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Flame Red and Aqua Blue

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Finn likes the Resistance base mess at mid-morning. He’s the only customer, except for the usual Mon Calamari who Finn has determined is very old, possibly a relative of Admiral Ackbar’s, and a mystery as far as his function in the Resistance is concerned – do they really keep people here just because they can?

The pilots are up in space or resting in their bunks, the mechanics are busy trying to will more clunkers into functional starships and anyone else is planning, training, on a mission, or just frantically scrambling around fighting to keep the Resistance afloat.

The underground mess feels calm, the sounds soft and echoing slightly. The air is cooler and drier than anywhere else in the new base. Finn likes the soft humming of the one-armed Keshian bartender – the mechanic limb never really took, he’s been told. He likes the Spartan furniture made of repurposed space crates, the metallic walls, the lack of greenery, nothing overwhelming for this ex-Stormtrooper’s senses. Medical has allowed him to give a hand tidying the place and he can’t help aligning the tables just so, shining their tops to starship standards and squaring their chairs to the millimeter. Old habits die hard.

“Here,” says the Keshian – Nielhio, that’s his name, so many names to remember now. A portion of cake lands in front of Finn. “You okay?”

Finn must have zoned out, realises he was standing with his back too straight and his feet aligned and that there wasn’t a helmet to hide his expression. He smiles.

“Yeah. I’m good.”

That’s not a lie. If anyone asked him, Finn would say the month and a half since he’s waken from his coma has been the best of his life. When he thinks of the reasons why he’ll acknowledge that it’s better no one did ask.

He’s happy because for the first time in his life he’s allowed to be human.

Being human means you can be scared – scared is good. It’s freeing to let his fears show in more than the tilt of an armoured shoulder, to stop being woken by the echoes of the First Order mantra in his head, we are the strongest, we are on the right path, we cannot lose. It feels right, even curiously reassuring, to realise that people on the base all acknowledge how frail they are against the enemy. How thinly spread. All around him, they tell it in bad jokes or drunken rants or meaningful midnight conversations, and everyone on the base knows that this lull, this false peace as the whole Galaxy erupts into chaos could end the next day with TIEs swarming in the heavens. Everyone knows they could die, but stands up nonetheless, fights, and holds on.

Being human means being bored. No one has heard of a bored Stormtrooper – Finn certainly hadn’t, to the point that he had to have the concept explained. It’s a normal stage of the healing process, they tell him, the pain mostly gone, but the body still weak and unresponsive enough that he can’t ask it to do what it should. It’s human to feel like doing nothing, they tell him. It’s human to let yourself heal. So he waits, and drifts, and perversely enjoys the lazing around.

But being human, and a former Stormtrooper, means being lonely. No Stormtrooper has ever been lonely before Finn. They have their squadmates, their officers, and if everything else fails they have the constant drone of the First Order propaganda in their mind. They’re part of the most single-minded collective ever. Here… How could you blame people if they are a little uncomfortable around a traitor – of course they don’t call him that here, but he’s an ex-Stormtrooper nonetheless, even if Poe insists that what they should call him is a hero. Except for Nielhio, some of Poe’s pilots, and Leia Organa, they give him a wide berth.

His friends are away, Rey somewhere far away with Skywalker, and Poe - Poe is just entering the mess, stumbling slightly over the threshold and nodding at a long stream of bleeps from BB-8 who’s rolling along.

“Poe!” Finn exclaims, standing up and hurrying towards him – what can he say? Poe’s hugs feel great. “What are you doing here at nine in the morning? I thought you were still up in space?”

“Hi, Finn,” Poe says, yawning. “Nah. Came back early last night. I’m just out of a tactical meeting, still have to set up the squadrons’ rotations for the week.” He yawns again and presses his thumbs hard into his eyes, face scrunched. “Sorry. Decided to come here to work, I need a boost.”

Poe pulls a chair out and sits down heavily, then grunts and lifts his arms to stretch his back, nearly knocking down Nielhio’s tray in the process.

“Hey, Commander. Here’s your caf. Double, black.”

“Huh. Thank you. Uh. Could you – I’m sorry, you think you could make it a triple? Night was hard and I can’t crash down just now.”

Nielhio snorts. “If you aren’t already on flying stims, sure. Show me your hands?”

Poe holds them up. “See? Steady as a Corellian senator. Can I get my triple? Wait, actually, I’d like two doubles. And something for Finn, anything you want, buddy? Thanks, Nielhio.”

BB-8 whistles something else, and in spite of his recent progress Finn can’t make much of it. Something involving planet or sector names and long series of numbers, ships models or coordinates or specs.

“Work?” Finn asks.

Poe nods and smiles a little. “Yeah. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the company. We don’t see each other enough with my schedule. How have you been? Your back?”

“I’m good. Back’s good. I’m not in pain anymore and I can walk just fine. I’m just really undermuscled and sort of slow, and Medical still doesn’t want me to get back to training. I’m – it’s – I’m just not used to it, you know? Doing nothing, not pushing my body as I should…”

Under Poe’s gaze, it’s hard not feeling ashamed, and he knows he’s not doing a good job of hiding it. He smiles a little, shrugs, then looks down, hikes up his shirt and grabs at his middle. “I’ve even got fat there, fat, can you imagine? I’d fail the lowest trooper test right now. Ah. It’s – shit. I’m not – I don’t know –”

Poe’s smile is a bit strange but his eyes are very soft and his hands on Finn’s arms very warm.

“Finn,” he says, “Finn. I can totally imagine having fat there. It’s okay. It’s nice. I’ve got some too, see?” He sorts of pulls Finn’s hand onto his own belly and yeah, it’s a bit soft. A bit squishy. Warm. Feels good.

Then Poe’s ears turn red and Finn removes his hand. “Yeah,” Finn says. “Nice.”

BB-8 bloops. There are no words to it but it sounds vaguely grumpy.

Finn begins to stand up. “That’s my clue to leave you to your job,” he says.

Poe’s hand lands on Finn’s thigh this time. “No, no, you can stay. I mean, if you don’t mind watching me and BB-8 moving charts and numbers around. If you don’t have anything else to do?”

Finn grins and sits back. “Told you, my orders are to do nothing. Might as well do it here.”

Poe plugs a datakey into one of BB-8’s ports. They’re soon immersed in whatever they’re doing, the astromech firing up holos of maps and flowcharts and his pilot keying in line upon line of code. They’re not even talking, although Poe sometimes grunts and massages his temples or extends his hand instinctively towards his cup, well into his fifth caf now.

“But we need to do it!” Poe suddenly explodes. “Both the recon for an alternate route through the Crow Crucible and the patrolling across the Salin corridor! We can’t fucking choose! And if we don’t find a way to affect at least two freighter qualified pilots for a fuel run the base will run dry in two weeks. No, I don’t know which pilots!”

BB-8 buzzes some more and Poe lets out a frustrated sigh.

“You didn’t update your data yet? They told us this morning. Abafar affiliated with the First Order. Not officially but the way their prices suddenly rose – anyway we can’t afford it. It leaves us Peragus as a provider, hoping we can modify more engines to make it work, but fuck, what a run. What a fucking impossible run!”

The current holomap BB-8’s projecting wavers and fluctuates, routes blinking in and out at a rapid pace. Poe waves away BB-8’s beeping and goes on. “Listen, there must be a way to improve the rotations algorithm. We could code in the skill levels, would allow us to override some of the security settings. Shit, for selected pilots, BB-8, I know it’s dangerous! But listen, the – the Tannhäuser black hole, for example. Every former Starfleet pilot knows how use it as a gravity well. I know I can, and it’s a great shortcut. Yeah. I know the risks, BB.”

Finn can’t help chiming in. “You’d put a lot of pressure on your best pilots that way,” he says. BB-8’s vindicated whistle is definitely in agreement.

Poe lifts up his gaze and his eyes have never been that bruised-looking or that deep set before. “I know,” he says. “But what else can we do?” Then he jumps as hurried steps echo from the staircase. “Shit. That’s Pava. Hide me, Finn?”

Finn looks around at the bare walls and the tables. “Hum,” he says. “Where? And, uh, why?”

Poe grimaces, a little sheepish. “Lost a bet,” he mumbles. “Damn. Too late. Hi, Jess.”

“Commander Dameron,” she smiles, all sweet tones and sharp teeth. “Fancy finding you here. Been hiding?”

“You know I was at debrief and tactical. Anyway. I lost the bet.”

Pava strides in and steps into Poe’s personal space to jab her finger at his chest. “You didn’t just lose the bet. Best pilot in the Resistance my ass! You were abysmal in the asteroid field, Poe. Ten minutes five seconds, that’s one minute and fifty-three seconds over my best time, and you couldn’t even do the AS-1557 loop at the end.”

“Yeah. I was tired. Mission’s been a long one and I’d have blacked out in the loop. Okay, cash in, Testor.”

“See? Not so hard to admit. You. Are. Exhausted. That was what the bet was about, uh? The loser stays on the ground. Gets to rest.”

“I can’t, Jess. I really can’t. Not with Abafar changing sides. We need everyone.”

“You fucking ground yourself, Commander. Right now. Until you can at least stand up without wobbling. Or you’ll make a worse mistake than staying too long in an asteroid field. Come on, Poe. You know it’s the right thing to do. Rest before you crash.”

Poe must really be running on empty because he sighs and says: “Okay. Okay, Testor. And, uh. There was to be something else if you won?”

“Ah, yes.” Her smile is back, happier. Crueller? “For my personal pleasure and maybe the whole base’s. The old pilots, I mean the ex-Republic fleet ones, they keep telling about someone’s, uh, special performances at the Academy. Seems it even went on during his early Starfleet years. To which I say, give me what you gave them, Dameron. Why wouldn’t the Resistance get what the New Republic had?”

“No. No way, Pava.”

Finn would swear Poe’s ears are turning red again.

“You’re a very sore loser, you know? Come on, own it.”

“I’m a senior officer now, not a cadet. It wouldn’t – what would they say? The pilots, the mechanics, everyone? Besides, it’s been eons since I did it. I’m too rusty.”

“What they’d say? ‘Wow’, if what I heard is true. And ‘finally’, probably. I’m not the only one who heard the tale. Come on, Poe. We all need to loosen up a little. Have some fun. Vocally, I know you still have it. I hear you in the comm everyday. As for the rest – is it something you can forget?”

“I won’t be able to look the General in the eye again.”

“Good thing she’s not on base in the next five days, then. She left on a diplomatic mission yesterday.”

“Good.”

“You’ll do it, then?”

“Give me two days. One for sleeping and one for putting up something decent. Trying to anyway.”

“I’ll give you four. Even with the long cycles here, twenty-seven hours of sleep won’t be enough, I’m betting on it.”

“I’m never betting again.”

“Go to sleep, Poe. Finn, would you mind helping him to his bunk? I want an unbiased witness and I don’t trust BB-8.” She grins at the astromech and steps out of the range of his taser. “Sorry, buddy, I don’t. Poe’s too good at turning you around.”

“Okay,” says Finn, feeling, and probably looking, bewildered. “If it’s all right with him. Poe, you want to leave now? Can you sleep with all the caf you’ve ingested?”

Poe’s hand finds its new favourite place on Finn’s forearm, his fingers tracing small figures on the exposed skin there. “I’ll probably have to wind down a little, but yeah. Testor’s right, I’m knackered. I’ll sleep. Thank you for helping. Jess, let me put up the new schedule and I’m good. You realise it means you’ll have to fly my run as well? And that Wexley will have to fill in as squadron leader?”

“Sure, Poe. That was the idea. Snap knows about it and I can still pilot my ship in a straight line, unlike some commanders I know.”

“Yeah, well. Pilot your ship in a straight line in an asteroid field and you’ll see what happens.”

//

Poe’s actually swaying when they reach his quarters, and looks so dead on his feet that BB-8 takes pity and plugs in to key in the door opening code.

Poe blinks against the stark sunlight coming through the window. “Blinds, down,” he manages to say, and sighs in relief in the darkening room. Then he does nothing, standing in front of his bed and still swaying.

“Poe?” Finn asks. “Shit, I didn’t realise you were that exhausted. Bed, or do you want to hit the fresher first?

“Fresher,” Poe mumbles.

“Need help?”

Poe lifts his head and focuses on Finn, his eyes dark. His breath hitches a little as he begins to say something, then he shakes his head and smiles. “No, thanks, I’ll manage. I’m still awake enough to undress by myself.”

“You want me to stay around a little more?”

There it is again, that small hitch in Poe’s breathing. “Yes,” he says. “I’d like to.”

Finn looks around. There are two chairs close to the desk in the corner, on the both of which lay a mix of engine parts (droid parts? Finn’s not an expert), tools, at least two items of clothing, one mug, four datapads, flimsy manuals of all kinds and even a real paper book. The desk is disappearing under the same clutter.

“Sit down,” Poe says, sounding muffled as he pulls his shirt over his head. “The bed’s okay, or you can clear up a chair if you wish. Put everything on the ground, it won’t fall any lower.”

Finn settles for a chair, feeling like a scientist exploring a pristine ecosystem as he methodically sets Poe’s things down.

He has just decided the length of time the water has been running in the fresher went from decadent to preoccupying when Poe finally emerges. If Finn is totally honest with himself, the fact that Poe is already in sleeping clothes – the fact, actually, that Poe isn’t naked, even if he looks quite interesting in an old grey tee and some very short shorts, is a bit disappointing.

“Feel better?” Finn asks.

“Huh. Not really.” On closer inspection, Poe does look terrible, and also like exhaustion stripped him of his usual layer of bravado and cheerfulness. The curve of his mouth feels vulnerable. “Thank you for staying,” he says finally. “Thing is, I have trouble being alone these days. Ah. ‘These days’ meaning since the Finalizer. Doesn’t help my sleep pattern. Don’t tell Pava, uh?”

“But you’ll sleep?”

“Right now I’m sure I will. I’m just too tired.”

“Tell you what,” Finn says. “I’ll stay here until you’re asleep. If you want.”

Poe tosses and turns for a long time. At one point, Finn is quite sure he can hear him muttering about caffeine. But Poe finally stills and when his breathing has remained even long enough, Finn begins to stand up with a last look at the form tangled in the crumpled sheets.

Poe’s eyes open. Finn stops and sits down.

“Pava’s right,” Poe mumbles, eyes open but unfocused, and Finn isn’t quite sure he’s awake. “One of these days I’m gonna make a mistake, a big one. It’s just too many missions. Too close, too long. For some runs there are only two, three of us skilled enough to fly through. Too fucking few. We’re gonna crash. Something’s gonna break.” He makes a strange sound, a kind of long, shuddering, sobbing sigh. “There has to be a change,” he whispers. “Something’s gotta happen or we’re dead. I wish Rey’d come back with Skywalker.”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “Me too.”

“I’m scared,” Poe says, looking so young and disoriented that Finn knows he’s not awake.

Finn goes to sit on the bed and buries his fingers in Poe’s damp hair, massaging the scalp. Poe utters a small moan. “Yeah, me too,” Finn repeats. “It’s okay. We’re scared but we hold on. Right now we still hold. You can sleep, Poe. It’s okay.”

//

When Finn comes back to check on Poe after physical therapy, he’s sleeping on. He’s stopped gripping the sheets, his hands now lax, his body totally still. If the Finalizer is giving him nightmares it doesn’t show.

And he’s still asleep when Finn brings in a food tray after his own evening meal. Finn sets the tray on the chair and leaves.

//

“What time is it?” Poe asks, stumbling back from the fresher when Finn comes back the next morning. His hair is a delicious mess, curling wildly over his ears and spiking up in every direction, and his lips are very red and slightly swollen with sleep. Finn wants to touch them. Or maybe kiss them. Poe’s eyes still look bruised.

“Ten in the morning,” Finn says.

“What day?”

“Uh?”

“What day?” Poe grunts and sits down.

“The next. You’re waking up?”

“Nope. Needed to take a leak. Back to bed.” He yawns. “Good night. Uh. Morning.”

“Sleep well, Poe.”

“Huh, Finn?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for the tray. And for holding my hand yesterday. Much a- ahhh –” he yawns, and Finn stops waiting for the end of the sentence when he realises Poe is asleep again.

He looks at Poe’s parted lips and wonders why he feels disappointed.

//

Finn tries to check up again in the late afternoon but he bumps into Karé Kun, her hand already on Poe’s door. She smiles and greets him but however nice she probably is, he doesn’t feel comfortable around her. Kun is a tall woman, blonde, commanding. And a captain. He can’t help the flashbacks to another. He nods and excuses himself, letting her step into Poe’s quarters. Captain and Commander. That’s how things are, he thinks. She’s probably good for him.

He hears laughter inside and doesn’t even hesitate. If Stormtroopers are good at something, it’s eavesdropping at their officers.

Finn loves Poe’s voice, how rich it can sound, how high it sometimes rises, how sandy it often is. But it doesn’t bear that well through the thin walls, while Kun’s clearer alto goes clear through.

“Remind me who lost the bet exactly?” she’s saying.

Poe laughs and his answer comes louder. “Come on, Karé. You’re the one who misses it! I know who’s been spreading the tale all around the base.”

“You can’t have kept a decent dress with you after all these years, anyway,” Kun says – eagerly?

Finn can’t hear anything afterwards, and he doesn’t think that’s because Poe mumbles. It’s a genuine, growing, embarrassed silence. There’s probably some sort of social code at work, of the kind Finn still struggles to understand. Poe’s been, or hasn’t been, keeping dresses for Kun and it must be somewhat forbidden, or at least intimate.

“Poe?” Kun asks after a while. “Come on, you kept them?”

“No, of course not,” Poe answers – probably, he’s speaking very low again. “You know how we all left.”

“Buuut?”

“Okay, there’s one. I spotted it in one of the Vjun bazaars during a mission and it was – it was just – I knew it was the right size, and the colour…”

“Yeah. Flashy?”

“Gorgeous. Not flashy, why do you always have to be like that, come on. Gorgeous. You’ll see.”

“Yeah. I bet it’s flashy.”

“So you’ll help? You know it doesn’t work as well if you don’t play.”

“Of course I will. Just like old times, eh? Will you need me to do your eyes?”

“I sure won’t! Who do you think I am?”

“A respectable, clear faced Starfleet commander, that’s who you are. Not some louche barroom entertainer.”

“I’ll do them anyway. If I slip a little, that’s part of the appeal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Right. You’re counting on me for the heels, though, aren’t you?”

“Sure. Because I know I can.”

Kun’s laughing, and as Finn can hear her walk towards the door he edges away. Anyway, he was beginning to feel completely lost. Eyes and heels and dresses. How can you do eyes, and why are Kun’s heels so special?

But there’s something else. Kun and Poe sound comfortable around each other, but like old friends. Not like lovers. There’s a pang in Finn’s chest when he realises exactly how much relief he feels at the thought.

//

In the next days, Poe’s alternatively sleeping or ‘rehearsing’, whatever that means, and Finn is lonely again.

“I’m sorry,” Poe says, his hand back on Finn’s bare arm, which shivers, and his eyes boring straight into Finn’s. There are tiny specks of warmer orange in the dark brown and Finn gets lost in the contemplation. He has to make Poe repeat.

“I was saying I’m sorry I can’t spend more time with you, now that I’m grounded. There’s that bet, and I –” Poe’s smile becomes apologetic and – unsure? “I don’t want to spoil you, I think. A bit like a, ah, a present, and when you know what it is about you’ll think I’m totally ridiculous. I’m already ridiculous. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Finn says, as perplexed as ever. He traps Poe’s fingers between his own arm and hand, and that, at least, feels good.

//

The mess hall has been turned into what they’d have called, back in the First Order, a public reunion room. There’s even a stage, but no one has made any speech and it’s currently being used by various groups of half-inebriated people who sing or try to dance and don’t appear to bother to convey any meaningful message. They don’t even seem to care whether the crowd pays them attention.

The long, warm night has fallen and all the vents are open, sending wafts of moss-scented, humid air through the room. It mingles with the clouds of a thickening smoke in which Finn can smell a lot of substances, some he knows and are mind-altering, and some he’s discovering on the spot. He feels uneasy, sandwiched as he is between Jess Pava and Iolo Arana. Poe insisted for him to be seated near the front among that row of officers and that’s not Finn’s place at all. Pava’s laughing to herself and smoking something conical, big and fragrant.

“You all right?” asks Nielhio the bartender, setting a glass of something harmless in his hand. Finn smiles up. From behind Nielho’s shoulder the old Mon Calamari smiles back, sort of.

“Yeah, I’m, uh. A bit overwhelmed? Is that normal, all these illicit substances circulating around? Secure? I mean, for a military base?”

The wet sound comes from the Mon Calamari, conveying something like appreciation (or hilarity. Finn’s not an expert). “Kid’s got a good head on his shoulders,” he says, at the same time as Nielhio exclaims: “illicit? What in the Galaxy is illicit here?”

“Everything’s all right,” says the Mon Calamari. “Don’t worry. The complete watch is still up outside and half of the guys here are on call. They won’t touch anything. Your friend Dameron will stay sober, whatever else he does, and Arana here won’t get near a smoke. Pava and Wexley, on the other hand…”

“This joint’s the first and last,” says Pava, grinning. “I want to be sober enough to watch Dameron make a fool of himself.”

“A fool, uh,” Arana says. “That’s what you think. You just watch, Testor.”

Someone whistles and the last drunk clears off the stage. Karé Kun enters from the side, rolling up some herbs in a thin cylinder. She winks at the Mon Calamari.

“Harmless, Ablikh,” she says. “Mostly. Duty, yeah.”

She’s not wearing a dress. She’s in her orange flightsuit, which she rolled down to her hips to reveal a faded black tank top. Her heels are, as usual, hidden in her flying boots. Her eyes don’t look done, whatever that could mean. She walks through the stage and sits at a keyboard as the crowd shushes and whispers and shuts up.

The cylinder hangs limply from her lips, adding its thin wisps of smoke to the cloud. She lays the bottle she’d been nursing on the side of the keyboard.

“Low alcohol content, Ablikh,” she groans. “Fuck.”

Finn tries to imagine Phasma in the same settings and fails. Kun’s slouching more than he ever saw her do, and she’s making the crowd laugh at her – with her.

“Just like old times,” Arana says in a delighted, somewhat hungry whisper. His eyes roam over her body, which, sure, still looks good in spite of the over-relaxed posture, the black top hugging her breasts and enhancing her muscled shoulders.

“Hey, Captain, where’s your uniform? That’s no way to step on a stage!” yells a tech in the crowd.

Kun grins. “What uniform? I ain’t lost no bet,” she drawls, like no captain Finn ever heard. “I just play the keyboards. He’s the one you should watch.”

She gestures with her cigarette to the back of the room, and maybe that’s the way a captain should move because all eyes follow her hand. The crowd, again, hushes.

“Well, fuck me,” says the same tech.

“Son of a –” comes from somewhere in the crowd. “Dameron.” “Oh, Force. Commander Poe Dameron. Pinch me.” Heads swivel and the crowd wavers and gasps and swears as Poe walks slowly to the front. He even found a tracklight to follow him.

Flame red,” Finn thinks, wondering where he heard that before. Flame red, no other words for the colour of Poe’s dress. A red so bright it’s nearly orange, but warmer, deeper, the same colour, maybe, as the lines on Poe’s black X-Wing. In further echo of his ship, black accents in two thin lace bands adorn the long sleeves and the trim of the plunging neckline. The dress shimmers as he walks, flowing around his ankles, caressing his calves and thighs and then hiding their lines in a flurry of fabric, hugging tighter around his hips and the curve of his ass. It looks rich, never too aggressive or shiny. Never flashy.

“Gorgeous,” Finn finds himself saying aloud, and he’d swear Kun winked at him.

Finn knows about dresses like that. Every Stormtrooper has had to stand guard at officers’ formal events. He’s seen young women in crimson, flowing muslins at the arms of generals, respectable officers’ wives in rich silks, diplomats in embroidered traditional attire. But a military man, a high ranking officer, male, in a woman’s dress? In front of his own troops? He’d never even have imagined it.

Even in slow motion, Poe’s kept his way of perpetually seeming on the edge of surging ahead, shoulders forward and up and head held high. His steps are jerky, his body straight, fast forward and then stop, like he couldn’t be bothered with the hip balancing one would expect in such clothing. But his usual gait never came with such a wobble before, nor with that clicking sound. Women’s shoes with high, needle-thin heels, Kun’s heels, Finn sees in a flutter of the dress. They’re slender and delicate and incongruous on Poe’s feet, making his progression look precarious, like walking in them is an art he never quite mastered.

Or maybe he did. Maybe that’s exactly what he’s aiming for, that discrepancy between his flyboy swagger and the exquisite, feminine attire. As he reaches the stage he turns toward the crowd and tosses a stray curl off his eyes in his usual brusque manner, the move so out of place for someone so adorned, the rest of his hair slicked flat and held in pins, his eyes done, smoky, with the eyelashes sculpted even more impossibly long, and the mouth painted a deeper red than the dress. He hasn’t shaved too closely and the five o’clock shadow shows starkly against the spotlights. He’s never looked more masculine, nor more beautiful.

“Fuck me,” Finn exhales, a curse, a wish.

He’d swear Poe’s slow smile with the red, red lips is only for him, but then Finn turns to watch the rest of the audience around him and sees that so many others, of all genders and species, would swear the same.

“Like old times,” says a delighted Arana. “He’s still got it.”

Poe’s managed to nick Pava’s joint and is bringing it to his mouth, his lips already curving around. The crowd moans. Ablik half-stands up from his seat.

“Okay,” Poe sighs, taking care to talk into the mic. “Duty. One pull and I’m done, Ablik.” He chuckles, sort of motions at himself and gets a stilettoed foot out from his dress, turns it around. “Force knows I needed it. Maybe I don’t look like it but I’m scared shitless. Been a long time, guys.”

Poe draws on the joint and holds it up. “Who wants it?” He asks, smoke trailing from his mouth.

“I’ll have it back, thank you,” says Pava, looking unimpressed. “Get on with it, Dameron.”

Poe breathes in deep and clears his voice. “Okay. You ready, Karé?”

Kun balances her half-smoked cigarette on the side of the keyboard and plays a few chords in way of an answer.

It’s a song. In Finn’s not so documented opinion, not well chosen. Poe sings well, Finn guesses. He’s surprised to hear that his singing voice is clearer than his talking one, quite round in the lower notes and agile and sweet when climbing high. The crowd’s laughing.

It’s about someone, an expensive whore, a courtesan, explaining a man that he should, like the others, pay. Poe’s making faces, exaggerating the falsetto, trying to look and sound like the caricature of a woman. It’s ridiculous and a little insulting. He’s not a whore. And whores don’t look like that. But the crowd is still laughing.

Then Finn realises Poe’s been falling back to a more natural voice. That he’s been adding words in the verses, twisting the meaning of the song. That he’s grinning.

Get out of here,” he sings,
Give me some money too.”
Why don’t you do right,”
Like some other systems do.

The verses aren’t about a whore anymore. But maybe the Resistance officer who’s singing them feels like one. It’s about begging for funds for the Resistance. Asking for allies, for ships, for fleets and fighters and any kind of help. Kun, very briefly, looks surprised. Behind her slouch and her act, there’s an intensity to her gaze on Poe, more verve in her playing.

Get up in space,” Poe sings, his grin predatory, white teeth showing behind red, red lips,
Give me some supplies too.”

The mood in the crowd is changing. The laughter’s still there but not at Poe anymore. At themselves. At fate. There are whistles and shouts of “yeah, right!” and singing along in the choruses.

Why don’t you do right,”
“Like some other worlds do ---”

Poe holds the final note for a long time, his body pasted to the mic pole, his lips rounded, real technique behind the way his breath goes on, while Kun in the back gets wild on the keyboards. The note finally fades and the crowd erupts in cheers, Finn with the others. On his left, Pava’s clapping with affected restraint, nodding and saying: “he’s okay. Okay, he’s good.”

Kun segues into another chord sequence, which makes Poe raise an eyebrow.

“Love songs already, girl?” he says.

“You can do it, flyboy. Imagine they’re for Black One.”

“Or for BB-8!” someone yells.

“Ah,” Poe breathes, looking at the audience between his eyelashes, one hand resting on the fabric of his dress on his upper thigh. Finn would love to know how it feels. “You guys can imagine whatever you want.”

The songs are nothing surprising. Finn has even heard some of them, in the same formal events in which he stood guard. The object of the singer’s attention is always a man and back then the singer was always a woman. Sung by Poe, who’s not bothering to change the pronouns, they sound different. Poe isn’t trying anymore to sound like a man acting, badly, like a woman. He sings as a man in a beautiful dress, with his real voice, sometimes rising high but often staying low, a man’s voice. He sings with his flyboy stance, his feet well apart and his hands on his thighs, with some aborted gestures to the unusual hairdo and some jerky moves of his head like he isn’t used to the sticky eyelashes or the single curl falling on his forehead.

He licks his red, red lips more often than usual, not used, either, to the sticky, red lipstick there.

Finn wonders if Poe’s going to smudge the black mascara around his eyes. And how it would feel if he himself were to press and drag his thumb across Poe’s red mouth.

As Poe sings about the man who saved him, about watching his man sleep and longing for him to wake up, or about the colour of his man’s skin, eyes, hair, as Finn would swear again that Poe’s looking at him, only at him, Finn begins to feel mesmerised by the dress.

It is the right size, as Poe said, but not the right shape, a woman’s dress, obviously tailored for a woman’s body. The fabric is stretched taut across Poe’s strong shoulders, and his hands, in spite of fingers that are long and slender for a man, appear overly large emerging from sleeves that hug his arms so tight. But then the dress, made to mould rounded breasts instead of flatter pecs, wrinkles and gap a little on the chest – Poe’s seems smooth, Finn notices, wondering if an even deeper cut would reveal hair, wanting to look. Lower, the fabric hugs the ribcage and stomach closer again, making, from shoulders to waist, a lovely V shape. There’s more room in the hips area, but not as much as one would believe, because the curve from Poe’s lower back to his ass is truly gorgeous, and the ass itself rounder than Finn thought.

The skirt of the dress flares low, so that it still clings to the junction between hips and thighs, and Finn can’t help staring there, stomach and hips and pelvis and strong, strong thighs, can’t help imagining how it would look if Poe had an erection in that dress – it would tent, it would show. Finn feels the heat creep around his ears and in his groin, and knows that others stare too and are sharing the same thoughts – the same emotion. It makes him feel annoyed, even jealous that Poe would reveal himself like that, and of course he then feels dumb.

Then he remembers the hidden softness on that stomach that looks so perfect from afar, Poe’s hand on his own as his fingers dug in just a little, the light rise of Poe’s belly under those fingers as he breathed. That’s something Finn knows and the other watchers don’t, something Poe didn’t share with the crowd. The emotion turns to another kind, intimate and tender, but it only encourages his hard-on. Finn pulls down at the hem of his tunic, hoping it will be enough to hide the growing evidence.

Meanwhile Poe is singing about keeping himself for his man and making himself ready, which is, depending on how you look at it, completely ridiculous or damn hot. His gaze happens to fall on Finn mid-squirm, catches his focused, downward look, the way Finn happens, right at that fucking moment, of course, to lick his lips. Poe grins and bats his eyelashes at him, then trails the heels of his hands from his ribs to his upper thighs, tilting his hips a little. His palms come to rest lightly on the fabric there and Finn imagines the smoothness under his hand, wonder whether it’s light or heavy, whether it breathes or whether the skin underneath is beginning to cling with sweat.

Finn swallows and has to set his jaw not to moan, but he’s not sure about the sound he utters anyway.

“Dammit, Poe, stop playing,” groans Arana. He pats Finn on the biceps. “You’ll be alright, kid. I find that thinking of the grime in the east wing lavatories helps, myself.”

Finn sends him a desperate look.

“And if I know him well,” Arana goes on, “he won’t feel like going on with that lovey dope for much longer. He’s better than that.”

That’s what happens. Progressively the dress, the heels, the eyes and the red, red lips become secondary to what’s simply Poe and Kun’s music. Kun is on her own for one number, still slouching and apparently relaxed, but with hands that dance on the keyboard, playing with unbalanced harmonies and strange blue notes, running and stopping, until it resolves in nonsensical verses she sings with a veiled, warm voice, about washing up the dishes, liking buttered pasta, taking out the garbage and loving someone else’s uncle. She smiles to Arana when she’s done, and he smiles back.

Poe joins her afterwards, in what’s all in all not such a happy set of songs. Most numbers feel nostalgic or plain sad.

There’s one for which Poe concerts with Kun beforehand, Kun shaking her head and saying: “can’t follow you here, buddy. Don’t know it well enough. Sorry.” Poe then captures Kun’s glass and raises it, “for Shara and Kes,” then launches a cappella into something in a language Finn doesn’t understand. Others seem to know it, though, and the singing along in the choruses becomes wild.

“It’s a drinking song,” whispers Arana, but Poe looks mostly wistful when it ends and segues into verses Arana tells him are thanking life, but mostly remembering the past.

At Finn’s other side, Pava’s finally admitting defeat. “That motherfucker,” she says, sounding impressed. “I thought he’d run dry after three or four songs. How often did he use to do that, Iolo, do you know?”

“They were such fun,” Arana says, his eyes far away. “They were so good. But they’re missing Muran.” Then his ears seem to perk up. “Wow,” he says. “He’s got balls. Ten credits they’re gonna crash, Pava.”

“Deal,” Pava answers. “I’m beginning to think they can do anything.”

Poe began alone, and now Kun follows. To Finn ears, is sounds alien, a message coming from beyond the Galaxy, emitted by a mystery and distorted by distance. The singing melody is full of melisma and acrobatic jumps, and Kun’s background harmonies never seem to fall back on a known chord. Kun actually swears twice, first when her hands don’t manage to follow Poe’s broken rhythm and the second time in admiration when Poe lands a particularly impressive ornamentation. At one point, Poe colours and begins to sweat, when the note he hits sounds even more bizarre than the rest. He comes closer to the keyboard, and afterwards the strange melodic lines begin to make sense to Finn.

It’s a pilot’s song. Not about dogfights, runs, speed, aerobatics. Poe sings about the swirls of hyperspace, the darkness and the distance between the stars, the awe and the fear at witnessing, from afar, two black holes merging. When he tells about brushing past clouds of ionised gas there’s wildness in Kun’s strings of notes and Finn, somehow, understands the strange, majestic, lethal beauty.

When they end Kun and Poe high-five and hug, and the pilots, all the pilots in the audience, are standing up.

“By the everlasting Force,” Nielhio’s saying to Arana. “I’d never thought a Human could sing that.”

“Yeah,” Arana whispers. “But if one can, it’s Poe.”

“My ten bucks, Iolo,” Pava says, extending her hand.

Afterwards they keep it up with another pilot’s song, but an easier, comical one of a guy who always gets out of the most over the top situations by sheer luck. The crowd seems relieved of the change of tone and laughs heartily, but not Arana, who sits back in his chair, his mouth pressed in a strange line.

“Muran,” he says.

Finn looks around. Many of the Stiletto and Dagger squadrons, Kun and Arana’s ones, and some of the older pilots look the same way, solemn and sad. Wexley’s eyes glint suspiciously. Now that Finn watches them closer, Poe and Kun don’t look that happy either. Poe’s voice breaks on the last note of the song.

“Sorry, guys,” Poe says. “Seems it’s easier to be funny at twenty than at thirty-three. To Muran, may his memory never fade.” He clears his voice, bends down to retrieve some water and drinks. “Anyway, it couldn’t go on forever, could it? Voice’s getting tired. Call it a night?” He’s grinning, standing up against the wave of angry shouts, whistles and clapping in the crowd.

“Okay. Okay,” he repeats, looking straight at Finn. Gulping, clearing his voice once more, biting his lips. He does something with his body, a sort of ripple, a small move that sets the dress in motion and suddenly it’s there again at the front of Finn’s mind, the flame red, the shimmering fabric, and Poe underneath it all.

“Okay,” Poe says again, his voice gritty. “The last one’s for someone very special. Someone I –”

The sentence end is drowned by the blaring of the general alarm, in a stop and repeat pattern, while the lights go low and red and blinking.

“Well, shit,” says Poe’s voice in the mic in an interval. “Sky red alert. Nothing on the ground. Not an exercise. Everyone, you know what to do.”

//

Finn isn’t on duty. He doesn’t even have an affectation. But he’ll be damned if he stays in the shelter and so he follows Poe and the others outside.

“Ematt,” Poe shouts. “What’s up?”

“A Ceregian Belliath-class super freighter. Unstable orbit. Holds filled to the brim with Abafar republican refugees. And a respectable cargo of fuel.”

“Huh. They got our coordinates? How? Going to land? Fuel’s good news, at least.”

“That’s not the problem. They were infiltrated by the First Order. Their ship’s damaged, they can’t steer it well enough. Communication from the ship to the cockpit is problematic, physically speaking.”

“Not well enough to land? And the orbit?”

“Downwards. To us. Someone calculated the sabotage well enough.”

“Fucking hell. A big, fuel loaded bomb over our head, uh. And filled with innocents. With Ackbar and the General away, who’s got the shift? Statura?”

“Captison.”

“Huh. He’s awake?”

“Coming this way.”

“Dameron?” shouts an old Human male in an impeccable general uniform. “I thought you were grounded?”

“Back on active duty as of today, Sir,” Poe answers, assuming the slightest hint of an attention position.

General Captison doesn’t appear convinced and is looking Poe up and down. “What’s that?” he says, gesturing with his chin.

“A dress, Sir. Also, heels, but they’re fucking, uh, sorry, very uncomfortable. Here, Karé. Thanks.” Poe takes them off, standing barefoot in the warm mud. He’s got nice feet, Finn muses.

“A ‘dress,’ Commander? I heard you were, uh, entertaining tonight, but I thought – what kind of example – by the stars, I’m sorry to have to ask that, but are you sober?”

Poe’s mouth is pressed so thin the lipstick doesn’t show.

A string of whistles comes from behind him at knees heigh – BB-8, coming to his pilot’s rescue.

“I never could learn their mumbo-jumbo,” says Captison with a sneer. “What is he conveying?”

“He’s saying, Sir,” says Major Ematt, “that his sensors are perfectly calibrated and that Dameron’s blood levels are well below the limit. And now that it’s settled, what are your orders for the present emergency?”

“What can you do, shipwise, Dameron?” Captison asks.

“How much time to we have, BB-8?” Poe asks, and grimaces at the answer. “He’s saying it’s a matter of thirty minutes, forty in the best scenario. Not much time for getting ships ready. Oranxch, how are our VCX freighters? How many fuelled? And the shuttles?”

“Three freighters in working order and half-full, Sir. That’s all. The shuttles should be alright.”

“We’ll have to pull the refugee’s ship out of the falling orbit, using our light freighters’ tractor beams,” Poe explains. “And then we can’t let it hover over us, not with whatever the First Order might have put in. So we send it into the sun. Three VCX ships, huh. That should do it.”

Captison lets out a scandalised huff. “Aren’t you going to board that superfreighter’s cockpit? Try to pilot it down? Thousands of refugees are in there, and you’d send them into the sun, with the eyes of most of the Galaxy on us? The First Order propaganda will have a field day!”

Poe looks like he’s going to explode very soon, but manages to grit his teeth and breathe down. “What do we have on the cockpit state, Ematt?”

“Not good. Piks Shidah’s in there with them, that’s how they got our coordinates. They said they wanted to make allegiance to the Resistance. Uh, anyway, Piks says the commands are mostly unresponsive and that explosive charges were detonated at the walls. The cockpit’s airtight but it holds to the main structure by a couple of torn beams and nothing more.”

“Piks, uh? Shit.”

“What’s the matter, Commander?” Captison asks. “Isn’t Lieutenant Shidah a good enough pilot for you?”

“Now listen to me, General,” growls Poe. “Ground me again afterwards or lock me up, I don’t care, but right now we’re dealing with an emergency so if you don’t have anything useful to say kindly refrain from talking! Sir!” He sighs, blinks and gets his finger off the General’s chest. “Piks is an excellent pilot, which, good news, because we can trust his assessment. And it’s a fucking damn tragedy, because, because he’s going to die! The chances we can rescue the guys in the cockpit are so slim they amount to none.”

The whole group of them has been walking to the hangars as they speak, and Poe’s putting on his life-saving gear as he speaks, as do the other pilots.

“As for the rest, we can’t let the First Order propaganda have a field day, uh. So the plan is to send the shuttles up with a small troops force, not to board, but to filter whatever First Order agents mingled with the refugees, and then get everyone down. Meanwhile, our tractor beams will have to keep their freighter stable long enough. Depending on how many people are up there and how smooth it goes, might be a bit tight. Iolo, I know you’re qualified for light freighters. I’ll take the second one. Karé?”

“I’m not qualified, Poe. Must have tried tractor beams twice in my whole life.”

“Fuck. Snap, you can lay that gear down. You’re out. Saw you drink.”

“Shit. Sorry, Poe.”

“Yeah. Pava? That joint was the only one?”

“Yes. My astromech says I’m alright.”

“Okay, you take the third. Karé, Stiletto will take the shuttles, you’ll lead. Ematt, you lead the troops?”

“Sure.”

“No,” Captison says. “Ematt stays down. We can’t know how well the filtering will go. We need a strong enough reception force on the ground. Ematt is the best we have to organise and lead it.”

Ematt nods. “You’re right, Sir. That leaves us with a problem. Who’s going up?”

Ablik, the old Mon Calamari, steps forward. “I volunteer, Sir.”

Captison squints. “Aren’t you, uh, a bit, uh, old? You’re Ackbar’s old aide, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Sir! Still can fight, Sir!”

Poe smiles. “And you’re, of course, perfectly sober and able to pick up the guys you need. Tell me, Ablik, would you take Finn with you?”

Finn jumps. “Who, me?”

Captison’s head swivels so fast it makes him look like a training target. “The Stormtrooper?”

“Ex-Stormtrooper,” Poe says, his voice so dry Jakku’s got nothing on it. “Should I remind everyone of what he did for us?”

“I trust him,” Ablik says. “Yeah, I’ll take him with me. He’s a good shot, and, hum, I guess he was taught about crowd control, even though, huh, their goals aren’t the same as ours.”

“Finn?” Poe asks.

On one hand, Finn yearns to show Poe he can help – or rather, he thinks, catching Captison’s doubtful side-eye, he wants to show them all Poe’s trust is well-founded. On the other, he feels the old panic creeping up. The one that took over as the Stormtrooper transports flew down onto Jakku, and that made him useless here – at least, unable to kill. There are civilians on that freighter as well. Infinitely more numerous than in that village. And mingled within, agents of what’s now the enemy, people, maybe, that he’s known before, that he might have to kill.

Poe sees him waver and pulls him gently by the arm to take him aside, motioning for Ablik to follow. They stand directly in the impressive shadow of Black One and in the middle of such a crisis Poe doesn’t seem to find the words to go on. He’s still got that dress under the flying gear, the harness turning it into a kind of incongruous culottes, pulling the skirt up his bare feet and shins. From that close his eyelashes are really impossibly long and Finn can’t help letting his gaze fall on lips that Poe is licking again. Poe’s hands grip his arms, and Finn finds his own on the sleeves of the dress, fingers stroking the fabric.

“Poe,” he says. “I’m not in shape. At all. Medical didn’t even clear me to train. I’ll slow the others down in a fight.”

“Good,” Poe says, “because you’re not going up to fight, I hope not, and if anyone tries to do things too fast we’re headed for a bloodbath. What we need is your eye. Thousands of civilians up there, and, what, five? Ten? Maybe twenty First Order guys we need to set gently apart before they understand we spotted them and go up in a fight. If someone can find them it’s you, Finn. You grew up with them, know them from inside out, tactics and body language and all.”

Finn nods. “Okay,” he says. “I – I can’t even imagine how I’m going to do it, but we have to try, don’t we?”

“That’s the idea, kid,” says Ablik. “And if we fail, Ematt will still have a chance on the ground.”

“Hey,” Poe says. “Finn.”

“Hey.”

“I told you the idea’s to avoid a fight. But I know that you don’t like – you don’t want to kill anymore. You may have to, whatever I’m hoping for. If that’s too much to ask – you can say no, that’s what I’m trying to say.”

Finn can’t help the smile. “Maybe it’s the idea that I’m allowed to refuse,” he says. “Kind of makes it hard to. I want to go up. I’ll do my best. And uh, Poe?”

“Hm?”

“You just yelled at a General. What’s Captison going to do when you come back?”

“Ha,” laughs Ablik. “Nothing. When we come down, he’ll be off shift and Statura is much less of an asshole.”

Poe smiles, nods. “That’s not how I hoped this night would end,” he says.

“Yeah. Same.”

Poe’s eyes are on Finn’s lips and if Ablik weren’t there, or BB-8, that little sneak, maybe they’d have kissed. But as it is Finn just lets his fingers trail along the sleeves of the dress as Poe steps away and turns towards the massive silhouettes of the light freighters, far away in front of the second hangar.

“See you soon,” Finn says.

“See you soon.”