Disclaimer: the characters and concepts in this story are the property of Disney, Lucasfilm, and their related affiliates. This is an amateur writing effort meant for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: Poe Dameron can think of better ways to die than of exposure on Jakku. He can also think of a worse one. One-shot. Set during FA.
Author's Notes: I promised myself I wouldn't. I couldn't. There were writers far more equipped to work within the Star Wars universe.
But Rey, Finn, and Poe have been circulating in my brainspace since I saw the film at Christmas, and I had to get some of it posted. This was originally intended to be a part of a trilogy of h/c fics involving bacta tanks, and it may still live up to that. For now, it works as a one-shot. Also, given what I've read about the novelization, it's probably also AU.
I have Poe referred to as "Commander" in this fic (thanks, beautifullights on AO3!). Leia also uses his first name, an informality I allowed given that he is her most daring pilot. Jessika calls him by his last name; while they aren't the same rank, I figured they would have cultivated a more personal relationship with one another.
I hope you enjoy.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Dying of exposure in the desert - not the death Poe Dameron was expecting.
Not the death he wanted either. He made a point of not thinking about death. Death made it hard to do the crazy, oft-times stupid, thus-far successful stuff he did in the air. But being that death was a-knocking, graying out his vision and hijacking his thoughts – like finding shelter and water, you know, the life-saving thoughts – he made a mental list of all the other more preferable ways to go:
A collision course with a battle cruiser.
Getting shot out of the sky and taking an enemy fighter with him.
Being mind-crinked some more by the…
No, not that. Definitely not that. Sith, he kept seeing the shadows. The dark hand hovering over his face, every molecule in his brain boiling and screaming as they were torn apart. Nope, anything but that. Dying in the desert was okay compared to that.
Dying in the desert was not okay compared to much else though, a fact solidified when Poe finally got back to his feet. When he dragged himself out of the harness, off the ruined seat from the TIE fighter, and stood more-or-less – but mostly less – upright. He thought he had been confused lying on the ground; being vertical came with the added bonus of disorientation. The endless sky and endless…er sand continued flip-flopping long after he got himself standing. When he tried to follow them, Poe ended up on his knees, hauling breath after breath of gritty air into his lungs. Faintly, he heard the sounds of scabs snapping open, and the lack of accompanying sting should have been unsettling. His shirt was ripped open over a series of slashes clotted with blood and sand.
Scanning the horizon, Poe found nothing: no tell-tale plume of smoke where the rest of the TIE fighter crashed, no signs of civilization. No signs of Finn – right, Finn, the stormtrooper who turned-coat and saved his sorry-ass (don't think about the hand, don't think about the hand - damn it, I'm thinking about the hand)before he'd crash-landed them on a desert planet. Hot sun, hot sand, insert-snark-here about the hot pilot.
Man alive, he must really be in a bad way to not string that joke together.
"Okay, priorities," Poe slurred to no one. "Priorities, priorities: shelter first, or maybe…maybe water…" he neck pulled uncomfortably against a sunburn he had already developed. "Nope, shelter. Definitely shelter." He whipped around to the chair and cursed under his breath. There was nothing to use for shade. The parachute had torn and flown away. His jacket was gone too, probably burnt to a crisp with the rest of that crashed TIE fighter and Finn, the guy he owed his life to, the guy he tried to save from the First Order. Poe's laugh was nothing more than a wheeze; his throat was too dry to do more. Aid the resistance, die in a fiery explosion. Now there's a recruitment campaign he could pitch to the general. If he ever saw the general again.
"Shelter," Poe repeated, getting back on track. He pointed in a direction that was as good as any. "That way. I'm going that way."
The first time he fell, Poe got back up. He crested the dune and looked from where he'd come. The wind had already brushed his footprints from the sand. His crashed seat was still visible and would be until the curvature of the planet carried it out of view.
The second, he didn't. Not for lack of trying: he worked his arms, propped his torso up, but his legs refused. They lay in the sand, stinging from the heat, and didn't move. Poe muttered raggedly, talking. Always talking. In permanent conversation with the universe for the load of good it did him. No snark or comebacks were going to make his legs start working or his skin stop blistering. They weren't going to make the looming prospect of dying here, face down in desert, broiling under the sun, any more tolerable. "Get up, get up, get up…" he crawled on his elbows and snaked his body over the sand. The stinging in his chest found him then: a minefield of raw nerves getting pricked and packed with broken glass.
He rolled over. He had to roll over. The whole right side of his chest was in agony, forcing the air out of his lungs.
…maybe he would rest a while. Only a little while. From this angle, all he could see was the sky, and with his head spinning faster, faster, it had all the makings of flight. He soared out of himself into the wild blue, waiting to break through the atmosphere into space, into battle, into freedom and glory and fire.
Poe broke alright, but it wasn't into battle. It was back onto that gurney under the psycho's hand as he was dismantled. The worst parts of himself dredged up and sifted through, broken down, put back together in the wrong order. Resistance secrets, codes, names, faces: he felt it all seep out of him in an agonizing rush straight into the maniac's open hand.
And it didn't go away when the bastard left the room. He left his fingertips in Poe's brain as souvenirs: twitching, prodding, tearing. Unearthing the unspoken realization that he, Poe, was going to die here. One tiny, insignificant grain of sand in an ocean of tiny, insignificant grains of sand. Poe supposed that was the way of it in space too, ashes to ashes and stardust to stardust and all that; but up there, his death had meaning, purpose. He would go down in flames taking as many of those First Order bastards with him. Poe Dameron, most daring pilot, hero of the resistance, bravely sacrificing himself to obliterate the First Order. Not Poe What's-His-Name, who rotted on Jakku after failing his top-secret, hugely important mission.
"Get on with it," he bid whatever Gods were listening, and let the light swallow him up.
Death came with bangs and whimpers. Engines roaring, voice nattering. The light had faded to a soft, gray-blue slatted by shadows. Poe's eyelids peeled back, the flesh surrounding them rubbery with what a ghostly figure called second-degree burns. He was then grabbed on all sides, prodded, and tossed around by the madding crowd.
"Ugh…keep it down…" he cursed them, swatting a hand to get them away. The motion was ineffective, or perhaps it never happened because the touches became more frequent. "Some of us are trying to die over here."
A laugh, low and mirthless and so-tired-of-this, followed, "You look like you've been trying awhile. You die worse than you lie, Dameron."
He sighed with relief. Weird since he felt more like dying than before now that he was being nabbed. "Nice to you to drop in, Jess."
"You didn't make it easy for us."
"It's not fun if it's easy," he groaned, the hands having found his chest. An errant touch cracked open the protective layer of sand and blood, causing the nerve endings to scream.
The medic applied pressure in what Poe deemed to be the worst kind of apology, "We'll get him into a bacta tank when we get back to D'Qar."
Poe had a point to make, a good one, about not going into the tank. About a long ass recovery with the potential for battle scars. He shook his head, closing his eyes against the bustle around him, "Rather you leave me in the desert."
"What'd he say?" someone asked. They leaned closer. "Sir, did you say something?"
"I said I'd rather you leave me in the desert."
It was Jessika's turn to groan, "Shut up, Dameron."
"Okay," and then, for the first time ever, he actually followed that order.
He passed out.
Poe had one of those dreams that ended with impact. One second he was gliding above the treetops of Yavin 4; the next, he was in a nosedive, the gravitational pull of reality tearing him out of sky and into the earth.
He woke in a panic to drowsy calm. To a clamp on his nose, a respirator in his mouth, and a plume of bubbles rushing past his face. Ah, the good, old bacta tank. Nothing quite like a dip in liquid ether to make a dying person lose the will to live.
Not that he was complaining about being alive. Poe just wanted to feel alive, and he never did when he was in the tank. He hated staying still to begin with, and peacefulness made him tetchy, hyper-aware. His adrenaline spiked despite himself and the tank came into harsh focus. Shadows drifted around him, med droids responding to the sudden increase in his heart rate.
Poe drew several deep breaths to get himself back under control. No need to cause a scene. He probably didn't need to be in the tank much longer.
One look down at himself told him that wasn't true. The sunburn was healing nicely enough. Already his skin looked like skin again instead of the pink, blistered mess it had been on Jakku. His chest was another story. The open slashes still bore signs of infection. When he moved, the knitting flesh causing small bursts of pain to flare before the bacta soothed them away. He was still a while away from freedom.
The droids outside the tank were moving. Evidently, his respiration was still cause for concern. Good riddance, Poe thought, twisting away from them. The tubes and wires sent shockwaves as they crossed his mending sunburns. He welcomed them as a distraction and tried to hang onto them as the bacta eased them away.
Lights greeted him from the other side, and he had to twist back. Apparently there were wounds the bacta couldn't heal. The memory of dying under the Jakku sun was one of them. Great – that meant he was left floating in front of a captive audience. Droids, sure, but any minute now a resistance pilot might wander in for a visit and there he'd be: exposed. Vulnerable. Pitied. Stuck dancing like a sideshow attraction in a glass prison. The last time that happened he made obscene gestures until they flooded his tank with sedation. He didn't want to do that this time, but boredom was inevitable. And boy, was he getting bored.
His brain took that as a cue for another flashback. For a hand crossed through the glass and floating just above his face in the bacta. For fingers curling towards him, pressing into his thoughts. Poe thrashed away, slamming into the back of the tank. The hand disappeared, but the phantom lances in his brain didn't. They lingered after he turned back towards the light and stayed there, because dying on Jakku was only the second worst memory he had from the mission.
Poe woke when they took him out of the tank, but he was only too happy to pass out again shortly after. Getting toweled off by medical personnel was not an experience he wanted to remember. Naturally, he got one good look at a medic's face, her pitying face, and he shut his eyes tight. He liked his reputation as the resident smartass who knew the offensive hand signs from several Republic planets. He didn't want the base to know he wigged out in the bacta tank.
The dreams weren't of his imprisonment in the First Order though, which was nice. They were hazy, lazy days on Yavin, sitting on his mom's lap as she taught him how to fly. Poe suspected this was not his subconscious's doing. He awoke to the friendly buzz of painkillers courtesy of resistance medical. The white walls looked brighter to his eyes, the blankets felt scratchier; he was acutely aware of how heavy his body still felt.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Poe moved to sit up.
He fell back on the gurney as General Organa, seated next to him, unamused as ever, told him, "At ease, Commander."
The flesh on his ribs, while knitted and healing, pulled into a fierce itch. Poe winced. He didn't know what to address first: the discomfort from his injuries or facing his superior officer about screwing up the mission. His mouth made the decision for him. It usually did. "General, I can explain."
"Do you have somewhere else you need to be?" she asked coolly.
Poe didn't know how to respond, "Is that a trick question, ma'am?"
"You told me you could explain. I assumed you meant explaining why you were trying to escape the infirmary."
"About the mission. General, I-"
"Yes, the mission," she spoke as if she had forgotten about it until just then. The mission to find her Jedi brother's whereabouts in the galaxy. Poe felt her gaze fixed on his side, and he crumpled uncomfortably before it. "The plans were not hidden in the remains of your stolen TIE fighter?"
"No, ma'am. They're with my BB-8 unit." He hoped that meant they were safe, that BB-8 was safe. The droid had one of the canniest personalities Poe had ever seen, but that didn't mean much against the First Order. He knew from experience.
(don't think about the hand)
When he opened his eyes, Poe found Organa had taken the information in stride. She didn't appear downcast, though misfortune had the opposite effect on her. Organa took tragedy and turned it into opportunity: to lead a rebellion, to launch assaults on planet-destroyers, to defy the Republic she helped restore. He admired the hell out of her and was scared as hell of her.
"Do you know where the BB-8 unit is?" she asked.
"No, ma'am, but I know that BB-8 is smart enough to avoid capture by the First Order." Capable enough was another story. There was only so much a robotic sphere with a magnetic head could do against stormtroopers and other military officers. "He'll try to get back to the Resistance. Whatever it takes."
"We'll be sure that he does," Organa agreed. "Whatever it takes."
She spoke with such finality. Poe got the distinct impression the conversation was over, but there was so much more he needed to say. "General, I need to apologize. I allowed-"
"-yourself to be captured and interrogated by the First Order, resulting in you having to commandeer a vessel to escape, which was just one act of many in this mission the nearly resulted in your death?"
Poe reviewed her summary of his apology. Aside for her wry tone, it was more or less – mostly more – accurate. "Yes, General. That."
Organa's lips tightened into a thin, impatient line, "I refuse to accept an apology that begins with a statement as ludicrous as 'I allowed myself to be captured'. No one allows themselves to be captured. You just get captured. In the same way that you get interrogated."
"I lost focus of the mission and as a result, the plans may fall into the First Order's hands and-"
She didn't move or speak, but Poe stopped. He knew better than to keep talking when her demeanour had gone so…so still. So taut. Like a bowstring ready to fire. The silence allowed her to settle again. Poe released the breath he didn't realize he was holding as she did.
"Your actions during this mission are above reproach, Commander, given the duress you experienced," Organa met his gaze and held it with her own: proud, determined. "We'll find your BB-8 unit, along with the plans." He opened his mouth to protest; she knew and stopped him. "How are you, Poe?"
He dropped his gaze, not understanding the question. One minute they were talking about the mission, the next his personal health. Phantom pangs sprang up behind his eyes inside his brain as if on cue. Poe shut his eyes tightly.
Word spread around fast on the base. The only currency they had most days was talk: who was hooking up with whom, what they were serving in the mess, best stops to make while running recon, what pilot was probably tortured for information and wigged out in the bacta tank as a result. He dared to look back at her, "I'm fine, General. Ready to get back in the sky."
She didn't press. For now. "We need you up there, Poe."
"Thank you, General."
"It's good to have you back," she said, moving to leave his bedside. Obviously, a longer debriefing would take place, one that would cover the whole brain-invasion thing, or one that wouldn't. Poe hadn't decided if he would mention it or let it lie. Talking about it didn't seem like it would do much good. Even thinking about talking about it was giving him a headache.
He thought about dying on the desert instead, his go-to consolation prize for having someone sift through his head like an archaeological dig. The sweltering heat of exposure shifting to the cool dusk of rescue. Jessika keeping his tongue in check for the sake of the medics. He owed her. Big time. Coming back to Jakku and scouring the desert for him was a tall order.
Not to mention an impossible one.
"Uh, General?" she stopped before exiting the curtains around his bed completely. Poe lifted himself onto his elbows to see her better. "The squad that found me on Jakku: how did they make it past the First Order? How did they even know I was still alive?"
A ghost of a…something crossed her face. Not quite a smile, definitely not a frown. Her eyes took on a wicked gleam: fierce, intelligent, knowing. But just as quickly as the visage appeared, it was gone again, replaced by her usual inscrutable expression. "Just a feeling, Poe. Just a feeling," and then, as if that was all, "Get some rest."
Then she was gone.
Poe fell back on the gurney and shut his eyes. "Some feeling…" he muttered.
In the movies, Leia's connection to the Force is expressed in her relationships: she is able to sense Luke is still alive at the end of Return of the Jedi and is shaken when Han is killed during Force Awakens. I liked the idea of her being close enough to Poe to know if he's surviving. Sorry if it taxes your willful suspension of desbelief!