If one more person asked Poe what he was going to do now, he was not going to be responsible for his actions. He simply couldn't be.
The war's end had come unexpectedly and swiftly. Much as he and others would have liked to put it down to careful strategy and brilliant insight, the truth was a lot more complicated. Their victory had come as much from luck and chance as it did from years of hard work and harder sacrifice.
So, no, Poe did not yet know what he was going to do. He still had yet to process the fact that they'd won. He had options now. He could sit down, lean back, and look around.
He was still getting there.
How was he supposed to have his answer already? A lot of the others did. Turned out - he should have known this - they'd always had those answers. They were fighting to get past the fight, to go back home or see the world or raise a passel of kids. They'd always known.
Poe, however. Poe had seen the fight for what it was: all-encompassing, overwhelming, not easy to survive. He'd never spared much thought for what could lay beyond.
The party was one in a series, a nearly endless series, celebrating the end of the war. Poe wasn't opposed to parties, even if he had no answer for the small talk questions. He simply resented having a good time interrupted by reminders of what amounted to his utter uselessness outside of war.
"If one more nice, incredibly well-meaning fucking jackass asks me what I'm going to do now," Poe said under his breath when he and Finn found themselves holding up the wall together, "I'm losing it. Fair warning. I'm going to --" He circled both hands antsily. "Just - BLAM."
"Blameron," Finn said, grinning, and toasted him with his cup of punch. "Noted, I'll be sure to stay on the lookout."
"Or you could run interference," Poe said. "Save me and any innocent bystanders from the tragedy in the first place."
Finn shrugged. "I don't know, you blowing your top sounds like it could be entertaining."
Poe elbowed him. "Shut up, man. Save me? Please?"
Finn just shook his head and kept on grinning. "Save you from what? Yourself?"
"Yeah, I think so," Poe said, slumping down a little. He scrubbed his palms over his face. He'd definitely had too much to drink. "Guess so."
"Buck up," Finn told him, leaning against him. "It's not that bad."
"Sure it is," Poe muttered, leaning back against Finn. "Terrible. Like unto the Finalizer, I'd say, except a little worse."
"Really? Worse, huh?" Finn raised his eyebrows. "How do you figure that?"
"Stop smirking, it'll give you wrinkles."
"Just looking forward to it," Finn said. "This should be good."
"A little worse," Poe said, "because this time there's no sweet, pure-of-heart and beautiful-of-face young dude on his way to rescue me. Just this embittered, cynical best friend of mine, looking to laugh at the spectacle of my pain."
"That sucks," Finn replied. "Wow. Poor you."
"Poor me, indeed." Poe tipped his head against the wall and sighed deeply, soulfully, as he closed his eyes. "Yeah, it really does suck."
"Beautiful of face, huh?" Finn asked softly after a bit.
Poe held up his finger. "Was. Embittered and cynical, now."
"Best friend, though."
"There is that," Poe said, opening his eyes finally. "Good trade-off, I guess."
"Take what you can get, that's my advice."
"Sounds good, yeah."
They remained there, huddled together, as the party wound down. They were known for that, though Poe had never really seen what was so bad about it. He liked Finn's company, Finn liked his, what was the problem?
He drank more than he should. He could do that now. Unexpected perks of peacetime included: hangovers were merely agonizing, not threats to the liberation struggle.
Other unexpected things: Finn coming on to him.
At least, that's what Poe thought he was doing. Finn had turned, blocking Poe from view, and he was speaking low, almost thrummingly, right against Poe's ear.
"Why don't we?" Finn asked, smiling slow and sweet. "For...old time's sake, let's say."
Poe almost pointed out that there was no "old time" on whose behalf they were doing this. They'd never done this. Gotten close, several times, only to get interrupted or bashful or suddenly sober and reasonable.
He caught himself this time before reasonableness could take hold.
Instead he tilted into Finn, cocking his head, sliding his hand up Finn's arm. It was late, they were both way too tired and drunk for this to be remotely a good idea, so it was, really, the best possible time.
Finn kissed sloppy and eager, a lot of lip and thundering breath that tasted like Corellian brandy and some of Poe's own homebrew Yavin punch. He got both hands on Poe's shoulders and squeezed so hard that Poe felt the joints roll and pop a little.
They were basically alone in the reception hall. The party had started to break up about an hour ago. The lights were off, the DJ-droid had long since trundled away in a low-power state, the bar was decimated and buffet table in even worse array.
"Finn," Poe said against Finn's tongue. Finn shuddered at the sensation, so Poe did it again, and again. "Finn. Finnnnnnn."
"Yeah?" He was laughing, lightly, almost soundlessly, running his mouth across Poe's cheek to his ear. His chest rose and fell with the laughter. "That's me."
"Finn," Poe said, against his neck, and when Finn shivered again, rocking his hips, Poe bit him. Finn froze, Poe froze, and they could have - maybe should have - stopped there. Broken apart, shaken their heads ruefully, too much to drink, man and yeah, you're not wrong, and headed for their own cold bunks to sleep it off and come to their senses.
But Finn groaned and Poe bit harder and shook his head and Finn groaned louder and they were basically done for.
"You're closer, right?" Finn asked, one hand in Poe's hair, thumb across his windpipe. He spread his fingers, twisted them up, and Poe's head fell back, mouth opening. Finn didn't wait for a reply, just kissed him like that, walking him backwards in the vague, general direction of the exit.
"You are," Poe got out when they were almost at the exit. He tried to stop, stumbled over his own feet, grabbed at Finn's waist for balance but nearly pulled him over, too. "Closer. You mean in distance? Or..." He couldn't think of the word. Closer to coming, he meant, but there was a word for that.
Poe shrugged and thrust a couple times, shallow but hard, against Finn's thigh. "Closer to coming?"
Finn's eyes widened, then dimmed and narrowed as he grinned. "Bunk, Poe. Isn't yours closer?"
"Are you asking me out?" Poe half-detached from him, not before sucking his way along Finn's jaw, so he could punch in the security code. "Because I generally don't put out this easy. I like a little...how do you say, 'dance'?"
"I think you just say 'dance'," Finn said, shaking his head. His hand was on Poe's neck now, easy as anything, like it belonged there. "And since when are you so, so. Um. Careful with your wares?"
"Careful with my wares?" Poe started laughing and couldn't stop, even as they moved through the officer's passage. "The fuck is careful with my wares?"
"I don't know! You said you like to go dancing before you put out, which is, frankly, news to me, and I think I'd know, so --"
Poe drew up short. It had been minutes - minutes! - since they'd been kissing and he couldn't let that stand. "Why would you know?"
Finn tilted his head, looking him over. "Why would I know?"
"Answer the question." Poe pushed him in the chest.
"I could, sure," Finn said, fingers pushing up the nape of Poe's neck into his hair, across his scalp. "Or you could kiss me some more."
"Easy," Poe said, hand dropping down the length of Finn's chest, grazing his waistband before detouring across to his hip. He leaned in and brushed his mouth over Finn's chin. "So fucking easy."
"You are, yes," Finn said, laughing again, kissing him full-on and wet and almost swooningly deep.
They made it, barely, to Finn's bunk, which was, as always, neat as a pin. Poe, also as always, did his damnedest to mess that up, and Finn was drunk and happy enough to let him for once. Poe rolled back and forth on the taut-drawn bedlinens, moving them around, grabbing them with his hands and wiggling his ass.
Finn stood over him, stripping, like he had any number of times when they bunked down together, on base or on mission, except this time, Poe could watch. Just sit up, mouth open, hands reaching, and watch. And help, in a manner of speaking.
"I'm helping," he insisted when Finn tried to bat his hands away. He was naked to the waist, so much lean muscle sliding together and apart. Poe palmed Finn's stomach, tickled the start of his pubes, slid his hands up to cup his pecs and tease at his nipples. "See? Checking. You've done an excellent job disrobing, soldier. Superlative."
Finn dropped to one knee on the bed, planting it between Poe's legs, pushing him back. "You're way behind, pilot. Demerits."
"Offset them with gold stars for helpfulness!" Poe tugged his shirt over his head, got tangled - it wasn't a jersey, but buttoned at the side, more formal than he was used to - and had to go still so Finn, clucking his tongue reproachfully, could liberate him. When Poe was free, he looked up, batting his eyelashes. "My hero, always there for me, saving my sorry ass."
"It's a good ass," Finn said, arm going around Poe as he settled atop him, kissing his neck and chest. "Deserves however many second chances it's gotten."
"A lot," Poe admitted. "Probably more than its share."
"Probably," Finn said. He squeezed his thighs around one of Poe's legs, pulsing the pressure, and looked up at Poe through his lashes.
"You like my ass?" Poe asked, then realized that he was a few moments behind Finn in the conversational rhythm. "Sorry, forget it, you were saying?" He ground up against Finn's crotch and grinned. "Hmm?"
Finn kissed him again and rocked their hips together, reaching down to cup Poe. "I want you."
"That's good," Poe said, like a dumbass, tracing the line of Finn's clavicle with his tongue. "Same here. I want you. Not me. I've had me plenty of times. He's good, you're going to enjoy him, but I'd like a little you."
"Yeah," Poe said, "I'm trying, actually. I really am."
Finn was smiling at him, which was enough to make Poe forget whatever booze-soaked embarrassment was starting to bloom in his chest. "You want some help, maybe?"
"With shutting up? Yeah." Poe wriggled down a little. "I'm thinking gag. I'm thinking that's what it's going to take."
"Just something to fill up my mouth, see, keep my tongue busy so --"
Finn looked down at him. after a moment, he seemed to get where Poe was headed - both physically and verbally - and shifted onto his back, hand going to his belt and fly.
"I got it," Poe said, though that sounded a lot more confident than he felt. Luckily there was nothing overly complicated and he got Finn open. "Hey, I did get it. Go, me."
Finn started to say something else, but Poe shook his head and tugged down Finn's pants at the same time as he pressed his face against his drawers. Finn's erection beat hot and straining below the fabric; he jumped and gasped when Poe tongued the small wet spot.
"Generally, I have a whole technique, see --" Poe started to say, but Finn pulled his hair warningly and rolled his hips and Poe, for once, got the message. "Just so you know. I'm really pretty dedicated to the quality of my --"
"Stop being weird."
"Yeah," Poe said and, frankly, this was weird. He wanted to do this, that was for sure. He was almost painfully hard, and this was Finn, his best friend, pretty much his hero, who smelled amazing and felt even more amazing, and he'd dreamed about this a lot, but at the same time, he almost could have been happy just shooting the shit here with his best friend like this, like most other nights. Realizing that, he breathed out, making Finn jump again, and said to himself, "huh."
Then he couldn't say anything else, not understandably, because Finn was peeling down his drawers and Poe was craning in, and fuck, his dick was even more beautiful up close than Poe had even imagined. It was hot and sticky and delicious and fit just right - too much, but the best kind of too much - in Poe's mouth.
Finn was grabbing at him, shoulders and neck and hair, hands sliding off, his hips coming up, his voice pealing out. Poe held onto Finn's leg with one hand and shoved his other against his own dick. His lips burned, his breath scraped, and somewhere up above him, half a parsec away, Finn was moaning the sweetest, dirtiest things.
Poe glanced up - he couldn't see much, but he still wanted to check - and at first Finn was looking down at him, digging his fingers into the back of Poe's neck. He looked away, though, biting his lip, thrusting up hard, and Poe got back to work.
"Are you -- are you --" Finn pushed up onto one elbow. "Are you jerking off right now?"
Poe's hand went still and he redoubled the suction and spit. That was pretty gauche, Dameron. Don't get ahead of yourself.
He looked up one more time, shrugged, then shook his head, lips locked around Finn's cockhead. He grunted a little and made a show of bringing both hands up Finn's thighs, wrapping one around the base of his shaft, cupping his balls with the other.
"Oh, damn --" Finn flopped back, hips and ass well off the bed now, drawing Poe up onto his knees to keep up. He pistoned his mouth up and down, weighing and twisting Finn's balls a little roughly, definitely eagerly. Finn's other hand drove into Poe's hair and pushed him down, held him fast. "Poe, I'm --"
It was better than he'd imagined. And he'd imagined it a lot over the last few years, from countless angles, for many different reasons.
Or maybe they were all the same reason.
That reason was Finn.
Finn rose and fell, thrust again and again, as Poe's mouth burned and buzzed out into numbness, as his jaw creaked and ached, and it was all so worth it, because when Finn finally did come, he sat up, back arched like some ancient monument, head falling back, mouth open and yelling, hands locked in Poe's hair as he shuddered and pushed, his come filling Poe's mouth, running over his cheek, down his chin.
Finn's chest heaved as he worked his hands loose and eased himself back. Poe followed a little, unwilling to let him pull all the way out, but finally, coughing hoarsely, Finn pushed his face away. "Ouch, man, come on --"
Poe swallowed, and again, resting his head against Finn's leg. His face was sweaty; Finn's was, too. He rolled his lips together, then against his teeth, tasting Finn still, working some sensation back into them.
"You taste fucking amazing," Poe said. "You taste amazing, fucking. Ha."
When he looked up, grinning, swiping the hair off his forehead, Finn had his head pillowed on one arm. In profile, in the wan light, he looked elegant and remote, more a feature of a landscape than a living, breathing person.
Poe normally would have said something here, something obnoxious, and maybe poked Finn until he was paying attention again.
Making noise, though, even just to speak, suddenly seemed impossible. Poe rolled a little until he was on his side, face free from being stuck to Finn. His hand went back to his dick, because he was an idiot and hard and the taste, scent, weight of Finn's orgasm was still resounding and echoing across his nerves.
He pulled and tugged a couple times, just to enjoy the sensation, but then Finn reached down and touched Poe's bicep.
"Why won't you let me?" His voice was rough, remote, almost hesitant.
"I'm not," Poe said, confused as hell. He tried to look up, catch Finn's eye, but the angle was all wrong. "I'm just --. Really into it."
Finn chuckled, slow and joyless. "Yeah, so into it you can't even let me try."
"Finn --" Poe pulled himself up to sitting and grabbed for Finn's hand. "That's not how it is. The fuck?"
"I know what I'm doing."
"I know you do," Poe said. Every time he shifted or breathed or spoke, his dick twitched painfully. He tried to smile but Finn didn't take him up on the offer. "I wanted you to --"
Finn covered his eyes with his forearm. "Yeah, that was obvious."
"Is this what happens when you mix brandy and punch?" Poe asked. He knew it was a stupid question, but he didn't know what else to say, how to salvage a situation that, until a moment ago, he thought was pretty damn wonderful. He poked Finn's arm and tried, yet again, to grin. "You get mopey?"
"Yeah, maybe." Finn sighed and shifted over. "C'mere, okay?"
"Way ahead of you," Poe said, slipping up the bunk along Finn's side. They'd fallen asleep plenty of times like this in closer quarters. It was just what you did with buddies. Partners. When he realized that he was basically positioned to hump Finn's leg, however, he started to turn over.
"No," Finn said, low but firm. He held Poe in place, pulled him in a little in fact, so the arm he'd been resting on held Poe's shoulders. With his free hand, he scraped his nails down Poe's sweaty chest before grasping Poe's cock and tugging him base to head. "How's that?"
"Good," Poe said, breath gone, just like that. Finn smiled a little and twisted his grasp on the downstroke; Poe shuddered and thrust. "Really good."
"Never doubted -- fuck." Torn - he wanted to close his eyes and throw himself into the sensations but at the same time, he couldn't look away from Finn's face - Poe curled his toes and dug his fingers against Finn's arm and thrust fast and shallow into Finn's tight, warm palm.
"Slow down," Finn said, and maybe he sounded amused, or maybe still mopey, Poe couldn't tell, but he squeezed hard enough that red heat fluoresced up and down through Poe's body and he knew Finn was serious.
"Sorry," Poe said. He tightened his ass-cheeks, bit the inside of his cheek, ran through model numbers on Imperial-issued hemi-compressors. "Trying."
Finn kissed him again and started stroking him more loosely, so softly it was nearly unbearable. He brought his palm up to his mouth and Poe helped him wet it, then kept kissing him. He was shivering in anticipation yet still almost screeched when Finn did touch him again, good and hard, thumb curved over the head, swiping up pre-come like a pendulum.
"You always get this hard," Finn said.
Poe didn't know if it was a question. "Haven't had complaints," he said, and swallowed, and added, just in case, just to be clear, "but, no, don't think so. Pretty psyched right now."
It's you, he didn't say, didn't know if that was even what Finn was asking. If he were asking. It was all too confusing; why was it so confusing? This was Finn, Finn with Poe, having sex, so many of his favorite things together, together at last. Such simple, wonderful things should, when combined, lead to yet more wonderful feelings. Not confusion. Not ignorance of what the hell Finn could possibly mean, concern that he was mad, or maybe regretful, or --.
"Can I, can I --" Poe craned forward, managed to press his mouth against Finn's neck, then his chin.
"What?" Finn whispered, slowing his strokes, tightening his arm around Poe's shoulders.
Poe kissed him. Easier than talking, especially this close to coming, and a lot more certain at any time. Kissing, he could do. Kissing, he had no doubts about. Kissing, Finn was vibrating against him, tasting so good, clutching at Poe's shoulders, tugging on his dick like he knew exactly how Poe wanted it, what he needed, and maybe he did. Finn was like that, Finn was good and generous and perceptive and loving.
Moaning into Finn, feeling Finn lap up the noise, Poe pushed and pushed and came, finally, shaking and pumping.
Finn broke the kiss, tipping their foreheads together, so Poe could catch his breath. Finn brought his hand back up to his mouth; Poe smelled his come, watched, breathless all over again as Finn licked himself clean. Neatly, efficiently, but not without a certain air of appreciation.
"Better?" Finn asked eventually. He'd settled onto his back, arm still under Poe, cleaned-off hand resting low on his belly.
"Good stuff," Poe replied, like that made any sense at all. He wiggled to get more comfortable and, after yawning hugely, added, nodding, "Yeah."
"All right," Finn said and yawned, too.
Poe slid his hand over Finn's hip, pushed it under Finn's palm, held on.
"Hey," Poe said in the morning, before he even opened his eyes. Finn invariably woke before him. He was just that responsible. Poe stretched hugely, luxuriating in it, wiggling his toes. "Morning."
Finn lay still beside him, looking up at the ceiling. His lashes were so long and soft. Finally, fucking finally, Poe could just reach over and --.
He was going to brush them, lightly, with the tip of his index finger. Probably murmur something very silly and affectionate to boot.
But Finn flinched away and sat up. "Fresher."
Poe drew his legs up out of the way so Finn could climb out of the bunk.
He was right there, well within reach, naked and knuckling at his eyes. He looked almost impossibly young, so beautiful that Poe's breath guttered in his chest.
"You want some company?" Poe asked. He sounded hoarse to his own ears; hopefully it came out sexier than that. "Maybe we could --"
"I'm good, just gotta go," Finn replied, pulling up his drawers and pushing through the door.
He didn't come back.
Poe had had plenty of awkward mornings-after, that was for sure. Generally the best way to deal with them would be to grab his clothes and make a break for it. Maybe find something to eat, then hunt up Finn to share the story with.
Poe pulled the covers over his head and groaned long and loud.
It didn't help anything, but it was something to do.
When he heard the door rattle open again, he stayed where he was. He didn't know what he was going to do - he had a vague idea he'd jump up and pretend to scare Finn - but then Rey said, "Finn? FINN!"
Poe sat up, the covers slipping down his front. "He's in the fresher."
She squinted at him, shaking her finger, her mouth open but no words escaping.
"Morning," Finn said, sliding inside behind Rey. He scrubbed the towel around the sides of his head. "What's going on?"
"Finn!" Taking him by the shoulders, she shook him. "Your family's here. They're here."
Poe was unshaven, barely washed, and his shirt was probably on inside out, but he wasn't going to miss this. He followed Finn and Rey, still doing up his trousers, his boots unlaced and flapping around his feet.
Rey grinned, swinging Finn's hand in hers, glancing back at Poe. "So, you guys finally --"
"Not important," Finn said quickly. "Who did they say they were?"
Rey looked back at Poe, then to Finn. "Illyrian, I think? I don't know where that is."
"It wasn't not not important," Poe put in. That was probably too many negatives. Finn glanced at him sharply.
"Near the central core," Finn said, "single-star system, I think? No local hyperlanes, so it's never been of much interest to anyone. Tried to join the CIS during the Clone Wars, pretty half-heartedly."
"How do you know this stuff?" Poe asked, and Rey nodded.
Finn shrugged. "I just do. How do you two not?"
"Scavenger," Rey said, pointing at herself.
"Fuck-up," Poe said and grinned. He waited for Finn to dispute that, but Finn was moving away, even dropping Rey's hand, lengthening his stride.
"No, you're not." Rey punched Poe's arm.
"Might've agreed with you on that yesterday," Poe said as he watched Finn go. "Not so sure today."
Rey shrugged. "That's weird."
When they caught up with Finn, he was nearly at the entrance to C3. He'd paused, but he didn't seem to be waiting for them so much as he was calming himself. Composing himself. Deep breaths, neck stretches, a couple bounces on his toes. When he saw them, he smiled without much warmth, squared his shoulders, and stepped inside.
Poe knew Leia's office very well; it did not change, whatever base they found themselves on. He had spent so much time there that he not only had a favorite chair, but a favorite spot at the conference table and angle at which to tip back that chair.
This morning, however, nothing felt quite right. The Illyrian delegation was small - just four humans, it looked like - but they were spread along fully one half of the table. Leia occupied her usual spot along the far wall, beneath a portrait of her father and Mon Mothma.
"Here they are," Leia said, rising. "Finn, with, of course, his constant companions."
Rey looked at Poe, who could only shrug. Finn passed a hand over his hair and nodded. "Morning. Ma'am. Sirs, ma'ams."
"Please, sit," the middle Illyrian said. Poe looked at Leia, who blinked slowly, then complied, leading the way for Finn, Poe, and Rey.
The Illyrians were stunning, to a person. The woman in the middle wore loop upon loop of silver braids atop her head. She looked a little like Finn, if Finn forgot how to smile and simply gazed, a little bored, out at the world. On her left was a slim, tall man, his skin closer to Poe's own coloring, his eyes tilted, somehow faintly amused beneath a fringe of shiny straight hair. To her right, there was another woman, hair pulled back close to her skull; she was young and heavy-set, wide-spaced eyes taking everything in. beside her sat an older man, bald and mustached, his arms crossed. Security, Poe decided. Bodyguard for the older woman.
"Neerta, of the Rock," the woman announced, pressing her palm to her chest. She tipped her head right, then left, introducing the two younger ones. "Tiran, Wind, and Swael, River."
She did not introduce the fourth man. While the other three were dressed in bright, almost gaudy colors, he wore a plain gray suit.
"Hey, I'm Poe," Poe said, leaning across the table, offering his hand. The man did not acknowledge him. Poe sat back down, trying to look abashed.
"And you," Neerta said, addressing Finn, as if Poe had never moved. "I would know my kin anywhere. "Taivas, of the Shine, long may it be remembered."
Twenty years ago, an early First Order expeditionary force made landfall on a remote Illyrian island. Evidently they were practicing maneuvers, testing tactics and personnel.
The Shine people had gathered on the island for their spring ceremonies.
"Bad luck," Neerta said, "if only they had stayed with the rest of us..."
Everyone over the age of seven was slaughtered or sold to slavers. The children were taken, it seemed, alive.
"How...?" Rey asked. She was the first to speak. The younger Illyrians had their eyes downcast; Neerta, who had relayed the story, tipped up her chin and fixed her gaze on Rey. Rey simply asked again, a little more loudly, "how do you know what happened? If everyone was gone?"
Poe stole a look at Leia. She had sat heavily back in her chair early in the story, and she still had her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her face was turned away, her cheeks hollow.
Finn cleared his throat. "That's who I was? Part of this...tribe? Shine?"
"Not a tribe," Tiran, the younger woman, said. "We form affinity groups, joining the one most suited to our outlook and personality at adolescence. Your mother was Shine."
"My sister in law," Neerta said.
"Her name?" Leia asked, so quietly it might have been a hiccup in the life-support ducts.
Finn repeated the name. He was sitting so straight, his posture perfect, his eyes still and wide. He gripped his knees under the table.
Poe didn't know where to look; it was childish, pure ridiculousness, to think that gazing at Finn could do anything, yet he couldn't look away, either.
"Pretty," Rey said.
At that, the corners of Finn's lips deepened and he nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"You must return with us," Neerta told Finn. She placed both hands on the table and rose. "It is a matter of urgent political necessity. A crisis looms."
"I'm sorry, what?" Poe asked.
"What sort of crisis?" Leia asked.
Finn simply nodded.
"Your grandmother is dying," Neerta said.
"Not directly a grandmother --" Swael spoke for the first time.
"Kin is kin," Neerta said and Swael looked away. To Finn, she said, "Your time to lead has arrived."
"Are you saying..." Leia cleared her throat. "Is Finn royalty?"
"Taivas was to be --" Tiran said.
"Hold up," Finn said hoarsely. "How do you even know who I am?"
"Your genetic profile," Leia reminded him. "We've shared it, and all the other surviving troopers, with the provisional committee."
"No, I understand that, ma'am, thank you. What I mean is, why am I -- what? Your king? I don't want to be --"
"You refuse your call?" Neerta said, both disbelief and incipient disgust harshening her tone.
"I'm not saying that! But I'm not the biggest royalty enthusiast," Finn said, then glanced at Leia. "No offense, ma'am."
Her cheek in her hand, she shrugged languidly. "None taken, not to fear."
"We share power among the affinity groups," Tiran said. "Without Shine for two decades, it's been kind of lopsided. In fact, Swael was due to lead for Sea --"
Swael shook his head, smiling a little. "You'd be doing me a huge favor if you come home."
Finn nodded, slowly, wearing the careful, evaluating look he got in the midst of tricky, no-win strategy sessions.
"The old woman may already be gone, we have been away too long." Neerta adjusted her heavy stole across her shoulder and swept away from the table. "Your beloved intendeds will accompany you to your quarters and thence to the ship."
"I'm sorry," Finn said, standing. "Who's that?"
Swael and Tiran exchanged a glance. Tiran nodded and said, "We are promised to each other."
"How lovely," Leia said drily as she, too, rose. "Such terrible timing, of course, given that Finn was only just this month affianced."
Finn's lips moved against each other, but he didn't say anything.
"You are claimed?" Neerta demanded from the threshold.
"He is," Leia said, so firmly that Finn's posture straightened more and Poe tucked his hands behind his back. "Will that be a problem?"
Swael shook his head. "Of course not, that isn't what we --"
"We shall accommodate the consort," Neerta announced, as if issuing an instruction. "You --" She pointed at Rey. "Join me. I should like to get to know my new niece."
Rey held up both hands. "Not me! No way, not like that."
"Oh." Neerta narrowed her eyes, taking in Poe. "Commander?"
Poe saluted her lazily. Interesting that she knew his rank. Maybe that was just something all fancy powerful people did, not unique to Leia.
Finn swallowed. "Poe?"
"Yeah, sweetheart? Should we go pack?" Poe took his arm and beamed at the room. "Lead the way, buddy."
"A moment, gentlemen?" Leia asked as the Illyrians filed out. She addressed Swael. "Just a moment, I promise. Indulge an old lady's fondness for the sons she never had?"
He nodded quickly, closing the door behind him.
She was remarkable: Poe knew this, had known this for nearly his whole life, but there she'd go and do something else like play up a stranger's sentimental side, and Poe was left to gape in admiration all over again.
"Sorry about that," she said when they were alone. All trace of sweet old lady was gone, replaced by her far more familiar urgent focus. "I've found, it's always better to enter into unknown situations as if already taken."
"Claimed," Poe said, trying to mimic Neerta's tone. "Claimed hard, and well."
"Why?" Finn asked Leia. "Why would you --"
She shrugged. "If you get there and love it and everything's wonderful, get a quickie Corellian divorce and no one's the wiser. But it's good to have someone watch your back. Just in case."
Finn nodded. He drew Poe a little closer against him. "That makes perfect sense from an operational perspective."
The words Poe never thought he'd hear, enough to make him swoon: he was useful and sensible! From an operational perspective.
Be still his heart.
Rey hugged Finn so hard that she lifted him off his feet, bending backwards, refusing to let go.
"As soon as Luke's back, I'll come see you," she said about forty times, tears in her eyes.
She hugged Poe almost as hard. He was still surprised, every time she initiated contact, but then he found himself reluctant to let her go.
"Take care of him," she whispered. "He'll say he's fine, but --"
"I know," Poe whispered back. "This'll be easy, don't worry."
Leia simply grasped each of their hands, smiling up at them with that small, sad expression. "Be well," she said and, "may the Force be with you."
It was different, hearing that when they weren't heading right into near-certain peril.
He offered to fly the sleek little cruiser, but Tiran shook her head.
"She's very protective," Swael said, smirking, ducking from her raised hand. "No one touches what's hers."
It felt weird, and wrong, to be merely a passenger.
Poe washed and napped, while Finn sat in conference with Neerta and his (former) intendeds. When he woke up, BB-8 gave him a little holo-explainer on all things Illyrian.
Illyria was beautiful. Poe didn't have much in the way of criteria for criticizing planets - basically, if there wasn't too much smog and/or radiation, he was happy - but Illyria, with its broad gray seas, gentle wide prairies, and deep forests, looked to be truly lovely.
Most people, of whatever affinity group, lived in or near one of the three metropolitan areas. Rock controlled mining across the two continents, and had expanded in recent generations to aeronautics and communications technology. Sea concentrated on fisheries and science, it seemed, while Growth, obviously, conducted large-scale agricultural cooperatives. Wind were transportation experts and, oddly enough, poets and journalists.
The loss of Shine had meant a great deal of social upheaval. Five clans could share power roughly equally; four promised stalemates and deadlocks, if not outright domination of one by three.
"All right, that's good for now," Poe told BB-8. He could only take so much infodumping before his brain shut down. "Think I need another nap or seven after that."
BB-8 buzzed, offering to quiz Poe on the facts, but Poe shook him off.
"You okay?" Finn asked from the passage.
Poe sat up hastily, clearing space on the narrow bunk. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good. How're you?"
His smile told Poe how tired he was, how thrilled and worried, how cautiously hopeful.
"I --" Finn sagged a little. "Sorry. Don't know who's listening."
"Sit, man, sit," Poe insisted and, after glancing over his shoulder, Finn did.
"I'm --" Finn lowered his voice. "I'm glad you're here."
"Nowhere else," Poe said and Finn's smile tilted, went sarcastic. "No, I'm serious."
"Heh." Finn sat forward, lacing his fingers together, studying his palms. Poe took a breath, then placed his hand between Finn's shoulder blades. He would have done so before last night, without hesitation, so why not do it now? Finn exhaled slowly. "Thanks."
"I'm serviceable," Poe said, massaging the base of Finn's neck. "Useful, like."
Finn tipped against him. "My head's in about a thousand places right now."
"I can imagine."
"Can we just --" Finn closed his eyes. "Be cool?"
"Of course," Poe replied. He had no idea what that entailed - wasn't he plenty cool to begin with, ha? - but he couldn't disagree. "Whatever you want. Need."
Finn squeezed Poe's knee before standing up. "I should get back."
"You want company?"
Snorting, Finn thumped the bulkhead. "Man, you think BB-8's version of history and culture isn't for you? Try it in epic verse form."
"Yeah, good point." Poe lay down, swinging his legs up onto the bunk. "You know where to find me."
"I do," Finn said softly. "Thanks."
A small crowd waited to greet them at the spaceport.
On the ground, an intricate mosaic depicted the same five symbols that were on the walls and ceilings inside, as well as on badges on most people's chests. Blade of green grass, buxom blue wave, oval gray stone, and a white puff that Poe took for a cloud, but BB-8 said was better understood as wind or breath. Poe argued the point, back on ship, that wind implied sky and air, thus clouds, but BB-8 did not budge from his position. He was stubbornly literal sometimes, even for a droid.
Before them now, the motifs were enormous, big enough for three or four people to stand atop and not completely obscure. In the center of the mosaic, the rays of a vivid yellow sun touched each of the other four symbols.
A female Illyrian, taller than he, wrapped in layer after layer of gauzy blue fabric, each a slightly different shade from the next, approached him. Poe was waiting on the edge of the crowd, watching Finn bow his head, accepting kisses and embraces from a growing line of people.
"Commander Dameron," she said. "I wonder if we could...?"
Her holo-droid, a lanky silver model, hooted softly at BB-8, who rolled backwards and darted behind Poe's calves. "Yeah, sure, of course."
He'd done enough media during the war to know what to say and do. Look serious, but not upset; don't fidget (even if you want to fix your hair, Poe, it looks fine!); speak a little more slowly than feels natural so that the various translation programs don't embarrass you with hilarious malapropisms.
He did fine with this interview, at least at the beginning. He was from Yavin IV, yes; his parents were in what she termed "the ever-idealistic Rebellion", yes (he made a note to ask BB-8 later what that phrasing meant); the prince's consort, yes. He didn't even snigger at the term for either of them.
"I see you've been admiring our mosaic," she said, and told him a little about Rock's artistic legacy. "I'm Wind, myself," she added, touching her badge, "but my father was Rock, and I do love their work, don't you?"
"Lovely," Poe said, bending over so they could record him really studying the inlays. "Gorgeous, really."
"And what do you think your affinity is?" she asked, enunciating clearly, her voice carrying across the crowd.
"Well, I'm not from here, so --" Poe looked around, hoping to catch Finn's eye. There were even more people around him now, however. "I don't think I could say."
"Everyone has an affinity." She smiled patiently, a little tightly. "What would you say is your first loyalty and inspiration?"
"Oh, well, then." He ran his hand through his hair and shrugged. "People, of course. Always people."
Her smile vanished. Her eyes narrowed as she took a step back; the droid recording them beeped a warning that she ignored. The three Illyrians to his left gasped softly, then turned to whisper among themselves.
"Sorry, sorry!" Poe held up his hands; Finn had noticed something happening and was speaking lowly to Swael, who, frowning, was looking at Poe. "Of these, you mean? Sun, stars, then. Of course. Stars."
She relaxed, her smile returning, and Swael turned back to Finn and their companions.
After that, he didn't see Finn for nearly a full day. Neerta and her ever-expanding entourage swept Finn off to see the dying matriarch; Poe was not invited.
Swael, at least, seemed apologetic about that. "When death squats in a house, only family --"
Poe shook his head. "Say no more. I get it."
When Shara died, half the surviving rebels showed up, or at least it felt that way to Poe. There were so many loud strangers in his house, camping around their land, that Poe climbed a tree down by the river just to cry by himself. Wiped his nose with leaves, soaked the bark with tears, nearly got hit by lightning when a storm moved in.
Private mourning sounded, by contrast, a lot kinder.
A nice, lanky, super effusive kid named Pekko drove Poe back to the main compound. Hair in a big, happy puff around their face, they kept turning away from the road to ask Poe questions about the war, X-Wings, Jedi.
"Watch the --! Shit, kid, you're a worse driver than I am -" Poe grabbed the edge of the hackney and decided never to let go. Behind them, tethered down to the luggage (atop some freight that Pekko was transporting in a side deal), BB-8 shrieked happily. "Thanks, BB, glad you're enjoying yourself."
BB-8 had, at minimum, twenty different ways to say wheeee!. He was working through them all.
"We have clearance," Pekko shouted, lifting their hands from the joystick, letting the hackney zoom straight ahead. "This is awesome!"
Unexpected, not to say highly unwelcome downside to peacetime: Poe was starting to feel his age.
Luckily, the trip was very short; the spaceport was directly accessible to the clans' compound in the center of the city. Pekko called out the names of landmarks amid the barrage of questions, flying so fast that Poe barely had time to open his mouth to reply before the next one came.
"Here we are!" Pekko brought the hackney up short at the abrupt termination of the mag-lev zone, pitching Poe forward and almost out of the vehicle. "Whoa, careful!"
The compound had once been five separate compounds, one for each clan, arrayed around a central building for deliberations and banquets. Over the centuries, distinctions were blurred and lost as new construction occurred, until the current compound was achieved. The buildings were no taller than two storeys, with broad windows open along the sides to the wind off the sea to the west and the forests around the rest. The predominant materials were soft, pale stone and hammered metal.
"You'd think it'd be wood and nothing but wood," Poe said as they wandered through the twisting passages, "what with all the forests."
Portraits of clan leaders smiled down at them from the curving walls. The holo displays were dimmed in the dusk, somehow warm and ghostly at the same time.
Pekko laughed. "You don't mess with the forests," they said, as if that were the most obvious thing in the world and Poe a slow, forgetful old man. "I mean, really."
"Oh, right. Of course."
The small suite of rooms set aside for Finn opened to a wraparound terrace. Past the low wall, the forest surged and mumbled, spiky trees whipping at the night sky; one the other side, the sea crawled, striped with foam.
Poe arranged to meet up with Pekko in the next few days, to answer any and all questions they might have.
"We'll eat, too!" Pekko said. "Real Illyrian food, not this fancy pretentious stuff --"
"Sounds great," Poe told them as slid the folding metal screen across the entrance. "Thanks, buddy."
When he and BB-8 were alone, he fell backward onto the wide, inviting bed. The quilts were satin, vivid greens and purples in antic patchworks, studded with chips of mirror and heavy beads.
"You take first watch," Poe said, wrapping himself up in a quilt as snugly as a Yavinian pocket lunch, "wake me up if the hubby shows."
Finn returned from the matriarch's funeral ashen-faced and withdrawn.
Poe asked Swael and Tiran how it had gone. That probably wasn't the best phrasing, but he didn't know a better one.
"He is Taivas," Tiran said gravely. "Grandmother confirmed it."
Poe nodded, trying not to imagine a sick old woman performing genetic analysis on her deathbed. There were other ways to know things, other forms of certainty.
"Soon, we'll need to hold the amity and investiture," Swael told Poe; his thin brows were drawn together, his tone anxious. "Please look after the beloved, he should rest, he needs to be at his best."
"The beloved, yeah, of course."
Poe didn't know, really, what looking after Finn might entail. Finn was eminently self-reliant and capable. He was the one who tended to look after others; he'd distinguished himself again and again in the field for that. His tenacity against the enemy was only exceeded by his determination to bring everyone back safely and protect the civilians.
No matter how many times he was disappointed - because he was always disappointed, that was what war did - Finn tried just as hard the next time.
"Hungry?" Poe asked him when Finn rose later that evening. "There's jelly fruits - which are amazing - and some puffy bread."
"I'm all right."
"You don't look all right."
"Don't I?" Finn said sharply.
"Sorry," Poe said, handing him a bowl heaped with quivering slices of orange jelly fruit. "You look tired and sad."
"I am," Finn admitted, and chewed some fruit. "Sorry."
Poe sat across from him, stealing a few slices, stuffing them into his mouth. Around them, he said, thickly, "Don't be, it's cool." He swallowed with difficulty. "Of course it's not cool, you know what I mean. You don't need to be sorry, I'm fine."
Finn smiled slightly and picked apart the next slice. "That's good. Missed you, man."
"It's fucking boring around here," Poe told him. "So glad you're back."
Finn cocked his head, frowning. "Boring?"
"I had three etiquette classes," Poe said. "Slept through those. Did some catch-up with BB-8, just to get a sense of the cultural hoo-haw, expectations and stuff, but the records are spotty, so I'm just going to have to wing it."
"They don't seem too into formalities here," Finn said. "Not like I was worried they'd be."
Finn worried a lot. Almost all the time, in fact. Poe had learned this gradually, not as a fact to be acquired, but as a dawning sense of truth, as you grow accustomed to the cadence of someone's voice or the quality of light on a new planet.
Finn didn't quite let on how much he worried. It was, however, the steady backing throb to his thoughts and decisions.
The first time Poe really got it, when Rey and Luke were delayed for over a month by insurgents on Dagobah, he watched Finn sleep all night long. The Resistance command was relegated to an old Imperial capital ship, far out in the Outer Rim, and everyone was double- or triple-bunked on account of space.
Watching didn't solve the problem, of course. But every time Finn stirred, Poe squeezed his shoulder and told him to sleep, and maybe that helped them both.
"Yeah, that's something," Poe said. Finn still looked glum. "Basically, I think all I have to do is be quiet, right? And show up."
"Both of which are pretty hard for you," Finn pointed out.
"I show up!"
"You slept through three etiquette lessons, you just said."
Poe snorted hard enough to lift the hair off his forehead. "But that was...etiquette. I mean. Doesn't count."
They kept Finn busy. Poe was left to his own devices - a dangerous proposition!, his father would have said, but unfortunately that was not much trouble to be had. That would have been interesting, at least. Instead, he spent most of his time catching up on new holo-games with BB-8, eating to bursting with Pekko, and sleeping with Finn.
Just sleeping. It was a huge bed, and there was no need for them to end up pushed together every night, arms heavy over each other's sides, faces tucked up close, but there you were.
When Finn was absent one night for the Super Secret Investiture ceremony, Poe slept incredibly poorly, waking in the morning with a headache and, according to BB-8, "a remarkably terrible attitude".
"Bite me," Poe told him, then felt bad, but BB-8 was already scooting away, grumbling to himself.
Which sucked for obvious friendship reasons, but also because Poe had been trying to complete a holo-call with Leia for a day and a half, and BB-8's receivers were far better than anything on Illyria.
He managed to complete the call only two hours past their pre-arranged time.
"Keeping busy?" she asked. "You look...remarkably dissolute, as a matter of fact."
He hadn't shaved for a few days, and his hair needed a cut. He rasped his nails upward through his stubble and grinned. "Peacetime Poe's a slob, it turns out."
"I've seen your quarters, and your flight deck," Leia said. "As well as your cockpit. So was wartime Poe."
"Hmph." Poe shrugged. "That was different."
"Indeed," she replied.
He wanted to ask her what peacetime Leia was like, but he didn't know how. They were close, but he was fairly certain they weren't that close, such that he could ask something so personal. He'd never noticed, not until he got here, how astutely she asked questions and learned things about others without revealing very much about herself.
He was noticing it now, because Neerta and the others did the same.
"Tell me what the consort's life is like," she said, and laughed when he looked down at the floor and groaned. "You're far better suited to it than Han ever was."
"No offense, ma'am," Poe said, "but that's a really low bar."
She kept laughing. "You and Finn are better suited to each other, as well."
"But --" He didn't say we're just faking. He didn't have to. Leia raised an eyebrow, giving him one of her less patient narrowed-eye glares, so he added, "Thanks."
"I mean it," she said. "Believe me."
"Have you heard from your father?"
"Damn," Poe said, anxiety slicing right down his chest. "Should I have? Is he okay?"
Leia shook her head gently. "It's an interesting pan-cultural convention, Commander, particularly in this phase called 'peacetime', to let one's parent know when one moves. Strange, I know, how they might take an interest. You should look it up."
Groaning, he pinched the bridge of his nose and nodded. "Got it, loud and clear."
"Good," she said. "Now, consorting? How goes it?"
He told her about the etiquette lessons. How Finn was hard to find, harder to spend time with, so occupied was he with various meetings and educational visits.
"I was nice about some mosaics," Poe finished up, "so now I guess I'm a patron of the arts?"
He'd been to three sculpture gardens, an academy exhibition, and a kids' art fair in the last week.
"Maybe that can be your new cause," Leia said, and she wasn't laughing, but amusement soaked her tone like syrup. "Develop your creative side."
"I'll send you all my sketches," he replied. "Put 'em up on the pantry door."
"But of course." Leia looked down, checking her ever-present datapad. "Oh, and Poe? Would you do me a personal favor?"
"Anything, you know that."
She snorted lightly. "This is for a friend, actually. But I'd like to get him off my back."
She didn't have many friends. Poe nodded and said, "Hit me. Whatever you need. Or they need. He needs? Is it a he?"
"Stop it," she said. When he reared back and mimed clapping his hand over his mouth, she nodded, satisfied. "That's better. If you have a chance, in amongst all your no doubt enthralling ceremonial duties, would you see what you can find out about the patalate deposits on the..." She checked her datapad again. "Southern landmass."
"Patalate?" He'd never heard of it, but that didn't mean much. If it wasn't something to fly or shoot - or, these days, express yourself artistically with - he wasn't exactly well-informed.
She nodded. "Lando won't let it drop --"
The display suddenly flared, blindingly bright, and the audio cut out with the technological equivalent of the grunt you give after getting socked in the gut. Poe shook the droid, called for BB-8, even flagged down one of the techs, but there was nothing to be done.
Sunspots, they said. Happens sometimes. Got to wait it out.
He was so annoyed about the broken call that it wasn't until well after the evening meal that Poe realized she'd let slip that she was seeing Calrissian again. Hot damn, Connix owed him a hundred credits!
If he could have found her, wherever she'd demobbed to, if he had any way of contacting anyone in the midst of what turned out to be a record-setting storm of solar flares.
As for the patalate, BB-8 told him the next day that it was a rare mineral, much prized for use in various forms of capacitor. Scans of Illyria back over the last decade showed, at best, traces of it, nothing like a deposit.
"What about earlier?" Poe asked as they neared the spaceport. Pekko bounded over to meet them, a helmet in each hand. BB-8 whistled, replying that most of the environmental records had been lost some time ago. "That keeps happening, huh?"
BB-8 trilled his assent. He found it eminently frustrating and also really stupid. Had Illyrians never heard of back-ups?
"What keeps happening?" Pekko asked, tossing Poe his helmet.
"Eh, you know." Poe shrugged. "Life." He clapped Pekko on the shoulder. "Ready to fly?"
Finn seemed like he was in heaven. He was learning so much, all the time, everywhere he went. Poe hadn't seen him quite so radiant and engaged since that first debriefing on D'Qar.
Unlike the debriefing, in which Finn described every loathsome detail he could recall about Starkiller, here he was overjoyed by everything he was learning.
The triadic betrothals, for example. "They just assume everyone likes both genders," he told Poe excitedly. "Maybe that's why I like both?"
"Lots of people like all genders," Poe said carefully. "I don't think that's --"
"But the way it's built into the social structure," Finn insisted, "that's not just an individual thing."
"True," Poe said. He didn't want to argue about this. He'd never felt this sort of worry, this close, before, not with Finn. They'd bickered, sure, about mission strategy as well as how best to rank the Top Five Alderaanian Erotic Songs, but that was normal. That wasn't an argument. It didn't involve stakes, principles, ideas that would cause Finn to judge him badly.
"The whole affinity system is fascinating," Finn murmured, turning back to a datapad. "It's under constant development, did you know that?"
"Like how?" Poe asked, tossing a small lug nut at BB-8, who'd catch it with his magnet, then lob it back.
"Nothing's set in stone --"
"-- or Rock," Poe said, grinning. "Get it?"
"Yeah," Finn said curtly and Poe started to apologize but Finn kept talking. "There used to be just Wind, Sea, and Rock."
"Oh, yeah, they were always --" Finn checked the datapad, reached for another, then swiped back to the first, frowning a little. "Accounts vary."
"They tend to do that, the galaxy over," Poe said. Finn glanced up at him, eyes bright, grin huge and curving, and Poe smiled back, helplessly, forgetting all the little irritations.
He'd thought he was going to give Pekko flying lessons.
No. There was no ship; there was just a hang-glider. There weren't any small craft available, "even for you", Poe was told.
He didn't know quite how to interpret that phrase. Most Illyrians treated him, when they had to deal with him, with mild boredom. On the scale of xenophobia he'd encountered over his life, this disinterest in off-worlders was far, far preferable to just about anything.
At first, he'd assumed that they would warm up in time. At least some of them, he thought, some had to. So far, except for Pekko and, to a lesser extent, Swael, that had yet to happen.
He didn't tell Finn any of this. He told him about the hang-gliding, of course, even though it turned out that Finn and Tiran had already gone together, several times. But Poe kept his misgivings about Illyrian friendliness to himself. Why bother Finn with something so trivial? He was adjusting to his home and the various, still vague responsibilities attendant on his position. He didn't need to console his not-even-boyfriend about his loneliness and late-blooming social awkwardness.
"People don't fade out of sight around you," Poe said one morning on the way to the communal hall for breakfast. That was as close as he got to saying anything, and then only because he was tired and a little hungover. "It's nice."
"What're you talking about?"
Poe waved his hand. "Nothing."
"No, man, what's up?" Finn had stopped, had his hand on Poe's shoulder.
Poe looked at him and smiled tightly. "Just find it hard, sometimes, getting people to...I don't know. Open up? Unclench."
Finn nodded and Poe started to relax, but then Finn said, gently, "They're not used to outsiders. Not everyone's going to be your new best friend."
"I didn't mean --" Poe started walking again. "I get it. We're all products of our environment. Can't help it."
"So try being a little understanding," Finn said lightly. "That's all. Maybe you'll even learn something."
"Anything but that!" Poe said, not turning around, just raising his voice. "Save me from more lessons!"
Poe had never really had a strong sense of being from anywhere. He loved Yavin IV, considered it the best and prettiest planet going, but that wasn't the same thing.
That wasn't like what Finn was looking for here.
His parents had moved there after the war. Everyone was a colonist, and, sure, in a few generations there'd be cultures to talk about. Just now, however, Yavin was a fact, a line on Poe's ID, but not something part of him.
For the banquet that night, they said Poe didn't need to wear anything special. Dress uniform, he figured, would be fine. No one ever looked at him all that much anyway.
When he returned to their suite after a solo gliding session, his cheeks windburnt and heart still thumping, he found Finn swathed in about a kilometer of embroidered satin, red and lavender and solar-yellow-green, jewellery glittering across his throat and around his face. A sinuous band of gold, thinner than a pinky finger, wrapped around Finn's throat, rising and falling, less an object against his skin, far more like stripes of warm morning sun alighting on him.
The same gold pierced one nostril and draped across his cheek to meet up with the ring in his ear.
"You look...wow. Beautiful?" Poe bit his lip, sucked on it as he squinted a little. "Can I say that? Is that cool?"
Finn ducked his head, looking down and away for a moment before meeting Poe's eyes. "You can say whatever you want."
"Beautiful, then," Poe said firmly, coming closer. "Fuck."
Most of the fabric, it seemed, was a wrap, or a shawl, or something. Poe wasn't sure what it was called, but it slid off Finn's shoulder and away, leaving him standing there in a snug purple shift, open halfway to his waist, the collar, cuffs, and hem embroidered in intricately nested loops with that strange green-yellow.
"Clingy?" Poe asked, examining the way the fabric hugged Finn's broad shoulders and ran down, skimming over his waist, the swell of his ass. Maybe more men should dress like this; breeches, however tight, and jerseys weren't half so flattering.
Then again, very few guys were as perfectly built as Finn.
"Really clingy," Finn agreed and smoothed out invisible wrinkles over his thighs.
"Could get a little - embarrassing? Revealing, I guess."
"They -- there's a ring down there now. To hold it - me - down."
"Yeah?" Poe smiled slowly, picturing that. Probably gold again, like the rings in his nose and ears, all the brighter and warmer against the midnight purple of his cock. "Smart. You probably look great held down."
Finn laughed and scratched the back of his neck. "You know what I meant."
"I do, yeah. Did it hurt?"
Poe made a sad, sympathetic noise. "Droid and bacta?"
"Yeah, all healed."
"Nice. Bet it looks good, though. Worth it."
"I don't know, maybe."
He'd rarely known Finn to be this skittish, a little shy. He'd never seemed to give much thought to his appearance; when would he have? Outside of disguises, such as they were, for a few missions, Finn, like Poe, had always worn general-issue breeches and jerseys. Sturdy boots.
And Poe's jacket, always.
Since they'd gotten to Illyria, however, Finn was rarely out of the gowns and shifts.
"Can I see?" Poe asked quietly. "To, say. Check the healing."
Finn grinned at him, shaking his head, like Poe had told an especially bad joke.
"I'm serious," Poe said.
"Man..." Finn looked him over, grin flickering away, something like concern shading his eyes.
"Yeah, sorry, forget it." Poe was back on his feet, heading out to the terrace. "Bad joke."
What did he think Finn was going to say? Go ahead, thought you'd never ask, can't wait for you to blow me and take the ring between your teeth?
"Poe -" Finn called after him.
Some fresh air, a stern talking-to (get your mind out of your cockhead, Dameron, just for a minute), and Poe was almost back to normal.
He leaned against the low railing, his back to the gardens, looking into the room.
Finn hovered on the threshold, squinting slightly at the light behind Poe.
"You know what they used to call those? Cockrings, I mean. The pierced kind, not the prolonging kind. Probably still do, I don't know, been out of the scene for a while -"
Grinning, Poe pushed away from the railing and approached Finn. "The 'Han Solo'. Man liked his trousers tight, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, no," Finn said, scowling a little. "Stop. No."
He jostled Finn, then ducked away. "You know it's true."
Finn shook his head. "I do. Just don't want to think about his..."
Poe leaned in, grabbing Finn by the neck, shaking him lightly. "Han Solo's dick, man. Now it's all you're thinking about, isn't it?"
"Asshole." Finn shoved him, grinning again, and Poe danced a little ways back, grabbing his crotch outrageously, theatrically.
"Think he was cut? Guy that cranky, probably a lot of smegma buildup -"
"Poe, fuck you. Come on!"
"Don't yell at me, you're the one who went and got deliciously pierced," Poe said, ambling back into the room, "and won't even let me admire the goods."
"You can look if you want," Finn said, joining him.
Poe peered into the wardrobe. His uniform hung next to three pairs of trousers, a few more jerseys. Everything looked skimpy and drab compared to the vivid richness of Finn's new duds. "Too late, I have to find something to wear."
"You look fine."
"Not that anyone's even going to notice me, not next to you, I don't even know why I bother..."
Finn squeezed Poe's arm. "You are such a freak."
"Yeah," Poe said, staring hard at the measly options. "Guess I'll just stuff myself, drink a little too much, the usual. Think they'll have jelly fruits again?"
Finn chuckled, patting Poe absently as he moved away. "Those things are gross, what the hell do you see in them?"
The jelly fruits were, it developed, the final dish. When the platters had been cleared, the light in the hall shifted, softening and darkening, as if a performance were about to begin.
Poe sipped his wine and reclined on his elbow, looking around, trying to see where the performers might appear. Beside him, Finn was chatting animatedly with Swael, but kept his hand resting lightly on Poe's knee. Good show, Poe thought, and raised his glass to toast them both. They were the performers, he realized. They were doing a great job of selling the lie.
Threads of incense-heavy smoke unfurled through the hall. Poe smelled flowers, and a little peat, the scent of harvested hay in fallow fields back home. Pleasant as it was, the smoke also left him thirsty, but there was the small cask-droid, just in time.
He must have eaten too much. As he sipped his renewed glass of wine, he felt increasingly thick and dozy, as he hadn't since he was a teenager and gorged on an entire care package in one afternoon.
"You all right?" Finn asked when Poe shifted, trying to sit up to see if that would clear his head. Finn's hand slipped a little higher on Poe's thigh, just for a moment. His breath was almost scorchingly hot on Poe's cheek.
"Drunk," Poe admitted. He grinned and knocked his temple against Finn's head. "Worked for me last time, maybe I'll get lucky again, right?"
"I know," he said and pulled away, which took rather more effort than he'd anticipated. "Sorry. Bad joke."
"It's a joke to you now?" Finn was still tilted towards him, speaking quietly, and yet Poe felt put on the spot, exposed and interrogated.
"No, of course not, that's not what I meant." He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. The motion trailed past him, repeating and throbbing, the room moving still when he had come to rest. “Be honest, you don’t feel weird right now?”
Finn blinked so slowly that Poe could have sworn he saw each eyelash move individually. "A little full, maybe."
“Yeah, there’s that,” Poe said. He couldn’t look away from Finn’s mouth, which, while of course clean, seemed shiny in some obscure, very inviting way. The extravagant curves of his lips kept shifting and changing as Finn smiled at him. There were a thousand shades of rose and aubergine, like one of his new dresses, but smaller, more accessible. Even more inviting. “I like it when you smile at me.”
"Yeah? Is that so?" Finn asked softly.
They weren’t alone: Poe knew that - if he could have torn his gaze away, he’d have seen the same hall full of people that he’d been facing all night, that he saw at every meal - but he still didn’t entirely believe it.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Hate when you’re mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you,” Finn said.
“Not right now, no, but –” Poe gave up, because he was making Finn frown, and he didn’t want that. His face heated, his hands opened and closed a little anxiously. “Can I kiss you?”
Finn’s eyes widened. He started to look away, but Poe touched his jaw, kept him there. “Poe –”
“I think it’d be okay,” Poe said, “I mean, we are married, right? Supposedly. So far as they know.”
Somewhere in the hall, or maybe just the back of his skull, a woman moaned.
Finn's posture stiffened. "Did you hear that?"
Poe nodded. He thought maybe he was hallucinating. "You did, too?"
Swael stood over them, then dropped to one knee. "Beloved, a taste of the Illyrian smoke?"
In his hand, he held a small metal box containing an ember. Fragrant smoke poured off it.
"This is for the Amity Ritual?" Finn asked and Swael nodded.
"The what ritual?" Poe put in and they both shook their heads. "Sorry, sorry. I'm not good with cultural details, I keep telling you."
Finn bent over, waving the smoke over his face. As it moved and dissipated, his jewellery dimmed, then shone again. He looked up at Poe through his eyelashes. "Thought you'd get a kick out of this one, that's all."
"Yeah, why?" Poe inhaled some smoke when Swael offered him the box, then almost spluttered it right back out as Swael slipped his free hand around his waist and kissed him.
Fuck, he was a good kisser, too, somehow as elegant as you'd expect and authoritative, too, hand cupping the back of Poe's skull, thumb stroking his throat.
"Dunno," Finn said, behind Swael, grinning a little, sounding entirely amused, "something about a public orgy just sounded like your kind of thing."
"Wha-?" Poe tipped forward, as Swael slid aside, and there was Finn again, satin shift and bare exposed skin, gold neck cuff and, yes. Kissing him, warm and hard enough to make Poe forget not just Swael's name but his existence. His palms skated up and down Finn's muscular arms as he poured himself into the kiss, ending up straddling one thigh, wrapping an arm around Finn's neck to hold on, hold himself here, hold everything in place and keep it coming true.
Finn didn't seem to want to stop kissing, either. Sure, it was probably just the smoke, but right now, Poe could work with that. He wanted to work with that. He slipped his palm between the embroidered edges of Finn's collar, curving it over one pec, seeking the nipple with one fingernail.
"Pierced here, too?" he whispered and Finn shook his head, back arching, pushing into the touch. "Not yet, good to know. Maybe soon."
"You, too," Finn murmured, which could have meant any number of things. His mouth was wetter than ever, so shiny, and he trembled when Poe kissed him some more.
Poe moved, straddling Finn's whole lap, suddenly glad he'd stuck with wearing regular breeches rather than the stiffly itchy and confining dress uniform. "Finn."
"Here," Finn replied, smiling against Poe's neck. He cupped the dip of Poe's ass and massaged him roughly. It's a good ass, Poe suddenly remembered him saying.
"I want to fuck you," Poe said, reaching behind himself to grasp Finn's knee. He rocked his hips into Finn, felt Finn rocking up to meet him. "I, fuck. I want to make you feel good, so good, I need to -- because you --"
"Poe," Finn said, and squeezed his ass harder. "Breathe."
Poe dug his knees into the cushion beneath them, straightening up a little and sliding his mouth across Finn's, over his cheek - pausing to tug on the chain there - to his ear. "Let me? Please, I'll make it really good for you --"
Finn looked up at him. "I know you will."
"Is that a yes?"
Most of the people around them were at least half-undressed, rapidly moving into full nakedness. Tiran was flung out on her back, kissing a woman in her arms while someone with shorter, straighter hair - Swael? - burrowed between her legs.
"Beloved," Finn said, in a note-perfect imitation of Illyrian cadence, "it's always yes."
Somewhere in his mind - not at the back, but off to the side, in a long disused cranny - Poe knew that wasn't true. But with the smoke suffusing him, tangling everyone in the hall up into a one moaning, pleasure-gorged mass, he could not quite identify the why of that untruth. Heat flared up his chest, made him thrust harder, grind against Finn.
"Turn over first," Poe whispered but first Finn just kissed him again, lingering in it, running his hand up under Poe's jersey, exploring, scraping his nails lightly, chuckling when Poe shivered and moaned. "Finn, please. Let me --"
"What're you going to do to me?" Finn reclined on one arm, hiking up the shift until it was bunched around his waist. His legs fell open as Poe kneeled between them. A broad ribbon circled one muscled thigh, with a small hook dangling from it; it met up with the Solo, held Finn's cock flush against the thigh, straining, wet and shiny with pre-cum.
"First," Poe said and then he couldn't breathe, because, fuck, the ring was heavy gold, setting off the flare of Finn's cockhead, making the midnight skin almost radiate, and it was streaked with pre-cum, and he needed his mouth on it now.
"Oh --" Finn squeezed the nape of Poe's neck as he bent in, licking, then sucking, then inhaling, the flavor and sensation. "All right."
Poe flicked the hook out of the ring, releasing Finn. Finn shouted, hips shoving up, his cock springing up and slapping Poe's face. Poe was back on him instantly, pushing his mouth down Finn's shaft, the ring twanging against his teeth, scraping his palate.
His mouth already ached, his lips stretched too far, but Finn was undulating into him, hand in Poe's hair now, and he just had to swallow a couple times, remember how to breathe, and everything would be wet and open enough and he could take Finn into his throat.
A man's moan - maybe not a man, he had no way to know, it was just very hoarse - guttered out and Finn pulled on Poe's hair hard. Poe leaned back, working the head and ring - lifting it, tugging it, with his tongue - to see someone, one of the grumpy Rock men always around Neerta, kneeling beside Finn and kissing him.
If Poe had listened, even paid the briefest of attention, during the endless cultural briefings, he might have known how to handle this. Maybe there was a very straightforward Illyrian orgy etiquette that would let the guy know that he wasn't up for a threesome, it would be just Poe and the mister tonight, thanks.
Of course, that depended on Finn not being really into this. And he looked like he was. His fingers dug into the guy's ropy bicep as he pulled himself closer.
"So sorry," Poe said, sitting up, wrapping one hand around Finn's shaft and jacking him gently. "I kind of had a sequence developing here, I need him face down --"
Finn pushed up, his suitor grumbling and retreating, as Finn grinned down at Poe. "Yeah?"
Poe winked at him. "Yeah. I don't make the rules, see, it's you. And your ass, it's the boss, and I'm past the point where I need my tongue inside you."
Finn bit his lip, clutching at Poe's shoulder, then nodded a little, hauling himself over onto his knees. "Like this?"
"Good, yeah," Poe said, pulling Finn's hips up, nudging his legs apart. Like this, his ass was more magnificent than usual, so round, the cleft spreading open under Poe's urgent hands. "Perfect, fuck."
He didn't need smoke to get lost here. He ran his tongue up and down Finn's crack, all the way to the wrinkled skin behind his balls, then back up, around his hole, to where the skin grew ever more taut and delicate. His whole mouth got into it, nibbling at the sides, sweeping tongue and lips in a rapid descent, pushing back up so slowly to work open Finn's hole from something both puffy and tight to slick and eager, pulling Poe in, lip or tongue, sometimes both. Finn kept rocking back into Poe's mouth, hips lifting and dropping, sweat gathering in a slick at the small of his back.
Poe knuckled his erection through his breeches - not to enjoy it, just to repress it - before switching hands and jerking Finn again a few times.
The cask droids no longer dispensed wine, but small dishes of lubricant and treats. Poe slicked up his fingers, then couldn't resist lowering his face to Finn's crack one more time. He tasted of little more than saliva and sweat, a hint of private, untouched skin, and when he rocked back again, he all but impaled himself on Poe's tongue.
Finn was panting, crooning Poe's name, and please, and the smoke and Poe's own desperate desire doubled, tripled, inside him, drove him to rip open his breeches and slick himself while he fingered Finn. When he was wet, Poe wrapped his arm around Finn's waist, kept three fingers inside the tense, crushing hole, and whispered, "Can you get in my lap?"
"But --" Finn lifted his head. He'd been watching the orgy, it seemed; his face was a kaleidoscope of lights and bodies reflected in his sweat. "Yeah, of course."
Poe eased his fingers out and Finn shuddered, gulping, then composed himself and straddled Poe, who was now leaning back, reaching for Finn, kissing him again.
This way, Finn blocked the rest of the room. All Poe could see and feel was Finn, hovering over him, half-smiling, half-grimacing. He could just be with Finn, guide him down and himself up, and up, until Finn's hands fell heavy on Poe's shoulders and he sank several centimeters down. Each small, slow push inside made Finn grunt and brighten; he bore down on Poe, took him in, pulled him close to breaking. He was heavy, so heavy, and bottomless, his breath like a storm over Poe. Until, finally, time turned back over and restarted, and everything was in motion. There he was, eyes wide, shining, beautiful gown askew, jewellery twisted out of place, fucking himself on Poe, fiercely muttering his name, moaning for it, urging Poe harder and faster, one hand on Poe's throat for several thrilling, terrible heartbeats before he caught himself and dropped it into his lap.
"Jerk yourself," Poe said, arching his back, getting both feet flat on the floor, knees bent, so he could fuck higher, deeper, stuff himself all the way into Finn, hold fast, stay surrounded and crushed and safe. "Let me watch."
Finn nodded, mouth open, hand rough on his beautiful cock. His thumb caught the edge of the ring, tugged, and the reverberations ran through him, down into Poe's cock. "Like that?"
"You feel so good," Poe told him, gripping his hip so tightly his fingertips flashed numb. "You're so tight and perfect and I don't want --"
"Poe," Finn said, then again, as he shook his head. "Oh, man, I'm going to --"
"Come on me."
"I --" Finn bent close, mouth restless over Poe's forehead, down his cheek. "Please."
"Everyone's watching us," Poe said. That was the smoke, right? Surely. Making him want to show off, fuck Finn in front of everyone, demonstrate the fact that he had some value, some worth, even here, even now. "You're so beautiful and brave and brilliant and I love you so much, all I want is --"
Lip caught in his teeth - white and rose and purple flashing - Finn threw back his head and came, pumping, moaning. Poe felt it from the inside, the clench and deep shiver and throbbing release. He dug his toes into the carpets, lifted his ass up, grasped Finn's heavy body, and drove in one more time, shaking apart, vision blaring out and spinning away.
His chest hurt, his eyes burned, his breath rattled and rasped as he came back to himself when Finn awkwardly tried to lift off and away. Poe tried to help, but his hands were heavy blocks and his limbs overcooked noodles.
He tried to take a full breath, failed, and tried again. "Fuck."
The sounds, the smell, of everyone around them were so intense that his dick twitched, which hurt like hell, which woke him all the way up.
"Damn, that was --" He reached over, but Finn was out of reach. Just out of reach, that is; if Poe wanted to stretch, he could probably have grazed his fingertips over Finn's leg.
Finn had Tiran under him and Swael sitting beside them, running his hands over them, dipping into Finn's crack, between Tiran's legs.
That's my spunk, pal, Poe could hear himself saying when Swael's fingers came away wet, but to what end? The three of them were meant for each other, always had been, and they were lovely like this, like kelp tangled and beating in the surf.
Poe was the sand farther up the beach. Scratchy and useless, fragments of former things. He got to his feet, his balance uncertain and tilting. When he started to make his way out of the hall, Finn was laughing, embracing them, burying his face against Tiran's breasts.
He made his way, slowly, out of the hall. Everyone was too smoke-addled to notice his passage, so even when he stumbled, trod on a hand or kicked a leg, nothing happened.
He didn't know where he was going.
He didn't know anything.
Finn's gaze, sliding over Poe's face, over and off and away: every time Poe blinked, he saw it happen again, each time more dramatic than the last.
He was still mostly naked; he'd left his trousers and boots back there, and had only his singlet on as he wandered, trying to find his way back to the suite.
All Poe could think of were those dreams you'd hear about, where someone is naked and lost, humiliated and vulnerable as they try to find their way home.
He'd never had one of those dreams. As a general rule, whether he was asleep or conscious, when he was naked, he was having a great-to-fantastic time.
Eventually, footsore and bleary-eyed, he found himself in a weird courtyard, one he'd never seen before. It must have been part of the interior of one of the original clan compounds; it was overgrown with fragrant spruce mosses. Somewhere an old fountain tinkled and gossiped to itself.
Poe sank down against a low stone bench. The tiles beneath him were still warm from the day's sun. He pulled his knees up to his chest and cried.
He shouldn't have been crying. What, he was sad because he had excellent sex with his fake-husband, who was now enjoying a second course of excellent sex with his childhood betrotheds?
There was no space to be had between Poe and what he felt. He couldn't stop crying, he couldn't understand why he was crying, he couldn't even take a full breath. Sorrow was liquefying him, sure as any predator insect's sting could do, reducing him to the constant flow of tears and snot, drowning him, absorbing the wrecked, useless pieces of who he was, what he wanted, his sudden stupid hopes for who he could have been.
He'd taken so long to realize what he wanted. He'd lost so much time, and time, he felt now, was like souls, shattered and blown apart, gone dark. You lost people like you lost time, and none of it was coming back.
So many people died in the war. Comrades, people he'd never see again, stupid jokes he'd never roll his eyes at again, too much cheap hyper-masculine Corellian cologne he'd never choke on again. The Hosnian system died in bursts like waterflowers blooming, buxom red blossoms. Most deaths, however, were ugly, louder and more desperate, just as final.
His mother died gray-faced and screaming. That, Poe understood, was how it happened. To everyone, eventually. Eventually, you ran out of dead and dying time and it became your turn.
He couldn't taste Finn on his lips any longer. All he had now was the faint salt of tears and slick phlegm clogging his throat.
He looked up, knuckled his eyes, but all he could make out were two figures, shoulder to shoulder, three shades darker gray than the vegetation and white faces. Bone-white, not skin, hovering in the shadows.
"What?" Poe covered himself and shivered. You couldn't even cry your fucking heart out around here without getting interrupted. Terrible, awful, stupid planet.
"Identify yourself," they said again, in unison, but their faces didn't move.
Those were skulls, he finally understood, those sharp white faces with grinning teeth and empty eye sockets.
"Are you dead?" Poe asked.
"Identi--" The first crumpled down to his knees. His partner spun around, drawing a blaster, but there was the best and bravest and smartest best friend the galaxy had ever known, saving Poe, squeaking urgently at him to get a move on.
BB-8 tasered the second gray ghost.
"Off-worlder," the still conscious man said and spat. "The pretender's cocksucker."
Poe kicked him, hard enough to break a toe or two, then, limping, followed BB-8 as he dashed away.
He didn't see anyone until the next afternoon. Everyone in the compound, apparently, was sleeping off the smoke. He woke alone, but Finn seemed to have been there at some point; the quilts were mussed and Poe vaguely recalled warm pressure in the night.
Over dinner, he asked Finn, and Tiran, about the skull-faced men. Finn professed ignorance. Tiran merely said, "security ghosts," and refused to elaborate.
It was Pekko, the next time they met up for Illyrian ale, some spice, and a friendly game of dejarik, who finally enlightened Poe.
"After what happened to Shine, some new security developed. To, like. Protect us and the planet."
"Makes sense," Poe said. What didn't make sense, however, was that no one had seen fit to tell Finn or him about them.
"They're pretty spooky," Pekko added in a whisper. "Stay out of their way."
"Yeah? Why?" So they had freaky masks and new-model blasters. Poe wasn't scared that easily.
"They're ghosts," Pekko said, like that explained anything, and widened their eyes. "Ghosts."
An interesting superstition, Finn said. "By taking on the identity of the Shine's dead, they acquire an extra measure of power."
"So you do know about them." Poe pulled himself out of the sea, water streaming off his shoulders, and Finn handed him a towel.
Finn scowled a little, holding to the edge of the raft as Poe moved around. "I do now, sure. I asked about them."
Poe scrubbed himself dry. It was still too cool to swim, but if he couldn't fly, this was a fairly decent temporary substitution.
"Do you want a robe?" Finn asked eventually. "You should cover up."
Poe looked down at his naked body. He didn't look his best lately, that was true, thanks too many banquets and barely any exercise, and he was goose-pimpled with cold, but surely he wasn't that loathsome.
"I'm good," he said. "Why?"
"You look cold, man," Finn said, frowning. "What is wrong with you lately?"
"Nothing. What's with you?"
"I'm so distracted lately," Finn said. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened them and said, "I just --. I'm sorry."
Poe nodded rapidly. "Yeah, yeah, of course."
"But I'm sorry." Finn's eyes were so intent, so beautiful.
"No, I'm sorry, this is such a terrible time --" Poe said. There probably wasn't ever going to be a time that wasn't terrible, but that was, he knew, something he needed to work through by himself.
"But I am."
He wished, for the first time since childhood, that he were a Jedi, that he could reach into Finn and massage away the knot of worry and sorrow tightening his face, straining his words.
"I know you are. So am I!" Poe went to grasp Finn's arm, hold on, maybe shake it for emphasis, but Finn was already doing the same to him.
They stared at each other, each about to apologize again, then started to laugh. At the same time, even.
"We're all right?" Finn asked and Poe nodded.
"Never better," he said, which was one of those nice lies you tell to keep things feeling tolerable.
No one goes there. No. No, you can't.
Finn outwaited them, wore them down with his steady gaze and unflagging patience.
I want to see where they died, he said, simply, again and again. Take me to the site.
He waited, and asked, and, finally, a little more than a week after the amity banquet, he asked again over the morning meal.
This time, several members of both Sea and Growth clapped their hands in support.
Neerta shook her head. "No one goes there."
"Then I will go alone," Finn said.
The meal sat heavy in the pit of Poe's stomach. He was far from adept at this sort of delicate power exchange. He had trouble following them, let alone conducting them. Beside him, Finn sat straight and tall, shoulders back, small smile on his lips. His red gown picked up the shine of the gold in his nose and ears as well as the subtler warmth of his skin.
Just give up now, Poe wanted to tell Neerta. He's going to get his way eventually.
Maybe she sensed that; probably not. Nevertheless, Neerta nodded once. "Fine."
"Thank you," Finn said, lowering his eyes. He would never crow; that was more Poe's kind of thing.
"The consort's presence will not be necessary," Neerta said.
"Hey, the consort's more than capable of deciding for himself --" Poe started but Finn pinched his thigh, hard.
"Outsiders are not welcome," she continued, addressing the hall at large, "at the sites of our worst sorrows. You understand."
Poe nodded. He studied the traces of sauce on his plate, intently, because if he looked up and met her eyes, he wasn't sure he'd be able to control his temper.
"But I don't. I don't understand," Finn said. He spoke calmly, but his voice carried.
"Finn --" When Finn shook his head, Poe shut up and sat back.
"He's my.... He's mine. Why should he continue to be treated like an outsider?"
Neerta placed one hand over the other on the table before her. "He is not from here."
"Neither am I," Finn said. Against his better judgment, Poe squeezed Finn's leg. "Not really."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, smiling without a single flicker of warmth. "You are of us. You are ours."
Poe bit the inside of his cheek as hard as he could.
"And I've chosen him," Finn said.
Yeah! Poe wanted to say. I make a great deal of operational sense, so stuff it, lady!
After several long moments and intense conversation with her entourage, Neerta stood, gesturing the service droids to remove the remnants of the meal. "The consort may accompany us, but must remain in the hovercraft. He may not touch defiled ground."
"Fair enough," Finn replied, though she had, as usual, addressed everyone within hearing distance. Under his breath, he added to Poe, "that's all right with you?"
"Of course," Poe said.
Something significant had just taken place. He didn't know, yet, how to describe or classify it, but he sensed that Finn was asserting himself for the first time. Perhaps Neerta was humoring him. Perhaps she was shaken. There was no way to tell, not yet.
Not yet: Poe was sick of delay, of waiting to see how events would unfold and play out. He'd grown accustomed to directing events; even when he was caught by surprise, captured by the First Order or left behind in a dogfight, he was at least in the middle of things.
Now, he didn't have a name, just a role, and nothing to do but sit.
The site of the Shine massacre was on an island to the south called Ocotal. A small party - Swael and Tiran, of course, and some gray-robed advisors - accompanied Finn and Poe.
Poe still wasn't allowed to fly anything with a motor. That was fine, it wasn't like he cared, this stupid sub-atmo craft was a laugh and Black One would have it as a snack.
(He cared. He cared a lot.)
From the air, Ocotal looked as if it had been bombed. An enormous cave-in defaced the western edge of the island; the outline of its former coast was visible beneath the clear sea.
"The spring ceremonies," Finn told Poe, "greeted the rising of the southern pair of stars, over the sea. Their reflections were the tracks that the first people followed when they came to Illyria. All of Shine returned to Ocotal to celebrate every year."
He was reciting facts, Poe knew, to stay calm. He'd done exactly the same during the war, going over mission objectives, even counting blaster bolts or units of atmospheric pressure, while in transit. But today, also, perhaps, he did it to include Poe, to help him understand.
Poe squeezed his hand. "I'll be here. Come back to me."
Finn nodded. He paused on the ladder down to the ground. The breeze lifted the collar of his plain blue gown, folding it up around his face like a baby's swaddle. "Thanks, Poe."
They were down there for seven hours. Poe was nearly comatose from boredom by the time everyone returned; if they were going to lock him up, refuse to let his disgusting alien feet touch the ground, the least they could have done was leave him a sabacc deck or holo reel.
Finn was silent, staring out the viewport into the darkness, long after Ocotal faded from sight.
Back home, he stumbled, several times. Finally, Poe took his arm, just to right him, but Finn grabbed his hand and would not let go.
"Here we are," Poe said, and he'd never been so glad to see this damn suite. He waved off Swael and Tiran and guided Finn inside, got him perched on the edge of the bed, and dropped down to unlace his boots.
"Hungry?" Poe asked when he'd hung up Finn's gown, gotten him under the covers. "Want some music?"
"Please," Finn said, the first thing he'd said since they lifted off from Ocotal. He reached out with both arms and Poe let himself be drawn in.
"Here," Poe whispered. Finn had his face against Poe's chest, his arms and now his legs, too, wrapped around him. Poe kissed Finn's temple, the soft edge of his hair. "It's okay, it's okay."
Finn drew a shuddering breath, gulping, and shook his head.
"I know it's not," Poe said, "but --. You're okay. You're safe. You made it."
"I dunno," Poe told him. Who gets to survive is rarely a question of merit. It's a disgusting slop of shit called luck. "Just glad you did."
Finn tightened his hold, his breath warm and damp against Poe's collarbone.
It wasn't the first night Poe had watched him sleep. Just the most recent.
The holo-call from his father finally came through. The display was warped and rippled by sunspots and other interference, the techs said, but the audio should be fine.
"So I hear I'm going to be a king-in-law, that how this works?"
"Funny, Dad," Poe said while Kes was still cracking up at his own joke.
He hated lying to his father; it was one thing to keep mum on military things during the war - Kes wouldn't have wanted Poe to speak freely anyway. But on personal issues, real things, close to the quick, he doesn't want to have to keep up this stupid facade.
You don't know who's listening, Finn said their first night here. That's all the more true with holo-links and comms, of course. Poe rolled his shoulders and tried to remember that later, when this is all over, Kes won't be too mad at him. Probably.
It's not even that, though. It's just uncomfortable and wrong as hell to lie to this man.
"I want a crown. A big one, and a cape. Not a little Bespin-shortie one, either." He threw back his shoulders and lifted his chin. "Can I be on some currency? Maybe issue a couple edicts? Nothing too serious, but I've got some thoughts, see, always thought I had a good take on things --"
"Yeah, yeah," Poe said, circling his hand. "Get it out of your system."
Smirking, Kes passed his palm over his cropped hair. "Were you planning on letting me in on this exciting secret aristo love affair any time soon?"
Poe scrubbed his hands over his face. When he dropped them back in his lap, there was Kes's big ridiculous face, still grinning at him and waggling his eyebrows. Distorted by the interference, he looked even sillier than usual, which, honestly, was saying something. Like a character in a kids' edu-holo, the big goony kind that're supposed to make the children feel mature and together by comparison.
"When you de-mobbed, how'd you know what to do next?" Poe asked. It's close enough to the truth.
"Well, I had a partner and this squalling brat of a kid, see --" Kes jabbed his finger at the holo-eye. "Lot like your situation, now that I think about it. You've got a fancy-schmancy prince and obnoxious droid, I had a hotshot pilot and puking babe, but -- hey, they're both way out of our league, right? And other people think the little ones are cute, hell if I know why."
Poe dropped backward onto the chaise and said, loudly, "Thanks, Pop, you're a huge fucking help here."
He sat back up in time to see Kes sigh and look skyward. "No one knows shit, buddy. No one. That's all I got."
"Imagine it's easier, when you're all royal and noble. It's all figured out for you, like."
Poe smiled a little. "Nah, it's not that."
"Oppress some peasants here, eat to bursting there --" Kes pointed around, chuckling the whole time, shaking his head in disbelief. "-- sit on your ass, maybe grope a lord or lady, I don't know what they're into, how about both?, wave at the peons the rest of the time. Nice life, so long as you don't mind being a bloodsucking parasite."
"No, he just...he knows. He's always known, I think."
He'd never thought about Finn like that, not really. It was much easier to think that Finn was a cipher while a trooper, a blank space, a holding pattern. That he came into his own when he defected -- in part because he defected, because he chose Poe and escape rather than obedience and murder.
But he's always been himself. Maybe Finn didn't know it, not in so many words, but Poe could see it now.
"Known what?" Kes asked. He leans in, squinting, expectant.
Poe glanced away. "Who he is, I don't know. He just...knows and I think he hates that I don't."
"C'mon, kiddo, you know who you are."
"Nah." Poe shook himself and grinned. "Forget it, I'm not making any sense."
"Rarely do," Kes replied. "Say, getting serious here, I wonder if --" A burst of feedback, grating and agonizingly high-pitched, interrupted him. The display bulged, brightening unbearably, before shrinking to a dot. The point hovered and shrieked before Poe managed to shut down the player.
He went off in search of a tech, but the compound was relatively empty. It was the middle of the day, however, so despite the rain shower slanting down, everyone with something to do was busy doing it. Only layabouts and supernumeraries like Poe were afoot.
The coolness of the rain threaded through the compound, spinning and spreading like currents. Everything was a little soft and silvered in the low light; the intense colors had been drained, just slightly, enough to notice. He was shivering by the time he had circled back to the prince's suite, ready to dig out his old mission turtleneck.
Before he could slide open the screen, he stopped, hearing Finn and Swael. They must have returned while Poe was wandering around fruitlessly.
"And what of your...consort, my beloved?" Swael asked.
Poe rolled his eyes, both at his title and the Illyrian insistence on using those affectionate epithets for Finn.
Finn cleared his throat. "Poe? What about him?"
"I'm afraid I really couldn't say."
"Oh, come on, Sway --" Finn's exasperated tone usually made Poe grin, both sheepishly and appreciatively; this moment was no exception. He could especially appreciate it when he wasn't the cause. "You totally could say. You just don't want to."
Swael sounded farther away when he replied. He must have been right at the terrace, speaking to the rain. "That isn't true. I asked because I wonder."
"I don't think he'll still be around here then, do you?" Finn said.
Poe's face froze, as if he'd been standing in a frigid wind for hours. What won't he be around for? Why the hell not?
"I just want to see you happy," Swael said.
"Usually," Poe said, pushing the screen aside, "that's my line. What gives?"
Finn sat cross-legged on one of the low benches, a few data-pads and several scrolls in front of him. He wore a long-sleeved, embroidered dress today, gold with lavender thread, with a sash tossed over one shoulder.
He grinned when he saw Poe, like he was actually happy to see him.
Swael turned from his contemplation of the sea and rain. "Surely we can all want the same thing for him?"
Poe dropped a kiss on the top of Finn's head before replying. "Wouldn't have it any other way, no." He straddled the bench behind Finn, planting his chin on Finn's shoulder to peer at the datapads. "What're you working on?"
"Nothing important. Ritual planning." Finn swiped off the pads and gathered up the scrolls before leaning back a little against Poe. He was so calm, like nothing could ever disturb him, like he wasn't just serenely predicting Poe's imminent absence. "How're you?"
"Cold," Poe said, willing Finn's warmth to reach him. "But, you know. Fine."
He couldn't remember the last time he got to say what he meant, all of it, without worrying.
Well, no. He could remember. It was the morning they woke up together, before they'd ever heard of this fucking planet.
A few evenings later, a special holo event interrupted Poe's game of Lunar Sowing III: The Infestation. It bugged him, how Illyrian media could break into a guy's private gaming time, just him and his droid. They weren't using any of the planet's comm frequencies, and yet, poor BB-8 gulped, shuddered, and hiccupped out a large image of Finn.
At first, Poe grinned. If he was going to get interrupted, getting to look at a nearly life-sized Finn was excellent consolation.
Then, however, the scene expanded, revealing that Finn was standing at the Shine camp site. He was studying the ground, shoulders slumped. The camera picked up the silvery tear tracks on his cheeks; his gown flapped angrily against his legs.
He'd been wearing a blue shift that day, Poe remembered clearly, but in this footage, the gown was black, tipped with pale lace at the hems.
"The old will die," a soprano voiceover said, "and the young will forget."
What followed was three hours of footage of Finn looking sad, interspersed with historical accounts of the clan system and analysis of the massacre. It was sentimental, vapid, jejune, manipulative, and simpering. And despite that, Poe was moved.
He hated them for that. He sat frozen in place as poor BB-8 shook and shivered, trying to cut the broadcast. Poe swiped the tears from his eyes when, for the third time, the reenactment of Finn's kidnapping, being ripped from his mother's skirts, played, this time in extra-dramatic black and white.
Towards the end of the program, Finn appeared to address the audience. His mouth moved, and his voice came, but there was a millisecond of delay. "War, I've learned, is to a man what maternity is to a woman. It is my purpose, just as birthing me was my mother's. From a philosophical and doctrinal viewpoint, I do not believe in perpetual peace. Our purpose is to move forward, to fight our enemies, wherever they may be, and leave the dead in the ground."
"The fuck," Poe said. "The actual fuck?"
Finn had changed, sure, since they arrived here. He'd been pierced, acquired a distinct appreciation for fine gowns, learned an excruciating amount about cultural mores, agricultural policies, mining rights, and clan disputes.
He had not, so far as Poe had noticed, turned into a knight of Ren or a member of the damn Hux family.
The shit that the program ascribed to him, that wasn't Finn. It couldn't be.
Who would know better, than his sort-of husband? The guy who had nothing to do but observe and think about and admire Finn?
For stability, they said. It was for the best.
Rock and Wind had proposed lengthening the time that Finn served as leader. Out of respect for Shine, Neerta said, and others, far more than Poe would have expected, agreed.
Sea, following Swael's lead, dissented, but Growth was swayed, and that, it seemed, was that.
Poe was disgusted. He was even more disgusted that Finn, somehow, wasn't. Finn simply nodded in his mild way, looked down, and agreed to the extension.
"For Vasdhara," he murmured as he pressed his seal to the bill, and somehow the holo-droids picked that up, just like they'd been able to record him on the beach.
"Don't look at me like that," Finn said wearily when he returned to the suite. Because of course Poe wasn't in the deliberative hall when everything changed; he wasn't welcome. Like everyone else of no consequence, he'd merely watched it on the holo. "Please, Poe, don't --"
"They're using you, Finn." Poe couldn't prove anything. All he had to go on was his dislike of Neerta, his repulsion at the sickening program, and his instinctual distrust of sudden emergency measures "for the social good". Any one of those elements would have been enough for him to say something.
Finn slipped off the dark ochre robe and sank into a chair to toe off the matching slippers. "You don't know that that's true."
"You don't know that it isn't," Poe insisted. Anger was drawing him taut, clearing out his mind, making him see, finally, what was really important. Anger instilled in him the need to win. Finally, he had a target again, and all he had to do was hit it, make his point, survive.
"Maybe I'm okay with that," Finn said, quietly at first, then again, much more firmly and loudly. "Maybe they need me. I need them."
Poe swallowed against the bile. "That's bantha-shit. Fucking steaming foaming shit."
Finn was, as always, calm. Steady, almost serene, and it was maddening. Beyond that, far worse than maddening, it was heartbreaking. Poe wasn't even worth getting mad at. "I think I know what I need. Better than you do."
"I never said --"
"You don't have to say. You just do." Finn held up his hand, and Poe stopped short, realizing only then that he was advancing on Finn, trying to close the distance.
"I don't!" Poe shook his head. "What do I do?"
"You assume you know best," Finn said. "I'm always going to be the ex-trooper for you. Here, I can be anything, but for you --. You think I'm some deformed little broken soul that can't handle --"
"Fuck!" It felt good to shout, then shitty when he saw Finn's eyes widen and mouth thin, turning down at the corners. "Sorry."
"Are you?" Finn asked. Calmly, so fucking calmly.
"Fuck, of course I am! I'm just --" Poe rocked on his heels and scrubbed both hands through his hair. "I'm all turned around and I don't even fucking know what we're fighting about."
"You hate it here," Finn said. "And I don't."
"No, it's --" Finn was right about both things, but that wasn't the fight, was it? It couldn't be. Poe started to take a step forward, then didn't. "You said I treat you like you're broken, like you don't know what you want."
"Because you do."
"I don't," Poe said. "I really don't. That's not --. I don't think of you like that. I never did. I can't."
Finn was everything Poe wanted to be, everything Poe tried, all day every day, to be. For Finn, however, it was effortless. He was good, and kind, and unerring in both his generosity and his sense of right and wrong.
Finn was half-smiling now, looking at Poe like --.
No. He didn't want to finish that thought.
"It's all right," Finn said. "How's it go? We're all products of our environment?"
"That's not --. Fuck." Poe's balance trembled, then reasserted itself. "I don't know what to say." He tried to smile, but the heat and tension in his face probably made him look grotesque. He felt grotesque, that much was sure. "What am I supposed to say?"
"Not my call," Finn said.
Anger ran out of Poe then, slowed to a trickle, vanished. He felt heavy, more useless than ever, exhausted. "I should get out of here, huh?"
Finn didn't say anything.
"Yeah," Poe said for him. "Thanks, Dameron, I can take it from here."
"I'm sorry, though, for what it's worth," Finn said quietly. He sounded sincere -- of course he was sincere, he was Finn, how could he be any other way?
"Bringing you here, I guess."
Poe turned, raising his eyebrow. "Came of my own free will, pal."
"Wish it were a better fit."
Shaking his head, Poe snorted. "You really don't."
"You don't wish that," Poe said, shouldering past Finn, careful not to look right at him. You don't look at a star, you don't look at the monarch, you just get on your way. "You're fine."
"You're happy here, and you don't need me, so don't fucking lie to me."
It was easier this way. It hurt like fuck, worse than any injury - compared to this, he'd rather be back under Kylo Ren's sick control - but it was still easier than any of the other options before him.
"I don't lie," Finn said firmly.
"No? What the fuck was that, then?" Poe pointed to where the holo display had been, but of course it was gone now, so he just looked crazy. "The emergency measures? The sad guy on the beach program?"
"Don't you dare --"
"I'm not," Poe said, struggling to find his anger again. It was long gone. "I know you're grieving, I'd never question that. But this place, this is --. You're better than this. You're so much better than all of this."
Finn regarded him calmly. "What are you trying to say?"
"This fucking planet!" Poe shouted. "The same people are in charge, have been for years, and nothing changes, not that I can see, and you think that's all right? You think, oh, hey, they gave me nice clothes and jewellery, I'm sure they mean well in everything?"
"Shut up," Finn whispered.
Poe wished he could punch a wall. Or himself, right in the face. "I'm sorry. I --"
"Shut up," Finn said more loudly. He looked up at Poe and he was so calm, he might as well have been a cyborg. "No one needs you here. You're not the best anything any more, you're not a hero, and it's driving you crazy."
"You --" Poe's throat closed and his face flashed hotter yet. "That's not true. None of that --"
"Me what?" Finn asked, a little amused and still so, so calm.
You needed me, Poe wanted to say, but there wasn't any point, not any longer. He was probably wrong anyway. Finn would know. That was the point. "Forget it."
"The war's over, man," Finn said. Like you'd comment on the weather.
"You think I don't know that? You think that's --"
"I have work to do." Finn rose to his feet, picked up his datapads, and swept out of the suite.
He didn't look back. Poe was below his regard.
That was the unfinished thought. When Finn did look at him now, he looked at Poe like a stranger.
Like a fucking subject.
Poe headed for the beach, towel in hand, determined to swim off his fury. He imagined swimming for hours, until he was exhausted, until all he could do was float like driftwood, like a dead cetacean.
Given his luck, of course, that would probably have meant he'd wash ashore on Ocotal, thus violating the ban, and be subject to who the fuck knew what kind of punishment.
So when four figures with black scarves wrapped over their faces stepped out of the underbrush, cutting him off, Poe raised his hands, dropping the towel, and said, "You got me."
"We are the People," they said. "You are now subject to our will."
"Great," he told them. "Where to?"
They jabbed a needle in his neck - rude! He'd already surrendered! - and dragged his unconscious form into the forest.
They were the revolutionary spirit of Illyria, they told him. They were going to liberate the oppressed and exploited. They were going to set right what was wrong.
"But we need leverage," they said.
He was no longer naked; they'd given him someone's old, much-washed trousers to wear. They were big in the waist and short in the leg, but soft and warm and he didn't want to ever take them off. He hoped they matched the blindfold over his eyes; he'd hate to clash.
"You are the pretender's beloved. With you as captive, we can --"
Poe held up his hand. "Guys. Sorry, People. People, I have good news and bad news."
"What?" one of them asked flatly.
"Bad news is, I'm worthless as a bargaining chip. Finn is pretty much done with me," he said. He nodded as they protested and pretended they were offering condolences. Why not? He'd been pretending the entire relationship. "Thanks, it's been really hard. Hopefully with you all as my new friends, I can get through this."
"What are you talking about?" another said.
"Oh, right." Poe grinned. "That's the good news. I'm going to help you win your revolution."
They were doing away with the affinity clans. Everyone was human, end of story. Or...start of liberation.
Their slogans needed work, admittedly. And at first there were only the 18 of them, mostly university students, a few old radicals, and good old Pekko.
But their grievances were more than legitimate, and their analysis was sound.
It fell to Poe to help them put everything together: to train and recruit, spread the word, make subtle but inspiring moves in the more far-flung districts.
This was what he'd been missing. It was almost this simple: give him a cause and a blaster and point him towards the fight, and he'd be all right. Now he was alive again.
Or, as Finn might have put it, now Poe mattered again. Turned out that was almost the same thing.
Seven months later, they took the capital.
Poe emerged from the forest with dirty smudges of sap camouflaging his face, his hair a tangled cloud of curls, his beard curling wild, black and silver.
The holo-droids captured the sight, first as surveillance imagery, then, as the cadres took one neighborhood and affinity territory after another, as spectacle beamed across Illyria and, thanks to sympathetic plants in the media, to the galaxy at large.
"Son of a bitch," Kes shouted, then immediately apologized to the tattoo of Shara he wore on his inner arm. "Sorry, sweetheart."
"I certainly hope there's patalate to be had," Lando murmured, "and that your boy proves more amenable to off-worlders prospecting than the old guard."
Leia shook her head. "He's not installing himself."
"You sure about that?" Lando asked, sharply enough that Leia looked up in time to catch Poe striding into the central compound, hands up, calling for negotiations.
Rey was already planetside. She'd been there for three months, assisting with both weapons and ideological training.
Finn, surrounded by the Ghost guards, met Poe in the center courtyard. He didn't say anything, but he did wince when one ghost clubbed Poe from behind, sending him sprawling.
"Hey, honey," Poe muttered before he passed out. "Missed you."
His hair was stiff with blood, his scalp swollen and tender, when Poe came to. It was noon, or close to it, the light dazzling after months in the forest gloom, running incursions only at night.
They'd locked him in an old storeroom. It was bare now, but it smelled faintly of spices and seasoning. A window, high, right at the ceiling, let in the horrible sun.
"I've been watching you sleep," Finn said from the corner. He leaned there, hands in his trouser pockets. "You snore a lot more than you used to."
"Might be the concussion," Poe told him, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Just a thought. Clubbing an unarmed man coming to negotiate peace? Who the fuck does that?"
Shaking his head ruefully, Finn sank down next to Poe. "Do you have any idea what they do to political prisoners here?"
Poe fiddled with the snarls in his beard. "No. I bet it's bad. Is it bad?"
Finn turned his head, planting his chin on his shoulder, to look at Poe. His eyes were soft, maybe a little sad. It was hard to tell; Poe realized that he was out of practice at Finn-discernment. "It probably was."
"Maybe you could get me special dispensation," Poe said carefully. "You know, for old time's sake."
"Nah," Finn replied.
"Don't have any pull around here any more." Finn smiled a little when he said that, though his brows still knit together and his eyes were sad.
"Wait, what? Why?" Poe straightened up, clutched at Finn's wrist, then caught himself. "It was me, right? Fuck, I ruined everything for you --"
"I mean, yes, of course I wanted to ruin things, but not for you, not you, it was going to be better around here, that was the whole point, I thought you would --"
"I'm sorry," Poe said, the flare of anxiety and guilt winding down, draining him and leaving him thick, sagging, exhausted. "Finn. I'm so sorry, for everything."
Finn bumped him with his shoulder gently. "Everything?"
"Well. Not for the liberation struggle, honestly. But --"
"What?" Poe leaned slightly against Finn. "And I'm really sorry for how I left things. I was such an asshole and you --"
"Poe." Finn's patience was straining. Poe didn't need any practice to discern that.
"Sorry. Tell me what happened. Are you okay?"
"Well, see, while some of us were running off to foment revolution --"
"Hey, technically, I didn't run away. I was kidnapped. Originally."
"Ah, fine, noted." Finn's smile grew a bit. "My point, however, was that while you saw fit to go off and coach guerrilla tactics -- and nice work on the outer boroughs, by the way. The Ghosts never knew what hit them."
"Thanks," Poe said. Part of him didn't want Finn to ever finish the story. He wanted to sit here, close enough to brush their elbows together, and simply listen to his best friend for the rest of his days.
"You're welcome. So, you were doing your bit out there. I stuck a little closer to the heart of things. Kept my ears open. Visited the archives, a lot. Worked with a certain obnoxious droid who misses you like hell, by the way. Asked a lot of wide-eyed innocent questions --"
"Finn!" Poe clasped Finn's nearer shoulder and squeezed. "Finn!"
"You were a double agent! A mole! A --"
"Researcher," Finn said, ducking his head, grinning. When Poe squeezed his shoulder and shook him a little harder, Finn glanced over, eyes crinkled up.
"Researcher, fine," Poe said. "How about nerd? A really hot nerd."
"You're welcome. So what did your big beautiful brain learn?"
Finn sobered and bit his lip, squinting into the far corner for a few long moments. "Neerta. It was always --"
"What did she do?"
"Struck the deal with Hux Senior. Sell the kids, provide the rest for target practice."
Poe's grip tightened on Finn until his knuckles ache, his fingertips numb. "Fuck. Fuck."
"Wasn't even the main...goal. Objective, whatever you want to call it." Finn was still looking out across the room, but he tilted slightly against Poe's side. "Just did it to cover their tracks --"
"The patalate." That was what the cavity on Ocotal looked like, it was perfectly clear now. The remnants of strip mines.
Finn nodded. "The patalate."
"Fuck," Poe said again. "Buddy. I'm --"
"It was never about me, was it?" Finn asked. He wouldn't look over; his voice sounded bleak. Defeated. "Any of this."
"It was for me," Poe said.
Finn took a breath, but didn't exhale. He leaned more heavily against Poe, tucking himself against Poe's side, fitting himself there. He was warm, and heavy, and he smelled so good. "I know. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Poe said, his hand creeping across Finn's shoulder, to stroke the tendons in his neck, the warm hollow between them, the soft wool of his hairline. "I fucked it up, of course. In a lot of ways. So many ways. Royally, you could even say --"
Finn laughed, his breath hiccupping out, and rolled his face against Poe's shirt. "You have your own way of getting shit done."
"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," Poe told him, smiling a little. He couldn't help it. Everything was awful. They were so totally fucked. But Finn was still laughing a little, pressed against Poe like he wanted to stick there, and that was, always, pretty much all that had ever truly mattered.
"So what do we do now?" Poe asked. "Are we both prisoners?" He grabbed Finn's hand, kissed the palm like the hero in a holo-novela popping the question. "Will you be my prison man? Please say yes."
"Nah," Finn said, swiping the back of his hand over his eyes. "This is a rescue, didn't I say that?"
Poe pushed him -- gently, enough to make his point, not hard enough to actually move him away. "No, you did not say that and you know it."
"Oh, yeah." Finn grinned, wide and open and unfettered. "This is a rescue. Well. A release. Nothing's holding you here."
Poe threw his arms around Finn's neck, hauled him close, kissed his cheek with everything he had. "My savior!"
Finn patted his back; his smile curved and bumped and warmed Poe's cheek. "Something like that."
"Something exactly like that," Poe said, and kissed him for so long that he started to see swirling black spots as he forgot to breathe. "Finnnnnnnn."
"Here," Finn replied and kissed him again, deeper, clutching at Poe's neck. "Right here."