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Chapter 34: Forest Chats

 In which Ben copes with the loss of Thomas and his guilt over it, Poe copes with what he's been through, and the two of them talk.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author's Notes: Part of this chapter was actually written last night when I couldn't get to sleep. (I haven't been sleeping well) 

They managed to get the others out, of course, and thanks to Ben’s testimony, as well as Poe’s and Annie’s, they managed to get Lisaris put away. Haranka was still missing, but Sarik and the others were on the hunt for him.


Which, thank the Force for that.


All the while, they had the funeral for Thomas. Even the usual recitations of the Code at the funeral, however, were barely a comfort, as Ben was reminded of how he had failed Thomas, how he hadn’t been quick enough.


He never had been good enough. Never had been powerful enough. And even the knowledge that he wasn’t perfect was hardly a comfort. He should have been. Perfect enough to stop Lisaris, save Thomas, shield Poe and Annie from every blow that their monstrous captors gave them.


And he hadn’t been strong enough. He never had. He had been foolish, weak. He had been far from perfect, so far from it that he might as well have been on a different plane altogether. A plane of failure.


It still bothered Ben, in his waking hours, in his nightmares. He could have been strong enough, he could have been good enough.


And in the end, he simply wasn’t, and others had paid for it.


***


Recovery from the matter of broken ribs was one thing, and Poe had to stay on Yavin just until they healed up, as well as the other stuff that had been inflicted on him, but the emotional stuff was different. Just being in that room, that dark, confined room, knowing you were just there to be tortured for someone else’s test...that was a different matter entirely.


Poe still had trouble sleeping. Not only in terms of having to switch positions to accommodate his broken ribs, but also the nightmares that still left him waking up in a cold sweat trying not to scream. He swore he still saw the faces of those people who had tortured him. One of them was a family member of an enemy pilot he had killed on a mission.


And that...


That hurt to even think about. To think that he had torn a family apart, in a way...


Poe didn’t think about that stuff usually in the air. Not when what mattered was on your right, on your left -- he was grateful that Ben was too busy with Jedi duty to fly. He couldn’t imagine Ben handling the aftereffects, the killings he had done. At least Ben killed those who were going for him first.


At least...


Poe sighed, put on the holoscreen and tried, vainly, to get to sleep.


***


Poe’s scars healed. Ben knew that much from what he was able to hear from him. Even that was a relief. It didn’t mean that the mental ones did. As far as he knew from writing to Poe, there were still nightmares. Too many of them, usually about not being able to reach Ben, Annie or Thomas.


Ben knew that he had similar nightmares. Nightmares about not being able to reach Thomas, not being able to reach Poe, of having to choose between Thomas and Poe in terms of who he would be able to save. There was nothing about that, Ben knew, that was foretelling the future, he knew that much. It was just another way of proving how deeply he had failed in what he had set out to do.


Thomas was dead.


It was his fault.


They said to let grief go into the Force, to rejoice for those who disappeared into the Force. Don’t mourn them, they said. Don’t miss them. Attachment is the shadow of greed. But how could they even say that when the death in question was Ben’s fault, Ben’s fault, Ben’s fault?


Because Ben hadn’t been quick enough. Ben hadn’t been fast enough. Ben had been so held up with Lisaris


and he was arrested now, and Ben swore that he would never, ever forgive him for what he had done


that he hadn’t been fast enough. He hadn’t been good enough.


So he practiced. Occasionally said practice took the form of taking things out on the training dummies and all but slashing up the room. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, not truly. Ben practiced, even when his muscles got sore, even when he got burns from the training modules. And he did not sleep.


Sleep usually brought the nightmares.


It was long after a training session against one of the modules -- the Niman form, this time -- that Ben already felt the beginning of sleep start to come over him. But he couldn’t afford to sleep. He couldn’t. Sleep would just bring the nightmares, and that he couldn’t allow.


But he was so tired, and his body couldn’t hold out for much longer.


It was back at his room, after he had another nightmare, this time about a living shadow devouring everything in its path, that Ben woke, clutching the blankets to his chest, gasping for breath. The living shadow...it had felt so familiar as well. Pure heat, pure --


But Lisaris was also radiating pure heat, wasn’t he? So it could have been Lisaris. And yet...Lisaris’ mental voice had sounded so ordinary, so very normal. Nothing like the low rumble that Ben associated with his childhood imaginary friend.


And imaginary friends...weren’t they just imaginary?


You’re twenty years old and you’re still going over that, still, Ben?


He sighed before taking out his datapad and typing a message to Poe. I need to see you. I’m sorry. I need to see you.


Silence. Then his datapad beeped. A message from Poe. So do I.


Minutes later, still in his pajamas, Ben headed out towards Yavin. Poe was still in his pajamas as well, and he looked so tired, so disheveled, so vulnerable. Ben could only look over him, wishing there was something he could do, anything to comfort Poe. And it made him hate Lisaris even more for what he had done. Poe isn’t some sort of test --


They sat out in the forest on Yavin next to one another, and Ben was too aware of how Poe seemed to be still bruised up from where those


monsters


captors had beaten him. To think that he had taken all of this...Ben almost wished that he had taken those blows instead, as opposed to Poe.


Poe hadn’t deserved any of this.


“I got your message. Are you doing all right?” Poe’s voice was soft, gentle.


“Not really. Nightmares.”


Poe’s eyes were focused on his arms, where he had burns from the training modules. Then, “You’ve got a lot of them.”


“You should see the other guy.”


“Ben, really,” Poe said. “That’s not funny. What are you doing?”


“Practicing.”


“Practicing shouldn’t hurt.”


“I got burns before,” Ben said. “The practice lightsabers. I wrote you about them, remember?”


Poe nodded. It was clear that it didn’t really make it better.


“Are you doing okay?” Ben just hoped there was a way to keep the conversation from devolving into a full scale argument.


“I am. As okay as I can be.” Poe winced, and Ben placed a hand on his shoulder.


“You’re hurt -- ’’


“Yeah. Bastard got me in the ribs. They say the bruise is gonna take a while to heal.”


Ben’s chest clenched again. To think that all this pain had been going on for Poe and he had been unable to do anything about it...


“Poe...”


“I’ll live.” Poe sent him that sort of grin that Ben continued to love. That sort of confidence in it, that sort of faith...


“Poe...when you were being hurt...”


“What do you mean?”


“There was a moment, just a moment, where I would have done...anything to stop them from hurting you. Even kill them.” Ben swallowed. “I know it sounds dark, but it’s the truth. I couldn't bear hearing them hurt you down the hall.”


“I couldn’t either.” Poe’s voice was gentle, earnest. And Ben knew exactly what Poe meant in that moment. Too well, actually. “That was the worst part. Not the beatings; physical pain’s one thing. But hearing what they did to Thomas and Annie, knowing that you were down the hall and not knowing what they were doing to you...I couldn’t bear it.”


“I know.” And the waves of his own failure, the knowledge that he had failed to save Thomas, the knowledge that Poe had been being tortured down the hall and Ben couldn't save him...


If I’d been faster. If I’d been more skilled, faster...


“Ben...” A hand along the small of his back, and Ben shivered, though not unpleasantly. He wondered, absently, if Poe knew what he was doing. So close to me. So very close...


“I wasn’t strong enough.” Poe’s touch was so gentle that Ben couldn’t help but blurt it out. “I wasn’t quick enough.”


“You were. You always were.”


Poe’s hands were on his arms, gentle, soft, and Ben noticed how elegant they were, how slim and small. They were pilot’s hands, small, perfect little pilot’s hands, gentle, tender hands, and his heart was already speeding up, his breath was hitching. Something about their proximity...


Poe’s lips were so soft, so pale, so full. Already, Ben wondered what it would be like kissing them, feeling them under his. He was already struck by this, being twenty years old and having never been kissed in his life, never having any other lover, never having anything like this.


Those weren’t thoughts you ordinarily had with grief, with guilt, and yet here he was.


“It’s not your fault, Ben. It really isn’t. It was Lisaris’. He was a...monster.” But judging from Poe’s thoughts, he obviously wanted to say something much stronger. “You did your best to save him. It’s not your fault.”


“Thank you.” That was all Ben could say. “Thank you.”


They were quiet again. Around them, the sounds of the night became louder. And Ben could hear Poe’s thoughts. Tell him. It's about time you told him, isn't it, Poe? Told him how you love him.


Thoughts that came out of Poe in practically a shout, a joyful, colorful sort of shout that startled Ben and yet was very Poe, such a contrast to his other thoughts that seemed so muted, so very dim from what Lisaris did -- and how Ben could have killed Lisaris for what he did to Poe. Among other things.


“Poe,” Ben said, “Is everything all right?”


“Yeah. I’m great.” All the while, that thought, colorful and vibrant and bright and truly Poe, popped up again. Tell him, Poe. Tell him how you love him. “Ben, I didn’t know how to tell you this, but in a galaxy where we’re fighting against Snoke and his men, I can’t picture you not at my side.”


“Neither can I.” Tell me, Ben quietly encouraged, wondering if he could communicate all of this with his eyes. Tell me the truth, Poe. Tell me you love me. Don’t be afraid.


Poe’s eyes were practically luminous in the light of Yavin. Ben was struck in that moment by how lovely they were, how wide, how beautiful, because Poe was beautiful, and he was kind, and he was funny and loving and so very, very perfect, and he was everything that was wonderful and --


They leaned in then, kissing, and Ben was surprised just at how soft Poe’s lips felt, how generous and gentle, barely a press against his own. Soft, feathery.


Ben kissed him back, and the kiss became more feeling, more passionate, lips seeming to all but plunder the other’s. Poe’s hands ran through his hair, and Ben knew he wouldn’t be surprised if it got tangled and messy from their kisses.


Eventually, after what seemed like a sweet, long moment, the kiss ended and Ben was in Poe’s arms, trying to catch his breath.


“So...wow.” Ben gasped, feeling as if his lips were tingling. He brought a hand up to them, touching them as if to feel the full impact of the kiss. How tender it had been before it had finally nearly stolen his air, how Poe’s hands had run through his hair, how tangled his hair was now. “That was...that was a real kiss.”


“You’ve never -- ’’


“I’ve never been kissed like this before.” It felt good, though. Loving, hungry, almost like something out of one of those holobooks that Mike pretended he didn’t collect. Ones that usually took place in gardens. Of course, this was a forest, not a garden, but some details you could let slip by. Here, with Poe, he could be happy here.


It was then it struck him. “The others...” Surely there were others Poe was no doubt interested in. How --


“They’re just friends, Ben. Believe me on this.” Poe’s hand rested on his cheek in that moment, and ran down it with the utmost tenderness. “They’re wonderful, but our relationship is as platonic as it gets.”


“I got it,” Ben said. “But why me?” Me, of all beings?


“Because you’re a good, kind, loving person, you’re fun to be with, you’re smart, you’re funny...and that’s just a few. I don’t just want to be your friend, Ben. I want to be with you.”


Ben swallowed. “You really do mean that, don’t you?”


“Of course I do. I love you.”


Those words. Those simple words. Enough to make the verbal floodgates open, enough to make Ben feel as if he were in the midst of melting. He loves me. Poe Dameron loves me.


And the rest poured out so freely.


“I know. And I...I love you too. You mean the galaxy to me. I was just wondering when you were going to say something, when you were going to tell me. I was wondering if I should tell you...”


He was aware, painfully, of how stupid he sounded in that moment, but he was practically liberated, rambling in that moment, words seeming to flow freely. When he spoke, at times, under periods of deep emotion, he might as well be telling his autobiography.


“Ben, I -- ’’


“Just let me finish. I love you. I just love you so much, and I want to protect you. I want to keep you safe, I want you to be happy, I never ever want you to know pain again.” His hands shook even as they rested on Poe’s shoulders, as they all but itched to hold him, to touch and caress him, and he knew he wouldn’t get enough. “I want to protect you. I want to fight alongside you, I want to shelter you from the nightmares you have, I want to shelter you from the war. I could give you everything of myself if you had me.”


“Always.”


They settled into the other’s embrace and here, in the forests of Yavin, they were safe here, where others could not reach them, could not hurt them. And Ben promised himself that no one would ever hurt Poe, not once, not ever again.

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