“My wing is ready for flight,
I would gladly turn back,
If I stopped living time,
I would have little luck.”
— Gerhard Scholem (Gershom Scholem): Gruß vom Angelus
Poe is native to the jungle, though his parents were not. His parents were natives of nowhere, or natives of space, by that point— natives of something else, a place he couldn’t go with them, a kind of rarefied air that the past seemed to breathe. They were always looking behind them. They came to Yavin as strangers: strange, loud, laughing, hapless offworlders who didn’t know which insects had stings, which fruits were poison, how to read the rainclouds. Poe— four years old when they arrived— felt burdened with their lives. He felt it fell to him to preserve their safety. Years passed: he learned to fly; his parents learned to farm. Still their love seemed to come from a distant room, or perhaps from a radio transmitter out in the jungle, one of the empty towers where Poe learned to climb. They seemed ancient, those towers, with damp green growth pulling them under, but some of them still had signs of life. Lights still flashing. Recorded signals from a rebellion that was over. A half-dead droid that hummed in a corner. Poe scraped the dust from off of radar desks. He left footprints on the cracked flooring. He curled up in too-big monitors’ chairs, flipping switches, holding the microphones close to his mouth. Hello, hello. Can you read me? This is Red Leader speaking. He knew how to talk. He knew how to do this. His parents had taught him. He waited for someone to answer him back.
When he was eight, his mother died. When he was sixteen: his father. He buried them on the land they had so briefly known. He felt he had failed them— if he had loved them more, if his love had been more substantial, they would have lived. At the same time his sense of burden persisted. There was something he was still required to save.
He thinks about this at the limits of endurance, on the Finalizer. He thinks about it when his body’s a malfunctioning weight.
He thinks about it when Ren rifles through his memories, discarding them piece by piece with a sense of contempt. He thinks about— The monsoon rains on Yavin. His grandfather’s boat. They harvested lantern pears from down among the flooded river reeds. Lahuates, they were called in his grandfather’s dialect. The flesh was custard-colored and good to eat. It ripened in summer. He— was six years old, flying, skimming the jungle. M’endatlo, his mother says. Give it to me. The helm. The lahuate. A bird rising from the trees. A static screech from a radio transmitter. This is— his first crash, when he is eighteen, adrenaline like zero-gravity under his skin, laughing and laughing with a splinter of metal in his forearm, loving the blood-rush of it, tasting blood, tasting lahuate, his hair heavy with monsoon-smelling rain, and General Organa says You take too many risks, and she says take— you can’t You take — and she says M’endatlo, laughing, and he gives up the controls, and he gives— he tastes blood, It doesn’t hurt, he says, and he is six years old small in a radio tower, This is Red Leader, you’ll never take me alive Imperial scum! and it doesn’t hurt, ne m’endole, i xuro, nothing hurts him, because you’ll never take me alive, because you’ll never take— he has to keep it safe, he has to— take the splinter of metal from his forearm, ne m’endole, and laugh and laugh, i xuro, and give the splinter of metal— he can see custard-colored bone in red flesh, it ripened in summer, the red stems the radio transmitter, and he tastes blood and he tries to hold on just a little longer, he takes takes takes takes hold of that splinter of metal, the myofascia rending, and he— gives—
He gives up the map. It’s a very familiar feeling. He isn’t surprised at his insubstantialness. If I had, he thinks— If I were more— If I had been more—
But he never is. He never has been.
On Jakku, he thinks he must have imagined the stormtrooper. He thinks he must have imagined a lot. He gets confused, for a while. He isn’t used to the desert. He thinks he’s still inside his head; he sees water where there isn’t water, tastes blood and lahuate. He sees ghosts flickering like static on the sand. He believes in ghosts. He believes in the Force. He believes that the dead aren’t really dead, but no one’s ever bothered to come back for him before. It seems a little too convenient.
“You’re not real,” he tells them. “I think the boy was real, though. Although maybe he wasn’t real. He was pretty convenient, too.”
The ghosts say nothing. They watch him. His parents. Lor San Tekka.
His mother had believed in the Force.
Something that binds the living to the living. Something that binds the living to the dead.
M’endatlo, she had said, and he had lifted his small hands up, confident that she would not let them crash.
“You wouldn’t have,” he says. “You would never have crashed. I know.”
He sees strange visions, wrecked ships like ranges of mountains. The vast and corporeal landscape of the past. It is cold and hard to navigate and very thirsty. Is this what being dead is like, he wonders.
“I think I might be dead. I don’t think any of this is real,” he says.
But the boy is real, though as for the rest of it: Poe's never certain. The boy is real, and his name is Finn. Poe named this boy, who took him by his shaking hands and hurled him into a TIE fighter cockpit. Poe watches him sleep in the medbay on D’Qar. They’re packing up the base to move systems, now that the First Order’s found this location; but here and now there is a lull while all involved lick their wounds. A space in which Finn sleeps with a white scar on his shoulder. Imagine not having a name, Poe thinks. Imagine not being—
… Kes and Shara’s son, General Organa had told the admiral, when she recommended him for the mission.
The medic on duty says, “You can hold his hand.”
“You can hold his hand, if you want. You look like you want to. It’s not going to hurt him.”
So Poe sits in the green-white room and holds Finn’s hand. Machines thrum. A droid in the corridor is chirping. Poe jitters his knee up and down. He’s not used to being silent. Anyone would tell you: Poe Dameron, parsec-a-minute mouth. Always a quick retort, a clever comeback. He clears his throat.
“You’re, uh. You’re going to like it here,” he says awkwardly. “If you decide to stick around. It’s a hell of a step up from a Star Destroyer, that’s for sure. I mean, I guess my experience is kind of limited.”
The taste of blood comes to his mouth. He has to look away sharply. He hasn’t been able to shake it. He hasn’t slept very much since then, unless you count concussion— wandering in the desert, half-conscious—
“I feel like he pulled something out of me, you know,” he confesses. “Or put something in.”
He can tell Finn this because Finn can’t hear him, and anyway, Finn saw him when he was— Finn’s seen worse. To everyone else Poe came back swaggering, still shining-aura’d. The invincible Poe Dameron. Nothing gets under his skin. Not torture. Not adrenaline. Not shrapnel. Not whatever this newer feeling is, a little like he’s been skinned altogether.
“Anyway, I shouldn’t be telling you this. Hell, kid, you took the hardest hit. You’re going to be fine, though, I mean; I don’t want you to worry.” He pats Finn’s hand awkwardly. He feels like he should set it down, but he can’t seem to do that. Superstitiously, he thinks that if he breaks this small contact, it could still be that Finn will die, and then it would be his fault— Poe’s fault— because he’d held on too weakly.
He tries to envision something stronger, the shape of a rhizome between them, a tangle of roots as hard to eradicate as any jungle plant.
“My mother,” he says, “used to say that luck wasn’t real. There was no such thing as coincidence. It was all— energy between objects, these secret connections. I don’t know if I really bought it. Some of it. It’s tough, you know. Or maybe you don’t know. Sooner or later you’re going to get it. It’s a pretty confusingly fucked-up world out here, my friend. When things get too simple, you start to think…” He trails off, because he doesn’t know what he’s thinking.
“I should be dead,” he says at last. “I’m the guy who dies. I’m pretty sure I’m not the guy who gets rescued. So you gotta tell me, buddy— what’s up with that?”
He feels his mouth twist. He can’t help it. He looks at Finn’s face: peaceful, sleeping. He guesses he knows, but he’s afraid. It’s one thing to hitch your life to a resistance; another to find yourself hitched to someone’s destiny.
Still he feels it or feels something. Energy between objects. Secret connections.
“You, though,” he says. “You’re definitely the guy who lives.”
Poe guesses he’s a little fucked-up now, more than before. He certainly has a lot of nightmares. He tries to take it in stride. It doesn’t really surprise him. What had he expected? (Dead, he thinks. You expected to be dead.)
Except he’s grounded for a while while they’re packing up the base— something about giving that crack on your damn head a chance to heal; not that we don’t appreciate it, Dameron, but you could be more careful— an echo: You take too many risks— and he’s itching, restless with how hard it is not to be airborne. Sometimes he finds it hard to breathe and his palms sweat. He just needs to be in the narrow armor of the cockpit, even if traveling only at sublight speed. Staying still has never been a skill he’s good at. Even as a child, he was always scrambling, climbing trees, climbing stone walls, scaling transmitters. Mamá, m’enmir! Ne stos mireñoan’! You’re not looking; look at me! Now he’s nervous: to stop moving means to be frozen.
Sometimes his nightmares are not really dreams, but a state somewhere between sleeping and waking in which he can’t seem to move. Held still, he shrinks inside his own body. He feels again someone else’s hand on his brainstem, an intimate horror; Ren’s amusement at his petty memories. When the paralysis passes, he’s nauseated. Once or twice he’s actually sick.
One solution: not to sleep. An easier one: sleep with other people. It’s never been hard for him to find people to sleep with. He’s good-looking and good in bed. He knows there are jokes, gentle jokes. Poe Dameron: you’re not really a Resistance pilot till you’ve done him. He doesn’t mind. He likes sex: a simple, physical way to please somebody, an easy, harmless way to get out of his own skin. He likes it hard and fast and full of laughter, casual and breathless. And he loves his fellow pilots— no one would ever question that. So he fucks his way through the surviving ranks: Ned, Kip, Itztli, Ruo, and Jothan. It’s good, and they know him; they’re not going to comment on the new scars or protest if he sleeps too close.
Ruo says, “We didn’t think we’d get you back, you know.” He strokes a hand down Poe’s back, slow and fond. “I should have known no one can stop you. Not even stormtroopers.”
Poe says drowsily, “They nearly did.” He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want Ruo to talk. He just wants to lie there in the midst of this undemanding affection.
But later Jothan says, “Do you think maybe you could use time off?”
“I’m already fucking grounded. What, you looking to replace me?” Poe sits up. He feels cold, with sweat drying on his skin. Stupid with the sloppy aftereffects of orgasm.
Jothan blinks their double-irised eyes. “Hell no,” they say. “What, do you need to hear how irreplaceable you are? Dameron, you’re such a little egotist.”
They touch Poe’s arm, tracing a line down it with a slender finger, meditative, probably picking up too much. Jothan is Sijooese; everyone from their species can sense electromagnetic currents, the kind that come from moods and emotions. Sometimes it’s too close to mindreading for comfort. Poe shivers and tries to still his thoughts.
“I’m just saying— it’s a lot,” Jothan says. “For anybody. It’s all right to slow down for a minute.”
“It’s what I signed on for,” Poe says. “It’s the life.”
“Is it?” Jothan kisses the back of his neck; wraps their four umber-colored arms around him. “I think I thought there was more to it than that.”
For a moment, before he remembers that he’s safe and warm and wanted, Poe feels nauseatingly trapped.
“I used to fly for the New Republic,” he tells Finn. “I guess I always knew I’d be a pilot.” Come in, come in. Can you read me? This is Red Leader speaking. A cloud of yamaquils exploding yellow-winged through the trees; the weight of his mother’s old helmet pressing at his temples. The scratched glass shading his vision, the muted rain on the leaking, half-rusted rooftop. “My parents fought under General Organa, so that was always a no-brainer. Got to carry on the family legacy.”
He looks at Finn’s sleeping face. He’d seen something in it back on that star destroyer. Now their encounter feels like a memory from a dream. In dreams you can remember things you’ve never witnessed. They feel real, like you’re standing in a room from your childhood: a place you almost recognize as somewhere you’d been. If you clear the vines off, scraped the dust away, you might be able to see its shape. Poe wonders if it’s possible to remember the future in the same way: something that is unreal yet certain, embedded in your body. He’d felt safe with Finn. He hadn’t understood why at the time. He’d blamed adrenaline, the drugs, his own shaky brain. But it hadn’t been that. The future around him had seemed to widen, as though Finn tore it open wherever he went.
“Maybe you can tell me how you do it,” Poe says. “I wish you’d wake up.”
But Finn keeps sleeping. So Poe stretches out, tipping his head back against the chair and staring up at the sea-glass-colored light, and starts to tell a story about General Organa’s first state visit to Yavin, which had marked the tenth commemoration of the battle for the moon. The seven-year-old Poe had made himself sick eating too much tsapote custard, and had been so intimidated by meeting the general (about whom he’d heard stories all his life) that he burst into tears and ran and hid behind a catering droid— “an incident which,” he says to Finn, “I’m pretty sure she’s saving to remind me of someday, when I finally get on her last nerve.”
There’s no response.
“You know, you’re going to think that story’s hilarious,” Poe tells him. “Just you wait. Just you wait till you wake up.”
Kip’s head thuds against the pillow. “You are unfairly good at that, Dameron. For such a nice boy, you’ve got a dirty mouth.”
Poe grins and presses a kiss to the skin over his ribcage. Kip’s hand is tangled in his hair, steady and gentle. “A nice boy? I think I ought to be offended,” he says.
“Come on, you cannot deny that niceness is your dominant characteristic. You remember meeting my mother at that trade summit when we were on Coruscant? For weeks all she would talk about was ’that nice young man from Yavin… such good manners… so polite…’”
“Can we not talk about your mother right now?” Poe flops back against the bed. “No,” he says, “don’t stop touching my hair. I like that. But I’m not nice.”
“I can’t help it if it’s true, poster boy.”
“I’m not a poster boy,” Poe says. “Cut it the fuck out.”
Kip ruffles his hair energetically. “Not yet you’re not. We gotta snap a shot of those good looks, get that square jaw on a holo.”
Poe flinches away from him.
“What,” Kip says. “What?”
“Nothing. Fuck you. Nothing.” Poe turns, shoving his face against the bedsheets. His throat feels tight. For some reason he tastes blood. He’s thinking of his first crash, when he was eighteen. It hadn’t hurt at all. He’d been giddy, laughing, his swearwords not coming out in Basic, so high off the adrenaline that he couldn’t feel the metal splinter in his forearm. A meddroid had pulled it out of him, and he’d looked down into the red of his own body, astonished by how much blood came out of him, astonished by the idea of himself as so easily ruptured. The splinter shifts and scrapes against his off-white bones. Ne m’endole. Ne m’endole. I xuro. Ren touching his thoughts with scornful fingers. You’ll never take me alive. For a minute he’s so viscerally disgusted that he can’t breathe.
Kip says nothing, but he slings an arm around Poe’s shoulders. Poe thinks about shoving it off, but instead pushes back towards Kip’s body, blindly needy for the warmth of it.
“You’ll always be my poster boy,” Kip says eventually, poking Poe sleepily in the ribcage. “In my heart.”
Poe feels his mouth curve, almost like he’s trying to laugh and his body can’t quite manage it.
Headquarters is moving the base to a moon in the Thule system.
“What’s it like?” Poe asks Snap, who did the recon flights.
“Picture ice,” Snap says. “A loooooooot of ice. And— nope, that’s about it.” He grins in obvious enjoyment of Poe’s discomfort. “You’re gonna freeze your narrow ass off, Dameron. Serves you right for being so damn charming.”
“Great,” Poe tells him. “Thanks for that.”
Later he looks at holos of barren snowscapes, storms blowing in white-out conditions. Snow’s good for stealth. It worked for the Rebellion on Hoth. But to be underground, on a satellite so distant from the sun that light reaches it only six hours a day… He feels claustrophobic thinking of it.
Thinking about what it means to be frozen. Thinking of his blaster bolt hanging in the Jakkunian air, blue and shivering, incomplete, never reaching its target. Smearing itself to nothing. Heat going to darkness. No, he thinks, no, no, no, if I’m going out it’s in a bonfire, I’m going out screaming and kicking and shooting up flares; I’ll make you look at me, you motherfuckers, I’ll make sure you see me—
His hand on the holo is slippery with sweat. He’s remembering the village on Jakku again. A woman’s howl when her skirts caught fire. Tekka’s cauterized body. The noise that the herd of avevinas made when the stormtroopers shot them. A high, fearful, horribly prolonged animal bleat.
Finn wakes up, but it’s a little bit of an anti-climax. He’s immediately taken off to debrief, taken off for long talks with the generals, sessions with maps, meetings with an array of doctors. No one even tells Poe for almost two days. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that Finn would have any interest in Poe Dameron, Poster Boy. And, you know, why should it— Poe’s not even flying, just sulking around the hangar, tinkering with the targeting computer on his X-wing and irritating the ground crew.
“Force,” Pava finally says, “get the fuck out of here, Dameron. I love you, but you’re clingier than an ysalamir.”
So he heads up to the hangar roof; dangles his feet off the edge, just staring off into the distance, not thinking about much. D’Qar is green, but not like Yavin 4; the base is surrounded by masses of trees, but it’s a different kind of foliage, sharper and darker and wintry. It feels wrong a lot of the time. Poe aches for that right green, the ripe wet color that doesn’t hit him at hard angles. He never gets used to it. Thule, he knows, will be worse. Did his parents feel like this, he wonders, on Yavin? The wrong size and shape, the wrong temperature, maybe? He watches a long white crane lift from the Qar Sec River, take flight towards the mountains.
“Poe Dameron,” Finn says from somewhere behind him.
Poe jerks around and sees him: a solid pillar of stormtrooper kid, standing there. He’s wearing Poe’s jacket over ill-fitting clothing. He looks—
“Finn,” Poe says. His first instinct is to move, to scramble to his feet. He wants to put his arms around the kid, but he thinks— injuries, distance, the way Finn is standing, a little uncertain on his feet, and he doesn’t know. His hands hang in the air for a minute. “You’re, uh,” he says lamely. “They finally cut you loose, huh?”
Finn shrugs carefully. “More or less. The general said I was looking antsier than a Teek at a Qo Ram smuggler’s market. I have absolutely no idea what that means.”
“She hates it when you call her the general. She used to always say that the general was her husband.” Poe’s fist clenches of its own accord. “It was— uh, it was kind of a joke, because he hated being called the general even more. Hated being reminded he was a general, in fact.”
Finn’s face does something weird. He says, “I didn’t really know him.”
Poe says, “It kind of seems like you did.”
“A little bit. At the end.“ His face does the weird thing again, helpless and uncomprehending, like a question mark: how am I supposed to make sense of this? He looks too young and too old, sort of badly put together, made up of exhaustion and grief and ferocity and innocence, and he must take a few steps forwards, because he and Poe are sort of colliding, lurching together, both leaning into a weary embrace.
“Welcome back,” Poe says into Finn’s shoulder. “Welcome back; I’m so glad you woke up—“
Finn says, “So many people died, I didn’t know, I didn’t really realize, Hosnian Prime, and on Takodana, the general told me… So many. And on Starkiller Base.”
“But you made it. You’re here.”
“It doesn’t seem fair.” He hasn’t moved, so Poe can’t see his face. “I was ready to leave, I only stuck around because of Rey.”
Poe says thickly, “Yeah. Sure you did, kid. You know, your problem is, you always seem to end up needing a pilot.”
Finn’s arms tighten around him for a second, unbearably heavy. “Lucky for me, I keep finding good ones,” he says.
They’ve put Finn up on the west side of the complex, in a small square apartment. He insists on showing it to Poe. Poe submits to this tour because it seems to make Finn happy, and because it seems to offer him a chance to push the kid into a chair. (Sit down, he wants to say, you just got the hell out of the medbay; what if they missed something, what if they made a mistake, what if they weren’t careful enough—)
“It’s temporary,” Finn says as they’re walking across base. “Just till we switch bases. But it’s still mine. And I don’t have anybody else to show it to. I don’t really know anybody around here. I mean, I know all the generals now, and the admiral, and lots of important people, but they’re all pretty terrifying, and also about forty years older than me. I know your droid, I guess; I saw him a few times.”
“Yeah, the admiral seconded him. Wanted access to his intel.”
“I wanted to ask him where you were, but—“ His shoulders go awkward and stiff. “I figured you were busy, off doing Poe-Dameron-type things. You know: saving the galaxy. Dogfights. Espionage. Top secret missions.”
Poe laughs. There might be a note of hysteria mixed in. “You got me all wrong, buddy. I hate to break it to you, but I’m not… I mean, I’ve been grounded the whole time you were out.”
Finn swivels to stare at him in alarm. “What does that mean? Are you hurt?” He looks like he’s going to pull Poe’s coat off and check him for visible wounds.
“Nah, it’s nothing, just Organa being paranoid. I guess for a while there she thought she was down a pilot. Serves me right for making her worry.”
“Yeah,” Finn says. “How dare you get captured and tortured. What a disappointment.”
“I’ve had more successful weeks.”
It feels like they’re picking their way across something fragile, a just-barely-frozen, unsolid landscape. Uneasy, Poe wants to redirect the conversation. Let’s not talk about it, he thinks. Let’s never talk about it, that time you saw me strapped to a table and picked apart, drugged and screaming; when you saw your friends massacre a village, when you had a number for a name. Let’s pretend we’ve always been the same human beings we are now.
“The general said she’s known you a really long time.”
“Pretty much my whole life,” Poe says, breathing more easily. “She knew my parents. What, you been gossiping about me to the higher-ups?”
Finn doesn’t answer. “Everything around here is so complicated,” he says instead. “Everybody knows each other; everybody comes from somewhere; it’s like they’re speaking a different language, or like they’ve all got an extra set of limbs that I don’t have.”
“Well,” Poe says, “some of them literally do. I don’t know if you’ve met Jothan.”
“It’s just weird coming from nowhere. Being no one,” Finn says.
They’ve stopped at the door to his quarters. You can be anyone, Poe wants to tell him. You already are, you’re already being anyone you want to. I think you might be way ahead of me, if I’m honest. But he doesn’t say this. He lets Finn lead him inside and show him the bare walls, the gray couch, the inset holo. There’s a fiberstone table that seats four people. A handful of wilted flowers has been set in a chipped cup precisely in the center of the faux-marble pattern. Poe reaches out and touches one of the irregular red petals. The color looks mismatched, out of place, way too loud for the room.
“Rey left those for me,” Finn says. “She was already gone when I woke up. I guess I was still a little bit out of it. They said I kept asking where she was.”
“She’s coming back,” Poe says. “You know that, right?”
“That’s what General Organa told me.” Finn squints distractedly at the flowers, his face a weather system of emotions. “But we’re leaving D’Qar. What if she comes back and can’t find me? Us. I mean us. The Resistance. Obviously.”
“We’ll have ships on the lookout. And—“ He hesitates. “The Force is strong with her.”
“Great,” Finn says. “The Force. It’s been really helpful so far.”
That hurts, for some reason. It feels personal. Poe looks away. “You don’t believe in the Force,” he says. It’s half a question.
“No, I—“ Finn shrugs uncomfortably. “I’ve heard a lot of stories. I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen some stuff I can’t explain. But I haven’t seen anything to make me believe that there’s some pattern to it all, like some kind of mystic energy or fate. It’s all just power, you know? Who’s got it. Who doesn’t.”
“You’re wrong,” Poe says. “The Force isn’t about power. It’s about connection. Recognition. Belonging. Not just between people. Between stars, rocks, asteroids, X-wings, planets.”
Energy between objects, he thinks. The entanglements that constitute us. Even when we’d rather not be entangled anymore.
The Force had told General Organa that her husband was dead. Poe had seen it in her eyes when he made it back to base. Long after the reveling pilots, half-drunk on ripcord victory, half-staggering through a clenched-teeth wake for the fallen, had vacated the mess hall, she’d wandered in to find him slumped at a table in the corner. He hadn’t trusted himself, at that point, to sleep. She’d looked at him and, as usual, he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Was she remembering the tearful boy hiding behind a droid? Remembering her son, who was dead, or the rebellion that had begot him, the rebellion that had begot all of them? Poe was conscious of his body as a measuring stick, an artifact that marked the years between this war and that one, the distance from a time when everyone they loved had still been alive.
Their eyes had met. Drunk as he was, he’d wanted to say, Sit down. He’d wanted to say I’m sorry, or Tell me about my parents, or I’m sorry, or I’m sorry, you shouldn’t’ve let me—
But he’d said nothing.
“Let me get this straight,” Finn says dubiously. “You think a rock is going to give Rey directions?”
Poe stares at him for a second. Then he’s standing, reaching out and pulling Finn to him, back into a second rough embrace, resting his forehead on Finn’s shoulder and laughing himself breathless. “Not exactly,” he says, when he can say anything at all.
“But you believe in it,” Finn says, wondering. “You believe.”
What Poe told Finn was what his mother had said about the Force. Everything is connected: matter transmuting into more matter, the whole universe a kind of jungle ecosystem made up of parts that we can’t, to our constant mystification, see. Waves and particles, polymerases, the footprints of elemental matter.
There’d been a tree in the garden of their house on Yavin. Luke Skywalker had given it to Poe’s mother when it wasn’t yet a tree. It had been a cutting, and they hadn’t known how it would grow in the jungle. For a long time, it hadn’t looked alive at all. Poe, at that time, had wanted it dead. It was a foreign plant, an ancient, offworld intruder. It came from a colder, Basic-speaking galaxy, a conflict that once had held his parents hostage, a universe to which he felt hostile. Don’t grow, he would think at it balefully. You don’t belong here.
It did grow, of course. Poe’s mother said gently, trying to explain her wonder to her son, It’s survived for so long. E brevidoa asto mi atem. In spite of war, in spite of the Empire. Things survive, you see?
Things survive. But she herself died three years later.
The tree bore white blossoms. It slowly took root. But Poe had been the last Dameron living on Yavin. He’d left before he turned seventeen. Since then, he’d been back, but the land had changed. No one lived in the house now. Towats and yamaquils nested in the rafters. The garden was overrun by jungle. The tree remained, incorporated into the thick and proliferous flora, but no one tended it anymore; only a few settlers knew its importance. Poe was aware that he had obscurely failed it, but at the same time he thought— You can’t go back. The past was not a place one could get back to.
He felt he’d found a new homeworld when he signed on with the Resistance. War seemed natural, like breathing. It was in his blood. This was where he came from; this was where his parents had come from. This was their landscape. He felt closer than ever to them, as though he were finally entering a space they had always occupied, as though at long last he was approaching the source of the transmission he had once imagined carrying their love to him.
He sleeps on Finn’s couch, after staying up late introducing the kid— in one slightly guilt-inducing swoop— to Mandalorian brandy and holochess. Well, sleeps: he’s out for maybe three hours, before he wakes with an unfocused sense of terror and a savage upwards jerk. He doesn’t remember what he was dreaming, but the physical echoes of it are enough that further sleep holds no appeal. His heart is still racing; his hands are shaking with adrenaline. He picks himself up and checks to see that Finn’s still sleeping. He is: sprawled like a starfish across his bed, brow furrowed as though his dreams perplex him, mouth slightly open in unconscious astonishment. Poe leans against the doorframe, feeling halfway between drunk and hungover, and watches him with a low-level sense of panic. The feeling manifests itself— like so many of his emotions— as a urgent need to be in a plane.
Snap’s on call over at the hangar monitoring transmissions on the midnight shift. He’s got a headset on, and stands at an illuminated map, tracking pilots on routine security missions. His eyes flicker to Poe and then back to his map, suspiciously neutral of expression. “Poe,” he says.
“What’s happening?” Poe asks him. “Anything happening? Anything exciting?”
“Not for you, kid.” Snap levels an accusatory finger at him. “You should be in bed.”
“I’ve been in bed.”
“-s, plural, is where you’ve been. I’ve heard. You should be in your own bed. Asleep.”
“Aw, Snap. I didn’t know you cared.” Poe ducks as Snap flips a stray datachip at him.
“You are such a brat,” Snap says without rancor. “Fuck off back to bed. Let me do my job.”
Poe sidles up and leans entreatingly at the edge of the map. “Snap, buddy, you gotta put me back in. You gotta put me back in, Snap. I’m going nuts here. I’m a pilot. You get that, right?”
“It hadn’t escaped my notice,” Snap says, not looking at him, tracing a flight path on the transparent map. “It’s not my call.”
“Please. You could drop a word in.” Poe’s aware that he’s not striking the right light-hearted note. He sounds too hungry, too committed. He’s not going to convince Snap unless he convinces Snap that he doesn’t care, that there’s nothing more at stake than boredom for him. “Who’s flying escort to Thule? Put me on that mission. I can babysit a convoy.”
“Poe, read my lips. It’s not my call.”
“Fuck.” Poe kicks a table harder than he means to. He sees Snap give him a narrow look, a look that’s horribly knowing and fraught with pity.
Snap begins, “Listen, everyone knows that you— I mean, you got nothing to prove; no one’s going to think less of you if you want to—“
“—Don’t,” Poe says. “Just, really, just don’t,” and he’s physically recoiling, flinging himself backwards with a graceless motion. He catches himself and, despite the impulse towards movement, despite the nervousness that vibrates under his skin, goes still. “It’s not about that, okay? It has nothing to do with that. I just can’t hang around here while everyone else is out there doing something, fighting—”
“—Not everyone. Some of us are stuck here planetside, dealing with smug-ass flyboys who don’t seem to know what’s good for them.”
Snap is trying. Poe can tell he’s trying. But he’s still got that anxious expression, like he thinks Poe might break. Poe feels slightly incredulous, looking at this expression. They couldn’t break me, he thinks; you really believe there’s something breakable left? They broke every breakable part. What’s left are the strong and the brave parts. The dangerous parts, the durable and untainted. As for the rest: he doesn’t need them.
And yet. And yet: They did break you, he thinks.
They took what they wanted. So how do you take stock of what’s left?
“Poe,” Snaps says gently, when the silence drags on. “Go get some sleep. We’re doing just fine here. The whole sector’s quiet.”
“Yeah,” Poe says. “Right. I got it.” He still stands there for a minute, hung up in a strange kind of inertia, listening to the radar chirping, watching blue light pulse across the map, somehow unable or unwilling to leave. This is what happens if you don’t keep moving. You end up frozen. You can’t run; you can’t run fast enough; you can’t be in the right places; you can’t save them from accident or sickness; you can’t come racing in at the last minute, resplendent in a fighter; you can’t die before they manage to take you alive; you can’t die before someone pulls a bright splinter out of your arm, pulls all your secrets out from under your skin; you can’t die before you would let any of them hurt someone who sleeps looking as surprised as a child, who has a white scar on his shoulder where he’s already been hurt; you can’t promise, you can’t swear that you’re enough, that you’re strong enough—
He wanders into the mess hall a little before sunrise. Someone’s been stacking up the tables and chairs, presumably as a prelude to loading them for the Thule base. That’s one of the things Poe’d never thought about before joining the Resistance: where will people eat, what will people sit on, how is all of this going to get shipped from one place to the next? So much of challenging an empire or an insurgent movement is about lists and supplies, not energy shields and missions and dogfights. In the end, people have to do more than fight. They have to live. He’s still learning that, he supposes. After all, he’s here in the empty, unwashed light of too-early morning, looking for a cup of caf rather than getting the sleep that Snap had mandated.
He’s already fumbling with the caf machine when he notices that the room isn’t empty— that General Organa is seated at one of the remaining tables, silently watching him.
“Oh,” he says, startled, slopping hot liquid over the rim of his cup. He winces and sticks his burnt thumb in his mouth. “Uh— General. Sorry.”
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks.
“Me neither.” She gestures to the seat across the table.
In vain, Poe looks for a way out. He’s tired and still slightly hungover. He’s wearing yesterday’s clothes, and post-Snap he feels partially flayed.
Something about the general’s gaze says she senses this calculation. “It’s all right. I don’t bite,” she says. “I’m past my biting days.”
“I think you have some political enemies who’d beg to differ.” Poe acquiesces, slipping into the indicated chair. He wraps his hands around his caf cup, hunching his shoulders. “Not to mention the First Order.”
“How’s your stormtrooper friend?”
“Sleeping.” Poe pauses. “Not that I, uh— I’m not—“
She lets him stumble for a minute, evidently amused, before putting him out of his misery. “You know what he told the doctors? Stormtroopers don’t have nightmares. It came up in his medical debriefing. I don’t know if they train it out of them, or if it’s some kind of drug, or, hell, if it’s a physiological modification. We just don’t know enough about the process. It would never even have occurred to me to ask. I mean, imagine that. No nightmares.”
“Must be nice,” Poe says. He doesn’t know if he really means it. He’s caught on physiological modification, imagining some jackbooted First Order imperialist scumbag sticking pins in Finn’s brain. He feels again that sense of panic. He has to clench a fist to quell it. He doesn’t kid himself that the general doesn’t notice. She notices everything.
“Sometimes I think so. That it would be nice, I mean.” Her voice sounds tired.
Poe tilts his head, looking at her carefully. It hadn’t occurred to him to wonder— after all, she’s the general. Before she was the general, she was royalty, and she is the hero of a thousand stories, the same woman who eyed him straight-faced and laughing-eyed when she knelt to shake his small, sticky, tear-blotched hand. She has always been a little more than human to him. Strong in the Force, in a way he maybe envies. How does she do it, how does she live among those demanding connections, all those very very fragile threads, and still get up in the morning and go to war? He thinks of Lor San Tekka, standing in the light of his burning village, knowing he had led his people to death.
He’s lost his appetite. He pushes his caf cup away. He can still smell the exact odor of flash-seared viscera.
“But you know,” General Organa says, “I think nightmares are useful. They can be useful. I think there are things that should be hard for us.”
Poe stares at the table. The dim light makes a featureless outline, a shadow that doesn’t really look much like him. “It doesn’t help, though. Does it? It never helps.”
“No. I suppose not.” She gazes at him. She hasn’t said anything about him breaking under interrogation, hasn’t said anything about the village, or about giving the plans to his droid, hasn’t said You got them killed, you know, or That was a dumb mistake. Poe doesn’t know if he thinks that she thinks this; he just knows that he can bear almost anything except her mercy.
He tries to put all this in his face so he won’t have to say it. That burning smell, the animal bleats. You’ll never take me alive. Ne m’endole, i xuro. His blaster bolt smeared in the air. Heat goes to darkness. The taste of blood, and ghosts in the desert. Finn’s startled laughter, his oddly peaceful slumbering breath. Why can’t I ever seem to keep people alive? he wants to ask. Tell me, how do I do it?
He can’t ask her, of all people, that question.
She sees it anyways. He’s almost certain. She takes his hand. Her own hands are small and warm. “I thought we’d lost you,” she murmurs, “for a while there. We’ve lost so many people. Your mother would never have forgiven me.”
“Maybe she’d’ve been proud.” His throat clenches around the words. His eyes are hot. “If I’d, if I could’ve, I might’ve—“
“No mother wants to see her son suffer,” General Organa whispers. “Please believe me.”
“I know. I know. I just—“
“No.” Her hand clenches around his hand. “Children think that they inherit debts. That the past is demanding. But she would tell you— that what we wanted was for our children to be happy. We didn’t want them to live with the burden of the past. We made mistakes— I think— we never got free of it ourselves— somehow we could never quite say what we needed to say, which was— that we would always love them, or we said it, we were sure we said it, but somehow the message never went out, or on the wrong frequency. I’m sure I—“ she breaks off suddenly and covers her face with one hand. “I’m sorry. Poe, I’m sorry. You’ll have to forgive me. This move is taking too much energy, and none of us can spare it. I shouldn't have said—”
“It’s all right,” Poe manages. “It’s all right. It’s just— it’s not easy.” He feels almost lightheaded, breathless with grief. For his parents, for her husband. For the general herself, and for her son Ben, who is dead. For Lor San Tekka, for Skywalker and his students. For Finn, grieving all of the Starkiller victims. For himself, maybe, trying to outrun the past. For all of them. All of them. There is so much to grieve for.
“We wanted to make a new world,” the general says. “It didn’t work out quite like we expected. I’m afraid we’ve left it to you. What an inheritance.”
Much later, Poe wonders: would he have been restless wherever he was born? On another world, in another age? Would he have been reckless? A pilot? Would he have loved sun and warmth? Would he have craved strong caf and lahuate? He wouldn’t dream of Yavin, as he sometimes does now, and wake up disoriented by the cold, narrow, close landscape. He wouldn’t sometimes phrase his first thought in another language. Surely it doesn’t make sense, then, to ask the question— to try to sort out the essential from the inessential traits, to try to figure out who he’d be if he wasn’t Kes and Shara’s son. I am my own inheritance, he thinks. I am what they made me, I am what they keep making me, just as much as I’m made by Yavin, by space. By war, by flight, by everyone and everything that surrounds me.
He tries to explain the Force to Finn in similar terms: “Everything that exists is just a manifestation of the same energy. There’s no divisions in it, just being. Nothing separates me and you, or me and my ship, or the past and the future. We only think there are divisions. We make mistakes, because we’re human. If we could just recognize the real shape of things, we’d see that the same matter flows through all of us, forming and reforming.”
“Uh huh,” Finn says, looking skeptical. “So if punch you in the arm, that’s not going to hurt, because there are no divisions?”
“If I were a Jedi, it probably wouldn’t hurt. But I’m not a Jedi.”
“What about if I push you into this snowbank?”
They’re on Thule 6.1 by this point, and have been for a good week or so. The Resistance base is half-complete, with more supplies arriving on the moon every day. It’s pretty tedious. Mostly it’s ice, lots of ice, as Snap had promised. Weak light and snowstorms; no indigenous life. They huddle in bunkers and have to keep cleaning frost out of the X-wings. Poe tries to make it up to the surface at least once a day to catch a little of that fleeting sun; lately Finn goes with him, trying to understand the appeal. (“It’s just a star, like any other star,” he says. “Why does it matter how close it is?”) This leads to their current perilous proximity to snowbanks.
Poe suggests, “Try it and see,” and promptly finds himself wrestling with a very large and determined stormtrooper.
“No divisions!” Finn yells, trying to cram a fistful of snow into the hood of Poe’s parka. “You shouldn’t be cold! You shouldn’t be cold!”
Finn himself has been conditioned to be largely indifferent to temperature, which gives him a significant advantage. But Poe’s learned to fight dirty, and he manages, laughing, to pin Finn down first— before he’s promptly flipped over, with Finn kneeling over him and holding his arms against the snow.
“Admit it!” Finn says, triumphant. “The Force is not gonna get you out of this one!”
Poe stares up at the gray sky half-obscured by the fur of Finn’s parka. An element of panic trills through him, a frantic transmission from the nerves in his body: We’ve been here before, we can’t go back, we have to get out of this. He swallows hard. But this isn’t a cell, this isn’t a Star Destroyer, and he’s not the same person. He’s moved on, if only minutely. That’s how he lives: he can’t stay still, he always keeps moving. He is hurtling forwards faster than he can imagine— even now, a marker of velocity, snow melts uncomfortably on the inside of his collar: ice going to water, changing states, unfreezing against his skin.
Finn, after a second, looks uncertain. He says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” sounding anxious, and jerks back, releasing both of Poe’s hands.
“It’s okay! It’s okay,” Poe says, rising up to his elbows. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But I scared you,” Finn says.
“Maybe a little. It wasn’t you, it was—“ Poe raises one wrist. “That. Not you. Just a memory. It’s okay.”
Finn’s face is hard to read. He always conceals his distress. The rest of the time he’s an open book; he can’t bluff worth anything. “I don’t like that,” he says. “When people are scared.”
“I get it,” Poe says, because he does get it. He lets a minute-long pause elapse, then short-circuits the conversation by solemnly pushing a chunk of snow into Finn’s face, leaving him white-eyelashed and sputtering with incredulous outrage. “Better?”
“Oh, I am going to bury you.”
“Your pathetic threats are no match for the power of the Force.”
But in spite of this rhetoric, neither of them makes a move towards more ammunition. Finn stays where he is, blinking snowflakes out of his eyes, his smile fading to something slightly more hesitant; Poe, feeling dazed and oddly happy, squints against the last low-lying sun and watches him.
“You should,” Poe starts, just as Finn says, “Can I—“
They look at one another. Finn isn’t concealing distress anymore. He reaches forwards and brushes a clump of snow out of Poe’s hair. When even the pretense of the snow is gone, he leaves his hand where it is.
“I hate to break it to you,” Poe tells him seriously, “but your hand is really cold.”
“So’s your face,” Finn says, unrepentant. “Why don’t you use the Force?”
“I was going to kiss you," Poe says, "but now I don't know."
Finn resolves the problem by kissing him first. It’s a sweet, unpolished, and somewhat breathless kiss, a spot of warmth, which Poe feels vulnerable to. He returns it carefully, then a little less carefully. Then again.
Is this what he wants? he wonders. He’s back on the pilot’s roster as a reserve, but he’s still itching to be cut loose in the air, and he’s not so naive as to think it has no effect. He’s stuck on this hellhole, de-icing his X-wing’s engine every morning, and it’s a toss-up each night as to whether he’ll dream of monsoons flooding the Massassi pilas or splinters of dread pulled out of him. He’s sleeping a lot. It gets easier. He doesn’t think of Jakku so often. He’s maybe become a little bit of what Finn calls religious. He’s aware of it more: the Force. What it can do, what it can take, but also what it can give to him. He tries to see the energy between objects, the secret connections. The way the living are bound to the dead, and the living to the living. He remembers his first flights in the Y-wing, six years old, surrendering the helm to his mother’s grip, so sure that she would never let them crash. He has never had that same confidence since. But it’s there, he thinks, waiting, waiting for him to let go.
Things survive. Things change shape. Matter transmutes to matter. Trees grow into the jungle. Bits and pieces of ruins are turned into some new and unbroken landscape. Wholeness recuperates. Old wounds heal, or don’t heal, and become new flesh on new bodies. Finn has a white scar on his shoulder. Poe has a sickle-shaped knot on his forearm, marking the spot where something was pulled out of him, a metal splinter from his very first crash. Ne m’endole, he’d said, It doesn’t hurt, though it had hurt a lot before it was finished, and though a lot of blood had come out of him. Near planetary poles or on cold nights it sometimes still hurts a little. The new flesh is different from the old flesh, though there’s no division to speak of. It’s all just the body he’s in right now, the full amount of substance he can possess.
He envisions Finn tearing the future open around him. Finn waiting for Rey to finally come back so they can invent a new world, a newer new world. Poe’s afraid of that world, possibly. The past is demanding, but the future demands something also. Still— he has no choice; he has to move, he can’t stay frozen. So he moves forwards, relinquishing himself to wanting, and presses himself up towards Finn.