a warning (Poe managed to turn away, the blush running down his neck caused equally by the glimpse of Luke's hipbones and Luke's slightly derisive snort of amusement), Poe and Luke sat cross-legged on their bed.
Luke blew out his breath noisily from his mouth, angled up so it ruffled the hair on his forehead. "So. Recruitment."
"The Rebellion does need more soldiers. And people should know the good we're doing. If we can help with that..."
If they could help with that, how could they not? Poe was already half-resigned to the idea. He had done it before, he'd do it again, if it helped the cause. Still, there were a few things Luke needed to know about the whole process.
"It's not...exactly honest," Poe said, carefully picking over his words. "You need to make yourself into the most likeable, palatable version of yourself."
Luke wrinkled his nose. "But they want us."
"They want the idea of us," Poe explained. "They want dashing, handsome pilots who are heroic and noble."
"Well, I don't see the problem there," Luke said with a playful smile.
"And very much in love," Poe added with a certain finality. Luke's eyes widened. Poe continued, ruthlessly, "That's why they're asking now, not me by myself when I've been here for months training, not you by yourself."
"Let me guess, 'we got married so my dumb husband wouldn't die in the desert' isn't the best story?" Luke said, finally catching on.
Poe flattened his lips and nodded. "Ouch. And yes."
"So we...what...invent a story?" Luke's eyebrows furrowed. "You're the dashing prince from Alderaan who came and swept me off my feet?"
Poe choked on that description. "Ah. No. No need to be quite so..." Poe waved his hands vaguely. "But we would be selling a story of love, war, and sacrifice. How the cause is so great it's worth putting our lives on the line, even though the two of us have so much to live for." Poe couldn't quite hurt the bitter twist of his words on that.
Luke looked over at him, a little hurt. "Is it really such a terrible thing to pretend that—to pretend you loved me?"
Poe sighed. "It's not that. But..." Poe tried, and failed, to find a gentler way to put it, "it would be an act. Doing this wouldn't change..."
Luke gave a small smile. "It's still a slow thing. It doesn't speed up, just because we're playing for the cameras. I get that." Luke leaned in slightly, putting his index finger on Poe's folded knee. "Though, to be clear, I wouldn't mind if you sped things up a bit."
Poe looked down at the finger, and back up to Luke. Taking in Luke's incorrigible grin, Poe abruptly realized exactly why so many people had smiled at nineteen-year-old Ensign Dameron with such mixed delight and exasperation.
I deserve this, Poe thought glumly, as he shifted back, putting his knee out of reach. "And you can't see why I might have some worries about doing this?"
"Just saying!" Luke grinned, folding his hands in his lap. "Look, I'll be good. You set the tone for the cameras, I'll follow your lead."
"What about the option where we don't do the thing at all?" Poe offered.
"In all your protests, you've never said that you think it won't work."
"It...probably will," Poe admitted reluctantly.
"Then we're doing it." Luke shrugged. "You and I both know we care too much not to help. Cheer up!" Luke said, reaching over and shoving Poe's shoulder. "It'll be fun!"
Poe scowled in the mirror as he was primped to within an inch of his life. He didn't like this sort of work. It felt degrading. Of all the things to praise him for—piloting skills, leadership ability, tactical thinking—he was well aware that they had very limited bearing on why he was put in front of the camera. His jawline (and now his very pretty husband) on the other hand...
Luke gave him a sideways glance from his own chair. "You look miserable."
"I'll smile for the camera, don't worry," Poe snapped.
"Hey," Luke said softly, unperturbed by the Dug who was bracing himself on one leg and grooming Poe with the other three. Luke leaned out of his chair, displacing his own hairdresser, and laid a hand on Poe's arm. "We don't have to do this."
Poe gave Luke a dismissive wave. "No, no, it's fine."
"Are you annoyed with me?" Luke asked abruptly. "You've been sort of," Luke bared his teeth in a snarl, clearly meant to imitate Poe's attitude, "sharp lately."
Poe sighed, letting his irritation go. "No," he said, again with a sigh, reaching out to nudge Luke back into his own chair. "I just don't like that we need to put this show on. It's not about what we do, it's just about how compelling we are. This isn't the first time I've done this, you know? It follows me around, even though I've never sought it out. People just see this"—Poe gestured to his own face—"And think, hey, it should go on holos."
The Twi'lek behind Luke gave an appreciative hum, and the Dug behind Poe nodded, which really didn't help Poe's mood.
"Wait..." Luke said slowly. "Are you trying to tell me that you're upset because you're too handsome?" Luke bit his lip, his shoulders shaking in delight.
Poe protested, "I wouldn't say—"
"Oh hello," Luke deepened his voice, "I'm Poe Skywalker and I have been betrayed by my own roguish good looks." Luke put a dramatic hand to his forehead
While Luke's hair and makeup artist tutted and pulled his hand away, Poe stared at Luke in mixed outrage and amusement.
Luke grinned. "I understand, you know."
Poe raised an eyebrow.
Luke grinned. "I also feel very victimized by your jawline."
Poe gave up on outrage, and burst into laughter. "Do you now?"
Luke gave a solemn nod, his bright blue eyes sparkling in delight. "You're jawline just looks so sharp and kissable. And I can't kiss it right now, for several reasons, not the least of which is that Corporal Kagwengu—" Luke gestured to the Dug, who was applying a layer of liquid to Poe's face—"would kill me."
Corporal Kagwengu gave a serious click of affirmation.
Poe was spared from needing to figure out how to respond to that bit of flirtation by Ellia Dannesra (press officer and wife of Captain Dannesra) entering the room. Ellia's cheekbones were as sharp as the Captain's were round, and their personalities similarly switched; Ellia radiated an aura of polite stress around her at all times.
"Alright, gentlemen, we've got about five minutes before the holovid equipment is all set up. This is going to be an interview, but the goal is for it to look more, um, informal. So please, feel free to joke, tease, move around, whatever makes you feel most comfortable."
Poe glanced over at Luke to find Luke looking back at him. Poe gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
With some last preening they were both shuffled toward the interview room, which was actually the hangar. Ellia had framed the shot well, an X-Wing in the background, and an area with two folding chairs perfectly lit in the foreground. Luke and Poe took the chairs, as Ellia settled into another one beside the holopickup.
"We're not rolling yet, I'll let you know when we start. Thames, screen check this for us?"
Someone, presumably the aforementioned Thames, started fiddling with the holopickup and muttering. As he worked, Ellia said with a polite smile, "Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me. The goal of this interview is to generate footage that can ideally be used in multiple promotion shots. We're going to cover a lot of ground, and then chop it up and splice it together. So, if I accidentally stumble onto something too-personal or confidential, just let me know and I'll back off. We can edit any awkwardness out."
"Makes sense," Poe said, as he and Luke nodded their acknowledgement. This was a promising start, but Poe remained wary as Ellia looked at Thames, who gave her the thumbs up. "Alright, let's begin." She fiddled with the holopickup and a light turned red. She turned back to them with alert professional interest. "Poe, Luke, I'm delighted to have the chance to sit down and talk with you."
"Good to be here," Luke responded with an honesty that Poe would not have been able to muster.
"Excellent. So, to begin, could you tell me both a little bit about what you do for the Rebellion? Start with your name, and go from there."
Luke glanced at Poe, then nodded. "I'll go first. I'm Luke Skywalker, and I..."
The interview itself wasn't terrible. Everything was very polite, and the blandly positive spin was accepted without challenge or nudging gestures from Ellia to make things 'more exciting.'
Luke's status as a Jedi was not public knowledge, Obi-Wan had made clear. Instead, he was trotted out as a fighter ace and 'the man who made the shot.' Poe, on the other hand, maintained an air of mystery as an agent with critical information on the Death Star.
And a key member of the fighter corps. Merrick had insisted on that when he became aware of the promotional stunt.
("I'm not losing you to Davits and Intel just because it makes a good story. We need to give you a rank. Stake our claim." Merrick gave Poe a once-over, tilted his head to the side and mused, "You've got more experience than most of our troops, but not quite enough to make high command, I think." Merrick gave a sharp nod. "Commander, that'll do it."
Poe had run his fingers over his new pips with an air of quiet wonder, more pleased than he had realized to be given his rank back.)
But the double-speak around their roles was nothing compared to figuring out how to play their relationship. Poe was shooting for besotted-but-reserved. He kept his gestures of affection restrained to smiles, nudges, and one intense hand-hold. Luke's grip was warm and firm in his, Luke's thumb traced over his index knuckle, and Poe had to fight to keep from shivering.
"It must be hard, spending so much time away from each other," their interviewer said as the interview was wrapping up, leaning in. "Do you get worried?"
"Well, of course," Luke said, giving Poe a warm smile. "I worry all the time. We don't leave safe lives. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it, risking our future getting caught up in the war. But it is." Luke shifted back to the camera, "If the Empire wins, there's no future worth having. Not for any of us. So we're willing to fight to make that happen."
"We are," Poe affirmed, taking Luke's hand for the second time and squeezing hard. "Everything I do, I'm hoping to make the galaxy a better place to live. Even if it's not for me, I want it to be that way for Luke."
Poe's throat caught with the honesty of that statement. Shit. That was more truth than he intended to share.
Luke glanced over and gave Poe a look that had such longing in it. "I really hope we get to see that future together, though."
Poe shook his head, mortified to find he was holding back tears. Poe looked away and exhaled hard, trying to get himself back under control again. After another breath he turned back to Luke. He still had no idea what to say, so he just squeezed Luke's hand again. Half-babbling, he managed, "I wonder where you are when we're apart."
Luke tilted his head. "Yeah?"
Poe nodded. "I don't know, most of the time. OpSec, and all. But I look out at the night sky, think about all the planets out there, and try to place you in the universe."
Luke ducked his head. "I didn't know that."
"It's true," Poe said, hoping Luke would hear it.
Luke smiled, and Poe figured he had.
The interview wrapped up shortly afterward, Ellia thanking them both for being so open and recording well. "We'd just like to get some footage of you together, not interviewing. Something natural. Maybe over by Luke's X-Wing."
They stood talking for a while, awkward at first, stiff. But gradually, the holopickup faded into the background, to the point that when Luke grumbled about an odd noise coming off of his left wing, Poe had the access panel snapped off before he realized he was being filmed. He looked over and quirked a questioning eyebrow at Ellia, who gave him a thumbs up and a "go ahead" gesture.
Poe and Luke rolled up their sleeves and got to work, chatting easily as they stripped out a worn coupler and replaced it with a new one. After about half an hour of this, Luke muttered under his breath, hand moved to hide his lips, "I can't believe they're still recording. Haven't they gotten bored by now?"
Poe made a show of considering the wing, twisting so his own lips were hidden. "Maybe they're hoping we'll—" Poe stomach sank as he realized he did know exactly what they were looking for. He glanced down at Luke. "Be more...married."
"Oh," Luke said, freezing slightly.
"You trust me?" Poe asked.
"Of course," Luke said, seeming almost offended that Poe would ask.
"Okay," Poe said, before reaching up and smearing some engine grease on his fingers. Moving quickly, he brushed the back of his fingers against Luke's cheek, an affectionate gesture that left a dark slippery stain.
Luke gave an indignant snort and reared back, wiping his cheek with his own knuckles, managing to smear the black stain further across his cheek. He glared at his smudged fingers, then back up at Poe.
Poe pulled on his best apologetic face, and he reached out like he was trying to touch Luke's cheek again. Luke swatted his hand away. "You're just going to make it worse!"
Poe looked down at his fingers and widened his eyes, looking up at Luke with exaggerated apology.
Poe could see the moment Luke started thinking about their observers. Luke winked back at Poe, then darted forward with his own oil-smudged fingers and smeared a streak across Poe's face. Poe glared at Luke who was looking unrepentantly cheery.
"Come on," Poe grumbled, grabbing Luke's wrist, smearing more oil, and dragging them both over to the wash station. Poe patted the counter next to the wash station with his clean hand. "Up."
Luke gave him a skeptical look but slung a hip onto the counter and wiggled up, until his feet were dangling a little ways off the ground. The holopickup had followed, watching them with interest.
Time to put on a show. Poe cleaned his hands off, before getting a damp rag and stepping between the V of Luke's legs. He was close enough that he heard the way Luke's breath hitched.
Poe gave him a reassuring smile. "Figured I should clean up my mess," he said, partly for the holopickup, partly to settle Luke. The second one worked, at least, Luke relaxing and tilting his face so his cheek was tilted toward Poe. Poe took Luke's chin in his hand (was Luke trembling or was it Poe's fingers?) and gently cleaned off the gunk he had so carefully applied.
"Perfect," Poe said, and for the sake of the holopickup (really, he told himself) he brushed his fingers along Luke's cheek.
Luke flushed slightly, before leaning back and shoving his still grease-covered hand between them. He raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Poe grinned and inclined his head. "Of course." Poe took Luke's hand, cleaning along his wrist, then back along the pads of his fingers. Once he had finished he kept his grip on Luke's hand, gesturing grandly at it. "Does that meet with your satisfaction?" Poe asked.
"I believe it does," Luke lifted his chin and graced Poe with a smile.
Poe stepped back. They had had their little moment of intimacy. If Ellia couldn't figure out what to do with that footage then the Rebellion needed to hire a new press officer. Still, the moment felt...incomplete. He looked down at his fingers, still wrapped around Luke's, and abruptly, he knew what to do.
Hoping he wasn't pushing too hard, too fast, Poe made a courtly bow over Luke's hand, and then pressed his lips, gently, to the back of Luke's knuckles. He lingered there, longer than he should have, electrified by the feel of Luke's skin against his lips. He gave a rough exhale, his breath ghosting over Luke's skin. Luke's fingers tightened around his hand in a quick spasm.
Poe straightened, and their eyes met for a long moment. He could kiss Luke, now. It would be propaganda catnip. Luke wouldn't mind. It was the perfect moment, with the perfect excuse.
Poe couldn't bring himself to do it. It would be a lie, and it would be cruel. Poe had told his fair share of lies, cruel and kind alike, but this was one he didn't have to tell. So he didn't.
He took a step back, and offered his other hand to Luke. Luke, visibly shaking himself out of the moment, took Poe's other hand and used it leverage himself off the counter.
"Thanks," Luke said, and Poe felt like he wasn't talking about Poe's cleaning job. Poe sighed quietly to himself. He had made the right call. Poe let go of Luke's hands and tucked his own back in his pocket.
Poe glanced at the holopickup, still recording greedily. He turned to Ellia, calling, "I think we're done for today."
Ellia inclined her head agreeably, gesturing with a finger that the holopickup should be turned off.
Luke slumped a little in relief. Poe reached over and laid a hand on Luke's elbow. "It's been a long day. You want to go get some rest? I can wrap things up here."
Luke leaned into the touch for the briefest of moments, before shaking his head and coming back to himself. He looked over at Poe, and Poe could see stress lines at the corners of Luke's eyes that hadn't been there earlier today. "I probably should."
"I'll be by soon," Poe promised.
"Take your time," Luke said, an odd note to his voice. He gave a quick wave to Ellia, then headed out of the hangar.
Poe took his time finishing up the session, trying to get his panicky pulse under control. He had been doing so well, right up until the end. Then everything had gotten blurred, things had felt almost…real.
Poe shook his head as he turned away from the film crew, allowing himself an exasperated sigh. He had to be more careful than that.
"You're looking very divorced," said a voice at his elbow.
Poe whirled in alarm, tensing before he realized—Winter. Poe huffed a sigh of relief. Then, he realized what she had actually said, and the relief froze into cold panic. "Um, well, about that."
"'Shit. I forgot to divorce my husband,' were your exact words." Winter said helpfully. "I was given to understand it was at the top of your to-do list."
"You know the bounties we picked up. It's…" Poe trailed off, realizing how weak it sounded.
Winter gave him an amused look. "Which means you can't get legally divorced. It does not, however, logically follow that you'll wind up in long passionate interviews sitting so close your knees touch."
"Would you believe me if I told you it was just for propaganda?" Poe asked.
Winter looked over at him and sighed. "I would. You idiot."
Poe flinched. "No need for names."
"You care for him. Quite a bit. You're not that good of liar."
"I have it on good authority I'm an excellent liar," Poe retorted.
"Only to those who can't read you. You're happy around him. I don't see you happy that often."
"You watching?" Poe snapped the words, feeling defensive.
"I pay attention to my friends," Winter shot back, laying gentle emphasis on the last word. "I was wondering if maybe you needed someone you could talk to about it. Someone who is aware of...all the relevant factors."
"You know…" Poe looked over at Winter, gave her a sad smile. "I really would. If you've got time."
"Why else would I be here?" Winter tilted her head with a smile. "Walk with me?"
Poe slowly made his way back to the room, feeling more settled now that he had talked to Winter. He paused outside the door, hand half-raised to the keypad, reluctant to go in. What if Luke didn't want him there?
Should he knock?
Of all the ridiculous—no, this was his room. "Come on, Poe, you're not going to start sleeping out in the hallway. Go in," Poe muttered to himself. He took a breath and keyed in the code.
Luke was there, sitting on the bed, his knees curled up to his chest, staring intently at a holocomm. From Poe's angle, the image was distorted enough that he couldn't tell who Luke was calling, aside from a vague blue figure.
Luke looked up at Poe and his eyes widened. His gaze darted back down to the projection. "Um, I have to go, it's been good talking—"
"Poe's here, isn't he," Beru's firm voice cut across Luke's hasty goodbye. "Get over here, Poe."
Luke blanched, looking wide-eyed at Poe and shaking his head slightly. Poe gave him a rueful smile back and obligingly circled around so he'd be in range of the holocomm. "Hello Beru—oh! And Owen!" he amended, as he realized there were, in fact two figures in the holocomm.
"So—" Beru started.
"Please don't do this." Luke glanced longingly at the call disconnect button. "I just wanted to talk to you."
"And now we want to talk to Poe," Owen said, his eyes narrowing in Poe's direction.
Poe rubbed his suddenly sweating palms against his thighs, and gave a short nod.
"No," Luke said abruptly. "I need to talk to Poe, not you. And afterward, if you and Poe want to talk, you can call Poe."
Owen and Beru looked at each other. Poe could see Owen, fuzzily, tilt his head to Beru, who nodded. "Alright," Beru said, turning back to them. "You're growing up and we should trust you to handle your business. Poe, we will talk later," she said with finality, and logged off.
Luke gave a shaky exhale. "I didn't expect that to work."
"It sounded very convincing," Poe said with a smile. "So, do we actually need to talk or were you just trying to get them off the line?"
Luke licked his lips and unfolded his legs, settling cross-legged on the bed. He took a deep and deliberate breath before patting the bed next to him. "I think we do. Today hit me harder than I expected it to."
Poe swallowed, nodding slightly as he took Luke's invitation and settled sitting on the bed, angled toward Luke. "Me too. It's why I took so long getting back. I was talking with Winter."
"Glad I'm not the only one." Luke's hands, resting on his thighs, curled into fists. "I can't tell what's real," he blurted out in a rush. Once he started talking, the rest of the words poured out of him. "I thought I would know when you were faking it, and just be playing along. But it all felt real. And that makes me worried that…that I've forced you into doing other things you don't want to do."
Poe gave a rough exhale. "Oh, Luke."
"Please, don't soften things. Just be honest with me. Have I pushed you too far?"
"No," Poe said quickly, "No, not at all. You've never crossed a line." Poe gave Luke a sideways smile. "Gone up to the line and politely nudged it to see if it would move, sure."
He paused, hoping Luke would laugh, but all Poe got was a wan smile. It quickly faded, and Luke said, "So what was real? Do you actually miss me? Have you ever actually looked out at the night sky and thought of me?"
"Yes, and yes." Lying to Luke about this wasn't an option Poe was willing to consider. "And I wanted to hang out and work on the ship with you, and when I laughed it was because you honestly made me laugh."
"And the—" Luke gestured at his face, where Poe had smeared the grease.
Poe picked through his words carefully. "I went further than I would have let myself, otherwise."
"Further than you would have let yourself or further than you wanted to?" Luke pushed.
Poe sighed. He didn't want to be honest about this, but he felt he needed to be. "The first one."
Luke didn't relax, carrying tension in his jaw as he carefully said, "You almost kissed me."
It wasn't a question, but it needed answering, regardless. "I wanted that too. But I couldn't let myself go there. Not for propaganda."
"For something else?" Luke asked, a thin thread of hope entering his voice.
"I can't." Poe grimaced, wishing the sentence wasn't true and knowing that it was.
Luke spread his arms wide in a gesture of frustration. "Well why not? You like me, I know you do, I like you too. You want me, I want you, we are married! What am I missing?"
Poe raked his fingers through his hair. "I don't…"
"Is it the age thing? Because…look, it's almost been a year since we got married. And I look back on who I was and I get it, I get why you stayed away. There was so much you knew that I didn't. But I feel like we're on more even ground, these days."
Poe's fingers curled into a fist and he tugged at his own hair, looking at Luke in frustration. "Maybe? The age—all the differences between us are on my mind. Less than they were, it's true." Poe took a breath, relaxing his hand and holding it up to still Luke when Luke narrowed his eyes like he was going to speak again. "Please, just—wait. Let me figure this out"
Luke gave a frustrated grumble but subsided.
"You know I don't talk about my past," Poe began slowly, not entirely certain where he was going with it. For one wild second he considered spilling the whole thing to Luke so he could understand that Poe was an anomaly, a glitch in the universe. So Luke could understand that he deserved so much better.
Luke cocked his head, expression open and guileless.
No. Poe couldn't lay that terrible future on Luke. And that realization lead to another. "I'm still not ready to talk about it. And as long as that's between us, I can't go any further."
Luke gave Poe a penetrating look. "You know I don't care. I like you now."
Poe's hands curled into fists against the bedsheets. "I know. And that means…everything to me. But it doesn't change things."
Luke took a breath, and the tension fell off of him, he slumped into a tired pile. "Fine. I don't understand, but...I guess it's good to know I wasn't imagining things."
"Not at all," Poe said quietly, feeling miserable as he looked over at Luke. "Do you want…we talked about annulling the marriage with the Rebellion. We can still do that."
"No, we just did all the footage—"
"It does. But even more than that, it still means something to me. Just…" Luke straightened, looking at Poe again with a serious expression on his face. "Don't kiss me. Hand, cheek, that's fine, for the holos if we do promotional stuff again. But don't kiss me unless you mean it, and intend to keep meaning it."
"I can do that. Or...not do that."
The smile Luke gave Poe was more genuine this time.
Poe sighed. "I'm sorry, Luke. I wish—"
"Don't. It's fine." Luke gave Poe a considering look, then scooted over so he was next to Poe. "Okay?" he asked as he tipped over slightly to lay his head on Poe's shoulder.
"Yeah," Poe said, throwing his arm around Luke. Luke leaned in, and they sat together.
The next day Poe took the initiative and called Owen and Beru, who both looked pleasantly surprised to hear from him. Poe endured the grilling that yes, he had made it clear where he and Luke stood with each other, and no, it wasn't a romantic relationship. But, also no, that did not mean that they were getting informally divorced.
"I'm sorry. I know I complicate Luke's life. And I'm not trying to stake a claim on his future. I know I haven't earned it. But we're all tied up together right now and ignoring it won't make it go away. I do want you both know that I want the best for him, and as long as we're together I'm going to support him in every way I know how."
Owen gave Poe a thoughtful look. "Plenty of marriages in the freehold don't have a thing to do with romance."
"We've never wanted that for Luke," Beru said, more to Owen than to Poe.
Owen shrugged. "Just saying, support isn't the worst basis for a partnership, along with some clear-eyed practicality."
"Owen! He lied to us and crashed our speeder!"
Poe flattened his lips. There was no way that his speaking up would make the conversation go better.
"He set us straight eventually and made sure we were set up nicely on Alderaan. House here even came with a speeder. I'd say he's more than made things right."
Beru huffed. "I think you're letting him off too easy." She made a considering gesture with her hands, weighing one, then the other, "But it's fairly clear he was on a mission to find the planet-killer. I suppose that's worth…fine."
Poe's eyes widened. He wasn't sure he quite understood what they were agreeing on.
Beru and Owen both turned back to him. Owen gave a half-smile at Poe's expression. "Don't look so alarmed, son. Plenty of marriages in the freehold are time-limited, too. We look at these things differently. But, for what it's worth, you've got our blessing, for however long your marriage lasts."
"Um...I…" Poe stammered, "I wasn't expecting—"
Beru gave a short laugh. "Don't talk, Poe, you'll ruin the moment. And don't bother trying to explain this to Luke. You'll just make a hash of it. We'll speak to him."
Poe stared at the holocomm for a long time after it went black.
It wasn't easy, after that, but it was easier. Luke stopped his careful nudging, and over the coming months he fell into a comfortable friendship with Poe. Poe threw himself back into his work, putting those Commander’s pips to good use by developing a formal training program for new pilots. Luke helped with that when he was around, always willing to test-fly a new program.
Intel fought back, still demanding Poe's eye on the developing military and political situation. Day by day they drifted further from the future Poe knew, and he felt like his memories of the original war were less and less relevant. But they still seemed to find value in his analysis, so Poe did his best to be useful.
He got itchy, stuck on base, and managed to wrangle a few missions for himself, as well. Information drop-offs, informant contacts, even a couple recruitment pitches. They never let him do anything too dangerous.
At least, not intentionally.
On one of the all-too-rare trips, Poe was off-base, recruiting two smugglers to the cause. One of them he knew from his other timeline. Gina Moonsong, a redhead with a sharp smile, had been one of the pilots during the second Death Star fight. Knowing that, Poe had an edge on the pitch, selling her on ideals and glory.
No such edge was needed for the other smuggler, a tired looking Zabrak who was on board the moment Poe promised three square meals whenever they were on-base.
Unfortunately, his cakewalk of a recruitment pitch with the smuggler was interrupted. Three bounty hunters wound through the tabletops towards Poe, determined to collect him for his outrageous bounty.
Poe thought fast and talked faster, managing to flip them to the Rebellion's cause through bluster, guilt, and a promise to meet Luke Skywalker.
"Sorry about that," Poe muttered as the three bounty hunters walked away to go through formal Rebellion enrollment.
"About which part, the part where you almost got picked up by three bounty hunters, or the part where you forced me into a meet and greet?" Luke asked, tilting his head inquisitively.
"The meet and greet."
"I was worried that's what you would say." Luke reached up and gave Poe a gentle thwack to the back of his head. "How did three bounty hunters get the drop on you? You need to be more careful!"
Poe brushed Luke off. "It happens."
"I hope you can see how that isn't reassuring."
"How's Red Squadron doing?" Poe asked, grabbing for a topic change.
"Good! I got a new gunner!" Luke said, taking the bait. "Dak Ralter, he's fun. Enthusiastic. Pretty young."
"And how old are you these days, oh ancient one?" Poe folded his arms.
"Twenty. And you missed my birthday, nearly getting yourself captured." Luke gave Poe a mock scowl.
"I know," Poe reached into his pocket and tossed Luke a small package. "Happy belated."
The scowl fell off of his face as Luke happily tore open the package, tilting his head and looking at the brown lump he unwrapped. "Thank...you?"
Poe smiled. "It's called chocolate. It's a dessert. I just...had a hunch you would enjoy it."
A very cheating sort of hunch, considering how many times he had heard Leia tease her brother for his choice in hot beverages.
Luke popped a bit into his mouth, chewing twice before his eyes went wide and he looked over at Poe. "'Riffin' 'ell," he mumbled around his bite.
Luke gave an enthusiastic nod, taking another small bite before carefully tucking the rest of the chocolate back into its bag. He stepped forward and gave Poe a quick hug. "I should get back to things."
"Me too." Poe sketched a sloppy salute and wandered away.
At the door to the hanger, he found Dreis, who beckoned Poe over. "I wouldn't worry about it," Dreis said, mysteriously. "It's just the fame, it'll fade."
Poe looked confused, and Dreis, with a small smile, gestured over at Luke, who was talking with—"Ah. Let me guess, Dak?"
Dries chuckled. "Poor kid's been moonstruck since the moment he realized he was assigned to Luke."
Poe watched as Dak leaned in, smiling winningly at Luke and laying his hand on Luke's forearm as he gestured at the ship. Poe shifted, an uneasy pricking between his shoulderblades as he watched their interaction.
"I just wanted to put your mind at ease, Dak's a good gunner. He's also the one who worked best with Luke, in the onboarding sims."
The sims that Poe had designed. He felt vaguely betrayed by his creation. "Well, that's good. Luke deserves the best watching his back."
"We're looking after him, don't worry. If the adoration becomes an issue we'll change things, but I'm confident it'll just blow over." Dries nodded and walked back toward his squad.
Poe fought down a complicated cocktail of emotions. Part of him wanted to stalk down there and drag Luke away from Dak, grabbing him into a claiming kiss that left no doubt where Luke belonged. Part of him wanted to set Luke free entirely, to stop interfering with the way Luke's life should go. It was entirely possible that in Poe's universe, Luke Skywalker had a passionate wartime affair with his gunner, meeting secretly in—
"Stop it," Poe muttered to himself. "This isn't helpful."
Things were the way they were. If Luke wanted to be free to chase something, well, he could come talk to Poe about it. And in the meantime, they'd continue on like they always had.
"Poe," General Airen Cracken caught his eye, waving Poe over with a genial smile.
Poe gave a brief, internal, sigh. By now, he had been around Cracken long enough to read his moods. This was, 'I'm about to order you to do something, so I'm going to be nice to take some of the sting away.' It was not Poe's favorite mood.
"I've got a project for you. We've managed to score some classified economic data off of the Empire. Imports, exports, shipping, that sort of thing. We've got exabytes of information, and techs going over it, trying to clean it into something usable."
Poe wondered what exactly this has to do with his areas of expertise. "If you want me to give input on regions that may be vulnerable considering current trade...?" he hazarded.
Cracken shook his head. "No. We've got that. But I've been thinking about this second Death Star you mentioned. Had a chat or two with Dr. Erso about the timetable for constructing something like this and I have every reason to believe that the second Death Star is likely under construction, and has been for awhile. Considering you found the first using materiel tracking..."
Poe nodded, his eyes widening as he realized— "Of course, a construction project that big…I should have thought of that. Yeah, get the reports over to me. If they can be spared, can I loop in Rook and Retrac? We made a good team the first time around."
"Approved." Cracken passed over the first datadisk. "Here's the first batch now, let me know what you find."
Winter was, sadly, off with Obi-Wan and Leia, who were engaging in Force Enhanced Diplomacy. (Poe had insisted that sounded like a euphemism for shooting things, Obi-Wan had given Poe an icy look, and Leia had winked and lifted her vest, showing the blaster tucked underneath). Bodhi, however, was on-base. He and Poe claimed one of the little holoprojection cubbyholes sprinkled throughout the base and set up shop, intently going over the map and associated data between them.
It was not a brief project. Three days later and Poe felt like he lived in the cubbyhole, only emerging to eat and sleep. Around lunchtime of the third day, the door slid open. The projector, as it was wired to do, blinked off, leaving Poe and Bodhi standing next to each other in a dark room. Poe pivoted, surprised to find Luke giving Bodhi a withering glare.
Poe turned back to Bodhi, who just seemed amused, winking at Luke before waving to Poe. "I'm going to grab dinner," he said, and left.
Poe turned back to Luke. "What's that about?" he asked, gesturing at Luke's face. "Bodhi scratch the paint on your X-Wing or something?"
Luke ducked his head. "You'd tell me, right, if you changed your mind about annulling the marriage?"
Poe blinked. "Where is this—oh!" He stopped himself as things clicked into place. "You think that Bodhi and I—"
"No! Not...really. But there's been some gossip, you know, since you guys work together a lot and..." Luke trailed off with a helpless shrug. "You're not kissing me," he finished, a bit petulantly.
"I'm not kissing anyone." Poe said wryly. "If something changes, you'll hear it from me, not the rumor mill. Promise." Poe tilted his head to the side. "Speaking of rumors..."
"Uh-huh," Poe said with a grin, stepping closer. "You know at least part of the reason they're popping up is because of a certain gunner who looks at you like you hung the moon, right?"
"It's not like that! We just get along well. He might have a crush—"
"But we're friends." Luke punctuated the sentence with a firm prod against Poe's chest. "Besides, I'm not sequestering myself away in a closet with—"
Poe grabbed Luke's wrist and tugged it to the side, causing Luke to stumble forward a little. Luke glanced up, irritation on his face quickly fading, his pupils going wide. Luke gave a soft exhale, and he was close enough to Poe that Poe felt the breath on his lips. Poe's free hand came to rest at Luke's waist, every instinct in him screaming to pull Luke closer, to press him against a wall, he was right there and they were alone and...
"You ready to tell me about your past?" Luke asked softly, still so, so close.
It took a minute for the words to filter through, but when they did, Poe froze, his foggy lust clearing like a gale had blown it away.
Luke gently extricated himself from Poe. "Yeah," he said, sadly. He reached over, patting Poe's cheek. "Thought so. I've waited this long. At this point, if we're doing this, we're doing this right."
Poe clenched and unclenched his hands, trying to work some sense back into his brain. "When did you get so smart?" he asked, shakily.
"I'm not entirely sure I am," Luke admitted. "I'm probably going to regret that," he admitted, running his fingers through his hair.
"Want to go grab dinner?" Poe asked, trying not to make the offer sound like a consolation prize. "I know I've been caught up in the assignment. I've missed you."
"Wish I could," Luke said, shaking his head and standing up a little straighter. "I actually came to find you to let you know that I'm leaving...maybe for a while."
Poe gave a resigned smile. "Of course. Jedi, or pilot?"
"Jedi, but this one is weird. I had…a vision?"
Poe raised his eyebrows. "That new?"
"Very. I had no idea what was happening until I was able to holocall Obi-Wan and confirm it. Apparently there's—" Luke cut himself off, glancing around. "I probably shouldn't tell anyone. So. There's something that could be really important for my Jedi training."
Luke didn't look excited about this new opportunity.
"Is it a bad something?" Poe asked the glum-looking Luke.
Luke shook his head, before heaving a sigh. "No. It's a…swamp. I'm going to have to go to a swamp. For maybe a really long time." He gave Poe a plaintive look. "How come Leia doesn't have to go to a swamp? She's training to be a Jedi too."
Poe fought down a smile, saying seriously, "Well, become a senator and a key player on the galactic political stage, and you too may be able to avoid swamp duty."
Luke gave a heartfelt sigh.
"So, how long is a really long time?" Poe asked, trying to sound casual.
Luke shrugged. "Months, at least. Maybe more?"
Poe felt like he was struck. "Oh."
Luke chewed on his bottom lip. "Yeah. I mean, I know we're apart a lot anyway, but this feels…different, I guess."
Without really thinking about it, Poe stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Luke's waist and tugging him in for a tight hug. "Take care out there."
Luke tensed for a moment, then threw his arms around Poe's neck and hugged back so tightly Poe had to work for a moment to breathe. "You too," Luke murmured against Poe's neck.
Poe hugged him tighter.
"Poe!" Poe turned to find Dreis half-jogging down the hallway. Poe paused so he could catch up. Dreis waved a hand in thanks. When he caught up to Poe, he said, "Got news that Skywalker was just cleared for landing."
Poe paused. "It's only been two weeks."
Dreis shrugged. "I know, I already filled his squadron spot, I understood he was going to be gone for longer."
Poe furrowed his brow. "Well…hope it's good? Wonder what's going on." Poe shrugged. He'd get the story from Luke once they connected again.
"Me too." Dries gave Poe a sidelong look. "Want to develop urgent and needed business in the landing bay?"
Poe tipped his head, stroking his chin in a slow pondering motion. "Well…I've been meaning to review the new ship types to see if we need to modify the sims for accuracy."
"Perfect," Dreis clapped once, "Let's go."
Luke's X-Wing settled down in the hangar after Poe and Dreis spent three minutes or so very seriously pretending to discuss the new model of Y-Wing. The cockpit hatch popped open, and out sprang—not Luke. Oh, Luke was in there, but the first thing out of the cramped cockpit was big-eared and green and looked very grumpy.
Poe and Dreis looked at each other. "He didn't broadcast a distress signal," Dreis muttered, reaching slowly for his comm.
Before either of them got too worried, Obi-Wan stepped forward and made a grave bow in the direction of the angry big-eared green thing. "Master Yoda."
Master Yoda proceeded to stalk over and whack Obi-Wan across his shins with his canes.
Obi-Wan bore it with surprising grace. He inclined his head and said something, and Yoda replied, his long green ears twitching back in obvious displeasure.
Luke finally made his way out of the cockpit, catching sight of Poe and Dries. He jogged over, keeping a sharp eye on Yoda as he went.
"Back early," Dreis said.
"He just wanted a ride." Luke sounded incredibly disgruntled. "He called me all across the galaxy because he managed to get himself stranded and wanted a ride. He could have had the decency to let me know that he just wanted a taxi service. I would have taken a different ship! Not a single-seater X-Wing."
Poe wrinkled his nose. "You flew double in your—"
"For a week. It was awful."
"And he's a Jedi."
Luke shook his head. "Not just a Jedi. He's the Jedi. Head of the old Order."
"Sounds like he might be a good teacher."
Luke sighed. "I guess. He's kinda terrible, though."
Master Yoda turned and started walking towards them. Luke gulped.
"Have fun with that," Poe muttered, patting Luke on the shoulder.
Luke shot him a dirty look, which turned to surprise when Yoda, as he stalked closer, pointed an imperious finger at Poe and declared, "Come with me, you shall."
Poe looked from Luke to Dreis in confusion, who both looked as surprised as Poe was.
"Yes, you," Yoda insisted. "Come."
Luke gave Poe a very sweet smile. "Have fun with that."
Poe stared in consternation at the figure across the table from him. Yoda had walked them over to an unused conference room and sat him down. He had spent the last five minutes (Poe knew, because the chrono on the wall behind Yoda had helpfully ticked down every awkward second) staring at Poe, looking intent.
Finally, Yoda broke the silence. "An abomination, you do not look like."
Poe raised his eyebrows. "Harsh," he judged.
Yoda flicked one ear. "Speaks to me, the Force does. Stuck on a planet I was, but cut off I was not. Your travel...gone unnoticed, it has not. Destroyed the timeline, you have."
"Fixed it," Poe protested. "If you knew what state the galaxy was when I left it—"
"State does not matter!" Yoda exclaimed. "Here and now, put us in danger, you have."
"Everyone was starving!" Poe flattened his palms firmly against the table, fighting the urge to bang his fists and demand that the Jedi Master listen to him.
"A tragedy, yes. But tragedies before, there have been, and more will come. But your actions…” Yoda hopped off his chair, started pacing irritably on his side of the table. "Too soon, it is," Yoda paced irritably in front of Poe. "Too much power in one place. Draw Palpatine's attention, we will. Your fault."
"Hey," Poe protested. "We did eliminate the Death Star without any planets getting destroyed. My future lost Alderaan. Did you know that?"
Yoda gave a grave nod. "A loss, yes. But while the battle you have won, the war you have not. Many things you do not know."
Poe narrowed his eyes. "I know your plan doesn't work. You died, Obi-Wan died, Luke faced Vader alone and lost a hand, and he was lucky not to lose his life! He spent the rest of his life trying to be a Jedi, scrambling together what he could of your history, and it wasn't enough."
"A Jedi, are you now? To know such things."
"I know because he left." The anger building in Poe broke through then, and the words came out with a snarl. "I know because somehow, the future manages to corrupt that bright, brilliant young man into someone who abandons his sister, who is so scared of himself that he cuts himself off from the Force! So yes, I think it's safe to say that the future you have planned is broken."
Poe finished his speech with that furious punctuation. He was nearly panting as he glared at the tiny Jedi master.
"Anger leads to hate," Yoda said, disapproving.
"Tell that to Obi-Wan's shins," Poe muttered.
"Yes. Owe him an apology, I might." Yoda's ears flicked back, almost amused. He sighed and sat down in his chair again. "Regardless...here, you are. Acted, you have. Salvage what we can, we must." Yoda sighed.
"I've fixed more than I've broken," Poe insisted. He took a breath, strove for peace, and added, "But if I can help protect the Jedi Order, I'm happy to do so."
"Divorce Luke, you must."
Poe stiffened. He licked his lips, finally saying, "There are good reasons we haven't—"
Yoda flicked a hand, "Aware, I am, of your bounties. But you pretend for the world."
"It's a...key recruitment strategy..." The words sounded weak as Poe said them.
Yoda snorted. "Recognizable now, Luke is. What happens, when the galaxy learns a Jedi he is? Trouble. Even more than this..." Yoda lifted his chin and gave Poe a stern look. "Know, you do, that the boy loves you. Deceive him, you do."
Guilt crawled through Poe's throat, cloying and choking. "He's never said...I've never—"
"A future for you two, there is not." Yoda didn't sound cruel, or mean, but entirely matter-of-fact. "Cruel, it is, to let him believe otherwise."
Poe blinked, not really seeing the room. He hadn't meant to be cruel. After that one terrible night where he had flirted with Luke to try to find Obi-Wan, he had prioritized honesty with Luke. They were friends, and good ones. How had Poe managed to get it so wrong? He had never wanted to hurt Luke. He just hadn't known what was best.
A small, angry voice in Poe's head, wondered exactly why he was trusting what Yoda thought was best. Poe grabbed for that voice like a lifeline. So, sure Poe didn't know exactly what the future held. But he damn well knew more than Yoda. After all, he had been there! He knew the Luke that Yoda had tried to shape. Poe wrapped his rising anger around him and straightened.
"Let me tell you," Poe said, his voice low and dangerous, "what comes of your future. One of Luke's students betrays him, slaughters the temple, and Luke runs. He hides. He cuts himself off from the Force. For years. And then he's found, by a new generation, a new hope, and he's so full of bitterness, he nearly breaks her! He manages to pull himself out of his misery just in time to win a pyrrhic victory. And then he dies. That's it. End of story. It's a terrible future."
"Nonetheless—" Yoda started.
"I think I know why it happened, too." Poe felt his anger fade, something more melancholy creeping up in him as he thought of Rey, her own triumphs and tragedies. "He was alone. Or at least, he thought he was. The only people he really had were Han and Leia. And it was their son who destroyed everything. He thought he couldn't go to them, and there was nobody else."
Yoda was looking at Poe with interest. "So it was Leia's son that—"
Poe waved his hand. "Not important. Listen to what I'm saying. Somehow, the young man that I know now, who makes friends as easily as breathing, dies isolated and alone. Maybe Luke and I have a future, and maybe we don't, but I'm not helping Luke along into that isolation. I'm not going to cut myself off from him because of who he is. Luke's choices are his own, and I'm not going to make your job easy by doing all the work of convincing Luke for you."
Yoda folded his arms. "Then speak to Luke, I shall."
Poe gave a thin smile. "Good luck with that."
Yoda didn't let Poe go after that. For all his sanctimonious insistence that Poe had destroyed everything important when he reset the timeline, he was certainly willing to make use of Poe's knowledge. Poe submitted to another exhausting mental debriefing, this time focused around the legacy of the Jedi.
Yoda hunched in disgruntlement after he was done reading Poe's mind. "Ideal, that is not. Work to avoid it, we shall."
Poe decided to call that a win.
Poe felt touchy around Luke for a while after that. He half-expected Luke to approach him and ask for an informal divorce, half-expected Luke to come back to the room with a matched pair of rings and grim expression. But neither happened, and as the days went on, Poe was caught up again in trying to find the second Death Star.
Winter had come back with Leia and Obi-Wan. Yoda had insisted that all the Force users spend time together training more intently, focused on some future threat. While Luke was chagrined to be taken off of piloting, and Leia was furious she was sidelined from diplomacy until further notice, Poe found this to be to his advantage, as it meant Winter was free to turn the full force of her intellect to their problem.
"Kyber is the obvious substance to track, given its unique application," she said, staring at the columns of numbers with intent interest.
"We thought of that. Problem is, they stripped Jedha of enough kyber for three or four Death Stars." Bodhi's lips tightened after he said that, sorrow and guilt and fury all mingling together. Still, his voice was focused and level as he stated, "We can't find any evidence of secondary transport from the original manufacturing site."
"I think we would have noticed a second Death Star hanging around the same spot as the first," Poe pointed out.
Winter scratched her chin thoughtfully. "Not if...it were cloaked."
Poe and Bodhi shared a horrified glance. "They couldn't..." Poe started.
"I'm not an engineer," Bodhi shrugged.
One panicked consultation with Galen Erso and the rest of the Rebellion R&D later, they confirmed that a cloak for the second Death Star was impractical in the extreme, as the power source needed to run it would have taken up about the same amount of space as the power source needed to fire the laser. And as interesting as it sounded to have an invisible moon you could menace people with, odds were the Emperor would want its weapon to be, well, a weapon.
"So either they invented a new fuel cell that completely revolutionized cloaking technology or…" Poe pointed at Bodhi.
"They fucked with the shipping manifests," Bodhi finished. "It's easy to do. I can think of at least four different weak points in the information chain for logistics."
"I think it’s safe to work from that assumption," Winter decided.
But knowing (probably) how the kyber was shuttled around the universe did not lend itself to magically making the second construction site appear. Weeks turned to months, and the war didn't stop just because of Poe's project. Poe kept getting pulled in different directions—pilot training, battle analysis, getting drilled for any inside information on various political and governmental things. Bodhi eventually booted Poe from the hunt.
"At least until we get some actionable knowledge. Logistics are my thing. Let me handle it, I'll give you reports. Commander," Bodhi placed heavy emphasis on the title, "you need to learn how to delegate."
So Poe delegated. And to his chagrin, kept delegating. The Rebellion had grown to no less than five major bases (they hadn't even managed to keep one base in Poe's timeline; it filled him with joy every time he looked at the roster) and each base needed its own training program. Instead of training the pilots himself, Poe wound up travelling from base to base, training their trainers.
The mobile life took him away from Luke, though Luke was hardly around more. Yoda seemed to embrace the idea that anything worth doing was worth doing well, and he worked Luke and Leia hard. Poe watched as Luke became faster, stronger, more controlled, less impulsive.
There was a part of Poe that wanted to mourn the squirmy, goofy young man he had first known. In the same way, he was tempted to mourn the fact that he was spending more time around strategy tables and less time in a cockpit. But this was who they needed to become for the galaxy to survive.
It was worth it, Poe reminded himself, at the end of every long day. They were fixing things. It was worth it.
Poe flopped back on the small cot he was given on Tyxal Base. He blindly fumbled for the water by his bedside. The scrubby chaparral around the base was nowhere near as bad as Tatooine, but after a full day of bringing three Lieutenants up to speed on the flight training protocols, Poe still felt like all the water had been wrung out of his body.
Poe drank deep, then got some water on his hand and lazily flicked it onto his face. He seriously contemplated getting up off his cot and actually taking his uniform off. He'd feel better once he was in the 'fresher. But that required moving, and he wasn't sure he was up to moving right now.
His door slid open, and Poe let his head fall to the side, wondering who would be barging into his bedroom. His eyes widened. "Luke!" He swung himself upright again, moving suddenly much more exciting. "What are you doing here?"
Luke's smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. "We had important, classified, Jedi business fairly nearby, and I requested to divert so I could see you. I'll be here for a couple days before I'm back to Yavin. Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all...I'm surprised Yoda let you."
"Master Yoda is a brilliant Jedi. In many ways, he's an excellent teacher. But he is, occasionally, misguided." Luke gave a small smile. "I didn't ask him. I asked Ellia. It turns out, they could use some more propaganda footage from us."
"Devious." Poe raised his eyebrows.
"I wanted to see you. And it's good for Yoda to not always get what he wants. Keeps him on his toes."
Poe sighed, "I do notice your plan involves us doing more interviews."
Luke smiled and shook his head, walking over to the bed and sitting down on it. He bumped Poe's shoulder, and Poe obediently slung his arm around Luke, giving him a side hug. Luke leaned against Poe, informing him, "I have a plan. No interviews this time."
"How'd you manage that?"
"Get yourself cleaned up, and then come with me. I'll show you," Luke said mysteriously as he pulled away, nudging Poe toward the 'fresher.
"Oh," Poe breathed, staring down the hill the base was perched on top of. "You genius. And you're sure all they want is..."
"Racing footage." Luke was wearing a very satisfied smile. "Us having fun. No long emotional chats needed."
"It's true. We're going to slap some inspirational music on top and get a couple shots of you both grinning in the sunlight, and our recruitment numbers will double," Ellia said, coming up behind them. "So go on then, have some fun."
Sitting below them on the hill were two gorgeous land-speeders. Even to Poe's eye they looked sleek and modern, made up entirely of aerodynamic lines and a massive engine casing.
"I call the blue one," Luke said, and took off racing down the hill.
Poe, a small grin forming on his face, tore after him.
Racing with Luke was just as much fun as flying with him. There was something so satisfying about the way the landspeeder moved. Top down so the wind caught Poe's hair, engine rumbling that he could feel through the seat, dampeners programmed so fine Poe could feel the way the ship responded.
Poe and Luke flew a showy race that would have gotten any young pilot under Poe's care reamed out for reckless endangerment of both pilot and vehicle. But Poe trusted himself, trusted Luke, and trusted the way they flew together. It was breathtaking, screaming past Luke with bare inches to spare between them, cheeky grin and a wave as he went. Luke retaliated by finding a shortcut ramp and flying over Poe, dropping down in front of Poe so close Poe had to slam on his breaks to keep his hood from ramming Luke's bumper.
They spun and drifted and laughed their way through the dancing dust, only stopping as the sun sank down the horizon, shadows lengthening and merging to black.
Poe slung an arm around Luke's shoulders as they made their way back to their bedroom. "That was fun," he said emphatically. "Haven't had that much fun in—"
"Ages," Luke finished for him, keying in the door code. He nudged Poe through the door.
Poe turned as he went, pulling Luke in after him. A giddy adrenaline ran through his veins, he felt drunk on happiness in a way that alcohol hadn't been able to make him for years. "Thank you," he said, simply, trusting that Luke would get the rest.
"Were you surprised?" Luke asked, giving Poe a soft smile.
"Good. That was the idea." Luke glanced away, then back to Poe, before darting quickly in and giving Poe a firm kiss against his cheek. "Happy second anniversary."
Poe froze, as startled by the gesture as by the words. Had it really been—Poe ran through the calendar in his head. Yes. Two years ago he had stepped out of his life and landed in the desert. He had no idea what he had been walking into. He didn't expect to get this—a friend and partner and someone who noticed when Poe was running down and took time to give him a break.
Poe was seized by the desire to take Luke by the chin, to turn his head and transform the peck into a real kiss. He wanted to sink into the comfort that Luke offered, Poe's one bright touchstone in this baffling new world.
Luke ducked back, flushing slightly and looking away, before he straightened his shoulders and turned back to Poe. Poe fought down the urge to reel him back in. Poe still wasn't in any sort of position to kiss Luke and mean it, and Luke deserved better.
Poe stuck his hands in his pockets and gave a lopsided smile, "I didn't get you anything."
"You gave me a race," Luke said, smiling. "That's more than enough. I love flying with you."
"Me too," Poe said, the moment feeling heavy with meaning. "Me too."
Luke lifted his chin, giving a slight smile. "Good."
From Tyxal base Poe was shuttled over to Hoth. He spent the whole frozen time there cursing the fact that he had pointed it out as a potential base location to Ackbar and Cracken. He helped amend the piloting program for the frozen temperatures, and then was whisked off yet again, this time assigned to Home One with no explanation other than, 'Report to Admiral Ackbar.'
"Poe!" Admiral Ackbar greeted him, nodding his head agreeably as Poe entered his cabin. "Thank you for coming."
"You got me off of Hoth, sir. I should be thanking you."
Ackbar's eyes swiveled in a gesture of amusement. "You've been doing good work with our pilot training program. My squadron leaders are all singing your praises." Ackbar folded his hands, leaning in. "Do you want a squadron of your own?"
Poe wasn't too surprised by the offer. It had been floated before, in the tug-of-war over Poe between Intelligence and the Navy. Poe loved the idea, but unfortunately, the answer hadn't changed. "I do, but I don't believe I can afford to limit myself that way right now. I'm overseeing a number of Intelligence operations in addition to the pilot training program, and I can't in good conscience give any of it up."
"I'm glad to hear it."
Poe blinked. That hadn't been the answer he had expected to turning down the offer.
"You have a cross-discipline view of the Rebellion. You're being fed reports from Intelligence, Logistics, and our squadrons. You consult with the civilian leadership, have a keener grasp of the political situation than anyone else in my command."
Poe decided that silence was the best approach to this confusing line of thought. He gave Ackbar an encouraging nod.
"You'd be a good squadron leader, and if you wanted it, we'd ensure you got the position. But I believe you would be wasted there. We need young blood in High Command." Admiral Ackbar pulled out a small box, opened it and presented it to Poe.
Poe blinked at the pips, in the wrong position for colonel, even if he was being promoted…
"Vice-Admiral Poe Skywalker sounds nice, doesn't it."
Poe blinked again at the pips, then back up to Ackbar. "I haven't—that sort of rank is involved with—"
"Large-scale strategy, long-term tactical decisions, capital ship command." Ackbar settled back into his chair. "I've already talked it over with General Cracken and Chancellor Mothma. You'll continue your work with Intelligence, and your consultation and liaising between the bases. But you'll be transitioned out of pilot training, and into this role."
Poe shifted. "I've never actually done this before."
"I know," Ackbar's nostrils flared in amusement, "which is why you're being trained for it. We need you, Skywalker. What do you say?"
What could he say? "I'm honored."
Poe swallowed down his unease as the new pips were pinned to his chest. This was a higher rank than he had ever managed in his universe. When he had stepped out of time to fix things, he had figured…it was a suicide run. The very definition of a desperate measure, only justifiable by how desperate the time was.
What do you do when you've outlived your purpose? What came after the end?
Poe stared down at the pips, and found he didn't have an answer.
The new responsibilities didn't give Poe much time to rest. He was kept busy, learning to fight down the terror of responsibility for war on a grand scale. He had been in the trenches too long to have any illusions about what the dots of light on tactical displays meant, the real cost of his calls.
But Poe also found he had the knowledge and skill to make the right calls, the same time in the trenches a better training ground for this than he had imagined.
It wasn't all war. The Rebellion was strong enough now that it was holding territory, and the Empire picked its fights carefully. In those quiet moments, Poe was shipped off again, the Rebellion determined to make the most of him.
Poe landed back at Yavin IV, which was definitely the base closest to his heart. The jungle sounded like his childhood, and Poe felt like he was home with every humid-heavy breath. It was also the base where the Rebellion currently had a room set aside that he shared with Luke.
If Poe were being honest with himself, he'd have to admit that also had something to do with it feeling like home, too. But Poe was a good liar, and he shoved those implications away.
"Poe!" came a delighted call from across the hangar, and faster than Poe would have thought possible, his husband had Poe wrapped up in a hug.
"Luke!" Poe returned the hug tightly, tucking his chin firmly against Luke's shoulder. "You're back! I missed you last trip."
Luke gave happy hum, snuggled up next to Poe. "Yeah. It was interesting, though, we went to an old...testing ground? I don't know how to describe it. Leia and I got new lightsabers! And we were able to make a few training 'sabers too."
"Oh really?" Poe asked.
"Yep." Luke pulled back, his hands lingering on Poe's shoulders. Poe didn't dislodge them. "We're sparring after lunch. You should come watch." Luke gave a nostalgic smile. "I've gotten a lot better since that first time on the shuttle out."
Poe grinned back, remembering Luke barely able to get his feet set right, pummelled over and over again by a tiny training droid. "Well I should hope so. It'd be hard for you to get worse."
Poe stored his gear and made his way over to the space set aside for Jedi training. Obi-Wan, Luke, and Leia had made do with whatever small space they could manage, but Yoda had insisted on getting them an area that allowed for real practice. Yoda gave Poe a grumpy look when he entered the room, but didn't protest when Poe climbed a ladder and tucked himself up on an observation balcony.
The room itself was set up like a practice arena, a large open room (used to be an alternate landing hanger, Poe thought, looking the space) turned into an obstacle course with structures that cut sight lines and interesting areas for attack and ambush. Poe hoped that the Rebellion's ground forces got to use the arena when the Jedi weren't, because otherwise it was a terrible waste of space.
Luke and Leia entered the room, both wearing loose slacks and tank tops that showed off exactly how much muscle they both had gained. They were lean, wiry figures now, honed for combat.
"Begin," Yoda called.
Leia swung fast and hard, aggressive in her offense. Luke parried with ease, each hit deflecting off of his saber. Luke, Poe realized as he was watching, was using the environment better, his movements cornering Leia and limiting her movement.
Leia managed a truly impressive flip to avoid a long sheet of corrugated metal simulating a wall. She landed neatly on the other side and swung into a defensive position. Luke, instead of chasing, ducked his way behind a large tube of some kind. As soon as he moved, Leia did, up and over the metal-and-synthfoam obstacles to drop neatly on Luke, slicing down and scoring a hit along Luke's arm as she did.
Poe's throat caught, before he realized that Luke was brushing it off. These pale-white blades must be the training 'sabers, then.
"You've got to get better at offense," Leia said, twirling her blade.
Luke lunged up, getting to standing and grazing his lightsaber along Leia's collarbone as he did. "And you need to stop gloating."
The back and forth began in earnest, then, flashing swords and shouted insults. They climbed and flipped and twirled, and all the while the lightsabers hummed their deadly song.
Luke was beautiful, Poe thought, leaning forward on the railing to look at him better. The play of his body, the way he could move; it was breathtaking. Luke did a flip and his shirt rode up, revealing an appealing strip of skin. Poe caught a glimpse of the sharp cut of his hipbones and was seized by the urge to lick them.
Luke stumbled, and Leia cut in with a laugh and a vicious cross-body blow. She tossed a grin up at the balcony, calling, "You do know you're in a room full of mind-readers, right?"
Poe felt his face flush.
"Shhh, don't tease him, it's not nice," Luke protested.
"Oh," Leia said, shoving stray strands of brown out of her face, "it's very nice, with the way he sends out a little spike of lust and you get totally distracted."
Poe fought to keep from casting a sideways glance at Obi-Wan and Yoda. "I should go."
"No, stay!" Leia protested, laughing. "I could use the advantage."
Poe waved and fled.
Luke waltzed into the bedroom, later, wearing a wide smile and smelling of sharp clean sweat. "There you are," he said with a teasing glint in his eyes. "You didn't have to leave."
Poe coughed. "I really don't need your teachers knowing the inappropriate things I want to do to your hipbones."
"Oh, hips, huh?" Luke slung his thumb into his belt loop and tugged down, making his pants ride even lower on his waist. Then he gave an elaborate stretch, his shirt riding up, offering Poe the most delicious view of—
"You're awful," Poe said, turning away.
"And you're the stubborn idiot who is refusing to fuck his husband until he's worked through all of his emotional issues." Luke ambled over and ruffled Poe's hair.
Poe narrowed his eyes and looked up at Luke. Well, if Luke wanted to play that game, Poe could play.
Poe reached up and slid his hands under the hem of Luke's shirt, running his fingertips down the defined muscle of Luke's abdomen. "Now," he said, pitching his voice low and dangerous, "we said I wasn't going to kiss you. There's all sorts of things we can do without kissing." Poe slid one index finger down the ridge of Luke's hipbone, hooked it into the top of Luke's pants, and tugged.
Luke was dragged one stumbling step toward Poe, his eyes gone wide and dark. "Poe..." Luke said, his voice cracking as he pulled back.
Poe grinned, letting go of Luke's pants and splaying his hands in innocence. "You tease, I tease."
Luke's throat worked, before he shook his head and glared at Poe. "Now who's awful?"
"Guilty," Poe said, slouching back in the chair with a grin. "Now go on, hop in the 'fresher, then come back out here and we can get dinner and you can catch me up on how Jedi stuff has been going."
Luke nodded, turning toward the 'fresher before turning back and giving Poe an intent look. "You know I'm waiting for you, right? Take the time you need, but I am hoping that sooner or later you're going to make good on that teasing."
Poe gave Luke a sad smile. "I know. I just..."
"I know." Luke gave a short grin. "At least the Jedi power means that I have absolutely no doubt that attraction isn't the issue."
Poe laughed, grateful to Luke for breaking the tension.
Luke gave a dorky-looking shimmy and went into the 'fresher, leaving Poe laughing outside.
Poe sighed as he read the report, setting it back down and looking at Bodhi with an exasperated expression. "They faked it?"
"Yeah." Bodhi sounded exhausted. "I think they're onto the fact that we used material supply to track the last Death Star. They're really fucking with their supply line info—not just kyber but any component unique to the Death Star—the circuitry, anything that could be used in the laser assembly...I really thought we had something, but it was just a trap." Bodhi paused. "I got our people out, don't worry, sir."
Poe arched an eyebrow at Bodhi. "Since when am I a 'sir'?"
"Admirals intimidate me. Also I feel guilty and that makes me nervous. It's a bad habit, I'm working on it."
Poe shook his head. "Not your fault the vast war machine the Empire has at its disposal finally grew a couple brain cells." Poe waved the report. "And we're sure it's not at Endor?"
"For the"—Bodhi made an elaborate show of counting on his fingertips, getting up to his second index finger before nodding—"seventh? time, the Death Star is not at Endor. You finally want to tell me why you're so hung up on it?"
"It's a good spot. I got a good feeling about it."
Bodhi gave Poe an unimpressed Look. "Right. No. Not at Endor. Look, Winter's got an idea for tracking durasteel that we've been putting off becase kriffing everything uses durasteel. We're not out of options yet."
"You're doing good work."
"Brass giving you a hard time?" a new voice called, and Bodhi waved the man across the tactical room. "Kes! Get over here!"
Poe froze. He had been doing such a good job of avoiding his parents. But here was his father, so fucking young, winding across Intel's space to...
Oh, fuck, he was saluting.
Poe barely managed to return a salute that didn't totally disgrace himself.
"Poe, this is Sergeant Dameron, he lead the ground forces for that disastrous trap we nearly walked into. Instrumental in getting us out alive."
It hadn't occurred to Poe that his father would be anywhere in his chain of command. The thought that their operation had nearly gotten him killed—Poe wrenched himself out of that horrifying mental image and managed a nod. "Thank you, Sergeant."
He couldn't call him Kes. Might come out as dad. Sergeant was safer.
Bodhi continued, "And Kes, this is Vice-Admiral Skywalker. Kes, please inform Vice-Admiral Skywalker that he's being too nice and should really ream me out more for landing your team in a trap."
"Bodhi was fantastic," Kes said loyally. "Don't listen to him."
"Traitor," Bodhi grumped.
Kes gave Poe a look that churned Poe's belly. "You have any family on Yavin IV?" Kes asked. "You look damn familiar."
Poe's mouth went dry. "Ah, I..." he scrambled for his cover story "...was Alderaani intelligence before I joined the Rebellion." With an internal wince, Poe realized that really didn't address Kes's question. "But my mom has a lot of siblings. Who knows where I have cousins?"
"I'm willing to bet our family trees overlap somewhere. You've got the Dameron nose." Kes reached forward, before clenching his hand and tucking it back in his pocket. Deciding at the last minute to not tweak the nose of a Vice-Admiral, apparently.
He had never had the same compunction with his son.
"I wouldn't be surprised. Maybe we can...talk about that sometime," Poe swallowed around a lump in his throat. "Bodhi, Kes, I've got to run, good luck out there, yeah?"
Poe gave an ungraceful nod and speed-walked out of the room.
Poe was spared any further encounters with either of his parents by his next rotation in space. While shadowing Raddus on the Profundity, the Admiral gave him command of a battle group during a border scrap with the Empire. Poe found his strategy, set his ships in place and let his people work, feeling an intense triumph as they decimated the enemy. Poe actually felt like he knew what he was doing.
"I always thought I'd be miserable once I couldn't fly anymore," Poe admitted, over celebratory brandy with Raddus in the Admiral's cabin. "But this..."
"Live through enough small battles, you can't help but see the big picture. You've had combat experience before this, haven't you? Little young for the Clone Wars but...I can read it. No, don't tell me what you did, I now not every history is a happy one. Whatever it was, you know how to see things. You're going to be a damn good battle commander."
"Thanks," Poe said, pleased as he looked down at his brandy. "Sorry I can't stick around much longer."
Raddus snorted. "They've got you on the High Command fast-track. Just hang on until things slow down. Where to now?"
"Back to Yavin. Need to check in with other operations."
"Your husband's there, right? Talented pilot. Too bad the Jedi stole him. Tell him I miss him over on the Navy side of things."
Poe laughed. "I'll tell him I miss him, thank you very much."
"Fair enough," Raddus said, toasting Poe with the brandy.
Poe landed back on Yavin IV and was a little disappointed when Luke didn't immediately come tearing across the hanger to greet him. Some visits it worked out like that. He'd be there, Luke would be gone. Poe rolled his eyes at himself. They had been married nearly three years, now. He really should be used to it.
He made it back to the bedroom, and immediately fought back a laugh. Luke was there, sprawled out over their bed. His body was only three-quarters on the cushion, calves and feet hanging off over the edge. Luke was still fully dressed, boots on. It looked like he had stumbled in and collapsed, asleep in seconds.
Luke was starting to make sleepy stirring noises, and he turned to look at Poe, hair sticking up in every direction, blinking red-bleary eyes. "Shit," he said, his voice think. "I feel asleep. Am I still asleep?"
"No." Poe walked closer, giving into an urge to reach out and smooth down some of Luke's hair. "I'm real, and you look awful. What happened?"
"Mission. Exhausting. I came back to just get changed and..." Luke glanced down at his clothes in consternation. "I guess I fell asleep. I should..." Luke glanced at the door.
"Whatever it is, it won't be helped by you showing up in old clothes. Take five minutes and change, and then go do...whatever it is."
Luke sleepily nodded, leaning into Poe's hand for a second. "Could you just get dressed for me while I nap some more?"
"You are tired," Poe said indulgently. "Come on, up and at 'em."
Poe nudged Luke into gentle action, watching to make sure he didn't fall asleep while he moved. "Where are you headed? I'll give you an escort. I'm a little worried you'll just run into the wall if I let you go."
"I'll be fine, I just need some caf." Luke scrubbed a tired hand down his face.
"You must be tired. You hate caf."
Luke needed to go down to the Jedi training room, and Poe kept him company (he was only half-joking about the running into walls; Luke was clearly exhausted).
Luke looked marginally more human as they started moving. "You won't believe what we managed to do last trip."
"Managed to wear yourself out, apparently."
"Heavy shielding. It's exhausting. But it was really important because...well, you'll see."
Luke lead Poe up and over to a small balcony overlooking the base's training room, where Poe found... "Kids?" Poe blinked, staring at the tableau below. Obi-Wan sat on the floor, while three kids, ranging from very-clearly-still-a-child to the awkward age that teetered between childhood and adolescence, sat in front of him, legs crossed and eyes closed.
"Force-sensitive kids," Luke said with a small smile. "We've been taking turns watching them, making sure they're okay. I left Leia here with them when I went to get changed. Guess Obi-Wan took over."
Poe blinked, feeling uneasy as he looked at them, "Is it really safe to have them here? In the middle of a military base?"
Luke laid a hand on Poe's elbow. "There was a data leak from the Empire. We stole them out from under guard by Sith Inquisitors. They're safer here than anywhere else."
Poe flattened his lips, staring down. "You fought an Inquisitor?" he asked faintly.
"Yeah," Luke said, straightening his back. "Two, with Leia and Obi-Wan. Was pretty easy, actually. The exhausting part has been all the—" Luke gestured around his temples. "Guess I should go take over for Obi-Wan."
"You should go get more sleep," Obi-Wan's voice drifted up toward them. Poe jumped. He hadn't seen Obi-Wan's mouth move. And the voice came from right next to them.
Luke was utterly unphased by the disembodied voice. "You sure?" he asked, in a soft conversational tone.
"You're no use run down. Poe, go with him and make sure he rests, please."
"I...um…" Poe rotated, not sure where to address his voice. Finally he looked a little to the left and answered, "Sure." Poe said to the air. He looked at Luke, shrugged, then they left the room. "So, back to sleep?" he asked.
Luke nodded, listing slightly against Poe as they walked. Poe stopped him with a hand on his back, moved in front of Luke, and crouched. "Hop on."
"I can walk," Luke protested, even as he wound his arms around Poe's neck and with a little hop, wrapped his legs around Poe's waist. Poe braced Luke's thigh, and gave a soft smile as Luke tucked his head against Poe's neck.
"So the shielding wore you out."
"I'm just figuring how to shield myself. Shielding other people..." Luke shook his head. "I hit my limits in a way I hadn't really, before. Bad headache. Tired."
"I've got you," Poe said, squeezing Luke's leg a little. "We're going to tuck you into bed and let you sleep as long as you need."
"Will you stay?" Luke's voice was small and hesitant.
Poe thought through his schedule, decided he could review reports in bed. "Yeah, I'll stay."
Poe managed to get Luke stripped down to his t-shirt and underwear before letting Luke collapse into the bed. Poe joined him a moment later, scooting up and bracing his back against the wall, data reader in his hands. Luke glanced up at him from the careful two inches of distance they always started with on those all-to-rare nights they shared a bed.
(The nights might start with deliberately delineated neutral territory, but they rarely ended with that boundary respected. Sleep made adventurers of them both, and Poe had woken up tangled in Luke's limbs too many times to count. Over time the aching want became nothing more than a background noise of longing, second to the joy of just having someone close.)
Poe decided to dispense with their so-careful lines. He patted his lap. "If you want, you can..."
Luke wiggled closer, curling around Poe's leg to put his head in Poe's lap. "'M gonna fall asleep on you," he said, his voice thick with exhaustion.
"That's fine," Poe said, waving the datareader at Luke. "I've got work to keep me busy. Sleep tight."
Luke's eyes fell shut. Poe let his free hand play through Luke's hair, blond strands falling between his fingers. Luke made a sleepy noise of pleasure as his breathing slowly evened out, happily asleep on Poe.
"I thought we were doing this meeting when you came in last night?" Bodhi said, his hands drumming on the table in a soft anxious patter.
"Something came up," Poe said.
"Luke was sleepy and needed cuddling," Winter informed Bodhi.
Bodhi rolled his eyes.
Poe held up his hands in exasperation. "How do you even know that?"
"She's right?" Bodhi said, before catching himself and saying, "I don't know why I'm surprised."
"You gave him a piggyback ride back to your room. It's wasn't hard to figure it out from there."
It wasn't hard to figure it out, sure, but getting the knowledge in the first place...
"I'm glad you're on our side," Poe decided.
"And I'm very glad you got snuggles, sir," Bodhi said mock-seriously. "But I thought you might want to know that we found the Second Death Star."
Poe stopped, and turned to Bodhi, who was smirking. "You what?" Poe asked, carefully.
"Well, Winter found it. Mostly. We think," Bodhi clarified. "She can tell you how it was done."
"It was the durasteel tracking. I used a regressive analytical survey—" Winter stopped herself, and gave Poe a sideways glance. "I've fully written up my methodology, peruse it at your leisure."
"Thank you," Poe said emphatically, blinking his eyes, which had preemptively started to glaze over. "But you're confident in your result?"
"Confident enough to request we deploy a scout ship immediately, with a strike force ready to follow."
Poe smiled. "Then let’s go take this to High Command."
"Skywalker!" Raddus exclaimed happily when Poe walked back on the bridge. His webbed hands clapped together in a sincere gesture. "You weren't gone very long. And you bring me the most interesting battles."
"Scout ships confirmed sighting," Poe said with a smile. "We're in business."
"And I'm glad to have you with us," Raddus said, turning back toward the readout. "I was making plans for how to steal you back to my command. I had no idea it would be so easy."
Poe glanced out the bridge window. "How upset will you be if I say there's a part of me that's really regretting giving up the fighter cockpit right now?"
Raddus laughed. "It's understandable, but we need you here. You're taking the Hapes group."
Poe blinked. He honestly hadn't expected command in this run. Hapes was the same battle group he had commanded in the border skirmish, a handful of assault ships supported by a larger frigate that carried three squadrons. Poe knew better than to protest Raddus's decision. He wouldn't give Poe a battle groups if he didn't trust Poe's skill.
"Yes, sir," Poe responded, and strode over to his battle station. As he did, he felt the slight shudder of a hyperspace jump under his boots.
They were on their way. It wasn't going to be a short trip—five hours in transit. The Death Star's construction site was well off of normal hyperspace paths. Winter had managed to find it by, basically, accounting for every major source of durasteel usage, figuring out who was getting way more durasteel than they actually needed, and then tracking possible excesses. It was a nightmare of a process. Poe had read her reports three times without understanding them, so Poe decided to just give her a commendation and call it a day.
The biggest question awaiting the fleet's arrival was whether or not the Empire had been forewarned, somehow. They might have seen the scouts, or noticed the fact that the Rebellion was withdrawing their border forces. But even if they had, the construction site's isolation worked to both sides' disadvantage. It took time to get a fleet in-system.
All they could do was wait, and be ready to act on the other side.
"Countdown to arrival, two minutes," the navigator called. Poe started readying his staff, reviewing his battle group's forces.
The stars returned to their stationary points, and Poe's eyes flew over their tactical readout.
The Second Death Star, in system. Check.
Opposing forces...one Star Destroyer. And that was it.
"Fuck yes," breathed a tactician on his team.
"Language," Poe chided, while quietly agreeing with xem. A smile spread across his face. "Alright, we're on defense, let's get into position."
It was comically easy. The Rebellion had the Empire outnumbered five-to-one, Poe's battle group helped hold the line against the Star Destroyer and its TIE squadrons while the rest of the fleet pummelled the in-construction Death Star.
Forty-five minutes later and it was all over, the Death Star just glittering dust and the Star Destroyer...
The Star Destroyer wasn't attacking, wasn't retreating, but was broadcasting an all-channel surrender.
"Hello. This is Admiral Quant. I'd like to request permission to come on board and discuss conditional surrender. Our terms will be reasonable. We merely want to assure the lives of our crew."
"Why don't they just jump away?" Poe muttered, staring at the Star Destroyer, "We're not blocking their exit."
"A good question," Raddus agreed. "Reinforcements are coming?"
Ackbar seemed to agree with Raddus's assessment, as his voice came over the comms. "Ceasefire. Barring aggression on your part, we will not resume hostilities. All forces begin retreat."
Raddus and Poe started planning a defensive retreat, just in case the Star Destroyer changed its mind as its prey was leaving the field. But the Star Destroyer made no aggressive moves. It even went so far as to power down and drop shields, which was baffling, to say the least.
"We could just blow them out of the sky," muttered a tech on the bridge.
"The fact that we don't shoot defenseless ships that have offered us surrender if what makes us different than the Empire, soldier," Admiral Raddus snapped.
They jumped to the first rally point, and ice-cold terror shot through Poe as the Star Destroyer slung itself out of hyperspace two seconds later. Poe swallowed. Tracking through hyperspace should not be possible, not here and now.
"All ships, do not fire," came Ackbar's voice over all-comms. "They have been invited. And now, to demonstrate their goodwill, they will jump to a predetermined location, along with a portion of the fleet, to negotiate their defection."
Poe blinked. An entire Star Destroyer, defecting?
Poe was on the team assigned to handle the negotiations. They were twitchy the entire time, but Admiral Quant genuinely seemed to be offering in good faith, with the support of the majority of his crew.
"They'll kill us," the Admiral said bluntly. "For losing the Death Star."
"You mean they'll kill you," Raddus clarified.
"Yes. And most of my bridge staff. And then they will assign the usual bootlicking political animal to this ship, who only sees their military force as a tool. It's as good as killing the rest of them."
"And you're different?" Poe asked, a little skeptically.
Admiral Quant gave Poe a tired smile. "I like to believe so. I suppose we'll see if my crew agrees with me."
Amazingly, they did, with eighty-five percent of the crew agreeing to follow their Admiral into defection. It was the single largest defection of Rebellion history.
"The Emperor rules by fear," Admiral Quant said as the defection was finalized. "It's not sustainable. Not when the Rebellion provides an alternative. We may be the first, but we will not be the last."
The fleet jumped back to Rebellion space, tired but triumphant, with a powered-down Star Destroyer in tow.
Poe's personal comm started blinking as soon as they got back into range. Poe waited until he had a few moments alone and returned the hail. "This is Skywalker."
"Poe," came Winter's voice, a little breathless. "You need to get back to Yavin. Luke, he's...he's been..." Winter, calm, unflappable Winter, took a shaky breath before saying, "He's been taken to the Medbay in critical condition. I'm sorry, I don't know more, but I said I would try to reach you. Can you get over here?"
A numb horror fell over Poe, making it hard to think, hard to move.
"Poe? Do you read?" came Winter's voice again.
Poe fought his way through the fog, forcing some action back into his limbs. "Yes. I'll...be there soon. I'll find a way," he promised.
Raddus designated a shuttle for Poe's use immediately, and Poe spent the four hour ride back to Yavin IV stewing in a mixture of regret and terror.
What if Luke died? What if, in all the changes Poe had made, he had crafted a universe that didn't include Luke Skywalker's continued existence? Poe's mind screamed to himself that this was his fault, his fault for keeping Luke so close, he should have cut Luke free, he should have—
Poe wrapped his arms around himself and curled toward the shuttle wall. If the pilot heard any of Poe's frustrated, helpless sobbing she was kind enough to ignore it.
He landed, and Winter was waiting for his shuttle.
"Where is...how...?" the words twisted together in Poe's mouth; he couldn't make himself say them.
Winter braced her hands on Poe's shoulders. "He's fine, he's stable, he's sleeping now."
Poe's legs nearly gave out as relief hit him like a drug, rushing through his veins and obliterating sense. He leaned into Winter's grip as he caught his balance again. "What happened?" he asked.
Winter paused. "I think...you should see."
Poe froze in the door to the medbay. Luke was sleeping, pale, and missing his right hand.
Leia was sitting in the chair next to Luke, and when she glanced up and saw Poe she jumped to her feet. "Poe! You're here!" She gestured at the chair by Luke's head, and went to drag another chair over.
"Came as fast as I could." Poe forced himself to walk over to the cot, each footstep dragging with the awful sense of inevitability that hung around the injured Luke. "Lightsaber injury?" he asked, already knowing the answer. He sat down hard in the chair, looking down at Luke's face.
He was sleeping. He looked peaceful. He was missing a hand. All the things Poe had tried to fix, and he couldn't fix this.
"Yes." Leia sat down in the chair she brought over, looking at Luke. "We got more information on Force-sensitive kids being moved. Since it worked out the last time..." Leia's face screwed up in frustration as she turned back to Poe. "I told them it was too easy. I told them the Empire wouldn't make the same mistake twice. But...if there was a chance we could save them...it was an ambush."
"Vader was there," Poe filled in the details.
"Yes," Leia said, tiredly. "He and Luke fought. Luke did...really well, from what I could see. Just not quite well enough. He cut off Luke's hand." Leia blanched. "Poe, his scream was—" she shivered.
Poe reached for Luke, his hand curling into a fist before he got there. Poe retreated back into himself, folding his hands together so tightly that his fingers ached. Why this? Of all the things the Force could decide stayed the same, why this? Why was Luke torn apart by his father? Wasn't the Force supposed to love him?
Poe certainly did.
He loved Luke.
He loved Luke.
And Luke had almost died without Poe ever telling him—he had always held back, always insisted on not taking too much of Luke. Luke was the home Poe had found in this time. But that had felt like a grasping, needy sort of love, so Poe had shied away from it. Luke was destined for better things than a man with a past he couldn't speak of, with a future he had sacrificed to give the galaxy another chance.
So Poe had stepped back and left Luke to the Force. Right now, that felt like a terrible mistake, with Luke lying, so still and silent on a medcot.
"He's going to be okay," Leia said, overly-firm, like she was convincing herself, as much as Poe. "They're going to fit him with a prosthetic and he'll be fine. And then he and I can hunt down Vader together."
"Vader got away," Poe said, a statement, not a question. Parallels again. Poe wondered if this Luke were destined for the Emperor's lightning, too. Poe wondered if there was anything he could do to spare Luke those scars. Probably not.
"Yes. The Emperor...exploded is the best word for it, I suppose, as he died. Blue fire everywhere. By the time Yoda and I made it back over to Luke, Vader was gone."
Poe stared at Leia, certain he hadn't heard her right.
Leia shifted under Poe's scrutiny, "Obi-Wan chased him for awhile, but never found him," she offered, in an apologetic tone.
"The Emperor...exploded?" Poe said slowly.
"Yes. When I stabbed him, it was like—"
"You killed the Emperor."
"Yes! Did you—did you not know?"
"No!" Poe threw his hands in the air. "I get a message, 'Luke is in critical condition,' and then I was on a commlocked shuttle the whole trip over. I came straight to the medbay. The Emperor is dead?"
Leia nodded. "I killed him," she said, lifting her chin. "Yoda helped."
"Well that's...wow." Poe sank back into the chair, running his fingers through his hair.
Leia tipped her head, and, after a moment's consideration, laughed. "I think I like your reaction the best. Other people are scared of me. Or want to give me medals. Or, my favorite, want to give me medals because they're scared of me."
"Sounds like you're set up well on the medal department, either way." Poe offered her a smile.
They fell silent after that, Poe took comfort in her company as he watched Luke sleep. The exhaustion from the day...days...was starting to hit him. Aside from a couple cat-naps during the defection negotiations, he hadn't really properly slept since he rested cuddled up next to Luke. Which was...how many hours ago, now? Poe had lost track.
When had he last eaten?
No sooner had he had that thought, than Leia said, "You should eat. Get some sleep. I'm hiding out in here anyway. The better to avoid my adoring, terrified fans. I promise, I'll comm if Luke wakes up, or if the doctor comes in."
Poe hesitated, not wanting to leave.
"Come on," Leia said, her voice growing strident with command. "You're going to be useless if you wear yourself out. Go eat."
Poe sighed and stood up from the chair. He tossed her a tired salute. "Yes, sir."
Leia settled back in the chair. "Very good." Her eyes softened. "I promise, Poe, I'll watch him. Go take care of yourself."
No longer blinded by his worry and fear, Poe could hear the sounds of celebration as he wound through the corridors. It was more subdued than the joy that followed the first Death Star's demise. This wasn't a victory that was fought for, it was one that was given as an unexpected gift. People were clearly thrilled to receive it, but more than a little shocked.
Poe slipped into the mess hall. A good sized group was gathered here, a mix of ranks and forces, making a happy murmur of conversation, punctuated by occasional laughter. Or tears. Between the second Death Star being destroyed and the Emperor dying, the war was well on its way to being over. People were beginning to realize.
Poe kept to the outside, lining up for a meal and keeping his head down. He enjoyed hearing the hum of mixed joy and relief but he didn't feel inclined to participate. He was more on the stunned side himself, he decided.
The Emperor was dead. Poe had no idea what the future looked like from here. What happened next?
A pile of green berries and a sandwich was stuck on a plate and given to him.
Well, food happening next wasn't the worst idea.
"Hey, Skywalker! Care to join?"
Poe looked up to find his father beckoning him over. Poe started walking towards Kes automatically, his feet deciding his steps without consulting his mind. But as his mind caught up, Poe decided that yes, he did want to talk to his father, now. It felt right, to share the celebration with him.
Not just his father, Poe realized as he arrived at the table to find a woman with a mop of curly black hair and sparkling brown eyes smiling up at him. Poe offered his mother a smile in return.
"Admiral, this is my wife, Shara. Shara, this is Vice-Admiral Skywalker. He coordinated the intel team that found the second Death Star."
"I remember you," Shara said with a grin, "You flew that TIE in the first battle, right? You've jumped a few ranks, haven't you, Vice-Admiral?"
Poe ducked his head, using the gesture to cover is discomfort at the formality. "Please, call me Poe."
"Alright then, Poe. Well, if we're being honest, I'm miffed you didn't invite me along for the second run at the thing!"
"It was pretty boring," Poe admitted with a smile. "Practically over before it began."
Kes, placed his broad hand on Poe's back and pushed him down into the seat. Poe followed his guidance, hoping his body didn't show too much how achingly familiar it was with the gesture. "So tell me," Kes said, his voice pitched low, "I've heard a rumor we captured a Star Destroyer?"
"Oooh," Shara said, leaning in,
Poe schooled his face into a blank expression, "I can't comment on that." Then he gave them a quick grin and wink, nodding once.
"Of course, sir, sorry I asked," Kes said with a wide grin.
'Amazing,' Shara mouthed. Out loud, she said, "What a day. Second Death Star. Emperor." Her brow furrowed. "Skywalker…you related to the Jedi?"
"Married, hon, don't you watch any of the promotional material?"
"Why would I do that? They've already hooked me. But," Shara turned her attention back to Poe, "he was there, at the fight with the Emperor, right? Is he okay? Not a lot of information has gotten out about that."
Poe looked away. "Injured. Recovering, according to the med droids."
Kes gave a sympathetic grunt, and Shara gave a sigh of dismay. Kes cleared his throat. "It's hard, being married in wartime. For what it's worth, your husband has made the galaxy a lot safer for my family, and I thank him for that."
Poe gave a weak smile. "I'll pass that along."
Kes smiled, and Poe knew that curve as well as his own. "I know it's scant comfort when they're still in the medbay. I went half-crazy with Shara's pregnancy, and that at least was a happier occasion."
"You were horrible, babe," Shara looked back at him. "No help at all."
Poe furrowed his brow. If he had his math right...Shara should be just barely pregnant with him right now. Not already recovered and back to the fight. Maybe he was off, though. It was hard to keep track, considering the number of changes he had made to the timeline.
"Don't call me that."
"We think we might be related. Look. Dameron nose." Kes clapped Poe around the shoulders and posed with his face next to Poe's.
Shara looked from one of them to the other. "You do," she finally decided. "My condolences."
"It's a fine nose," Kes protested. "We think he's a cousin on his mom's side."
Shara gave a deep sigh. "I really hope Mari doesn't get the nose."
"Mari?" Poe asked, wondering why the name sounded so familiar.
"Our daughter," Shara said with a smile. "She's about six months now. Too soon to tell."
Poe flattened his lips, looking down at his plate, suddenly feeling faintly dizzy.
"You okay?" Kes asked, releasing Poe's shoulders.
Poe looked up, scrambling for his normal bluster. "Sorry. Just…a daughter! Hit me hard for some reason. Congratulations," he managed in a weak recovery.
"She wasn't planned," Shara said, "Scared me, having a kid in wartime. She's a joy I never expected."
Shara had said those exact same words about him, once upon a time. Poe hadn't been sure whether to take that as an insult or a compliment.
"I hope…" Poe swallowed, trying again. "I hope we're building a good galaxy for her."
Kes and Shara looked at each other with matching smiles, proud, worried, and tired. "I hope so too," Kes finally said. "I think we're making a good start of it, at least. I like to imagine she'll grow up with war as only a distant memory."
Poe squeezed his eyes shut, his memory caught up by the war that had found him anyway, the war he had sacrificed his future to avoid. He remembered Kes, horrified and sad and proud, sending him away to the Resistance.
A hand squeezed his own, and Poe looked up to find his mother looking at him with big concerned eyes. "You don't look so good."
Poe's hand tightened around hers. "I…" He took a breath. "I think the day is catching up to me."
Shara gave a sympathetic nod. "Maybe you should get some rest? Trust me. As someone who has recently been on the receiving end of spousal medical comfort, it works much better when you're rested."
"Good advice," Poe said, still holding Shara's hand. She was his mother. He didn't want to let her go.
Mariposa. Poe's grandmother's name. He had nearly forgotten, years ago, Shara holding Poe on her lap showing him holos of a kindly, smiling woman. She explained that he had been named after her. Poe had protested, not wanting to be named after someone who was so old. Shara had laughed and informed Poe that a heritage was a gift, and one he would be grateful for, someday.
Shara and Kes had raised him well. Now it was Mari's turn. Poe squeezed Shara's hands, "Teach her to fly," he said impulsively. "It's a beautiful thing. Not just for war."
"I will," Shara said.
And Poe let her go.
Poe didn't go back to the medbay, and he couldn't go back to his room. He was restless; heavy thoughts were weighing him down, and driving his feet forward seemed the only way to settle them.
Poe found the hangar, wound through the ships until he was drawn to the hangar bay opening, and the black night beyond it. Poe stepped through the large portal, into the thick wet Yavin IV night. Poe closed his eyes and inhaled. It still felt like home.
Poe twisted, body swinging like a compass until he pointed southwest. His abuelo's house was somewhere over there, past the jungle-covered hills. Mari was there now, fussing and crying and being comforted by her grandfather's warm, calloused hands.
Poe ran his hands down his face.
"You look awful," Winter informed him, materializing from the dark hangar behind Poe.
Poe dropped his hands and gave her a weary smile. "Thanks."
"Is Luke—" A thin crease formed between Winter's brows, her version of a deeply worried expression.
"He's fine. I—" Poe looked over, giving her a helpless look. "I don't exist."
Winter blinked at him. "I'm going to need a few more details."
Poe took a deep breath. "I should have been born…a few months from now. If I've got my timeline right. But I just talked to my parents—"
"Oh," Winter said in soft understanding.
"And six months ago they celebrated the birth of their first child, a lovely baby girl."
"And…you don't have an older sister, I take it."
Poe shook his head. "I don't. In all my changes, I managed to unwrite myself."
Winter reached forward and prodded Poe's upper arm. "You're still here."
Poe sighed, batting her hand away. "Yes, but not—I don't really belong here. I've been fixing the galaxy for everyone else. I just figured that would include a Poe Dameron, someday."
Winter gave him a solemn blink. "I'm suddenly understanding several things about your self-imposed isolation. But—" she shook her head, brushing the thought away. "I meant it literally. I've always wondered; if you changed things enough…" she trailed off, raising her eyebrows.
Poe blanched. "You've been worried this whole time I'd vanish?"
"No one really understands how this works. It was one option." Winter ducked her head, giving Poe an irritated look. "You've made it easy, you know."
"To imagine you vanishing. You're ephemeral. Do you realize, every moment we've spent time together, not working, I've initiated?"
"I—" Poe tried, feeling guilt rise in him. He hadn't thought that Winter would want—anyone would want—
"I'd feel hurt by that, except that the only person you've spent more time with than me is the man you're literally married to. He's the only person you really have fun with, just for the sake of having fun."
Poe swallowed. He wanted to protest but…he couldn't.
Winter shook her head, looking sadly over at him. "You are allowed to live, Poe. There's no other you in this universe. This is your life. What are you doing with it?"
Poe shoved his hands in his pockets and turned toward the night sky. "Not pulling your punches tonight, huh?"
Winter sighed, stepping closer so she stood shoulder to shoulder with him, looking out at the same stars. "I'm sorry. I'm being harsh. It's the worry. Leia—" Winter cut herself off, shaking her head. "Leia's not injured. Nevermind."
"She just killed the Emperor. She's going to be a figurehead." Poe could fill in what Winter didn't want to say. "People are going to idolize her, villainize her. She's going to be a god, to some of them. And right now she's hiding in medical because she's beginning to understand what that means and she doesn't like it."
"Exactly," Winter said, the tension in her shoulders releasing slightly. "Or, maybe she's worried she'll like it too much. Either way, I'm not certain how to help her."
"You'll know what to do," Poe said. "And so will she. I'm not worried about either of you. Tell me, what do you think she needs right now?"
"Rest. Maybe some alcohol," Winter answered promptly. "But she won't leave Luke's side. She's drowning in guilt."
"Well then. Let's go back to the Medbay, and I'll pull the husband card to clear her out of there. I'll handle Luke, and you can handle her."
Winter cast a sideways glance at Poe as they turned and started walking back to the Medbay. "Will you be alright with Luke?"
Poe gave her a wan smile. "Well, I recently found out I didn't exist, and then a very wise friend insisted I did in a way that gave me a lot to think about. So I'll have plenty to occupy my mind while Luke sleeps."
"Luke is one, you know," Winter said as they walked.
"Of the things you need to think about. In terms of whether or not you're actually going to start living your life."
Poe paused, then sighed. "I know."
After a few paces, Poe added, "Thank you."
Poe and Winter arrived at the Medbay and, by linking up to form a unified front, managed to get Leia to go off with Winter.
"I promise, Leia, I'll watch him," Poe echoed back to her. "Go let Winter take care of you."
Leia's eyes narrowed. "I see what you're doing."
"I want my sister-in-law to take care of herself," Poe said. It felt both odd and right to claim that relationship.
Leia looked down at Luke, then back over to Poe. "Will you comm me if—if there's something I should know?"
"Promise," Poe said, then put his arms on her shoulders and gently steered her toward the door.
Which left him alone with Luke. Poe settled back down in the chair by Luke's bedside. Time to get some thinking done.
Poe woke with a crick in his back, muscles spasming up and down his spine. Poe groaned as he sat upright, heart starting to race as he realized the cot next to him was empty.
"He's up!" a passing medtech warbled down the hallway as xeir feathers raised in friendly recognition, "You've slept through the night...and no small bit of the morning. Your husband insisted we not wake you," xe informed Poe before bustling on.
"In here!" a brusque voice called from down the hallway. Poe straightened, digging his fingers into the muscle of his back as he, uncertain what else there was to do, followed it.
Poe found Luke, not only awake, but smiling. He was sitting in front of a large holodisplay of his arm, with a doctor next to him, leaning over the display and gesturing. Poe felt something finally loosen in his chest, and he crossed the room in three long strides and wrapped Luke up in a hug.
"Hey there," Luke said, reaching up with his hand to cradle the back of Poe's head. "I'm fine, I promise."
"Good," Poe said, burying his face against Luke's neck and wondering what, exactly, he would have done if he had lost this wonderful man.
Their moment was interrupted by the doctor giving a slightly irritated hum. "Could we…"
Luke pushed back from Poe, letting his hand linger against Poe's cheek for a moment, before he turned back to the doctor.
Poe barely heard what the doctor said, something about nerves and mechanical connection options. He was content to settle himself next to Luke and rest one hand on Luke's knee as a solid reassurance that Luke was there, warm and alive. Poe sat and let his thoughts churn through his recent revelations.
A throat cleared, and Poe blinked himself out of his reverie to look back over at the doctor, who nodded when he caught her eye. "As I was saying, Mister Skywalker," she said in the exasperated tones of someone who had said the same thing several times over, "the nature of the wound means that there's very little we can do here until the surgery for prosthetic integration, which we've scheduled in two days. We're happy to release him, provided he has someone to accompany him, assist him in ADLs, and notify us of any change in condition—is that going to be an issue?"
"Um," Poe's mind was still having trouble catching up. "The surgery is…"
The doctor gave an exasperated sigh, and Luke quickly said, "It's fine. She just wants to know if you can babysit me for a couple days—"
"Though I'm not entirely certain I trust his powers of observation," the doctor muttered.
"—or if you need to ship out again." Luke gave Poe a hopeful look.
"Oh, I—I'm staying." Poe hadn't actually cleared that with his higher-ups, but it'd take a court-martial to pry him away from Luke, now.
Luke brightened and turned back to the doctor. "Great! So I've got someone to help me open jars, stuff like that. So as long as I don't injure myself further…"
The doctor gave him a reluctant look, before saying, "Yes, you're free to go."
"Thank you," Luke said.
The doctor shot Poe a glower as they left the room.
"I don't think she liked me much," Poe muttered as Luke pointed to his personal belongings and Poe obediently gathered them up.
"She's a surgeon. She doesn't like anyone. Good at her job, though."
Luke kept things light as they walked back to their shared room, telling an awful joke about feeling lopsided now, and listing dramatically. Poe laughed, felt a little guilty for laughing, then changed his mind at the way Luke seemed so pleased.
Once they got through the door, though, the mood changed. Poe set down the small pile of items (very carefully, considering the lightsaber at the top). Luke tugged at his elbow, pulling Poe back toward him, a serious expression on his face as he looked at Poe. "Are you okay?" he asked softly.
"It's been a long day, and I was really worried about you," Poe answered honestly.
Luke pulled on Poe's elbow, tugging him over to their bed, and maneuvering so Poe was sitting on the edge of it. Poe let himself be moved, ending up with Luke almost standing between his knees, a more genuine echo of their time in the hangar, performing intimacy for the holopickup.
Luke reached out and laid his palm against the side of Poe's neck, curling his fingers along the back. "That's not all of it, though. I can tell."
"It was a lot of it," Poe ran his fingers over the white collar of Luke's medical tunic. "I realized how close I came to losing you."
Luke's leaned in. "I'm right here. Not lost at all."
Poe's fingers tightened on Luke's collar and he looked up at Luke. Luke's worried expression faded, his eyes widening. He gave a nervous swallow.
Slowly, deliberately, Poe pulled Luke closer. He brushed his nose against Luke's and felt Luke's breath hitch. Poe gave Luke enough time to pull away, and when he didn't, Poe leaned forward and pressed his lips to Luke's.
The moment was impossible and inevitable. Poe was kissing Luke Skywalker, the future of the Jedi. Poe was kissing his husband, his best friend, the man he loved. Poe nudged against Luke's mouth, helplessly, hopefully, and with a sudden groan against Poe's lips, Luke started kissing back in earnest.
Luke stepped closer, his fingers sliding up into Poe's hair, guiding Poe deeper into the kiss. Poe opened his mouth and let Luke in, drunk on the taste of him, wanting more, more. He and Luke had danced around each other for nearly three years, Poe was letting himself take, and he wanted everything.
Luke pulled back with a gasp, his collar slipping out of Poe's fingers. He fixed Poe with a worried look. "Are you—will you tell me…?"
"Everything, Luke," Poe promised, "I'll tell you everything. I just…can we…?" He reached for Luke again.
"Yes," Luke said, on a punched-out exhale, and fell into Poe again.
Luke was in his lap, with his shirt undone in the front, Poe brushing kisses along Luke's collarbone with Luke's fingers in his hair, when Luke tightened his grip and tugged Poe's head back. Luke was a sight, his mouth bruised and cheeks flushed, staring at Poe with lust-darkened eyes.
"I want you," Luke groaned.
"You've got me," Poe whispered, and tried to move in again.
Luke sighed, still holding himself maddeningly away from Poe. "But I know you, too. You're going to get all weird if we actually have sex before you tell me whatever it is you've been holding back."
Poe froze. Luke still didn't know. Poe loved him and wanted him and this felt long overdue—but Luke still didn't know. He had almost—
A sharp tugging in his hair snapped Poe out of his reverie.
"Yeah," Luke said, sounding resigned. He braced his arm against Poe and managed to roll off of him, until he was sitting on the bed next to Poe. "Alright, tell me what it is, so I can prove I don't care, and we can get back to the important stuff."
Poe stared at Luke, his mind having trouble catching up to the conversation shift.
Luke's expression softened. "I'm sorry, no, this is important, I shouldn't joke about it. Please, tell me."
Poe took a breath, his hormones finally clearing enough that he could think straight. This had to be done. "Okay, I—" Poe stopped. He hesitated for a moment, before leaning in, closing his eyes, and taking one more gentle kiss from Luke. It might be the last one, and Poe wanted the memory. He pulled back, keeping his eyes closed as he stored the sensation in his mind. Then he braced himself and looked at Luke. "This is going to sound really strange, but Obi-Wan has read my mind, and he can confirm it."
Luke brushed his fingers over his lips, his eyes intent on Poe.
Poe told him everything.
Luke wasn't shocked or doubtful, as far as Poe could tell. Sad, when Poe told him how the future turned out, interested as Poe laid out how he had tried to change things, and undeniably pleased when Poe described how important Luke had become to him.
Poe finished talking, and Luke nodded, saying, "That explains some things."
Poe blinked. "Really?" He was glad Luke wasn't gently suggesting that Poe visit the mind-healers, but that seemed to be a particularly easy acceptance.
"I mean, you're not Alderaani. Your accent's all wrong, and Winter, Leia, and Bail are the only people you talk to from there. There are other Alderaani pilots, none of them had heard of you. So—"
Poe blinked. "When did you figure that out?"
"I mean…" Luke made a face. "It just didn't make any sense that they'd send you to Tatooine so unprepared. You didn't even have water!"
"I might have crashed," Poe muttered.
"Where was your ship?" Luke shrugged. "I mean, nowhere in my guessing did I think, 'Poe's probably a time traveller,' but I knew you weren't who you said you were."
"What did you guess?" Poe asked.
"Defecting inquisitor," Luke responded quickly. "You've always been really relaxed with the Force powers, and Obi-Wan and Yoda were really suspicious of you."
Poe blinked. "Huh."
"This makes more sense, though. Especially because…" Luke bit his lip, looking sheepish. "The mindreading is getting stronger. I haven't been trying to, but there's a lot of passive pickup. I was really confused by—" Luke paused. "Did you know me? I see this man and he's…"
Poe closed his eyes. "I never thought you'd pick that up. I—the future was broken in a lot of ways, and you…" Poe couldn't keep talking.
"You don't have to say," Luke said, "I don't think I want to know. But it makes sense," he finished, softly, wrapping his hand around his opposite elbow and hunching over on himself. "He was missing the same hand."
Poe nodded. "Lost it the same way. I was so...furious with the Force. All the things I changed, and that—" Poe cut himself off. "I don't see why. But...in my universe, after that fight, the war went on for another two years. The Emperor didn't die until then. And you were the only Jedi—Leia wasn't trained, Yoda and Obi-Wan both died."
Luke raised his eyebrows. "So it's different."
"Very." Poe narrowed his eyes. "And I swear to you, Luke, no matter what happens next, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure things turn out well for you."
Luke smiled, "Well, me too. That's what spouses do."
Poe reached over and took Luke's hand between both of his. "Luke, we don't need to stay married. I know I was dropped into your life unexpectedly. I'm not trying to trap you. But I…" Poe swallowed, then finally let himself say, "I love you, Luke. And I'm here for however long you want me."
Luke rolled his eyes, which was not exactly the reaction Poe was hoping for in response to his heartfelt declaration. "I love you too, you dummy."
Luke reached forward, hooking his index finger in Poe's collar and tugging Poe closer. "Forever. That's how long I want you. We are married. And we're staying married. And now, we're finally going to enjoy all the benefits of that." Luke arched an eyebrow at Poe. "Any objections?"
Poe blinked back tears, happy tears. The universe had shuffled around and there was a place for him in this time, after all. More than that, it felt like the place had always been there, waiting for him, next to Luke. Poe took a breath, and leaned closer to Luke. "Just one more."
Luke gave Poe a patient look.
"We're going to have to be really careful with your arm, or your surgeon is going to kill me, and I don't think you want to be a widower this young."
Luke burst out laughing, a bright, joyous sound that rang through the room. It sounded like home. Luke tugged again at Poe's collar, pulling Poe in for a kiss.
Poe pressed in closer to Luke, just as he'd always wanted to, just as he was meant to be.
A Little Bit Later
Leia paced in the war room, an expression on her face that could melt durasteel. Luke watched her, his brow furrowed, idly twisting the ring on his finger. Poe smiled, the way he did every time he caught Luke playing with the ring, then focused back to the more serious matter at hand. Two more dignitaries shuffled into the room, and Cracken looked around with a sharp nod.
"We're all here? Good." Cracken cleared his throat. "Most of you have seen this already, but just to make sure....this recording aired about nine hours ago, simultaneously broadcast on every Imperial controlled holonet uplink. It's been rebroadcast twice since then, no changes from the first."
Cracken fiddled with the holodisplay, then up sprang an overly-large back mask. Several dignitaries took a startled half-step backward, and only the fact that Poe had seen this three times before kept him from doing the same.
"The time has come to announce the demise of Emperor Palpatine. He proved too weak to continue ruling, allowing himself to be killed. He has met his fate at the end of my daughter's blade."
There were surprised murmurs in the room at this. Leia lifted her chin and stared down at the image of Vader with cold fury.
"I am assuming my rightful place as your ruler. My title shall be Emperor Vader. I name my daughter, Leia Skywalker, first heir to the Empire by right of blood and merit."
Even more shocked noises emerged, including one, "Should she really be in here?' Which was silence with sharp elbow movement from the Senator next to the speaker, and a muttered apology in Leia's direction.
The holovid turned, panning over rows of stormtroopers shouting, "Long live Emperor Vader." With an abrupt click, it ended.
An uneasy silence filled the room in the dark following the image fading. Cracken cleared his throat. "We...anticipated that Lord Vader might assume the Emperorship. This is confirmation that has taken place."
"We sure as hell didn't assume that he was going to name Leia his kriffin' heir," the representative from Corellia protested.
"I did not approve of this." Leia spat the words like daggers.
"Nobody thinks you did," Bail said quickly, a tightness in his eyes hinting at the fate of anyone who dared contradict him.
"And my name is not Skywalker. I am Princess Leia Organa, Heir to House Organa and House Antilles, Duchess of Istabeth and First Lady of Peace. I need no further titles."
A cowed silence hung in the room, and a couple of the Senators bowed their heads to Leia in a gesture of respect. After a moment, one of them cleared their throats. "So, what does Vader being the Emperor mean for our tactical situation?"
Cracken gave a brisk nod. "That's what we're here to figure out. He's certainly got the intimidation factor down."
"Will he be any good at governance?" Poe asked, glancing toward Bail and Obi-Wan. "Did Anakin display any skills in that regard?"
Bail and Obi-Wan looked at each other, and the smile that crossed Obi-Wan's face stopped just short of being entirely evil. "He's going to hate it," Obi-Wan said with a certain malicious glee. "He's never done well with other people's stupidity, and I highly doubt being the Emperor's lapdog improved those skills."
Bail chuckled. "This might work out in our favor."
"He's not going to have the support of the local governors. The Moffs hate him," offered General Draven, from where he sat behind an Intel console. "At least three will certainly be plotting assassinations, and another six or so will be trying to figure out who they support."
"And Vader isn't easy to kill," Poe added.
Obi-Wan gave a dry chuckle. "I can vouch for that."
"The Empire is going to tear itself apart," Bail said, realization slowly dawning.
"It's going to be civil war," Draven said dispassionately, "We can use that."
"Better yet," Mon Mothma cut across the room, "we may yet be able to alleviate some of the suffering. If they are too busy fighting each other, there will be opportunities for us to act."
Bail nodded. "It seems this works in our favor."
Leia actually growled.
"Mostly," Bail quickly amended.
Obi-Wan was still fighting a hint of a smile. "Anakin is going to be so miserable. Six months from now, Leia, and I wouldn't be surprised if he hands the Empire over to you and resigns, regardless of your current allegiance."
"I don't want to be Empress," Leia said, as petulant as Poe had ever heard her. She took a breath, and drew her dignity back around her. "But I suppose I could think of some advantages, if it came to that.”
Poe strode across the bridge of the Profundity, nodding to Raddus as he stepped up to the tactical display on the screen.
Raddus gave the front of Poe's uniform an approving look. "Well, look at you, Skywalker. Full Admiral. Told you you'd get a commendation for your work in the Moorbound Drift."
Poe inclined his head. "I had good teachers."
Raddus gave a pleased laugh. His large eye swiveled back to the tactical display. "So, have they given you a fleet yet?"
"I'm coordinating integration of the defecting fleets." Poe gestured over the tactical map. "So in one sense, they're all my fleets. In another...I think they just gave me the fancy bars so that I looked more impressive to the former Imps."
Poe looked down at the tactical map, giving a small smile at the readout. The Empire still held the core, a tight ring of red in the middle of the map. But from the outside, more and more of the New Republic's blue shown out in patches and pieces. And it was the New Republic now, no longer the Rebellion, but a fully-fledged system of governance over thousands of planets. Except this time, it was growing from the outside-in.
Poe felt a warm contentment in his chest as he considered the map, at a New Republic proudly made up of the fringes, of Fest and Jakku and a thousand other words that were ignored and burned out in Poe's world.
If anything would stop the rise of the First Order, it would be this: the New Republic was founded in the places it had forgotten, before. Worlds that had desperately given up their children to the First Order's training programs wouldn't be drowning in that same desperation. This universe's Finns and Reys would have a better future.
He thought about Mari, his own strange twin. Even though Poe had been one of the luckiest kids in his universe, he figured that she'd be luckier still. The trauma of war was written softer across this galaxy. Poe wondered what she'd become.
"I don't know if this is a good idea, Luke." Poe said, fidgeting with the cuffs of his shirt. "I'm already friends with them, isn't that enough?"
Luke gave Poe a fond smile, laying a hand on Poe's lower back and tugging him in for a kiss. "Love…"
Poe sighed. "I know."
"This was your idea," Luke continued gently.
"You decided it was important. If you've changed your mind…"
"No," Poe said, running his fingers through his hair. "I haven't. But you know, if this goes badly…I'm not going to be in a good place."
"I've cleared my schedule for a week. I'm all yours." Luke reached up, smoothing down the hair that Poe had just ruffled. "But I really think this is going to be good."
A sour twist in Poe's belly disagreed with Luke, but he didn't say anything, just took a deep breath and nodded. "Right. Let's go let my parents know they've got another kid. Sorta." Poe threw Luke a pleading look, "I don't know if this is a good idea."
Luke patted his shoulder. "Come on, they'll get here any moment. Let's make sure the table is set." Luke paused. "You know, after so long in military berthing, I still can't believe I have a table, much less an entire house."
"Benefits of peacetime." Poe followed Luke out into their hallway, then down into the kitchen. "Not that we're here very often, with how much we both travel."
"Still. We can have a dinner party." Luke waggled his fingers, imbuing the last two words with a mystic energy. "I still don't really understand what makes it different from just having people over for dinner."
Poe inclined his head, "More alcohol. Which we're probably going to need, tonight."
"Don't be so dramatic," Luke said, which Poe mentally grumbled at. Between the two of them, the dramatic one was…
Well, both of them, really, Poe thought glumly, as he went to go get the table set.
Shara and Kes arrived with Mari between them, now a three-and-a-half year old chubby ball of curiosity. Kes and Shara tried without success to get her to 'Say hi,' and finally gave up and let her wander the living room with Kes while Shara chatted with Luke and Poe.
"Thanks for having us. We've been running around the capitol like mad, I'm looking forward to putting my feet up and eating something homecooked."
Luke winced. "Well, definitely put your feet up, but I'm afraid we're about to offer you the very finest takeaway, plated for your enjoyment." He offered Shara an apologetic look, "You don't want our home cooking."
Shara grinned. "That works too."
Poe let Luke handle the chat while he set the table, a miserable twist in his stomach as the evening went on. How was he supposed to have this conversation? What good would it do, really?
They waited until after dinner, as was planned. Luke had patiently talked with Poe through all the options, and they decided that revelations would go better if everyone was well fed. Poe hadn't taken into account just how excruciating this would make dinner. Still, he grit his teeth and managed to make small talk around the main course.
Retirement was going well for Kes and Shara. It was nice to spend more time with Mari, though farming was not as idyllic as it sounded. Luke was doing well too, the informal Jedi school up to about twenty students. Poe, yes, still with the Navy, and yes, he was very grateful for the relative peace along the borders. Peace treaty? Well, Poe couldn't comment on that, but, interestingly enough, the New Republic now had the stronger military force. That had to mean something for geopolitics sooner or later.
It was actually a fairly interesting chat. But the pending conversation loomed over Poe, and he found it hard to focus.
But, finally, Mari was asleep on Poe and Luke's couch, and little bowls of chocolate and spiced fruit were laid out in front of the four of them, and Poe couldn't stall any longer.
He cleared his throat. "So, um, I'm glad you both came to visit. I…actually have something I want to tell you. It's going to be a bit unbelievable, but…please, just bear with me."
Shara and Kes looked at each other, then back to Poe. They both nodded.
Poe cleared his throat. "Well, I…you remember how I told you I was Alderaani? That's not...entirely true. I was born on Yavin IV."
Kes started grinning. "I knew it."
Poe nodded. "A little less than two years ago, if my math is right."
Kes and Shara gave him identical confused looks.
Poe did his best to explain. It didn't seem right to start with the relationship, entirely too jarring. So Poe painted the picture of his adulthood in the far-future, and all the ways it had gone wrong, until Poe stepped back in time to reset it. It sounded like a spirit-tale to Poe's own ears, the sort of thing his abuelo would have spun for him.
Poe hoped the story was helped by Luke next to him, nodding along, supporting everything Poe had to say. It was still an unbelievable story, but at least it was an unbelievable story being told by two people.
"That's...quite the claim," Kes said slowly when Poe finished. "I'm not quite sure I believe it."
"Why tell us? We're retired." Shara folded her arms and gave Poe a dour look. "If this is leading into some sort of deeply strange recruitment pitch—"
"Oh," Kes said quietly his eyes going wide.
"It's not that," Poe said hurriedly. He still couldn't force himself to give voice to the impossible truth.
How could he handle that rejection?
Kes was still staring at Poe, his mouth slightly open. "Babe," he said quietly, fumbling a hand out to whack Shara lightly in the shoulder. "Babe," he repeated, more urgently. "What would we have named a boy?"
"We never talked about it, why are you—" Shara's eyes widened, and she turned back to Poe, "No."
Poe looked down at his hands, unable to take their scrutiny. "My name was Poe Dameron." He felt a small smile twist along his face. "I got the nose from you."
There was an impossible silence, and Poe closed his eyes, curling in on himself. It was ridiculous, to ask his parents to accept this full-grown man, even older than they were, as their son. He had no right to expect it, but it was going to break his heart when they couldn't.
Small, calloused fingers tucked themselves under his chin, and Poe's face was lifted to meet Shara's gaze. She analyzed him, her pilot's eyes absorbing every detail. "You do look like Kes. You've got my uncle's eyes, though."
"Prialto," Poe said automatically. "He was a pilot, too."
"Yes…" Shara said distantly, cocking her head to the side.
"Your hair," Kes offered.
"A pretty good barometer," Poe parroted the words he had heard his mother say a thousand times. "It never behaves when it's about to rain."
Shara's hand jerked back, startled.
"Well," Kes said, turning to Shara. "Either he's a very prepared con man, a madman who's sucked Luke into his delusion, or the universe is stranger than we'd thought. Considering the shit we've seen, I'm inclined to believe him."
Poe tried not to let the new blooming spread of hope show on his face.
Shara gave a more skeptical grunt. "Got a DNA test?"
Kes gave a chiding, "Shara."
Shara threw him an irritated shrug, "It's not a ridiculous thought. It'd be nice to have some proof."
Luke cleared his throat. "We, um, do, actually."
Luke went and got the portable kit they had purchased for exactly this conversation. Poe had a moment of worry, as they all ran their thumbs over the box, that timeline-hopping had messed up his DNA. Or changed it. Maybe his parents weren't really his parents after all. Maybe he was just a creation of the Force. Maybe—
The box glowed green, showing a clear genetic line between Poe, Kes, and Shara. Biological child most likely: 99.99 percent accuracy.
"Well," Kes—who had been faintly antsy through the whole testing—declared, "that's good enough for me."
And then Poe was wrapped up in his father's arms again, so very different, so much the same. Poe pressed his nose against his father's sternum and started crying.
"Oh, baby," Shara said, then wrapped herself around him, too.
Poe distantly heard Mari's toddler voice ask a question. Luke answered, but neither of his parents moved, so Poe didn't pull away, let himself have this thing he'd never thought he'd get again.
Kes chuckled, a warm rumble under Poe's ear. "Hey babe," he said softly, "I think I figured out why that one TIE pilot was avoiding you."
Shara pulled back, pulling at Poe's shoulder to spin him around to face her. "Oh, no, that must have been so awkward."
Poe shook his head, wiping at his eyes and trying to pull himself together. "I—I didn't expect anything. I just wasn't in a place right then where I could…where I could have been a stranger."
Shara nodded, reaching up to smooth down a curl, a familiar gesture that caused fresh tears to well. "Thank you for telling us," Shara glanced over at the couch, where Luke sat with Mari, who was peering over the back of the couch with a worried expression on her face. "We didn't—" Shara looked back at Poe with a confused expression. "We haven't had a boy."
Poe shook his head. "I didn't have a sister. Another thing that changed."
"Well," Kes said, grabbing Poe's shoulder and squeezing. "You do now. Come on, lets get you properly introduced."
Mari looked exhausted in the faintly flickering holoprojector. She ran her fingers through her hair (she had gotten their father's finer, straight hair) and slumped in the chair. "Why didn't you warn me that twenty-one was way too young to have kids? Kessa is a force of nature. She's only four!"
"You were a very responsible twenty-one year old. You had a plan. There was a pro/con list. I couldn't have told you anything you didn't already consider." Poe grinned and tilted his head. "Besides, I knew you when you were four, and you deserve this. She's wearing you out?"
Mari gave him a baleful look. "That's one way of putting it. I think she might wind up spending some time with you and uncle Luke."
"We love having her," Poe said easily. "My flying buddy."
Mari shook her head. "You and mom have never forgiven me for going into geology, have you?"
"Rocks are fine," Poe said, with a sigh and an acknowledging hand gesture.
"But! That's not why I'm going to ship her off to you. She may belong with Luke's school. I think she can read minds. She keeps answering questions I haven't actually asked."
"She's an observant kid," Poe said with a smile.
"Don't patronize me." Mari stuck out her tongue. Poe returned the gesture. Being a few decades older than Mari made a traditional sibling relationship nearly impossible, but Mari had never been inclined to let that stop her. "Seriously, Poe, next time we visit, can Luke..."
Poe nodded. "Of course. My money is on her just being quick on the uptake, but..."
"Thanks," Mari glanced over her shoulder. "Oh, baby, no, we don't—" There was a crash and Mari sighed, turning back to Poe. "Alright, I'd better..."
"Take care," Poe gave a sympathetic wave, wincing as he heard another crash echo before the holo cut off.
"Mari doing okay?" Luke asked when Poe found him again. He was hovering between his office desk and his office door, cycling back and forth as he tried to make sure he had everything he needed before leaving. Poe tucked his hands in his pockets and watched Luke with bemusement. Over twenty years, married to this man, and he still found Luke's 'trying-to-remember-things' shuffle adorable.
Luke muttered, went back to his desk, tucked his lightsaber into his belt, went back toward the door, stopped, grabbed a key, before ducking out the door and giving Poe a sheepish smile.
"I love you," Poe said.
"Yeah, yeah," Luke responded, hearing the teasing in the words. "You too, darling." Luke laid a kiss against Poe's cheek.
"Mari's fine," Poe said, finally answering Luke's question. "I think she's got some parent panic going on right now. She's asking you to check Kessa for Force Sensitivity. Yet another concerned parent, thinking that their kid’s behavior is clearly a sign of some inherent talent. She's definitely in the 'ruling it out because I'm worried' category, thank heavens. I think I'd have to disown her if she was one of the 'clearly my kid is special parents."
"All kids are special," Luke replied seriously, with a twinkle in his eyes. The years had made their mark on him, evident in the wrinkles around the corners of his eyes and mouth and the grey twining in with his blond hair. Still beautiful, to Poe's eyes, just weathered by history. But the march of time hadn't done a thing to dim those eyes, still as bright blue and sparkling as the day they had met. Luke continued, "That's actually what I'm about to do right now. Come with?"
"Of course." Poe reached out and took Luke's hand. "So which parents are these? Worried, obnoxious, some different flavor?"
"Mostly worried, I think." Luke's brows furrowed. "They were very insistent though. Paid privately to get here sooner, even though they're registered foster parents. The New Republic would have reimbursed them if they had just waited for the credit transfer to get approved."
"Huh," Poe said. "Where are they from? Maybe they're rich."
Luke shook his head, dubiously, "Well, they're from the Western Reaches, specializing in human and Twi'lek kids—mixed family, I think. Nothing stood out as really wealthy."
Poe hummed and gave a nod. "Who knows?"
"Maybe they're just busy," Luke mused as they kept walking. "Waiting for government reimbursement can be hard on a schedule. I guess we'll find out."
They walked out into the school's courtyard and greeted the shuttle. A human man with curly black hair walked down the ramp, followed by a light blue Twi'lek man, who was throwing a worried look over his shoulder and calling for—
Poe's breath caught.
"We think our foster daughter is...gifted," the human man started, in a rush. "Can you help?"
"Well," Luke said indulgently, "We can certainly see if she's got the sort of skills that would make her a good fit. But Force Sensitivity is rare. If we're not the right people for her, we'll see what—"
"I'm a Jedi!" a young girl, around eight or nine, said decisively as she strode down the ramp. "Look! I can make the stones fly!"
She closed her eyes and stretched out her hands, and Poe, having a strong suspicion of what was coming next, ducked beneath the firm patio cover of the school. The girl's parents both flinched, and almost instinctively stepped so that Luke was between them and their daughter.
The Twi'lek father made a concerned gesture in her direction. "Now, sweetie, remember, we need to be respectful of—"
Six large boulders ripped free from the earth and started hovering, rising with each passing second.
"Oh!" Luke said, clearly stunned. A second later, he evidently realized that massive floating boulders might be an issue and quickly waved his hands. The boulders settled back to the earth. Luke turned to the girl's parents. "Um, yes. I think I see what you were talking about."
Poe couldn't help his wild grin.
Rey. She had always had a knack for lifting rocks.
While Luke talked with the concerned parents, she wandered over to him. "Why are you so happy?" she asked. "My temporary dads are just worried."
Poe tilted his head. "Temporary dads?"
"My real parents said I needed to stay with the foster parents until they came to get me." Rey wrinkled her nose. "It's not so bad, I guess. Why are you so happy?" she asked again, folding her arms as she looked at him.
"Because you are," Poe answered honestly, smiling down at her. "You looked so happy making those rocks move. And because, even though I didn't realize it, I think I've been waiting for you."
"Oh," Rey said, clearly mollified. "That's good."
"It is." Poe smiled. "I'm really happy you're here. I think you're going to be an amazing Jedi."
Rey paused for a second, before giving Poe a sideways glance. "You really think so?"
Poe nodded. "I really do."