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(1)

 

She’s being reassigned again. Karé can’t say it’s a surprise because phrases like too much to handle and can’t keep her mouth shut have been bandied about a lot recently and she hasn’t actually bothered changing her ways, so here she is with transfer documents freshly logged on her datapad.

What is a surprise is the nature of her reassignment. Rumours of Rapier Squadron’s formation have been circulating around the Hosnian New Republic military base for a while now – a small, specialised task-force made up of the most daring young pilots the military has to offer? Yeah, everyone is all over that.

Karé Kun is not a soldier by nature – she knows it, her fellow pilots know it, her superiors know it. She questions her orders too much, doesn’t play well with others, and isn’t well-adjusted to the rigidity of military life. What she is, though, is a hell of a pilot and they know that too.

She meets her new Commander first, Poe Dameron her briefing said. He’s just a couple of years older than her, and yet he’s already got a reputation. Karé is only known by her immediate superiors, those she’d been a pain in the ass for, but Dameron? Everyone knows about the flying prodigy from Yavin IV, son of the quietly legendary Shara Bey. Even the stodgiest CO seems to be taken in by his smile and his charm and while he is known to be unfailingly polite there’s something… loose about him.

“Sir,” she says, saluting inside the doorway of his tiny, cramped office. Karé hadn’t even realised that Commanders get offices.

He smiles, waving her in. “Lieutenant Kun.”

Karé is trying hard not to look around curiously, at the couple of holograms on the desk. “I was told to report to you.”

Dameron nods, directs her to sit in the small chair that occupies most of the space that’s not taken up by his desk.

His gaze is almost disconcertingly focused, yet strangely unthreatening.  “Why do you think I asked for you to be assigned to Rapier?”

“I didn’t even know you did, sir,” she says honestly. “I’m pretty sure I’ve offended most other options.”

Karé could swear a smile curls around the edges of his mouth, but he only prompts, “The question?”

“Judging by the evidence you must want smart-mouthed pilots who don’t do well with authority,” she says before she can think better of it. She winces.

For a moment Dameron stares at her, gaze unreadable, then his face breaks out into the warmest smile she’s ever seen and he laughs.

“That’s not as far off from the mark as you might think.” His smile fades, but she can’t help but notice that the crinkling laugh lines around his eyes don’t. It’s unexpectedly charming.

Dameron leans forward. “Look, from what I can tell from your service record, you’re in the fleet because you want to fly not because you’re good at following orders, and that’s fine by me. Yes, I’ll need you to listen to me, but I value individualism and I want you to have to your own ideas. Makes for a better pilot.” He absently shuffles datapads around on his desk, eyes grave once more. “I will do my best to earn your respect as a commanding officer. In return you do me the honour of following my orders as long as you don’t have a good reason not to. Sound fair?”

Karé’s eyebrows jump despite herself. This isn’t the… usual approach. The fleet operates on the unspoken assumption that all enlisted personnel should respect their superior officers by default. Whether they’ve earned it or not doesn’t usually come into the equation.

“Very fair,” she says frankly, though she’s probably not quite hiding her lingering suspicion that this is some kind of con or trick. Even if she can’t figure out why exactly Dameron would try to trick her with niceness and decency.

In response he sticks out his hand, shaking her firmly.

“As you were then, Lieutenant. I’ll arrange for a training flight tomorrow morning at 0700 for you to get acquainted with the rest of the squad.”

Karé nods, and leaves his office a whole lot more confused than she’d entered it. Also a little relieved, but she tries not to dwell on that. There’s still plenty of time for Commander Dameron to turn out like all the other officers who eventually got fed up with her inability to keep her mouth shut.

-

The next morning finds her yawning in one of the base’s newer hangar bays. As usual the quiet atmosphere and the motionless ships settled in their berths do more to calm her than a full night’s sleep ever manages to. It’s a pilot’s natural instinct that has her gaze searching for her X-Wing first of all – it would’ve been moved to Rapier’s home hangar from where it had been assigned a berth with the rest of Bronze Squadron, and she wants to make sure that nothing untoward happened in the move. Not that their ground crew isn’t capable; there’s just no pilot who doesn’t worry more about the machine they entrust their lives to out in the black than about their own well-being. Much like any pilot would be able to identify their starfighter in a line-up, no matter how similar the ships might look to an outsider.

Her Bronze Six – well, Rapier Four now she supposes – is sitting meekly in a berth not far from the hangar bay doors and even a thorough inspection reveals no additional scratches or issues with the electronics.

She’s just climbed down from her X-Wing again when two more beings enter the hangar, chatting quietly to each other. They are both humanoid, wearing the New Republic fleet insignia, and presumably her new squad mates.

“I’m Iolo, the quiet dude’s Muran,” the taller one, whose eyes mark him as a Keshian, says in a grave voice, pointing at the man now making a beeline for one of the X-Wings.

She nods. “I’m Karé. I’ve just been recruited to Rapier.”

Iolo smiles at her, all sternness gone. “We heard. You must’ve impressed the Commander, we’ve been searching for someone to round out the squad for weeks now.”

“Really?” she asks, intrigued. “Cause the only thing I know is that I opened my big mouth one more time than I should’ve and got booted off my last squad.”

Iolo laughs and pats her on the shoulder. “That explains it. You’re exactly Poe’s type.”

Strange preferences for a squadron leader, but she’ll take it. “Poe?”

“He isn’t much for formality when there’s no one around to offend,” Iolo explains. His large eyes blink slowly. “He probably didn’t want to push all his eccentricities on you during your first meeting, or you’d already have heard his speech about how titles just get in the way of doing your job.”

“What is his deal?” she asks, comfortable enough in Iolo’s presence to risk the question. “He doesn’t seem like the, you know, usual officer we get around here.”

“He’s not,” Iolo grins, doesn’t look offended at all. “Half the base thinks he got this far because he’s a stellar pilot and the other half thinks it’s because he’s a stellar pilot and charming as hell. Even General Adana likes him and she’s tough as nails and doesn’t stand for any kind of informality. Poe sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb, really.”

Karé opens her mouth to inquire further, but Dameron chooses that moment to enter the hangar and she snaps it shut again. No matter how nice the guy is, she doubts he’d appreciate her gossiping about him on her first day. Dameron’s a few minutes late, but looks cheerful and not at all bothered by the early morning hour as he heads towards them.

Muran lopes over, offering Karé a distracted nod in greeting before Dameron starts to speak.

“All right, people! Today we’ll just do a short hop to the usual training space and run some formations. I want to see how we all fly together now that we’ve finally found our fourth pilot.”

She expect him to go on, inquire after the state of their X-Wings, their own readiness, but he doesn’t, only makes his way towards his own crimson and grey fighter. Iolo and Muran are already moving so Karé hastens to catch up. There would be time to puzzle over Dameron’s leadership style later.

She half expects the training flight to go terribly wrong, but lift-off is smooth and when they all regroup in open space Karé finds herself falling into familiar formations with ease. It doesn’t matter who’s piloting the other X-Wings in a formation, really, as long as all the pilots know what they’re doing and her new squad mates clearly belong in that category. It’s not that anyone’s a particularly show-off (though Dameron does indulge in a few unnecessary rolls), there’s simply a well-honed grace and ease to everyone’s movements that Karé immediately enjoys. This is what makes flying fun.

For two hours Dameron calls out manoeuvres, which they jump to obey. Any manoeuvre that doesn’t go perfectly the first time around is practised until it is just as smooth as the others. By the time they return to the Hosnian system, Karé is as tired as she is flushed with the elation of a job well done. Flying with these guys every day? Not a hardship.

“Good job everyone,” are the first words out of Dameron’s mouth as they reconvene in the hangar.

Karé, who’d thought herself beyond wanting to impress her superiors, startles at the immediate rush of satisfied pleasure.

“We’ll do an informal debrief tomorrow – if anyone has questions, concerns, or suggestions, bring them up then. For now I think you deserve the afternoon off. Drink and be merry and all that.” He grins and waves his hands grandly. “Whatever floats your boat.”

Iolo leans towards her, whispering just loud enough for Dameron to hear. “By which he means he’s going to take a long bath and eat actual food, not the slop we’re usually served in the mess hall.”

“Damn right, that’s what I’m going to do.” Dameron winks and with a jaunty wave he strides out of the hangar, helmet tucked under the other arm.

-

They debrief in one of the small command centres set aside for just such uses, clustered around little holographic projections of their flight patterns. By the time a knock interrupts a spirited argument about their Krayt formation they’ve been at it for nearly an hour, longer than the standard debriefs Karé is used to. She’s starting to get the feeling that nothing about this squadron is going to be particularly standard.

 Dameron gets up, a frown marring his forehead, then snaps to attention when the door slides open.

“Major Karan,” he says, voice clipped and formal. Not devoid of the warmth Karé is already used to hearing, but it’s banked like a fire at night. “We weren’t expecting you.”

The man smiles thinly. “I admit to the short notice, Commander Dameron, but it is a rather time-sensitive matter.”

The line of Dameron’s shoulders stiffens ever so slightly. “I filed for two training weeks, Major.”

“I am aware. However, there’s a situation over Chandrila that we need you and your squadron to look at. Unusual activity.”

“With all due respect, Major,” Dameron says, voice tightly controlled in the first hint of temper she’s witnessed from him. “Lieutenant Kun has not been given enough time to acclimate to the squadron. We should get at least another week of drills before going out on assignment.”

The Major raises a brow. “Are you implying that she isn’t up for the job?”

Karé can almost hear Dameron’s teeth grit from across the room. “That is not at all what I’m implying, sir. Lieutenant Kun is a very capable pilot, I’m simply stating that any squadron functions better when all pilots are accustomed to each other and this one is no exception.”

A moment of silence passes, then the Major inclines his head. “Your point is taken, Commander, but in this case we can’t grant you the extra time.” His voice softens, until Karé has to strain to catch his words. “We need you on this one, Poe. We need someone open-minded. You know how high command gets.”

She sees Dameron’s defeat in the slump of his shoulders even before he says, “As you wish, sir. We’ll be in the air in an hour.”

-

Dameron is true to his word. Fifty-one minutes later the ascent through the atmosphere is pushing Karé back into her seat, the familiar pull and push soothing her jangled nerves. She hesitates, then toggles a private comm-line

“If I may ask, Commander,” she starts, and waits for his acknowledging grunt to continue, “what was all that with the major about? Why does he want Rapier specifically going on this run?”

Dameron sighs. “What the Major was taking great care not to say is that certain people in higher positions in the military think this might be First Order activity.”

“But I thought the First Order is required by treaty not to break the armistice?”

“They are,” Dameron confirms, and now he just sounds grim. “But we’ve had over twenty incidents in the last few months that our analysts are quite certain correspond to First Order tactics, all of them in New Republic space.”

“Then why aren’t we doing anything?”

“Technically? Lack of hard evidence. Practically? The Senate won’t hear of it. They’re so afraid of starting another intergalactic war that they’d rather sit on their asses while the First Order gets keeps getting stronger.”

Karé gets it. “So they’re sending you out because you’re invested in getting that hard evidence, if at all possible.”

He flicks his X-Wing so that he’s suddenly flying upside down above her. There’s a quicksilver smile on his face as he looks down at her through two cockpit panes. “Knew you were quick, Kun.”

Dameron has given her much to think about during the short flight through hyperspace. For once she doesn’t spent the time chattering with R4, but gazes at the streaking stars silently.

Over Chandrila an unmarked modified freighter is playing cat and mouse with a convoy of trade ships, lasers burning red in the darkness of space.

Dameron’s voice broadcasts loud and clear over an open comm frequency, steel barely hidden under a layer of politeness. “Unidentified freighter, you are engaging in a hostile act in New Republic space. Please desist and identify yourself.”

Predictably, there is no reply beyond an increase in laser fire.

“All right, people!” Dameron barks, already banking his fighter towards the melee. “Our priority is to shield the ships under attack and provide them a covered escape route. Rapier Two and Three, engage the hostile, Rapier Four with me.”

A single modified freighter is no match for four X-Wings, and the enemy pilot’s increasingly desperate manoeuvres to stay ahead of Iolo and Muran’s laser fire makes it easy for Karé to follow Dameron in herding the trade ships away from the fight.

“Rapier 4, block their most-likely escape vector,” Dameron orders calmly, his own X-Wing stationed squarely between the armed freighter and the escaping trader ships.

R4 chimes in helpfully, calculations scrolling past her dashboard, and Karé doesn’t hesitate to flip her fighter around in order to head to the escape vector that her astromech is highlighting. The freighter, already on its way towards her, sees the X-Wing appear in their path and attempts to turn, but Iolo and Muran are there on either side, boxing it in.

Dameron swoops towards the trapped freighter and fires once, incredibly precise. The freighters starboard engine erupts in a cloud of sparks, leaving the ship crippled but not entirely destroyed – the atmosphere aboard the freighter should still be intact. They all know that if they want proof, taking prisoners is their only chance.

Rapier Squadron doesn’t deal with the boarding or clean-up – there is silence over the comms as they fly back, each pilot hoping in their own way that they were quick enough.

No one is surprised to hear, relayed quietly by Dameron, that the boarding crew only found dead bodies on the ship. The ship itself was wiped clean.

-

After landing, Dameron draws her aside before she can slip away towards the barracks.

“You did well today,” he says and no one in the galaxy could doubt this man’s sincerity when he wants you to know that he’s feeling it. “And under thankless conditions too.”

She nods, accepting the compliment. “Is there a but, then?”

He smiles, a lop-sided little thing. “After a fashion. Your flying was impeccable, but you need to relax.”

Karé frowns, mind flashing back over their flight. “Relax?”

“You’re understandably wary,” Dameron murmurs, expressive hands moving through the air in aimless gestures. A banked fire glimmers in his eyes, and she has trouble looking away. “Of being pushed aside again. You don’t want to trust that I truly am the way I behave now. But I promise you, Karé Kun, that you will have a place in this squadron as long as I command it. Bar the committing of atrocities, of course, though I doubt that’ll be a problem.”

She breathes through the rush of emotion, knows that she must look as shell-shocked as she feels.

“I…”

She tries again, swallowing past the hope and gratitude when she finds that she believes him. “Thank you, Commander.

Dameron smiles, claps her on the shoulder with warm eyes. “Call me Poe.”

Karé watches him leave, heart beating loudly behind her ribcage. Maybe, maybe, she has finally found her place in the fleet.

 

Two years of service and Muran’s loss later he hasn’t broken his word – and Karé follows him to the Resistance without a second thought.

 

(2)

 

Jess has been with the Resistance for three months when Commander Poe Dameron is poached from the New Republic army. In the couple of days after the announcement and before the General arrives back on base with her new recruit all she finds out is that no one quite knows what to think of him. There are plenty of rumours about the man, all beginning and ending with one hell of a pilot, but there are… others as well, and though Jess knows better than to put too much stock into whispers in the mess, she’s perhaps a little more intimidated to meet this new commanding officer than she would like anyone to guess. Which is why she decides, two hours before Dameron’s scheduled arrival, that there is absolutely essential maintenance to be done on her X-Wing – and instead of waiting with bated breath she loses herself to the work and the accompanying bickering with the ground crew engineers who have Opinions on what should or should not be done with an X-Wing.

Jess is half-lying on top of her beloved lady, fiddling with some s-foil plating when the whine of approaching fighters distracts her in the middle of reaching for a wrench. Landing fighters are common enough – a crowd amassing on the tarmac is not. All attention is focused on the slightly larger ship that’s carrying the General and Major Ematt. It’s only habit that has Jess moving her gaze past all the newly landed X-Wings as well, making sure that all her friends and comrades have made it back safely.

Then she frowns because the man climbing out of Snap’s X-Wing is very much not Snap. A quick glance at the group debarking the small freighter reassures her that Snap has indeed come back, though the way he’s leaning on Ematt for support suggests he’s not feeling too well.

That means the man at the top of the cockpit ladder has to be Poe Dameron. Snap’s astromech was certainly never this… round. And orange.

Her second impression may or may not have more to do with the man’s arse than anything else, but she figures she should be forgiven for that because she’s honestly never seen anyone wear a pilot’s flight suit so well. If the kriffing things weren’t basically designed to look ugly, whoever did it sure wanted to fool everyone into thinking that they were. (Besides, it’s really hard not to look at someone’s ass when they’re coming down a ladder backwards, and she’s sticking to that story).

No one looks good in orange. Except, apparently, Poe Dameron.

At this point Jess realises that she’s been staring at her new superior officer for the last two minutes and hastily reaches for the forgotten wrench. She can’t actually remember what she’d been intending to do with it, but at least it makes her look busy.

It only takes a few moments for the new arrivals to clear the landing area, heading towards the command centre. Absently tapping her wrench on the X-Wing’s hull, Jess takes stock.

Things she knows about Poe Dameron:

  • he’s a great pilot – on this everyone agrees, and he must be for General Organa to go and recruit him personally
  • he looks good in a flight suit, which should, by rights, be impossible

And the logical conclusion to be drawn from those two points:

  • he’s dangerous, probably more dangerous than people realise when they see his riot of dark curls and easy smile

Jess may be young, but she’s no fool – mix talent, good looks, and a certain type of charisma together and you get a very dangerous person, indeed.

Well, at least life in the Resistance is never boring.

-

She first officially meets Dameron the next day, at the pilot meet, greet, and interrogate about favourite flight manoeuvres.

The General calls them to attention and beckons Dameron forward, who’s sporting an almost bashful smile.

“This is Commander Poe Dameron,” she says, loud enough to be heard at the back of the room where Jess is standing next to Snap. “He was being wasted by the New Republic fleet so we liberated him.”

Predictably a cheer goes up, and now Dameron’s smile really is bashful.

“He’ll take command of all squadrons, replacing late Commander Ayade. Karé Kun and Iolo Arana will take over captaincy of Dagger and Stiletto squadrons.”

A woman about the same age as Dameron and a Keshian wave cheerfully from the front.

The General smiles at them all, a little wry but Jess can tell she is pleased. “I’ll leave you pilots to get acquainted with each other. I know how… unique your methods can be.”

That prompts a laugh, and as soon as she’s left the room about ten people crowd around the three newcomers, all offering variations on the ‘come with me, there’ll be booze’ spiel.

Snap raises his voice above the din and waves his arms for emphasis. “To the rec room, people, snap snap!”

Snap thinks he’s hilarious.

With so many people stuffed into their small rec room it takes a while for Jess to actually run into any of the new meat – though that might be slightly related to where she’d ended up on the periphery of the group, leaning against the wall next to the holoscreen. The new captains, Iolo and Karé seem nice and easy-going – certainly in comparison to the other New Republic officials Jess has met – but Jess doesn’t get to talk with them for long before the crowd elbows her back into her spot at the wall. They really need to find a larger space for this kind of thing.

“So what’s the consensus about me?”

Jess jumps and adds ‘moves a little too quietly’ to the extremely short list of things she knows about Commander Poe Dameron. Well, knows for certain. There are still a lot of rumours to confirm or disconfirm. “What?”

“Come on, you must’ve peppered Iolo and Karé with questions already,” he says, his eyes glinting from under tousled curls. “I know how these things work.”

“Well, if everyone else is to be believed you puke rainbows and fart puppies, sir,” Jess throws back, “but I’d rather make up my own mind.”

He grins, unbothered. “Fair enough. It’s a good attitude to have.”

She stares at him. “You’re strange. Sir.”

“I’ve heard that one before,” he laughs, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “And call me Poe. I’m not much for formality outside official functions.”

Poe. She’s sure this is against some sort of regulation, even in the more lenient Resistance, but then again, the man in front of her hardly gives the impression of being bothered by regs.

“Strange,” Jess repeats, if perhaps only to see him smile again.

She only hears later that he took the time to personally talk to every single pilot now under his command. Somehow, she isn’t surprised.

-

Over the next few weeks the ‘things Jess knows about Poe Dameron’ list grows exponentially.

 

  • he has a sense of humour and a spine

 

Security briefings with Major Dinka are infamous at this point. While the Major is undoubtedly a genius when it comes to analysing intel, he really isn’t good at coming up with strategies to match – except that he thinks he is, which makes his briefings a bit of a minefield.

Inevitably, there have been bets placed on how Poe’s first meeting with the Twi’lek would go, which is probably why most of the assembled pilots are more focussed on Poe’s face than the actual briefing when it finally takes place. It’s now been thirty minutes and Dinka has been going on about an attack plan that Jess is reasonably sure would get the entire squadron killed for the last five. So far Poe hasn’t given any sign of irritation beyond what might be a tightening around his eyes.

“ – and then the base’s cover will be obliterated and you can start your bombing run!”

Dinka finally stops talking. All eyes are on Poe, who folds his hands atop the table.

“I don’t think that’s wise, Major,” he says mildly.

“The manoeuvre is theoretically sound.”

“So is flying upside down in atmo for hours on end but you don’t see me suggesting that,” Poe murmurs wryly. All of his attention is focused on Dinka, who, while usually so unflappable, is shifting a bit under the straightforward gaze. “While some things can theoretically be done, that doesn’t mean we should be haring at the bit to try them out. Going in under cover of the nebula that surrounds the planet every few weeks would work better in this instance, and is far safer.”

Dinka’s eyes narrow. “And how can you be so sure of that, Commander?”

Poe doesn’t rise to the bait, though a corner of his mouth briefly twitches in what Jess would guess is repressed sarcasm. “I have executed the manoeuvre in similar conditions before, Major, with the desired results.”

A short pause follows in which everyone attempts to figure out for themselves how likely it is that that’s actually true – planets orbiting through nebulas aren’t a particularly common sight after all – but Poe’s face is carefully blank.

“Well, if you insist,” Dinka sniffs after a moment, in what might be the first time in recorded history that he’s backed down from an argument in under ten minutes.

There is steel in Poe’s voice, even while his manner remains pleasant. “I do.”

 

“So, what did you think of Dinka?” Jess asks, grinning.

Poe groans, rubbing a hand over his face. “Good grief, that guy is as much of a strategist as a bantha is at home in water.”

Jess snorts. “Welcome to our world.”

“Should’ve read the fine print,” he mutters, lips twitching.

 

  • he’s almost unbearably nice

 

It doesn’t take long for evidence regarding this point to accumulate. Poe almost always has a smile for anyone who passes him, and offers claps on the shoulder and hugs like they’re going out of fashion and he’s single-handedly attempting to revive the tradition. He switches shifts with anyone who asks for a good reason (even if the good reason is ‘I haven’t seen my partner longer than fifteen minutes at a time for weeks and if I get this shift taken care of we can finally have dinner together’), even if said shift is in the middle of the night or at some other inconvenient time. A few weeks after first arriving at the base he already seems to know absolutely everyone’s name, and probably their favourite colours and foods as well. Once Jess witnesses him comforting a bawling newbie – by the time he’s finished, the cadet is smiling and going off to the mess hall with a spring in their step.

It’s strange to Jess, though in a good way. It’s not that other people aren’t nice – she likes most of the Resistance personnel – but Poe seems to have made it his mission to be as approachable as it’s just about humanly possible to be.

 

  • he’s not a morning person

 

It’s not that Poe isn’t up early every morning without fail, but his zombie-like shuffle towards the mess hall and caf soon become something of a legend (not least because of his generally rumpled state and the hair, gods the hair, all rumpled and adorably messy and looking annoyingly artful even though he’s clearly just rolled out of bed).

The first few weeks people try to draw him into conversations at breakfast, with very limited success. Poe doesn’t snap at anyone, he just sort of blinks slowly, hands clutching his mug of caf and responds so haltingly that everyone gives up sooner or later, taking pity and leaving the poor man alone.

Jess would’ve worried about his ability to lead a squadron in case of an early morning attack, but the first time the all-call siren starts shrieking before breakfast time, Poe is right there with the other pilots, looking almost painfully alert as Ematt explains the situation. So yeah, no one’s worried on that account.

(On rest day – once a month unless disaster strikes – no one sees Poe before midday, when he strides out of his room smiling and cheerful, and then proceeds to demolish a huge plate of breakfast foods.)

 

  • apparently he loves droids and droids love him

 

It’s only the second day of the week and Jess has already seen Poe deep in conversation with five different droids – one of the medical droids out of the medbay on an errand, and four different hangar maintenance droids. What he talks about with them she has no idea, but the droids seem to be enjoying the conversation, going by the enthusiastic responses.

And then there is Poe’s own droid, BB-8. It’s immediately apparent that he adores the little orange ball. You can hardly find one without the other, and soon the entire base is used to seeing BB-8 roll along their master’s heels, beeping cheerfully as they go. Rumour has it that Poe doesn’t let the mechanics do any of the astromech’s upkeep and updating either, and seeing him brush a gentle hand over the droid’s dome after BB-8 handed him a wrench Jess doesn’t doubt it. Unless absolutely necessary, Poe refuses to fly with anyone but BB-8. Some suggest that’s because they’re just so in tune with each other that flying with anyone else would be a let-down at best, a hazard at worst. Though there’s probably some truth to that, Jess has also seen the way BB-8 practically pouts when Poe leaves on an undercover mission that requires him to leave his distinctive droid behind, and draws her own conclusions.

 

  • if you bring up Yavin 4, flying and/or X-Wing modifications, or General Leia Organa, you won’t get him to shut up again any time soon

 

“Have you ever seen whisper birds? They’re most beautiful things in the setting sun, shooting rays of colour everywhere.”

Jess grunts, pushing her tubbers across her plate listlessly. “No, I haven’t, just like I told you the last time you asked, and the time before that.”

“Oh,” he says, sheepish but not actually sorry at all from what she can tell. “Have I already told you about the tree as well?”

“Yep.”

“Well, it’s a very good tree.”

 

“Why orange and black?” Jess asks curiously, standing next to Black One while pretending that she isn’t petting the ship like the lovely lady she clearly is deserves.

Poe sticks his head out of the cockpit. “What?”

“The paint job.”

He grins. “Ah, yes, people keep asking about that. I had a black and red X-Wing in the New Republic fleet, and since I kept my call-sign the black had to stay. The orange was Beebee’s idea.”

Jess only just smothers an amused snort. “Of course it was.”

Poe is just the kind of person who would colour-coordinate his ship and his droid and not be embarrassed about it at all.

“It was their reward for managing to increase the thruster output by three percent,” Poe explains, BB-8 chiming in proudly from where they’re sorting through a toolbox with one pincer arm.

“How’d you manage that?” Jess asks curiously, unaware she’d just signed away thirty minutes of her life.

At least it’s an informative thirty minutes.

 

After his first general assembly, Poe watches the General stride away, something very much like adoration written all over his face.

“Isn’t she great? She’s so great. How do you live with her being on base all the time, being all – ”

“Great?” Jess finishes, more dryly than is probably warranted considering her own not insignificant crush on Leia Organa, Huttslayer.

Poe shrugs, smiling. “You can’t deny it. The only way she could be any cooler is if she were a pilot as well.”

He’s got a point. And anyway, it’s kind of nice to know that there’s at least one person who can fluster the great Poe Dameron.

 

  • his temper is slow to be roused, but when he does get angry – ooh boy

 

Jess is there when the infamous Dameron Explosion of 30 ABY occurs. So far no one has ever seen Poe lose his temper beyond the occasional snappish sentence, which is probably why the event passes into Resistance lore immediately.

To be fair to Poe, the subjects of his ire totally deserve it.

Poe and Jess are on the way to the command centre after having landed from a two-people scouting mission, when shouts from a nearby corridor draw their attention. Exchanging a short, worried glance, they round the corner at a jog, hands on their blasters.

She doesn’t know what Poe expected, but Jess certainly didn’t expect this. The Resistance is supposed to fight against bullies, not house them in their midst – and yet five people crowded around one, jeering and jabbing, looks an awful lot like bullying to her.

What do you think you’re doing?”

Ice coats the words where they hover in the air, frigid and uncompromising. Poe’s eyes are flashing, and even though it’s only him (and Jess, a couple of steps behind) against a group of five, none of the attackers even seem to entertain the thought of rushing at Poe.

The sound of the bloodied man sliding down the wall as the largest attacker drops him is the only noise to be heard in the small corridor, though Jess’ imagination fills in a halo of audibly crackling anger all around Poe.

“I asked you a question, cadets,” Poe repeats, voice still as cold as Hoth on a bad day.

Jess is pretty sure at least one of them is a lieutenant, but no one seems inclined to mention that detail.

Poe never takes his eyes off the group of brutes even as he waves her forward, pointing at the victim. Jess nods at him and goes to help the man to the infirmary. No one stops her, not even the large, burly guy whose knuckles are bloodied.

“You all right to walk?” she asks the poor sod quietly, eyes flickering over his obvious injuries. They seem mostly superficial, bruises and small cuts, but Jess isn’t a trained medic by any stretch of the imagination.

He nods in a daze, blood trickling from his nose.

One of his arms slung over her shoulder, they manage a slow, shuffling walk, and Jess’ glare does a good job of keeping a path clear in front of them.

As they move towards the medbay, Jess smiles viciously at the sound of Poe methodically, calmly tearing the five attackers a new one.

It’s always the nice ones you have to look out for.

 

  • the General has a soft spot for him

 

Poe is slumped against the wall, barely visible in the darkness of the corridor. Jess halts, heart beating painfully against her ribcage. Today had been bad, the battle a minor disaster – she knows that, grieves for their fellow pilot, but she doesn’t have to live with it the way Poe does, the superior officer who led the mission.

Before Jess can resolve her internal debate whether to step in, a second set of footsteps nears and she draws in a startled breath when the General appears, moving into Poe’s space without hesitation.

“Poe?”

“General,” he sighs. He hasn’t opened his eyes.

“You should be in bed,” the General says, in that particular tone of resignation she always uses when faced with intractable subordinates.

Poe is silent for a moment, dim light glinting off his throat as it works around words he doesn’t want to say. “I can’t stop seeing them. Kanara is dead and we nearly lost Bastien too.”

Jess has never seen the General lie her hand on anyone’s shoulder with such gentleness before. “I’ve seen the flight logs, Poe. There was nothing you could’ve done.”

“They always say that,” he says bitterly. “Doesn’t make a whit of difference.”

“Have I ever told you of your mother’s second to last mission?” the General asks after a moment. “She was flying a mission over Dantooine. The whole thing was a shitshow, and they lost most of their pilots, yet –”

Poe is listening with a quiet intensity and Jess suddenly realises that she’s standing in a dark corridor in the middle of the night eavesdropping on two of her superior officers having a heart-to-heart. As quietly as she can manage, she turns around and heads towards her bunk. The General seems to have the situation well in hand – if anyone can get Poe to rest it’s her.

And, well…

Leia Organa is steel forged by a life neither fair nor kind, with eyes that have seen too much and fire holding up her bones. If she shows her softer side around anyone that can only be a good thing.

-

Jess is late. They’re supposed to leave on a mission at 0600 and she overslept, already missed the pre-flight briefing. Her hair is a mess and she’s pretty sure she didn’t put on nearly enough clothing under her flight suit in her mad scramble to the door, cursing herself the entire way. It doesn’t matter that she cried herself to sleep that night because her girlfriend broke up with her after one too many dangerous mission – she’s still late and terribly unprofessional and someone’s bound to take it out of her hide. She hopes it’s not going to be Poe – he doesn’t like reprimanding people, but when he does it’s devastating. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to find fault with the reproach of someone who is so completely dedicated to their cause that he’d probably jump on a landmine no questions asked.

She bursts into the hangar at a full run, and Poe is right there in his standard issue orange flight suit with his Commanders insignia and black and red helmet tucked under his arm. He’s frowning slightly, in worry or frustration, but his brow smoothes out when he catches sight of Jess. Belatedly she realises that Major Ematt, who usually coordinates their missions, is standing next to him with an unhappy expression on his face – Ematt hates it when his schedules get disrupted.

Poe looks at her, dark eyes discerning, then turns to Major Ematt.

“Give us fifteen minutes before lift-off please, Major. I will deal with this.”

Jess does her best to contain her wince, but Poe’s hand on her shoulder, gentler than warranted, makes it impossible. If there’s one thing he’s not, it’s cruel to the people under his command.

Major Ematt nods at them curtly and strides off, presumably to delay general take-off preparations for the additional time Poe requested.

Poe jerks his head towards an empty corner of the tarmac and Jess follows because she really doesn’t want to make things worse at this point.

He doesn’t shout, doesn’t reprimand, doesn’t even look disappointed. Instead Poe asks quietly, “Are you all right, Jess?”

Sometimes she wants to hug this stupid, understanding ass so bad, protocol be damned.

“I’m fine, just… personal shit. It wasn’t a good night.”

Poe nods, eyes still sharp on her face. “You ready for this?”

He doesn’t ask whether she’s good to fly. Pilots never ask each other that question. More than any other unit, they have to rely on complete trust in each other whenever they go up into the black – if a pilot shows up in the hangar, they’re good to go. It’s an unspoken rule that everyone adheres to, because lying about one’s own battle readiness is a sure-fire way of getting not only yourself killed but your wingmate too. They’re a reckless bunch, but usually they’re only reckless with their own lives. Even Poe, who she’s learned is as reckless as they come, stays on the ground when he knows he’s compromised, physically or mentally.

(His definition of ‘compromised’ may differ some from everyone else’s, but he’s good enough to compensate for it, so people have yet to complain.)

“Yes,” she says, not loud but clear, and lifts her chin. “I’m good to go.”

Poe nods, takes her word for it just like that.

“As you were then, Lieutenant Pava. Engines running in five.” Poe turns to leave, then halts and sticks a hand in his flight suit pocket. He hands her a ration bar. “Here. Flying on an empty stomach is no good.”

They’re in the air exactly six minutes later.

 

(3)

 

“Why are we even running this ground mission,” Jess complains from behind him. “We’re pilots for fuck’s sake.”

Poe sighs at the front of their little column. “We’ve been over this, Pava.”

Last name – their dear Commander is annoyed. Considering it takes ridiculous amounts of needling to pierce through Poe’s easy-going nature, it’s something of an achievement. Then again, Jess has been complaining under her breath pretty much non-stop since they got their flying orders.

Jess notices that too and shuts her mouth on what would no doubt have been a suitably snappy comeback.

Privately Iolo agrees with her. They’re all better in the air, and though Poe picked those members of his squadrons who’re most trained in ground combat, it’s still a hell of a risk to take.

A glance at the tight line of Poe’s mouth confirms that their leader knows it too. But when General Organa says jump Poe will always… jump. Where or how high are secondary concerns. Not that anyone could’ve argued with high command on this – they’d needed experienced pilots to make it through the asteroid fields, small and nimble ships that couldn’t carry passengers.

Unfortunately that also means that said pilots need to carry out the mission on the ground on top of managing the approach, which is why Iolo now finds himself cowering in a bush outside a heavily fortified base.

Just reconnaissance Major Ematt had said. As if it would be that easy. With a shake of his head Iolo reminds himself that the intel to be gleaned from this research base might be essential – the Resistance has been playing catch-up with the First Order for months now (years really) and they desperately need to know what they’re up to. Why they’d been so quiet lately. Quiet is not a good sign in war.

Iolo only needs to look around the grim faces of everyone in their small team to know that they’re all clinging to the same thoughts.

At Poe’s feet BB-8 trills quietly that they finished the scan. Poe pats their dome. “Any weak spots? How many life-signs did you pick up?”

BB-8’s dome moves from side to side in their best approximation of a headshake, as they beep that the walls are too thick for its scanners to get through. They do project a 3-D model of the compound though, all entrances highlighted.

Iolo’s eyes are drawn to the small back exit, blinking green.

“That looks like our best bet,” he says, fingering his blaster.

Poe nods, though he still looks unhappy. “Iolo and I will go in, and we’ll take BB-8 so they can hack into the security system. Hopefully we won’t set off any alarms that way.”

Jess’ dubious face is saying what Iolo’s thinking. It’s a very long shot.

“And what are we supposed to do?” Jess asks, nodding towards the other three pilots.

“You stay here, guard the exit, let us know if anyone comes from this side and prepare for covering our retreat,” Poe says, already holding up a hand to forestall her inevitable protests. “The fewer of us go inside, the more likely we’re to stay undetected. If it comes to a firefight we’d be screwed either way. So, please Jess, for once do what I tell you without an argument, all right?”

Jess is chewing on her lower lip, but finally gives a reluctant nod and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

-

The base seems suspiciously unprotected to Iolo from where he is standing. Well, crouching at the treeline nearest to the back entrance BB-8 had highlighted. There don’t seem to be any patrols, no visible sensors at all. Either the First Order is way overconfident, or they bet on no one ever finding this base, or this is a trap.

By his side, Poe sighs quietly. “Nothing to do but go for it,” he murmurs. “Beebee’s scanners don’t pick up any sensor nets.”

BB-8 bloops their agreement.

Iolo shrugs to himself, and steps forward. The twenty-five yards to the door seem to drag on forever, even at the near sprint they’re taking it, BB-8 rolling at their heels.

Absolutely nothing happens.

Maybe the First Order is more strapped for cash than they thought.

BB-8 gets the door open without problem and they duck inside the sleek chrome corridor.

Poe huffs out a breath. He looks strangely scruffy in front of the shiny background of typical First Order architecture, with his battered jacket and wild hair. “We need to get to a data access point. Beebee can plug into the mainframe and download any data that’s not wiped.”

Iolo looks around. The corridor seems empty except for some tell-tale red dots near the ceiling. “You do realise that there’re security cameras everywhere? There’s no way we won’t be found if we waltz right into the command centre.”

“One, we don’t need to break into the command centre, there should be ports scattered throughout the base, and two, someone needs to be checking the security cameras for that to happen and honestly, why should they bother? No one would be crazy enough to try and infiltrate this base.”

“Yeah,” Iolo says sourly. “No one.”

But Poe is now busy squinting at the door control panel and ignores his sarcasm. “Hey, Beebee, do you think this port here would do, actually? It’s not a sophisticated one, but I’d feel better if you were close to the exit. You know, for retreating purposes.”

BB-8 rolls closer, extending a data jack from their seemingly endless internal storage. A moment passes, then they beep excitedly, head spinning on top of their rotund body.

Poe grins. “Awesome, buddy. You download whatever you can find, okay? We’ll come back this way on the way out. And if you see anything suspicious you get out of here, you hear me?”

The responding beep is as obstinate as beeps can get, but Poe just pats their dome gently before rising to his feet again. He turns to Iolo.

“Right. Let’s see whether we can find anything.”

Iolo follows in his wake with somewhat less enthusiasm.

 

Ten minutes later they’re still sneaking through the corridors undiscovered, and at this point Iolo is starting to get uncomfortable about the lack of opposition. They’ve only encountered two patrols of stormtroopers so far, and both times it’d been easy to duck into a dark corner and let them pass by.

“This isn’t right,” Poe whispers, echoing Iolo’s concerns. “Why is there hardly anyone here?”

“And almost no ships in the hangar,” Iolo adds. From where they’re hunkering down near a window, he has a good view of the landing strip, and there’re little more than a handful of TIEs and a few shuttles out there.

Poe’s brow furrows. “I think they might be relocating.”

“What, so we’re too late?”

The frown deepens. “Not necessarily. They might not have wiped everything yet. There are still personnel here.”

Poe pulls out his comlink and starts whispering to BB-8, while Iolo stays as a lookout. Iolo’s grasp of binary is shaky at best – something of a disappointment in a pilot, but he just doesn’t have the necessary aptitude, the beeps just all sound the same – but he gathers that there’s at least some good news by the excited slant to BB-8’s whistling.

“BB-8 got something,” Poe confirms a moment later, tucking the comlink away in his jacket. “We might as well head out again, I don’t think there’s anything more we can get here.”

Personally, Iolo is feeling a lot happier about withdrawing than Poe sounds, but Poe is probably already thinking about the ramifications of their near-failure here. He does that kind of thing – it probably goes along with being a Commander.

Of course, that’s when things start to go wrong. Iolo isn’t sure if it’s just sheer bad luck that one of the few patrols runs into them now while they have nowhere to hide, or whether this is all some kind of trap, but he’s barely registered the figures in white armour staring at them before a base-wide intruder alarm is starting to blare and Poe has yanked him into motion.

Time rushes past in a blur of dark walls and shining reflections. Iolo’s heart is trying to pound its way out of his chest, every cell in his body acutely aware of the stormtroopers chasing them. It’s only a matter of time until a) they catch up to them, or b) others cut off their escape route.

One minute they’re running down the corridor, the next Poe is shoving Iolo to the side just before a barrage of blaster bolts blackens the far wall.

Poe gasps next to him and when Iolo turns his head he can see the other’s jacket smoking alarmingly.

“Fuck, Poe, you’re hit we need to – ”

“ – keep moving,” Poe grits out, legs already moving again to skid around the nearest corner.

They’re not far from the exit now, and Iolo can hear BB-8’s anxious beeping. A couple of shots fired wildly backwards buy them enough time to slip through the blastdoor that the droid has been keeping open for them, and they’re joined by an orange blur of speed as they head towards the cover of the forest.

A muted explosion from behind stops them in their tracks. Iolo looks at Poe, Poe looks at BB-8, and BB-8 looks as self-satisfied as a droid possibly can, chortling to themselves in binary.

“You manually overrode their reactor safety protocols? Well done, Beebee,” Poe says, his voice only a little tight around the edges despite his worryingly pale face. He starts to lean down to pet his droid’s dome, then thinks better of it as he sways slightly on his feet.

“We should get back to the others, you need to get that burn treated.” Iolo makes a grab for Poe’s arm. Poe lets him.

BB-8 is beeping worriedly at their feet, and Poe waves a hand at his droid. “I’m fine, Beebee. Really.”

He does manage to walk mostly on his own, only leaning on Iolo a little bit. At any rate it only takes a few minutes to run into the rest of their landing party – rather closer to the compound than they are supposed to be.

Poe opens his mouth to admonish them, but Jess barrels straight past any forthcoming objections, eyes fixed on Poe’s charred shoulder.

“What happened?” she asks, already busy sliding Poe’s jacket and shirt off.

Poe winces as bits of fibre are torn from the burn area. “Got spotted on our way out.”

“He decided that shoving me out of the way of blaster fire was more important than getting himself out of the way of blaster fire,” Iolo adds, glaring at Poe, who looks supremely unbothered.

“Like hell I was going to let you get shot on my watch,” Poe says cheerfully.

Iolo shakes his head. That man has issues.

“Hey.” Poe’s voice is quieter now, soothing. “It all worked out fine, Iolo. I’m gonna be right as Yavin rain in a couple of days.”

“Yavin rain is by definition a deluge,” Iolo mutters under his breath.

Poe raises his voice, just as Jess finishes slapping bacta onto his shoulder. “Beebee’s distraction worked wonderfully, but we should still get going before they swarm us.”

Heads nod all around. It only takes a couple of minutes for everyone to gather their gear while Jess finishes patching Poe up and allows him to cautiously pull his shirt back on.

The X-Wings are parked nearby (they only have to carry BB-8 once when gnarly roots impede their progress too much) and seem to have remained undiscovered. As relieved astromechs beep at their pilots all around the clearing, Iolo keeps an eye on Poe’s progress up the ladder. He seems to be doing fine with the aid of the painkillers, but it can’t hurt to make sure.

Satisfied that Poe is all settled in Black One, Iolo climbs into his own ship, feeling tension leave his body immediately on being ensconced in the familiar safety of the cockpit.

 

Once they’ve broken out of atmo, Iolo toggles his comm.

“How’s the arm?”

“My arm is fine, mother hen,” Poe sighs, sounding unreasonably disgruntled for someone who got himself shot.

Graciously, Iolo changes the topic. “Beebee run diagnostics on the data yet? Anything we can use?”

“Yeah,” Poe says, voice curiously tight. “It’s… high command needs to see this.”

He refuses to say more for the rest of the flight. A few days later the first whispers of another death star race through the Resistance base like wildfire.

 

(4)

 

Starkiller is the biggest mess Snap has ever seen and he’s been flying for almost twenty years. He’s positively ancient by pilot standards (there are no old pilots, the joke goes, just dead pilots – its’ never been funny of course, but anyone who chooses a career built 60% on skill and 40% on luck already knows the odds), but this? This is something else.

Poe’s voice is deceptively calm over all their helmet comms.

“All right, folks, for those of you green enough to never have seen one, this is what we call a suicide mission. However, the Resistance comes from a long and surprisingly effective tradition of suicide missions and today we will make them proud. Everyone who’s ever fought in the name of freedom and justice, we will make them proud. Stick to your wingmate, protect each other’s backs, and give them hell.”

A chorus of yes sirs and roger thats sound over the channel

It takes approximately three minutes and squadmates swooping in twice to save his ass for Snap to realise that if any of them made it home at all, the scoreboard would see some seriously heavy overhaul.

The Pilots’ Scoreboard hangs in the rec room they’d claimed for themselves when first setting up on D’Qar and keeps a running tally of who has saved whose life. It’s not the usual run-of-the-mill wingmate shooting someone of your tail saves either, but the ‘I’m going to cover your bombing run even though my engine is smoking’ (Poe) or the ‘I’ll stick by your right side for a whole firefight because you took a hit and can’t fire your lasers on that side’ (Karé) or the ‘I literally put my ship in between you and that laser shot that would’ve taken you out’ (Poe again) type of saving. There are many more examples – at this point every pilot has basically saved every other pilot at some point –  but they all have one thing in common: insanity. They’re all a bunch of insane idiots who pull insane stunts and sometimes walk away from them.

Poe is the undisputed leader of the board, due to a combination of flying almost every mission, a skyload of skill, a reckless streak a parsec wide, and a protective streak even wider than that. According to the board Poe has saved Snap’s life twenty times over the last couple of years and he has no trouble believing it, though individual instances have already started to blur into an illegible mess of remembered panic. Karé is the next up, then Snap, Jess, Iolo, and Nien – they’ve been the core group for a while now, the few unaffected by the pilot squadron’s high turnover rate. There are many, many names with a small star next to them on the board – a star for those who died, their contribution immortalised in those whose lives they saved. Often, ultimately, at the cost of their own.

Down below, Black One is spiralling towards a defence turret that has targeted Snap’s X-Wing until the turret blows in a plume of gold and red, and Snap mentally strikes out twenty and fills in twenty-one.

-

The Resistance doesn’t have the time or the resources to stage an elaborate mourning ceremony, but after a battle they always gather for a small memorial to the fallen. Remembrance is important, the General had said the very first time, solemn in Alderaanian mourning colours, a blue so light it almost shimmers silver, we fight for a better future, but without those who came before we would already have lost. It’s easy to lose sight of what we’re fighting for once it gets down the dirty despair of war – one way is to always remember the sacrifices that led us here.

More often than not those who are being remembered are pilots. The Resistance is small, little more than a guerrilla force, and they rely primarily on their starfighter corps to fight their battles.

Today General Organa is wearing that same light blue dress and a crimson belt for personal loss, her face lined and old but not less strong for it.

“Ello Asty, Kiana Betan, Luke Gardier, Suo Laia, Lelana Vina, Han Solo,” she says, voice heavy. “Your sacrifice will not be forgotten as long as we draw breath.”

She reaches to the side and gathers up a small orb, glowing golden with its own light. She raises it with both hands, then throws it high. At the apex of its ascent, the orb bursts, letting a gentle shower of golden light fall through the air.

In the front row, Poe stands and starts to sing. It’s a song without words, older than any of them can remember. Sad and lilting, grief floats through the air and for a few moments the universe stops as they listen.

Then Poe sits down again, eyes rimmed red, still and quiet without any of the barely contained energy that usually marks him from a crowd, and the universe resumes with distant bird chatter and the whispering of wind through the trees.

The first time they heard Poe sing at a funeral was the first time he lost someone under his command – and then he did it again and again until it became a tradition. Sometimes others then stand to offer their own songs of mourning, but today there is only silence after his voice fades away. A few minutes of stillness and respect before they go back to their duties.

Later there will be drinking and music, loud and brash and defiant in the face of what they have lost. No one ever started this tradition, but they all cling to it – sing and dance and shout in a big fuck you to the universe.

-

The small hours of the morning find many finally quieted, hunched over their drinks or passed out on the sofas, and Poe has disappeared into a shadowed corner seat.

“You all right, boss?” Snap asks quietly, sliding a glass of Poe’s favourite muja juice over the table.

Poe’s expression is slightly blurred around the edges, by sadness and grief and a resignation he never lets show when the sun is in the sky and things to be done. He’s clearly not sober, though he never drinks as much as most other pilots at these events – Poe is the one who makes sure everyone gets back to their rooms all right.

“I’m too old for this,” he murmurs, taking the glass with a nod of thanks.

“I’m a year older than you,” Snap points out. If there had ever been animosity over being led by a man younger than him, it had quickly been laid to rest. Watching Poe Dameron fly his X-Wing isn’t quite a religious experience, but for many pilots it comes damn close.

“You’re too old too. Literally. We both are.” Poe finally looks up from his glass, eyes startlingly hard. “Did you know Karé once calculated the average life expectancy of a Resistance pilot?”

Snap is pretty sure he doesn’t want to know the answer. “What is it?”

“Twenty-five, Snap. Twenty-fucking-five.”

It comes as a punch to the gut even though logically it makes sense. It’s usually the younger, more inexperienced pilots who haven’t been given a chance to get better than good who die first. That’s why they’re still around, he, Poe, Karè, Iolo…

“They knew what they were getting into,” Snap says quietly. “We all believe it’s a cause worth dying for.”

Poe’s lips stretch into something that hints far too much of irony. “Of course. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t believe that too.” There’s a flinch hidden deep in his dark eyes when they meet Snap’s gaze. “You don’t have to worry about my commitment to the cause.”

Snap snorts. “Literally no one has ever worried about your commitment to the cause, Poe.”

That much is true. The General once joked that she’d defect from the Resistance before Poe would, and everyone had had a good laugh about Poe’s horrified expression.

“Forty-two.” Poe takes a rough gulp of his drink. “There’re now forty-two people who’ve died under my direct command.” Hooded eyes search Snap’s face. “Do yourself a favour and don’t try to get promoted further, eh?”

“Of course I won’t,” Snap returns, keeping his voice light. “I will only get promoted if you bite the stardust and I sure as hell don’t want that.”

Poe shrugs. “It’ll happen someday. We all know that.”

“Yeah,” Snap agrees because it’s the truth, “but please try not to hasten that day along, Poe. We need our Black Leader.”

Finally Poe smiles, tired and small but with a shadow of his usual grin. “I’ll drink to that,” he says, and downs the rest of his juice while Snap matches him with his ale.

When Poe disappears in the direction of the medbay barely an hour later, Snap is kind enough not to mention it.

-

As Snap passes by the rec room the next day, feeling only vaguely hungover, he finds that the board has already been updated. Some find their practice callous, or call it a hazard for inspiring even more recklessness, but there’s never been a pilot who objected. They understand that when Snap looks at the board, the grief he feels at the new glittering stars is tempered by the fierce pride in all of them who’ve survived, together and against all odds – and those who’ve died to make that possible.

 

(5)

 

The party of New Republic negotiators has been on the new Resistance base for five days now and Leia is about ready to tear her hair out. It’s bad enough that they’re still reeling from Starkiller; the loss of half their pilots and having to move base so quickly. Even Poe is moping and no one wants to see that.

And now she and her command staff have to deal with these annoying, obsequious, useless officials who seem more interested in blaming the Resistance for not having blown up Starkiller earlier than actually being constructive. The nerve.

It’s not that Leia expected much from these negotiations in the first place – twenty years of watching the New Republic fail to act and instead become more and more mired in its own fear and corruption has eroded any kind of faith she once had in the institution – but there is always this little corner of idealism in her soul that life hasn’t managed to extinguish no matter how hard it tries, and after the destruction of the Hosnian system she thought the scattered remains of the Senate might come to their senses. What more proof do they need that working together with the Resistance is their only way forward?

But then they wouldn’t get to call me a traitor anymore.

In the background Senator Milllayo is still droning on about how they need more assurances that the Resistance wouldn’t just take the New Republic’s money and use it to try and start their own government. It’s not as if they’re busy fighting a war, or anything.

“Senator,” she interrupts when he finally stops to take a breath, “I understand your concerns, but you must understand, we are fighting a war. Even if I had the intention of establishing a ‘rogue government’ as you call it, which, for your information, I do not, at the moment it takes all our strength and determination not to get crushed by the First Order’s greater numbers and superior equipment. That is what you should be worried about, not a small force’s completely conjectured plans for galactic domination.”

Judging by Millayo’s face, the speech hasn’t swayed him. Not unexpected, but still disappointing.

She’s just about to call up some of their recent battle figures when there’s a knock on the door. Leia frowns, unaware of any scheduled interruption, but waves at Caluan to admit whoever is waiting in the hallway.

Long years of training keep her features stony as Poe walks in, shoulders squared and military neat. She’d managed to keep him out of these negotiations by pointing out – correctly – that they need some of their military commanders on duty and the pilots especially are scrambling to regroup after the Starkiller battle. Poe’s dislike of bureaucracy is well-known and he’d continued with his usual duties gratefully.

Poe snaps a picture-perfect salute in the direction of the room at large, then says, “Excuse me, sirs, but I need to borrow the General for a few moments. Something important has come up.”

Senator Millayo frowns. “We’re in the middle of delicate negotiations,” he starts, puffing himself up, “what could possibly be – ”

Poe’s face remains impassive, but no one could mistake the steel underlying his next words. “This is a military base, Senator, with military concerns. Concerns which already have been put on hold for days in deference to these negotiations. The General is needed.”

Deciding not to look a gift-transporter in the mouth, Leia rises from her seat.

“Excuse me, gentlebeings. We shall reconvene after lunch.”

She walks out before Millayo’s spluttering gets the chance to congeal into actual words, Poe on her heels. As soon as the door closes behind them, a long sigh escapes her. These negotiations aren’t doing anyone any favours.

Without a word, Poe takes the lead, and Leia is content to follow him.

“What’s going on?” she asks quietly, once they’re a few hallways away from the meeting room.

“Ematt commed me.” Poe directs a smile at her over his shoulder that only looks a little pinched. “He said you needed an extraction.”

A gust of a laugh escapes her. “This is hardly a battle situation.”

Poe halts, gazing at her with wide, serious eyes. “Is it not? They’ve been trying to tear you apart for days now, when they should be asking for our help. No one would blame you if you lost your temper.”

“And yet Caluan sent you to stop that from happening,” she points out dryly.

“He sent me because he’s concerned about you,” Poe refutes calmly. “Besides we all want to be there once you do decide to stick it to that pompous windbag of a Senator.”

Her lips quirk. Leia wants to think that she can hold out a while longer, play the diligent politician until negotiations are concluded, but really, Millayo is heading for a beating and she will take no small amount of satisfaction from tearing his arrogant, infuriating ass a new one.

Poe grins at her, knowing, and doesn’t protest when she thumps his arm in warning.

“How do you know so much about how the negotiations are going anyway?” she asks, more curious than suspicious just as they emerge into the open air.

He grins. “I have my sources.”

Leia rolls her eyes but lets him have his little secrets. It was probably Caluan. That man is nursing an alarming streak of protectiveness lately.

“So now that we’ve established that there is no actual emergency, where are we going?”

“We’re having a picnic.”

She raises an eyebrow. “We are?”

“You haven’t been outside in, like, two weeks, General,” Poe says, as if that’s enough of a reason to come to the conclusion to have a picnic. He looks at Leia sideways. “Besides it’s too late to argue. I already had to promise Jess a favour for getting it all set up. You wouldn’t want her work to go to waste, would you?”

Leia snorts even as her lips curl up at the corners. What a manipulative little shit. On the other hand, Poe is nothing if not good company – a small pang of guilt informs her that she hasn’t spent time with him for a quite a while either – and the light breeze does feel good on her face. She supposes she can let him get away with it this once. Leia follows Poe into the surrounding woods and just as she’s beginning to wonder whether she should’ve pointed out that they don’t have that much time before she’s expected back on base, he veers off the path and into a small, sunny clearing. A blanket is laid on the ground, complete with basket and drinks. Poe makes a face at the bunch of wildflowers scattered around the edge and grumbles “Very funny, Pava” under his breath, but Leia only grins. The whole thing’s very charming and she happens to know that Poe Dameron has no designs on her virtue whatsoever. Not that there’s much of that left in the first place, but that boy would certainly rather set himself on fire than even think anything inappropriate.

“Cozy,” she comments. “Did you give specific instructions?”

Poe keeps grumbling, but eventually a smile cracks through the light dusting of red on his cheeks. “You know pilots, Leia. We tend to go a bit overboard.”

She wonders when exactly Poe realised that sometimes what Leia needs is someone, just one person on the whole damn base to call her by her real name. No title, no honorific, just Leia.  (Not as half-forgotten royalty of a planet long since torn to ash.) Knowing Poe Dameron he probably knew before she did.

Poe stretches out on the blanket, entirely unselfconscious in a way that reminds her of Han, a quietly muted stab in right into heart. Flyboys.

Poe props his head up on his elbow, gaze serious.

“I talked to him sometimes, you know. Han.”

For the last few years, a datapad would sporadically appear in her office without explanation or direction, and it always contained information on what her errant husband was doing at the time. Usually the information was succinct and to the point (Solo made a smuggling run to Nar Shadaa, managed not to get killed mostly thanks to Chewbacca), but sometimes there’d be a little story, an anecdote and she would smile through stinging eyes as the scene played out in her head.

“Should’ve known that was you,” she says, voice the tiniest bit rough. “Han never did trust new people easily.”

Poe shrugs, full of forced nonchalance. “He told me to look out for you,” he admits, twirling a blade of grass between his fingers. “Not that I needed the instruction.”

Leia looks up at the blue sky, wonders at the cloudlessness of this new planet of theirs. “You never did at that.”

“Coming from you, I’m not sure whether that’s a compliment or a comment on my nosiness,” Poe says, lips twitching.

“Probably both,” she sighs. He knows her well enough to recognise the amusement. “Anything else you planned for this outing?”

“Well, there’s food,” Poe says, though his expression borders on dubious when he peers into the basket. “Of a sort. I think these are supposed to be sandwiches, but they were made by a Barabel so who knows. They probably won’t kill us.”

When she laughs, it feels like the first stirrings of a breeze through withered grass.

 

(+1)

 

So that could’ve gone better.

Poe surveys the smoking remains of the small transport he’d been supposed to pick up Admiral Ackbar from Mon Cal in and sighs. The Resistance really can’t afford the rate at which he’s wrecking ships lately. In his defence, a whole squadrons of TIEs swarming from what he can only assume is some kind of interdictor is a bit much even for him, especially when he’s not in the cockpit of his beloved Black One.

Potential crisis the first: the interdictor is probably already on its way to fetch reinforcements and he’s a sitting duck on this hillside.

Potential crisis the second: he’d managed to get off a distress call on an encrypted channel, but he’s currently many lightyears away from the Resistance base – possibly more lightyears than the nearest First Order base or larger ship.

Potential crisis the third: if he doesn’t do anything about the hole in his leg where a piece of the console had scratched deeply in the crash, blood loss is going to make things even more difficult than they already are.

Poe decides that the latter problem is currently the easiest to deal with and ventures to the transporter’s back hatch in the hopes of reaching a medkit. The ship is pretty unlikely to blow up at this point, but he doesn’t particularly want to chance inhaling too much smoke and messing up his lungs on top of everything else.

For once he’s in luck. A brightly coloured medkit sits right next to the access hatch, and it’s fully stocked with painkillers, pressure bandages and even a small jar of bacta. Gritting his teeth, he tears his trouser leg from around the wound and gets to work slathering the cut liberally with the miracle goo. With a bandage fitted on top and a dose of painkillers injected into his arm, he’ll be as good to go as he’s likely going to get. One crisis dealt with – well, except for the remaining dull throb whenever he puts his foot down, but there’s nothing much he can do about that unless he wants to overdose on painkillers (which no, terrible idea) – Poe turns his mind to the next two problems.

Or at least he plans to, but is interrupted in the middle of bleakly realising that he’s probably fucked by the appearance of a group of (local?) humanoids hiking up the mountainside towards him. For a moment he considers the possibility that they’re friendlies, but really, with the way his luck is going lately that seems unlikely. Also, they don’t look particularly peaceful.

Poe has got a small blaster, but the pirates/militia/angry residents/hillside environmentalists/who the hell even knows are brandishing equally deadly weapons and there’s ten of them, so yeah, probably not a good idea.

Slowly Poe raises his empty hands and says, “I come in peace – ”

The stun bolt takes him down in a matter of seconds.

-

One of these days he really wants to wake up in a soft, cushy bed, preferably with his two lovers and not a care in the world. Not in a smoking transport which just tried its best to kill him. Not tied up in a dark and dank room Force knows where and with a godsawful headache.

Poe’s pretty sure he’s got a concussion. Considering some guy had knocked his head against the wall repeatedly when the effects of the stun blast wore off a bit too soon for his captors’ tastes, it’s not too far a leap to make, but it’s definitely the way the ceiling keeps tilting and going blurry in his vision that tips him off.

He wriggles his hands experimentally, but the ropes are tight and they remain trapped between his back and the wall he’s leaning against. Marvellous.

Poe doesn’t know how long he’s been unconscious for (the first or the second time) and he can’t quite keep track of the passage of time now that he is conscious either. For all he knows it could be minutes or hours or even days. Probably not days. He isn’t thirsty enough for that. He dozes off at one point, then jumps violently when the door crashes open, almost taken off its old-fashioned hinges.

A figure in a flight suit that’s badly disguised under a dirty, brown poncho stands in the doorway, blaster raised.

The string of foul incentives that they let off when they catch sight of him dimly rings a bell.

“Karé?” he mumbles, tongue heavy in his mouth, and not at all convinced that this isn’t some kind of fucked up hallucination brought on by his concussion. Or dehydration, at this point.

“Dammit, Poe,” she mutters, suddenly kneeling in front of him, and yes, that face looks exactly like Karé’s. “We leave you unsupervised for one flight.”

“Not m’fault,” he grumbles reflexively. “Interdictor.”

She stares at him, frozen in mid-motion in the process of tugging a knife out of her boot. “Shit. I thought the First Order didn’t have any.”

Poe attempts to shrug, but is hampered by his bound hands. “Not sure what else could’ve forced me outta hyperspace.”

That sets off another round of swearing.

He squints at Karè’s face, still half convinced he’s hallucinating her.

“What are you doing here anyway?”

With a tug of her knife, the ropes fall from Poe’s wrists. “We drew lots. Everyone wanted to come, but after Finn and Rey insisted on going Chewie put his foot down. He doesn’t like it when there’re too many people on the Falcon.”

His brain takes a moment to process that. Then he says, “Finn and Rey are here?”

Even with slightly blurry vision Poe can tell that the look Karé is giving him is a cross between incredulous and pitying. “You think they could’ve stayed away when it was your sorry ass we were rescuing?”

That’s… a fair point. For all that he’s thirty-two years old and a generally accomplished human being, both of his partners insist on protective streaks that would put momma gundarks to shame.

But something still doesn’t add up.

“Why aren’t they here then,” he asks, and his voice sounds whiny even to his own ears. Good grief, he really should avoid concussions in the future.

Karé sighs, half distracted by making sure there’s no one lurking beyond the door.

“They’re causing a distraction across town so we can sneak out.”

Poe frowns. The walls are still moving and he’s pretty certain they’re not supposed to do that. “I’m not sure I can be sneaky right now.”

Karé clearly shares that opinion, for she sighs and wraps her arm around his waist to stabilise him. “Just keep a look out for armed people, all right?”

That Poe can do, even if an alarmingly large chunk of his concentration is taken up with putting one foot in front of the other.

-

Things go surprisingly well. Either Poe is cashing in on all the luck that had turned tail and run the moment the whatever-it-was pulled him out of hyperspace, or his lovers are exceedingly good at causing distractions. Judging by the plume of smoke behind them as they pass the town’s border, it’s probably the latter.

A few more stumbled steps lead them into the forest that surrounds the shithole Poe had spent the last however many hours in. Hidden by the tree line just beyond the town, Karé heaves a sigh of relief and turns to Poe for a more thorough assessment. Given the downward slant of her mouth he gathers she doesn’t like what she sees. Which is fair enough, really, since Poe doesn’t like how he feels either.

“What did they even want with you?” she asks, eyeing the dried blood at the back of his head critically.

“How should I know? Maybe they were waiting to ransom me to the First Order or something. They certainly didn’t ask me anything.”

“Huh,” Karé says, eyeing him dubiously, but he honestly doesn’t have anything further to add so he just shrugs. Wouldn’t be the first time weird things have happened to him without any kind of rational explanation.

“So you, Finn, Rey, and Chewie? Isn’t that a bit overkill?”

Rey alone probably could’ve pulled this rescue off, all things considered. It doesn’t even matter that Poe is generally of the opinion that Rey can do anything she sets her mind to – in this case it’s just a fact.

“We only barely convinced the General not to come along,” Karé says dryly. “I think she steel feels guilty over that whole Jakku thing.”

“Well, I got Finn and Rey out of that, so she really shouldn’t.”

Karé rolls her eyes. “You’re such a sap, Poe.”

“Hey, my sappiness is all that’s keeping me on my feet at the moment so you better appreciate it.”

Now Karé just looks worried, and in retrospect he probably should’ve chosen his words more carefully. He flashes her a smile, though it’s probably lightyears away from his usual reassuring one. “I’m fine, Karé. Stop fretting.”

“I’m not fretting,” Karé sniffs, but she tightens her steadying grip on his arms. “Some idiot just got himself shot down over some nowhere planet in the mid rim and worried absolutely everyone on base. You do realise how scary your partners and that homicidal little droid of yours are, right?”

Torn between wincing and feeling slightly smug, Poe settles on groaning quietly as another step jars his bad leg.

Encouraged by this clear show of agreement, Karé continues, “And now we’ve managed to rescue said idiot and he repays us by looking like a Sarlaac just spat him out again, and he’s definitely not pulling his weight in this whole rescue operation we’ve got going.”

“Couldn’t it have been a more cushy rescue?” Poe complains half-heartedly. “Who came up with this idea anyway? Cause an explosion on one side of the town, sneak in, drag Poe out of the town on your own? You used to be subtle, Kun.”

“Whose plan is he mocking, hmm? Is that what they call gratitude in the Resistance?”

Later he will blame his lack of awareness on his very probably concussed head – the unexpected voice makes him jump violently, which turns out to be a bad idea because aww leg. He tilts sideways and right into Finn’s strong arms. Nice, cuddly arms.

Poe doesn’t even mind Rey’s stifled giggle.

“Hey,” he says, and resolutely doesn’t worry about how slurred the word comes out.

Rey’s face comes into view, though he has to blink a couple of times to get her into focus.

“Hey, yourself,” she says softly, and there’s that worried little line between her eyebrows and Poe put that there and he really wants to hug her right now.

She steps forward, presses a kiss to his forehead. “Later, querido. We need to get back to the Falcon first.”

Poe can feel Finn nod at his back, and then the hands holding him up shift and he’s more or less standing upright again. He pats Finn’s arm before he lets go because that seems like the thing to do. Poe may be slightly woozy. He blinks once, and suddenly his feet are moving, Finn and Rey on either side and Karé in the lead, and when he blinks again his eyes catch sight of the familiar curves of the Falcon sitting more or less right in front of his face. He should probably be a bit more concerned about losing time like this, but he’s being herded up the ramp and Chewie roars from the cockpit, and for the first time since he’d caught sight of those TIEs he feels safe.

-

Poe only remembers flashes of the journey back to the Resistance.

He remembers Karé voice, and what he’s pretty sure is a comm call to the General, but just when he wants to open his mouth he slips under again, too fast to even be grumpy about it.

He remembers soft fur and Chewie’s low rumbling as the Wookie checks the bandage around Poe’s leg.

But most of all he remembers Finn and Rey, soothing touches and comforting murmurs, cool hands feeling his brow and warm bodies cradling him securely.

-

By the time the Falcon comes out of hyperspace again, Poe’s head has cleared up and he’s stopped falling asleep every few minutes. He still feels nauseous and the gash on his leg is far from healed, but at least he can walk down the Falcon’s ramp under his own steam. Well, under his own steam, with Rey hovering protectively just behind in case he trips on nothing and falls. Or something.

He doesn’t expect to see quite so many people gathered in the hangar, waiting. There are pilots and ground crew and even a large chunk of high command, all with their eyes on the Falcon, smiling and cheering when the ramp lowers to reveal Poe.

Jess and Snap are immediately apparent in their bright flight suits, both scowling in a way that promises pain in his immediate future. The ‘you worried us, you complete asshat, you better buy us lots of drinks to facilitate getting spectacularly wasted’ kind of pain, probably, and as usual his guilty conscience will make him cave to their demands pretty much immediately. Iolo is standing next to them, appearing slightly more relaxed, but all three of them look ready to hare off in their X-Wings to save their commander if the first rescue attempt failed.

It’s all ridiculously heart-warming.

The General is standing quietly off to the side, eyes sharp on the group descending the Falcon. He doesn’t particularly like to think what she would do if he got himself killed too, and he’s sworn to himself a long time ago that he would do his utmost never to put her into that position. This time, at least, he’s fine and mostly hale, and when their gazes meet he gets that small smile she only ever seems to reserve for moments like these – her people returned safely, despite all odds.

Quite a few of those moments to go around in the Resistance these days, but Poe can’t complain. He’s got a cause and people he’d die for. He's got people who’d die for him, though he prays every day that it’ll never come to that. There're his pilots. There're Finn and Rey. There's the General.

It’s enough.