He hears: “turn here” and “listen carefully” and Poe nearly trips as a Stormtrooper says the words that wrap around Poe’s right thigh.
He tries to think of something witty to say, but all that comes out is, “What?”
The Stormtrooper doesn’t react.
Finn feels his breath hitch in his chest – his throat tightens and fear spreads up his scarred spine and digs icy fingers into his neck.
Large and blocky letters on his forearm: “WHAT” – Finn slams his eyes closed, puts his head in his hands and tells himself over and over and over that he’s okay, that he’s no longer part of the First Order; that, from what he can tell, the Resistance doesn’t carve people’s words from their skin.
(He decides to be safe, though, and doesn’t tell anyone that his word is back.)
Finn doesn’t know why the word is on his arm nor does he know its significance – (it had used to mean pain and a trip to sterilization) – just knows that up until he was ten, it had always been there. Then the word was stripped, layer by layer, from his arm as he screamed.
It had returned a year later – and it was removed again the same day.
When he learns about birthdays from Poe (apparently it was Snap’s today), Finn tries to remember the day that the WHAT had shown up again and if he should tell Poe that that was probably his birthday. That’s the kind of information that Finn thinks Poe would like to know.
So he counts back.
“My birthday was eight days ago,” he says to Poe. “Please don’t ask me how I know that.”
Poe’s mouth immediately opens to ask just that, but Finn doesn’t give him the opportunity – just turns around and walks away, ignoring Poe calling after him.
(Later, when they’re sitting in the mess hall and eating lunch, Poe tries to bring it up again – and Finn abruptly stands and walks away. The whole of the gathered pilots around them falling silent as Finn leaves.
Poe doesn’t ask again.)
Finn stares down at his letters.
He wants to carve them out of his skin.
The WHAT has only ever brought him pain and he’s tired of the instinctual fear he gets every time he sees those simple letters.
He’s tipsy on some kind of brandy Poe brought him from another planet and he’s staring down at his arm when he finally thinks, Kriff this.
Then he’s on his feet and he’s running to medical.
He grabs the first nurse droid he sees and shoves his arm under its nose.
“Can you burn this off of me?” he asks, edging closer and closer to desperation.
“I cannot,” the droid answers, sounding almost horrified as it backs away.
“I need it gone,” Finn says, panic in his throat. “I need it gone.”
“Then how will you find your soulmate?” the droid asks, backing away faster as Finn advances on it – but its words stop Finn.
“Soulmate?” he asks. He digs around in his head for the meaning of the word – he’s heard it thrown around in conversation between the pilots, but no one explained the exact meaning and Finn had never thought to ask. He’d always figured it was just another one of those cultural things Stormtroopers had never had a need for (just like birthdays and names).
The droid launches into a lecture about how humans would know who their destined mate – or mates – is by the first words they ever say to each other – the words themselves appearing as tattoos. The removal of which was reprehensible, a form of absolute dehumanization.
Finn feels sick.
He feels torn.
He thinks about Poe, wonders what he would have to say about this – he wonders, if Poe has them, what his words say.
He shakes his head violently, says again, “I need it gone.” There’s a soft chirping at his feet and Finn looks down, sees BB-8. It chirps at him again. “It is reminding you that you are no longer a Stormtrooper,” the droid continues softly.
“It’s not like that,” Finn says. He opens his mouth to say more, but the words don’t quite make it past his throat. Instead, he looks at the nurse droid and asks, “Will you tell anyone that I was here?”
The droid hesitates. “Not unless I am asked directly,” it settles on.
Finn turns and leaves.
Poe traces his fingers over the words on his thigh – slightly slanted lines that were neat and efficient – remembers the gun at his chest, the tight grip on his arm and: turn here; remembers being shoved, and then: listen carefully.
If his whole body hadn’t been in agony that day, he wonders if he would have felt his words burn.
Poe wants to ask Finn what his words are – wants to know if Stormtroopers were even capable of having them (he immediately regrets the thought – Finn has always been wide open, always vibrating with excitement and acceptance and curiosity at the world he never knew; Finn wasn’t like the others).
But there are things that Finn Does Not Talk About and what happened Then, before turn here and listen carefully, falls firmly in that category.
They’re running when suddenly Finn says, “Wait a minute, turn here.” He grabs Poe’s arm and pulls him into a tent – the two of them doubling over as they gasped for air. “Okay,” he starts, ready to come up with another plan, “listen carefully—”
And Poe doesn’t quite hear the rest of what Finn says – his blood is roaring in his ears as the words wrapping around his thigh begin to burn.
When Finn snaps his fingers in front of Poe’s face, Poe stumbles back a little, shakes himself and says, “What?”
And then Finn is the one who’s taking a step back – his hand coming up to clutch as his left arm. And now Poe is standing all the way back up and his eyes zero in on Finn’s arm. “What?” he repeats breathlessly.
Finn shakes his head, looking for all the world like he’s about to run (except that there are headhunters outside and their ship's been blown up and backup’s still a few hours out and there’s nowhere to run).
“It’s okay,” Poe says, his thigh is on kriffing fire and this is their second chance – their second chance to claim their bond. “It’s okay,” Poe says again, reaching out and taking Finn’s arm. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“Please,” Finn says, the word coming out in a rasp – and Poe knew it was from the pain, that he wasn’t the only one whose words were screaming.
Carefully, Poe pushes up the sleeve of the jacket he’d given to Poe almost a year ago – and there, in his all-caps handwriting: “WHAT” and Poe’s breath catches in his throat.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Poe asks.
Finn shakes his head – and Poe understands. There was a reason from Then, and therefore it’s a thing that Finn Does Not Talk About. And Poe wants to be frustrated – they’ve lost so much time, now, but then Finn is leaning in and he’s pressing a chaste and hesitant kiss to Poe’s lips.
That won’t do, Poe thinks before he’s wrapping one hand around Finn’s neck and the other around his waist and he pulling them flush together.
The kiss is slow and sweet and perfect – and the tattoo on Finn’s arm hums.