They’re barely two parsecs into their journey when Finn leans over the table and says, “Play a game of Dejarik with me.”
“Is that an order General?” Poe snipes, slouching lower in his seat and glaring at the data pad in his hand.
Finn just rolls his eyes and throws up his hands. “If you’d rather sit and brood all the way there then go ahead. I’m just saying you need the practice. Co-General.”
Poe smiles a little bit despite himself and then gets even more annoyed, because he was just starting to enjoy the bad mood.
“I’m not brooding.”
“You’re scowling.” Finn points out.
“That’s my concentrating face.” Poe says sourly and when he feels Finn’s foot kick his lightly under the table he groans and gives up, tossing the data pad on the table. He rubs at his eyes and feels the headache building up.
“Why are you obsessing over these reports?” Finn says, snatching it up and scanning over the numbers. “We went over everything before we left. You don’t trust Rose to not blow it up before we get back?”
“I trust Rose.” Poe objects. “That’s not the issue. The issue is weapon inspection and ship repairs and all the missing ration shipments we still haven’t tracked down and-“
“Woah, woah.” Finn cuts in, turning off the data pad and reaching out over the table to touch Poe’s arm. “She’s got it, alright? You don’t need to worry about that stuff right now. I told you before- you should be thinking of this as a holiday.”
“A holiday.” Poe says shortly. “Right. A holiday right in the middle of First Order territory. Being diplomatic.”
Poe nearly spits out the last word and when Finn laughs at him, Poe feels something unwind a little in his chest. Finn’s hand is still on his arm, suddenly very warm, even through two layers of fabric, and Poe can’t help but lean into it.
“It’s not First Order territory anymore.” Finn corrects him. “And Passio Verak was never occupied.”
“No. But they co-operated.”
“A lot of people did.” Finn says, frowning. “To survive. It can’t have been easy.”
Poe shrugs and lets it go. They’ve had this fight before. In a way, it feels like they’ve been having this fight for the last two weeks, ever since this diplomatic mission was suggested.
Poe had never thought that being General would be easy. He had been prepared for the bloodshed, the decisions over who lives and who dies, the weight of responsibility and the eyes of the Galaxy watching his every move. What he hadn’t been prepared for was the mind-numbing bureaucracy of it all. It wasn’t just the endless paperwork or simple logistics of running such a complicated operation. The worst of it didn’t come from the Resistance itself, but the fact that all at once, the rest of the Galaxy had come knocking at their door.
It had started almost immediately after Palpatine’s defeat, before the sun had even set on the celebrations that night. People all over the Galaxy had seen the First Order fall and overnight the Resistance had gone from begging for scraps to being besieged by messages of support, appeals for aid and tentative offers of alliance.
And that was all good, Poe reminded himself, that was great and what they wanted all along. What Leia would have wanted.
But that didn’t stop him missing a time when things were just a little more…simple. Back when he could just run in with a blaster and shoot at a problem instead of trying to write paperwork about it.
“Okay, so what’s making you more grumpy,” Finn asks him. “The mission or the fact you’re not the one flying this ship?”
Poe casts a mournful look over at the door to the cockpit, where their pilot is currently steering them ably through Hyperspace en route to Passio Verak.
“It’s the clothes more than anything.” Poe complains, picking at his stiffly laundered formal jacket. “What’s wrong with what I normally wear?”
“Nothing if you like old beat-up jackets.”
“Says the person who still owns my beat-up old jacket.” Poe points out and Finn pulls his hand away, looking a little flustered.
Poe feels the loss of it almost instantly, but he covers with a smirk.
“What you don’t think I look dashing?” He asks and Finn rolls his eyes again.
“Yeah very dashing. A real politician.”
Poe winces and tugs at the button of his shirt. That’s what he had dreading. C-3PO had picked these outfits for them and that alone should have been a warning sign. The high collars and long dark coats favoured by the Passio Verakians felt ridiculous and restrictive on him but C-3PO had insisted that it would send a gesture of respect and solidarity. In the same way that C-3PO had insisted that Poe couldn’t be the one to pilot them there on this stupid, waste-of-time attempt at an alliance. It had also been on C-3PO’s insistence that both he and Finn had to be present to meet with the Passio Verak royal family; as co-generals of the Resistance it would show respect.
And that’s what my life has become now, Poe thinks darkly, symbols and gestures and playing nice with the same people who sat back and let the First Order run rampant over the Galaxy.
Poe had objected to the mission from the very start. There were the obvious security concerns involved in the two leaders of the Resistance being sent off to a possibly hostile planet and a mountain of things back at the base to worry about, but in the end, Finn had talked him round. Passio Verak was rich and very powerful; an invaluable ally to the Resistance in terms of resources, and of course, it couldn’t be ignored that they had been the ones to reach out. They had asked for help and of course, Finn being who he was, he could never say no to that. And the sad stupid fact of it was that Poe could never really say no to Finn.
And so here they were, en route to a planet Poe hated, in clothes that itched, in a ship he wasn’t even allowed to fly.
“Would you be less depressed if I let you win the first couple of games?” Finn asks him, watching him carefully and Poe realizes for the first time that maybe Finn is a little anxious about this too.
“Let me win?” Poe scoffs, sitting up and trying to shake off the bad mood. “In your dreams.”
He flicks on the switch for the board and the little holographic creatures stretch and yawn into life. Across from him Finn perks up, looking almost relieved.
“Big talk but can you back it up?” He challenges, grinning, and Poe can’t help but return the smile.
Finn makes it really difficult to brood but Poe can’t hate him for it. Kind of the opposite in fact.
By the time they drop out of hyperspace into the orbit of Passio Verak, Finn has won three games to Poe’s two and he’s being incredibly smug about it. Poe is almost grateful to hear C-3PO’s voice coming through the ship’s internal com system.
“Sirs, I hate to interrupt but it appears we will shortly be arriving. In case you were worried about our punctuality, have no fear! Our capable pilot Mr Tarkin assures me that the landing will be right on schedule.”
“Were you worried about our punctuality?” Poe asks Finn out of the corner of his mouth and sees Finn nod gravely.
“I was on the edge of my seat.” Finn says and then stands up, tugging at his clothes. “This won’t be too complicated right? We get in there, say hello, and eat food. C-3PO is sure they won’t want to start the talks until tomorrow right? Because there is no way I’m doing trade negations on an empty stomach.”
“Now who’s the grumpy one?” Poe drawls, switching off the game. He had been losing again anyway.
“I’m not grumpy.” Finn says grumpily. “I just feel stupid all dressed up like this.”
He’s fussing with the sleeves of his jacket and Poe tries not to watch him too obviously.
“You don’t look stupid” he offers and then nearly bites his tongue because it feels like he’s given away too much with just that.
These clothes, overly formal and ornate though they are, suit Finn very well in fact. Too well. The white shirt and high boots, the tailored cream coat that show off the strong set of his shoulders; it all serves to make Poe just that little bit more distracted than he is normally. Which is saying a lot because he gets distracted around Finn on a pretty much daily basis.
Three days. Poe thinks to himself. Three days of this and then you can go back to the base on Ajan Kloss and drown yourself in weapon requisition forms.
This being said, he nearly turns right back around and flies away when he sees the reception waiting for them on the landing pad.
“Um, C-3PO?” He hears Finn whisper loudly, but Poe can’t even look over at them, nearly frozen in the attention of what looks like the entire Royal Court.
Passio Verak is a lush and beautiful planet, famed for its pleasure gardens and exotic wildlife but that was hard to tell here, in the gargantuan Royal Palace in the heart of the central city. Everywhere he looks, Poe can see endless intricate structures of pale sandstone, stretching into the and towering overhead, nearly blocking out the sky. The effect was strangely disturbing, like being in a vast and endless manmade canyon, but not so disturbing as the sheer number of figures watching them from the buildings.
They cluster in windows, peer down at them from balconies and walkways and cluster on the staircases, tale and eerily pale with long elegant ears and pink eyes. They’re dressed exquisitely, in bright and trailing fabrics, jewellery glinting at their long necks and delicate wrists.
The Verakian nobles, gathered in full force.
The sheer amount of watching eyes make Poe shiver despite himself and step a little closer to Finn. The thought of a sniper watching from one of the endless windows itches at the back of his mind. The silence is the worst part. A normal crowd would make noise, but all Poe can hear is a faint whisper, a low static buzz.
“Do not be alarmed- this is perfectly normal sirs.” C-3PO witters behind them, waving his arms anxiously. “They are here to pay respect to the esteemed guests.”
“I guess that’s us huh.” Poe mutters and then squints at the two figures stepping out of the crowd in front of them. “Is that them? The Royal couple?”
“Indeed sir.” C-3PO says and then pauses. “Perhaps you and Mr Finn would care to hold hands.”
“Um, what now?” Finn asks carefully while Poe nearly chokes.
C-3PO’s arms start to move more wildly as the figures come closer.
“Oh, did I not mention that before? They value strong partnership in their fellow leaders.” C-3PO explains and Poe wants to choke him.
He shoots Finn a wild glance but there’s no time to discuss it any further, not with the Verakian nobles drawing to a halt in front of them, and before Poe can overthink it, he reaches out blindly to grab Finn’s hand.
Finn takes it and Poe has taken his hand before, a million times, but it still throws him off, the warm solid feel of it. So much so that when the Verakian couple bow before them it takes him a moment to understand what they’re doing.
Then Finn squeezes his hand and the two of them bend low to return the gesture.
When the royal couple straighten the one on the left fixes them with a clear pink gaze and lets off a string of hushed consonants. After a pause, C-3PO begins to translate.
“They offer you understanding, of both heart and mind. It seems to be a traditional greeting sir.” He warbles and Poe nods, suddenly wishing he had prepared something to say in advance.
Leia would have.
“Um, tell them we accept and offer the same thing.” Poe says, and then, under his breath. “But make it sound better than that.”
The Royal who spoke gives a soft trill and smiles widely at him. “No need, General Dameron. We understand perfectly.”
“Oh.” Poe says awkwardly. “Uh, good. I’m sorry, our manners are a little rusty.”
“We expected no different.” The other, slightly shorter half of the Royal couple says, sounding a little snappish. “We are prepared to be patient.”
“Very kind.” Poe grits out and feels Finn squeeze his hand in warning.
“Very kind.” Finn repeats, making it sound more like a compliment and then nods at his head at the two consorts in turn. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Pavish- Tau. Pavish- Ula.”
Poe smiles weakly, wishing he found it easier to tell them apart. Both of them wear the same glittering gold robes and lavish jewellery and from what C-3PO has told them, the Verakians have no binary gender system that would make the process easier. As far as he can tell, Pavish-Tau seems to be the shorter and grumpier of the two, while Pavish- Ula seems a little better at pretending this new alliance isn’t embarrassing for everyone involved. They are both a deeper shade of blue than the surrounding courtiers.
“A pleasure indeed, General Finn.” Pavish-Ula says smoothly. “Is this your entire retinue?”
Poe glances behind them at C-3PO and their nervous looking pilot, Mishmi Tarkin, who gives an awkward wave. Mishmi is a good kid and he’s great in a cockpit, but Poe suddenly wishes they had brought someone a little more impressive than a scrawny Snivvian barely out of his teens.
“Yes.” Poe says defensively. “We don’t have many hands to spare. It’s a busy time for us.”
Pavish-Tau sniffs and gives their spouse a pointed look. “No need to be embarrassed General Dameron. This relieves the strain on our chefs at the feast tonight.”
“I’m not embarrassed.” Poe says tightly, feeling his smile grow more fixed. Finn squeezes his hand again and Poe squeezes back childishly.
“Try and behave.” Finn hisses in his ear as they’re led into the palace by a small army of nervous courtiers. “We only have to be nice for literally three days.”
“Me behave?” Poe objects, equally hushed. “They’re the ones being rude.”
“I know but there’s a lot more of them than us. And we need this. Remember what C-3PO said- they’re traditional, proud. We gotta play by their rules.”
Finn is speaking quickly and quietly into his ear and Poe can almost feel the breath on his neck. It makes him twitchy, the closeness. They’re still holding hands, echoing the royal couple but Poe can’t deny it makes it easier to conspire like this. A wild part of him thinks of suggesting that they bring it back home with them, pick it up as a custom.
Hold my hand Finn, He thinks of saying, it’s for the mission. Yes, it’s very important you don’t let go.
“Since when do you play by other people’s rules?” Poe asks him and Finn just shrugs.
“Since you made me Co-General.”
They’re shown to their quarters to prepare before dinner.
As they’re led through corridor after corridor, Poe can feel himself getting twitchier with every corner they turn. The place is hivelike, confusing in its geography and all the rooms are identical in their ornate beauty. Poe tries to keep track, thinking of exit strategies, but the truth is he’s just uncomfortable with the sheer size of it after so long sleeping in tents back in the base or crammed into the tiny cabins of the Falcon.
Ever since they assumed the dual role of General, he and Finn have been living practically on top of each other, with barely five steps between their tents. Sometimes they would spend so long hammering over the fine details of some new trade agreement or aid mission that one of them would end up falling asleep on their datapads. The need for close quarters was purely practical but that didn’t stop Poe from feeling a secret, guilty rush of joy every time he saw Finn blinking awake the morning after another night crashing on Poe’s bunk.
If he’s being honest with himself, the thought of being entombed in separate fancy rooms in this mausoleum fills Poe with a heavy kind of dread, and not only because of the obvious security concerns. So, it’s almost a relief when they’re shown to the same massive room and informed they will be sharing it for the duration of their stay.
“They want to know if this will be to your liking?” C-3PO translates, and then listens intently as the courtier lets out another stream of nervous babbling. “Oh, and they want to make it clear that the servants are very discreet.”
“Um. That’s good.” Finn offers, sounding a little confused. “It’s very uh, nice. Cosy.”
Poe snorts loudly, looking at the marbled floors and massive ornate open balcony that faces out onto the city. The room is cavernous, the walls draped in heavy red curtains. An indoor fountain trickles quietly in the centre of the floor.
“They say that someone will come and collect you both for the feast tonight.” C-3PO explains and then, when the courtier tugs at his arm, he snaps, “Yes, I’m getting to the robes, give me a moment.”
“Robes?” Finn asks and then Poe suddenly realises what’s missing from the room.
“Wait, where are the bedrooms?”
The courtier seems to understand that much at least without translation and they move over to the wall to proudly tug on an ornate tassle. When a section of the wall hanging parts, a huge, almost obscenely luxurious bed is revealed.
The courtier gives a flourishing gesture, accompanied by the Verakian version of what is presumably, Ta-Da!
“Oh that’s…” Finn starts and then trails off. “Great. Um, is there another one?”
C-3PO hesitates and then leans forward.
In a passable robotic simulation of a whisper, he says, “Not to question your judgement sir but perhaps it would be best not to give the impression that your marriage is in trouble? Palace gossip can be frightfully insidious.”
“Our what now?” Poe says dumbly, blinking. Beside him he hears Finn make a sort of strangled noise and drop his hand.
“Your marriage.” C-3PO says and then tuts. “Oh dear, you really didn’t read the manual on Verakian customs I provided, did you?”
They get the whole story out of him, after the courtiers finally leave, leading their pilot to his nearby rooms. Poe, who is pretty sure that the Snivvian had been fighting back laughter for the last half hour, is frankly glad to see the back of him. He’ll have to have a word with Mishmi before they leave, or this will be all around the base within a day of their return.
“Right.” He tells C-3PO the minute they’re alone. “You. Start talking.”
C-3PO steps back from Poe’s accusatory finger and raises his arms in protest. “I really do wish that you had paid a little more attention earlier sir. I was very explicit in my margin notes about the Verakian conventions regarding leadership. Their leaders are always a married couple, bonded, as they put it, in both heart and mind.”
“Well that’s just great for them.” Poe snaps, crossing his arms. “But what does that have to do with us?”
“Well General, I’ve already explained how highly this civilization prizes tradition.” C-3PO says, flustered. “And with the two of you already breaking convention by sharing the role of General, it just seemed simpler to present your relationship as something a little more in keeping with Verakian culture.”
Finn, who has been worryingly silent all this time, swears under his breath and sinks down onto the edge of the bed.
Poe spares him a helpless glance and then, turning back to C-3PO, splutters, “So, we’re lying to them? And you decided to do this without warning us? Was that what the hand holding was, you jumped up bucket of bolts?”
“With all due respect sir.” C-3PO says, with a note of righteous anger. “I am a protocol droid, built for navigating precisely these difficult situations and furthermore, I laid this all out in the manual which if you had taken the time to-“
“I’ll tell you where to put your kriffing manual- “Poe says hotly and then he suddenly becomes aware that Finn is laughing softly into his hands.
Poe stops short, suddenly horribly worried that Finn has lost it somehow, and then when Finn lifts his head up, he’s grinning.
“Rey’s going to lose her mind when I tell her about this.” Finn says and Poe feels himself scowl involuntarily.
“This doesn’t bother you?” He asks, not sure what he wants the answer to be.
Finn just shrugs, still grinning and leaning back on his hands on the bed. “I mean I don’t see the harm. At least this way we can stick close.”
Poe opens and shuts his mouth, trying to think of a way to say that the harm of pretending to be married, even for just a few days, would be gigantic, catastrophic, galaxy sized, but there’s no way to explain without revealing too much. So instead he just shuts up and lets C-3PO warble on about convention and diplomacy.
“I wouldn’t call it lying so much as an embellishment of the truth.” C-3PO says earnestly. “We never claim that your relationship is romantic, but we simply let them assume as much. It’s simple really: a few small gestures of affection such as handholding or the occasional well-placed compliment. And perhaps, if the time is right then you could bestow a small kiss-“
“Yeah, thank you.” Poe says loudly, cutting him off before he has to listen to C-3PO explain the finer points of romantic human behaviour. “I think that’ll be it for now. If you could give us a moment.”
C-3PO’s head swivels between them and then he shuffles towards the door, saying, “Of course Sirs, I do apologise, this must be a taxing day for you both.”
“See you at dinner.” Finn calls after him, cheerfully and when Poe gives him a pointed look, he just shrugs. “Don’t do the face, this isn’t that bad.”
“I’m not doing a face.” Poe says, trying not to do the face. “Did you read the manual?”
“A bit.” Finn lies, badly, and shrugs. “It was very long. Did you?”
“I skimmed it.”
“So no then. Do you think we have to get changed for dinner?”
“That’s it?” Poe says, almost a little offended. “You’re not worried about it anymore?”
Finn laughs, looking loose and easy where he’s leaning back against the bed.
Their matrimonial bed. That they now share. Poe reminds himself, and then sits down next to Finn so he’s not looking directly at it anymore.
“Honestly I’m more worried that we won’t get any holocall reception with all these walls in the way.” Finn says, pulling out his datapad. “Rey said she would call and update me on how her mission is going.”
“Of course, you’re more worried about that.” Poe says and it comes out a littler more bitter than he had meant, enough that Finn gives him a sidelong glance.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Finn asks. “It’s a dangerous mission.”
“Rey took down a Sith Emperor single handed.” Poe points out. “I think she’ll be fine with some rowdy Spice runners.”
“Not single-handed. Ben Solo-“
“Kylo Ren.” Poe corrects. “Just because he had a last-minute change of heart doesn’t make him any less of a murderer. I don’t see why we all have to act like the guy was just a little misunderstood. Seen the scar on your back lately?”
For a moment it looks as though Finn is going to argue and then he nods, conceding.
“I mean I’m not his biggest fan either. But Rey wouldn’t like to hear you say that. Or Leia.”
“Leia would have.” Poe mutters, lying down to stare up at the ceiling. “You should have heard all the names she had for him. I can’t even repeat most of them.”
Finn gives a snort of laughter and Poe grins despite himself. He’s glad the argument has shifted back to the well-trodden ground of Kylo Ren and away from the more sensitive topic of Finn’s feelings towards Rey. That last one never ends well, and always leaves Poe feeling like the moral equivalent of a pile of bantha dung.
It’s not that Poe can really blame Finn for being in love with Rey.
Firstly, because hey, Poe’s obviously no stranger to hopeless devotion himself and secondly because, although Poe can’t really claim to understand Rey at all, you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be impressed by her. Rey was the first person Finn ever really knew in his post-Stormtrooper life, the person who showed him how good people could really be.
Besides Rey could levitate things with her mind; there’s no way for Poe to compete with that, even if a horrible, selfish part of him wants to say, hey, I was there first Finn and I called dibs the minute you pulled off that helmet.
He’s never going to say that out loud though, so instead he just holds out his hand for Finn’s when the courtiers come to escort them to the feast, and tries not to think about it too much.
After the reception they had received on arrival, Poe has braced himself for a crowd but it’s still intimidating to walk into a huge hallway to an actual fanfare. When they step inside, Finn actually staggers against him a little and Poe fights the urge to raise his hand up to his eyes, feeling dazzled. For a wild moment he feels like he’s looking into a kaleidoscope, like the small toy his mother had given him as a child, and then he realises that set into every wall of the hall are stained glass windows. The sun is setting and when the light catches the coloured glass it sends patches of green and blue and pink across the tables and watching guests.
As they’re led to the high table and the waiting Royal couple, Poe leans in and whispers into Finn’s ear, “Do you think this is all to impress us?”
Finn shivers almost imperceptibly. “If they are it’s working. The food better be as good as the view.”
“What, my ration bars and powdered caf aren’t good enough for you?” Poe asks, mock offended.
They halt in front of the table and at C-3PO’s urging, give a short bow.
“The caf you somehow always manage to burn?” Finn mutters as they straighten up and Poe grins at him as they take their seats.
The taller Royal who Poe dimly remembers as Pavish-Ula, gives them a gracious smile as the wine is poured.
“We hope your room is to your liking Generals.”
“Oh, it’s just great.” Finn says, somewhat hesitantly. “I love the fountain. Very um, peaceful.”
“So peaceful.” Poe adds, nodding over Finn’s shoulder.
It’s strangely intimate up here at the high table, above the noise and bustle of the greater court. There’s only six of them up here, the Royals and Finn and Poe in the centre with C-3PO to their right and, far down the other end of the table, a Verakian who is presumably a highly trusted advisor. They’re all lined up on one side of the table which presumably looks very impressive and symbolic to the crowd below but makes general communication near impossible.
Which, Poe reflects somewhat sourly, could really sum up this diplomatic process overall.
Finn, who is sitting in between Poe and Pavish-Ula, has started up a carefully polite conversation that mostly revolves around the weather. Poe nods vaguely, sipping his wine and trying to find Mishmi Tarkin in the crowd below. They had been informed earlier that, as a mere pilot, he hadn’t been deemed important enough for the high table. This had annoyed Poe on a personal level at the time but now when he spots him quaffing wine and laughing loudly with a group of Varakian lesser nobles, Poe feels almost jealous. Whatever they’re talking about seems more interesting than the incredibly neutral conversation Finn and Pavish-Ula are trying to have about indigenous wildlife.
Poe watches him nod earnestly at a placid observation on seasonal migration, and thinks, not for the first time, that Finn is actually really good at this. Good at talking to people, good at being liked. It’s not politics or fake in any way and that’s why it works so well. It works for the same reason Finn had picked up misfits and strays all over the galaxy. It worked in the same way that it had once worked on Poe.
Because you couldn’t talk to Finn for five minutes without liking him, and then once those five minutes were up you couldn’t remember a time you ever didn’t like him.
“Tell me General Dameron.” Pavish-Ula asks, jogging Poe out of his thoughts. “Were you very familiar with Passio Verak before now?”
Poe swallows, thinking hard about what to say next and then decides to just be honest.
“I have to admit your majesty, the closest I’ve come to Verakian culture is going head to head with your gunships in battle.”
“Oh dear.” He hears C-3PO mutter.
“Ah yes.” Pavish-Ula says, one ear twitching slightly. “Very unfortunate. A darker past for us all.”
“Not that far in the past.” Pavish Tau gripes from further down the table. “A lot of our citizens have been lost to Resistance starfighters. You certainly didn’t hesitate on the battlefield.”
Poe drains his glass, ignoring Finn’s warning glance. “We were fighting the First Order. Not Passio Verak. Our people died too, on the end of your weaponry.”
“We were never First Order.” Pavish-Tau snaps. “We were under their influence, but only through threat of force. The same as a million other planets. But that didn’t stop your fighters, did it General?”
Pavish- Ula lays a restraining hand on their spouse’s arm. “This is no time for recriminations. We must look to the future, not lose ourselves in the past. Tell me General Finn, did you know that our Royal family are somewhat telepathic?”
Finn startles, looking baffled by the rapid change in conversation.
“No, I didn’t.” He says, after glancing over at Poe who is taking the opportunity to refill his wine glass. “Is it a kind of Force-sensitivity?”
Pavish-Ula shrugs elegantly, looking disinterested. “Perhaps. We prefer to see it as a Royal birthright. The higher born our citizens, the stronger our ability to sense the minds of others. Of course, it’s not so impressive as it once was in our past. Touch is required now but my great-grandfather could read the true intent of a man across a crowded room.”
“Ula is the strongest telepath our people have seen in generations.” Pavish- Tau says proudly, giving Poe a hard pink stare across the table. “An invaluable skill for any leader; true empathy.”
Poe smiles, or at least shows his teeth, and then puts his hand on Finn’s arm. “It’s funny you should say that. Did you know Finn is actually force-sensitive?”
“Poe.” Finn hisses under his breath, shooting him a glare but Poe is too focused on staring Pavish-Tau down over the table.
“How fascinating.” Pavish-Tau says tightly. “I never knew. You’ve kept it quite the secret.”
“Well, it’s not really very developed-“, Finn protests and Poe just smiles at him, squeezing his arm.
“Don’t be modest, you’re amazing.” He says and Finn flushes.
It suddenly occurs to Poe that the wine might have gone to his head.
“We shall have to discuss this on another occasion.” Pavish- Ula says graciously. “But now, I believe the food shall be getting cold.”
Poe slows down the drinking through the rest of the meal, course after agonizing course of tiny exquisite delicacies, but he’s still a little tipsy by the time they’re stumbling through the corridors back to their rooms.
“I’m just saying, I can’t just perform it on command, it’s not a party trick.” Finn is still protesting. “That’s not how it works.”
“How does it work then?” Poe demands. “Don’t you just…”
He makes a wiggly motion with his free hand and Finn laughs, even though he still looks annoyed. They’ve lost the courtiers and C-3PO three corridors back but maybe Finn is a little drunk too, because they’re still holding hands, just in case. It’s strange how normal it feels, even after just a day.
“It’s about balance and good and evil.” Finn says vaguely. “And also, the fabric of the universe or…something.”
He trails off and when Poe laughs, Finn makes a face. “I don’t know, I’m still working it all out.”
When they reach their rooms, Finn drops his hand just inside the door and Poe feels the loss almost immediately, flexing his fingers instinctively.
“It’s hard to believe this is still the first day.” He grouses, walking across the room to throw himself onto the covers, feeling the exhaustion catching up with him. The weight of having to be so careful all dinner; the hours and days and weeks of work before that, rebuilding the Resistance’s net of allies. Maybe Finn and Rey had been right; maybe he had needed the holiday.
“And we haven’t even started negotiating yet.” Finn says from where he’s perched on the edge of the fountain, feet dangling precariously off the floor. Poe almost wants to see him fall in. Come out, dripping water everywhere, shirt soaked through-
Poe rubs a hand over his eyes and tries to focus on making the room spin a little slower.
“Negotiating tomorrow. God, what if we start up the war all over again?” He asks the ceiling and he hears Finn laugh softly in the dark.
“Just maybe steer clear of picking any more fights with Pavish-Tau.”
“Me picking fights?” Poe objects. “I wasn’t the one who started it! Like I should feel guilty for fighting back against First Order troops. It was war. If you’re wearing the wrong uniform and pointing a gun at me then I’m not going to just stand there and get shot.”
He feels the mattress dip as Finn lies down next to him.
“You remember what I was wearing when we first met?” Finn says softly and Poe twists his head round to squint at him.
“That’s different.” He protests. “You’re different. You were brainwashed-born into it. These guys, they didn’t have to comply. They had a choice.”
He can’t see that well in the dark, just the faint dark outline of Finn next to him but they’re lying closer than he had thought. Finn is just an arm’s length away and if Poe reached out-
“Do you ever think how things could have gone differently?” Finn asks him, nearly whispering. “Back in that village on Jakku? There was a lot of shooting? What if you had got me- or I had got you? I have nightmares about it sometimes.”
Poe swallows and thinks about it, choosing his words carefully. “But it didn’t happen like that. You saved me. Saved us both.”
“I saved you?” Finn asks, as if he’s restructuring something in his head and Poe rolls away, suddenly feeling unready to talk like this, too open and honest.
“You betcha.” He says. “Now I need to see a man about an akk.”
When he gets back from the fresher, Finn is already in his nightclothes and under the covers. He’s either already asleep or doing a great job of pretending, because he hardly stirs when Poe slips under the covers on the other side.
Poe lies down next to him in the dark and the bed is huge, they might as well be sleeping on opposite sides of his tent back on Ajan Kloss, but still every nerve ending on Poe’s body is thrumming, raw and exposed. He can hear Finn breathing softly and Poe closes his eyes, his hands twitching on the coverlet.
It takes him a long time to sleep that night and when he does, he dreams of sand rising up his neck, into his mouth and pulling him deep down under the ground.
When he wakes the next morning, it takes Poe a good few moments to realise why he’s so warm, or even where he is at all. His face is pressed into the back of Finn’s neck, one arm slung over Finn’s waist. For a moment Poe doesn’t understand; thinks that maybe he’s still dreaming and then Finn shifts and murmurs in his sleep and Poe freezes up, heart rocketing.
At some point in the night they must have gravitated towards each other on the huge bedspread and even though he was unconscious, Poe still feels a sickening sort of guilt in the way his body has responded to the warmth.
He detaches himself gently and escapes to the balcony, moving as silently as possible. Outside, the dawn light is golden and beautiful, catching on the sandstone towers of the Varakian City. Poe leans against the railing and wishes suddenly that he hadn’t kicked his cigarra habit years ago.
Poe’s no blushing teen virgin, he’s had his fair share of flirtations. Zorri had used to call him a smooth-talker and a romantic scoundrel and Poe had always been secretly a little proud of that idea of himself. He had never really been a heartbreaker in any malicious sense, or at least he hoped not, but he had always thought of himself as at least, a little suave.
But something about Finn threw him off. Made him stupid, clumsy; little too obvious. When they had first met, Poe had felt the spark of something between them and yeah, maybe he had flirted a little for fun, and then suddenly it wasn’t just fun at all, it was something much more important. Poe had realised that right around the first time he had seen Finn in that bacta suit. And not long after that, in between running from explosions he had realised he wasn’t just watching Finn, he was watching Finn watch Rey.
Somewhere along the way, Poe had pretty much given up on being suave.
“Hell of a view. You’d have never thought the First Order was around for so long.” Finn says behind him and when Poe looks over his shoulder, Finn is framed in the doorway, holding out a steaming cup in offering.
“Well they probably took down most of the banners before we arrived.” Poe says drily and then, taking the cup, inhales the steam gratefully. “Is this real caf?”
“Tastes like it.” Finn says and then pauses. “Actually I don’t know if I’ve ever had caf that wasn’t powdered.”
Poe frowns, moving a little so Finn can stand next to him at the balcony edge. “Really? Not ever?”
“Well it’s only been three years since I was a stormtrooper. And that was all canned protein and the recommended daily nutritional requirement.”
Finn is saying it lightly, but it still makes Poe’s stomach turn to think of Finn living like that, year after brutal year.
“When this is all over, I’m taking you to a resort moon.” Poe says firmly. “And we’ll eat nothing but air cake and Corellian wine.”
Finn wrinkles his nose and laughs. “That doesn’t sound very nutritional at all.”
“Not a bit.” Poe says happily, warming to his theme. “Have you ever heard of Zeltron? It’s literally one big party there. All day long, all year round.”
Finn is laughing into his cup of caf and Poe grins back, feeling giddy in the sunlight and thinking yeah, maybe this is enough.
They’re to meet with the Royal around midday and Finn wants to check in with Rey through holocall before that. Poe doesn’t really want to lurk around in the background for that, so he makes up some excuse about checking in on their pilot and takes off.
Once he’s out in the corridor, Poe realizes he probably should check in on Mishmi, or at least make sure he’s not causing any diplomatic incidents, so he flags down a passing servant to ask for directions. He still gets a little lost anyway, the palace no less confusing in the light of dawn, but eventually he finds his way down a back stairway, away from the grander parts of the palace.
These corridors are smaller, more like a warren than anything and strangely empty. Away from the bustle of the main palace, Poe suddenly becomes aware of the sound of his own footsteps on the flagstones. He pauses by a window and peers out, but the glass is fogged up, dirty.
He places a hand on the wall and leans a little closer, trying to make out the city beyond and then suddenly a shadow in the glass moves. Poe spins, all at once sure he feels something behind him but there’s nothing, just the empty corridor.
“Hello?” he calls out and there is a brief scurry of footsteps around the corner and what sounds almost like hushed voices, bouncing off the walls.
Poe relaxes and let’s his hand fall from where it’s automatically flown to the blaster at his waist. He’ too skittish; more used to the battlefield than busy palace life.
He’s glad nonetheless when he finally knocks on the right door and Mishmi’s friendly snout is on the other side, grinning in welcome.
“General!” he says. “How’s the morning after treating you?”
“Better than I deserve.” Poe says, moving past him into the small cell of a room. It’s significantly more spartan in decoration down here, but there’s still the large bed and the bowl of Verakian fruit on the table. Pose gestures at it, suddenly aware he’s missed breakfast.
“Do you mind?” He asks and Mishmi waves his hand.
“Of course, not General. Help yourself.”
Poe takes something sort of apple-like, if a little more blue, and nods his head in thanks. He still feels awkward being called General; he’s known Mishmi for years now, back when he was just another snot nosed Resistance kid and Poe was just another X-Wing pilot with a chip on his shoulder.
“Good morning sir, I trust you slept well,” says a familiar voice and Poe turns to see C-3PO hunkered down in the far corner of the room.
“You’re sharing?” Poe asks in some surprise and Mishmi nods, his smile looking a little more fixed.
“Oh yes, General and we’ve been having the most wonderfully interesting conversations.” C-3PO witters happily. “Do you know, Mr Tarkin here never knew the complete history of the Trade Federation?”
Poe raises his eyebrows at Mishmi who looks slightly desperate.
“Sounds very educational. “Poe remarks and sees Mishmi shudder a little bit.
“So, what brings you here General?” Mishmi asks and then perks up. “Are we leaving early?”
“Sadly, no. I just wanted to check in and see how you’re finding things. You’ve had more of a chance to actually get the lay of the land around here. Anything odd? Dangerous?”
Poe’s aware he’s saying this a little hopefully.
Mishmi looks a little shifty, one hand tugging thoughtfully at his left tusk. “Honestly sir? This place is strange. They’re all friendly enough but there’s a lot of stuff going on under the surface.”
“What have you heard?” Poe asks, narrowing his eyes.
Mishmi considers. “Well let’s say there was a bit of an afterparty last night after the meal. Down in the servant’s quarters. I thought I should check it out, do a bit of a sitrep. And it looks like there’s a lot more resentment towards the Royal court than we had thought.”
“Is there a rebellion brewing?” Poe asks, impressed. When this is over, he might just recommend Mishmi for the intelligence corps.
“Nothing that bad.” Mishmi says, shaking his head. “I think. But they certainly seemed to think that the Royal Family got a lot more out of the First Order occupation than their subjects. It seems life in the palace didn’t change much compared to how bad it was for the common people.”
“And now that the First Order are gone…”
“Exactly General.” Mishmi grunts. “If it weren’t for the sacrifice of the Royal children-“
“Wait, what? What about them?” Poe asks, frowning. “I didn’t even know they had children.”
“Oh really sir, I must protest!” C-3PO cuts in. “This was all clearly laid out in the manual. I don’t see why I even bothered to do all that research.”
“Okay, okay.” Poe says, holding his hands up. “Let’s say I haven’t read it all. What’s this about children?”
“It was one of the principal ways in which First Order occupied planets were taxed.” C-3PO explains, with more than a hint of wounded pride. “They were requisitioned for weaponry, general resources such as food and in particular Verakian silk, which I’ve heard is of excellent quality- “
“Yes, okay, and the kids?” Poe asks, cutting him off before C-3PO can go on a tangent.
“Well they were requisitioned too of course.” C-3PO says. “That’s why Passio Verak has such an aging population. They took most, if not all, of the Verakian children.”
“To be stormtroopers.” Mishmi says, watching Poe carefully with his black, beady eyes. “Train ‘em young. Hearts and minds, as the Verakian’s say.”
Poe swallows hard, his hands curling involuntarily at his side. He thinks of Finn saying, what was I wearing when we first met? and has to take a deep breath to control the rush of anger rising in his chest.
“And what about the Royal children?” He asks and watches the lights in C-3PO’s eyes dim just a little.
“Oh dear, well it is a rather sad story. They had two, you see, when the First Order started their requisitions. Just infants really. And the Royal family, well, they chose to give them up. As an example. There would have been riots otherwise. No choice really in the end. But it kept the peace.”
It’s hard after that, to go to the meeting and discuss trade agreements and military aid. They’re holed up in an airless room, surrounded by dignitaries, sitting around large circular table. They’ve each got a mountain of papers to sign but all Poe can see when he tries to focus are the First Order troops reading out a long list of names, the parents watching, helpless. He feels weighed down by the knowledge, almost sickened.
Poe didn’t have the chance to tell Finn, but he knows he must be acting strangely from the worried looks he keeps getting over the table. Poe tries to smile back and reassure him but every time he does all he can think is that Finn was once like that, that someone, somewhere had held him as a child and then later watched him leave on a First Order ship.
When they finally take a break for refreshment sometime in the afternoon, Finn takes his arm and half drags him to a niche outside in the corridor.
“What’s up with you?” Finn asks in a hiss. “You look like a kicked Bantha cub. Is this because of the procession tomorrow?”
“No.” Poe says and then when a passing noble gives them a strange look, he pulls Finn closer with a hand on his arm. “I found out something from C-3PO. You know that manual he wrote? I think we should actually read it.”
“I did.” Finn says and then when Poe makes a questioning face, he holds up his hands. “Last night when you were sleeping. I woke up and felt kind of restless. Thought I would do some light reading.”
“Light?” Poe asks incredulously. “So you know about the uh, the um…”
He struggles to find the words, watching Finn’s face for some sign of resurfaced trauma but Finn just shrugs nonchalantly.
“The requisitions? Is this about the child tax?”
“Yeah.” Poe says carefully. “Did that not, I don’t know, upset you?”
“This was my life. It’s not a surprise.” Finn says gently. “We didn’t all know where we came from but some of us remembered bits and pieces. The older kids.”
“You don’t find it horrifying?” Poe asks, hearing his voice fray at edges. “Their own children?”
Finn looks away, his eyes shuttered. “All those shiny new stormtroopers had to come from somewhere right?”
Poe bites down on whatever he was going to say next. He knows all this logically, that’s the thing. They had all seen the numbers, read the reports of missing children across the galaxy. But to see it first-hand… What’s more, to think about the children growing up, putting on the uniform…
The thought that Poe hasn’t been able to fully accept, resurfaces. How many of them have I killed? In the sky, with a blaster? How many of them had been children from places just like this? How many of them had been just like Finn?
Something of this must show on his face because Finn takes his hand, catching his gaze.
“It was war,” he says softly. “But it’s over now. We stopped it.”
Poe holds his gaze for just a second too long and then looks away, nodding.
It’s not alright though. Part of Poe wonders if it ever will be.
They make headway with the negotiations in the end, mostly because a lot of the agreements have already been carried out, by their specialists on both sides. In the end, what it really comes down to is handshakes and a lot of signatures. This trip is supposed to be ceremonial more than anything and Poe tries to remember that, even as he feels the headache begin to develop.
Even so, it’s a huge relief when Pavish-Tau announces that this afternoon they’ll be showing them around the private Royal landing port.
“We have heard of your skill as a pilot General Dameron.” Pavish-Tau says, and it sounds more like a challenge than anything.
Poe smiles thinly but then Finn puts a hand on his arm and says proudly, “Best damn pilot in the Galaxy.”
“Indeed?” Pavish-Ulla remarks politely and Poe tries not to look too smug.
It’s hard though, when Finn looks at him like that and when he’s standing so close in those stupidly handsome clothes.
“Perhaps you would like a chance to demonstrate?” Pavish-Tau says snidely as they step outside onto an open walkway. “I would be interested to see how a human adapts to our complex starcraft systems.”
“I’ll try my best.” Poe says as sweetly as possible and sees Finn smirk out of the corner of his eye.
He feels a little more daunted when he actually sees the ship in question, a nifty little number that’s all sleek sharp lines and complicated hydraulics. Poe would rather his ships be fast than pretty but even he can admit that the thing is gorgeous, a smooth silver fish on the landing pad. It’s nested among a small fleet of larger models, but Poe had picked her out the minute they had stepped off the turbolift.
They’re very high up above the palace walls, on a landing pad designed more along aesthetics than practicality and even though the sun is shining brightly, the wind is chilling, ruffling the bright clothes of the royal entourage.
Beside him Finn whistles low in appreciation and reaches up to rub a hand over the edge of one smooth strut.
“Is this a fighter?” He asks and Pavish-Ulla laughs.
“Not at all, General. This ship is far too fragile to withstand artillery.”
“Fast though.” Pavish-Tau says and then, looking at Poe, adds, “Too fast for your human reflexes I suspect.”
“Let’s see, shall we?” Poe says and Finn gives him a concerned glance.
“It’s fine.” Poe tells him with an easy smile. “What, you don’t think I can handle it?”
“I think you think you can handle it.” Finn says, raising his eyebrow and Poe has a sudden, incredibly childish urge to show off to him.
“Ah. It’s touching to see you so concerned for your husband’s well-being.” Pavish-Ulla says, looking between them and it takes a moment for Poe to catch up.
He and Finn must remember at the same time because Finn visibly freezes, and Poe suddenly very interested in examining the measurements of the starcraft.
There’s no way of avoiding it now. If Poe doesn’t correct the assumption, then they’ve begun the active process of lying. He opens his mouth to say something and then he feels Finn’s hand wrap around his, large and warm.
“I wouldn’t have to be concerned if he didn’t take stupid risks all the time.” Finn says and Poe tries to smile in a way that doesn’t suggest he’s about to throw himself off the edge of the landing pad.
Finn squeezes his hand reassuringly.
“I hardly think a test flight is that stupid of a risk.” Poe says, suddenly desperate to be in the air and away from this conversation. “Especially with such a superior ship design.”
Pavish-Tau’s eyes in suspicion at the compliment but then one hand is waved graciously. “Feel free to test that theory General. I’ll have my courtiers bring out the ladder for the cockpit access…”
“No need.” Poe says quickly and then casts a pleading look at Finn. “Can I get a leg up?”
Finn rolls his eyes, but he laces his fingers together anyway. As he hoists Poe up, he mutters, “Very dignified General Dameron.”
“Thank you, General.” Poe says glibly as he pulls himself into the cockpit and finally gets his hands on the controls. Feeling the eyes on him, he wiggles himself into the most comfortable position he can find on the seat (it was damn lucky that the Verakians were for the most part pretty humanoid) and takes mental stock of the mechanisms.
“Think you can fly it?” Finn calls up and Poe gives him a thumbs up.
“Think you can find me a helmet?” He asks and Pavish-Tau ears twitch in a way that looks distinctly annoyed.
“This is not one of your TIE fighters General. Simply speak into the radio and we’ll pick your voice up down here.”
“And if I crash, will your fancy radio stop my head exploding?” Poe asks before he can stop himself.
“Can I suggest you don’t crash?” Finn calls up and Poe laughs and begins the sequence for take-off.
“Just for you I’ll try extra hard,” he tells Finn as the access hatch comes down with a smooth hiss of hydraulics.
Poe waits for the all clear from the radio and then he’s feeling the engine rumble to life under his feet.
“Hiya baby,” he mutters under his breath as the buttons begin to light up around him. “Let’s see what you can do.”
He’s barely taken off, flying a lazy circle around the Palace perimeter, when he starts to realize the sheer extent of the ship’s power. Her smooth lines and shiny paint job were just a ruse, Poe realizes now, gunning the engine. This thing is formidable, stripped of everything but the bare essentials, a slick bullet packing an ion engine that kicks like a Wookie. Poe lines up a distant mountain just outside of the city limits and gives it maybe ten percent more power and the resulting acceleration is almost enough to knock his head clean off.
The speed is insane; the handling light as a feather, and he lets out an involuntary whoop of joy as he blasts over the landing pad. The thought that somewhere down there Finn is watching makes him cocky and once he’s clear of the spires he gives in to the urge for a series of smooth rolls.
“Enjoying yourself General?” Pavish-Tau’s voice crackles over the com and Poe just laughs.
“This thing is crazy! How did you get handling this responsive?” he asks. “It turns on a dime.”
“You would have to ask our technicians General. I advise you turn back now.”
Poe considers briefly pretending not to hear, but he’s almost out of the city now and he doesn’t think Finn would appreciate being left alone with the Royals much longer. As he spins and doubles back, something catches his eye in the city below that makes him frown, dropping lower for a closer look.
Poe slows down, bring the ship to almost a fraction of its speed and then the blur of buildings resolves itself into sharper focus. At first Poe thinks he’s seeing laundry; a field of fabrics stretching over a good five-mile radius in the centre of the city. Then he takes a second look and all at once it becomes clear what he’s looking at; rambling tents and makeshift buildings, marked by pockmarked craters and ruined houses.
“Please General.” The com crackles, more insistently. “I insist that you return.”
“Roger that.” Poe snaps and lifts up, the ground dropping away beneath him. He’s still thinking about it though, wondering if he had somehow missed reports of a shanty town right here in the centre of the richest city on Passio Verak.
He’s so engrossed that when the controls start to judder under his hands, it takes him a second longer than it should to respond.
Then the warning lights start flashing up and Poe swears under his breath and snaps into gear, fighting to control the juddering controls as it tries to throw him off.
“Come in General. What’s going on?” The com chatters but Poe is too busy gritting his teeth as he avoids smashing into a tower by barely an inch.
He needs every ounce of concentration to keep fighting the throttle and can’t check the dials properly, but Poe knows he’s going way too fast, the acceleration stuck in place, the panels flashing red in his face. He’s still on course to the landing pad but at this elevation and speed, he’s more likely to crash straight through the palace walls. An alarm starts to blare somewhere behind his left ear and Poe feels a trickle of sweat work it’s way down over his forehead.
He swears again, this time loudly. This is not he planned to end his career as a General. Somewhere in the Force, he can hear Leia laughing at him.
Don’t get cocky flyboy, she used to tell him and look how well Poe had taken that advice.
There’s a scuffling sound from the com and then Finn’s voice breaks through, almost frantic. “Poe! What’s happening?”
“Controls are jammed.” Poe grits out, feeling another rumble pass through the engine below his feet. “I’m coming in too hot and low.”
“Go around!” Finn says and Poe lets out a nervous, almost hysterical laugh.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” he says and watches the tower fill up the cockpit glass in front of him. “It’s not responding.”
“Kill the engine then- restart!”
“Turning it on and off again, that’s your plan?” Poe almost yells and then, because he’s got nothing left to lose, he cuts the engine.
The ship has lost its power, but the momentum is enough to keep him airborne for now and Poe waits for one precious moment before starting up the engine. He’s too slow though, he can feel it, see the tower looming up, all hard and unforgiving stone. In seconds he’s gonna be a nasty red stain all over that pretty architecture.
“Pull up!” Finn is saying over the com, almost pleading and Poe takes a breath and says, “Listen Finn I want you to know-“
And then with a lurch the controls judder back to life in his hands and he’s yanking them back, and with seconds to spare, he’s hauling the ship up and shooting like an arrow into the clear blue sky.
Poe is still shaking from the adrenaline by the time he finally climbs out of the cockpit after landing. He barely gets his feet on the ground before he’s nearly knocked right off them by Finn, who grabs him and holds him so tightly Poe worries for a second about his ability to breath.
“I can’t believe you pulled that off.” Finn is muttering into his neck, sounding hollowed out. “I can’t believe it.”
“Well you did tell me not to crash.” Poe says weakly, not sure where to put his hands. “I was just following your orders General.”
Finn pulls back and the intensity on his face is almost frightening. He puts one hand on Poe’s face, and for a giddy, terrifying moment Poe thinks he’s going to be kissed.
Then Finn just takes a deep shaky breath and says, “Just don’t… Don’t nearly die again ok? Can you follow that order?”
“I can try,” Poe breathes and then he can’t help it, he glances down at Finn’s mouth. There’s a strange charged moment and then Pavish-Tau clears his throat awkwardly, appearing over Finn's shoulder.
“Are you unhurt General? I can’t think what went wrong. This design is barely a month old.”
“You can’t think, can you?” Finn says roughly, letting Poe go to spin around to face Tau. “Nothing’s coming to mind about why a ship would just suddenly stop working in mid-air? Your ship.”
“Finn…” Poe starts and then Pavish- Ulla pushes past their spouse, saying, “I am so sorry General, I have no idea how this happened.”
Poe takes a breath and stands up a little more fully, saying, “It’s alright. I made it out in one piece. I’ve had worse malfunctions in my own TIE fighter.”
Finn makes a disbelieving noise but then Pavish-Ulla brushes past him, to hold out a hand to Poe, saying, “Still you must be very shaken by this, allow me…”
Without thinking, caught off guard by the near-death experience, Poe reaches out to take their offered hand.
The minute their fingers brush, Poe is suddenly hit with an intense wave of calm, so overwhelming it’s like taking a med-shot to the neck. With it comes a series of startling impressions; the light shining through the stained glass, jewelled earrings nestled in a box, the smell of the city at dawn.
“What are you doing?” Poe hears Finn snap, but it’s distant, far away.
“It’s alright this will only take a moment.” Pavish-Ulla says and Poe smiles at her, loose and easy, thinking how kind this is.
Then Finn’s hand is on his shoulder, pulling him backwards and Poe stumbles, the contact breaking.
“What was that?” Finn is saying and then to Poe, low and urgent, “Are you okay? Poe?”
Poe doesn’t really understand why Finn is so upset. He’s fine, they’re all fine and it’s a really beautiful day.
“I was only calming him General.” Pavish-Ulla says gently, large pink eyes blinking in confusion. “I thought, after the shock-“
“The last thing he needs is some kind of mind- control!” Finn snaps, peering at Poe’s face in concern. “Hey there, you with me? Why are his pupils all dilated?”
“Finn!” Poe says happily. “My husband, right? Does that make us both General Dameron?”
Finn freezes and darts a glance at the Royals.
“Uh, that’s right” he says. “Why don’t we get you back to our quarters?”
“That’s going to be very confusing for everyone.” Poe says but he’s not too worried about it. He sees Pavish-Tau making a concerned face at him and Poe smiles back happily. They really aren’t so bad, these Verakians. He likes how long their ears are.
“Maybe you were slightly too successful.” Pavish-Tau mutters to their spouse, who looks upset.
“I suppose I’m used to Verakian biology. I’m sure it’ll wear off within the hour.”
“Let’s hope so. For your sake.” Finn grits out and then tugs at Poe’s shoulder. “Let’s get you out of here before anything else goes wrong.”
“Aren’t you going to hold my hand?” Poe asks. Finn hesitates and then takes it, tugging him in the direction of the turbolift.
Poe follows obediently and soon they’re dropping away from the sunlit landing pad, leaving behind the Royals and the courtiers. Poe is sad to be out of the fresh air but happier it’s just the two of them now. When he tells Finn that, Finn gives him a strange look.
“Maybe stay quiet till we get back to the room okay?” he suggests.
Poe nods but then a thought occurs to him. “Are you alright? You don’t look very happy.”
“I’ve felt better.” Finn says tightly and then he seems to deflate a little, shoulders dropping. “I’m just- You nearly died in that crash and I don’t think it was an accident and now you’re all, I don’t know, smiley and weird. And I know it will wear off, or at least it better wear off, but I really want to talk to you right now.”
“You can talk to me.” Poe says eagerly. “I smile all the time.”
“Do you?” Finn asks sceptically.
“I smile at you.” Poe says. “I always want to smile at you.”
Finn opens his mouth and then closes it, looking wide eyed. Then the turbolift comes to a halt and Poe steps off, offering his hand.
Finn takes it silently and they set off again, through the palace. Finn seems to know where to go and Poe is glad, because he has no idea. He’s happy just to follow Finn through the winding corridors forever, telling him all about how great the Verakian ship was before it nearly killed him.
But even as he’s thinking that, there’s another little part of his brain that is getting steadily louder, a part yelling desperately for him to shut up and not say anything else. As they near the rooms, Poe starts to listen to it and by the time they get inside and Finn’s shut the door behind them, Poe is nearly shaking with all the anxiety that’s come flooding back.
He takes three steps towards the bed, nearly trips and then opts to sit down on the floor with his back to the fountain.
“You alright?” Finn asks and Poe groans, putting his head between his knees. It feels like a hangover; like the worst withdrawal of all time but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the realization of just how much of an ass he was making of himself.
But it was lucky really. He had come so dangerously close to saying something much worse, something he would never be able to take back or laugh off.
A glass of water is pressed into his hands and when Poe takes it, Finn sits down next to him, warm and solid against his side.
“Felling better? How calm are you?” Finn asks gently and Poe takes a swig, churning it around his mouth.
“Not at all calm.”
“Good. I guess we know they weren’t lying about the telepathy now.”
“Remind me not to challenge anyone to an arm wrestle.” Poe says dryly and then tipping his head back against the stone, he asks, “How did you know what to do? When I was about to crash?”
Finn pauses and then says, “I don’t know. I guess it just came to me.”
“Think it’s part of the uh… ” Poe asks, and wiggles his fingers.
“Does being Force sensitive give you magic knowledge of ion engine repair?” Finn muses.
“You’re asking the wrong guy. I don’t even understand all the lightning. Can you do the lightning?”
“No.” Finn says flatly. “I think that’s just, uh, a Palpatine thing.”
He cringes a little as he says the name, looking guilty, even though Rey isn’t around to hear them. Poe decides to be kind and change the subject to something a lighter.
“So that was a possible assassination attempt, right?”
Finn scowls and nods. “Either that or you’re just a terrible pilot.”
“Definitely assassination then.” Poe says decisively. “Don’t tell C-3PO but I think I’m gonna sit down and actually read this manual. Because I have no idea what the hell is going on here.”
Finn was sadly right about the size of the damn thing and by the time Poe puts it down the sun is setting outside of their balcony and a courtier is knocking at their door with a dinner tray. When Poe gets up to answer it, eyes blurred from staring at the datapad, Finn is nowhere to be seen.
Poe finds him outside on the balcony, sitting cross legged with his eyes closed on one of the carved stone benches. He looks so peaceful Poe almost doesn’t want to disturb him but the food smells admittedly delicious, strange spices wafting up from under covered clay pots.
“Are you napping?” Poe asks softly, placing the tray down on the bench and sitting down on the other side.
Finn cracks open one eye to look at him. “Meditating. Rey’s been teaching me.”
“Ah.” Poe says. “You’re becoming one with the universe?”
“Something like that.” Finn sighs, finally giving up on the pose and cracking his neck. “I don’t know, I don’t think I'm very good at it.”
Poe shrugs. Personally, he's never seen the attraction of meditation but then again, he gets twitchy if he has to sit down for more than five minutes at a time. Leia had tried to teach him once or twice though and he still remembers some of the breathing techniques.
"When did this arrive?” Finn asks, taking the lid off one of the clay pots and giving an experimental sniff. “Should we check for poison?”
“I don’t know if they would try and kill us twice in one afternoon.”
“Yeah that would be rude of them.” Finn says dryly and then takes a cautious spoonful. “ Tastes good for poison. Did they send an apology with it?”
“For what? The near death experience?”
“For the forced mental sedation.” Finn growls.
Poe waves his hand airily. “I think that was just a genuine mistake. What reason would they have for getting me loopy?”
“Still.” Finn says, taking an annoyed bite of his food. “So how was the research?”
“Unhelpful.” Poe admits. “According to official records the Verakians are a rich and prosperous civilization, with an adoring population who all love the Royal Family. The only dark spot was the First Order threat and the child tax was enough to keep the status quo in place.”
Finn looks doubtful. “I wonder if C-3PO got all this information straight from the palace. Seems a little too easy.”
“Yeah. And it’s not just that.” Poe says and then tells Finn about what Mishmi had said about the discontent among the palace servants and the shantytown he had seen, the endless stretch of ruin and makeshift tents right outside the walls of the palace.
By the time he’s finished the food is cold, but Poe starts wolfing it down anyway, suddenly starving. Finn however looks like he’s all but forgotten the plate in front of him, staring out over the view.
“So, this place has it’s own problems after all,” he says. “I guess we should have expected that. Do you think there might be a resistance here too? Could they resent us being here? It doesn’t make much sense for the Royals to have rigged your ship- could it have come from outside the palace?”
Poe makes a face at him. “But we’re not the First Order. We’re the ones who got rid of them. We’re the good guys.”
“Not to them maybe.” Finn says, shrugging. “To them we might be another foreign power, flying in to make deals with their rulers. Deals they don’t get a say in.”
“You’re assuming a lot there, buddy.” Poe points out, feeling strangely defensive. “We’re the Resistance remember? Rebellion is what we’re made for. If they want things shaken up, we can help.”
“Are we the Resistance now we’ve got no one to resist?” Finn asks, scrunching up his nose. “And we’re here to make peace with Passio Verak, not overthrow their leaders.”
Poe opens his mouth to argue and then thinks about it.
“This is all too messy,” he says finally. “We just came here to get some trade deals in place. Not get caught up in some other planet’s civil war.”
“So, what, should we just leave?” Finn asks, turning finally to face him.
They look at each other for a long moment and then Finn is shaking his head, almost at the same time, Poe says, “No way”.
Finn laughs a little and Poe scrubs a hand through his hair, grinning.
“I swear most days I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” he says. “Leia never told me it was so damn hard. I just want to shoot something.”
Finn gives him an incredulous look. “You don’t know? You're the one with all the experience. Three years ago I was sleeping in a regulation dormitory and reciting First Order mantras. Out of the two of us, I’m the one who’s underqualified.”
He’s saying it in a joking way, but Poe can sense the edges of something raw, almost vulnerable. The idea of Finn doubting himself like that, makes Poe feel on edge, almost angry and maybe that’s why his next words come out almost harshly.
“That’s not true,” he says and then, when Finn’s eyes widen, Poe softens his tone. “I mean, you don’t have to worry about that. You’ve done more in three years than most people do in a lifetime. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else at my side. I couldn’t.”
Finn is looking at him, wide eyed and Poe clamps his mouth shut, heart hammering.
“Well,” Finn says, after what seems like eons, “I learnt from the best.”
“Right.” Poe says and clears his throat, looking away, to the city. “So I guess we decided then. We’re staying.”
“And watching out for possible revolutions.”
“And assassination attempts.” Poe says and then add, glumly. “And we still have to hold hands.”
Finn makes a face. “Nice to hear those are on the same level to you. Does it really bother you that much?”
“No.” Poe says but he’s lying.
It bothers him while they finish off dinner and it bothers him when he’s using the stupid marble shower in the en-suite fresher and trying not to think about Finn using it after. It bothers him when they’re lying in bed that night, Poe practically falling off the bed trying to keep to his side while Finn sleeps peacefully beside him, taking up most of the pillows.
What bothers him most of all, even though it shouldn’t, is how not-bothered Finn seems by it. Like this is normal. Like it’s the easiest thing in the world to be Poe’s husband.
When Poe wakes up, he’s rolled into the middle of the bed again, but this time there’s no comforting warmth next to him. There’s just a hand on his shoulder, shaking him awake and Finn’s face, very close in the dark whispering, “Hey. Hey wake up. Do you hear that?”
“Wha?” Poe says eloquently. He looks blearily down at Finn’s hand’s, twisted in his shirt. A lot of fantasies he’s had have started like this but Finn doesn’t always sound so worried in his head.
“Listen.” Finn whispers. “The walls.”
Poe wants to go back to sleep but then he hears it; a faint shuffling moving along the wall behind them. Like footsteps.
Poe freezes and his hand itches for his blaster.
“What is that?” he breathes. “Something in the next room?”
Finn shakes his head minutely, just a silhouette in the dark.
“There isn’t a room on the other side of that wall. It should just be the outer wall. I checked yesterday.”
“You heard this yesterday?” Poe asks, frowning and Finn shrugs.
“I told you I couldn’t sleep.”
Before Poe can answer the footsteps come again, growing louder, nearly right behind them and both of them freeze, looking at each other with wide eyes.
Finn jerks his head at the hanging red draperies that cover the walls and Poe nods. As quietly as he can, he eases himself off the bed, bending to pull his blaster from where he had stashed it under the bed.
He feels Finn move past him, to the draperies and when Poe motions at him, Finn pulls them back abruptly.
At the same time, Poe is levelling the blaster, training it at….an empty stretch of unmarked stone.
They both freeze for a moment but then the shuffling sounds again, fading away into the distance and then Finn let’s out an almost embarrassed laugh, shoulders visibly relaxing.
“Okay so there’s a possibility that might have been a rat.”
Poe lowers the blaster reluctantly. “Sounded pretty big for a rat.”
“All the stone probably messes with the sound.” Finn says but he sounds doubtful. “I shouldn’t have woken you up- I’m getting twitchy.”
Poe flips the safety on his blaster and tosses it onto the discarded pile of clothes he’s left on the floor.
“I think we’ve both earned the right to a little paranoia. But if no one if gonna kill us, I’m gonna get back to being unconscious,” he says but when he’s back in bed he finds he can’t sleep, staring up at the canopy above them.
When he turns his head, he sees Finn isn’t sleeping either, eyes wide and dark in the moonlight.
“Is it weird that I miss all the weird jungle noises at night back at the base?” Finn asks softly and Poe shakes his head.
“You’re talking to someone who grew up on Yavin 4- I thought the whole Galaxy was green back then. When I left I didn’t stop feeling cold for about a year.”
Finn hums and the sound of it, so close and quiet, makes Poe’s skin prickle.
“Do you miss it? Your home?”
“I miss my parents.” Poe says truthfully and then winces, because Finn had never known his parents at all.
“You know what’s stupid?” Finn says hesitantly. “Sometimes I miss the dormitory I used to sleep in. It was cramped and cold and my bunkmate was always snoring. But sometimes I wish I could just see it again. I spent most of my life sleeping in that room.”
Poe rolls onto his side, just a little closer and then Finn is doing the same.
“I don’t think that’s stupid,” is all Poe can think of to say.
“It’s not that I miss the First Order-“ Finn says, hastily and Poe unthinkingly, stretches out his arm between them, so his fingertips are just grazing Finn’s arm.
“I know,” he says. “We can miss anything, even the bad stuff. If we grew up with it. Sometimes I even miss the war.”
Finn nods and Poe hears the click as he swallows.
There’s a long, silent moment and then suddenly Poe becomes aware of how close they are, and he panics, drawing back his arms and rolling onto his back.
“Well, enough chatter,” he says with forced lightness. “We’ve got this damn procession tomorrow and I don’t know how good it’ll look if I’m sleeping through it.”
Finn laughs and goes silent after that, but even with his eyes shut tight, Poe can feel he’s being watched.
The procession is just about as bad as Poe had dreaded, and not just because he and Finn have been stuffed into their most elaborate outfits yet.
They weren’t even the clothes they had brought with them, the ones that C-3PO had painstakingly fussed over back on Ajan Kloss, with R2-D2 hanging around and making fun of his outbursts over fabric patterns. No, these ones had been delivered by a courtier this morning alongside breakfast in carefully wrapped bundles and boxes of matching accessories.
Finn had gotten the best deal of the two of them, dressed in a white shirt, high boots and a full-on cape, made out of a fabric that could only be described as blue velvet. When he had walked out of the fresher, Poe had nearly choked on his caf. Not because Finn looked particularly ridiculous, although Poe was already wondering how to get some kind of picture evidence back to Rey, but because of how strangely suited he seemed to the clothes.
“Well?” Finn had asked, looking embarrassed and Poe given him the most neutral reaction he could muster; a thumbs up.
The truth was, Finn looked like a noble, like he actually belonged to the Palace life and when Poe changed into his own outfit, the best you could say is that he decidedly did not.
Which was annoying because they were basically wearing the same clothes, only Poe had a cape in a more reddish colour and a waistcoat, a waistcoat he gave up on about five minutes into trying to do up the complicated tiny buttons. When he looked at himself critically in the mirror, he could appreciate the fitting and at least the boots were a practical sturdy kind of leather, but overall he just looked out of place. Like someone else altogether, some bored noble who didn’t know a sensor array from a laser cannon.
Finn had smiled at him though when he had come out. Or maybe he was just smiling at Poe’s expression.
“It’s not that bad,” he had said. “The earring will tie it all together.”
“I’m not wearing the earring.” Poe said darkly. “If you try and make me, I’ll leave you here and go home.”
“I like the earring.” Finn had said, fiddling with his own, which was shiny and dangled. “It’s clip on.”
“I don’t care.” Poe had said stubbornly and then, sinking into a chair, “They’ll be serving wine at this procession, right?”
It turns out they were, chilled bright green glasses of it in slender crystal stems, but even that didn’t make up for everything else.
The procession route ran through the main boulevard of the city, from the Palace to the imposing Royal Hall where the celebratory ball would be held in their honor. This meant travelling the entire mile long journey atop a huge mechanical moving platform with the entire Royal court.
And waving. A lot of waving which wasn’t so bad, except for the fact C-3PO keeps telling him to smile.
“I am smiling.” Poe hisses after the third time and behind him, he hears C-3PO tut.
“I may not possess the capacity for facial expression myself sir, but even I can tell that a grimace will simply not do. General Finn, sir, you’re doing a wonderful job.”
“Show off.” Poe mutters to Finn, whose arm is linked through his.
Finn doesn’t look at him, giving another enthusiastic wave at the cheering spectators.
“My face hurts,” he admits in a whisper and Poe snorts.
The crowds line the street on either side, stretching down as far as they can see, but the noise is muffled on the other side of the large glass dome that surrounds the Royal Platform. There’s something odd about that, Poe thinks, even if it’s just a safety precaution.
When he says that in a low voice to Finn, he nods, frowning.
“It’s strange,” he agrees, “Also, look at the crowd. There’s something not right there.”
Poe looks down and sees smiling faces, waving banners. Most of the population looks older of course, but here and there are a few children, held up on shoulders for a better look.
“Seems normal to me. Patriotic.”
“Right at the front yeah.” Finn says, “But look further back.”
Poe does and sees that beyond the front lines of the crowd, the waving hands drop away. The faces are harder, more set, watching impassively as the procession rolls by.
“They don’t look like they’re enjoying the show,” he whispers, and Finn gives him an uneasy glance.
Poe thinks for a second and then turns his head, gesturing at Mishmi Takin, who is standing dutifully next to C-3PO.
“Everything alright General?” he asks, concerned, stepping forward. Poe notices with some resentment that he’s managed to avoid having to wear a cape.
“Yeah.” Poe says and then, “Actually no. I’ve got a bad feeling about this whole thing. Think you could get on the ground and do some sniffing around for me?”
Mishmi nods eagerly and Poe wonders if he’s relieved to get out of all the standing around.
“Can do General.”
“Good man.” Poe says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Fill me in at the ball. It’ll give me a break from all the dancing.”
Mishmi nods and then disappears down the stairway behind them. After a moment, Poe sees him crossing the street and slip past the erected boundaries, slipping away into the crowd.
“Think he’ll be alright?” Finn asks.
“It’s just recon.” Poe says reassuringly. “And he’s got a blaster on him.”
“That’s what I’m worried about.” Finn mutters.
“Your pilot doesn’t care for the ceremony?” Pavish-Tau calls over from where the Royal Couple stand at the front of the platform, hands joined.
“He gets uh, motion sickness.” Finn lies and Poe gives him a look.
“How sad.” Pavish-Tau says, in clear disbelief.
“I know these things can be tiresome.” Pavish-Ulla says in a low voice, smile not faltering as they wave at the crowd. “But I can reassure you the ball will be a much less formal affair. We must not forget that this is, after all, a celebration.”
Poe smiles back tightly. Somehow, he finds that hard to believe.
The Royal Hall is an ugly concrete block of a building, all towering archways and oversized pillars. It looks nothing like the Palace itself and Finn actually shudders a little at his side when they step down off the platform.
“I don’t know much about architecture but is this Verakian in style?” he asks Pavish-Ulla, who sighs heavily.
“Unfortunately, not. This was erected in honour of the First Order, under specifications set by their architects. We felt that to honour you here would serve a symbolic purpose…but I admit I don’t care for the building’s design.”
“The lanterns are nice.” Finn offers and Pavish-Ulla smiles at him gratefully.
“That we can take credit for.” Pavish-Tau says, sounding almost pleasant for once. “The lanterns are a tradition here in the capital. They symbolize our joined hearts; our common purpose as a civilization.”
Even Poe can admit they’re beautiful, huge and multicolored, hung across the building like a constellation of pink and blue and red. When they step inside to the sound of music, the lanterns are there too; hung around the cavernous ballroom and filling up the ceiling above them.
As they wait in the doorway to be announced, they’re all Poe can focus on; the soft glow of them, the light they cast over the crowded hall below.
“They look like stars.” Finn says, almost in awe and Poe cranes his neck back to look.
“Or planets,” he says, smiling. “The way they look from the cockpit; all those bright colors in the dark.”
“I never thought I would see anything like this.” Finn says but when Poe looks over to smile at him, Finn isn’t looking up at all; he’s watching Poe.
The hall is filled with bright clothes and mingled faces; drinking from glasses and gossiping but when the Royal couple enter, they fall silent, the entire ballroom sinking to bow.
Pavish-Ulla and Pavish-Tau smile and stand tall, well used to it but Poe fidgets, feeling skewered by all the watching eyes.
Then the music starts back up again and, as if rehearsed, a dancefloor clears in the center of the hall.
Pavish-Ulla turns and extends their hand. Pavish-Tau takes it and then the two of them are off, moving in synch, a graceful swooping dance that moves faultlessly in time with the music. After a moment, a couple joins them, and then another, and then the hall is filled with moving bodies that sway effortlessly beneath the glow of the lamplight.
“Will you be joining in the dancing sirs?” C-3PO asks innocently. “I do believe it will be expected.”
Poe blanches and looks over at Finn who looks equally terrified.
“A drink first maybe?” he suggests and Finn nods gratefully.
“You read my mind.”
They pick their way through the crowd till they find someone carrying a tray of something fizzy and faintly sour smelling and then they take their drinks to a corner that feels, if not private then, a little more shadowy.
“Do you know how to dance?” Poe asks and Finn shakes his head.
“When would I have learnt how to dance?” he hisses, “You think there were a lot of formal balls as a stormtrooper? What about you?”
“I mean. I’ve danced before.” Poe admits. “But I’ve usually been a lot more drunk for it.”
Finn nods like this is a good bit of advice. “Okay let’s finish these and see if we can get C-3PO to bring us a tray.”
As if somehow summoned, C-3PO takes that moment to appear out of the crowd, looking anxious, or as anxious as a robot is capable of looking.
“You really must stop running off sirs,” he objects. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
“Is there a speech or something we forgot about?” Poe says dourly, finishing his glass and looking around for the waiter.
“Unfortunately not General.” C-3PO says and then leans forward. “I regret to say, but there have been rumors of a protest occurring in the city tonight. I just thought I should keep you informed in case the situation develops any further.”
“Protest?” Poe asks, straightening.
“What’s happening?” Finn asks urgently. “Who did you hear this from?”
“No official has confirmed it.” C-3PO says anxiously. “But it’s all the guests can talk about. They say it’s been happening all day. Although they aren’t sure if it’s a riot or a simple demonstration. You know how gossip travels at functions like this.”
Poe doesn’t really but if C-3PO is right, this must have been happening all day without their knowledge. The idea of being rolled down a main street smiling at a waving crowd while another part of the city riots, is disturbing.
“Do the Royals know about this?” he asks and C-3PO.
C-3PO dithers and then says, “Presumably sir. The word is that the Royal Guards are attempting to suppress the protestors as we speak. I find it hard to imagine they’re doing it without orders.”
Finn’s face darkens. “So, they’re trying to hide it from us?”
“Presumably sir.” C-3PO says with regret. “Or perhaps they simply don’t want it to ruin the occasion.”
“I bet.” Poe says and then a thought suddenly occurs that makes his blood run cold. “Wait, where’s Mishmi? Have you seen him arrive yet?”
“I’m afraid not sir.” C-3PO says quietly.
Poe turns to look at Finn and sees his own fear reflected back.
“Maybe-“ Finn starts but then breaks off as a courtier appears through the crowd, looking harried.
“Generals,” they say tightly. “The Royal couple request your presence on the dancefloor.”
Poe is about to tell him just where to put that request when Finn puts a hand on his arm, smiling politely.
“Of course,” he says. “We’ll be right there.”
The courtier nods and then, as if in afterthought, gives a quick bow before disappearing back into the crowd.
“You want to dance at a time like this?” Poe asks and Finn glares at him.
“If they don’t want us to know what’s going on then I don’t want them to know that we know what’s going on,” he says. “Understand?”
Poe blinks and furrows his brow.
“Yes?” he hazards. “So, we dance?”
“We dance.” Finn says grimly and starts steering him through the crowd. “But you have to lead.”
“Why me? You’re taller.”
“You know more than me.” Finn points out and Poe swallows, staring out at the dancers apprehensively.
“Sirs what should I do?” C-3PO asks plaintively from behind them.
“Look out for Mishmi.” Poe tells him. “And don’t tell anyone about this. Ever.”
Then he turns to face Finn and holds out his hands awkwardly.
“I think I just, uh, put one hand on your shoulder,” he mutters and does so, fingers brushing over the velvet. “And then one…”
Finn stops waiting patiently and takes Poe’s hand, putting it on his waist, stepping into the hold.
“We need this to look natural,” he says into Poe’s ear. “So stop looking like you want to run away.”
“I don’t.” Poe says, hearing the words come out slightly strangled. “Now just uh, step in time with me.”
It’s very awkward at first, with Finn tripping over him more than once, but then Poe lets himself relax a little and start leading properly and it become if not easy, then at least less disastrous. The music guides them and pretty soon, they’re lost in the crowd of swaying bodies.
“Are you worried about Mishmi?” Finn asks him, as they turn and Poe realizes with a guilty start, that he had almost forgotten their situation altogether.
“He’ll be alright.” Poe says, trying not to look at Finn’s stupid earring catch the light. “I just wish we were out there with him. In the action. I hate all of this stuff- the drink trays and the gossiping and the-“
“Dancing?” Finn asks wryly. “You can hold me properly you know. I’m not going to break.”
“I might.” Poe mutters under his breath but he pulls Finn in a little closer anyway, one hand spread across his back. This close he can smell the fancy Verakian soap on his skin, feel the strength of Finn’s hand as it rest on his shoulder.
“Do you really hate it that much?” Finn asks him and this time his voice is serious, almost cold. “Pretending that we’re together like this. Is it that bad? The idea of it.”
Poe looks up at him, startled.
“No! No, Finn I…” he stumbles, feeling his face flush. “I would- I mean anyone would be lucky to… Hell, I don’t know what I mean. But it’s not that. I just hate the…the performance of it. The lying.”
Finn gives him a long look and they’ve almost stopped dancing properly, still holding each other in the dance floor as the bodies move around them. They’re so close that Poe thinks Finn must hear his heart beating, from underneath all the layers of stupid fancy clothing between them.
“What were you going to say?” Finn asks him abruptly, the words coming out in a rush. “When you were about to crash?”
Poe looks at him, his big earnest eyes and set mouth and almost, almost tells the truth.
But then at the last minute his nerve fails him and he asks, “What were you going to tell Rey in the sand trap?”
Finn’s mouth opens and for a moment there is genuine confusion on his face. Then his eyes narrow and he just looks angry.
“What’s that got to do with this?” he hisses. “I can’t believe you’re still on that, that was nearly five months ago.”
“You never answered me at the time.” Poe retorts, still irrationally annoyed about it.
Around them, one dance has finished, and another has just begun but they’re still standing there, not moving, Finn’s hand’s digging into him now.
“You really want to know?” Finn asks and Poe nods tightly, bracing himself.
“I was going to tell her she changed my life.” Finn says roughly. “And that I could sense that she was being driven to the dark side. I was going to tell her not to give in if... if the rest of us died.”
Poe feels stunned for a moment and then, because he doesn’t know what to do, he starts them moving again.
“You thought we were going to die?” is all he can think to say, and Finn looks away.
“I saw you going under,” he says, the words sounding almost difficult to get out. “I thought it was pretty likely.”
“But not Rey?”
“She’s too powerful,” Finn tells him. “I thought if anyone would make it out it would be her.”
Poe looks at him and it dawns on him that maybe, just possibly, there’s a chance that he’s been really stupid about a lot of things.
But before he has a chance to tell Finn that, the first explosion goes off.
I've had such a lovely response to this so far, you're all such lovely readers! Anyway, apologies for the cliffhanger and happy 2020!
Ears still ringing from the blast, for a moment all Poe can hear are muffled screams as the ball descends into chaos.
The explosion came from outside the building but was close enough to rock the ground beneath their feet and blow out a whole row of windows, raining glass down on the crowd below. Poe swears and ducks down, pulling Finn with him as another explosion shakes the walls.
“I guess the protest turned nasty,” Poe yells in Finn’s ear. “Where’s 3PO?”
“He was by the windows,” Finn says wide-eyed and then he’s pulling away from Poe’s grasp, moving through the stampeding crowd.
Poe swears again, calling out after him and elbowing his way through the screaming nobles to catch up. When he does, Finn reaches back to grab his hand through the crowd and then the two of them are stumbling towards the worst of the rubble.
It’s hard to see through the smoke, even harder to breathe, and their boots are crunching on the broken glass that covers the dancefloor. Poe sees a twisted piece of metal and for a moment his heart clenches and then C-3PO is tottering towards them through the floating ash, his golden metal dull and dirty.
“Oh, my goodness!” he says, and then, as if stuck on a loop, “Oh my goodness me.”
“C-3PO!” Finn says joyfully and lets go of Poe’s hand to run over. “Are you okay? All your parts attached?”
“I believe are my systems are functional General.”
“Glad to hear it,” Poe says and then braces as another explosion sounds outside. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
But Finn is looking away, through the smoke, a strange expression on his face.
“There’s someone trapped under the rubble,” he says. “Nearby.”
Poe doesn’t question how he knows, he just nods. “I’ll follow your lead.”
They find the Verakian pinned under a piece of fallen masonry, large pink eyes terrified and hands pushing uselessly at the mangled mess of their leg. When they see Finn, they start calling out frantically, and though Poe doesn’t know the language, he can recognise begging when he sees it.
“Hold on,” Poe says, joining Finn where he’s kneeling by the Verakian’s side. “We’re gonna get you out of here. C-3PO, tell them!”
“Is it the truth General? I hate to tell a lie.” C-3PO says doubtfully.
Finn’s head snaps up with a glare that even C-3PO must recognise, because he starts speaking in a series of cooing consonants.
Whatever he says calms the Verakian down enough for a moment, long enough for Finn and Poe to shift at the masonry and then together they haul the struggling alien up between them.
“Where now?” Finn asks and Poe squints through the doors.
Even as he watches, armed soldiers are starting to pile in, escorting out the frightened nobles out in their ash-stained gowns. When Poe points, Finn takes the hint and the two of them start limping towards the door, the whimpering Verakian supported between them.
“Generals!” a soldier says, rushing up as they get closer. “I’m glad we found you safe- the Royal Family were concerned. We’re to escort you back to the Palace immediately.”
“What about our friend here?” Poe asks, nodding his head at the injured Verakian. “Is there a medic nearby?”
The guard gives a dismissive glance. “This isn’t a noble sir, don’t worry. Just a servant.”
“So, what does that mean?” Finn snaps and Poe sets his jaw.
“We’re not going anywhere until they’re seen to,” he growls. “We’ll stay all night if we have to.”
The soldier hesitates and seems to wage some short internal battle. Then they relent, speaking low and fast into a com at their wrist.
After that it only takes a minute for the medics to turn up and then the guard is hurrying them away, eyes flicking nervously to the still-smoking crater in the wall. Finn goes reluctantly, looking back at the Verakian as the medic readies the hypo-shot.
“They’ll be alright,” Poe tells him. “We need to find out what’s happening.”
Fin nods but his jaw is tight and set as they follow the soldier to an armoured transpo ship, waiting outside in the courtyard, tucked away from the burning city boulevard.
When Poe hesitates on the ramp and looks back the city sky is lit up in shades of red and orange. For a moment it looks like the coloured lanterns in the dark and then he realises that they’re the light of fires, burning all over the city.
Again, Poe feels a strange tugging sense of unease, like he’s on the wrong side of whatever is happening here. They should be out in the night, on the streets, not locking themselves in the palace with the Royalty.
But then Finn calls out to him and Poe turns away from the burning city and lets the ramp close behind him.
There are no windows inside the transpo and the metal walls are too thick for any sound to pass through from the outside. They have no way of knowing what’s happening outside and nothing to do but sit and wait and listen to C-3PO babble nervously about security measures and general emergency procedures.
At one point, when he can’t stand it anymore, Poe leans over to Finn and whispers, “Are you picking up on anything? About what’s going on?”
He half expects Finn to tell him the Force doesn’t work like that, but Finn just shakes his head, looking tired.
“Just general anxiety, I guess. Panic. But that could be…” he nods his head at the guards minutely, who are clutching at their blasters with the nervy look of people trying to pretend they know what’s going on.
Poe is suddenly grateful that he has his own blaster concealed at his waist.
It’s almost a relief when the transpo shudders to a halt and the guard motions them out. Looking around, Poe can see they’re in a courtyard, well within the palace walls. In here you would have no idea of what was happening in the city outside, except for the increased presence of the guards that loitered in doorways and by the huge gates behind them.
A pair of courtiers are waiting as they step down onto the cobblestones, and though they bow low, Poe can see the dismay on their faces at the sight of their soot stained clothes.
“The Royal Family will be overjoyed to hear you made it back safely,” one of them says and the other nods enthusiastically.
“They apologise for the disgraceful events of this evening and wish to reassure you it doesn’t reflect the general population’s view of this alliance or indeed the Resistance itself.”
“So, who was setting off the bombs then?” Finn asks, crossing his arms over his ruined white shirt.
The courtier’s eye each other nervously and then one of them clears their throat.
“A small terrorist group of First Order sympathisers, General. We’ve already arrested the main culprits.”
Poe glances at Finn and sees his own suspicion reflected back.
“What about our pilot- Mishmi Tarkin?” Finn asks. “Has he come back to the palace yet?”
Again, the courtiers hesitate.
“You must be tired. Please, come and refresh yourselves and we can explain-“
Poe feels a trickle of something cold run down his spine.
“Where is he?” he asks, his mouth feeling numb.
“He was found earlier…” the courtier on the left says but they’re looking away and all at once, Poe knows exactly why Mishmi never turned up to the ball.
“Found alive?” Finn asks beside him and Poe can tell from his voice that he’s had the same realization.
The courtiers say nothing for a long horrible moment and then the one on the right says, in a rush, “The terrorists weren’t a large group but the detonations-“
“I want to talk to the Royal Family,” Poe snaps. “Now. Where are they?”
He steps forward and the courtiers almost trip over themselves to stand in his way.
Poe looks past them up at the towers of the Palace and wants to tear it all down. Because this isn’t war this is peacetime and Mishmi shouldn’t be dead, he should have been at the ball, drinking too much and eating tiny canapes. But he followed his General’s order, followed Poe’s orders and now Poe’s going to fly back to the Resistance base and tell his sister that he died on a pointless, low risk diplomatic mission-
Some of what he’s thinking must show on his face because Finn is suddenly there, his hands on Poe’s shoulders, saying in a low voice, “Hey, Poe, Poe listen. I’ll go and talk to them. Find out what’s happening. You should go back to our rooms- use the datapad. Find out what’s really going on.”
Poe opens his mouth to argue and then Finn leans in, his breath warm on Poe’s ear.
“Send word back to the base. We need people to know what’s happening here. If this gets ugly, we might need the backup.”
Poe looks at him and he knows Finn’s right and what Finn’s offering him; a moment alone to process the grief, clear his head. The chances are also pretty high that Poe might just start hitting people if any of the Royal Court try and argue with him right now. But...but still.
“Should we be splitting up right now?” Poe says in a low voice and unconsciously his hand comes up to touch Finn on the chest, so lightly it might almost not be there at all.
Fin hesitates, also clearly uncomfortable with the idea of it. Then he nods.
“I’ll see you soon,” he promises, and Poe can hear the unsaid, don’t do anything stupid till then.
“Take C-3PO with you then.” Poe says reluctantly and Finn gives him a quick smile.
“For the etiquette advice.”
“You don’t think I can be polite?” Finn asks, smiling at him again and for a moment his fingers tighten on Poe’s shoulders. Then, before Poe can answer, he’s stepping back and turning to the courtiers.
“I would like to see the Royal family if you don’t mind,” he says, very calmly, and Poe doesn’t know whether it’s something to do with the Force, or if it’s just because he asked politely, but they nod and gesture at him to follow.
Poe watches him leave, with C-3PO tagging along behind and just before Finn disappears inside, he turns and looks back across the courtyard. For a moment they lock eyes and, even though it’s stupid, part of Poe wants to call out or run after him.
But he doesn’t and then it’s too late anyway and Finn is gone.
Two-armed guards escort him back to his quarters but thankfully, they station themselves outside in the corridor. The relief Poe feels at being finally left alone quickly vanishes when he hears the lock on the door click tightly behind him.
About a minute after that he discovers the datapads are missing, along with the holoprojector, their coms and any way of getting off world contact. When Poe tries the door again it won’t budge and its around then that the full reality of the situation hits him.
At first, he tries banging on the door and shouting and then, when nothing happens, he sits on the edge of the fountain and waits for Finn.
He manages to sit still for half an hour and then he gets up and starts pacing. After an hour has passed, he starts banging on the door again and then, when that doesn’t work, he tries to reason through it calmly. It’s not long before this turns into threats and then just insults.
Finally, he gives up and starts looking for a way out in earnest. The balcony is too high up and the building too sheer to scale, with no other balconies close enough to jump to. He considers blasting the door open but it’s four inches of solid wood and besides, the guards who had led him here had looked pretty trigger happy. While checking the fresher for any previously overlooked trapdoors he catches sight of himself in the mirror.
He looks like a wreck; hair and eyes wild and covered in soot, his fancy cloak ripped and dirty at the hem. He takes it off and then he recognises himself a little more but without its bulk he looks smaller, almost frightened and nothing like a General at all.
Leia had once told him that being a leader was about making the best decisions you could in the moment and then trying to live with the consequences. She had told him it wasn’t about obsessing over the mistakes, but Poe’s made so many over the last few days.
He hadn’t been prepared; he hadn’t done the research, hadn’t thought to take this seriously. He had sent Mishmi off to die. He had let Finn go off without him and, that last one is what frightens Poe the most, because who knows where Finn was now? If he was hurt or in trouble or even if he was…
Poe doesn’t let himself think it. If he was Rey he could slice up the door with his lightsabre, levitate off the balcony, do something.
The sound of the door opening in the next room makes him startle but when he runs through, blaster at the ready, the door is already slamming shut. Standing by it is C-3PO and when he sees Poe his optics grow visibly brighter.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re alright sir!” he says as. “I have to say, for a moment I was worried they were taking me to the scrap heap!”
“C-3PO, what’s going on? Where’s Finn?” Poe asks, trying the door again and banging on it in frustration when it’s still shut fast.
“I think they locked it.” C-3PO says helpfully and Poe whirls on him, teeth bared.
“You think?” he snaps. “Finn? Why isn’t he with you?”
C-3PO takes a step back, arms waving in agitation. “I believe he’s also in a similar state of captivity. I think the idea was to separate the two of you in case of conspiracy.”
“Conspiracy?” Poe spits but he feels something in his chest loosen at the knowledge Finn is alright. “We’re the guests of honour not prisoners. Why did they take all of our tech?”
“I can only imagine sir, that they wanted to stop you communicating with the outside world. Like I said, the Verakians are very proud and would hate for the wider galaxy to learn of their…domestic difficulties.”
Poe gives him a disgusted expression. “We’re locked up because they’re embarrassed?”
“Passio Verak has a wide interplanetary trading system. A blow like this to their reputation would be highly damaging.” C-3PO says, as it’s reasonable. “I also imagine they wouldn’t wish to look weak in front of various larger planetary forces.”
“So, what, are they just going to lock us up here until they control the story?” Poe asks. “They can’t do that forever- the Resistance will be here within a day if we don’t check in. Knowing Rey, the Force has already tipped her off.”
“I’m afraid I can’t say sir,” C-3PO says sadly. “Indeed, it would seem that the Royal family themselves seem unsure about their course of action. At least it would appear so from their discussion with General Finn.”
Poe narrows his eyes. “What did Finn tell them? And why are you here anyway and not with him?”
For once C-3PO doesn’t beat around the bush.
“The General confronted them about the whereabouts of Pilot Tarkin and when the Royal Family refused to cooperate, he told them he would be informing the Resistance of the situation,” he says. “At this point it appears that the Royal Family grew a little desperate.”
“Did they hurt him?” Poe asks, breath catching in his throat.
“Oh no sir. The last I saw of him, he was unharmed, if only a little irate at being confined to a guest room.”
Poe smiles despite himself. “I bet he was. And why are you here?”
“It was on General Finn’s insistence sir.” C-3PO says, puffed up with self-importance. “He said that only I would be able to reassure you that the situation wasn’t too dire and, to use his words, ‘keep the General from doing something dangerous’. He said you wouldn’t trust the message from anyone else.”
Poe swallows hard, feeling a rush of warm affection, even in the middle of the panic. Finn had been right; Poe had been on the verge of staging a dramatic breakout before C-3PO had turned up, one that would probably have gotten someone killed. Maybe even himself.
“Was there anything else?” he asks, and walks over to the fountain, running a hand through his hair for something to do.
C-3PO is silent and then, as it’s only just been pulled from his memory banks, his optics light up once again.
“Oh yes sir. He said not to worry too much about the rat problem.”
Poe stops pacing and looks at him. “Rat problem?”
Poe stops and actually thinks for a moment and then it dawns on him.
“Rat problem,” he breathes, staring at the draperies on the wall.
“As General Finn said, please don’t concern yourself. I’m sure there are plenty of exterminators in the city.”
Poe laughs a little manically. “Oh, you beautiful, short circuiting pile of junk, I might just kiss you!”
“Oh dear,” C-3PO says but Poe is already at the walls, ripping down handfuls of red velvet.
He doesn’t find it on the first wall or the second but over by the bed he sees it, thin and almost unnoticeable on the exposed stone; the outline of a hidden door, built so flush with the wall that it might not be there at all.
“C’mon, c’mon you bastard,” Poe mutters, running his hands over the stone and then his fingers find a hidden catch and with a soft whoosh of hidden hydraulics, the panel slides open.
“Well!” he hears C-3PO exclaim behind him. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that.”
The two of them stand there, staring into the dark and Poe shivers in the draught. The air that comes from the hidden passageway is cold and smells like decay; like something ancient is waiting for him.
The thought of going in there isn’t exactly appealing but anything is better than sitting around and waiting.
“Hey, C-3PO,” Poe says, “Got a light?”
It turns out he doesn’t. What he does have however is the ability to turn up the light in his optics just enough to cast a dim glow and that’s how they end up picking their way through the tunnel in single file, C-3PO lighting the way.
“This really is terribly bad for my system maintenance,” C-3PO repeats for about the fifth time as they make their way through ancient stone walls. “If I keep diverting power to my optics then the rest of my functions will surely start to deteriorate. Why, fairly soon I might be unable to talk at all!”
“Better start that now and save your energy,” Poe whispers, glancing behind them. He had pulled up the wall hangings before they had left but the fix was only temporary, and it would be obvious where they went if anyone was to do more than glance at the room.
The passageway is more of a crawlspace, so much so that C-3PO’s metal sides keep clanging against the walls, and very cold, the bricks on either side damp to the touch. Even with C-3PO staring straight ahead, the light only illuminates a few paces in front of them. But for how tight a squeeze it is, it seems to go on forever, twisting around on itself like a snake. Now that they’re out of the room, Poe starts to worry that he’s leading them down the longest dead end of all time.
Gradually though, he began to notice the occasional, small cracks of light in the darkness; the faint outline of doors set into the stone. There are tiny holes by each one. When Poe pauses and looks through one, he can see a brightly lit room holding an ornamental vase and a noble sitting by it, peering at their reflection in the mirror.
“Hey, 3PO,” Poe whispers, eyes still pressed to the peephole. “You’re the expert on Passio Verak. Do you know what the hell is going on here? Who built this? Why?”
“It is rather odd,” C-3PO muses. “Perhaps these corridors were used by servants once.”
“Seems creepier than that,” Poe asks, watching as the Verakian noble picks up a brush and start to pull at their hair. All at once, they look up and into the mirror and the reflection of their eyes makes Poe jolt back, feeling guilty and horribly voyeuristic. The idea of someone using these tunnels, listening in and watching from the dark, makes him shiver involuntarily.
Poe can’t help but think back over the last few days; trying on his ridiculous clothes, talking out on the balcony with Finn in the sunset. Lying in bed at night beside him.
Had someone been watching then? The noises last night- had it really been rats running around in here?
“So, what’s the plan General?” C-3PO asks hesitantly. “Do we emerge into a side room? Make our way to General Finn? Stage a rescue?”
“Something like that,” Poe says but honestly, he’s making this up as he goes along.
The smart thing to do would be to leave at the next door that leads onto an empty room. He still has his blaster after all and even in a palace this size it won’t be hard to find Finn. From there they could make their way to landing pad, steal a Verakian ship if their own is being guarded.
Except part of Poe wants to see where this tunnel leads. Wants to understand.
A little but of this urge is pure curiosity but another, larger, part is the thought of showing up to rescue Finn with the puzzle already solved.
I’m here to rescue you, Poe imagines himself saying, and by the way, here’s what’s going on….
And maybe it’s stupid or maybe it’s just reckless, but for whatever reason it makes him press on, urging C-3PO further and further into the dark. They walk and walk, and Poe isn’t sure what he’s even looking for until finally, they reach a staircase leading off the to the side.
It’s steep and just as narrow but when Poe peers into the gloom he can see a faint glow from up above and when he hushes C-3PO he can hear, floating down from above; the murmur of voices.
“Turn off your light,” Poe whispers to C-3PO and when the droid starts to protest, Poe holds a finger up to his lips.
The light coming from C-3PO’s optics dim, and then Poe takes the lead up the stairs, pressing himself to the wall and placing his feet very carefully on the stone.
He gets about three steps up before it becomes clear that C-3PO doesn’t possess the ability to sneak.
Poe sighs and holds out a hand to stop him going any further.
“Hey, why don’t you wait here?” he suggests. “I’ll check it out.”
“Should you go alone General?” C-3PO says and Poe glances over his shoulder, cringing at the noise.
“No, that’s alright. You’ll be the backup. If anything goes wrong, go uh, go find Finn.”
“Of course, sir!” C-3PO says, “I won’t let you down!”
Poe nods and then pats him on the arm awkwardly in thanks before turning back up the stairs.
It’s very dark now and quieter the further he gets from C-3PO and Poe feels a trickle of cold sweat down the back of his neck. As he makes his way up the staircase the voices get louder, more distinct. They aren’t speaking Galactic Basic; Poe can tell that much but he’s not sure yet if it’s Verakian.
At the top of the stairs he sees that the light he’s been following is escaping from around the edges of a heavy wooden door. Poe stands by it, peering in the gloom but there’s no peephole here, not even a good old-fashioned keyhole to look through.
After a moment of intense internal debate, he decides to just get it over with, and he creaks open the door to peer around the edge.
The room on the other side is nothing like the damp passageway that lead to it, although it’s still windowless, with stone walls on every side. It’s warmer for a start and cast in the soft golden glow of lamps scattered around the room. There’s a thick carpet on the floor and a bookcase; a sofa embroidered with flowers, a writing desk. There’s even a small fireplace, set in the far wall and in front of it, a set of comfortable armchairs.
It looks empty, although Poe can hear the sound of voices coming from an opening off to the side. He hesitates, wondering if he should turn back, but then his curiosity wins out and he steps inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.
He goes over to the writing desk first, glad that his steps are muffled by the carpet, looking for something, anything to cast some light on what this place is, why all these beautiful things are hidden away in these damp stone tunnels. On the desk is a small drawing of two Verakians, dressed in fine robes. Poe picks it up, frowning and then suddenly realises that it’s the Royal Couple, pictured hand in hand.
“What kind of royalist creeps…” he mutters under his breath and then behind him, there’s a short, shocked noise, like someone drawing in a breath.
Poe realises all at once that the voices in the next room have gone silent and as he turns, he’s prepared for the blaster in his face, the knife in his back.
He’s not prepared to see a short Verakian in oversized robes, looking as shocked as he is, one hand pressed to their mouth. They’re wide eyed and unarmed and seeing this, Poe’s hand draws away from his blaster.
“Um, hello?” Poe tries and then the Verakian opens their mouth and screams.
“Hey, hey, sorry, shh!” Poe says, putting his hands up and trying to shush them but another Verakian is already charging in, slightly taller and angry. This one takes one look at the situation and starts shouting, in quick, frantic alien syllables.
“Wait, wait, I’m sorry I don’t speak your language,” Poe says, suddenly growing aware of how young these two look, younger than any adult Verakian he’s seen so far. “I’m not going to hurt you, look, I’m putting my hands up.”
He does, still holding the picture and the two of them relax slightly, or at least the shorter one stops screaming.
They don’t seem to understand him but the taller one edges closer, reaching out.
Poe doesn’t understand at first and then he realises they’re reaching for the frame in his hand.
“Oh, sorry, this is yours,” he says but when he offers it, something about the picture catches his eye.
It’s clearly Pavish-Tau and Pavish-Ulla, he’s seen them enough by now to be sure of that, but there’s something tugging at his mind, almost like recognition. Then he looks at the Verakian extending their hand and sees in their face, Pavish-Ulla’s high forehead, Pavish-Tau’s sharp chin.
“Wait a minute,” Poe says, staring at them, frozen. “Are you-“
Before he gets a chance to finish the thought, the Verakian reaches forward to grab his bare hand and it hits Poe all at once, the waiting and waiting and don’t go running through the tunnels little one, we have to keep you safe and when will our parents visit, they never come to see us anymore and we’re so lonely why can’t we go running through the tunnels, we just want to see the lights and all the people and we’ll be quiet, we’ll be so, so quiet so you don’t have to worry anymore they won’t take us away, not ever-
It comes all at once, like a surge of information so vast and quick it leaves Poe reeling, feeling his mind picked through and devoured just as he can’t stop the flood of images, memories, feelings that aren’t his own.
Then all at once it becomes too much, information overload and he feels the black rise up to swallow him.
When he comes to, he’s warm at least, so there’s that. His head is pounding, and he feels strangely groggy, like a hangover or a concussion and for a moment he thinks he might be sleeping off the drinks from the ball, everything that happened after he and Finn danced just one big bad dream.
Then he opens his eyes and sees the fireplace, feels the restraints at his wrist and ankles.
Sitting across from him in the other armchair is Pavish-Ulla. They’re watching him with a cold steady gaze and when Poe blinks away the dots in his vision, he can see Pavish-Tau standing behind, their arms around the Verakian who had screamed.
Their child, and Poe decides to start there, get this whole messy business into the light.
“So, whose kids did you give away then, when the First Order came knocking?” he asks, hearing his voice come out rough and raspy. “A servant’s? Or did you just grab two out of the orphanage?”
Pavish-Ulla sighs. “So, you know our secret, General. Congratulations. I’m afraid it only complicates things for you however.”
“All those children,” Poe spits. “All your subjects, thinking you were setting an example. Making a sacrifice. But you couldn’t, could you? You couldn’t bear to let the First Order have them. Not when it was your own children’s lives on the line?”
“No,” Pavish-Tau says, and they sound desperate, clutching their child closer. “No and can you blame us, knowing what happened to those who were taken? We had to find a way to protect them.”
“And what about the children you didn’t protect?” Poe asks, “The ones you couldn’t hide away in your palace walls?”
Pavish-Ulla looks away, into the spitting fire.
“You’re right General. We couldn’t protect them all. To be a leader you must be selfless, care as much for your people as you do your own family. But in the end, we failed at that. We could not sacrifice everything.”
“I would do it again if I had to,” Pavish-Tau says, white faced and trembling. The child, and Poe wonders how old they are by now, twenty? twenty-five? stares back at him, not understanding.
Poe wonders where the taller one is, who had touched his hand. He can still feel the trace of their mind where it had brushed his, lingering like a bad aftertaste. What kind of a life was it, locked away in the palace, never showing your face? But still, a better fate than those of the children sent off to die for the First Order.
“If your people knew about this…” Poe says and then trails off.
The Royal Family must have already considered the bloodshed that would; take place if this was discovered. A betrayal like this, after so many years of resentment and sacrifice.
The palace would be burnt to the ground. They would be exiled at best, but more likely executed along with their children. Poe had seen this before, across the Galaxy, the anger that could be unleashed when the people finally rose up. It was electric; unstoppable once it started and the first blood was drawn.
“Yes,” Pavish-Ulla says quietly. “It would mean death. The end of Passio Verak as a culture. That’s why we’ve hidden away inside our palace for so long. It’s why we can never allow you to leave this room, knowing what you know.”
Poe swallows but he had been expecting this. “You’re going to kill me?”
He wonders what they’ll tell Finn. If they’ll claim he died in the riots too. Or maybe they won’t let there be any loose ends at all.
But Pavish-Ulla just frowns, shaking their head. “Oh no. We wouldn’t kill you.”
“That would cause a diplomatic incident,” Pavish-Tau chimes in.
“No, we’ll simply erase your memories,” Pavish-Ulla says smoothly. “Of our children, of the riots. That was always the plan. We would never harm you.”
Poe feels sick and involuntarily, he tugs at the restraints on his ankles. He thinks of Kylo Ren, rummaging through his thoughts, the feeling of ghostly fingers picking apart his brain, exposing all his carefully kept secrets.
“You can’t just slice memories out that easily,” he says, trying to keep calm. “Hold on a moment, let’s just talk it through- “
“Don’t worry,” Pavish-Ulla says soothingly, “It already worked perfectly on your husband. He remembers nothing beyond arriving at the ball. To both of you, it will be an embarrassing night of inebriation, nothing more.”
Poe stills, mind racing, and then he starts to panic in earnest, pulling desperately at the restraints as Pavish-Ulla stands and comes closer.
“What have you done to him?” he says, “If you’ve hurt him or messed around with his head then I’ll-“
“Calm down General,” Pavish-Tau calls over. “Soon this will be nothing but a bad dream.”
Pavish-Ulla comes closer, hand extended, and Poe shuts his eyes tight, thinking, Finn, thinking, I have to remember.
When they had tried to calm him before the effects had been too strong and part of him knows that might happen again. That in taking his memories of the night, they might take too much, take everything.
Poe takes a breath and in the last few moments he tries to focus on the memories he needs to hold onto. Sitting on his mother’s lap as she flew her A-Wing interceptor, watching the ground drop away beneath them. Leia, smiling at him over cups of steaming caf as they listened to the jungle wake up around them. The sight of Rey and Finn after that final battle, dirty and sweaty and alive.
Finn lying next to him in the dark. Finn pulling off the helmet when they first met, saying, I need a pilot.
Poe braces himself and then….
The touch never comes. After a moment he opens one eye.
Pavish-Ulla is in front of him, frozen, a look of horror on their face.
“Um,” Poe says and then he hears Finn’s voice call out, “Okay, I’m gonna need everyone to stay very calm.”
“Finn!” Poe says, hardly able to believe it and then Finn steps into view, one hand pressing a blaster into the neck of the other Royal child, who’s struggling and half spitting with anger.
“Miss me?” Finn asks, grinning and Poe grins back, laughing with pure euphoric relief.
“I thought you were brain-wiped!” he says, and Finn shakes his head.
“I was. Didn’t stick,” he says, “And then C-3PO turned up.”
“Please,” Pavish-Tau calls out, “Don’t hurt my children, they have nothing to do with this.”
Finn looks at the Verakian he’s holding, frowning. “Wait, I thought this was a guard. Who’s children?”
“It’s complicated.” Poe tells him and then there’s a clatter of metal and C-3PO emerges, looking flustered and behind him, looking annoyed and dirty but very much alive, is Mishmi Tarkin.
“Hi General,” he says, raising one hand in greeting. “This is turning into a weird mission huh?”
“You’re not dead!” Poe says happily and then frowns, “Okay, I thought I knew what was happening but now I’m confused again.”
The smallest Royal child, overwhelmed and visibly frightened, starts quietly to cry and Finn sighs, putting down the blaster.
“Okay, I think we all need to talk.”
Poe insists on being untied first and while Mishmi trains the blaster on the huddled Royal Family, Poe fills them in on what he’s uncovered. By the time he’s free and rubbing at his wrists, Finn is grim-faced and sombre.
“So, they switched the children?” he asks. “And kept the real ones here?”
Poe nods. “Hence the need to wipe our memories. Or at least mine. Why yours?”
“I guess it was to keep everything neat. Stop the news about the riot getting out,” Finn says dryly, glancing at Pavish-Ulla. “They visited me just after I was locked up.”
“So why didn’t it work on you?”
Pavish-Ulla clears their throat. “I felt the resistance when I entered your mind. I shouldn’t have underestimated you.”
“Big mistake,” Poe says, feeling a strange rush of pride. “So, you fought it off?”
“No, it worked,” Finn says, “For a moment. The last thing I could remember was the ball. They told me I drank too much, that you sent me back to the palace early.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Pose say and Finn nods.
“Right. That’s when I started getting suspicious. Then the Royals get a message on their coms and rush off and then a moment later, C-3PO bursts out the wall and starts talking about secret passageways.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Pavish-Tau demands loudly from the corner. “Our guards will be-“
“Just hold on a second, we’ll get to that,” Poe tells them and turns to Mishmi. “I still don’t understand why you aren’t dead.”
“I was dead?” Mishmi asks. “I just got caught sneaking around in a bad neighbourhood by the guards. I’ve been sitting in a cell all day, getting bored.”
“We never claimed that your pilot was dead,” Pavish-Ulla says, eyes flicking between them rapidly. “Just missing. We would have returned him immediately once his memories had been modified. Unharmed.”
“I found Mr Tarkin while looking for General Finn,” C-3PO offers helpfully. “I hope you don’t mind that I took the initiative in freeing him.”
“I for one, don’t mind at all,” Mishmi says warmly, clapping him on the back and making the droid almost stumble.
“So, what was the plan?” Poe asks, turning on the Royal Family and taking a threatening step forward. “You were gonna wipe our memories and what, throw C-3PO into a trash compactor? All to keep your dirty little secrets from getting out?”
“No, of course not!” Pavish-Ulla says, offended. “We were simply going to reprogram the droid. Or if it came to it, replace him with a similar model. One protocol droid is much like another.”
“Not this droid,” Poe says hotly. “And the rigged ship? Was that your work too?”
Pavish-Tau shakes their head, looking genuinely confused. “No. We don’t know what caused that. We suspect revolutionaries, attempting to scupper the alliance.”
Poe looks them but that at least seems sincere.
“But why bother with all of this?” he presses, “Why not just kill us? Make up some story about our ship crashing?”
Pavish-Ulla and Pavish-Tau grow silent, and glance at each other.
“Because they need this alliance,” Finn says quietly, and Poe turns to look at him. “They need this diplomatic mission to go smoothly. This planet is vulnerable without the First Order, not to mention the fact it’s on the edge of civil war. Without us to back them, their world falls apart.”
Poe takes this in, thinking about the children sent off to die, the people living in poverty in the city while the nobles danced and drank Alderaanian wine.
“Maybe it should,” he says quietly. “Maybe they deserve that.”
Finn looks at him helplessly. “Is that our call to make?”
“So, what, we just leave?” Poe asks. “Let whatever happens, happen? Make an alliance with whoever’s left standing after the dust has cleared?”
The thought of it feels wrong, after everything they had fought for.
“What if we offer an alliance only on the conditions that they reveal the truth about the Royal children? Work towards a democracy?” Finn suggests and then thinks about it and shakes his head. “No, that’s just as bad as the First Order. This isn’t our planet. They need to make their own decisions.”
“How can we make an alliance at all, with anyone on this damn rock?” Poe wonders aloud, running a hand through his hair. “The revolutionaries hate us, and we obviously can’t trust the Royals.”
“But this planet needs our support,” Finn argues. “Our med supplies, our protection against what’s left of the First Order. We can’t abandon them.”
It occurs to Poe suddenly, that after all the paperwork and ceremonial dinners, that the real diplomatic talks are taking place right now, here in this underground room in the early hours of the morning. He suddenly understands the need for all the ritual and glamour that surrounds it; it’s to hide the ugly truth of what it means to try and find common ground between things as vast as entire civilizations. All the talk of practicalities; supplies and contracts and careful negotiations. All it comes down to in the moment is trust.
The Verakians have given him no reason to trust them. And yet…. And yet, Poe had once trusted someone he had no reason to trust at all.
It had been the best decision of his life.
C-3PO chooses this moment to break in, one golden hand raised in the air. “If I might make a suggestion, then I do believe I know of a Verakian custom that could help in this instance. Are you aware of the ritual known as Peth?”
“Peth?” Pavish-Tau repeats, from where they’re still huddled around with their arms around their children. “Absolutely not.”
“Wait,” Pavish-Ulla says, holding up their hand. “Maybe he’s right. It might be the only way we can reach an accord.”
“Wait, what’s Peth?” Poe asks, frowning. This has been a very long day.
“It’s a ritual of complete empathy and connection,” C-3PO says, sounding as if he’s reeling off a textbook. “In a way, the purest form of democracy. The Royal family extend their natural talents to encompass all involved in a form of group mental communication. In this way, all the leaders involved would share emotions, perspectives and memories in order to come to a mutual understanding. It’s famous in Passio Verak for solving even the most bitter conflicts without violence.”
“Wait, wait,” Finn says and then clears his throat, “So it would be a four-way mind meld?”
“If you want to simplify it then yes,” C-3PO says huffily.
“No,” Poe says flatly, “Bad idea. Terrible idea. Open up our brains and let these people poke around in them willingly? Without any kind of barrier or protection? Not a chance. No way in hell.”
He looks over at Finn for support and with a sinking feeling, Poe sees the thoughtful look on his face.
“I mean…we’ve had worse plans,” Finn says slowly, and Poe shakes his head.
“Have we? Really?” he says and then, desperate, he turns to Mishmi, still standing by the fireplace.
“Back me up here, this is crazy right?”
Mishmi shrugs. “I mean, I wouldn’t want to do it. But I’m not a General.”
Poe lets out a ragged breath and then Finn takes a step closer, putting his hand on Poe’s shoulder and leaning close.
“Hey,” he says, at a level that makes it clear his next words are just for Poe, “I’ll back you up whatever you decide. I think it could work but it needs to be your call too.”
Poe looks at him and thinks about all the reasons why it would be disastrous to let Finn know what he’s really thinking. All the secrets he’s been keeping, for so long now.
But that’s a selfish reason to say no and Pavish-Ulla was right, to be a leader you have to put your own priorities aside.
So, although it feels like going into freefall, Poe just nods.
“Fine,” he says. “But when this whole damn thing is over, I’m never going on a diplomatic mission again. Ever.”
Okay so as you can probably tell this is now the penultimate rather than final chapter because this whole thing kind of got away from me. This was supposed to be a simple 'pretend to be husbands' fic and now I'm getting too worried about the politics of my own stupid made up planet.
But anyway, please tell me what you think, I'm very worried this one is too 'talky' in general lmao but i needed build up for the big climactic Mind Meld (AKA the scene I am most excited to write). The final chapter will be up in a few days with all luck and thank you everyone so much for all the positive feedback!!
After spending so long trying to escape from their room it feels stupid to go back to it now, but that’s what they do. Even with a heavy bookcase dragged across the passageway entrance and C-3PO and Mishmi standing guard at the door, it still makes Poe feel on edge; twitchy.
They have two hours until the ritual; two hours for the Royals to prepare. Two hours to rest, finally sleep, even though dawn has already crept over the horizon, filling the room with a pinkish gold light.
Poe goes to the fresher and mechanically scrubs the dirt from his skin, letting the hot water work out the clenched muscles of his back. He changes into clean clothes and when he comes out, Finn looks up from where he’s sitting on the bed, staring at his hands. He’s still wearing the clothes from the procession; still devastatingly handsome even caked in ash and blood.
Poe is too tired to pretend he isn’t looking but Finn is watching him back, just as carefully.
“You don’t have to do this,” Finn tells him. “We don’t have to.”
“I thought you wanted to,” Poe says carefully, stepping closer till Finn has to tilt his head back to look at him.
“I do. I think it’s the only way to really trust them. Trust that things will change after we leave. Have them trust us. But I know you don’t like…that stuff,” Finn says and wiggles his fingers in a way that means, the Force.
Poe lets out a rush of breath and sits down next to him, feeling heavy and tired.
“I don’t, not like that stuff,” he says, trying to explain. “I’m impressed by it. What Rey can do, what you can do, is amazing. It’s…incredible.”
“But…” Finn prompts, leaning over to nudge him slightly with his shoulder.
Poe sighs and lets himself lean into the touch. “But I hate it also. I hate the feeling of having someone else in my head. Rooting around in there.”
Finn looks at him, eyes large and grave. “Because of Ren?”
Poe shrugs and nods, not wanting to say the words.
Finn clears his throat and says, very haltingly, “I’ll be there with you. Through it all. I’m not sure how it works yet but maybe I can protect us. A little bit. I mean, the memory wipe didn’t work on me.”
“You think you could do that?”
“Yeah,” Finn says and then, “Maybe. I don’t know. But I’ll try. Just, I don’t know. Focus on me.”
Poe forces a smile and doesn’t say that of all the people to open his brain up for, Finn is the person he’s most scared of looking inside.
When Finn goes to freshen up, Poe lies back on the bed and finally lets his eyes droop shut. His body is exhausted, every bone aching but his mind can’t be still, the thoughts roiling over each other in endless repetition.
He’s afraid, Poe can admit that, if only to himself. It’s not just the thought of Finn knowing the truth of Poe’s feelings. Finn wouldn’t stop wanting to be his friend, Poe knows that much. Finn wouldn’t even treat him differently, probably, he’s not that kind of person. He might pity Poe though, even if he tried to hide it.
But even that’s not what really scares him. It’s not even the memory of Kylo Ren digging around inside his skull for answers.
What frightens him is something he can’t even really understand fully; a thing that Poe can only prod at the edges of and then, as he’s still searching for the words, he falls asleep.
When Poe wakes up, Finn is leaning over him, saying his name softly, with one hand on Poe’s shoulder.
“What ‘st?” Poe asks, “Are we under attack?”
“No,” Finn says and then considers, “Not this time.”
Poe frowns and then he remembers where he is and what’s about to happen and he sits bolt upright, narrowly avoiding head-butting Finn in the nose.
“Are they here?” he asks, “Is it time?”
“Not yet,” Finn says. “I think we have about ten minutes yet. I just thought you’d want to be awake when they get here.”
“Yeah,” Poe says, “Thanks.”
He looks at Finn where he’s half sitting on the edge of the bed and for the first time he notices the heavy dark circles under his eyes, the slump of his broad shoulders.
“You didn’t sleep?” Poe asks and then he narrows his eyes as a thought occurs, “You said you didn’t sleep well last night either. Or the night before.”
Finn shrugs, looking away. “We’ve had a lot going on.”
Poe looks at him, feeling a rush of concern, and he reaches out so that his fingertips are just brushing the edge of Finn’s hand.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “In all of this, I’ve just been thinking about my own hang-ups. But for you, being somewhere like this, where the First Order- I mean, somewhere that reminds you of your past. Hell, no wonder you can’t sleep. This whole place must be just one long nightmare trip down memory road.”
Finn looks round, almost startled, looking first at Poe’s face and then at their hands on the coverlet between them.
“No,” he says, abruptly, as if he’s surprised the words are coming out, “No, it’s not that. It’s just…it’s just I’ve never shared a bed before. It’s… it’s been hard to sleep with you right there next to me. “
Poe blinks, taken aback and then he cracks a smile. “What, do I snore that badly?”
Finn lets out a rush of frustrated air. “No, you don’t snore, you idiot, listen, I’m trying to explain-“
But whatever he’s going to say is cut off by the sudden knock at the door.
It’s not loud at all but Poe and Finn both jump at the sound, as if it were the noise of a blaster going off. They look at the door and then each other and Poe suddenly realises how close they are, how little space there is between their faces.
“We should get that,” he breathes and Finn, not moving, nods, not looking away.
Then the door creaks open and Poe turns to see C-3PO’s shiny gold head peeking around the edges of the frame.
“I hate to interrupt sirs,” he says. “But the Royal Family have arrived. I believe the ritual is imminent.”
“Does he have to say it like that?” Poe hears Finn grumble behind him as they both struggle to their feet.
“Okay, show them in,” Poe says, relieved when his voice comes out calm; authorative.
The Royal couple enter, still dressed in the same robes as last night. In here, with the daylight filling the room, the two of them look smaller, almost delicate.
They look nervous, Poe realises, clutching each other’s hands in a way that looks nothing like tradition and more like simple reassurance.
“Are you ready?” Pavish-Ulla asks softly.
“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Poe says, “So what, do we all stand in a circle and hold hands?”
“Of course not,” Pavish-Tau snorts derisively. “It will be much more comfortable to sit.”
There are no chairs, so they sit awkwardly on the floor next to the fountain, using pillows from the bed and then, to Poe’s horror, it looks like they really are going to be holding hands.
“It’s necessary,” Pavish-Ula explains, obviously sensing their reluctance. “And the circle mustn’t be broken at any time in the ritual.”
“Even if my hands get sweaty?” Poe asks and Pavish-Ulla gives him a measured look and then turns to address Finn.
“It’s very simple really. When you’re ready I’ll create the link between us. And then quite simply, our hearts and minds will open. Together.”
Finn frowns and nods slowly. “And when does it stop?”
“When we understand each other,” Pavish-Tau says, unhelpfully. “They say it happens naturally at a certain point.”
“Wait, who’s they? How many times have you done this?” Finn asks and the Pavish-Tau flushes a deeper shade of blue.
“Technically?” they ask. “Never. But I have studied- “
“Never?” Poe echoes, shooting Finn a wild glance. “You’ve never done this before? What about you?”
He directs this at Pavish-Ula, who returns his gaze coolly. “This is new to me to, I admit. But, to borrow one of your Galactic expressions, there is a first time for everything.”
“Okay,” Finn says, sounding a little strangled. “So, this is going to be interesting. But we knew that already.”
He looks over at Poe and raises his eyebrow. Poe hesitates and then nods reluctantly.
“Well, let’s get it over with,” he says and looks over his shoulder at C-3PO who is lurking in a corner and watching attentively. “Make sure we aren’t disturbed, okay? And if we come out of here with our memories wiped then tell Mishmi he has my permission to start shooting things.”
“Of course, General!” C-3PO says. “Oh, I can’t believe you’re going to be experiencing the famed ritual of Peth first-hand! What an exciting opportunity for you both.”
Poe tries not to scowl. He waits till C-3PO leaves, and then stretches out his hand to Pavish-Tau beside him, who takes it almost hesitantly.
Poe shivers at the touch, tensing up, but it’s just a hand in the end; cool and dry and long fingered in his own. When he looks over, Pavish-Ulla is reaching one hand out to their spouse, the other extended to Finn. The circle is almost complete but when Finn offers his hand, Poe hesitates, not ready despite everything.
“Remember what I said,” Finn says softly and Poe swallows, holding his gaze and the he closes the space between them.
The moment his fingers brush Finn’s is almost anticlimactic. He’s expecting an explosion; fireworks but all he gets is warm fingers wrapped up in his, holding on tight.
Poe exhales, relieved, and then it hits him all at once, the onslaught of images, information, memories, the taste of wine on his tongue as the First Order diplomat smiles across the table, the sight of the men marching into the city, row by ordered row, watching from the window as the children are brought out and knowing and knowing that next will be…..
Poe gasps, breaking free from a memory too painful and sees, a marriage ceremony, the weight of someone’s hand in yours, the children growing up in fine clothes and jewellery while in the city they speak of war. The sound of drums. The treaties signed in ink and blood. The taste of fine cake, melting in your mouth while you hear reports of starvation. Riots. Death. The weight of your people’s hand in yours. The children look up and you’re a leader, you lead and you set an example and and and
It’s too much, it’s overwhelming, and Poe feels himself drowning under the tide of it. He tries to remember why they’re doing this and forgets. He’s forgetting everything, he forgets his name and then he remembers Finn saying, focus on me.
Poe finds him, somehow in the chaos, shining like a beacon. Poe reaches for him and sees rows of beds and rows of people laid out in systematic order and rows of tables where they sit and eat every day. He sees shining white armor and wishing and waiting and then he sees blood and sand and fire in the dark. He tries out his new name and it feels right coming out of his mouth and then Rey’s hand is in his as they run and run and then it’s just freedom-
-and the weight of the people’s expectations and the weight of your children in your arms-
-and then Poe sees the ground drop away beneath him in his mother’s lap-
-and he sees the X-Wing pass overhead shaking the air around it and whooping for pure joy-
-and he sees the palace walls closing in-
-the years on years of endless war-
-the burning ship being pulled into the sand-
-the watching eyes-
Then all at once, Poe is alone again in his head.
He gasps for air, drawing in a shaking mouthful of it, and for a moment he feels like he might be dying. There’s a horrible wight on his chest, a loss, an awful aching sense of loneliness. He looks down at his hands and they’re shaking and then he looks up and sees Pavish-Tau drawing back.
“I understand,” they say haltingly, “I think I understand.”
Poe realizes suddenly that they are weeping, tears spilling out of their pink eyes and dribbling down their cheeks.
Poe opens his mouth, wanting to help, but something is stopping him from talking. All he can do is inch back along the floor, until his back hits the marble fountain behind him and he sits there, shivering, as the Royal Couple help each other to their feet.
He can’t look over at Finn, but he is acutely aware of him, just off to the side of his peripheral vision. Poe listens to him take in a ragged breath and feels the phantom ache in his own lungs.
“We must go,” Pavish-Ulla says, one arm around their spouse, sounding shaken, “You have given us much to think about.”
“Same here,” Poe manages to croak out, even though he’s not sure if what just happened helped the situation or left him feeling more confused than ever.
He hears them leave, the sound of quick footsteps on marble, the door being open then shut. Then it’s just silence, punctuated by the trickling water in the fountain. He still can’t look at Finn.
Poe slides to his feet, his nerves raw and exposed and when he blinks, he can see Stormtrooper masks, feel a lightsabre slicing through his back.
“I’m sorry,” he hears Finn rasp and at first Poe doesn’t understand the words.
“What?” he asks and then he looks at Finn, sitting hunched up on himself on the floor, staring at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” Finn says again and looks up, eyes huge and dark. “I said I could protect you. When it was happening. But I couldn’t. It was- it was too much.”
“It’s alright,” Poe says helplessly, “It’s alright, just knowing you were there-“
He watches from the corner of his eye as Finn struggles to his feet, swaying slightly as if about to fall.
Without thinking Poe stretches out a hand to help him.
Finn takes it and then they both freeze in place. Poe hears Finn inhale sharply. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
It’s impossible to pinpoint who moves in first, but then all at once they’re kissing, hard and almost desperate. Finn has his hands on Poe’s neck, reeling him in and Poe leans into it with his whole body, touching Finn’s shoulders, his neck, his face. He can feel his stubble rasp against Finn’s soft dark cheek, and it makes him feel crazy; unhinged.
Poe wants everything, all at once; he wants Finn under him on the bed, he wants to sink down on his knees but most of all he wants Finn to keep kissing him, just like that; to never stop. They stumble together, awkward and ungainly, and fall backwards onto the bed.
Poe lands on top of him and breaks away from the kiss to apologise but Finn chases his mouth, his hands digging into Poe’s hair. Poe sees the exposed stretch of his neck and wants to bite it. He does and Finn moans, hips arching up.
Poe draws back and looks down, panting, his hands on Finn’s chest.
He wants to say something but nothing he says could match this; the feeling of Finn underneath him. He wants to address the situation, but he doesn’t know what’s happening.
Then Finn slides one hand under Poe’s shirt, sliding over his waist, his ribs, and Poe doesn’t want to talk anymore. He just wants to get as many of the layers between them removed as possible. There must be some trace of the ritual left because when Poe leans down to kiss him, he can almost feel the sensation reflected back, like an echo chamber.
When he had let himself imagine this he had always asked, is this your first time? What can I do? What do you want?
But now he’s been inside Finn’s head. He already knows that Finn has done this before, but only in the dark, with men too frightened to talk about it in the day. He’s seen every awkward kiss, every fantasy Finn’s ever had. He’s seen himself through the mirror of Finn’s eyes; dark hair curling over his eyes, his own sharp white grin in the dark.
As for what Finn wants, Poe knows that too and the knowledge of Finn’s desire is addictive. It makes him rough, careless. He kisses deeper into Finn’s mouth, pulls his shirt off with enough force to send buttons scattering onto the floor. Finn isn’t holding back either, his fingers digging into Poe’s side, pulling Poe down to meet the thrust of his hips.
There’s nothing careful about this, nothing graceful. For all his experience Poe isn’t patient enough for that; he grinds down, finally getting his hands inside the fabric of Finn’s trousers.
He’s dimly aware that Finn is saying his name; over and over until it doesn’t make sense anymore, it’s just sounds. Poe wraps his hands around the length of him, kissing him again and again until finally Finn is falling apart beneath him, hips twitching out his orgasm.
“Is that…is it good?” Poe asks, gasping and Finn puts his hands over his eyes and laughs weakly.
“Yes,” he says, “Poe, yes. Now you.”
“I’m okay,” Poe says, even though he’s lightheaded with the need to be touched. He doesn’t want to push Finn too far though, somehow cross an invisible line and then Finn reaches into his trousers.
“Oh,” Poe says and then swears under his breath, “That’s…that’s good.”
“Yeah?” Finn asks, looking up at him, eyes dark and hooded.
“Yeah,” Poe says and then he gasps as Finn twists his hand, “Oh fuck.”
“I’ve thought about this,” Finn tells him in a rush. “Did you think about it?”
“You know I have,” Poe says, feeling lit up, electric in all the places they touch. “All the time, Finn. I want this all the time. I don’t think about anything else. You drive me crazy.”
Finn draws in a sharp breath and Poe presses his face into Finn’s neck, grasping blindly at his waist, his hip and then he comes, shuddering.
When he can think again, they’re lying wrapped around each other on top of the bed. Finn’s hand is still on his bare hip and they’re both breathing heavily. It occurs to Poe that they never even managed to get full undressed and the realisation almost makes him hard again.
He wants to be naked; more than that he wants Finn naked. He wants to go all over again but now that the first rush has passed, he feels suddenly unsure.
Already the connection between them made in the ritual is fading and with it, Poe’s confidence that he hasn’t just made a terrible mistake. He looks over at Finn and he’s looking back, equally terrified.
“So, telepathy huh?” Poe ventures and Finn swallows, looking up at the ceiling.
“Yeah,” he says, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“You weren’t?” Poe asks, too quickly.
“No, but…no complaints,” Finn says and then grins, eyes creasing up with affection. “What the hell are we going to say about this trip when we get back?”
Poe grins back, hugely relieved that somehow Finn has found a way to make this easy, familiar.
Maybe that’s why he says what he says next.
“What happens in Passio Verak, stays in Passio Verak?” he jokes.
He regrets it almost instantly, but the damage is already done. He can tell from the way Finn’s body stiffens against him, the way he looks away, over Poe’s shoulder.
“Is that…is that what you want?” Finn asks and Poe wants to say, no, no you idiot, I want to keep doing this forever, but for some reason the words don’t come out.
He’s silent, trying to think of what to say, and then it’s too late and Finn is sitting. Pulling away. Poe shivers, cold in all the places they were touching and he wants to reach out, to pull Finn back down.
But then he hesitates too long.
Finn goes and washes up and Poe sits there on the bed and calls himself an idiot. He has a million things to say, ways to make it up, explanations, declarations, confessions. He rehearses them all and then when Finn comes back, he panics, feeling like he needs to be clean to say them, so he slips away to use the fresher.
He splashes his face with cold water and takes a breath and then when he gets back in the room, he sees Finn curled up on his side on the bed, snoring softly. He’s not faking this time; Poe doesn’t need telepathy to tell that. The sleepless nights and the ritual seem to have all caught up at once; Finn looks almost dead.
Poe lets a heavy breath and then goes to pull the blanket over him. He looks down at Finn sleeping and feels fiercely protective and then that quickly turns into feeling angry with himself.
When they were connected, it had been so easy. I love you, had been broadcast between them on every frequency. Poe had meant it when he was kissing Finn, meant it when he had licked his way down his collarbone but now, he’s realising that he never actually said the words out loud.
But neither had Finn and already Poe can feel himself doubting what he had seen during the ritual. Had he just seen his own feelings, reflected back, like some fucked up psychological prism?
It’s too complicated, all of it and so Poe gives up and lets himself sleep.
Tomorrow, is the last thing he thinks to himself; you can talk about it tomorrow.
The next morning, they wake up having rolled into each other in the night. Finn’s arm is over Poe’s waist and his face is buried in Poe’s neck and he’s still asleep, breathing soft puffs of air into Poe’s skin. Poe disentangles himself and then gets dressed in the bathroom.
They’re leaving today and so he wears the clothes he’s used to; comfortable trousers and his old flying jacket. When he looks in the mirror, he feels more familiar but also like an idiot, who’s somehow ruined the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
“You’re an idiot,” he tells his reflection but that doesn’t really help anything.
When he gets back, Finn is up and getting dressed, pulling a clean shirt on. Poe catches a glimpse of his naked back, the movement of his muscles under the skin. The way the scar shifts over that.
Poe has a brief, vivid flashback to biting Finn’s neck, the taste of his sweat.
“Are you alright?” Finn asks and Poe flushes, looking at the wall.
“I’m good,” he says, “Just ready to leave.”
There’s a pause and then Finn says, “Yeah. Yeah, me too.”
They don’t hold hands on the way to say goodbye to the Royal Family; there doesn’t seem to be any point now.
They say goodbye for the last time in the courtyard where they arrived. Again, the Court is gathered, this time to bid them farewell. Poe searches in the windows high in the towers of the palace, wondering if the Royal Children are watching. He waves goodbye, just in case.
Pavish-Tau and Pavish-Ulla are waiting by the ramp to the ship, dressed in flowing silk, the gold of their jewellery catching the sun.
“It’s been… interesting,” Poe says, extending his hand. “I can’t say I support what you represent. But I understand now. I think.”
Pavish-Ulla takes their hand in a close grip, lowering their head. “We wanted you to know that things will change here in Passio Verak. The Palace gates must open. We must be honest with our people if we want to regain their trust.”
“About…everything?” Finn asks doubtfully besides Poe, leaning forward and lowering his voice.
Pavish-Ulla nods and then gives them a small smile.
“Everything. If that means we must step down, then so be it. The war- the occupation, it has affected us all. It’s left scars that have been afraid to examine, as a culture. As a planet. But cannot heal without transparency. We cannot be free unless we address our past; you taught us that.”
This last, Pavish-Ulla says to Finn who looks awkward.
“The Resistance will be here for your people no matter what happens,” he says and Poe nods in agreement.
“Thank you,” Pavish-Ulla says and then for the first time, they smile almost naturally, a little crooked on one side.
Just as they’re about to leave, Pavish-Tau places a hand on Poe’s shoulder and says in an undertone, “We really are grateful. And I wanted to say- we wanted to say, we’re sorry for the pain we caused you.”
Pavish-Tau looks genuinely upset, and Poe wonders if all the lies and attempted mind-wipes are included in that apology. He accepts it as best he can, waving a hand.
“I suppose we lied to you too,” he says, “So maybe we should just call it even.”
“Lied?” Pavish-Tau frowns. “About what?”
“Well,” Poe says, lowering his voice and looking over at where Finn is talking to Pavish-Ulla, “You know now that we aren’t actually married.”
“No?” Pavish-Tau asks, sounding genuinely surprised. “Well, perhaps not in a technical sense.”
Before Poe can ask what they mean, the ramp is lowering to their ship and Finn is calling him to go.
He spares a look back before they step inside and the Royal Couple are standing hand in hand, waving them goodbye. Behind them is the Palace, towering to the sky and beyond that, the city where no doubt, revolutionaries are licking their wounds from the night before and planning their next move.
Poe wonders if these towers will still be standing if he ever returns; if the Royal Family will still live there with their children or if they’ll be a distant memory, a cautionary tale. The galaxy is full of stories like this. Even so, Poe can’t help but hope they’ll live.
Finn must be thinking the same thing, because as they break out of the atmosphere, he turns to Poe and says, “Do you think they mean it? That they’ll tell the truth?”
“Maybe.” Poe says, shrugging. “You saw what I saw- they want the best for their people. But I don’t know if good intentions are gonna make up for what they did.”
Finn looks out of the window, and a strange expression passes over his face; almost wistful.
“I know it was selfish of them,” he says softly. “And it made them bad rulers in the end. But still, I can’t help but wish my parents had cared that much. Whoever they were.”
Poe puts a hand on his shoulder, watching his face carefully.
“They might have,” he says softly. “They might have tried and failed or maybe they never had a choice at all.”
Finn nods and smiles a little ruefully. “I guess there’s no way of knowing.”
“There could be,” Poe offers. “We could go looking, dig back through the records.”
For a moment Finn looks like he’s considering it and then he shakes his head.
“Nah, it’s history now. Anyway, who knows what I’d find out. Look at Rey. I don’t need a First Order record to tell me who I am.”
“What about family? Don’t you want that? To find your people?”
“I don’t need to,” Finn says and meets Poe’s eyes for the first time.
There’s a strange moment where something unsaid hangs heavily in the air and then they seem to both remember what happened last night. Poe drops his hand off Finn’s shoulder like it’s burning and Finn takes a hurried step back, almost stumbling into the wall.
“I should go and check in with C-3PO,” he says, clearing his throat.
“Good idea,” Poe says brusquely, “I should ah, go and see if Mishmi needs any help with the navigation.”
They both escape in opposite directions and Poe makes his way to the cockpit wondering darkly if this is what the rest of his life will be, unable to make eye contact with his Co-General ever again.
They manage to avoid each other for the rest of the trip, which is hard to do when you’re on a cramped shuttle, and Poe can’t help but feel massively relieved when they finally break through the atmosphere of Ajan Kloss.
He hovers in the cockpit for as long as he can, until finally Mishmi looks like he’s about to snap and order him to get out. Before Poe can inspire any acts of insubordination he skulks away, just in time to run into Finn in the corridor.
“So, home sweet home, huh?” Poe says awkwardly and then immediately wants to throw himself out of the airlock.
“Yup,” Finn says. “That’s where we are.”
Poe nods and tries to think of anything to add to that, but he can’t, so an awkward silence settles between them. It should only take ten minutes till landing but at this rate, Poe thinks he might not make it that long.
A little voice in his head is telling him that now is the perfect time for that conversation they’ve been putting off and he risks a look at Finn, who looks away quickly.
“So…” Poe says, finally, when he can’t take it anymore and then C-3PO totters around the corner.
“Oh, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be home!” he says, “R2 will never believe me when I tell him everything that happened. To think he said this mission would be boring.”
“3PO!” Finn says happily as Poe steps forward to clap C-3PO on the back, saying, “Just the droid I was looking for!”
C-3PO looks a little taken-aback at the warm reception but after a moment his optics brighten, and he launches into a story about some other diplomatic mission that had gone terribly wrong. Finn and Poe listen attentively, asking a lot of questions and between them they manage to avoid talking about their emotions until the ship finally lands.
Rey is waiting for them, looking happier than she’s been in months with fresh bruises on her arms and a grazed cheek. Poe suspects that beating up Spice Runners has been a therapeutic process for her.
She runs up, hopping onto the ramp before it’s fully open and wraps Finn up in a hug.
“Hey Poe,” she says, grinning over Finn’s shoulder. “How was playing nice with the other planet?.”
“Terrible,” Poe says and then, grudgingly, “How was running around hitting people with your lightsabre?”
“Pretty good,” she says, letting go of Finn reluctantly, who looks her up and down with a frown.
“You’re hurt,” he points out, “Why are you hurt?”
“You say it like it’s my fault,” Rey protests and then, when Poe gives her a raised eyebrow, she shrugs. “I got sloppy.”
Finn makes a noise of concern and Rey raises her hands up to cut him off, “It’s okay, really. I worked through a lot out there. I think I needed it.”
“Well next time take us,” Finn says. “Or even better, we’ll go do the fun stuff and you can do the diplomatic missions.”
“Was it that bad?” Rey asks lightly and then her grin fades as her head tilts to the side, considering them. “Wait, something’s different- what’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Finn says quickly, and Poe starts backing away, deciding to get out while he can.
“Do you know where Rose is?” he asks, scanning the base mostly to avoid Rey’s rapidly narrowing eyes. “I need to catch her up on our shiny new alliance.”
“You just got back,” Rey says, frowning but Poe just waves a hand over his shoulder, already walking away.
Striding off in the vague direction of the central base, he hears Rey says faintly behind him, “Finn what the hell happened out there?”
Poe doesn’t stick around to hear the answer.
He finds Rose hunkered down in the cafeteria with a pot of caff and about ten thousand paper memos from around the base, which she nearly knocks over getting up to hug him. He’s glad to see her, glad of her cheerful efficiency, even though he’s slightly unnerved by the fact that nothing seems to have fallen apart or blown up in his absence.
They spend the next two hours going over the terms of the new treaty and Poe gives her an (abridged) account of the last few days in Passio Verak. They talk until someone comes over to tell them that Finn is looking for them at which point Poe makes an excuse and escapes.
It’s not running away; he tells himself as he slips into the treeline. It’s just making a tactical withdrawal.
It’s not long before the trees swallow him up, until Poe is sweating slightly in the humid air and his legs are aching from the effort of avoiding the gnarled roots that cover the ground. He keeps going though, until he finds a tree to sit in that looks vaguely non-poisonous.
He likes it here, on this jungle planet. It’s not home in the way a X-Wing cockpit is, but it feels familiar. Poe leans his head back against the smooth bark of the tree and closes his eyes. For the first time in days he’s alone and outside, nothing between him and the greenery.
It should make him calm or relieved, but the sad truth is that he would rather be back on that awful, sad planet in the Palace with the creepy children in the walls. In bed with Finn, the past rewinded, back to the point where they were still lying on top of each other.
Right before Poe had fucked it all up.
That’s when he should have said it. That or back when they were dancing or before that, when Finn had walked away from him on that ocean moon. Or before that even, when they had the guns pointed at the back of their heads, when they were sinking in the sand, when Finn woke up leaking fluid from that bacta suit.
Or long before any of that had happened at all, back when Finn had first pulled off that helmet and asked him if he could fly a TIE Fighter.
Yes, Poe should have said, Also I’m going to be in love with you for the rest of my life so get ready for that.
“So, this is your brooding spot huh?” Rey’s voice asks, and Poe opens his eyes to see her standing over him, framed against the light from the canopy.
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I taking your turn?” Poe asks, a little meanly but she just smiles, and sits down on the branch next to him, swinging her legs.
“Actually,” she says primly, “I’m trying this new thing where I talk about my problems with other people.”
“How nice for you,” Poe grumbles but he moves up to give her room.
He was expecting her anyway; he wonders how long it took Finn to crack and tell her everything.
“So, is this the part where you tell me not to break his heart or you’ll break my legs?” he asks and Rey’s legs pause in mid-swing.
“Um, actually this was going to be the part where I asked if you were okay.”
“Finn didn’t tell you?” Poe asks, heart sinking.
Rey shakes her head minutely, eyes wide and lips pressed together.
“Fuck,” Poe says, and then again with feeling, “Fuck.”
“I knew something had happened,” Rey tells him, “But you ran away so fast and I can never get a good read on Finn-“
“I didn’t run away,” Poe objects and she gives him a Look.
“So, what are you doing out here then? What happened?” she hesitates, “Do I need to break your legs?”
Poe sighs. “If you want. I probably deserve it.”
“Did you turn him down?” Rey asks quietly and suddenly very serious. “I don’t know why you would do that but if you were cruel about it-“
“What?” Poe says, panicked. “No, no, of course not, I would never do that, you must know how I-“
He cuts himself off and thinks about it and, maybe he did turn Finn down. Not explicitly but he had made that stupid joke and then they hadn’t talked afterwards and oh, fuck, Poe really is an idiot.
“I know how you feel,” Rey says, through the panic going on inside Poe’s head. “And I know how he feels. So, what’s the problem?”
She says it so matter-of-factly, like it’s simple. And maybe it is.
“I think maybe I missed the moment,” Poe tells her, and it sounds stupid when he says it out loud.
Rey obviously thinks so too, because she sounds almost annoyed when she asks, “How? You’re both here. Unless there’s a lot more I don’t know about this mission, neither of you are married or engaged. You’re both alive.”
She says this last part almost viciously and Poe winces, watching her face. But then she takes a breath and the anger is gone as soon as it was there and she turns her head toward him, smiling.
“If you want my advice, you should get over yourself,” she says and it’s the kindest insult that Poe’s ever received.
They talk for a little longer after that and in the end, Rey does threaten to break his legs, but she also wishes him luck, so that’s nice.
By the time Poe gets back to his tent the sun is low in the sky and the strange alien insects in the jungle have started to chirp.
He just means to duck in to change his shirt before going to find Finn but when he steps inside, the low light is on in the corner and Finn sitting there on the cot.
He looks startled, even though this is Poe’s tent, and he stands up, the datapad he was reading falling off his knee. It clatters onto the floor and Finn doesn’t even look at it, hands opening and closing at his sides like he doesn’t know what to do with them.
“I’ve been looking for you-” Poe starts but Finn doesn’t give him a chance to get into it.
“So, the thing is I’m in love with you,” he blurts out and Poe feels every muscles on his body freeze up.
“Um,” he says but Finn charges ahead without stopping.
“I just wanted to tell you that. And I know you know it already. You’ve seen how I feel about you. You couldn’t miss it, I think it takes up about seventy percent of my brain anyway,” he says, talking too fast as if he can’t stop himself. “And I know you love me too, that’s pretty obvious at this point, even without the stupid ritual or the Force or whatever. But I know there’s a lot of ways to love someone and I know I’m new to the whole ‘being loved’ thing and I also know sex doesn’t always mean what you want it to mean, even if it was really, really, mind-blowingly good sex. So, there’s still a chance I’m making a terrible mistake here.”
Finn takes a breath and then, much more quietly he says, “Am I? Because you have to tell me if I am Poe. You have to.”
Finn falls silent after that, but Poe can barely hear anything over the sound of his heart slamming in his chest. His mind keeps snagging on the ‘mind-blowingly good’ part but they can explore that later.
Right now, he takes a step forward and then another, saying, “No, no Finn, you’re not making a mistake.”
And then he’s grabbing onto Finn’s shirt and pulling him close to kiss him and just like last time it’s so good, it’s everything and stupidly perfect. Finn’s hands clutch at his waist and he kisses back but after a moment he breaks away, breathing hard.
“Don’t get me wrong, this is great but I’m going to need more clarification than that,” he says. “Because I’m starting to think our problem is not talking things through and I really don’t want to mess around with this anymore.”
“I was afraid,” Poe says honestly. “I was afraid of the ritual and I was afraid after we slept together, and I didn’t understand why at the time. But now I do. I wasn’t scared of you or the Force or having all my secrets out in the open. I was scared of being known. Of being, I don’t know, naked.”
“You were scared of being naked?” Finn asks dubiously, “Because I have to tell you as someone who’s seen you almost-naked… “
“No, just listen okay, it’s a metaphor,” Poe says, frustrated but smiling anyway. “I was scared of having you see me. See everything. I thought maybe you wouldn’t like what you found under the surface.”
He takes a stuttering breath and then it’s all coming out, in a rush.
“Because I’m not a natural leader Finn. Or a big revolutionary hero or an inspiration or whatever you think I am. I’m cocky. I’m not prepared. I rush into things; I’m scared a lot and I don’t know what to do most of the time and- “
“And you snore,” Finn reminds him, edging his fingers up under the fabric of Poe’s shirt. “Don’t forget that.”
Poe scowls at him, annoyed that he still wants to kiss him so badly. “Thanks. I’m opening my heart here.”
“You are cocky,” Finn tells him. “And you’re a leader. You’re stupid about a lot of stuff and reckless and you used to run spice. And I used to be a stormtrooper. I never thought you were some perfect ace pilot resistance hero.”
He considers and corrects himself, “Okay, I did once but then I got to know you. And I found out you were kind of arrogant sometimes and grumpy and you take really stupid risks. That’s when I fell in love with you- that’s why.”
Poe swallows hard and strokes the edge of his thumb down Finn’s cheek.
“It was a lot quicker than that for me,” he admits and Finn grins at him.
“You know, you can say the words now. I won’t run away.”
“You know how I feel about you,” Poe says softly, looking at Finn’s mouth. “You’ve been in my head.”
“Say it anyway,” Finn tells him, “Just for the hell of it.”
Poe does and when Finn kisses him, he says it again. It’s easy now he’s started. He might just keep on saying it forever, for the rest of their lives.
Thank you so so much for all the amazing feedback that I've received for this story! You've all honestly been so lovely and while I'm still working through all the comments I want you to know how much every single one means to me. It was the first time writing for this fandom and everyone has been honestly so wonderful and lovely. I loved writing this so much, I'm honestly sad it's over but thank you everyone for being along for the ride.