Poe took a couple steps back to get a running hop over the creek. On the other side he adjusted his belt on his way into the green swell of the clearing. He’d noticed the place on the way up the hilly expanse, and now that he had some time to wade through the fresh air he thought he’d get a closer look on the way down before he had to be back at the freighter.
He was whistling something as he bent over to tuck his pants into his boots, muttering some of it into actual singing here and there, and trudged leisurely into the glade that teemed with the season's last dust of pollen, his hands in his pockets. Then around the tangle of shrubs to his right, he saw there was someone sitting just inside the strangely perfect border of the clearing. Even seated on the kind of log that children use as a park bench, it was the poise of her shoulders, the way her head was tilted in figuring something out, that made him tighten into respectful attention.
"Sorry, General," he said, just a bit of a laugh in his voice at the surprise. "Didn't mean to interrupt anything."
"Commander," she greeted, smiling. "Enjoying the scenery?"
"Erod’s a little cold for me, but it's nice to see a tree or two."
"This is cold to you?"
He shook his head ruefully. "Can't stand the cold."
"I’d hoped you'd enjoy it as a bit of a furlough," she said, as he took a few steps closer. He was noticing she had some kind of fruit she was peeling slowly. "I'm sorry for dragging you out of your routine for such a milk run. I told my usual freighter pilot I'd ground her if she didn't finally see a doctor, and I don't appreciate that she called my bluff."
"Oreyne? She is stubborn, alright." His brow furrowed, but he hesitated to pry.
"Nothing serious," Leia said, detecting his question. "Migraines. They affect her vision sometimes."
He nodded, his steps leaning into the return path. "Well, if you're done with talks, I can go and ready—"
"Poe," she said, her tone hooking him back gently, just a little less casual than before. She patted the wood right next to her.
It was a kaliss, he noticed as he came and sat at her right side. A tart pink fruit that could be wedged into petals that kids sometimes held between their lips to imitate huge mouths. He couldn't remember where they grew, but from whatever kind source, a good amount of their food donations lately had included packets of produce sealed at their ripest, and after weeks of chewy protein that was a hell of a gift, only he thought they’d already run out.
"Do you want some?" she asked almost absently. He noticed for the first time that day that her clothing was more elegant than the regular attire, but her hair was frazzling from its usual rancher’s braids like a blurred vision in the slightly moist air, seeming to bring her face into vibrant focus.
"Not hungry," he said, his manners a bit stilted; after all this time he wasn't quite nervous around her, but his heartbeat had kicked up in her unexpected company. "Thank you."
"Major Parnet sure cuts to the chase. We've got a little time to kill yet, and I've been out here for half an hour." She chewed some and then swallowed, gave him her soft sly glance. "Aren't you going to ask me what this is all about?"
He smiled, shrugged.
"You should. You deserve the warning."
"Please, General, would you care to explain why you are meeting covertly with non-resistance Republic officers?"
"One officer so far."
His glance fell to a stencil of insects that was crawling along the wood as she put her thoughts together, looking up in surprise when she gently knocked open his fingers to place a wedge of fruit in his hand. Despite the spell around her that gave him less of an appetite, he put it in his mouth. The taste was sweeter than he remembered, had a comfort to it.
"I can't tell you the details yet," she said, "but we might have to offer refuge to one of his fleets."
"...Are you kidding?" He honestly wasn't sure.
"I knew you’d love it."
"Refuge against, I’m just guessing here, the very threat that they refuse to acknowledge?"
"You know as well as I do it’s not that simple. It’s just that they…"
"Choose to worship at the altar of bureaucracy?" he finished, at the soonest moment she’d trailed for long enough that it wasn’t quite an interruption.
She chuckled lazily. "You really are indispensable. The short version is that they need covert passage from point A to point B, to cover up a bit of jurisdictional violation that I think was a kind of accident...and Diamond Base on Kalor II is right where they could use a place to regroup."
"We’re compromising the security of a base?"
"It’s nothing we wouldn’t have had to give up anyway. That base is hidden now because of the atmosphere; meteorology has suggested too big a chance that fog’s going to clear up within the next couple cycles and the moon won’t be nearly as invisible anymore. We can afford to help, while it’s still safe."
Poe sighed. "I’ve heard the place floods all the time anyway."
"It wasn’t anyone’s favorite bunker, that’s for sure. But...it was an asset."
"Will we be getting any new assets out of this?"
"Parnet is looking into securing us some medical supplies, droid parts, maybe even a couple newer X-wings."
"So that we can catch charges for flying stolen Republic property if they ever feel like patting us down?"
She had considered this. "We’d have to be spare about using them, yes." She gave him another piece of fruit, put the last whole petal into her mouth.
A bird swooped low into the clearing, flapped into a rustling landing over in the farther trees. Leia clapped a bug off her arm.
"Will you have me assigned there, or do you know yet?" Poe asked after a moment.
"It wouldn’t be a bad idea. Blue Squadron is assigned, and you may even know some of the Republic pilots, though I think most of them might be infantry," she said. In the silence before he'd asked, an unquestionably tired look had descended on her, but it was gone the more she got talking. "You should count on these next few days being the only chance you’ll get in a while for family contact."
He nodded. "I figured."
She looked at him, then forward again, and seemed to wince as she adjusted her right leg. "How is your father?"
He sat up straighter in the mild surprise. It was the first time she’d acknowledged so simply that she knew or remembered either of his parents; maybe she’d thought he wanted to be recognized on his own merits. "Worried. He worries a lot, but...that just means he ain’t an idiot, right?"
"You can’t blame him, either, with the life he lived."
After a moment he bit past his reluctance to say, "I was told several times about how your family honored us by coming to my mother’s memorial rites. But I was so young...I only barely understood who you were, I think, and at the time..."
"Oh, it was a very hard time for you, I’d hardly expect you to remember me," she said with a wave-off. "I remember...one thing about you," she teased.
He met her eyes with a nervous smile.
"When we were talking to your father out in the garden, my son took an interest in one of your books you had sitting in your mini speeder. And you told him he could have it. Just like that. I didn't feel like it was right...but you were so sincere and insistent. Like it was a comfort, at a time like that, to be nice to someone else." She shrugged in a distant thoughtful way. "I’ve always remembered that."
Poe felt a little dumbstruck. "I didn't even remember you had a son," he said, and immediately felt like that was disingenuous: meaning, of course, he had never heard about it from her.
Somehow her very lashes seemed heavier because of the fact that her glance didn't shift from the breeze in the trees for a second, or lose that reflective calm. "Yes. I have a son. Send your father my best regards when you contact him next?"
"Sure," he said, and rose. "I'm sure my droid’s getting pretty restless. Not the best terrain for his build…"
She laughed suddenly, a laugh that only seemed brighter with some small ache in it. "If only I'd had the same thought."
"What do you mean?"
"It so happens you came along at just the right time," she said, her expression sheepish, and she lifted up the right side of her skirt over a bare foot.
He gasped, leaning down.
"I know, those varicose veins," she said, her hand clawing out some ick-ick gesture, which was a joking brush-off when she knew he’d reacted to the colorful bruising that was painting up the ankle and arch of her foot.
"General, what did you do?" he asked, his demand spilling out with the fascination at how long she had gone without mentioning it.
"A clumsy old lady hiking in the woods. Is it much of a mystery?" She was easing the foot back into her boot with a wince.
"Oh, I see. Running through the wild and climbing trees is unbecoming of royalty," he teased, encouraged into a smirk by her shoulders bouncing into a laugh. "Your secret’s safe with me, your highness."
"Please," she said in a snigger as he bent to collect her arm over his shoulders, "I’m nobody’s highness."
Their heights almost fit together well for the support, and she only betrayed the pain with a bit of seething a couple times on the walk back, which would have been at least a quarter of an hour on all their four legs. The top of her gown had a thick woven vest over it, but he was surprised at the softness of where it ebbed down from her ribs; surely he hadn’t felt anything that soft since before they’d burned his mother in her finest ceremony dress. The thought didn’t prevent him from laughing at the story she was telling, though later the memory was kind of dizzying, and he wouldn’t have quite been able to recount the whole anecdote about one of the nicer days on Endor.
Finally reaching the small place where the land got rockier and the trees just sparse enough for the landing, the two of them turned around a thick trunk and were spotted by Major Ematt.
"General…? Oh, let me help you to the ship. Are you alright?" He came over promptly to replace Poe as soon as he noticed her favoring her left side, though he hadn't noticed quickly enough to completely smother his initial reaction to the state of them: plodding out of the trees, arm in arm, laughing low. Poe could only guess she had caught the look of slight consternation, that that was the reason for her mischievous tugging at the back of his jacket as she seemed to be suppressing a giggle; it seemed whatever amount of pain she was in had pushed her past the usual reservations.
"Thank you, Commander," Leia called to him as he drew away, smiling slightly, and she only briefly gave Ematt an apologetic cringe as he took up her side. "In the good old days I could've rustled you up a medal for coming to my rescue."
Suddenly feeling daring, he said, "Oh, I'll get a couple medals out of you yet," and winked at her in full breadth and sight of Ematt’s formalities. He caught the beginning of a grin on her face and a little spasm of Ematt’s brow before he turned away.
Lieutenant Bern, who seemed to have also been confused by the sight, overheard him explaining to BB-8 what had happened. He asked, "What would she have done if nobody had happened to come along?"
Surprised by the question, Poe said in halted simplicity, "I'd think she'd have walked all the way back on a bad foot."
He actually had one memory of her—just one—from that visit, but it wasn’t one of the memorial.
He would run hard into the thick of the wilderness, past the palms closer to the residences and into where the trees had snaking branches you could climb, almost every day after his mother died, until he finally got to realizing he still had a life of his own. Those first weeks found him fleeing from her absence as fast as he could and then tiring to a stop and then crying so hard he’d throw up, coming up dizzy and displaced. His dad put a stop to it after he started coming home after dark but wasn’t in the best shape to keep him from sneaking out anyway, if ambling outside to try to suck fresh air into a void that felt larger than he was could really be treated the same way as breaking a curfew.
It was only a matter of time before it got him really sick. A couple days after the rites were carried out, his neighbor found him crouched up in a tree and half-delirious, went to switch on the aid beacon for the nearest doctor. The closest one was someone who was still in the village with Organa and Skywalker; hearing the news from her husband, Leia went along to check up on the Damerons.
Poe was lying on his back on a blanket they’d laid out on the wide speeder bed as he came halfway back to reality; he would remember it like the edges of his vision stung with tears, though he would have been too dehydrated for that to be real. The stubbornly bitter part of him was indignant at all this effort as they fed water into his veins, at his father’s pained look when they asked if he’d shown any sign of fever in the last couple days.
But he did come to a momentary calm, just breathing, and noticing the woman standing far off to the right. Her fluid manners of concern as she spoke to one of the aids, and that electric halo around her, a thing his child’s mind didn't pair with concepts of grace and composure. He was only on the cusp of being able to observe her as seeming remarkably young for the station she carried but also was still just a kid enough to feel some emanation of the type of beauty only children can see. Years and years later when he would meet her again as a man, right in front of her eyes, he would feel this smallness that was somehow reassuring; to him she'd remained just that young, and just that old.
Surely some of this his memory has decorated a bit: his recollection of her standing off to the right for one thing seems too consistent with his ten-year-old self later lying on his back in his bedroom, taking in the history programs that holoed in a dome shape above him, pausing when the bit about Princess Leia Organa swept her shimmering likeness off to the right as the bio scrolled up the middle, his eyes pulling with it to follow her pristine image as the program read to him aloud about her fearless ventures. Long into his teenage years and his studied obsession, he would associate that figure in his peripheral vision, the place his eyes always seemed to go when he was thinking about the past.
His mother’s greatness was more obscure; his heart latched onto the occasional footnote mentioning her in the programs, the ones about all the different battles he came to visualize over and over not just for the sake of interest but for survival, but after enlisting he came up against the reality of her in personal stories of the lives she’d saved and the brave moves she’d made. They were the kind of things that change people’s lives but then end up a mere paraphrase on the medallion records. There was a kind of painful letting go in this perspective, the way a woman who had sternly brought him up to be kind and demanded he learn to mend his own garments and taken him up to the stars in her lap became something less proximal and possible and looked more and more like a legend. She and his dad had been away at war until he was barely still a toddler, and then before he turned nine she was gone, in the time that can become a blink of an eye in an adult mind; she now lived in the briefest glimpse of his history he could only try to tightly hold onto, and it seemed in some ways she’d been more real to those other people than she ever could be to him.
The truth was, he was wary of those patterns of memory—how something that started real or half-real came up reshaped or made too static by emotion—in what he thought about Leia Organa. The figure hadn't changed over time, much; it was generally known that she was married to Han Solo and that they'd started a family, but she maintained a lot of privacy, and somewhere along the time that Luke Skywalker took his exodus, her biography walked right behind a shroud and came out again to meet him with just about the same face he'd expected. It was only a while after they'd really met that he began to wonder if that unchanging image of her only fit with who she was now through some lonely, never articulated expiration of so much in her life that wasn't in the books. He didn’t quite think, didn’t want to think and objectively thought no, maybe not—but did worry, that maybe a part of him wanted to keep her as that untouchable legend because the simpler closer thing wouldn’t actually be simple for him at all.
It was still a while before all that talk about Kalor came to anything. The next couple weeks were more than eventful, reuniting his old Rapier squadron on a mission to secure data from the vessel of a corrupt senator, a venture that went successfully but left him and his two friends so beat that it was a surprising relief when they weren’t ordered to do much of anything else until half the Resistance was told to report to Kalor. When General Organa did finally break the news to everyone that they would be harboring Republic company against the First Order authority for the next several days, Poe had actually almost forgotten about it.
Iolo and Karé playfully suspected he’d known something about the cooperative effort beforehand, despite his concerns over the details: "All three of our squadrons?" he asked when he realized they’d all gotten identical summons. "How many people are we protecting?"
He got his answer when they were all waiting through a putridly wet day on Kalor II and finally saw the Republic vessel touch down on the docking strip, and the first people to get out weren’t in uniform, but in civilian rags. A few of them were grouped in the shapes of families and were carefully ushered ahead of the higher ranking Republic officers, the squadron and infantry members finally following with their heads bowed against the rain, only some immediately discernible as a number of them were in plainclothes as if they'd been covertly rushed into the operation while avoiding the appearance of being on duty.
"Refugees?" Poe acknowledged in surprise. "I'd have been fine from the start if I knew they were doing something for civilians."
"Like you'd have been willing to turn them out anyway," Karé said.
Raisely Panner, who was on the floor farther inside the landing bay helping Iolo reimplement his droid's welding compartment, rested her forearm on a knee to gaze up at the arrival. Their discussion got more furtive, as the brass that walked by didn't have time to acknowledge anyone other than those helping the families to their boarding. She asked, "Are they all Sheyi? Maybe escaped prisoners from that strike incident on Veronn?"
A lieutenant passing by nodded to Poe and Karé. They nodded back.
"They're a long way from home if that is who they are," Poe said under his breath. He was glancing up inside at where the general had appeared to do the welcoming, when Karé's elbow dug into him.
"Uh-oh," she said in her excitedly grim way, "check your three hundred."
He made a show of getting a glance somewhere up in the rafters, somehow expecting the familiar figure he would catch in his eyeline, tall and a little lanky, dark blond. He immediately sensed the recognition coming his way at the same time even as their eyes didn't lock. They both looked down, then tried to steal glances that bumped right into each other as he passed him up, and Poe noticed the expression flaring with tension even from a safe distance before he stepped his pace up, and Poe looked away.
"That's just great," he said to no one.
Panner made a descending whistle. "And it's not so safe from the stormy weather in here after all. Ex-boyfriend of yours, Dameron?"
"No," he muttered, huddling tighter into his jacket as a mean breeze reached them. "Long story."
"That was Commander Col Morias," Iolo was able to supply without looking up from his toolbox. "Back when we were all under Deso’s command he was one of Poe's best friends, but they got into this huge fight over Poe’s decision to defect and now Col thinks Poe's a fickle little sluindi and Poe thinks Col’s a nice enough bucket full of yellow."
"...Did I ever use the word ‘nice’?"
"Where's his squadron?" Karé wondered. "I don't recognize these other kids."
Iolo returned, "Who cares?"
Panner looked thoughtful for a while, then suddenly asked Poe, "Does the general have a secondary angle here?"
"A what?" He smirked in confusion. "What would I know?"
Next to him Karé laughed shortly. "She means like, you know. Recruitment."
"I mean…" Panner tipped her head up from the astromech. "This party's here because they're in trouble for doing the stuff we do every day."
Iolo mumbled dubiously, "That doesn't mean they're in any hurry to do anything like that again. Whatever it was exactly."
"All you hotshots need to be thinking about," Poe advised, "is setting the right example. You get me?"
Curly made an inquisitive couple bleeps; Iolo shushed him.
"I don't know, we could get lucky and pull some reluctant loyalties off the fence." Poe couldn't help a bit of smugness: "But just worry about showing them we’ve got honor where they've got clean boots and table manners, right?"
"Yeah," Karé was agreeing proudly. "We can do that."
Over the next few days the Sheyi families seemed to go far in keeping the cooperative peace, if there ever was much chance of real contention; everyone wanted to stay helpful to them, or stay out of their way when that was best, and no one disagreed on that. Between the two soldiering sides it was more about the segregation than any real tension: The Republic grunts mostly kept to themselves in the bunks and the rec room and behaved gratefully. Even though it was strictly keeping to the safe small talk, some of them had no problem sitting with resistance members in the mess hall and maybe playing a card game after the dishes were washed. This treatment of their differences somehow reassured the resistance fighters that none of their intel would be passed on, as if the general disinterest in each other's affairs was a promise of keeping things hushed.
It had been a dice roll from the beginning: there were only some Republic fighters who were likely to not only consider the Resistance the stupid kind of daring but a big joke, hinged on paranoid superstitions—they'd heard it all—but it was the type of blind operation in which a good amount of them were there to pad out the people who actually were responsible for what was going on, and Poe had started off a little wary of the attitudes they might have to deal with. But it seemed he alone had lucked out in having any actual problem with anybody.
For that matter, Col was keeping his distance with perfect tact, so that even the most bored and gossip-starved pilot would never have noticed there was anything between them to speculate about. This would have been more than satisfactory, if it could really be said that he didn't like Col anymore, but he wasn't so sure about that, and didn't want any damn reason to figure it out.
A certain playful snideness did develop, gradually, between the two parties. It was not so different from the competitive insults that flew in alike ranks, so it only smacked of the usual military restlessness they all knew well. Still, there were moments when the spirit of the mockery was barely ambiguous, such as when a Lieutenant Wiele was asked by C-3PO if he could pass on to Poe that General Organa needed him for just a minute, and announced this by sitting back down at the card table with, "Time to take five, everyone. The princess needs her one-man palanquin."
BB-8 kept hinting he wanted to say hi to Col. "You can go talk to him if you want. He doesn't have Deebee with him, though." A fact which almost concerned Poe, in all honesty: Col’s droid was a somewhat dated but charming astromech he'd put his own stamp on, never went anywhere without if he could help it, even if he didn't often show his pride in her.
Another couple days, and Poe noticed Col getting friendly with Bern, usually taking the rec table he and Oreyne frequented, which was right next to his and the old Rapier squadron’s table they shared with anyone who was up for any game it didn't take too long to explain. They could easily overhear each other's conversations if they cared to, and on the fourth night since the refugees had huddled down Poe caught some words while Panner was dealing.
"Sorry, no, she was very nice to me," were the first noticeable words that carried over. "I just don't understand how you play."
Bern was explaining their makeshift game of "fodslap" they'd programmed by feeding words into the randomizer. "You're basically wagering on how ridiculous the next phrase is going to be. So if it makes you think nah, nothing's more fodder than that, you slap your bet on it. So…if it's, say..."
He ran a spin. Somebody chuckled.
"A 'literate buckethead.'" This drew some exaggerated noises of distaste that made Poe tilt his glance over, cocking an eyebrow. "So that's pretty fod, but maybe you wager, so if whoever’s got the turn next thinks that's less screwy than, uh… 'sultry buckethead'…"
The humored exclamations grew to tongues-out disgust, so even in just their civvies it would have been very obvious who was from what causes, even if the resistance folks were intentionally laying it on a little thick.
"So is this how you guys all pass the time in this gig? Tearing down Stormtroopers to make things easier?" Col was suddenly saying. Lightweight on the bottle for his size, Poe reminded himself, and wanted to be at that table to somehow convey that Col was just poking for the sake of the poke. But then Col countered himself with an equally sloshy imagination: "Hell, I think I’d just end up picturing them all looking like my first girlfriend under those helms."
Poe could not resist this, calling over, "Well, as long as you gave her the knee half as often as you do the Order…"
Col was not one to miss a beat, but he had the time it took the laughter to die down to turn in his seat, his gaze steady. "You always did have a mouth on you, Dameron."
Poe shrugged. "I learned from the absolute worst."
Their eyes stuck, the whole side of the room seeming to crackle in realization of the familiarity. Finally Col tilted his head to the left, "Would you get over here?" and kicked out one of the chairs with a comically irritated force.
Poe then joined the table, beginning what wasn't quite a warm and reminiscent resumption, didn't make him feel better necessarily, but worked. When Iolo came over and joined in, he felt grateful for the vague sense that it was more about having his back in some way than any real desire to be there. It was as if he sensed how Poe couldn't get completely relaxed in this reconciliation, like they were both remembering Col more than well enough to know how he balanced a sincerely good mood with an equally solid grudge: a thing that allowed for remarkable tolerance, as long as he was sober. This was of course the one night they'd been allowed a certain amount of the celebratory alcohol stores, maybe as a pat from the officials for getting along like good little scouts, or just to help the kitchen start getting rid of some of it.
In keeping with the weary mood, rain was hammering harder than ever outside. It prompted Poe to occasionally look out through the stretch of glass, beyond where the underground rec room raised up into a bi-level to where the greenhouse dome had been built, the setup almost creating an illusion that you could walk right out into the wood. Nobody was vying to hold onto Diamond Base, but it would be a shame about the grove: with the sips of booze buzzing through him, Poe found something tantalizingly eerie about the tall crops and shrubs standing as still rods in the midst of the trees swaying violently beyond in the darker wild.
He sobered, mostly. Even in this meeting in the middle where he and Col were demonstrating they were on the okay by giving each other a hard time, old stories inevitably bubbled up.
"Basically, we are all supposed to program our droids so that it's impossible to interact with the mother interface at all, but almost nobody ever does? It's just the assumption nobody would be bold enough to try?" Col was explaining right after his last tip from his flask, flushing with the attention despite clearly also basking in it, all of this the type of humble loudness that had always made him such a hit. Most of the chairs had had to be moved back into the mess hall to fit the larger parties at breakfast and most had abandoned their games to lounge on and around the tables by then, and he and Poe had their backs to the columns of the emergency ladder close to the corner. "So I guess it's really convenient that when BB-8 did this Poe was in town on leave, and you just know when he leaves his baby behind it's cause he's hoping to pick someone up…"
Poe could already feel the force of the story being waylaid when Iolo pounced, laughing out of his sardonic quiet to say, "Hold up. Now, I would never speak to my old commanding officer in such a way—"
"Whatever Col says—" Poe was trying to slice between Iolo and Col. "It's pure speculation."
"—which is why I'm talking to you," Iolo said to Col, "because, seriously, does the guy get laid?"
Col grinned between him and Poe, getting it immediately. "I've never met a guy who is less likely to kiss and tell, I'll tell you that. You have to be an inspector."
"When he leaves the droid at home…" Iolo's big eyes were laying a thick examining look on Poe, who even in not quite being the type to squirm at this old joke couldn't help a smile.
"Every once in a while," Panner interjected from her seat to the right, "on our breaks we'll try to get group dates together and feel people out for what kind they're into and I'm telling you, Dameron stumps us. And it's not like he doesn't come humming back in from leave some of the time with that satisfied air to him…"
"I don't have a 'satisfied air,'" Poe protested, lazily, while next to him Col was for a brief moment full-on laughing, a knowing laugh.
"Trying to figure out Poe Dameron’s type pretty much is a game of fodslap," Iolo said. "Tall girls? Blue boys? Rough mechanics?"
"Polite Biths?" Panner sang along. "Or miscreant women?"
"Older women," Col said. "The more vaguely imperious the better."
Poe might have been the only one who heard it. He looked over, his warning grim and serene: "Watch it."
The rest were regrouping into somebody’s veering joke, oblivious; Col scoffed. "Ah, come on. I'm just messing—"
"You're not in any place to mess anyone about that." His head was all a noisy ricochet, and he bit harder and louder as he felt Col’s agitation: "That's a general you're talking about, not somebody’s bunkmate's single sister or—"
Sneering, triumphant in what he'd provoked, Col laughed, "And yet you knew exactly who I was—"
His shoulder caught hard against the ladder when Poe shoved him, almost splaying him into a fall, but when he corrected his balance it was to launch so quickly in rebuke that Poe’s fury fired up on ill instinct and the two were scrabbling violently, only getting in a couple slipped attempts at punches before the stern efforts to pull them apart came on. Poe’s vision had gone a livid color and he tried to budge out of Iolo’s and someone else's protests, but when a strong grip bent his arm rudely back and Karé’s shout came to his left ear—"Shut it down, right now. What the hell, Poe!?"—it was somehow the realization that she had crossed the room in seconds flat to try to stop him that finally blew his charge.
"Okay," he said, taking a deep breath, and Iolo’s grip slid off him. Karé waited till he took another breath and said, "Okay" again, and let go of him in an oddly careful way, like she seemed more concerned he'd fall over than pull another fit.
When he glanced, Col was just backing out of his own arrest with a sullen "Yeah, all right," and heading to put a lot of distance between himself and Poe, not without casting a brief look over his shoulder that Poe wasn't close enough to read. Karé was no doubt just about to demand what had happened—and maybe Iolo didn't know either—but when the din of voices faded just enough they all heard the small cries and looked over to see the little Sheyi girl looking lost and half-hiding under one of the tables.
"Oh, no, she’s alright," Panner said, flying right over, speaking like she was trying to console everyone in the room through this sudden shared worry. "You're alright. You want to take my hand and tell me your name, little one?" Poe had felt a small brush of horror. It was impossible to tell how long she'd been there and what brought on her sobbing; in all likelihood she had just taken a wrong turn coming out of the lavatory and couldn't find her family, but the vicious contrast after his bad temper made him picture objects flying in her direction, or her witnessing some much worse eruption of violence.
The small mercy was that it made the others forget their dismay for the moment, and he was able to get in the first word. "If anybody in command asks about this," he said to his friends, "you tell the truth. I don't want to get anyone in trouble."
Karé said, "Yeah, but what—"
"Just tell them what you saw," he said, hearing his own deep exhaustion, before he walked off to his bunk, and once in bed he smudged his hands over his face, letting out a sigh that turned into a kind of self-berating groan. He barely got any sleep.
There were the expected traces of the little scandal the next day, if not many. He’d promised to help the mechanics with some refits, and even though everything went smoothly there was an initial caution when they first saw him that morning, that slip of trying too hard not to look for some change in his mood. That it had gotten around seemed unmistakable; the base was off rhythm somehow. That barely perceptible change in volume was rumor, and not the fun kind.
When she came to talk to him he was stretched underneath an X-wing trying to tease a motivator outlet into a better mood. He heard, "Commander," like it was an entire sentence, and stiffened, dropped onto his back and swallowed through a second before fluidly hastening to stand up before her.
Organa’s gaze seemed to fall somewhere near his collar instead of his face. It wasn't quite in a thoughtful or distracted way, or he couldn't entirely tell; her eyes were gracefully inscrutable in this tired show of informality. "You didn't sign off on performance reports. Was there a problem?"
"I just forgot to send them," he said, not knowing where to look. "I'll go do it now."
She seemed to make a firmly placed decision to meet his eyes, but that unreadability, a talent he couldn't remember ever being on the receiving end of before, was engraved. Finally she said, "We can't afford it."
"I know," he said immediately, every muscle in him going hard to say it with a disciplined veneer even as something got balled up in his chest.
"For any of them to lose any respect for you. We can't afford it. I need you to be the best example. Is that too much to ask?"
"No, ma'am," he said in a flick.
"You have recon duty later?"
"I get your first minute of rec time today. See me in the ready room."
He nodded, and once she walked off he leaned into the X-wing on his right hand until the tightness in him was moved by the awareness that he may have been drawing a couple stares. He went to go take care of the performance reviews.
Later he was working up in the cockpit of another elevated wing. He shouted down, "BB-8, give it a small charge on that safety cord, will you, so I can test the slack?"
He waited a moment.
"Bee, gimme a charge. Are you down there?"
Glancing down, he became aware of somebody leaning his back on the ladder, and looked far enough over to realize it was Col.
Taking advantage of the seconds he had to pretend he hadn't seen him, Poe sunk down into the seat and bit down on his thumbnail. Then with a brief clench of his guard, he got up abruptly and went down the ladder, swinging his rag over one of the rungs.
Col had a kind of beaten reflection about him, not looking at him, but not ignoring. "Hi," he said after a moment. It was almost as if it was the first thing he’d said to him since their fight, the real fight that this seemed to be all about.
"Yeah?" Poe replied dryly.
A slip of an irritated sigh, and he said, "Look, what can I say...I'm sorry. About what I said and everything."
Poe took a few seconds to chew on the sincerity of this, needed another moment to figure out his own place in it. "We're all living on bad food and bad moods," he said finally. "I'm sorry too."
"Okay," Col said, looking relieved yet somehow more nervous at once. "Okay, I just want you to know...I was acting like an idiot because I'd...kinda missed you, and—"
"I was trying to pretend like nothing had changed—and look, you know if I had ever said something like that about Deso, or some old superior, you'd have laughed it up. You were just as—"
"Don't," Poe snapped, "you know that isn't how you meant it. And don't you dare hold it over me that I used to be different, that I used to badmouth and fight, cause I acted that way because I was in the wrong place and that wasn't who I was or what I wanted to be. Deso never did much of anything to earn my respect. And you think…"
Jessika Pava was passing by them, with a hint of sympathetic ruefulness tugging at the corner of her mouth. He tried to tone his voice down but still felt about to boil over.
"You think it's such a damn game. Last time you saw me you got all high and mighty about whether I believed in the Republic anymore, what it really stands for, but even when you think you're serving something you believe in you'd make some obscene noise about my allegiance, and I could never—I'd—never—" He took a few steps away, going in a little walk under the nose of the X-wing with his hand scrubbing over his mouth, coming back with his control turning mocking and fervent. "I mean, what have you got? 'Ooh, I'm so clever, figuring out in a glance that he'd do anything she asked him to.' You make it so easy to see that that respect, or that loyalty, it obviously doesn't mean to you what it means to me. You don't know what it would mean for me if I lost it and I couldn't earn it back."
"...But it's true." The wide stubborn outlook perceptible as a bad horizon, when Col said, "She's going to get you killed."
Poe went wide-eyed for a second, his anger turning a more shocked color.
"She's going to get you killed," Col said steadily, "for nothing. When the big provocation does come, the Republic will be there, but as far as I can tell she's gonna send all of you to get blown up for giving them a couple kicks in the shins, long before that happens, if it ever does happen."
"Well," Poe blew out on a breath of terrible laughter, "at least you can rest easy that if I die, that has nothing to do with you." He walked off.
"Poe…Poe!" Col called after him, giving up after Poe’s pace quickened.
"Get the door," she said without looking up as soon as he entered the ready room. He was feeling extremely unsteady as he latched it in and went to face her, falling into formal stance and swallowing before she turned around from her personal console.
"Please," she groaned, exhaustion burning at the bottom of her voice; this seemed to mean such an oddly harsh form of "At ease" that he couldn't exactly relax. Her stern eyes fixed on him as she stood up straight and pushed her side braid behind her shoulder, her hand coming out in a questioning sort of hopeless gesture. "Do you have anything to say?"
"I don't have any excuse."
"I'm trying to figure out what the problem is here. I suppose it's that you know everything," she began, "but you don't fully know what it means. Our resources are a joke. We're lucky for every single member or support system we have. And what little hope we ever have of getting more, it doesn't come from propaganda. They're not even supposed to know for sure that we exist. So when I decide to compromise some of our identities to help someone who needs help, and even when I do this with the promise that their people will be grateful enough not to go talking about ours, that doesn't mean that our reputation is protected."
Poe had already figured she’d heard enough to have a good idea what the fight was about, but the hope still dropped out of him with a suppressed cringe.
"Everyone knows I'm involved, so they can hint whatever they want to about me as the figurehead, and that's not the kind of information that gets us killed but it doesn't get us sympathy either. You're fresh enough from the Republic crowd to have more than a good idea what they say, I'm sure; I'm a crazy old warmonger with paranoid delusions, or I'm just power-hungry, trying to scrape myself back into relevance now that I'm no longer needed. Personally I don't have much use for the tale of some all-powerful Jedi queen, but what's your favorite version of the story? I've just heard the one about how my most fearless, most devoted fighter is only that loyal because he's got some schoolboy hero worship thing, or a crush, or too many unresolved issues over his mother." Whatever he managed to avoid, she must have seen some flinch in his expression, but it only seemed to make her push harder. "I have a husband, and he's not you. I have a son, and he is not you."
"Fine," he agreed, in an incredulous amenable way, and there was a relenting in her like she only just realized everything she'd said.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "That wasn't...I apologize."
"With all due respect," he stammered clumsily, "I have not done anything to encourage rumors of...any..."
"You know, it hasn't been several lifetimes since I was young around the same young jockeys and their gossip. I know what a rumor is: it's some vulgar fallacy somebody spits on the floor just to see who rushes to clean it up a little too quickly, that's how it becomes a rumor."
"I can assure you," Poe said in the slow weight of understatement but also very soberly, "the resistance can hold up against people like Morias. You don't know how many people do believe in it."
"I know you believe in it," she said, her irate manners suddenly struck through with some deeper charge he hadn't realized had been there, and there was something in her that was rising to a point he didn't think he could possibly respond to without making things worse. "So confidently, so absolutely that you're blind to what it looks like to other people, to how rare you are in your faith. It's one thing to have a few dozen soldiers who believe the Order is a looming threat, it's good enough for some of them to believe in the Force enough not to think I'm a madwoman, but to hear, ‘I feel this thing is coming, I think this is it, it's here,’ with no other ground than that belief and actually risk your life to chase it for me?...You're not the only one who would. But I don't find a pilot like that every day. And now I'm wondering, is it really faith? Can I trust you with the risks you're willing to take?"
Overwhelmed, dismayed, Poe was tempted to fall back into taciturn formalities, or else demand in frustration just what she was asking him to do differently, but then before his nerve could square away either of those options he was instead asking, voice cracked low, "What's wrong?"
Only now quite acknowledging the worry in his gut, he became aware that to suggest a superior officer was reprimanding him because of some personal upset was one of the most impertinent things he could've done. And yet the room seemed to shift slightly; the rise and fall of her chest looked pained.
"Is this about the mission? Finding Tekka?" he asked, and the shape of her reaction was almost one of surprise. "I did kind of wonder why you proposed it to me and then didn't say anything about it for weeks. Are there any new developments?"
"Nothing you can put on the record. I..." It was like the confession of a much younger person. "I have a bad feeling."
"When you say bad feeling…," he tried to hedge, "you mean…"
Her hands tensed up in a gesture of frustration, but she was at least trying for patience when she said, "I can't just quantify, how much of it is regular intuition and how much of it is..."
"Okay," he said steadily, not even realizing he was interrupting her, "but what kind of bad feeling? Are you calling it off?"
"I can't...No. ‘Can't’ makes it easier for me. I won't cancel the mission. But I need you to know…" Her head shook slowly as her eyes carried her entire conveyance into the sharing of some weight. He could feel it, something, like his arms tightening to handle the wind resistance just before the rest of the X-wing registered the atmosphere change; what she said was that sure to him. "I think if you go and it's at this time, at that place, something very bad is going to happen. We don't have any reason to believe the First Order would have learned what we've learned. Just the same, there is no promise that they won't know something...Poe, you always believe in me when it's good news. What about now?"
In another situation it might've been funny, in a way that would only spark his affections, that she was speaking as if these intuitions happened every day, so they could snigger at some comparison to predicting the weather; but obviously that wasn't the entire point. Her sturdy belief in her brother and the fact that he was still alive and capable of a couple miracles yet was something she tied very closely with that trust in herself. "That's kind of a double bind," he finally muttered. "If you're not actually asking me to back out, but you're making it out like I'm not taking you seriously if I'm still all in. I mean, I know you're not, but that's a little bit how it feels."
"I wouldn't test you," she promised. "I just need to know that you know the risk is greater now. I can't say for sure what it means, perhaps it's only more important that you be there to get it if and when something's going to happen, but...you know that when you go, you're on your own. Please take that very seriously, and understand that I could not possibly blame you, or be disappointed in you, if you said no to this."
"...Nah," he said, shaking his head. "Sorry. I'm your man."
Her eyes closed briefly—barely more than a blink—and she crossed her arms. "The conditions here aren't supposed to let up for another couple days, but as soon as the storm ends, you're shipping out. Covert; tell only the friends you'd consider family."
"Alright, General," he said, relieved to feel the meeting was pulling to its end. He thought she gave a subtle nod to confirm this, but when he was close to the door, she stopped him with his name.
"...Morias," she said after a pause. "From looking at his record, it appears you would have spent a lot of time together?"
"Does it matter?"
Her mouth remained a line, even if that hardness in her eyes was mostly gone. "I asked you a question."
"...We used to be friends. Yeah."
She brought a couple fingers up to her lips, fading shortly into her thoughtfulness between sentiment and calculation. She decided to disclose. "Morias is the reason we're all here. He operated outside of orders, had his astromech intercept and corrupt a transmission to the First Order regarding the location of a Sheyi prisoner transport; he had reason to believe those on board weren't actually inmates and that the correspondence meant they would be sold into slavery as potential bargaining chips. The Order might have decoded his signature and gone after him so he had to ask for protection, of course, and his superior’s only option was to help the prisoners as quickly as possible in order to cover up the interference."
"...You have got to be kidding me," Poe said, even though he couldn't have claimed he was entirely shocked.
"The situation being as serious as it is, I don't think anyone is angry with him, but they're not happy either. How can the Republic trust an officer not to do something like that again, endangering others in the process?" she asked in a kind of rhetorical pity. "His demotion is imminent and likely permanent, though probably an unofficial one. Last I heard, he'll be asked to request some assignment to instruct sims training at one of the Hosnian academies, or something else that could pass for career fatigue; if he doesn't give in to the idea of resigning his commission, that is."
"What about his droid?"
"They confiscated it for inspection and suspended his technical lease." She'd heard the significance of the question. "I'll see what I can do to try to ensure he gets it back."
He nodded in thanks, and thought for a moment. "I appreciate you telling me all this. But if he ever was, you know...family. He just isn't now."
"You know, my father—my stepfather, I mean—had a dry little idiom. ‘Don't burn a bridge if you’re short on wood.’" She cocked an eyebrow, waited till she was sure her meaning had sunk in. "There could be some problems...but I can see how the two of you were friends; maybe…"
"No. I mean—yes—but the big picture…it looks completely different to him. He believes that there's a threat, but it's more than he wants to admit to, and...I think right now threats are the only things he does believe in."
After a brief consideration, she supplied, "No hope."
"No hope," he agreed.
The two fleets lined up semi-formally to make a peaceable farewell once they were all reassured that the Sheyi had a safe zone to go to for the time being. Some had made friends enough to exchange several words, but most traded only brief handshakes and maybe small gifts of food and supplies for the trip.
He'd given an occasional glance in Col's direction just long enough to confirm what looked like a sincere expression of gratitude he gave to a couple people he owed it to, so that when they found themselves facing each other, neither of them quite knew what to do. After a stalled moment Poe cleared his throat into a jocular mood, saying, "So I was thinking about it, and I guess it would set the right example if I was seen making up with you...?"
Doing an exaggerated crease of consideration with his brow, Col replied, "You think a hug should do it?"
"Yeah, but just the one-armed thing? Like…"
"Wouldn't want to overdo it," he agreed, and put out an arm to grip Poe briefly around the shoulders, Poe patting him firmly on the back.
They came out of the gesture just a little less lightly than they went in.
Down at their feet, BB-8 was vying for attention, and Col bent down to him. "Hey, little guy. Try to keep out of trouble, you hear me?"
BB-8 insisted it was Poe who needed to be kept out of trouble.
"Yeah, you're probably right…" After the droid was satisfied he'd gotten a goodbye and rolled away to some other distraction, Col straightened back up and finally said to Poe, frowning, "It's weird. Suddenly I feel like I'm never going to see you again."
His banter fell limp with the truth of it: "I'm not a good enough liar to talk about that."
"And still too big a mouth to keep it shut," Col said, in some sad cough of old humor. They smiled weakly at each other, and then moved to hug again, like it maybe was the last time.
Just before Col moved down the line, Poe caught the deliberate glance of the general from a little bit over his shoulder and moved to the summons with a cavalier greeting nod. Only the two of them were aware he was also making his exit, in order to cut back on the lies he'd have to tell about his sudden departure to get to his sick father and the moments of others pretending to believe that. He'd go out the smaller docking bay once everyone was distracted by some surprise—a tribute play, it was rumored—that the Sheyi said they were putting together for the fighters. They moved fluidly, avoiding the appearance of having much of any business with each other, the moment caught like the sight of a comet when she met his eyes, took his arm, and placed something small and brightly grown into his hand.
"From the greenhouse," she said, and there was something of a tight fog in her eyes. He thought maybe the hand-off was as much a disguise to herself as it was for the surrounding witnesses, as she used one hand to fold his fingers around the fruit and then the other just to hold them there, a little too tightly, the grasp searching up his hand as if to make sure it was warm; and then she let go and was down the line and gone and he had this ripe round thing in his hand for good luck.
It was an unsettling ordeal to try to sleep in the infirmary after he got back.
He'd probably gotten a terrible concussion during the crash, and even though he was convinced any lasting effects would have shown up by now he still came off that Jakku junker at the nearest outpost with a lack of focus that was alarming enough, even from someone who'd just piloted himself back home, to get him sent for an immediate examination. The only device they had there that could make a brain scan had more than enough resemblance to a torture chair to get the "Thanks but no thanks" from this happy fugitive; the staff relented, but insisted he be monitored in the bay so they could check on him every hour or so.
What little sleep he got was cracked at the edges, seamed with unkind dreams. He'd been trained to make recitations, the usual strategies for distracting himself and not giving into the belligerence of the enemy. But in that chair, once the good of that started wearing off, he’d just kept fixing his glance to the right, some part of him reaching for an inner place of jungle warmth and sweet sunlight and the deep ribbon of water at the bottom of a flume, a little too far into his own determined delirium to understand where his mind was crawling away to to die. Mom humming through the last of the summer, a sweet flavor bursting over his tastebuds, and the hard truth given carefully by those who knew what it was. I was warned, he thought. They switched the cooker back on for a while and asked him another question, threatening to send in the big man, and didn't he want to do this the easy way? I was warned, this was mine, I got it by coming for it. He looked right.
The snap of fingers was at his left ear, more matter-of-fact than the medical aid’s usual shake at the shoulder. It was still nighttime, and the only light gave a low glow that slowly granted him the outline of Leia’s features. He blinked, belatedly processed this, and finally got awake enough to ascend in his confusion.
Her hand quickly stayed him: "What, stay right there—just how hard did you hit your head? They'll kick me right out of here for rattling a patient."
Gulping away sleep, he said in a dry rasp, "I doubt that." As he slowly sat up, he felt like there was something different about her, not quite checking the thought far enough to put his finger on what it was.
"I take it you remember just fine where you are and everything."
"On the wrong side of the bed," he said with a lopsided smile that felt as meek as it probably looked, sliding his legs over to see if his feet would touch the floor, putting his back to the wall that had made him want to turn upside down in the night, used to sleeping with his right side to the back wall where they always put him at the D'Qar base. "Am I supposed to know what you're doing here?...I mean. Sorry—"
"Don't apologize," she said, a gentle surprise working against the slightly agitated way she was carrying herself.
It was her hair, he realized. He'd never once seen her wearing it down before. There was a lot of it, waved from whatever knots it had come out of and just heavy enough to stay roped down one shoulder. Aware that he was still acting fuzzy at the edges, he asked tiredly, "Could you ask them to bring me a cold pack, please?"
She went away from his bed and got it herself, handing the sealed ice to him when she got back and sitting down on a hard stool, one which he just now noticed wasn't there when he went to sleep. He suddenly wondered how long she might have been in here before waking him up.
He’d pulled something during his drop to Jakku, or maybe at some point beforehand, and it still swelled on and off. He positioned the pack around his neck, cringing grumpily at the biting cold.
She waited a moment and finally said, "It wasn't necessary for you to write your report so soon. But now that I've read it…"
Her awareness of the events somehow weighed him down a little, brought them back into the room, even as he’d known he might have to talk about them. There was one part of that account that he knew sounded impossible, and she didn't have to specify that it was cause for some questions.
"I know it all happened fast, but I have to ask...Is there anything you learned off of him that’s worth telling us, any small thing we didn’t already know? About training, or where any of them have been assigned…"
He gave an overwhelmed and empty shake of his head, and spoke like he was thinking aloud, the words pushing him over the more they came out. "You know, they only give them numbers? They don’t give them names. He had a name, for all of a few minutes, and then he—he—"
There was just no way to describe it, to make someone else’s mind wrap around it, and a sick feeling of fury made him launch the ice pack: it broke against the metal drug cabinet across from the foot of his bed, spraying a bomb of hail that the entire open floor could have heard.
Her gaze remained a silver calm as she stood up. "Okay," she said, as if in reply to some perfectly rational point, "I will want to know more about all that, but we’ll just have to wait until you’re ready."
The anger already subsiding on its tandem in his addled head, her steadiness contrasted to set off his first real sense of the nightmare tension jumping in his vision, of how he was acting, and he let out a short laugh and put his head down between his hands, afraid for just a second to even keep thinking. She moved towards him; there was a motion like she was reaching to touch his shoulder, but then one of the aids must have tried to come through the bay curtain.
She said, "We’re fine, I’ll take care of it," in firm dismissal, and he looked up to see her neatly taking the dishes of half-eaten food and setting them away to pick up the tray. She then went over to the cabinet, crouched on the floor, and began to scoop the ice up. Watching her do this, he was wide-eyed with shame.
"Ma’am," he croaked, "you don’t have to…"
"Didn’t I tell you not to call me ‘ma’am,’ the first time we ever spoke?" she demanded mildly, not looking up, then sighed. "Don’t you ever listen?"
He wasn’t too aching and bewildered to understand that whether he deserved that wasn’t really the point, but more than enough to mumble, "I always listen to you."
She went still. Then a more forcible sigh left her, and in a series of tight motions she stood up and carried the tray over to the waste chute to throw the ice in, walked over to him, and noisily put the tray back down on the side table.
Looking at him, she asked, "What’s the first thing I say to my fighters who have any chance of getting anywhere close to him?"
He made himself meet her expression with some neutrality, but almost immediately looked down at his knees and closed his eyes for a second against the point he knew was coming.
"How many times have I said it? There are people you try to fight, people you try to stop. This is not a man you stop; this is a man you run from as fast as you can."
"So I'm supposed to live and preach up-and-down about how we're not intimidated by him, and then run for cover when they're murdering villagers?"
"Yes." Her voice was hushed a bit now but suddenly unnerving. "Again and again, I told you that is not your battle. Did you think I said it to protect him?"
He took in a deep slow breath, as the implications slammed between them in a deafening pause.
Neither of them seemed able to look at the other, and when Poe spoke it was because something about the silence was itching at that frantic part of him again. "I'm gonna be honest with you, General," he said, "I was not ready for that."
She was slowly sitting back down on the stool. After a moment she said, "You're not actually going to pretend you didn't know?"
"Some of the rumors aren't true," he said with a limp shrug. "And I'd never heard it straight from you, so it was easy enough to think it couldn't be. But...yeah, I can't lie...I had a feeling. I guess that makes me a bit of a coward, that I just wanted to ignore it? I mean, they all come from somewhere, I've never been the guy who overlooks that, but just knowing that you have to deal with—"
"Poe," she interrupted, in a way that made him feel like he was being given permission to stop saying or feeling anything about this, or that she wanted him to stop. "You are really trying my patience tonight if you're calling yourself a coward."
"...You know," he said, thinking aloud in a sudden ironically bright way, "I thought about leaving that shot I took out of the report? I could have easily gotten caught either way and it didn't seem that important. But then I thought you might not blame yourself as much for everything that happened to me."
She frowned, slowly crossing one leg over the other. "There isn't much chance of that."
"...It didn't turn out so completely bad, you know." He smiled weakly at her reaction. "There were the complications, which you expected, but you made the right call. BB-8 knows to be careful and as far as we know the map is safe. And...miraculously, I'm still in one piece, so."
After a moment, she thoughtfully said, "It sounds to me like it isn't a sure thing he didn't make it. After all, you made it. He could be out there assuming the same thing about you."
The smile was bitter this time. "Yeah. I don't know. I learned from a pretty young age it's better to just accept it."
"I know," she said gently. "Either way, it's a deep shame. I would have liked to be able to thank him."
He blew out a gust of air. "All the information he could've given us…"
"I know that's not the reason you care," she said, uncrossing her legs, "and you know that's not what I meant."
He watched her stand, only now aware that the doctor had come to check on him.
He felt that some conclusion to this was sneaking away along Leia’s sly manners, when she looked him over and said, "Don't you think you'd sleep easier if you actually put on your bedclothes?" Which left him realizing hazily, as she took her exit, that he hadn't even taken off his boots.
Almost like a child responding to the hypnotic suggestion of being tucked into bed, he found that after he slowly unzipped them and slipped them off he really was dead tired.
He slept, dreamlessly, with a hopeful longing for the dawn.