Chapter 1: one
Every professional dancer begins their career knowing two indisputable facts.
The first—and most pressing—is that every moment of every day, it's going to hurt.
The second—and most important—is that it takes only one rolled ankle, one bad landing, one botched leap; one moment of disharmony or poor communication—and everything they've bled and sacrificed and suffered for, is all over.
After seventeen years of dancing, Poe knows that bowing out before his body tears itself apart is never going to be in the cards; knows that he'll probably end his career being carried out on a stretcher with a shattered knee or ruptured Achilles tendon—a torn ACL, if he's really lucky.
He never imagined it would be because of the fine print.
The first week of a new season is always the worst week of a dancer's life.
It's when the horrifying reality of the injuries from the previous season manifests itself in the form of missing dancers—missing friends—and signals in a new batch of eager apprentices who know too much about technique and not enough about style. The first week is one of mourning—one of anger at having to relearn how to flow as a unit that's had a few of its broken parts replaced.
In the first week, the joy of dancing is boggled down by petty tantrums over placements and hysterical breakdowns over shoe fittings—only briefly paused for the flickering of excitement when the ballets are announced and the cast lists go up—but even that joy quickly fades when the hours and hours of regimented practice, constant criticism, and rigorous exercise begin taking their toll.
The winter season is always the longest, which means it's the most challenging, but that's exactly why it's always been Poe's favorite.
Nobody can escape the obligatory 'keep the lights on' productions of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake—which everyone can dance in their sleep and get very little joy out of—so the real fun is the annual Coruscant Gala that closes out the season and rings in the New Year.
Every dance corps of note participates in the Gala. Wealthy patrons will fund two seasons worth of shows for their favorite company, so Ballet Masters spend months walking their best dancers through elaborate, specially choreographed performances that are less about polish and more about flash. It's the closest thing to a competition as the ballet world can produce, and Poe's been a regular feature in the Gala since his rendition of the Seven Veils Dance from Salome he'd performed when he'd been seventeen and bold and dying to make his mother's memory proud.
Ever since prima ballerina assoluta 'Princess' Leia Organa founded the Alderaan Ballet Corps, their performances have made the front page of The New Republic without fail. Despite her classical training at the hands of 'Queen' Breha and her husband Bail, she insisted that ballet needed to adapt to the times. She innovated ballet, making sure every dancer at the ABC was trained in many styles of dance. Every performance became unique, and under her guidance the ABC developed a loyal following that bought a season's worth of tickets before the ballets were even announced.
She promised them that this year's Gala performance would be her magnum opus—that they would somehow outdo the glow paint and black light reimagining of Onegin that every critic hailed as the single greatest modern ballet performance ever seen.
For weeks now, Poe's seen the orchestra conductor, Ackbar, rushing around with thick stacks of heavily marked up sheet music. Poe's sight-reading was never great, but even he can tell it’s going to be something fast and loud with a heavy bass.
He can't wait.
Everyone's warming up in the main dance studio when the request comes out through the ancient PA system.
The mocking ooooohs from the soloists set off a chain reaction in the corps de ballet. Poe had just completed a flawless set of brisés that he purposefully turned into a sloppy bow as Iolo and Bastian slap the floor in a parody of a drum roll.
"Damn, Dameron!" Jess laughs, one long leg stretched on the barre as she tucks strands of her glossy black hair into her bun. "The season hasn't even begun and you're already being called to the Director's office."
"Bet she figured out what you did with all the pointe ribbon from last season," Karé chimes in as she tightens a section of said pilfered ribbon across her slender ankle.
"Impossible," Rey says from the floor, legs spread in an impossibly straight split. "It's definitely about the missing scotch from Artoo's private office."
"That wasn't just me," Poe reminds her as she uses the hem of his sweat soaked shirt to hoist herself up. The fabric barely shifts around his neck. "If fact, if I remember correctly, you were the one Finn and I lifted through the window to deactivate the alarm."
It had been Rey's first night with the company after transferring from the Jakku Ballet. She'd showed up at the beginning of their rehearsal with her short hair pinned in three tiny buns, wearing an oversized grey knit sweater, and acted as if it was the most normal thing in the world to have Luke Skywalker—the greatest living danseur—be her personal dance instructor.
"Good luck proving it." She pats his cheek. "You were very drunk." She has a tendency to tell jokes with a serious expression on her face. Poe's still working on telling the difference—usually relies on Finn's reactions for a reading. He's got an infectious, proud smile splitting his face. A joke, then. Poe retaliates by nipping at Rey's fingers and makes her squeak when she doesn't pull back fast enough.
"Dameron! Quit flirting with my girl!" Finn shouts from across the room. He sounds scandalized, but his grin is bright enough to light the studio. He darts toward Rey in two powerful leaps, catches her delicately around the waist and sweeps her up in his arms. "And you," he looks at Rey, trying to school his face into something resembling seriousness, "quit flirting with my boy."
Poe can see how hard Rey is trying to keep from grinning. Finn nuzzles her neck and a muffled giggle pops from her lips—makes something warm shake loose in Poe's chest. Rey had come to the ABC a pile of raw nerves. Years of fending off petty sabotages from dancers at Jakku had left her defensive, but after three hours and the main pas de deux from Romeo & Juliet, Finn had somehow managed to gain her trust. They were together by the end of the week.
The PA system sputters to life again. "While we're young, Dameron."
"I'm taking you all down with me," Poe threatens as he exits, has to bat away the wave of flat shoes and socks and hair scrunchies thrown at him. He just barely catches the bright orange scrunchie Jess aims at his nose and uses it to tie up his hair. "I'm keeping this," he tells her.
Jess blows him a kiss before she flips him off.
Poe's good mood dissipates the moment he steps into Director Organa's office and sees a pale man with sharp eyes sitting off to the side.
"You know who I am," he says without preamble.
Of course Poe does.
The Hux estate has single handedly funded the ballet world for nearly forty years. Brendol Hux had been an arrogant man with little talent for dancing, but possessed a massive inheritance that he used to line the pockets of every critic and company to ensure his short-lived career had been rife with glowing reviews.
He had bankrolled the First Order Company—the top ballet academy in the country—and flew in the top dancers, instructors, choreographers, musicians, and doctors from across the world to craft the next generation of professional dancers.
The Hux name has power in the ballet world. It's the only reason why Hux's equally talentless son was appointed Artistic Director of the First Order at twenty-seven, despite a brief and truly humiliating debut.
It's why said talentless son is currently leering at Poe from a chair positioned across from Director Organa who is flanked by the ABC's perpetually nervous lawyer, Threepio. For Director Organa to have purposefully dragged Threepio from the office she goes out of her way to keep him in, means whatever Hux is here for is probably going to cost them a fortune.
"Director Hux." He forces a charming smile in acknowledgement, bows his head in respect. "Director Organa." This time, the respect is genuine.
"I have something impossible to ask of you." Director Organa's voice is weary, crackles like a dying fire. She's a tiny woman, only made smaller by age, but Poe's grown up listening to her belt out knifelike French as dancers scramble to obey. To hear her so defeated makes Poe straighten his spine, squeeze his fingers nervously behind his back.
"If I may, Director," Hux interrupts with the illusion of politeness, proceeds without concern. "As you're aware, First Order Dancer 2187—"
"Finn," Poe interjects. "His name is Finn."
Hux's sallow face pinches sourly. "2187 left our academy last season to join this…" he trails off, eyes Director Organa's modest office with disgust, "I'll be generous and call it a company."
His arrogance makes Poe's skin crawl.
"What our very skilled lawyers brought to my attention was that 2187 was in violation of the non-compete clause in his contract that came into effect when he was appointed demi-soloist. A rank he achieved despite abandoning the First Order."
Poe's chest clenches. He can't school the look of horror off his face in time—has to watch as Hux draws obvious pleasure from the situation.
"Quite simply, if the dancer my organization trained so much as brings someone on this premise a cup of water, I will sue him for breach of contract and then sue the Alderaan Ballet Corps for contract violation."
"It's all very true, I'm afraid," Threepio jitters anxiously.
"How convenient he was deemed eligible for a soloist rank despite not finishing his time in the corps," Director Organa spits with derision.
Hux doesn't flinch. "Consider yourself fortunate, Director. Fortunate that it was I the lawyers brought this to and not our most wise leader, Snoke. He isn't as understanding as I am. And that is precisely why you're here, Poe Dameron."
His name sounds vile on Hux's tongue; like an unwanted caress. Dread knots in Poe's stomach, spreads through his limbs, thick and cold.
"I'm a reasonable man." The faux graciousness in Hux's voice is toxic. "I've informed Director Organa that I'm willing to allow 2187 to remain at the ABC—his pesky contract legally signed over without any repercussion whatsoever—if she is amenable to a trade. A fresh, promising new principal dancer—trained under the greatest ballet company in the country—for a seasoned principal of exceptional dancing stock. For you."
It takes a moment for Hux's words to register. Then—
"You want me to dance for the First Order?" Poe laughs, feels like he's suffocating, like he's been flung out in space.
"Just for this season," Hux clarifies. "Your company has taken one of my best dancers. Now, I want this company's best dancer."
"This is your decision," Director Organa says, clearly displeased with her options. "Whatever you decide, I'll support you."
Hux's smug smile intensifies. "Should you decline, 2187 will be returning to the First Order."
"You can't have Finn back," Poe says through clenched teeth.
Poe remembers the first time he'd noticed Finn—decked out in the pristine white uniform of the First Order—staring at their troops through the glass window of their practice room that overlooked the street. Poe recognized the fierce, desperate yearning in Finn's dark eyes—saw how he craved the laughter and the camaraderie.
He'd invited Finn inside to practice with them and Finn's enthusiasm and warmth immediately won everyone over. He'd quit the First Order that afternoon, returned to the ABC with the thrift store bomber jacket Poe lent him and a smile that rocked Poe right to the gut. Poe gained a friend and a roommate that night—the company, their future headliner.
It had taken nearly a month for Finn to lose the stiffness when the First Order was mentioned; to stop kicking awake in the middle of the night; to rid him of the panic that would sour his face whenever he'd mess up a move. He still goes hollow-eyed whenever he talks about how he was bullied and mocked and harassed by the weaker dancers in the corps who were jealous of his abilities.
Poe can't let Finn go back there—not when Finn's finally found friends who care for him, who don't resent him for his talent, who cheered when he'd been appointed principal over dancers who had been with the ABC for years. Not when he now has Rey—when he's finally happy.
One season. Just three months of Poe's time in exchange for the rest of Finn's career. His sanity.
It's the easiest decision Poe's ever made.
A standard dance contract is thirty-two pages long.
When Poe signed his first contract with the ABC, he'd been fifteen and cocky and far too pleased with himself to even bother read it all the way through—just skipped right to the dotted line and put his faith in Leia Organa and everyone she brought on board to run her troupe.
The contract for the First Order that Hux produces from his briefcase is bound in smooth red leather and is thick enough to make the legs of Director Organa's desk groan. When Poe cracks the spine of the contract, he discovers everything is written in French. It's the first time he's glad to have Threepio around, as the man never stops mentioning he's fluent in six languages.
The legal language seems to get denser and denser as the pages go on, the process made all the more frustrating coming from Threepio's tinny, high voice. Poe has to initial and sign his name next to every subsection or clause, no matter how insignificant. The First Order has strict rules about basically every waking facet of their dancer's lives, with a separate contract that stipulates the decorum requirements and non-fraternization policy. Hux assures him they are rigidly enforced.
Poe does his best to avoid the manic glee that intensifies in Hux's eyes as he signs more of the contract. Instead he focuses on the cramp in his wrist and the ache in his jaw from biting his tongue. Afterward, before he fastens his coat and marches off, Hux informs Poe he's to report to the First Order at 8 a.m. sharp the next morning.
Poe simultaneously starts and stops breathing once Hux is out of the room.
For the first time since Poe's known him, Threepio gathers the two contracts Hux left behind—Finn's official pardon and his signed condemnation—and escapes Director Organa's office without saying a single word. It's a testament to the mood in the room that someone as mechanically programmed as Threepio could pick up on the tension and excused himself before being ordered elsewhere.
Director Organa won't look at him, but the rigid set of her shoulders speaks volumes to her displeasure, her guilt. Poe's been dancing for Leia Organa for his entire career—knows she can be demanding and ruthless as an Artistic Director—but she loves her troupe; would never barter her dancers away like poker chips in a hand of cards.
"Don't show them your belly, Poe," she says cryptically before she waves him away and tells him to take the rest of the day off.
She thinks she's being kind, but Poe heads right back to the studio to take in the noise and energy of his friends—his family. He needs to be around them to lessen the sinking feeling that this morning's messy warm-up was the last time he'd ever dance with any of them.
By the time he tucks himself away in the nook just outside the practice window, everyone is well into the interpretive pas de deux exercises that Lor Sen Tekka makes them run through before they can even start rehearsal.
Karé and Iolo are winding down from a song that sounds like clocks in a beehive. They break apart smoothly and dart to opposite ends of the studio as Rey and Finn rush to the center of the dance floor to await their turn. They haven't even begun dancing and already their movements are perfectly synched. They remind Poe of how his parents moved—like their orbits were connected solely to each other.
Rey leans against Finn's chest—both on demi-pointe—as they wait for their song to begin. The music blasts from the speakers—something heavy with weeping violins and the somber death knell of cellos—and without even pausing to hear the rhythms of the song, they both spin away from each other. Rey twirls into an elegant arabesque and Finn effortlessly swings around and positions his hand against the small of her back, lifts her high over his head on one arm, before they smoothly descend into a fish dive. The music grows darker and heavier with each passing beat, and Finn and Rey accelerate their tempo.
Rey's form is immaculate. She glides when she dances—pirouettes so smoothly and cleanly that the very air around her parts beatifically. Finn dances with purpose—is bold and powerful and his moves are executed with military precision. Their styles flow into each other so seamlessly it's like they're reflections on rippling water. Finn is always reaching out for Rey, and Rey responds as if magnetized.
Their dance is about loss, about sorrow, about a pain so profound it hollows out Poe's chest and makes him quiver with remorse. They dance as if they've been denied contact for years; as if every touch is a sacred gift; as if Poe hadn't woken their lazy asses up this morning while they groaned and complained and curled into each other like pill bugs.
They're young and beautiful and in love and they dance like they would die for each other.
Poe will protect that with everything he has.
He waits till they're home before he breaks the news.
After they've finished eating, Finn grabs three of the four cups they have in the apartment and carefully pours out the last bottle of white wine they had in their reserves. Rey is already on the sofa in a pair of Poe's boxers and Finn's old First Order hoodie, flipping through their Netflix recommend so quickly Poe only sees a blur of color.
Finn shucks off his shirt before he slides in beside Rey, passes over a chipped mug filled to the brim with wine, and starts to pull her hair from her buns while she's distracted with balancing the cup on her knee and choosing whichever terrible film they'll watch tonight. Finn stretches like a lazy cat when Rey rubs her palm down his smooth skin of his spine, kisses her pointy knee, and then licks at the dribble of wine that trails down her leg when she jostles the cup.
They'd both been so touch starved when Poe first met them that every tender caress or stolen moment of intimacy makes him feel privileged to be an observer, let alone a sometimes participant. He loves watching them almost as much as he enjoys being pressed between them—feeds off the energy and enthusiasm they're willing to share and returns it tenfold.
"No, behind me," Rey demands when Poe starts to sit at the opposite end of couch. Poe doesn't mention how Rey is crammed right in the corner with Finn's body pinning down her torso—knows he's not going to win that fight—and simply wedges himself behind her; his legs crushed until Rey squirms and shifts her and Finn's weight so Poe can straddle her hips. Rey immediately settles back flat against Poe's chest, lets their arms hook and rest on Finn's chest.
"Are you going to tell us what happened today now, or do we really have to watch this stupid movie before you start talking?" Finn asks, the vibrations of his voice rippling deliciously across Poe's fingers.
Poe was hoping they'd all be a little tipsier to have this conversation. He'd been mulling it over in his head—thinks he's found a causal enough tone to play off the severity, can reassure and calm any objections or outrage that may arise. He's not even midway through his prepared speech when he remembers he's a terrible liar. He falters even worse when he sees the dawning looks of devastation on their faces.
Putting it mildly, Finn doesn't take the news well.
"No way!" he splutters, jaw slackened and back terribly straight—his body quivering without him seeming to notice. He looks like he's having a nervous breakdown. Rey immediately reaches out for him, and he leans into her open arms instinctively.
"Buddy, don't worry," Poe tries to sooth, amps up the wattage on his smile. "We sorted it all out. You'll be fine."
"No, you don't understand," Finn tries to tug free, but Rey's long, strong arms keep him pressed against her chest. His breathing stutters like a cornered animal. "You don't know what it's like there—what the people are like. Hux is a sadist and he's not even the worst one!"
"It's just for the season." Poe tries again, keeps his tone light. "They just want to bill my name under their colors for the Gala to impress the donors. It's no big deal."
"No big deal?" Finn repeats as if it's the stupidest thing he'd ever heard in his life.
"It's okay, buddy. I know what I'm doing." Poe presses his hand above Rey's—adds pressure for emphasis. Finn immediately clutches at their fingers—squeezes them all together in a painfully tight grip.
"Listen to me!" His voice bleeds desperation. His jaw is set and his eyes are painfully, deathly serious. "I don't want this. I don't want you to have to do this. Not there. Not for me."
Poe almost laughs. There's no one else in the world he would rather do this for.
"There's nothing to be done about it now," Rey says, infinitely practical, "or else he would have told us about it at the studio."
Finn looks at Poe with such misery in his expressive eyes. Rey frowns at the sight, kisses the side of his head. Poe leans into them, closes his eyes when he feels Rey wiggle her long, rough fingers until all their hands are linked, and presses the knot of their limbs over Finn's heart like a silent pledge.
"If they try to hurt our Poe, they’ll have to deal with us." Her confidence is non-negotiable.
"And Rey's word is law. You know that." Poe flashes his most dashing smile, watches as Finn slumps further against Rey's chest, the fear slowly eking out of him. He sighs after a moment, gathers his voice.
"Poe you have to promise me. Promise me," he emphasizes, "that if they ever send you for reconditioning, you just quit on the spot. Don't think about me, just quit and I'll deal with the repercussions."
"Finn." Poe pitches his voice as low as he can—turns Finn's name into as much of a caress as he can—and crowds him against Rey's body. He glances at Rey for approval before he proceeds, nuzzles under Finn's chin and drags his lips against Finn's thundering pulse, when he gets it. "I'm not letting you go back there," he whispers. "No way."
Rey detangles their hands and slides her fingers through Poe's hair. Her sharp nails scratch as she tightens her grip, pulls Poe up by the roots, and brings him closer to Finn's lush mouth. The kiss, when it comes, is soft—very warm. Poe goes foggy around the edges, stutters out a quiet gasp when Finn's strong hands tug at his hair and clutch his ass, the kiss darkening to something possessive and dominating—decadent.
"We must show Poe how grateful we are," Rey pants conspiratorially, her clever fingers pulling down the elastic of Poe's pajama bottoms and Finn's shorts in one sharp tug. Poe goes dizzy with how good Finn's skin feels against his—near lightheaded with how much better it feels when Rey rips off her sweater and pulls them both towards her.
The couch is a tight fit, but the discomfort of being crushed under two hard bodies is methodically blotted away by Finn's thick fingers against his prostate and Rey's strong, slick hands on his cock. They take turns swallowing down his whimpers, cackle between themselves when they manage to draw out a loud moan, and don't stop their two-front attack until Poe's lips are raw and his body is a sloppy, sated mess.
Poe likes that they're never gentle, that they scratch—use teeth. He likes the marks and the bruises that take days to heal, likes feeling like he's part of something that matters—even if only temporarily. Poe adores them unconditionally—will probably never come close to finding a dynamic that makes him feel half as satisfied and loved. He really would do anything to protect them.
Hux can do his worst.
Poe will be ready.
Because the First Order operates out of the third level of hell, it's an hour from Poe's loft by public transit, fifteen minutes more by taxi, and only thirty-seven minutes if he cuts straight across the park and follows the river. If he runs, he could shave a few minutes off the travel time, but that means he'd have to get up half an hour earlier to stretch his legs.
He gives up trying to force himself to sleep around 5 a.m.—carefully crawls his way out from under Finn and Rey's unconscious, sleep-warmed bodies—and shuffles toward the shower. The hot water pounds out the kinks in his back as he takes deep, steamy, breaths—lets the smell of Rey's shampoo and Finn's bodywash ease his frazzled nerves.
When he's dry, he follows the thick smell of coffee to the kitchen, sees Finn and Rey leaning against each other, half slumped on the counter near the frenchpress, eyes closed and dozing lightly—never fully capable of waking up without his assistance.
Poe smiles at the sight of them.
Rey's hair is in complete disarray and tucked under Finn's chin; Finn arms around her waist and cocooned in the kangaroo pocket of her hoodie. It can't be comfortable leaning against the marble countertop, but Poe's seen them sleep a full night on a circular staircase and wake up fresh as daisies—capable of doing anything as long as they're together.
"Go back to sleep," he encourages, nudges them out of the way to reach for the last clean coffee mug that's hooked under a cabinet—leans in a little closer than necessary in order to leach some of their body heat. They both startle and grumble in displeasure.
"We didn't want to miss you," Rey says drowsily, yawns wide enough to crack her jaw. Finn nods against her shoulder as his if neck isn't yet strong enough to support the weight of his head.
"I'm not shipping off to war, guys," Poe reminds them, blowing on his coffee before taking a sip. He'll have to rinse it after he's done—knows they'll end up sharing it once they wake up. "I'll see you tonight. Maz's, seven o'clock? On you?"
Finn's head pops up at the mention of Maz.
"Try not to miss me too much," he jokes lamely.
"You foolish, beautiful man," Rey sighs.
Finn's the one that leans in first and pulls the front of Poe's sweater until Rey's squished between them. Her clever mouth wastes no time finding his neck as Finn latches onto his mouth. They're all of a height, but they make it fit. Rey pours her gratitude into her kiss—Finn, his thankfulness at not having to leave his new life behind.
"Seven o'clock," Finn repeats when they pull away, steels himself.
"Seven o'clock," Rey confirms for them, drops her hands from Poe's hips.
They're releasing him, but it's obvious neither want to. It only cements Poe's resolution to make them proud.
The taxi drops Poe off at the front of a wrought iron gate that guards a long, polished marble and chrome entrance way. It's ostentatious and arrogant in the way old money is, but has a sleek beauty that's reflected in its practicality. The academy was created solely for ballet, and Poe can feel the energy radiating from the very foundation.
It would be hypnotic, if it weren't for the fact Poe knows how miserable everyone inside is—how cruel.
Despite being modernized to the point of futuristic, the First Order still shares a familiarity with every other company—has the rehearsal board right at the entrance with a few students flipping through the papers to find out which ballet they've been assigned to for the season. When Poe starts flipping, he's shocked to find his name on all ten sheets of crisp paper.
Listed under the corps.
He has to double check to make sure he isn't reading the sheets wrong.
It's an insult of the profoundest magnitude to have a principal dancer relegated back to the corps. Poe realizes that this is probably part of Hux's plan—to insult his position and bank on Poe's pride to kick up enough of a fuss and refuse to dance and violate his contract. Hux never had to put in his time in the ranks—had his father's checkbook do most of the work—probably thinks that Poe regards the corps the same way he does; that he's above them.
Poe remembers all the late nights he'd spent with Karé and Jess and L'ulo when they're first started out, how much he'd learned and laughed and fell in love with dancing all over again. He'd had Wedge Antilles and Mala Tinero make him feel welcome and respected, had them shape his craft and hone his techniques while never once lauding their principal positions over his head. Dancing the corps parts will be a pleasantly untaxing return to form—and since he's in all ten scheduled ballets this season—will occupy his mind enough to distract himself from the reality that he's dancing for the First Order and without his family.
There are already dozens of students practicing or warming up as he explores and gets his first real look at the inside of the First Order. Everyone is dressed in spotless white, except for the Ballet Masters who are clad from head to toe in black. It fits in with the First Order's design aesthetic, but leaves Poe feeling cold. There's absolutely no music coming from any of the dance studios—just the militarily precise thuds of wooden pointe shoes skittering across the floor and the heavy panting of dancers.
It's unnerving and makes Poe's skin crawl with unease—feels like a sanitarium for dancers. It's no wonder Finn wanted to escape—why it looked like he would rather gnaw off his own hand than return.
Around the corner from the studios is a gym stocked with every possible piece of equipment a professional athlete could ever need. The gym is packed to the point of chaos, but everyone seems to be going out of their way to avoid the lone figure on the treadmill wearing a shiny oxygen reducing mask. He's running at a pace that would put a professional sprinter to shame—doesn't seem bothered by the way the other dancers scurry around him like frightened mice.
Poe watches him for a few minutes—appreciates the way his broad back tapers into a narrow waist with huge, solid thighs and miles of legs. His arms are long and thick with muscle and sway gracefully despite their size—an athlete at his peak. He hasn't even cracked a sweat in a room that has to feel like a sauna based on how all the fronts of everyone's white leotards have gone transparent from perspiration.
As if he can sense someone staring, the running man turns his head—face distorted by the mask—and seeks out whoever's disturbing his focus. Dancers scatter comically, giving him a direct view of Poe. Even from a distance, Poe can see his eyes widen briefly. He nearly stumbles in his pace.
The voice jolts Poe, has him spinning around on his heels to face Hux's ugly sneer. He's dressed more casually than Poe's seen him—a simple black leotard and undershirt—but he looks no less regal, no less pompous.
"You said eight." Poe's tone is clipped, edges the line of contempt.
"When I said eight, it was to say we begin rehearsals at eight, which means you're to be here an hour before for warm ups. Therefore, you are late." He eyes Poe up and down with distaste. "And not even in proper attire."
Poe's wearing a set of grey and white practice leotards and a loose blue sweater—looks as presentable as he ever has outside of the obligatory after-show galas, and especially for 7:30 in the morning.
"Guess I didn't get the memo," Poe concedes, crosses his arms and leans against the window—feels the glass vibrate against his skull. Hux is visibly vexed that he didn't get a bigger rise out of Poe—seems to be itching for him to backtalk.
"Follow," Hux commands, and marches past Poe in a half sprint.
Poe shoulders his workout bag with a sigh, has no other choice but to obey.
Based on Hux's smirk, the maze-like route was intentional.
They finally arrive at a large, cold room that reminds Poe of a burn ward. The walls are painted a blind white and outlined in a polished metallic trim that reflects the massive trophy case mounted on the opposite wall. The whole room is bathed in a golden glow.
Hux leans against the stark, black desk positioned in the center of the room—his chest swelling with pride.
Of course they're in Hux's office.
"We take dancing very seriously here," Hux begins, infuriatingly condescending. "I will not tolerate you making a mockery of this academy whilst you are here. For the next three months, you will be expected to uphold and abide by the rules outlined in the contact that you have signed. No special treatment will be given to you and you are to expect no special treatment in return. You are effective immediately, a First Order dancer. Is that understood?"
"Crystal, Director Hux," Poe chokes out.
"Wonderful!" Hux claps his palms together. "Now, let's see what the ABC has to offer, shall we? Arabesque, à demi hauteur."
"Really?" Poe can't stop himself, goggles at Hux's request to perform a move any seven year old with a decent sense of balance can complete with ease.
"Is the request too complicated?" he mocks.
Hux is trying to rile him up. It would be laughable if his motives weren't so transparent.
Poe clearly remembers the section in the First Order contract about the disciplinary actions that come with disrespecting authorities—how any action viewed as non-compliance would result in severe penalties—how any rudeness could result in Finn being dragged back to this asylum, kicking and screaming.
Poe bites his tongue hard, takes the path of least resistance.
He easily swings his left leg back 45 degrees and extends his arms until they're gracefully hanging in midair. He keeps his eyes on the trophy cabinet that takes up the full length of the far wall—does his best to avoid Hux's icy stare.
"À la hauteur," Hux orders, and Poe obediently raises his working leg to a perfect 90 degree angle, tightens his core muscles to keep from tilting. He's extended fully in a classic arabesque, and only realizes how vulnerable said position leaves him in when he hears Hux push off his desk and approach him.
"Hips are even… very square," Hux notes to himself as he makes a slow, appreciative circle around Poe. Poe watches through the polished metal trim as Hux's pale eyes hungrily chase the curves and lines of his body, his mouth practically frothing as he moves in, entirely too close. When Hux grows tired of just looking, he begins touching—slowly drags the flat of his palm along the muscles in Poe's back, over his hips and up the inside of his thigh. Poe tenses as Hux's thin fingers suggestively curl under his ass, but doesn't dare falter in his position.
"Penché," Hux decides after a full minute and Poe tips all the way forward, bends his supporting leg a fraction to counterbalance his torso before he straightens his legs to an even 180 degree stretch. Hux's fingers curl around his left ankle and slide to his knee and up to his ankle again.
Poe's hair stands on end—the urge to swing his foot and kick Hux in the head is overwhelming.
"At rest," Hux commands, and Poe instinctively drops into fifth position.
"Want to see my teeth, too?" Poe can't help himself.
Faster than Poe would have given him credit for, Hux's crowds him, uses his height and rigid posture to loom, as his freezing fingers pinch at Poe's cheeks, forcing his lips into an exaggerated pucker.
"You've some talent, but you'll require additional training to bring you to First Order standard," Hux decides. Poe bites down hard on his tongue. "Your muscle mass is adequate, but you clearly favor your right leg for turns. Unacceptable."
"I look forward to your training, then, Director Hux." Poe flashes a smile, dips his head in a placating bow.
Hux's frustration stains his pale cheeks bright red. "Dismissed!"
Poe salutes him before leaving—can't stop the smile from blossoming on his face—feels like he's managed to off-balance Hux's arrogance and come out on top of his petty slander campaign. Hux expected him to come in swinging, expected that his ego and reputation would result in a constant arguing.
He never expected Poe to roll over and show his belly—clearly has no idea just how important Finn is to him.
If this is the worst Hux can do, the next three months will be a cakewalk.
It's a claustrophobic way of dancing—doesn't allow for any excitement or enthusiasm. Every dancer moves with the same mechanical motions—has the same empty grin and dead-eyed stare. Poe has no idea how Finn, with his boundless energy and easily dished out smiles, made it out of the First Order with his passion intact.
The only thing that gets him through the tedium of the morning practices are the texts and images everyone bombards his phone with. He made the mistake of listening to Jess's voicemail first and went partially deaf in one ear from the volume of her anger. Karé sends a series of texts along the same lines as Jess's screaming, her 'what the fuck dameron seriously? i had to hear about you from the director???' makes him feel especially terrible.
Finn sends him a slightly blurry photo of everyone crammed close together, shiny with perspiration and cheeks a rosy pink, with overly exaggerated frowns on their faces. Rey's tucked under Karé's chin, her face obscured by Karé's long, bleached braid, and Jess is draped over Finn's hunched back while Iolo, Snap, and Bastian round out the edges. Poe makes it his lock screen image, stares at it while he tries not to miss them like a severed limb.
Rey sends a video a few minutes later, the flush on her cheeks making her freckles pop and the green in her eyes shine. She keeps the camera tight on her face as she tells him how everyone is furious at the First Order for blackmailing him—that they're all so proud of him for saving Finn. She smiles softly as she tells him everyone is crashing their night at Maz's and how Jess and Karé are going to absolutely going to yell at him. His gut clenches tightly when her voice hitches and the video pixelates for a smattering of seconds as she whispers her thanks, the emotion in her voice thick and earnest and painfully bittersweet. She tells him they all love him.
He watches the video on repeat until the speakers announce afternoon rehearsals begin in five minutes.
The bell that signals the end of the day comes as both a blessing and a curse.
So far, he doesn't have a particularly tough schedule, but he can't swallow past the dread lodged in his throat—has a sinking feeling that Hux is saving his actual punishment for when he discover what role he'll be dancing in the Gala.
He approaches the main dance studio as instructed by the Ballet Master of his final rehearsal and is almost knocked over when the door swings open and the running man from that morning storms past him. The man's long, pale face is flushed bright red; his shockingly full mouth twisted in a vicious looking sneer. He stomps down the hallway, the perfect picture of vainglorious rage. Every student in his path darts away from him—the parting of a terrified sea.
When Poe looks inside, he sees a battlefield instead of a room.
It looks as if an explosion went off, but none of the dancers around him seem even the tiniest bit shocked—are all staring impassively at their phones as they text. Every mirror on the north side of the room has been shattered—obviously hit with a chunk of the barre that's been ripped from the ground, cracked in half, and now laying in huge splinters along the floor. Jagged chunks of glass and wood surround a nonplussed Hux, who is valiantly keeping his aggravation in check.
"What the hell happened here?" He asks, watches as four men in gunmetal grey uniforms begin sweeping up the debris. They efficiently remove all shards of glass before they carry in a replacement mirror and barre, affix one to the wall and the other to the floor—quick as a Formula One pit crew on the last lap of a race.
"Kylo Ren," a redheaded ballerina sighs, simultaneously an answer, a problem, and a curse.
Kylo Ren is the current It-danseur of the ballet world.
Poe's yet to actually see him dance in person; only knows him by his volatile reputation and tumultuous relationship with ballet companies. There was a rumor floating around that he had apparently trained under Luke Skywalker from the minute he could walk, but Rey's never mentioned practicing with him.
Last Poe heard, he was dancing his way through Anakin Skywalker's back catalogue—had been invited to Ren's performance of Sheev Palpatine's Dark Father a year prior, but he'd already promised the Dagobah Ballet Theatre he'd host an experimental dancing workshop. He'd given his tickets to Jess and Snap instead, and Jess had filled him in on the drama that had transpired when he returned—how Ren had trashed his room and came close to choking out a PA before the show had even started; about how he'd kept everyone waiting for twenty minutes after curtain call and then danced the best ballet Jess had ever seen.
How Ren ended up dancing for the First Order without the Arts and Culture columnists knowing showed an impressive level of secrecy. Poe can only assume the First Order is saving that announcement for the marquee—are probably banking on the uproar of both their names together to boost their season ticket sales.
It's the First Order's most original idea ever, and Poe's has to admit he's impressed.
The doors to the studio open and Kylo Ren enters—seems calmer, but impatient. He refuses to look at either of them.
"So glad you could join us again, Ren," Hux snarls. It's clear he doesn't like Ren, which makes Poe like Ren all the more.
"Get this over with, Hux," he orders, his voice a throaty, rough grumble.
Hux clears his throat.
"This year marks a very special anniversary in the world of ballet," he begins, his penchant for speeches something Poe's already tired of, "for it will have been fifty years since the first performance of the grandest and most elegant ballet ever assembled. The both of you have been bestowed a truly humbling opportunity—personally selected by our most wise Director Snoke—to participate in the First Order's offering to the patrons of the Coruscant Gala."
He takes a breath, puffs out his thin chest with maniacal glee.
"Congratulations. You're going to perform the grand pas de deux from Il Cavaliere."
The silence is sudden and knifelike: digs under Poe's skin, flays back a layer.
Il Cavaliere is widely regarded as a cursed ballet—the grand pas de deux the most complicated in the history of dance. Ben Kenobi choreographed the ballet specifically for his protégés, Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala—the greatest ballet partnership ever assembled. Even fifty years after the fact, there's never been a successful reproduction of the dance.
It's too fast, has too many spins and lifts and the timing needs to be exact or else the choreography becomes dangerous. Even if the dancers managed to make it all the way through the forty-five minutes and the eleven lifts, it ends with a joint fouetté that's eight rotations longer than Odile's solo in Swan Lake. The dancers have to twist their supporting legs while generating torque and maintaining the rotation momentum together. If the dancers aren't spinning at exactly the same speed and in exact synchronization, when their hooked supporting foot firmly plants, both dancers collapse.
Poe's seen people fractured tibias and collarbones trying to complete even one of the lifts—let alone the joint fouetté—and those are just the danseurs. The lucky ballerinas only end up breaking their wrists or cracking their skulls. Poe's lost count of the stories of shattered knees and ankles—of how many careers have ended in the attempt.
The ballet was officially banned six years prior by the Naboo Ballet Association. There's absolutely no way Hux or anyone at the First Order managed to gain athletic dispensation for the season, let alone for the Gala.
"No seriously, what are we dancing?" Poe asks, eyes Ren for supportive indignation—only find the miserable acceptance of a man whose frustration exploded into a tantrum that destroyed the very room they're standing in.
"Ren," Hux gestures toward Poe with a sweep of his arm as he tosses Poe a tightly wrapped bundle from his pocket. Poe catches instinctively—feels the solid weight of dozens of layers of compacted, shimmery black satin in his hands—a set of pointe shoes. "It's time you bowed before your beautiful Queen."
Poe's blood runs cold.
"You want me to dance the female roll?" Poe asks stupidly—has the proof in his hands, but absolutely needs to hear it confirmed. "On pointe?"
"You have strong ankles," Hux says flippantly. "I'm sure the best dancer at the ABC can manage."
It takes years of practice and conditioning before a ballerina is allowed to even try dancing on pointe. Poe remembers with vivid accuracy Karé and Jess's first attempts to stand in their pointe shoes—how Jess had instantly rolled her ankle and Karé tipped right over and bruised both her knees. Poe's only ever danced in flat shoes—is too heavy to support his weight on the tips of his toes with any grace—doesn't have the training whatsoever.
"You're both to report to this room after final rehearsals tomorrow. Director Snoke has personally entrusted me to oversee the routine and guarantee it will be of an acceptable caliber for the Gala." Hux nods once before he purposefully walks past them without another word—knocks Ren's shoulder passive-aggressively on the way out.
Ren doesn't budge, keeps looking at the newly replaced barre like it's a personal offense to his being. Before he can actually rip it from the floor again, Poe decides to be civil, holds out his hand to break the ice. "I'm—"
"I know who you are." Ren's voice is thunderously deep but very light. He eyes Poe's hand, but doesn't shake it—instead—looks like he wants to say something else, but clenches his jaw unattractively.
Poe drops his hand. The silence in the room starts to suffocate. Then—
"This is going to be difficult. Make sure you're prepared tomorrow."
"Well that's the shittiest pep talk I've heard," Poe retorts, knows he's being insulted.
"I'm not here to carry you," Ren spits, voice hard as stone. "This is going to be the most challenging routine you'll ever perform and I'm not going to let some dancer from a second-rate company humiliate me at the Gala."
"Second-rate company?" Poe balks, squares his shoulders. "You mean the company that's out-danced and outsold the First Order for the last five years?"
"It's a weak company with worse leadership," Ren growls, "if it not only accepts traitors into the troupe, but then promotes them to principal."
"Where do you get off lecturing about loyalty? You've broken every contract you've ever signed," Poe snaps. He won't let Ren talk about Finn—hates the idea of his name even being said here. "I'd be more worried about you not holding up your end of the dance. Can you even lift me?"
He's not willowy and long like a ballerina—has been maintaining the heavy muscle mass required of a danseur since he was fifteen. He knows how difficult lifting even the tiniest dancer can be—let alone someone who's never been lifted before, period.
Ren glares. Within two steps, he's directly in front of Poe—reaches out and clasps Poe's hips with his large hands, clenches down hard and smoothly lifts him clean off the ground. Poe's struck with a reverse sense of vertigo as he's raised to Ren's eye-level—kicks out reflexively—and Ren easily dodges by extending his arms fully and pushing Poe further away from him. The muscles in his forearms barely bulge or quiver.
The casual display of strength would be arousing if Ren weren't such a colossal asshole.
"You could have just said yes," Poe points out, anger dissipating.
"You wouldn't have believed me," Ren jeers as he fans his fingers across Poe's belly and raises him until he's completely parallel to the floor, Poe's full weight supported by one of Ren's arms. Ren slowly turns, tests out their balance. "Comfortable?"
"Not really," Poe winces, the pressure of Ren's palm against his abdomen starting to smart. There's probably going to be a bruise there in the morning.
"That's a shame," Ren chides—his brow furrows in concentration. "Tuck."
Poe barely has enough time to pull his limbs in before Ren bends his elbow and propels him upward—catches him neatly in the bends of his arms as Poe twists his body into the fall.
"Work on your rotations," Ren advises coldly. Then he drops Poe to the ground, gives Poe barely enough time to catch himself, and leaves.
That, Poe thinks as he gathers his things, could have gone better.
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