You’re used to seeing Dameron first thing every morning at breakfast. It’s only brief contact, but you cherish it. Though you stand behind the buffet counter and he is on the other side, surrounded by his companions, you enjoy his warmth: the conspiratorial winks, the friendly little touches, the inside jokes that only you can understand. It gets you through the morning, until you get to see him again, but today he’s conspicuously absent from the breakfast rituals.
Though you’re manning the rations for the entire shift, you don’t see him at all, and you feel his absence prominently. He rarely skips meals, and though now and again he is distracted by an overnight lover, you feel that there is something different today.
You’re tempted to ask his friends where he is, but though you might be his oldest friend, you’re certainly not theirs. You’re too different from him, lacking perhaps the easy charisma that he weaponizes, and so you can feel their distinct lack of enthusiasm whenever you try to engage them. As such you try to ignore the issue, knowing that he’s a grown man and is probably off doing something important. But when he doesn’t show up to dinner, you swallow whatever qualms you may have about striking up a conversation with his cool and popular cohorts, and you ask one of them where he is.
Well; perhaps you don’t do that so well. One of them — Ras, you correctly identify, though you think it’s short for something else and hope that doesn’t become important — is minding his own business, tying the laces to his boot in the hallway, and when he straightens you’ve materialized behind him.
“Good evening, Ras,” you say in a monotone, attempting to sound unconcerned and inadvertently coming off as sounding like a droid. “Do you know where Dameron is?”
He jumps at your sudden appearance, and though he momentarily quakes at your intense and almost interrogatory stare, he manages to recover. “Oh, he wasn’t feeling well, so he stayed in. Nothing to worry about.”
You’re already worrying, but you thank him and move on. (Ras looks after you, wondering if that was all you wanted him for, and has he outlived his usefulness now?) You can’t remember the last time Dameron was sick, or if he even knows how to take care of himself, but you try to assure yourself that a grown man would just go off to the medical center and make himself well. But your rather inconspicuous slide past the med center reveals that he’s not there, and your concern mounts; obviously, he must be dying in his bed and no one is around to save him! How could the Resistance treat its best pilot like this?!
Without much dignity, you all but race to his room and, finding it locked, strongly consider breaking it down. But some passersby are looking at you curiously, wondering what has managed to get you so riled up, and you keep your head enough to pick his lock and push your way inside.
His room is dark and you are frightened that you are going to find something horrible, but a dim lamplight assures you that he is still alive, though he looks miserable and, as promised, thoroughly unwell. But when he twists upwards to look at you curiously (wondering — didn’t he lock his door?), he does seem to brighten, if only a little bit.
“Ah, kid,” he rasps, settling himself back down. “You’d better stay away. I’ll get you sick.”
“I’ve always had the better immune system,” you say imperiously, crossing over to him and looking him over. “What’s the matter? Why aren’t you in the medical center?”
“They can’t do anything for me. It’s just the common cold. I’ll get better with some fluids and some rest.”
You look at his exhausted form critically, and with a sweeping glare you find no water around him. “And something is stopping you from doing either?”
Dameron sighs and turns over, obstinately facing the wall. “I’ll be fine. Just a little body ache; didn’t want to get out of bed.”
“But you haven’t eaten anything all day.”
“I haven’t had an appetite.”
“Hmm. Wait right here.”
He has little other choice, and you disappear. Within minutes you return with a pitcher of water and some food that’s easy to digest; you coax him upwards and tilt his head back so that he can drink, your fingers pushed through his dark curls and massaging his scalp as soothing encouragement as he works the water down his dry throat.
“You’re freezing cold,” you murmur as you press your palm against his cheek.
Dameron is tempted by the warmth of your hand but for once he shies away, not quite looking you in the eye. “Just a damned cold. I’ll shake it in a day. Tomorrow morning I’ll be healthy as a hoska, just like usual.”
“Well, we’ll see about that. Now you need to get something in your stomach.”
But he is ashamed that you see him in such a pitiful and vulnerable position, and once more he turns from you. “I’ll be fine, kid. Don’t you worry about me.”
It was too late; you do worry, constantly, but you let him have his way this time. Moments later, he hears rustling and a soft chewing noise, and he turns to see that you’re eating what you brought from him. “Hey!”
“What?” you ask innocently.
He sits up again, though not before noticing that at least his cough is gone for now. With a grin he asks, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“You didn’t want what I brought for you,” you deadpan, “so I’m eating it. Can’t let it go to waste.”
Within a minute he is eating too, and soon his body is heavy and drowsy with relief. Well-fed and hydrated, he is almost ready to go to sleep, but he is still freezing cold and tangled up underneath the blankets he already has. He wonders why he’s not warmed by the burning shame coursing through him, and again he looks away from you when he says, “I’m sorry you have to do this. I’m the older one; I should be taking care of you.”
Your heart quickens a little at his words, but you bat the overflow of sentiment away from your voice; you can’t ruin it, can’t let him see. You must keep your usual sincerity, one that seems so platonic, so different from how you really feel. “You mean everything to me, Poe. I’m happy to take care of you.”
Dameron is pleased and he laughs, settling himself back down. “And why’s that?”
Because I love you, you want to tell him, and though it’s not something he hasn’t heard before from you in a variety of other contexts, you keep it a secret this time. “Because what would I do without my oldest and dearest friend? If I let you die, I’ll have no one to talk to around here.”
“Aha, well. You shouldn’t worry, kid; I’m not going anywhere.”
“You better not. Now, you think you can rest better now?”
“I…” He furrows his brow. “Could you get me another blanket? That’s the only thing I need. Just so cold in here.”
Between the two of you, you’re the one less prone to impulse, but impulsively you give him an alternative. Impulsively, he accepts, if only so he can get back to sleep, and before you have time to even know what you’re doing you’re pulling yourself underneath the blanket so that you can sleep beside him.
“You’re warm,” he mumbles. Yes — You’re much warmer than he is, oh, you’re like a living, breathing electric blanket against his cold body. Body heat, you’d told him as persuasion. Much better. And sure enough you are — far more comforting, too — and as you turn your back to him and let him press himself against you, you count your breaths. In, out, in, out; after sixteen he’s out cold, finally reaching the heavenly paradise of sleep.
Your mission is fulfilled and you are free to leave, but you’re not quite ready yet. You’re done with your chores for the day, after all, and you can spare a few minutes. Or hours, perhaps, if only because of the opportunity to pretend that you are his lover for a little while. You reach up to shut the lamp off, and the pillow is very warm and soft when you rest your head against it.