Kes Dameron sits at the kitchen table and watches his son’s heart break for the first time in the front yard, a speeder running in the street and the yellowing grasses blowing in the warm wind.
He sits and watches—carefully. He’s a father first but a soldier second, and his eyes are trained not on his son, but on Ben Solo, standing almost two heads taller than Poe, his hands cupping Poe’s face with what feels like a false gentleness that makes the hairs at the back of Kes’ neck stand up. He’s an odd-faced boy, not ugly but not quite handsome, with ears he needs to grow into and a slim Jedi Apprentice braid trailing off his shoulder.
Stop, he wants to say, don’t touch him, don’t put your hands on my boy, but the words die on his lips. They couldn’t hear him, anyways.
He can see Ben’s mouth shape the words—I love you. Kes can tell that Poe says them back, arms winding around Ben’s neck. Poe’s back is to the house, obstructing his face, but Kes knows his son—he’s bursting with a combination of love and despair, a heady mixture that Kes knows all too well. He longs for Shara at his side, her warmth and strength. Her guidance. Poe gets that from her, his hope and optimism, the way he sees a galaxy full of possibilities.
When Ben leans down to kiss Poe, Kes looks away out of respect for his son. He’s always let him make his own choices, given him his privacy. And Ben’s unsettling presence is something he’s tolerated since the boys were in diapers together, since they held hands as babes and grew into best friends and then something more, and they’re so young, and Kes is so afraid. He’s tolerated Ben for Poe and for his love for the General and for Solo, for this fear he has for them.
I’ll be back, Ben says, face calm and sure. I’ll come back for you.
And that scares Kes most of all.
Kes Dameron is a man who carries his pride like a medal of honor. He’s proud of the Resistance. He’s proud of his home, his planet, his son. And he’s proud of his garden, which teems with lush life during every season and surrounds the Force tree with a rosy glow. The tree reacts to the Dameron family like an electric charge—it throbs and pulses at their touch like a real, living being, especially Poe.
Right now, the tree sits in the darkness of Yavin IV evening, its own heart broken along with its favorite boy’s. Poe sits on the lowest limb, legs dangling off the branch. He’s sat there a hundred times, a thousand times, probably every day since he was old enough to climb, and Kes knows him well enough to know that through the shimmering sheen of its leaves, nobody can see him cry.
“Poe?” Kes keeps his voice warm and understanding as it filters through the backyard, but he can hear Poe sob harder the closer he gets. The grass is wet as night falls, slicking his shoes and the hem of his pants. “Aw, kid,” he says, and with a bit of grunted effort, he sits next to Poe on the branch, wrapping him up close in his arms.
“I’m fine,” Poe says miserably, burying his face in Kes’ shoulder, hands fisted in the fabric of his shirt. He’s wearing an unfamiliar black jacket, something that smells of burnt air, and realizes it belonged to Ben and probably Han before him. Kes knows he’ll be lucky if he can ever pry Poe out of the thing.
“You’re not fine, and that’s okay,” Kes says, and just holds his son, face buried in his dark hair. “Hey, can I tell you something?” Poe nods and sniffles. “Your mom and I were separated a lot during the war, and it never got easier. Ever. It will never be easy, but if it’s worth it, the pain will be, too.” He uses the words that he knows Poe will want to hear—this is the love of children, a first love, an innocent love. Shara was not his first love and he was not hers; their love blossomed with time. The two sorts cannot be compared.
Poe doesn’t know that yet. His love for Ben, for that boy who holds too much of something in his dark eyes, is still his only love. There will be greater loves, he wants to say, but knows it isn’t the right time.
“He’s so far away,” Poe says softly. “He just…he’s gone.” He scrubs at his eyes with his fist. He’s still a boy—two years away from the Academy, still bright and beautiful and untouched by the world. He’s too young to have this pain. He steels himself a bit, trying to be strong. “He said this was a sacrifice. He has to make sacrifices if he’ll become a great Jedi.”
This makes Kes’ blood simmer low with anger. His son is not a sacrifice. His son is not the animal cut open for blood for some ancient god; he’s not the given-up thing to support the strength of a blank-faced fourteen-year-old with Skywalker blood.
Poe looks up at his father, cheeks tear-stained but brown eyes hopeful. “But he said he’ll be back for me. So that means it’s worth it. It’ll all be worth it, right?”
(The Force tree does not like Ben Solo; the leaves shake in his presence. Kes thinks he might be the only who who notices.)
All he says, kissing his son’s forehead, is, “We all have to make sacrifices.” He just hopes this one will not break his boy before he’s even had a chance to see the rest of the galaxy. As father and son hold on another close, the tree seems to encase them in her branches, leaves falling like stardust.
Kes thinks it may know something he does not.