Hod Ma'alatcha @astriferoussprite
Chapter 3

“So, how was the family?” asked Poe later in their quarters.

“Large,” said Finn, flopping down onto the bed (he still wasn’t used to how soft or delicately embroidered it was—there was no such thing either in the Order or the Resistance). “Kind of hard to keep track of everyone.”

“You and me both,” said Poe, scooting up to lay next to him, and Finn couldn’t help but crack a grin as he remembered the last time he went to a Dameron family reunion. “Were any of them genocidal maniacs?”

“Force, no,” said Finn. “That’s Rey’s problem, not mine.”

“Point. Any jackasses, though?”

Finn poked him in the side. “They’re royalty, I can’t just go around slandering their name,” he said. “That said, not really, they’re all chill.”

“That’s always good.” He leaned in closer to Finn, resting his hand on his stomach. “Always good to have a chill family.”

“I’m an uncle, apparently.”

“Wait, seriously?

Finn rolled his eyes. “Ok, technically I’m a second cousin once removed, but you get what I mean. There’s a bunch of little kids who look up to me.” He hummed. “It’s wild.”

“I bet.” Poe began to absentmindedly trace patterns on the front of his shirt. “Though I’m assuming you’re a bit short on the grandparent department, right?”

“Not really,” he said, slinging an arm behind his head. “Grandma’s still alive, she just got demoted to Queen Dowager after my grandpa died, since she wasn’t the original ruler.”

Poe smirked. “Force, look at you, talking about queen dowagers like it’s no big deal.”

“It really isn’t, though?” he said. “I mean, I’m still Finn, regardless of how royal my family is.”

“Still, who else could you say talks about nobility like that?” Getting up, he stretched his arms. “Pretty much no one.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

“I dunno, I guess I’m just kind of antsy.” He began to tug on his boots. “Like, the palace is gorgeous, but I can’t just land on a planet and not see the rest of it. Kriff, we haven’t even really properly seen the city.

“We’re here on business, not sightseeing.”

“You’re telling me you don’t have any desire of exploring your home planet?” Shaking his head, Poe tossed Finn’s boots in his direction, which merely bounced off of the bedframe and landed in a disorganized pile on the carpet. “Come on, you’ve got to have some kind of pride, buddy.”

And that’s how they found themselves strolling hand-in-hand through the streets of Ir Drisha that afternoon.

The queens hadn’t yet revealed the news about their son, which meant that for the time being, Finn could travel relatively incognito. Sure, he was still nodded at appreciatively or scorned at for being The Republic Commander Who Escaped The First Order, but that was all; for now, no one needed to know that he was the prince.

And really, he liked it that way.

There were all sorts of pleasant markets lining the city that they, as tourists/displaced natives, had to stop by; Poe spent a fair amount of time admiring the delicate metalwork of a jeweler, Finn had to restrain himself from buying armfuls of multi-colored gummy candies and sour strips from the sweet shop (he did eventually cave in and buy a box of baklava), and both of them heartily enjoyed the brisk walk through the aromatic stalls lined with large bins full of colorful spices. Finn bought a little potted cactus in a cheerful enamel pot for Rey, and they ended up stopping by the vendor selling sweet frozen fruit juice; Finn settled for the popular local flavor of lemon and spearmint, Poe stuck with meiloorun juice.

At the end of the elegant square was a kiosk stocked with holonovels and journals. Figuring he probably had a little bit of catching up to do, Finn spent a few more credits on a compendium of Verakhi architecture, while Poe grabbed a newspaper and asked the vendor how much it cost.

The old man shook his head. “News has always been free. You from out of orbit, huh?”

“Unfortunately,” said Poe, taking another small sip of juice.

The vendor hummed, before looking at Finn and nodding with—was that a knowing smile? “You two take care, now.”

“You think he knows me?” asked Finn as they walked back to the palace, tucking the book under his arm (he could afford to read it a bit later). “He just seemed to recognize me, or something.”

“Maybe he’s just a fan of Galactic politics,” said Poe, unfolding the newspaper (it was genuine paper—cream-colored and with a faint scent of ink). “Oh, look, the front page mentions you.”

What?” Craning his neck, Finn looked over at the headline Poe was pointing at.

 

PRESIDENT DEYARIN SPILLS ALL ABOUT THE CROWN PRINCE

For years, the mystery of what happened to the beloved Prince Moishe has remained unsolved, but last week, the Drisha Chronicle scored an exclusive interview with the president, who was allegedly present at the time of His Highness’s disappearance.

The twenty-nine year-old Deyarin was then a security guard for the royal family around the New Year, when the attacks took place. “I had a duty to serve the Queens,” she explained, “and, by extension, their son—so I reckoned that I had to keep him away from Their Majesties while they got to safety in order to maximize everyone’s survival.”

However, she was soon discovered. “I was foolish to believe I could outrun the enemy,” she told the Chronicle. She and the prince were roughly grabbed by a pair of Stormtroopers—a bogeyman many believed eliminated. “It was not the Empire, but a group of fanatics wishing to follow them.”

Deyarin was taken prisoner aboard their transport ship. As for the fate of the prince, she was not initially certain, as they were immediately separated, but she did recall hearing the phrase “…FN-2187” as she was passed by.

 

“Oh, no.

 

“I realized, they were naming him,” she said. “It was a designation—they were planning on raising His Highness for some nefarious purpose.”

It would later be learnt that such designations were commonly assigned to those under the Order’s Stormtrooper program, which was mainly staffed by kidnapped children such as Moishe. Only a handful have been known to break out, and those who have remain traumatized to this day by their experiences. The Galactic Refugee Alliance has offered respite to several escapees, yet denied any memory of one resembling His Highness…

“Buddy, you alright?”

Finn dizzily nodded, cool lemon juice not doing much to dispel his anxiety. “I’m just worried.”

“What do you mean?” said Poe. “It’s just a little more information about what happened, right?”

“Not really,” said Finn. “It’s a reveal.”

Poe cocked his head.

“See, I’m sure that even on an isolationist planet, the people here have at least some understanding of who we are,” continued Finn as they walked back to the palace, him trying desperately to pick up the pace. “Like, they probably recognize you as the guy who followed his parents’ footsteps, and me as the former stormtrooper-turned-commander, at the very least. And this—” He once again gestured to the article. “This flat-out states that the prince was raised as a stormtrooper.”

“That can’t be enough information,” said Poe, gently grabbing his shoulder in an attempt to slow them down.

Finn shrugged it off and quickened the pace. “Maybe not, but that’s not the only thing they have to work with. Somewhere they’ve got to have seen the Queen and I together—here!” He pointed to a different spot in the newspaper, a photo of them earlier at the negotiating table. “Surely someone’s noticed that we look a bit similar—and with everything else, well, they’re smart around here, they’ll put two and two together.” He rubbed his temples. “I’ll give it until tomorrow morning before they find out everything.”

Poe patted his shoulder once again—reassuringly this time. “Hope it won’t be all that bad when they do find out.”

 

“I’m glad we could all be here again tonight,” said Tikva, taking her place at the head of the table.

Finn took his seat beside her. The cabinet was a pleasant room, with embroidered curtains and detailed sculptures, but there was hardly any time to take it in—not when the president was sitting across from him with that same ice-cold expression as always.

“Shall we start?” he said, tugging at his shirt collar (a more royal outfit borrowed from Isaac, who was a little more on the thin side; moving his arms was gonna be hell).

“Of course.” Tikva began to leaf through the stack of documents in front of her. “So, the first item of business is formally declaring the end of Verakhat’s neutrality.”

“A difficult ordeal,” said Lyra. “I doubt the public would be open to the end of a millennia-long tradition.”

“Maybe tradition isn’t everything—” said Poe.

She turned her gaze to him. “I would recommend,” she said, in a steely voice, “that you keep your outsider opinion out of this.”

“But I’m—”

“He’s right, though,” said Finn, as Poe continued to furrow his brows. “You can’t hold on to the past forever, Madam.”

“Besides,” added Zora, “there’s reason to believe that public has changed.” She took a quick sip of tea. “What with all the refugees returning home to Verakhat, perhaps many citizens are taking sides now.”

“Refugees?”

Zora smiled. “Escapees of the First Order,” she said. “Tests have revealed that many of them were stolen from our own planet as children.”

“So there’s a chance people will disagree with the Order and take the side of the Republic,” he said, eyes wide with realization. “They’ll favor us.”

“I certainly hope so, Your Highness.”

Lyra sighed—a short, irritated one. “Perhaps you’re right, Gilean,” she said.

“So, is that an affirmative on siding with the Republic?” asked Rose, hand hovering uncertainly above the datapad.

The queens turned to look at Lyra, who shrugged. “Alright.”

“Affirmative,” concluded Tikva. “From this moment on, Verakhat shall be neutral no longer, and side with the New Republic on its mission to bring stability and justice to the galaxy.”

Nodding, Rose typed out her statement. “Fantastic.”

Finn looked at Lyra. “Madam President, are you sure that—”

“I’m sure enough,” she said with a smile that did nothing to dismiss the sour feeling still lingering in his gut.

 Tikva waved her hand, thumbing to the next page. “All right. With that, the next item is any potential membership within the New Republic and her Senate.”

“Not sure about that,” said Lyra (of course).

Tikva tilted her head.

“Alliances aside,” said Lyra, “haven’t we always prided ourselves on not relying on others? Surely, wouldn’t a position within the Republic diminish our status as a planet, reduce us to just another voting member?”

Poe raised his hand. “Madam President, if I may—”

She sighed. “You may, Admiral,” she said, her jaw tight.

“Well,” he said, “I mean, there’s no guarantees, but with the current leadership, it’s likely that Verakhat won’t be losing status any time soon.” He rubbed his head. “I mean, look at Naboo, or Socorro, or Corellia. They’re still relevant as their own planets, even with seats in the Senate.”

Zora nodded.

“Even so, it would be unbalanced to live without a voice in galactic politics,” said Finn, leaning forward. “If we wish to shape the Galaxy and rid it of corruption, perhaps a small sacrifice is necessary.”

“Perhaps,” said Lyra, sighing again. “Well, if His Highness supposes it is a good idea, what’s to stop Verakhat?” Something uneasy tugged again at Finn’s stomach. “I give my consent to join the Republic.”

“We’ll put it up for a vote in the Senate, then,” said Tikva. “We should find out how the people vote first before we make any drastic changes.”

Rose tapped down a few more sentences. “Very well.”

Tikva stood up, gracefully pushing her chair back in. “That concludes this meeting, I believe,” she said. “Madam President, Madam Secretary, thank you once more for joining us.”

“The pleasure is ours,” said Zora warmly, while Lyra nodded and turned to Finn.

“This went well,” she said, the sharp edge in her voice barely concealed by sickly sweetness. “Good night, Your Highness.

Finn still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off with the president, but what was there to do? “Good night.”

 

Finn and Poe were trying to rest a little after dinner when there came a knock at their door.

“Yeah?” said Finn. It couldn’t have been Nox again—the knock had sounded too energetic for him.

And, sure enough, it was Rose who opened the door, clearly trying to reign in her excitement. “There’s an ice cream shop literally across the street,” she said, hands flapping with excitement. “Guys, we’ve got to go there.”

“Now?”

Now.

Finn nodded, walking over to pull on his shoes. He knew it would probably be a bad idea to eat again so soon after dinner, but it really was quite some time since he had ice cream—see, he was a little more focused on rebuilding the Republic and chasing down splinter groups rather than indulge in sweet treats.

So, it was with a fair amount of excitement that the three of them head down to the little ice cream shop, stocked with rows of colorful bins.

After taking turns indulging in every sample that they could (Poe finally tried the spearmint-lemon sorbet—and he was clearly a fan, if his moan of appreciation meant anything), they finally walked away from the counter with their purchases (two whole scoops for Finn—he was really treating himself tonight). They sat down, tried each other’s flavors, joked around; it was a nice feeling to have in the middle of political chaos.

And then, the chaos found them anyway.

“Excuse me?” said a young voice behind them. Finn whipped his head around to see a youth with wide eyes, staring right at Finn. “Are you really the Prince?”

Finn froze. Surely, the wiser option would have been to lie—even though that would definitely crush his heart, and probably make him hate Finn even more once the truth is revealed. Alternatively, he could have simply been ambivalent with a shrug and a “maybe, I don’t know,” but Finn knew that apathy wasn’t exactly an admirable trait in a future world leader.

So, he made what was probably a mistake.

“Yes,” he said, leaning forward. “That’s me.”

“Wow.” The kid’s face broke out into a wide, hopeful smile, before turning to the crowd behind them. “Everyone, look! It’s the Prince!”

Immediately, everyone began to congregate around Finn, loudly asking him questions all at once and/or crying with joy—until, that is, the shopkeeper kicked them out to the street (“Not in my store, you’re not”), and they had to pause for a few moments before starting up again.

“How long have you known?”

“How has the Princess fared?”

“Is this just Republic propaganda?”

Finn struggled through all their questions—there was no way he could answer them all tonight. “It’s kind of a recent development,” he shouted over the din of everyone else. “We only confirmed it this morning—” A squabble of people began to debate that claim. “I’ve got proof, I swear!”

“All right, back it up,” yelled Rose, waving her three-tiered ice cream cone like a baton. “This isn’t a press conference, no more questions for His Highness.”

“If I may.”

A young woman raises her hand, firmly grasping her press badge. “Just one question for the Prince, please.”

Rose frowned, and looked at Finn—who nodded. “Let her.”

She motioned her cone-holding hand again to her. “Come on.”

The reporter stepped forward. “If I may, could I just ask you on the validity of the President’s claims about you?”

Finn closed his eyes.

“It’s true,” he said, looking at her as his hands violently shook. “I was really a Stormtrooper for most of my life.”

The crowd was silent for a good portion of time. Finn kept looking ahead, steeling his jaw for the inevitable disappointment that their beloved prince was a soldier for a violent junta.

And then—

“So, was the First Order really that cruel?”

“How did you escape?”

“I can’t believe I’m not the only trooper from Verakhat!”

Rose rolled her eyes, grabbing Finn’s arm with her free hand and pulling them away. “The nerve of these people.”

“At least they like me,” he said, heart beating wildly in his chest as he smiled.

 

“You would not believe what just happened.”

Rey smiled, her projection shimmering a delicate blue as Finn talked to her. “I don't know if you know this already, but Rey, I'm apparently their prince?”

“I know,” she said. “Leia told me already.” She smiled brightly. “Finn, I'm so happy for you.”

“Thank you,” he said, heart feeling light; it was always comforting to see her. “I mean, I don't just have a family here, I've got the entire planet waiting for my return.” He sighed. “It's kind of a miracle.”

“Definitely,” she said, stretching her arms; Finn caught a glimpse of her right hand, pale and mechanical. “Well, you've got to tell me when your coronation is.”

Finn frowned. “I'm actually not really sure.”

“Alright.” Rey shrugged. “I'll just show up tomorrow.”

“That soon?”

She smiled again, eyes soft. “Finn, you’re my best friend, of course I’ll be there.”

“Even with the Order?”

She waved her hand. “Eh, no big deal. I already have Malia taking over your duties, I’m sure she can handle mine.”

His heart melted. Even after an entire war, countless revelations, too many fights to count—the softness still hadn’t been scrubbed away from Rey. Dimly, he wondered how much luck they had to have in order to find each other.

Rey looked to her side. “Damn, looks like the kids are begging for their evening stories,” she said. “Gotta go.”

“May the Force be with you,” he said with a wave. She grinned, scrunching up her nose as she signed off.

And then, there was a knock at the door.

Sighing, Finn opened it to find Nox—and the lady guard from yesterday, staff slung across her back.

“Come,” said Nox, gesturing down the hall. “There are some individuals who wish to speak to you.”

Finn wasn’t sure what to make of this vagueness; regardless, he had a trustworthy servant and an armed guard by his side, so it probably wouldn’t be too serious—maybe just another distant cousin on his Ima’s side wishing to see his face.

Oh, was he mistaken.

Instead of some cozy sitting room, Finn found himself directed to the press hall—and in it, several photographers and journalists were eagerly waiting, snapping photos at light speed and furiously taking notes.

“Your Highness,” said Nox, gently nudging Finn towards the podium, “I believe you have some questions to answer.”

Finn looked around the room, heart rate climbing. In every corner were eager faces, wide eyes, half-concealed smiles. Anticipation. Excitement. Hope.

He gripped the edge of the podium as the first questions began to pour forward.

He could do this.

 

HOPE REKINDLED: THE CROWN PRINCE RETURNS

Finn lazily scanned the paper over breakfast the next morning. “That was quick.”

“Eh, the press can never wait to release information they have,” said Naami, taking a sip of caf. “Go on, what does it say?”

“Nothing too strange,” he said, looking over the article. “It just talks about everything that’s happened so far, praises my accomplishments for the Resistance, mentions how I’m—oh, for kriff’s sake.”

“What?”

He rolls his eyes. “It just has to mention that I’m not married.”

Beside him, Poe coughed.

Finn shook his head, patting his shoulder. “Hey, it said I’m unmarried, not single.

“Might as well be the same thing to them,” said Poe, looking down at his breakfast.

He pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. “Doubt it,” he said, though he couldn’t help but feel uneasy.

The rest of the morning was pretty much spent on being measured for his new wardrobe. The tailor—a short woman with bright red hair named Ruti—had taken her sweet time threading her measuring tape around every part of his body and jotting down notes. “Coronation’s coming up,” she said, looping the tape around his bicep, by now starting to ache from being held up for so long, “and we just want you to look absolutely dashing, right?”

“Right,” he said, as she straightened his arm and began to measure his wrist.

Ruti hummed, wrote down a few final notes, and nodded. “That should be it,” she said. Finn gratefully relaxed his arm. “Now, about colors.”

“Wouldn’t you be the best person to decide that?” he asked, rubbing his shoulder and walking over to the large binder of swatches she had laid out on the table.

She shrugged. “Sort of. I just feel like you should wear a color that you like, and then I can coordinate the rest of the outfits around that.”

Finn began leafing through the binder, leafing through the five pages solely dedicated to shades of black. “All about balance, right?”

“I suppose,” she said, looking over his shoulder. “Hmm, I could see you in a nice cool white.”

“Pass,” he said, skipping over the rest of the whites. “Doesn’t really suit me.”

Brown seemed too dull a color for such an occasion, red too violent, orange too gaudy. Finn paused at the yellows, getting a slight tingle in his right hand.

Flipping to some page near the end, where the colors began to cool down, he found what he was looking for: a silky swatch, dyed a deep, royal purple.

He gently lay a finger on the panel. “That one.”

Ruti looked at it, and nodded. “Solid choice,” she said, pulling the square fabric out and sticking it between the pages of her notepad. “Purple really suits you.”

 

It was just before lunch that Finn showed up at the garden.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” said Naami with a grin. Her simple dress had been swapped out for a pair of billowing pants and a sleeveless tunic, braids tied up in a bun. “Didn’t know if the tailor would ever let you go.”

“She did, eventually,” he said, pulling out his saber. “Say, um, is there something here I can scorch, or—”

Naami pointed to a stump at his feet.

“Cool.” Turning the lightsaber on, he took a few swings at it while dialing down the power until the golden blade barely left a mark upon the wood—he wanted to fence with his sister, not mortally wound her (that would be reserved for other families). “You ready?”

She ignited her own saber—a stunning blue. “Whenever you are.”

Grinning wildly, he tightened his grip and swung at her.

Verakhat must have had a different system of combat, he thought as they parried. While he stayed more grounded with broader swings, Naami moved quickly back and forth, parrying him as if it were a high-energy dance. At one point, she deflected him with an actual twirl, swinging her blade around her like it weighed nothing.

The little dance soon gained spectators. Poe was first, followed by a wide-eyed Rose and then by Isaac, accompanied by a slightly dented medical droid named D3-650 who kept making frantic remarks any time one of their sabers came dangerously close to striking flesh (“He insisted on being here,” said Isaac with an apologetic glance). Finn grinned, putting on as best of a show as he could for the little crowd—trying out some of the fancier footwork he had learned, and imitating his sister’s graceful spins (he was always a quick learner) as Poe enthusiastically cheered him on.

There was something delightful about fencing with Naami. It wasn’t just that she was damn good, leaving him with a few shallow scrapes on his shoulders (a favor which he would later return), or that the act itself was already thrilling; rather, there was something almost magical about the knowledge that he wasn’t alone, that his family carried the same gifts and sensitivities that he did. It was like another piece of the puzzle falling into place; it only made sense that a Jedi like himself would fit comfortably in with another saber-slinging family.

Suddenly, it began to rain.

Finn paused, lightsaber still held out in front of him. Naami stared at the sky, eyes wide. It had been sudden; one moment there were clear skies, the next there were fat droplets of water cascading down onto them. There was something lovely about that.

The two turned their lightsabers off. “Damn,” said Naami, resting a hand on Finn’s shoulder, “guess we’ll never know who won that round.”

“Oh, definitely Finn,” said Poe, clapping his shoulder. Naami stuck her tongue out at him. “Come on, Naami, you know he did.”

“Since when were we ever on a first name basis, Poe?” she shot back, with laughter in her eyes. “Alright, come on, let’s go inside before Deethree yells at us.”

“How strange,” said Isaac silently as they made their way back inside. “It almost never rains here.”

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