Absence makes the heart.
Absence makes the heart.
- Bob Hicok
“Even-keeled” is how they always describe him in evals. If he flies like a lunatic it’s because he’s steady everywhere else, he just accepts what’s happening and what he feels about it and lets it slide off him like water.
He’s good at it. Good at setting aside the consequences for later, sticking to mission and objective, dealing with the here-and-now.
But Finn is in Chewbacca’s arms, so small, and unmoving. The vibrant, pulsing life that should be rolling of Finn in waves just…absent. And Poe can’t shake that, not after everything, not after Starkiller Base. A sun went out today, like someone turning off a light. The universe is dark enough. So Finn is gonna be fine if Poe has to fistfight every nurse and write it on Finn’s chart himself.
Of course, half the nurses are wider than Poe is tall, and have twice as many eyes and arms, so muscling his way into the triage unit proves a little harder than his hind-brain anticipated. He’s still trying to wrestle out of the sleeper hold Doctor Susnik is trying to get him in when they get Finn onto the examination table, his warm dark skin pale and chalky under the harsh blue light.
Med droids are cutting off Finn’s clothes and coming at him with a lot of needles and syringes and there’s not much blood until the shirt is pulled away from Finn’s back, and then it’s everywhere. Poe hears med staff swear in six different languages as the med droids start bleeping in warning.
And then the girl from before, who was hugging General Organa comes hurtling into the room like the med staff are bugs she’s swatting out of her way, which is insane because Poe weighs twice as much as she does and he can’t move either of his arms and one of his legs thanks to Bruno’s tender embrace.
“What are you doing, get away from him,” she screams, kicking a med droid off of Finn and clutching him to her chest. “Stay away! Just leave us alone!” Tears are streaking thick and bright down her cheeks, mixing with the blood and mud on Finn’s face.
Chewbacca makes himself known by throwing a doctor through the door while holding a screeching med droid over his head in one gigantic paw. He shouts the rough equivalent of “Everyone fucking calm down” in Wookie and everyone freezes, with needles and monitors poised midair.
The girl (Rey, he remembers now, Finn had gone to get her back, Rey is Finn’s, so Rey is important) grips Finn tighter to her chest, her eyes crazy and terrified and she’s holding something that might be a blaster at them. She doesn’t know any of these people, and it’s only Chewbacca’s low reassurances that finally lets them pry Finn out of her arms and back onto the operating table. She lets out a sob like it hurts to let him go. The front of her chest is stained with so much blood, but Chewbacca holds out an arm to stop the med team from launching themselves at her. Which means it’s not her blood. Which means it’s Finn’s. Poe can actually feel his heart stop in his chest, just for a second.
Poe feels two opposing gravities yanking at his gut — the one that needs to follow Finn like a magnet because this is all Poe’s own stupid fault for letting Finn get dragged into this; and and the one wants to take care of this blood-soaked little thing who was ready to fight off a pack of armed soldiers twice her size with mashed-up blaster and her teeth to keep Finn safe.
The second wins out only because he knows from experience that he’ll only get himself banned from med bay for getting in the way and that this time Doctor Kalonia really might shoot him in the leg just to teach him a lesson. The only thing he can do for Finn right now is take care of his person. His other person.
“Hey,” he starts, and his voice comes out as a croak. He swallows thickly, tries again. “Hey. I’m Poe. I’m a friend of Finn’s. I promise I’ll take you to him as soon as the docs give the okay. Come on outside.”
The girl twists to look at him from where she’s got her face pressed into Chewbacca’s chest. The Wookie pets a giant hand down her hair and trills something that Poe can’t understand (his Wookie is limited to battle commands and swear words, which is admittedly the larger chunk of what Chewbacca usually says), but Rey nods and rubs her knuckles hard against her eyes before straightening up to face him.
“I’m Rey,” she says, and steps forward towards him. That’s as far as she gets before she passes out, probably from sheer exhaustion, and Chewbacca scoops her up into his massive arms so she’s even with Poe’s head. The screwed blaster clatters from her hand onto the ground and Poe bends to pick it up automatically. His fingers just barely graze it before he realizes it’s not a blaster at all, it’s a godsdamn light saber she was ready to use on them and he makes a mental note to be very, very nice to Chewbacca for the rest of his life. He pockets it gingerly, then runs to catch up to Chewbacca at the Med Bay doors.
Because Chewbacca is technically the ranking officer in most rooms he walks into on the Resistance base, Rey gets deposited in a bed next to Finn’s in medical, after being checked out by no less than than five doctors and a literal army of nurses. “Dehydrated and a little banged up, but otherwise fine” is the general consensus, so she’s left in peace to sleep it off.
Finn, on the other hand, goes through three surgeries in thirty-six hours. Poe is awake and pacing the halls for most of them. Chewbacca trades off between checking on Rey, checking on the General, checking on Finn, and being quiet off on his own. Poe dozes off sitting against the wall a few times. Otherwise, he just waits.
Everyone is too busy and shattered to either notice or care, so they let him.
“You need a pilot.”
“I need a pilot.”
“We’re gonna do this.”
Is that how simple it is to sign a death warrant? To hang that fate around a kid’s neck, so heavy is drags down everyone around him?
He has a lot of time to roll this question around in his mind, worrying it like loose tooth or a bruise, something he can’t help but touch.
He’s thinking it Finn’s private hospital room, Finn’s stabilized breathing a reassuring beep on the monitors that lulls Poe into a murky sleep. When he wakes up, the tiny little brunette ball that had been curled on the cot next to Finn’s bed is now curled up in an even tinier ball next to Finn, her head resting over where she must be able to hear his heartbeat.
Finn’s facedown on the hospital bed while his wounds heal, and Rey’s sleeping face rises and falls in time with his breathing, her nose tucked into the hollow behind a shoulder blade.
He’s just sitting there, trying to figure out if he should be doing something — putting a blanket over them, shoving this girl off Finn’s bed onto the floor and taking her spot, who can say — when Chewbacca comes in, takes one look at the painfully serene tableau spread out before them, and jabs a paw into Rey’s ribs until she wakes up.
“Take a fucking shower,” says Chewbacca, with extra vibrato for emphasis.
Rey — blood and dirt caked into her skin so deep she’s kind of got stripes, glares up at him through sleep-swollen eyes for a long moment, then tries to burrow back down into Finn’s shoulder. There are certain advantages to being eight feet tall and hairy, though. Chewbacca scoops her up and dumps her in front of the teensy hospital fresher before Rey can even start swearing at him.
Poe hasn’t been trained to understand Wookie that's soft and trilling — actually, he didn’t even know there was a part of the Wookie language that wasn’t composed exclusively of swearing and talking shit. So he has no clue what the soft things the Wookie is crooning to Rey mean. Just that it never stops surprising him, warming his gut from the inside out, how he keeps finding gentleness in everything around him, just under the surface.
Whatever he says makes an impression (Poe only catches “stink like a fuckton of tauntaun shit, and I would know” before it devolves back into whickering snuffles again), and Rey gives a barking laugh that’s still mostly a sob. Then she trundles to her feet and grabs the water bottle someone left for her — or maybe for Poe, actually — and starts stripping off her grimy clothes right there in the middle of the room.
“Hey! Hey hey hey hey, no, that’s not — no. Commander Chewbacca, please explain — oh my God, I’m too sober for this.”
“You tiny peach weirdo, that’s not a fucking shower,” says Chewbacca, gesturing to the water bottle Rey is expertly distributing through her hair. “That’s a godsdamned motherfucking beverage.” Rey blinks up at him, half naked and very confused. “That is the shower.”
Once the shower has been demonstrated and Poe gets the front of his shirt all wet, fucking thanks, Chewie, and Rey has overcome her dubious conviction that they’re trying to play a weird prank on her, she gets in the tiny curtained booth.
The shower hisses to life and Rey shrieks like she’s been attacked — and then begins giggling borderline hysterically. Poe does the math and figures it’s entirely possible that this is the most water she’s ever touched at once in her whole life.
Chewbacca disappears sometime while Poe is explaining soap to Rey from across the shower curtain, because Wookies are fucking cowards.
“No, the shampoo is the blue stuff, it’s different.”
“Why can’t I just use the soap for my hair, too?”
“I don’t know, you just can’t. Because of society.”
“What’s the purple stuff?”
“Conditioner — you know what? Don’t worry about it right now. That’s for the advanced course.”
At this point, she gets shampoo in her eyes and starts swearing in four languages and gut-punches Poe through the curtain with a thrashing elbow, after which he beats a strategic retreat to the other side of Finn’s bed.
When she finally emerges, peering around the edge of the shower door cautiously, Poe’s fighting with a med droid over Rey’s clothes.
“These items are a biohazard,” the droid chirrups at him, tightening its little pincer-claw around the legs of Rey’s pants and making a low warning beep. “Please release them or face consequences.”
“They’re pants,” he hisses, “Give them back.”
“Negative. They are germ factories. Release them or face consequences.”
“‘Consequences’ my shapely — ow!”
The med droid retracts the little zappy arm thing it just shocked him with and clacks its other set of pincers together menacingly.
“Hey,” Rey’s voice snaps from behind him and he turns around just in time to avoid getting brained as she bonks the med droid on the head. And, okay, Poe grew up in the country and spent all his formative years with shared housing and prison-style showers, he’s not precious about nudity, but shit fuck godsdamn there is a lot of Rey right there, his life is a nightmare.
“Those are mine,” she says to the med droid, who is beeping at her in a way that sounds horrifyingly close to how his abuela used to tsk him into subservience.
“These items need to be incinerated for the sake of safety and cleanliness,” the droid insists, it’s tone wheedling. It seems to consider Rey a patient, whereas Poe is just meat furniture.
“No! They’re mine. And I have nothing else to wear,” she adds, nudity clearly an afterthought, as if he didn’t already know. His eyes are still glued to the ceiling so hard they’re starting to hurt.
“I can provide you with alternate clothing options while the biohazards are disposed of,” the droid insists, titling its oblong head at her, cajoling.
“No.” Rey and the droid glare at each other in a standoff until finally the droid whistles a harrumph and caves.
“I can take the biohazards to be decontaminated at laundry services, provided they are processed with the strongest available chemicals. And perhaps the Force.”
“Take it, it’s the best deal you’re gonna get out of this one,” Poe says to the ceiling tiles.
“But they’ll…they’ll give them back, though?”
Rey’s voice is so worried that he forgets himself for a second and looks down.
“Of course,” he says. “No one’s gonna take anything of yours, Rey.” She bites her lip, glances at Finn’s back, and slowly releases her grip on her…drapey…shirt…thing. The med droid promptly dumps the clothes down a laundry chute and then opens an invisible drawer with one pincer-claw and drops a set of white hospital scrubs onto the bed next to Finn’s feet.
“You have an improperly healed spiral fracture on your left ulna,” the droid says to Rey, vaguely accusing. “I would be happy to re-break it to correctly set the bone —“
Poe kicks the droid in her rump-area as she speeds out of the room.
Poe corners one of Dr. Kaldonia’s henchmen and together they wrangle some extra scrubs and a pair of one-size-fits-none disposable slipper things. The medical-white scrubs are so clean they crackle when Rey moves her arms around experimentally. She wrinkles her nose, but her murmured thank you is sincere.
She’s skinny enough to look malnourished and his abuela’s ghost starts smacking him upside the head and ordering him to feed her, so.
The mess is mostly deserted at this time of night, but the resting droids whirr to life and serve up two warm plates of some sort of noodle thing with green bits of kelp he recognizes from supply runs to the northern edge of the ocean. It’s a little gritty, but he’s noticed his nails have stopped breaking off when he’s working on the X-wings since they added it into the food rotation. He forks a little extra green stuff onto Rey’s plate because if a body ever needed vegetables, it’s her.
Rey’s eyes are bugging out of her head, looking from the plate to Poe and back again, her fingers twitching on her fork.
“It’s okay, dig in.” He nudges her foot under the table and smiles at the face she makes.
Rey digging in, it turns out, is a lot like that time on Yavin 4 he saw a ronk eat an entire borgle bat while it was still alive. He manages about two mouthfuls of noodle thing before shoving his plate towards her in surrender, feeling a little like he’s going to ralph.
“Go on. You can’t take leftovers with you, so you might as well finish it.”
“‘O ‘eftovs?” she mumbles around an open mouthful of kelp. Poe is definitely gonna ralph if she does that again.
“It’s to discourage food hoarding and thus prevent the creation of a blackmarket,” he recites.
Rey looks so horrified that he gives her his dessert, which she shoves into her mouth whole and proceeds to crew in the slowest and most disgusting, crumbs-spewing manner he’s ever seen.
“You know no one’s going to take it from you —“ he starts, but she just shoves a serving of noodles the size of her head into her mouth somehow and glares at him, gripping her fork in a distinctly threatening manner.
“You’re right, better not to take chances.” He sips some fruit juice, eyeing her fork hand over the edge of his glass cautiously.
By the time she’s eaten enough food to fill up her hollow leg, her eyelids are drooping again, and Poe half-carries her back to the med bay. She ignores her cot over his protests and nestles into Finn’s side again. She inhales deeply, reassuring herself, and then she’s out cold again.
Poe tucks an extra blanket over them both before passing out on Rey’s abandoned cot.
Doctor Kaldonia lets them go on like this for two more days before banishing them unceremoniously.
“If I see either of you in here outside of visiting hours, I’m having you thrown in the brig,” she says cheerfully, not even looking up from her charts.
“We don’t have a brig,” Poe points out.
“I’ll improvise something special just for you,” she replies. Poe’s blood runs a little colder because Doctor K does not fuck around.
Rey’s fingers are twitching on her quarterstaff, eye narrowed, so Poe grabs her by the hand and yanks her down towards the mess again, because if there’s one thing Rey loves more than casual violence, it’s food.
“I know how to walk without you holding my hand,” she snaps, yanking her fingers out of his.
He’s seen Rey sucker punch enough unsuspecting nurses to know that she’s weird about people touching her — Finn and Chewbacca excepted — so he reminds himself not to feel a bit stung. It’s a pilot thing, but it’s also just a Poe thing; he’s not great with a lot of stuff, but he’s good at giving comfort, at being present. Touch is connection, reassurance, physical proof that you’re not alone. He’s disorganized and he can’t always find the right words when it counts and his handwriting is barely legible. But he gives really good hugs.
He picture’s Rey’s sleeping face tucked into the hollow of Finn’s neck, breathing heavy and slow. We’ll get there, buddy, he thinks, don’t worry. He’s so busy promising Finn that they’re gonna teach Rey how to be cuddled and fussed over and generally gently handled that he loses track of her in the mess for a second.
“Hey,” Snap says, grin wide, trying to get her attention, but Rey is zeroed in on the pudding with laser-focus, blind and deaf to anything that isn’t vanilla-flavored and gelatinous. Poe watches in frozen slow-motion as Snap reaches out to tug at Rey’s elbow. And then Rey is smashing a blue plastic tray into Snap’s face and then again against the center of his back when he hits the deck like a load of bricks.
BB-8, loyal unto death, circles Rey’s feet with its blowtorch out.
Snap, to his credit, gets it immediately because Snap’s got two little girls and a lot of friends with PTSD.
“Sorry!” he says, his voice garbled from all the blood that’s gushing out of his nose. “Sorry! My bad! You’re totally right! Sorry!”
Rey blinks, coming out of her murder haze, and has the good grace to blush, resting her hand on BB-8’s head.
“Um.” She reaches out to help up Snap, who dodges reflexively. “Sorry about the…” She gestures at his whole face area.
“I don’t know, I think it’s a bit of an improvement,” Jess drawls from where she’s leaning against a table, enjoying the show.
“It’s helps draw attention away from your weird mouth,” Nien Nunb agrees.
“You’re all fired,” Snap says cheerfully.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t have that authority, Wexley.”
They all jump to attention at the General’s voice, Snap trying salute with the wrong hand while holding his nose.
“Dameron, Rey, walk with me,” General Organa says, without breaking her stride.
“Am I trouble for breaking a pilot?” Rey asks. She doesn’t actually sound all that concerned, more just curious about how much bloodshed is officially considered “too much” by the Resistance behavioral code.
“No, you’re in trouble for tempting my best doctor to consider manslaughter,” the General replies, sounding very put-upon.
“She won’t let us stay with Finn,” Rey says, her chin jutting out stubbornly.
“Finn is receiving the best possible care from professionals who have better things to do than babysit two lovesick toddlers.”
Poe’s mouth gapes open, horrorstruck. He is not a toddler. Rey makes a weird noise that might actual be a growl. She needs to start hanging around people who aren’t Chewbacca.
“This is your bunk,” the General says, coming to a halt so fast Rey and Poe walk into each other to avoid crushing her beneath their combined weight. General Organa punches the little green light and the door slides open, revealing a neatly made made and a slim set of drawers.
Rey flits around the room, inspecting everything, trying out three different places to leave her quarterstaff before laying it tenderly on the mattress like it’s taking a nap. Poe watches the General watch Rey, something wistful and sad in her eyes. If the lightsaber thing weren’t enough of a clue, Rey moves with a kind of preternatural grace he’s only ever seen around Jedi.
General Organa used to move that way. Before Commander Skywalker disappeared. Before Ben. Before Starkiller Base. It’s like the years caught up with her all at once, collecting interest for every one she spent straight-backed and ageless. She’s so small, to be the only thing standing between them and a universe of perfect blackness.
“And Dameron, fill out your flight log documentation or I’ll order Chewie to dislocate both your legs.” She doesn’t quite smile, but her brown eyes dancing like stars.
Uh oh. His well-documented and long-standing crush on the General comes roaring back to life with a vengeance.
“Yes, General,” he says, wondering what’s wrong with him that finds death threats so attractive.
Poe stands around awkwardly, watching Rey test the bounciness of her new bed, not knowing if she wants him to leave her alone while also really not wanting to leave her alone. He feels responsible for her now.
“You’re looking a scruffy,” he says suddenly, apropos of nothing. Her hospital scrubs were getting a little grungy even before she had a charming splatter of Wexley blood across one sleeve. And as far as he knows, her clothes are still somewhere in the laundry ether, so he jerks his head towards the door.
“Come on, let’s find you something to wear.”
Rey looks briefly offended, but her curiosity wins over like always and she trots after him down the hallway.
“This is me,” he says, tapping the sign by the door so she remembers. “You can come here whenever.”
He’s got a microscopic sitting area with a chair and a couch, and Rey wastes no time investigating every square inch of it while he digs around in his drawers. While Rey rifles through his shelves and holds up his small collection of knick-knacks to her face for inspection one at a time, he dumps all of his laundry out on the bed and starts sorting. Finally, he has a pile of two t-shirts that were a little small to begin with and some cut-off sweatpants he likes to sleep in, and tops it off with a pair of socks just for practicality.
“There,” he says, pleased with himself. “That should get you started for a couple days. I’ll round up some more as soon as I can.”
He tosses the little stack of clothing to Rey, who picks up a t-shirt like she’s afraid it’s going to disintegrate in her hands. It’s just an old blue shirt that Poe’s pretty sure he accidentally stole from a bunkmate a couple years ago, there’s a couple holes by the bottom hem and it’s…old.
“I know it’s not fancy,” he starts, “But I figured you were sick of those scrubs…” He trails off, unsure how to interpret the look on her face. Rey fingers the tissue-thin material, then rubs the edge of the shirt against her cheek.
“It’s so soft,” she says, eyes closed.
She opens her eyes and they spend a strange, but not necessarily uncomfortable, moment just looking at each other before Rey drops her eyes and starting fishing in her pocket with great intensity.
“For you,” she mumbles, cheeks going pink, and shoves something into his hand.
“Oh, hey, you don’t have to give me anything —“ he starts, looking down, then blinks a few times at his open palm.
“It’s a rock,” she adds unnecessarily. She blushes a little deeper, and frowns at the floor. “If you hold it up to the light, it’s pretty.”
So Poe holds it up to the light. The rock is thin enough that he can see the little striations of color banding through the center of it, like tiny ribbons caught in the stone. It is pretty.
He turns to say so, lowering his brand new rock, only to find Rey staring at him with a hungry intensity, holding her whole body tight with nerves.
“Do you like it?”
He breaks into a grin, for what feels like the first time in centuries, and every inch of him feels lighter.
“It’s awesome,” he says truthfully, no one’s every given him a rock before, it’s the best rock he’s ever had, he’d fight and kill for this rock.
Rey’s smile is hesitant, but so bright, the sun just coming up over the horizon.
Rey has a highly developed sense of property rights that amounts to basically “finders keepers,” so two weeks later, she’s got an impressive wardrobe she’s (mostly unwittingly) stolen from half the base.
She’s wearing Poe’s shirt and a decorative scarf of Nien Nunb’s that she’s fashioned into a sort of skirt-thing when he finds her in the med bay. Finn’s been assigned a long-term, out of the way nook where the doctors can monitor him for changes that never happen.
Rey’s folded up in a knot at the foot of Finn’s bed, hunched over his jacket — Finn’s jacket, her jacket now maybe — her scarred fingers punching a needle through the leather with grim determination.
“Hey,” he calls, knocking lightly on the doorframe to announce himself. He’s learned better than to surprise her when she’s concentrating.
She mumbles a greeting (he thinks) around the scraps of fabric in her mouth. She’s trying to patch the hole slashed in the leather. He can still see a fleck of Finn’s blood in the pitiless hospital light.
The little table next to Finn’s bed has a little collection of Rey-treasures lined up in a neat row: rocks, a slender white shell, two little person-shaped dolls made of twisted green leaves. It squeezes his chest, sharp and painful.
Rey all but sits on Finn as Poe drags over a chair. He tries not to roll his eyes.
Yeah, yeah. Finders keepers.
(But whatever, Poe saw him first.)
Chewbacca yodels at the door and pets the top of Rey’s head in greeting, then dumps a pile of freshly-laundered-and-decontaminated scavenger clothes into her lap.
“Get a fucking hobby,” Chewbacca says, cheerful. “It’s your day off.”
“Yeah, you can go anywhere you want,” Poe agrees, arranging Finn’s rock by size. “You’ve earned a break.”
"He was talking to you,” Rey grumbles, smacking his hand away. She pauses with her fingers over the little seashell. She chews on her lip, then glances down at Finn’s unchanged face.
“Can we go to the ocean?” she blurts out, eyes bright. “The one by the rocks? Jessica told me about it.”
Poe opens his mouth to explain that the ocean’s too far away for a day trip, that they’d have to take out an X-wing or even one of the decrepit old A-wings they keep around for baby pilots and even then they’d need to get special permission to take out Resistance equipment, and then the rest of her question filters through his brain.
“Wait, do you mean the swimming hole?”
“Yes, the little ocean,” Rey repeats, the duh implicit in her tone. “By the rocks.”
That makes sense, Poe figures. That a desert planet like Jakku wouldn’t have subcategories when it came to bodies of water — puddles and oceans is actually all he’s ever heard Rey refer to. Pond, lake, river, stream, they’re all nonsense words to her.
So, yeah, he’ll take her to the little ocean by the rocks, if that’s what she wants.
“I don’t care how many Skywalkers you’ve had crushes on,” Chewbacca grumbles at him as Rey runs off to get ready. “Jedi are still out of your fucking league.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Poe says, smiling wide. Chewbacca ruffles his hair.
He tells Rey to pack a lunch, which turns out to be two chunks of rehydratable insta-meals because birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, Reys gotta have a complicated and nonsensical relationship with food. But he can’t bring himself to tease her, she looks so happy, walking slow through the forest, her mouth open just a little and tilting up at the edges as she gaze up to the canopy.
D’Qar is temperate for the most part, but the mornings are still chilly, and Rey keeps the jacket on over her thin desert clothes, the sleeves hanging down over her knuckles. By the time they reach the swimming hole, though, the sun’s started to evaporate the morning mist and she sheds the extra layer, sweat and mist beading on her skin in the morning light.
He knows there’s, like, eight species of plants that could eat them within thirty yards, but when the clearing opens up in front of them, it’s hard to imagine that a bad thing has ever happened on D’Qar, or anywhere. The sunlight turns the water bright turquoise at the shore, fading out to a dark teal where the water deepens on the other side of the rocks. He can see all the way to the bottom, the water crystal clear and sparkling.
Rey’s lips are parted in wonder, just looking at it, like someone handed her a present for no reason. She’s sparkling, too, actually. Just a little, the sunlight catching the beaded sweat on her shoulders and forehead.
“Can we go in?” she asks, whipping around to fix big, pleading eyes on him.
“Yeah, that’s why it’s a swimming hole.”
This is apparently all the incentive Rey needs to start running for the water’s edge and he has to make a wild grab for her elbow to keep her from cannonballing in.
“You don’t go in with your clothes on, you moof milker!”
Poe squawks in alarm when Rey shrugs and begins to strip off her wrapped layers of clothes, and he sees the tan lines crisscrossing her back, the pale skin almost seeming to glow in the shade before he leaps around and keeps his eyes piously on the ground.
But fortunately, he’s kind of come to anticipate that Rey’s weird feral streak will rear its nudist head at the least opportune moments. So for once he actually planned for this, and claps a hand over his eyes while waving the swimsuit Jessika lent him at where he hopes Rey is still standing.
“You put it on to go swimming,” he explains, his eyes squeezed shut under his fingers. Rey’s fingers brush against his as she curiously take the scrap of fabric out of his hands and naked naked naked flashes bright and neon behind his eyelids.
And okay, it’s not that he doesn’t maybe want to see what the rest of Rey’s skin looks like, where those streaks of tan and white skin meet up, what constellations her freckles might map across her back or stomach or thighs. But it would mean something very different to Poe to get to see it than it would to Rey and Poe can be a real shitheel sometimes but he’s not an asshole.
“You got it on?” He asks from behind his fingers.
“Like, all the way?”
“Yes, come one.”
Turning around cautiously and confirming that all the incriminating bits of her are covered in metallic-y spandex, he quickly strips down to his swim trunks (technically butchered flight pants, but when they all defected from the Republic they hadn’t thought to bring much leisure wear with them).
“Okay, now just…ease into it, okay?”
He steps in up to his ankles in cool water and holds out a hand for her. Faced with the reality of the little ocean, she’s suddenly hesitant, and she holds his hand tighter than she has since that first night with Finn as she dips her dirty toes into the pool.
The first time Poe’s mom ever took him out into space, for real out into space, engaging the hyperdrive on the old A-wing and everything, he remembers how the entire galaxy had seemed spread out before him, sandwiched in-between Mom’s arms and legs in the cockpit. The whole sky laid out before him like a feast, big and wide and open.
Rey’s smile when she wades into the shallow end of the swimming hole is like that, makes him feel like that first time adrift in the endless possibility of the stars: big and wide, wide open.
They spend the better part of an hour just wading up to their waists, and Poe does his best to demonstrate how to doggy paddle, how to puff out your lungs so you float. After a few times getting water up her nose she manages to flap around wildly with her toes a few inches off the bottom. She is so insufferably smug about this that Poe spits water in her face just to keep her head from inflating and carrying her away on a strong breeze.
They splash back to shore to take a breather and eat Rey’s disgusting picnic. Poe pulls on his boots and jumpsuit to check in with the base quick, tying the arms of the suit around his waist and wandering around a bit to find a signal.
Rey, being Rey, uses this time to fling herself into the deep end of the swimming hole and promptly starts drowning. Poe only has time to mutter “for fuck’s sake” before kicking off his boots and swan diving in to yank her to shore, spitting up about half the lake and half-strangling Poe while trying to climb up his body to safety.
After he’s done screaming himself hoarse at her to please not fucking murder herself on his watch, does she even know what the General would do to him, and Rey’s done nodding solemnly while blatantly ignoring him, they go back in. They spend the next two hours with Rey piggybacked on Poe’s back, her arms around his neck. He pulls them through the water, Rey’s cheek pressing heavier and heavier into his neck and her legs floating out behind them.
He thinks, with sudden and perfect conviction, that there is nothing about her he doesn’t like.
When the sun is sinking low and some of the nocturnal-and-carnivorous plants are starting to twitch their leaves a little bit, he wades to shore.
“Hey, buddy, you awake back there? It’s time to head back.”
Rey mumbles sleepily into his neck like an overtired toddler and has to be coaxed and cajoled out of the water, even though she’s shivering and her fingers are all pruney.
After nearly strangling herself trying to change out of the wet swimsuit, and flashing Poe quite thoroughly when he went to rescue her from the rogue straps, Rey just opts to leave it. So she’s wearing the charming combination of damp suit and gigantic flight jacket when they arrive back at the base. The tops of her shoulders are a little rosy with sunburn and she’s dripping water down her bare legs into her sensible boots.
Snap waves at them from across the main hangar, and Poe’s so tired and sore he barely manages to twitch a few fingers at back at him.
“I don’t care if it’s not even dark yet,” he groans, “I’m going the fuck to bed — oof!”
Rey hugs like she does a lot of things,ruthlessly effective and without warning, so he half-thinks she’s attacking him when she launches herself into his arms.
“Thank you for the ocean,” she says into his neck, and he can feel her wet suit soaking through his shirt, the breasts she absolutely did not care if he saw even if he cared that he saw flush against his chest.
And he doesn’t know what to say to that so he just hugs her back, tighter than he should really need to, and lets her flit away back to her room to sleep.
Even thought he’s dog tired, he lies awake for a long time in the dark. When sleep finally comes for him, he dreams of an ocean. He is always swimming towards something. He always wakes up before he gets there.
He’s having that same dream again — an ocean, an island, salt on his tongue — when something wakes him, an out of place noise. He’s halfway dressed and ready to run for the hangar deck when the absence of alarms sinks in. It’s not an attack. Not on the base, anyway.
Rey is curled on his couch, sweat-sticky and twitching.
“Hey.” He shakes her shoulder. She’s clammy and cold to the touch, her eyes dancing frantically behind her lids. “Rey. Rey, wake up.”
Her eyes fly open, but she doesn’t see him.
“Stop!” Rey shouts and shoves a hand at him. Or more, accurately, she shoves a handful of Force at him that flattens him against the wall so hard it pushes the air out of his lungs.
Rey’s eyes focus into awareness and then go wide in horror. The pressure against Poe’s chest instantly disappears.
“I’m sorry,” she says, hurling herself off the couch and patting him all over in a way that is more painful and irritating than it is helpful. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She’s still freaked out of her mind, tears slicking her cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” she says thickly, poking at his face, as if checking him for signs of life. “I’m sorry,” she says again.
“Hey. It’s okay. I don’t mind.” He wraps her up tight in his arms (he does give good hugs), and tucks her head under his chin. She wriggles in his grip a little until her ear is pressed against his chest. He’s watched her sleep next to Finn enough times to know she’s reassuring herself of his heartbeat.
“I can’t — can’t scrape him out of my head,” she chokes out, and one day he is going to kill Ben Solo with his bare hands.
“I know,” Poe breathes into her hair. One of her buns has come loose, and sweaty hair is plastered to her neck. “It’ll get better, I promise.”
“I don’t know, buddy.”
“I know he — he took things from you.” She pulls back, still staying within the circle of his arms, and wipes at her face with the back of her hand. “I could see it, it in his head.”
“Hey, I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re both okay —“ she stops him with a hand over his mouth.
“I want —“ Poe’s heart skips a beat, several, right in a row, “I want to try something. To give you something. I know I can’t fix what he did, but — I don’t know. I want you to have something good.”
“I already have something good.” He brushes her hair out of her face, bumps his forehead against hers for just a second.
But she hold him there, and for a long minute he doesn’t feel anything but her cold skin against his. But then he feels whatever she’s doing, like sunshine on his back, warm and feather-light, soaking through the very stuff of him.
“We came back for you.”
He feels Finn’s arms, strong and steady as the earth, feels Finn smile into Rey’s neck, feels that one moment of perfect reassurance. You came back for me.
Rey pulls back, and the memory fades, but Poe can still feel it, a warm ember in his chest.
Finn. Poe had wondered, even in the neon hurricane of the TIE fighter, how this kid could ever be First Order, how his goodness hadn’t shown through his armor like a beacon, telling everyone around him that he was a dud as far as emotionless war-machines went.
And then he wondered how many of the nameless, numbered white plastoid faces out there are Finn, just waiting for a chance to be good. And then he had to keep firing at them, because the universe is a shitty, unfair place a lot of the time.
But not all the time. Not now.
They sneak into the med bay, and for once Rey let’s him curl up next to Finn while she stands guard over them. He watches her through his lashes as he drifts off, her eyes intent on a third little leaf-doll she twisting into shape.
Poe’s self-aware enough to know that he’s got the kind of unshakeable sense of self that only comes from being unconditionally loved as a child. Rey might not know who exactly she is or what exactly she’s becoming, but she’s kind down to her bones, in a way that asks nothing back. Rey is kind like the rain is kind, falling and falling and falling and expecting nothing in return. It’s no surprise, then, the forest of devotees that keeps growing up around her, around that kindness.
Maybe a childhood warped by the First Order would have beaten it out of her.
Maybe a few more cycles on Jakku would have ground her down to indifference, or selfishness, or despair.
Poe doesn’t think so.
Rey doesn’t say goodbye. But he wakes up the day she’s leaving to follow the map he and BB-8 brought home, and there’s a new rock sitting on the foot of his bed. It’s rough, dusty, and heavier than it looks. But when he holds it up, a million tiny flecks of crystal catch the light. Like a promise.
He stands in the crowd and watches her follow Chewbacca into the Falcon. A pastel dawn is spreading out behind her, a halo that fills up the whole sky.
Poe's never really gotten the appeal of Jedi as objects of worship. The few times he’s seen Luke Skywalker, he was just a shortish man with nice blues eyes and a sad smile. Poe wouldn’t want to put all his faith in a god that sad, or that human.
But Rey, her smile flashing into a sea of stars?
His hand goes to the pocket of his dress uniform and his fingers wrap around his pretty rock, worn smooth with care.
Yeah. He could believe in that.