He leans in close. “I need a ride,” he whispers.
“Where to?” The smuggler looks him up and down and then frowns suddenly, face sharpening in recognition. “Wait—are you Poe? Poe Dameron? What the hell do you need a pilot for?”
Poe can’t look him in the eye. “I don’t. I just need a ship. But I assume you’d rather fly your own.”
“Back to the Resistance base, huh?”
Poe shakes his head. “No, no. Out of here. To—to the Outer Rim, maybe. Just--out of here.”
The man considers Poe carefully. “Why? Don’t they need you? Best pilot in the Resistance. Hell, best pilot in the galaxy.”
Poe shakes his head again. “No. I just need to get to the Outer Rim. How much do you want for it?”
“For the Resistance hero? Nothing. But--why aren’t you going back? We need all the help we can get against those First Order scum. Did you hear what they did here a few weeks ago? Massacred a whole village, murdered Lor—”
Poe cuts him off. “I know. I was there.”
“You were—then you know what really happened? There were no eyewitnesses. We didn’t even hear until the market caravan arrived here and told us they were all gone.”
“Yeah, they’re gone. Now I need a ride to the Outer Rim. Please. How much do you want for it?”
The man leans back in his chair. “Why are you leaving the Resistance?”
Poe is looking at his cup, turning it over and over in his hands. “That’s classified. I was told you offer rides without questions. Are you done asking questions?”
Suddenly the man is in his face, breath hot and alcoholic. “I don’t know what you’re playing around with here, Dameron. The First Order killed my wife and child just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can’t leave the Resistance. They need you. We need you. What’s going on?”
Poe’s face is in his hands. “I can’t go back to the Resistance. I betrayed them.”
The man is close enough to hear his whisper. He freezes. “You what?”
The words are spilling out of him, bile and vomit and toxins. “I betrayed them. I was at that village. They captured me, tortured me.That was nothing. But then Kylo—” He can’t say the name. “He—I—he did something to me, something to my head, I— I couldn’t stop it. I broke. I betrayed the Resistance, gave them the information they wanted. This stormtrooper saved me, but—we crashed. He died. Now I’m alone. I can’t go back to the Resistance. Not now, not ever.” Poe finds himself crying, relief and pain all mixed together. “So either you take me to the Outer Rim or I steal a ship here, fly it to the nearest First Order base, and take out as many as I can before they kill me. I’m done. I’m wasted. It’s over.”
The man is silent. Poe is gulping, throat raw from torture and sand and despair, trying to pull himself together. “You’re a coward. Poe Dameron, hero of the Resistance, is a kriffing bloody coward.”
Poe lifts his head. “What? Of course I’m a coward. I broke, I couldn’t take it—”
“That’s not what I mean.” The man’s voice is an angry hiss. “Kylo Ren—” he pretends not to notice how Poe flinches at the name— “he’s a Jedi. I don’t know what the fuckers do, but I know they’re powerful. Mere humanoids like us—we don’t stand a chance against them. Of course you broke when he tortured you. What else did you expect? But being too scared to go back to the Resistance? That, hot-wings, is nothing but cowardice.”
“The General. Facing her, saying what I did—”
“Can’t be any worse then being tortured by the First Order, can it? That was—nothing, didn’t you say? If you did something wrong, you need to face up to it. Go back. Tell them what you did. Submit to trial, execution if that’s what they decide. A suicide mission, if they order it. More honorable than killing yourself with alcohol in the Outer Rim, isn’t it? If there’s been an information breach, they need to know, Poe. You have to go back.”
Poe looked up at him at last, eyes rimmed red, face bruised and bloody. “I can’t.”
The man stared him down, eyes forceful and sharp. “You have to.”
“State your name.”
“Poe Dameron.” He’s hoarse with fear.
“Security clearance?” He can hear voices in the commlink’s background, shouting with astonishment. He gives the last code he remembers, more than three weeks old. There’s a slight pause, and then, “Cleared to land in bay 478. Proceed with caution.”
The smuggler lands the ship with ease and looks over at him. “Get out, hot-wings. Ride’s over. I’ve got a cargo to fly.”
Poe is frozen in place. His ears are ringing. Slowly he stands.
The man reaches up to shake his hand. “I forgot. I meant to say this earlier. It’s nice to meet you, Poe Dameron. I’ve heard about your exploits. No matter what happened, and no matter what happens now, you’re a good pilot. A good fighter. I’m glad I got to meet you.”
Poe stares at him in silence. Finally he shakes his hand, turns on his heel, and walks out of the ship.
The moment his feet touch solid ground, the ship’s landing platform folds up and back into the belly of the junked-up freighter. Two Resistance pilots in bright orange and white are running out of the base towards him, followed closely by a regal woman with a halo of braids. The General.
“Poe! Poe Dameron, we thought you were dead! What happened to your ship? Do you have the map?”
He can’t speak.
“Dameron.” Her voice is very serious. “What happened to you?”
He has to say it. Has to say it now, before he loses his nerve. “I betrayed the Resistance.” His tongue stings like the words are poison. “They caught me. They tortured me. I broke. Ky—” He sees Leia’s eyes tighten at the name. “I broke. I have come back to submit myself for trial and execution. Please, General.” Poe falls to his knees and cries. “Please just do it.”
Leia is staring into the distance. Finally she turns back to him. “Ben tortured you?” Her voice rasps.
He closes his eyes with shame. “Yes.”
“He used the Force on you? I’ve heard reports of his mind-control abilities.”
“Yes.” The memory of the black gloved hand reaching into his mind, pulling out memory after memory of his mother dying, his father dying, his house burning, his pilots dying, the map, the droid, burning through his mental defenses, cracking through his identity, his self, his heart, incinerating all that made him Poe—
“Poe.” The General is shaking him. He blinks, disoriented. Leia hauls him up in front of her, sharp eyes scanning him for wounds. “You did nothing wrong. There’s nothing else you could have done—”
“I betrayed you!” He shouts the words, chest raw with pain.
“Dameron.” Her voice pulls him to attention. “Dameron. Listen to me. You will report to the medbay immediately for initial emergency treatment. If you are deemed fit to stand trial, I will meet you in the judging room in sixty minutes. I will assemble a jury. Do you understand?”
He salutes. Her eyes catch the raw scars on his wrists from the restraints and tighten again in sympathy. He ignores this and marches off, eyes straight ahead, ignoring his fellow pilots’ calls.
He enters the judging room slowly, careful of the bandages covering his wrists, head, and thighs. His head is spinning from thought to thought--why are there no bandages for the mind? what would be the best First Order base to go on a suicide mission to, and how would he do the most damage before he died? was there an afterlife? if so, would he see the stormtrooper there?
“Dameron.” The head juror is an unfamiliar face. He scans the room. Somehow the General managed to find twenty people on the base he has never met. “Sit down.”
He sits. Only the General is in attendance, along with two deputies for witnesses. “State your case.”
He does. He has to stop halfway through, leave the room suddenly to find a fresher where he can be sick. He wipes his mouth, cleans his hands, does not look at his face in the mirror. He returns to the judging room to finish his story. When he is done, the room is silent. He stares at his hands.
“Please leave the room.”
He sits in a chair outside the room, waiting for judgement. The hall is deserted. At the end is a locked door. He is not cuffed--he shudders. He would not be able to bear that. But he is locked in, all the same. Something goes unhinged in his head and he is running, banging on the door, pleading to get out. Pleading—
Behind him, the judging door opens. He turns. “Please return to the room.” The head juror is impassive, polite, waits for him to resume his seat.
“You have pleaded guilty to one count of high treason by betraying important information to the enemy. However, we have information on Ren’s”--he flinches, but the juror proceeds relentlessly— “interrogation techniques. They are reported to be impossible to withstand by any humanoid, possibly any sentient being in the galaxy. You were captured by an entire First Order squadron: there was nothing you could have done. You were interrogated by a Jedi Master: there was nothing you could have done. You are therefore absolved of any personal guilt in the matter. We are grieved to hear about the loss of information to the enemy; however, we are also grieved to hear of your suffering at the hands of the First Order. Your record remains clear of all crimes. You are to report back to the medbay for a thorough examination and healing. Once cleared for action, you are to resume your duties as Black Leader. Do you understand this judgement?”
What? He is fiercely dizzy, his head is pounding, black spots begin to obscure his vision. He puts his head between his knees and tries not to faint. At last he can sit up again, still reeling. “General.” He addresses her desperately. “General. I betrayed you. I—”
“Do you question the authority of this court?” Her voice is sharp as ever.
He stares at her. “General, they broke me. I told them. I can’t--I can’t come back. I can’t fly for the Resistance again.”
“Dameron.” She crosses to his chair, takes his chin in her hand, forces him to look into her eyes. “The Court of the Resistance has forgiven you. As your General, I have forgiven you. In the eyes of the Resistance, the matter is now closed.” Her eyes are suddenly glittering. “Poe. Thirty years ago I was tortured by the Empire. I have not forgotten what it feels like. It will take time for you to forgive yourself.”
“I don’t think I can.” He is still hoarse from screaming.
“You will.” Her voice is steel again. “You will, because we need you, Dameron. They have the map to Luke.” Her eyes flicker in pain, but the fierceness remains. “But they haven’t killed him yet, nor caused him pain or fear or anger. I would have sensed it. So he’s all right, for now. We can keep looking. We’ll find some other way. But to do so, I will need you. So you will find a way to live with yourself. Do you understand me?”
His eyes are stinging. “You were going to forgive me all along, weren’t you? This court was just a show.”
She raises one graying brow, but a smile quirks on her face. “I assure you that it was a real court. You may view the records if you like. But yes, I would have forgiven you anyway. We all would have. I hoped an official judgement might make that process easier.”
Poe bows his head in silence. “I will find him,” he rasps at last. “I swear to you. I will find him. I will protect you all. I will do whatever I can.”
“Good.” She extends a hand to him. He takes it, grateful, still unsteady on his feet. “Now go. Medbay. Now.” She looks him up and down. “Do you need an escort?”
Poe shakes his head. All he wants is to be alone, to curl up into a ball and cry with gratitude and pain and relief and shame and hope and fear. Slowly he makes his way to the medbay, praying he doesn’t pass out before he gets there.
He’s still in the medbay two hours later, submitting to a med droid’s ministrations to the scars on his wrists, when he hears the news. “Dameron.” It’s the General herself, eyes lit with a joyful light he hasn’t seen in them in years. “They’ve found the droid. It’s on Takodana, with a young female, a young male, and—” She takes a deep breath. “And an older male, possibly— possibly Han.”
Poe is standing, grasping her arms, bursting out of his skin. “So BB-8 is safe? Not with the First Order?”
“Yet,” she warns. “Are you cleared for action yet?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Poe is bouncing on his toes, ready to fight. “I’m going. We’re all going. We’re taking it back.” There is a fierce anger in him now, an anger born of night after night interrupted by torture or nightmares. “There’s a ship for me, right?”
The General smiles. “Of course there is. Go find your crew.”
He flies better than he ever has. There is a new name he chants now, along with his mother’s and his father’s and the names of all the pilots he’s ever lost in a fight. This is for Finn. For Finn. Finn. I will kill you all for what you did to him. The fight is over soon. The castle is destroyed, but they are victorious. He hears on the comms that they have the droid, and Solo, and a young male humanoid named Finn—
“Poe. Poe Dameron, you’re alive.” There’s an intensity to the man’s words, like Poe is his only anchor left. Poe crushes the man to him and starts to think that maybe the feeling is mutual. "You saved my life, you—" This is the man who rescued him, saved his cause, saved his honor. “You completed my mission.” The words seem so small, compared to the rushing relief and gratitude that floods him. How can he ever repay this service?
“Keep the jacket,” he says. It’s the only thing he has to give, right now. “It suits you.” He bites his lip to keep his stupid mouth from saying anything more. “You’re a good man, Finn.”