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the hand that first held mine

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It’s the talk of the base for days, striking the perfect note of battlefield bureaucracy and raw emotion: something we did to make this happen. The new check box for refugees ‘looking for family members’, DNA flags in the system, and the child reunited with his mother. An ordinary day, with its losses and shortages and fear like dust over everything, lit up by the woman dropping to her knees, the child flinging himself into her arms.

The feelgood story everybody needs. Who wouldn’t be uplifted?

*

When Finn tries to put him down, the child’s arms go so tight around his neck it’s hard to breathe. There are a lot of people around them, it feels like, Finn and Poe in their sock feet, a couple of medics, BB-8 beeping and bumping at their knees.

Someone’s well-meaning hands try to take the little boy, get him checked out, swab him for a genosample for the database in case the family turn up. These are good, kind people - they’re saying all this, Finn can hear them perfectly well. Gentle voices, no force: hands that want to help. Finn does trust them.

But the child is clinging on, tighter and tighter. “No no no no no,” he’s chanting, knees clamped around Finn’s ribs with all the force of his desperation. Over and over again, one syllable of protest all he’s got. He’s tiny, how could he possibly fight back?

“I’ll just hold him,” Finn announces, sitting down on the examining table.

“Captain, you don’t have to…” someone begins and then stops. He didn’t hear Poe intervene, but the quality of the silence suggests he did.

“These are the doctors,” Finn says softly into the new calm. Even BB-8 is still.“They’re nice, they want to make sure you’re not hurt. I’ll sit here with you, I’m not going anywhere.”

Another heartbeat, two, three, four, and it’s easier to breathe.

Dr Kalonia steps forward. “”Hello, sweetheart,” she says. “I need to put this hypo just here - ” she touches her own neck, to show him “ - and it’ll tell me if you need any medicine, and help me find your family. Can I do that?”

*

Eventually he says his name. It’s difficult, with the kid’s whisper and a nomenclature Finn doesn’t know, to be sure he’s hearing it right.

“Auri? Is that right? Yeah? Did I say it right?”

He nods his head, solemn.

“Auri. Ok. Hi Auri, it’s nice to meet you. My name’s Finn, I said that already.”

Auri nods again.

“My friend who flew the shuttle, he’s called Poe. He’s helping them look for your mom, right now.” That’s what he said, anyway. He probably has other more pressing Resistance business to attend to as well. Finn wouldn’t blame him for a second if he let other priorities take over.

Auri just looks at him. He’s sitting next to Finn rather than clinging round his neck, but that’s as far away as he’ll go.

Finn hasn’t left his side, not even to find new boots. He’s never needed new boots before: say what you like about the First Order, but the footwear they issue their Stormtroopers will last a lifetime. Would last a lifetime, if he hadn’t left them behind to make liftoff weight on the shuttle.

There must be a debrief going on somewhere without him. Poe seems to think Finn did the right thing (quick hard hug, I fucking love you, you know that right?) but he can’t push his luck, he can’t sit here in medbay when the General needs his report -

- only the door slides open and General Organa is here, Poe at her side. He’s wearing canvas shoes that he only uses for off duty, and holding out a pair of new boots.

Finn takes them automatically - they’re like Poe’s old ones, only in his size. How did Poe know what size to ask for? More to the point, how has he allowed the Resistance’s second in command to fetch new boots for him when he ought never to have needed to abandon the old pair in the first place? Resources are stretched as it is without adding a new mouth to feed and boots for a man who already had some. Finn’s going to have to explain himself to General Organa, how he nearly wrecked their mission for this little boy nobody knows, and let Commander Dameron fly him home in his mismatched socks.

“I hear you have brought us a very important visitor, Captain Finn,” General Organa says with a smile. “Welcome to the Resistance, young man. We’re very glad to have you with us.”

She holds out her right hand to Auri, and with her left she touches Finn’s arm.

Behind her, Poe beams at him: clearly his generous version of events is the one General Organa heard first. If it were possible to feel even more grateful, Finn would.

*

On a military base, it’s hard to know what to do with a three year old who won’t let go of Finn. At least, the medical staff and the increasingly overworked refugee coordinator don’t know. Poe seems to think it’s all perfectly straightforward.

“Ok then, so he stays with you for now,” Poe says decisively. “There’s space in my quarters, we can swap. Put a cot in the office - it’ll fit a kid’s bed, you can have my room and be right there next to him.”

The refugee coordinator brightens; her antennae straighten and turn towards them. “Well that would certainly make things easier for tonight, Commander Dameron! We can find him space with the unaccompanied children, but he’s so young, you see, we’d need someone with him, so if you can take him for tonight, Captain Finn, seeing as he’s so attached to you...”

BB-8 trills at his feet, apparently as pleased as she is.

“I can’t take over your quarters, Poe,” Finn protests. What would people think, if he puts the General’s second in command out of his room?

Poe squeezes his shoulder, lets his hand rest there for a second. “You’re not taking over, we’re just swapping for a day two. Till the kid gets settled.”

Poe’s quarters have a huge transparisteel window, a wall of deep green forest and birdsong. A little like Yavin, Poe says. Its own fresher and an office he never uses, the bed pushed up against the window. It must be like sleeping outdoors to the rustle of leaves.

Finn has always liked it there. It’s a badge of intimacy, of trust, to be invited to someone’s quarters. To be offered an exchange, even a temporary one, falls into the same category - but perhaps a different point on the curve.

He nods, looks down at the child. “How’s that sound, Auri? That ok?”

*

Someone finds them children’s pyjamas, and Auri lets Finn help him into them. He lets Finn settle him into the cot bed in Poe’s office, eyes almost closed, but when Finn tries to stand he whimpers and clings, startled awake into desperate strength.

Finn starts again. Settles him down, sits beside him with Auri’s little warm arm clutching at him until at last his breathing slows in sleep.

He wakes up again as soon as Finn moves.

“Shhh,” Finn tries, settles back on his knees next to the cot where Auri can reach him.

Finn can’t remember his first night away from his family. Perhaps he was too young to know what was happening; perhaps he cried and tried to cling, too. But in the First Order, who was there to cling to? If there was somebody, for the very young, Finn doesn’t remember them either. It’s probably for the best.

He doesn’t hear BB-8 come in; the droid moves almost silently. Finn only realises she’s there when the music starts. Very quiet and slow, like a human humming: exactly what you might choose if you were trying to soothe a child to sleep. And a faint light, like the map she showed them to Skywalker, only dimmer, slower, the idea of light rather than light itself.

Finn smiles at her over the top of Auri’s head and waits.

*

Night after night, Poe’s still there when he tiptoes out.

He’s in sleep clothes but squinting at a datapad, a change of shirt folded at his elbow like he meant to leave but had been distracted by whatever’s he’s dealing with on the datapad.

He looks up when Finn approaches, puts the datapad aside and gets to his feet. “He asleep?”

“Yeah. He kept waking up when I tried to leave, but BB-8 started playing music to him and that seems to settle him.”

“Like a lullaby, yeah,” Poe says. He bites his lip, gaze moving around the room. “So look, you got everything you need here, I guess I should - ” he gestures at the door. “I should let you get some sleep too, buddy.”

Finn is suddenly very aware that they’re alone for the first time since they landed. That he’s in Poe’s room much later than he usually is. That something changed on that shuttle. At least, he thinks it did.

“What if he wakes up?” Finn stalls.

“Bee could stay, if you want.”

“Uh, yeah, but - ” Finn takes a step towards him and Poe matches it. “I dunno, Poe, I don’t really - I don’t know what I’m doing here - ”

He’s aware, as he says it, that his words could be taken two ways. The child he’s suddenly responsible for; or the step he just took, towards the possibilities that Poe’s unexpected declaration in the shuttle open up. Maybe he means it both ways. Both are true.

Poe’s smiling at him. Finn lets his feet drift him closer, like BB-8’s stars on the ceiling. A trajectory.

“I don’t know much more about kids than you do.”

“No, but - ” another step.

“For moral support?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I could definitely use some moral support,” Finn agrees. That isn’t quite what he means, not really, but maybe it isn’t what Poe means either. He doesn’t want Poe to leave.

“I guess I can stick around till you’re sure he’s asleep, then I really oughta -” he waves at the door again. He’ll say a version of this every night.

What he only says once is, “Listen man, I didn’t offer you my room because I wanted - you know. Or because I thought - ”

“Yeah, no, I know,” Finn nods earnestly. He does know. Poe Dameron doesn’t offer people his room with ulterior motives. Finn knows that like he knows his own name.

“But I’ll stay if you want me to,” Poe concludes, all sincere eye contact, reaching out to grip Finn’s arms. “Anything you want. We’re in it together.”

If there wasn’t a traumatised child barely asleep in the next room, Finn would kiss him.

*

Finn wakes up disorientated, sense of place blurred and light at the wrong angle. There’s a dark shape in front of him, the idea of somebody behind him - Poe, of course, it’s Poe, he’s in Poe’s room, in Poe’s bed, the two of them side by side, not quite touching, pretending this is normal.

“Finn. Finn,” whispers Auri. “Finn, I’m wet.” He feels it again, the touch on his shoulder that woke him. It’s Auri’s hand gently tapping him.

“What?” he says, stupid with sleep. The words have no meaning. There’s no water in Poe’s office, he can’t be wet.

“I’m wet,” Auri whispers again.

Finn blinks, reaches out and his hand touches wet fabric - sodden pyjama trousers.

“How are you wet?” he asks, and in the moment of speaking he remembers this: the shame of it, sleeping on a bare plastic mattress both cold and sweaty, not enough sheet still dry to cover him properly. Cadets have to learn. You wet the bed, you sleep in it.

Poe stirs next to him, leans up on one elbow, mumbles, “Hey, what’s up?”

A pulse of fear, like this is something he must hide, an instinct to cover up what’s happened.

Before he can say, nothing, go back to sleep, Auri’s shivering, repeating, “I’m wet.”

“That’s too bad, but it happens, buddy,” Poe says, serious sympathy and wild hair.

Finn’s still more asleep than awake, systems struggling to come online. “I don’t want to punish him,” he says in a rush, and he can feel the pause as Poe doesn’t react at all.

Then he says, “No, sure, man. Let’s just -”

“I’ll get him dry,” Finn pushes the covers aside, finds Auri’s cold hand already reaching for his. “C’mon Auri, we’ll take off the wet clothes and sort something out, ok? Don’t worry.”

They don’t have any clean children’s clothes. Supplies will be off duty now, but Finn can find someone with the codes who’s awake, maybe they’ll still issue another set of pyjamas, dry sheets - but when he comes out of the fresher with Auri in a towel, Poe’s holding something out.

“This is gonna be big on you but it’s a really cool shirt, try it.”

Auri holds his arms up trustingly and Poe kneels to slip the t shirt on over his head. It’s so big it pools on the floor at his feet.

Poe looks up at Finn, shrugs. “Well, he’s only gonna be sleeping, it’ll do.”

“I’ll go get dry sheets,” Finn says. “Can he - can he keep warm where I was?”

“Sure, yeah - come under the covers, Auri -”

Auri lets Finn settle him in Poe’s bed but when he moves away it’s the same as before: the child whimpers and won’t let go. He’s fighting sleep, clinging to Finn even as his body relaxes and slackens, jerking awake when he feels Finn pull away.

“Shh, shh, ok,” Finn murmurs, and stays still. He can feel Auri’s breath against his collarbone, tight curls under his jaw. “Shhh…”

The mattress dips as Poe settles on Auri’s other side.

“Might as well leave him here for tonight.”

“You think? Is that - ” the word won’t come, too much to ask for this time of the night with the base on sleep cycle humming around them, Finn’s eyes closing in spite of himself.

“It’s fine, he’s already asleep. There’s space.”

BB-8 croons in the corner, projects the faint starmap onto the ceiling above them, whole systems drifting in orbit.

“It’s true, he’s already asleep, Bee,” Poe tells her.

The droid croons again, a different cadence like a key change, and lets the points of light very slowly fade out.

“My dad says I slept in his bed for a year after my mom died, and I was eight.” Finn can only just make out Poe’s words; it’s the tone of reassurance he really hears. “Kids do this, it’s fine.”

Finn nods, closes his eyes as sleep rises up to meet him.

*

He can still hear them through the door. General Organa’s voice has a softness to it when she speaks to Poe sometimes, affection soaking into her words.

“I sent you out to Eroon a single man, and now overnight I hear you’re married with a baby?”

She’s teasing him, fond. Wanting to know more but only if Poe wants to tell her - Finn’s good at reading voices like this, without a face to distract him. If he could see them, he might be less sure. She’s probably not smiling, and that throws him. The smile is in what she says.

Poe coughs. Finn can imagine the pleased dip of his head - he does it every time anyone asks where he’s staying while Finn and Auri have his room. Uh, yeah, no, actually I’m still there, he says, rubbing the back of his neck and not making eye contact. Other people seem pleased - smiles, raised eyebrows, slaps on the back - but how else are they going to react, when Finn’s right there?

Finn’s never corrected the obvious assumption, that if they are both sleeping in the room then they are sleeping together. And they are: side by side, with Auri in the next room, whispering to each other so as not to wake him. Woken by him trembling and soaked every other night, lifting him into the cocoon of warmth between them once he’s dry. It isn’t what people think, but Poe looks happy about it.

“Uh, yeah, we’re - well the kid’s not ours,” Poe says. “And we’re not - Finn - Finn’s - ” another cough. He’s not going to explain what they aren’t doing either.

“Amazing is the word you usually use, but I don’t mean to pry...”

It brings heat to his face: they don’t know he can hear them. Impossible to interrupt now, but he should make a noise, knock over these bricks Auri’s playing with, say something to the child to attract their attention so they understand he can hear them. He doesn’t, though.

“You think he’s doing ok?” Poe asks, serious again.

Auri sends the bricks flying with a hard swipe of his hand, like he can read Finn’s mind. He can’t, though. He’s just a little boy building towers and knocking them down again.

“Well, he’s a healthy, normal three year old who’s getting good care. He’s as ok as can be expected.” She pauses. “Unless you meant Finn?”

Poe says something he can’t make out, and General Organa’s voice continues, “I understand why this is important to him. You’ll make sure he knows he has my full approval, won’t you?”

Auri glances up at Finn, pauses in his reconstruction until Finn places a brick too. He’s making a tower that will never last: crooked foundations, all the pieces placed vertically. But if all he wants is to knock it down, it will do.

“Yeah. Yeah, of course.” The faint sound of water pouring, of metal against thermaglass. Poe will be serious, arms crossed over his chest as he watches General Organa brew tea. Then he bursts out, “I just keep thinking, where were we when Finn was three?”

“Well you were at school, Poe.”

“Yeah, and I could fly by the time I was 12. But no one was there when they took Finn.”

If General Organa replies, Finn can’t hear what she says.

You can’t save everybody, and there’s no changing things that happened 20 years ago.

*

Rey sits beside him in the open centre of the base. A previous generation planted vines here, or stood back and let them grow, and they thrive in the clear light, almost reaching to the transparisteel dome of the roof. Auri is in Finn’s lap. He’s watching the other children play but he makes no move to join them.

Rey’s sitting closer than she usually would.

“They said we get refugee ships in every other day,” she tells Finn. She isn’t really telling him, because they both already know.

Finn makes a noncommittal sound of agreement as Auri cocks his head to look at her.

“What’s refugee ships?” he asks. The two words are elided, sounds without meaning for him: refugeeships. It could be a planet of origin, a race of beings, a class of vessel. All of the above.

Rey turns to face him. “Well, it’s - it’s a ship with people who had to leave their home even though they didn’t want to,” she says, quicker than Finn would have been able to answer. Every ship he’s ever on is a refugeeship, if you take Rey’s definition literally. Maybe not that TIE fighter that Poe crashed, but all the others before and since.

No reaction from Auri.

“We don’t know for sure, but we hope your parents will be on one soon. They’re looking for you, and we’re looking for them,” Finn explains.

It’s a big galaxy. That’s a lot of hope and a lot of looking.

Rey’s gaze is back on the other children. They’re playing with a ball that flashes red, green, blue and white light as it bounces. If Finn catches a glimpse of it out of the corner of his eye, it could be blaster fire. Or a lightsaber.

“I’m looking for my family too,” says Rey, fast, like letting out a held breath.

A mis-aimed kick and the ball of flashing light rolls towards them, bounces off Finn’s knee and into Rey’s hands. Auri’s all attention now, but when she holds it out to him he won’t take it. He doesn’t say no or shake his head, just looks at it and doesn’t reach out.

One of the children has come closer, wanting the ball back. Finn doesn’t know her name or who her family are, but he knows they’re here on the base, Resistance fighters or medics or intelligence agents. Poe knows them.

She’s looking at Auri, assessing him in that unconcealed way children do. She’s bigger than him, five or six, maybe, weighing up whether to speak to ask for the ball back or hope her silent presence will be enough.

“Do you want to play?” Rey asks Auri.

He just turns his face away, into Finn’s chest. Finn’s arm rises to embrace him before he’s even thought about it.

Rey shrugs and tosses the ball back with a smile, no magic tricks with the Force this time, leans back against the wall as the girl runs back to her friends.

What did Rey play at, when she was that age? Were there other children, on Jakku? Or just scavengers, who’d as soon eat a human child as throw her ball back? She’s told him fragments, sense memories more than real memories. Neverending caution to protect skin from sunlight, always knowing how much water is left. Sand in your boots, in your hair, in your mouth, gritty in everything you eat and never enough of it. Eyes on you in the marketplace, wanting what you have.

His own childhood was easier, in comparison. They had plenty to eat, medical attention, an education - he’s still feeling out the precise shape of its poisonous ideology and maybe he always will be, but literacy, mathematics, combat training: those are politically neutral. He had the fierce physical joy of running faster than the others, of climbing higher; a safe bunkroom for 12 with a clear space in it that was his. Not every kid gets that.

“Would you recognise them, if you saw them again?” he asks.

Rey goes still. Stiller: a rock. Shrugs without looking at him.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe not. It’s been a long time.”

The children shriek as the ball bounces off the wall and ricochets over their heads and Rey watches them. He wishes he hadn’t asked. 

*

When Auri’s mother arrives on D’Qar she doesn’t look like a refugee, not yet. Her clothes are stylish, professional looking; her hair in intricate dark braids coiled on top of her head. Probably because those are the clothes she had to hand when they fled, and that was the way she’d already fixed her hair in the morning before everything fell apart. Finn imagines her in front of the mirror, getting ready for work, no idea what’s about to happen. And then what? What do people do, in the moment they realise they have to leave and won’t be coming back? They don’t know where they’re running to. Nobody has a bag of durable all-purpose clothing ready packed, because you think it won’t happen to you. You leave in your evening clothes, your work clothes, your sleep clothes if you have to, because once they close in to rase your city it’s too late to do anything but run.

All the refugees tell the same story. These days, the First Order swoops in like a plague moving at light speed, and kills everyone it can. The ones who make it out are the lucky ones, really.

She’s doubly lucky, because not only is she alive, but she has a baby in a sling on her chest. It could be another orphan she’s picked up along the way - a friend’s child, a neighbour’s child, someone she saved on the way out - but if Auri’s three and has those same curls that peep out of the sling, it makes sense that the baby is hers too. Auri not only has a mother, he has a brother or sister too.

*

Finn can tell who she is without anyone in medbay pointing her out. She’s speaking to Dr Kalonia, one hand resting on the baby’s back, constantly scanning the room. A woman waiting for somebody.

Auri’s holding Finn’s hand, and he’s small, there are people in the way, he can’t see her yet. Finn told him she was here - a perfect DNA match, no doubts to contend with - but it was as if the child hadn’t understood. It’s a lot to take in, when you’re three. It’s a lot to take in for anybody. Your family swept away, gone, everything gone, and then -

Even from halfway across medbay, Finn hears her cry out when she catches sight of Auri. A sound like pain, for the child she must have been sure she’d never get back. She jumps to her feet and there are people watching already, a sixth sense alerting them as she dodges through human traffic towards them, and stops just a step away.

Finn’s expecting Auri to run to her. He almost stumbles when the child turns to him instead, buries his face in Finn’s leg and won’t look.

Finn doesn’t want to look either. Nobody should be looking at this, nobody should have to because it should never happen.

She crouches, getting down to his height, and it’s difficult with the baby’s weight on her too. Tears are streaming down her face, and her mouth is open, but there’s no sound. She holds her hand out.

“Auri? Auri, sweetheart, it’s me, it’s mama. I’ve been looking for you - ” she manages, and her voice is a terrible thing. Ragged edges, cracked all the way through.

For an instant tiny fingers dig into Finn’s leg so hard it hurts. Auri never even looks up. He twists and uses Finn’s body to launch himself into his mother’s arms with such force she loses her balance, ends up sitting on the floor in the middle of medbay with her son restored to her, saved from the First Order like a resurrection.

“My darling, my darling, my darling,” she’s whispering over and over through her tears, face pressed close to his and holding him tight. “It’s alright, it’s alright, everything’s alright, I’m here, everything’s alright, I’m here…”

It’s like the hum of the engines, water flowing, birds singing. Everything’s alright, I’m here, everything’s alright, I’m here. Until she stops, overcome with a storm of sobs as the baby wakes up to join in. Dr Kalonia is stepping forward to help her to her feet, bear Auri’s weight where he isn’t letting go. Medics and routine cases are smiling, turning politely away to murmur glad words to each other.

Finn just stands there, watching. Someone slaps him on the back, says something he doesn’t hear, before turning back to whatever they were doing. Activity interrupted and resumed; restoration. A stone sinking into the depths and the ripples fading.

Finn watches them until the door to Dr Kalonia’s office closes behind them. Then he turns and leaves.

He goes back to his own room because he can’t think of anywhere else to go. It feels dusty, even though the cleaning droid comes in here the same as it comes in to all the other rooms. Or maybe it doesn’t, if there’s nobody here. He hasn’t been here, and now it’s all empty spaces.

Just Finn, what’s in his head, and the things it’s too late to ever get back.

*

The door hisses open and makes him jump, a guilty start.

“Hey, here you are!” Poe exclaims as it closes behind him.

He has every right to be surprised: this is Poe’s room, after all. Auri’s been back with his mother for two days and Finn has no reason to be in here. He’s collected up the change of clothes the boy had here, returned the cot bed to Supplies. So why is he still here? Now that an explanation for his presence is tacitly invited, he realises he has none. He’s been sitting here, on Poe’s bed, doing - what? Staring out of the viewport at the bottomless green of the forest, letting his thoughts drift as the leaves ripple and vines sway like breathing things. It’s possibly the longest he’s ever been idle in his life - awake, alone, and doing nothing. Much wiser to be occupied. To help out somewhere, study, train longer, harder. This is self-indulgence.

Clearly though, Poe is not asking Finn to explain himself. He’s shrugging out of his jacket and draping it over a chair, getting settled as if the only surprise is that Finn should be here now, at this particular time, not that he should be here at all.

“Yeah, I came to get -” the lie dies on his lips. “Sorry. I just lost track of time. I was looking out of the viewport for a minute, and…”

He starts to get up but Poe waves him back down, flops onto the other end of the bed where he can see both Finn and the forest brushing against the duraglass.

“Anytime, man. I’m glad you’re here. I got used to there being people, it was too quiet with just me and Bee last night.”

The droid beeps and trills in agreement. It sounds like agreement, anyway.

“Still, I should have asked first. You might’ve -” Finn’s going to try a joke, but before he’s even started he doesn’t have the energy to see it through.

Poe’s already shaking his head. “Nah. I really wouldn’t. You’re welcome here any time.”

“Thanks:” He’s taking too much, he knows he is, but it’s hard to refuse something so freely given.

Poe squeezes his knee, a moment of pressure then his hand is gone and they watch the forest sway, silent through the viewport. The refugee quarters look out on this side too. When Finn took the pyjamas to Auri’s mother (Olanna, her name is Olanna) he saw a different angle on this same stretch of huge trees, familiar and strange at the same time.

“The kid ok?”

“I guess so,” Finn says. “I took them the pyjamas but he was asleep.”

“And his mom? She tell you what happened, how they took him?”

Finn shakes his head. “She doesn’t know. All she knows is they came when he was in preschool.”

“He still not talking?”

“No. Nothing, She was hoping I could tell her about the other kids. But there was only him.”

“Shit. That’s - ”

“Yeah.”

A whole community gone. A whole generation of children dead, or gone for stormtroopers. How many parents like Olanna are searching, asking anyone who’ll listen, and who will never have the lightning strike of luck that washed her up on the same planet as her son? She didn’t say how many kids had been there that day. They’ll be in cadet bunkrooms by now, hair buzzed, pre-training programme already begun. Day by day getting used to these new lives where they call you by a number and no one comes when you cry. You stop crying, after a while.

“And how about you, buddy?” Poe asks. “You doing ok?” Just a glance in his direction, deliberately casual.

Finn shrugs. “Yeah, sure. Yeah.” Of course he’s ok. Nothing happened, not to him. Not that he remembers.

It’s all gone, not a trace left of the baby they took. Whoever his parents were they’ve been swept away by the passing of time, just like whatever trauma may have accompanied their loss. None of it touched him if he can’t remember it: it’s as if he was created in the First Order. The past he was born into is gone, and he’s known that for a long time. It’s just him, now, and whatever he chooses to fight for.

And there are the people who are here now, the person who says, I love you, you know that right, when he makes choices on a wave of unexamined emotion. The person who offers his quarters and stays, curled chastely into the corner of his own bed to make room for Finn and a child he doesn’t know. Just smiles and doesn’t explain when anyone asks, like this was all he ever wanted. Pleased to see him here staring out at nothing, doing nothing, achieving nothing. He’s a dead weight to feed, and yet Poe lights up when he sees him, and something in Finn lights up in return.

There’s an offer here: it has been here since that hug he couldn’t return with Auri in his arms. It has probably been here for longer than that.

“Cause if there’s anything I can do, anything you need, then you got it. Anything.” Poe says.

He’s so serious, as if he hadn’t already offered everything before Finn even thought to ask. This last thing, though, Finn knows he will have to ask. Poe will reach out to touch him, but he’ll always take his hand away again. He’ll sit this close in the sanctuary he has made of his own living space: his declaration has been made but Finn never really answered.

“I know. Thank you. Really. But I don’t need anything, it’s not that I need - ” the form of the question is too complex for words. He wants to close the space between them and add this to the things he and Poe do together. It’s why he’s here, in Poe’s room, he realises now.

Poe watches him, very still, like he’s working something out. One curl is falling over his forehead and he doesn’t seem to notice. His collar is slightly open. For a moment Finn can’t drag his gaze away from the exposed V of his throat.

“Can we,” he begins. “I want to -”

“Yeah,” Poe says, eyes smiling. “Anything, I said.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yeah.”

A tree could grow in the time they spend just looking at each other. Another tree in how slowly Finn leans closer, smoothes that one curl away from Poe’s forehead, and then the universe tilts them together and they’re kissing with their knees bumping together and all the life of the forest breathing and growing beside them.

It’s all slow and melting, actions that don’t need words as they slide hands over all the skin they can reach. There’s sap rising in Finn’s veins, warm and liquid, intensifying every time Poe moves against him, and when Poe moans the feeling seeps even into his bones.

After a while they’re lying down, a decision made without words, warmth and gravity fitting their bodies together, breathing into each other’s kisses, so deep Finn never wants to come up again. All that matters is Poe, in his arms, offering him everything.

There’s nobody asleep in the next room, no child who might wake up and no reason not to let Poe pull his shirt off his shoulders. No reason to keep quiet when Poe unfastens his pants and helps him wriggle free of them, wraps a warm hand around his erection. And if there’s no reason to keep quiet, there’s no reason to keep anything back at all, no reason to do anything but give himself over to the pleasure of Poe’s hands on him and Poe’s cock silk hard in his hand.

The only part of his life that he could choose, that means anything to him and that defines him, is what he does now. And what he does now is cling on as Poe Dameron kisses him and holds him close and strokes him until he comes all over himself, every part of him tingling and alive and almost ready to go again when he feels Poe follow him a second later.

*

“What’s the first thing you remember? Your earliest memory when you were a kid?” Finn asks. They’re under the covers now, intertwined, clothes dropped on the floor and forgotten.

“Uhhhhh...” Poe curls closer, flexes his foot against Finn's. “Probably...meeting my parents at the spaceport, when they mustered out and came back to Yavin.”

He turns his head on the pillow to look at Finn. There’s a tiny line between his eyebrows. Finn waits.

“I remember the ships - these amazing deep space cruisers, I thought they were so cool - and then my parents coming through the gate. My dad told me, they sat me on the wall of this walkway and my shoe dropped off, fell through a lane of air traffic into the river and they were both like, what if it had been me? He said he had this vision of accidentally dropping me the very first hour they were back and they yanked me off the wall in a panic.” He smiles. “I don’t remember that, though. He just told me enough that I got an image of how it was, but the spaceport on Yavin doesn’t look like that at all. I musta got it from some other spaceport I saw later.”

“How old were you?”

“Uhhh, nearly three, I guess.” He doesn’t say, like Auri.

There’s space, a lull while leaves whisper against the viewport and the air duct hisses above them, soft white noise.

“How 'bout you?” Poe asks.

Finn has been thinking about this. It isn’t clear, in his mind, what he truly remembers and what he extrapolates from later information. I remember being eight, so it must have been the same when I was three.

“Pre-training - kindergarten, I guess. This place with a high white ceiling.” He makes the shape of its arch with his hands in the air, fingertips touching. “I used to imagine there was a, uh, like a tightrope, from one side to the other and that I could walk along it, all the way up there and no one could reach me.”

Whatever he wishes he remembers or knows it is best that he does not, there’s nothing he can change about it. He’s never put it into words before - who would he ever have said such a thing to, before? - but this is the first moment he remembers.

Not his parents, not how he lost them, not who he was before he was a Stormtrooper. He remembers this: the high ceiling, and what he imagined.

Beside him, Poe smiles.

Slides his hand into the arch of Finns’ still held there in the air above his chest and touches that remembered space where three-year-old Finn walked on his tightrope, and nobody could reach him.