Three and a half weeks after Finn wakes up with metal plates reinforcing his spine and the loss of sensation starting halfway down his torso all the way to his toes, Poe catches him in the middle of relearning how to aim a blaster rifle in a gunfight without stumbling over his own feet. He's moving far too slowly towards cover when he glances up from his feet and notices Poe leaning against a tree at the edge of the training grounds, watching him.
Which is, of course, when he missteps and makes a total fool of himself by landing on his back. The training droid makes a disparaging beep. Finn grunts at it and closes his eyes. He considers lying in the dirt for another few minutes in hopes that Poe would go away.
"Need a hand?"
Finn opens his eyes. Poe's leaning down, hand extended. "Not bad," he says, grinning at Finn.
Finn grabs Poe's hand and pulls himself up. He has to look at his feet still in order to stay balanced but these days it just takes a moment for him to get situated. "Nothing better to do than to watch me trip over my own feet?"
"Came to find you," Poe says, slapping the dirt from Poe's shoulder, "I have a question to ask."
"Okay," Finn says, waving at the training droid to signal for a break.
"You know how we lost over half of our starfighter corps," Poe says.
Finn couldn't forget the memorial service they'd held for the pilots who'd never made it back to base. They'd built pyres of dry grass and timber on the bank of the lake, one for each of the dead pilots and lit each one with a torch. Poe had lit some of them, General Organa had lit a few. Some other pilots that Finn didn't know had lit the others. Everyone gathered was silent until the last pyre was lit, scattered fires burning bright against the night sky. Someone began humming a song and all of the people around Finn joined in, humming the same tune. Finn had never felt more out of place, mourning people he didn't know, in a tradition he didn't understand. There weren't even any bodies to burn.
"Well," Poe says, "I've been tasked with recruiting new pilots to bolster our ranks and I thought--" He points at Finn, both eyebrows raised.
"Me?" Finn asks, "A pilot?"
"You," Poe agrees.
"I can't--" Finn says immediately, "I mean, I don't know the first thing about flying. I never touched any--well besides that time we escaped in that TIE Fighter--I don't--" He swallows and takes a deep breath. "I don't know."
"You've got good aim," Poe says, "That's half the battle with flying an X-Wing into a fight."
"Really, you think so?" Finn asks way too eagerly before checking himself. He clears his throat. "I mean, yeah I guess so."
"So you'll come train with me?" Poe asks, except it's not quite phrased as a question. He's smiling at Finn and Finn feels lighter than he has in days--Poe thinks that he could be a pilot! But it doesn't take too long before reality sinks back in and the smile on his own face fades.
"My legs," Finn says, looking down at his feet, "I mean I'm getting better all the time it's just--the medics say they'll never be as good as they were before."
"Come on Finn," Poe says, dropping a hand on his shoulder, "You really think I didn't take that into account?"
Finn shifts his grip on the blaster rifle he'd been clutching this entire time. Poe doesn't let go of his shoulder but Finn can't quite meet his eyes. "You really think I'd be good at it?"
"I wouldn't be asking if I didn't."
Finn looks up into Poe's face and breaks into a grin. "Yeah. I want to be a pilot."
Poe beams back at him. "We start tomorrow. I'll introduce you to Anora then." He claps Finn on the shoulder one last time before turning away.
"Who's Anora?" Finn asks.
"Your new teacher," Poe answers.
Finn waves the training droid back into action and it lifts back into the air, projecting holographic targets for him to hit.
"Hey," Poe calls out, already near the edge of the clearing. Finn turns to look at him. "You're doing really well. I remember three weeks ago when you couldn't even walk."
Finn fires off a salute--remembering to touch his hand to his forehead instead of what he'd been taught as a Stormtrooper. The first time he'd tried to salute General Organa, Poe had pulled him aside in the ensuing silence and shown him the right way to do it.
Poe salutes him back, gives him a thumbs up, and disappears into the trees back toward camp.
"She's old but she's trained most of the corps," Poe says, patting her hull lightly, "She's a little grumpy sometimes but if you can handle her, you can handle any of the other X-Wings."
He gestures to two bits of metal sticking out in front of her folded wings. "Footholds," he explains, and promptly uses them to climb into the open cockpit. "Come on up," he says,
Finn puts his foot in the first foothold and is surprised to find that he can actually feel the pressure in the sole of his foot. He grabs on to the edge of the cockpit and heaves himself up, still relying more on arm strength than his legs.
The seats inside have patches of white hide beneath the tanned leather, foam peeking out from between loose stitches. Poe straps himself into the seat behind the pilot's seat, leaving very clear expectations.
"You know I don't know how to fly, right?" Finn says uncertainly, hovering half in, half out of the cockpit. It wasn't like swinging a lightsaber he'd never used before or trying out a new gun--it was literally taking a tiny vehicle thousands of feet up in the air with nothing between them and certain death except his shaky theoretical knowledge of how to fly a TIE.
If they even managed to get off the ground.
"Climb in," Poe says firmly, patting the side of the driver's seat. Finn hesitates for only a second longer before climbing into the seat. The seat sinks slightly and he can feel springs digging into his backside but it's not particularly uncomfortable. The controls are shiny with use.
"Look to your right," Poe says, "Hit the button. It'll close the cockpit."
Finn does as he's told. The neck of his helmet is itchy but he ignores it in favor of focusing on the complicated buttons and levers in front of him.
"For takeoff today, we'll need about a thousand feet of clear space in front of the ship," Poe says, leaning over Finn's shoulder. "Doesn't have to be land. We actually like to do most of our takeoffs over the lake but today we'll be sticking with this cleared strip of meadow. Another team's got the lake. Careful of the trees in the distance"
The trees are at least fifteen hundred feet away. The layout of the controls is slightly different from that of the TIE. He kind of remembers the holographic projections the Stormtrooper sergeants had bullied them all into memorizing even though maybe a twentieth of them would ever go on to be real pilots.
"X-Wing's got a lot of automated stabilizers programmed into it," Poe says, "So once you've got the takeoff and the landing bits down, flying normally isn't hard. Flying an X-Wing into a dogfight is a totally different story."
"Are these to rev up the boosters?" Poe asks, touching a familiar configuration of buttons alongside a lever.
"Whoa, not so fast there pal," Poe says, "Make sure your takeoff is clear. Check you've got enough energy stored in the fuel cells. Then check engine. Hit the small blue button on the left there, right next to the hyperdrive gearshift."
There's no one in sight and the radar is clear. Five of the six fuel cells are fully charged. Finn hits the button and a low hum rises from somewhere behind them, making the entire cockpit vibrate lightly.
"That's a good sound," Poe says. It's weird but Finn can almost hear the smile in his voice. "That's the sound she makes when she's good to go. Ready to fly, Finn?"
Poe's enthusiasm is contagious. Finn's excitement overtakes his uncertainty. "Let's go."
"Power up the boosters--I usually drain a quarter of a cell for takeoff just to be safe. You want to go halfway across this field to gather speed before aiming her up. The lever on your right controls the wing position. The X-Wing's programmed to match the antigravity accelerators to wing position. The steering wheel can control that too but it's for much finer movement, not takeoff or landing."
Finn breathes deep. He'd done this before in a simlab when he was thirteen, before he'd been assigned to sanitation. Before, when he still thought he could be a good Stormtrooper, head full of foolish dreams of bringing glory to the First Order like all the other stupid young boys around him.
"Switch boosters to full current by turning that dial under the engine check button," Poe says, calm like he can't see how badly Finn's fingers are trembling. He does what Poe orders. The humming rises in volume, like the X-Wing is vibrating in anticipation of climbing into the sky.
"Foot pedal to accelerate. Go," Poe murmurs, so quietly that Finn can barely hear him over the headpiece with the sound of the engine. Finn pushes down without thinking and the X-Wing surges forward.
"Pull up halfway across," Poe says.
Finn tries but the lever doesn't slide so easily. It sticks midway down--they've ascended a bit but he's not sure if they'll clear the top of the trees. Finn tries again to pull the lever but it won't budge. No use.
He pulls down on the steering wheel at what feels like the last moment and the X-Wing's nose tips up, rising over the treetops. Finn can't help the victorious whoop that comes out of his mouth.
"Nicely done," Poe says, cuffing the back of Finn's helmet good naturedly. "Told you Anora was temperamental at times. Cool under pressure, that's the mark of a good pilot."
"Wait, was that a test?" Finn asks, resisting the urge to twist around in his seat. The ground drops away, individual treetops becoming indistinguishable. He can see X-Wings in the distance, the radar showing him the presence of birds flying a couple hundred feet ahead.
"You passed with flying colors," Poe says, "Literally."
"How many times have you made that joke?" Finn asks, but he's half laughing too because he can see the lake below him, the threading rivers, mountains in the far distance like anthills. He's got the steering wheel in his hands and he could go anywhere.
"Let me have my jokes, pal," Poe says, cuffing his helmet again, but he sounds like he's laughing too.
Opportunity spread out like a feast below him. This must be, he thinks, what freedom feels like.
"Here?" she asks, touching the finger to the outside of his knee. Finn nods again.
"And here?" she asks. Finn scrunches his face. He's not sure--maybe his anklebone? But he can't know for sure with the blindfold on.
"Okay, how about this?" Definitely touching his shinbone. Finn nods.
"This again," she says. He's pretty sure she's touching his ankle but he's not entirely certain.
"How about this?" Toes. Finn nods.
"Interesting," she says.
"What's interesting?" Finn asks, pulling the blindfold off his eyes. She's writing in his holochart.
"Your spine is healing in a different way than we thought it would," she says, looking back at him, "Not a bad sort of interesting. It's probably just doing that because of the way you've been training."
"Oh," Finn says, vaguely relieved.
"Look at this," she says, projecting two diagrams onto the examining room wall. Two humanoid shapes, the second one with far more blue extending down into the legs. "This was the last time we checked you, a week and a half ago. Look how far you've come."
Finn looks at the diagrams, absently touching the scar over his spine. Sometimes he thinks he can feel the plates jutting against the thinned out skin. It wasn't so long ago that he'd been motionless and confined to a bed because the pain and the headaches were so unbearable. Strange to think that two days ago he'd been in the sky, piloting an X-Wing for the first time.
"Am I going to have to get another injection?" he asks.
"No," the medic says, smiling kindly at him. "No, I think you'll regain most of the sensation in your feet on your own now. You just have to give it time."
Poe sits close enough to Finn that his shoulder presses into Finn's shoulder. He unwraps his own ration of dried sausage and produces a small loaf of freshly baked bread from his jacket pocket--none of that instant stuff. Finn glances at it before quickly looking away. Poe must have noticed because he splits the loaf in two and holds one of the halves out to Finn.
Finn hesitates but he takes it because he can count on one hand the number of times he'd had the real deal. It's still warm. "Thanks."
It might be embarrassing if he put it to his nose and inhaled deeply so he doesn't. He nibbles on the crust instead.
"Promise we don't bite," Poe says, picking up the lost thread of one-sided conversation, "Snap's all bark, you know? Jess is the one you have to look out for but she's nice enough when you get to know her."
"Someone called me Stormtrooper in the canteen a couple weeks back," Finn says. He immediately feels embarrassed for admitting to it. Someone had hurt his feelings and he was avoiding them now? Childish. His old sergeants would have never allowed such a stupid indulgence.
They probably also would have never said Stormtrooper in that tone of voice either.
"But really I just like the view here," Finn adds hurriedly. There are X-Wings lifting from the shore of the lake. A larger cargo craft is landing in the water, skimming the top of the small waves and sending spray in its wake. Sometimes he'd watch the X-Wings fly in formation, breaking apart to spray fire at some unseen target before swiftly moving back into a tight pack again. He glances out of the corner of his eyes at Poe, who's watching the big craft come to a stop. Sometimes Finn imagined Poe was in one of those X-Wings, leading his group in target practice. Poe was pretty much the only friend Finn had in the Resistance.
"I miss Rey," he blurts out and immediately snaps his mouth shut, feeling a blush burn at his cheeks. Weakness was not tolerated. It was a sure path to reconditioning.
"Pal," Poe says quietly, leaning against him. He lets out a breath. Finn can see the beginnings of a smile pulling up the corner of his lips. "She probably misses you too."
"She's probably busy. She called a while ago, when I was stuck in bed still. She was telling me about how she was learning how to use the Force," Finn says, nudging a rock towards the edge of the overlook with his foot. He finishes the last of the bread and rubs the flour off his fingertips. "She seemed happy."
"Maybe she was happy to see you awake," Poe suggests, slicing his dried sausage into bite sized pieces before eating them.
"I wish she'd call again," Finn says, pulling the red skinned fruit he'd grabbed from the canteen out of his pocket. He starts to peel it. "But I know she's really busy, so."
It would have been easier, having Rey around. At least then there would have been two of them who were new and trying to adjust. Maybe the other members of the Resistance would have trusted him more easily if Rey was there too.
He finishes peeling the fruit and cuts it in half. He offers one of the halves to Poe, who takes it with a nod of thanks. People are unloading the cargo craft now, only their dark uniforms visible against the rocky sand. It looks like a shipment of artillery.
"Hey," Poe says, nudging his arm before getting to his feet, "Come on. Let's go."
Poe hasn't even finished his half of the fruit yet but he still holds a hand out to help Finn pull himself up. Finn looks up at his face. "Where are we going?"
"Could use your help," Poe says. He smiles down at Finn. Finn finds himself grabbing Poe's hand and pulling himself to his feet.
"Follow me," Poe says, jerking his head over his shoulder. He takes a bite of his fruit and doesn't stop smiling at Finn.
She salutes them lazily, not quite touching her oil streaked fingers to her forehead. Not that it particularly mattered since she had oil splattered on her cheek and halfway down her neck.
"Finn's going to be flying one of these renovated X-Wings," Poe says, stepping forward to slide his hand against the nose of one of the gutted ships. "Thought it might be useful for him to see how we put one of them together. He can help you out. I know you're overworked in here."
BB-8 appears in a doorway at the back of the hangar and beeps happily when it sees Poe. It rolls towards them and even chirps a little at Finn even though Finn has no idea what it's saying.
"Finn," Jess says, "Hand me the crescent needle nose."
There's a toolbox next to Finn. He fumbles through the closest bit of it, looking for anything crescent shaped or needlelike.
"It's a plier," Jess supplies helpfully.
Finn grabs the pointiest plier he can find and hands it to her. BB-8 makes a noise that heavily suggests that Finn picked incorrectly. Jess looks down at the plier and then up to Poe, who's clearly trying to suppress a grin if the weird twitching of his mouth is anything to go by.
"This one's going to need a lot of work, boss."
Poe squeezes Finn's shoulder and grins. "Finn's a fast learner."
BB-8 makes an encouraging sound, nudging against Finn's leg.
"First things first," Jess says as she wipes her hands on an already dirty rag and comes around the X-Wing to open the toolbox more fully. "By the end of the day, you're going to be handing me the right tools at lightning speed."
Poe leans over his shoulder and whispers, "Good luck," in his ear before grabbing his helmet from a shelf and heading back out with BB-8 at his heels. Finn swallows, unsure of why he feels shaky all of a sudden.
Jess snaps her fingers at him. "Yes, yes, we all know the CO's good looking. Can we please focus on the task at hand?"
Finn stares at the two screwdrivers she's got in her hands, the protest dying on his lips. She holds them up. "What's the difference between these two?"
It was going to be a very long afternoon.
He'd been meaning to slip away and wash up before grabbing dinner to eat in his own quarters (he didn't want to presume, didn't want to get his hopes up) but Jess pulls him bodily towards the pilots' table. He certainly can't stop the grin from breaking out on his face as Poe slaps him on the back, looking at his oil-streaked fingers and saying, "Hope Jess wasn't too hard on you."
"I'm the friendliest person you know, boss," Jess says in a deadpan, sitting on the other side of Finn and reaching for the communal bowl of steamed grains that one of the pilots had commandeered from the canteen staff. Poe hands Finn one of the bigger serving spoons as Jess angles the bowl so that Finn can reach too.
"Finn, this is Snap," Poe says, gesturing across the table. Snap nods at Finn.
"Are we letting the new recruits sit with us now?" someone down the table asks.
"Shut it Hamersky," Poe says, "This man saved my life." He tils his head towards Finn. "That's Hamersky. He takes hazing new recruits very seriously so you might take this as a warning to stay away."
"About this life-saving business," Snap says, "We've heard the story from the CO here about, oh maybe, three hundred times."
"More like three million," Jess interjects, taking it on herself to spoon roasted charbote root onto Finn's plate. Someone hands him a big bowl of meat stew.
"And we know our CO's very prone to, ah, embellishing--"
"Blatantly lying about," Jess suggests.
"Embellishing," Snap insists, "Embellishing his stories."
"You guys wouldn't be entertained otherwise," Poe says. He's still got his hand on the back of Finn's chair, leaning back and looking at them all with a good-natured grin.
"So let's hear it," Snap says, leaning forward on his elbows over his plate and looking intently at Finn "The real version."
Finn's still holding the meat stew and everyone's looking at him. Poe's still smiling but he's silent.
"Alright," Finn says, setting the stew down. His chance to impress the corps. Time to do his best.
"I was pretty apprehensive about the whole killing defenseless villagers thing that the Stormtroopers had going for them," Finn starts, "And when we landed on Jakku to do exactly that, I couldn't do it. I couldn't even fire my blaster rifle once. And when I got back on the ship, my captain told me that I would have to submit my weapon for inspection. I knew I'd be sent to reconditioning and I knew I had to get out."
"What's reconditioning?" Jess asks.
"They uh." Finn looks down at the table, swallowing. He never really thought he'd have to explain it to someone else--it had always just been the looming threat that the officers held over them to help keep them in line. "I've never undergone one myself. But I've heard the rumors--they use electroshock therapy to brainwash you. I had a comrade--" He glances up at Jess, "--a friend. He went away for reconditioning when he failed a psych exam and he just--wasn't the same after that. He still aim and he could still fight. But it was like they'd turned him into nothing. He didn't talk much after that." He licks his lips and tries for a rueful smile. "Just the way the officers like it, I guess."
The table has fallen silent. Finn feels a hand on his back. Poe's hand has moved from the chair to rest lightly on his back.
"Anyways," Finn says, "I knew I couldn't let that happen to me. I had to get off the Finalizer. And just as fate would have it, I'd just watched the capture of the Resistance's greatest pilot."
"Not so great if he could get himself captured," Poe adds.
"You should have seen this guy," Finn says, turning to look at Poe and grinning, "Shot at--" He hesitates, momentarily unsure about invoking the Sith apprentice's name with such casualness, but presses on. "--shot at Kylo Ren and gave him shit him in their first meeting. I'd never seen anyone talk back to Kylo Ren before."
"Sounds just like him," Jess says around a mouthful of grains. She swallows. "I've known the CO to make pretty stupid decisions at times."
"Jess you wound me," Poe says, spreading his hands and affecting his best hurt expression.
"Brave," Finn decides, "He was brave and reckless and exactly the person I needed at the time. No one could get the information they needed out of him. He was in that interrogation room for an entire day and the officers couldn't get a thing out of him. And I heard that Kylo Ren himself had trouble getting anything out of him." He looks around at them challengingly. "Brave."
No one says anything. Poe's looking at the remnants of stew on his own plate, chewing on his lower lip. For a moment Finn panics--maybe Poe hadn't told any of them about this? Maybe he'd overstepped a line? But then Poe lifts his eyes to meet Finn's face and he smiles faintly, nodding just the slightest bit.
"Anyways, that's when I decided that I'd spring Commander Dameron from the interrogation room and we'd escape in a TIE fighter. It was easy enough to come up with a plan--I'd just pretend that I was transferring him to another unit and we'd head down to the hangar."
"Finn kept his cool the entire time," Poe adds, "Saved me just minutes before they were going to exterminate me."
"I was panicking so badly on the inside," Finn amends. He'd no idea that they were about to kill Poe--either it was an internal order for the interrogation team or Poe had just made it up. He doesn't let it phase him though. "I was supposed to be on patrol duty and I was afraid of my captain finding me on our way there. My heart was beating so fast."
"We got to the TIE fighter, no problem," Poe says.
"I asked him if he could fly one of these," Finn says, "And he said no and I thought we were completely done for. But then he's flipping switches left and right and the next thing you know we're lifting off the ground."
"Still tethered," Poe adds.
"I completely blanked on the fact that all the TIE fighters are anchored in the hangar until authorized release," Finn says, "And now there's blaster fire coming from every angle."
"Finn's shooting back, of course," Poe says.
"I'm trying my best but it's a huge gun and there's not much space to aim. Commander Dameron's swinging the TIE back and forth--I don't know how he figured out the aerodynamics of the ship so fast because we're like, half a minute into the action here."
"Finn takes out the hangar control tower because he's got some incredible aim."
"And he snaps the tether," Finn says, "And we're out of there, just like that."
"Our luck wasn't so good though," Poe says, leaning forward and really getting into the story now, "There must have been eight torpedo cannons on the Finalizer all aimed right at us."
There were only four on the ship and two of them had been disengaged for maintenance. "Sixteen homing missiles," Finn says, "Two for each cannon."
"Finn shot down ten of them," Poe says.
"You should have seen the way Commander Dameron was handling the TIE," Finn says, "We were right on top of the cannons and somehow they missed us every time. The other six missiles went straight into the side of the Finalizer."
"Obviously they had to send fighters after us."
"I have to say, there were almost thirty fighters out there," Finn says, "And not the fodder they usually send either, these were the top pilots that came out of the program."
"We couldn't jump into hyperspace because I didn't know if the TIE fighters were even equipped with a hyperdrive so we had to fight them off," Poe explains.
"They had us surrounded," Finn says, "I was firing so much that the blaster kept overheating." He was fairly sure one of his Stormtrooper pilot comrades had mentioned that overheating was a problem on the TIEs.
"Flying evasive maneuvers on a TIE isn't graceful at all," Poe says, "But we were dodging and Finn was trying not to burn out his blaster guns."
"It all ended when they finally got their laser cannons charged," Finn says, "Commander Dameron managed to dodge it enough that it just clipped our wing but the TIE fighters in pursuit didn't get so lucky."
"And that's when we crash landed on Jakku," Poe finishes.
Silence. Snap is leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. Jess has paused in the middle of stabbing her fork through the last pieces of charbote root on her plate.
"Eight torpedo cannons," Snaps says, opening his eyes and leaning forward to point at the two of them. "Thirty TIE fighters. You are both full of bullshit."
Poe flourishes a bow from his seated position. Finn can't help but laugh.
"Fuck you guys," Snap says, picking up his plate and utensils. He's trying to keep a straight face but Finn can tell that he's suppressing a grin. "I've got real work to do," he says, and leaves the table.
"I've gotta get going on the X-Wing," Jess says, getting up too, "Finn, I'll see you tomorrow whenever you finish training with this liar." She pushes playfully at the side of Poe's head and he makes an undignified noise as he tries to dodge her still oil-streaked fingers.
Before long, he and Poe are the only ones still left at the table. Finn digs into his mostly untouched dinner, not realizing how hungry he was before.
"Hey Finn," Poe says quietly, "Who was the person who called you a Stormtrooper here?"
Finn pauses with a forkful of grains halfway to his mouth. He swallows the mouthful that he'd been chewing. "It doesn't matter," he says, and he's surprised to find that it's true.
"Any time anyone wants to start anything funny," Poe says, voice still quiet, "You let me know, alright Finn?"
There's something about the way that Poe says the words that gives Finn pause--the suggestion of something deadly under the soft veneer of amiable smiles and bullshit. Poe wants to protect him. It's all that Finn can do to hide the shiver that runs up his mangled spine.
"Okay," he says, mouth suddenly dry.
Poe smiles and claps him on the shoulder. Except as he gets up, his thumb brushes over the back of Finn's neck before his hand leaves entirely. By the time Finn registers it, Poe's putting his dirty dishes in the canteen tray. Finn doesn't know what to think--had it been unthinking? Deliberate? Either way, it had felt strangely intimate and well--
He doesn't know what to do.
"Right now?" he demands.
"Right now," Snap agrees. Finn runs past him and is halfway down the hall without thinking--he hasn't heard from Rey in what feels like years but must only be at most a few months. He makes his way all the way down to the closed door of the briefing room before skidding to a halt.
He recognizes the other person waiting in front of the door as well: the medic who had seen him every few weeks near the beginning of his recovery. She glances at him and smiles. He smiles back and steadies his breathing, trying not to let on that he'd run all this way for a closed door.
They stand in silence for a few moments before she says, "Your gait's practically perfect now. And I notice you weren't even looking down at your feet."
"Oh," Finn says, caught off guard. It's true: he hasn't been thinking about the way he'd been moving for probably last two weeks or so. It was just so easy to lose track of himself when he was learning how to maneuver X-Wings through tiny spaces with Poe or helping Jess recreate the fleet they'd lost in the Battle of Starkiller Base from old fighters and new scraps. Maybe his spine had fully healed and he'd just never noticed.
"I'm glad to see that you've recovered so remarkably," she says.
Finn's about to reply when the door swings open and General Organa steps out. Both he and the medic straighten, hands behind their backs.
"Finn," she says, "I was about to send for you. Rey's waiting for you inside."
Finn steps in through the door with a last smile over his shoulder for the medic--but the medic's already speaking quietly to General Organa and they're moving down the hallway together. Finn shuts the briefing room doors and steps into the circle that would project his likeness to Rey.
"Finn!" she says, actually reaching out towards him. He wants to hug her too. "You look so good."
"Better than lying in a bed and spending half our conversation just breathing really loudly, right?" Finn asks, grinning at her. She's changed too. She doesn't look any different but she feels different. Finn doesn't remember her slouching all that much when he'd first met her on Jakku--but it feels like she's. Standing taller. Commanding more presence. And if she can do that over a hologram projection, Finn can't wait to see her in the flesh.
"I'm so happy you're better," Rey says, "You looked awful the last time I saw you."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Finn jokes.
"I never doubted you for a moment," Rey answers.
"I've been training with Poe," Finn says, "I got recruited into the starfighter corps."
"You're a pilot?" Rey says, sounding excited and disbelieving all at once.
"We'll have to race to see who's the better pilot," Finn says.
"I've got the Force now."
"That's cheating and you know it," Finn says. He can't stop beaming at Rey and she hasn't stopped smiling once. But after a few moments, Finn's smile dims a little. "Is Master Luke hard on you?"
"I want him to be," Rey says. She looks away. "How else am I going to learn? There's a far greater evil out there than Kylo Ren. I have to be ready."
"What if I came?" Finn asks in a rush, "What if I came to where you were? I could pilot one of these X-Wings to you right now."
She doesn't speak. For a moment Finn's certain that she's going to tell him to do it, give him her coordinates. But instead she says, "They need you over there, Finn. The corps need you. General Organa needs you."
But I'm not certain I even want to be part of the Resistance, he doesn't say. But I miss you, he doesn't say. It was a stupid thought anyway--Rey would never come away with him, not when she was so important to the Resistance.
"Finn," Rey says, looking at him, "Master Luke is calling. I have to go back to training."
"When will you come back?"
"I don't know," she says, "But you owe me a race when I come home."
She reaches for him again. He meets her hand halfway, fingers closing around light and air.
"I'm happy I got to talk to you," she says, smiling. The transmission cuts out.
Finn looks at the place where her projection had been for a long moment before stepping away from his own circle.
He misses her even more than he had before the call.
Poe looks him down before snapping his eyes back to Finn's face. Finn is momentarily torn between hastily pulling a shirt on or flexing on purpose. Absolutely ridiculous. "Maybe you should take a shower first," Poe adds.
"I shouldn't show up shirtless?" Finn asks, just to see.
"I'm sure she wouldn't mind," Poe answers without missing a beat, "But it might be improper."
Twenty minutes later, Finn meets Poe outside the briefing room, freshly showered and in his usual outfit. Poe glances at him before saying, "You clean up nice."
The door opens before Finn can ask what he means. "The general is waiting for you," C-3PO says, waving them through the door.
A map is projected in the middle of a room, zoomed in to one of the solar systems of the Yuuzhan Vong galaxy. One of the planets is highlighted, but the projected close up model is blurry. A thick layer of pixelated clouds cover the entire planet.
"Gentlemen," General Organa says, turning from the projections to look at them. Poe fires a sharp salute and Finn copies him.
Lieutenant Brance waves his hand and the slowly revolving low-resolution representation of the planet is replaced by sharper images projected on the wall. "This is Kelaatha. Recently, First Order activity has been converging on this planet. We want to know why."
The images on the walls show bits of land floating in the clouds, tethered by the thin branches of trees that criss-cross to form a mesh through the clouds. From the few photographs, Finn can barely make out the traces of civilization on the air-islands--but when he finally figures out what to look for, he can see that some of the islands are immense, carrying entire cities.
"These are the only photographs we have managed to get our hands on," General Organa says, "You can see we are lacking in crucial information."
"So a quick recon mission?" Poe asks, already thumbing through the projected almanac on the computer table.
"We know that the First Order has been dropping by that planet quite frequently but the same ships always leave a few days later. It doesn't seem to be the site of a major base. No transmissions coming in or out of the planet except for the usual trade chatter.
"Their major exports are beauty products and uranium?" Poe says, pointing at the column in the almanac. "Didn't think you'd find too much uranium in the clouds."
"Wherever they're getting it, we think the First Order might be snapping up all they can produce."
"Uranium weapons are outdated," Finn interjects, "The First Order would never bother with something like that. Unless--" He pauses, thinking back on the conversations he'd witnessed between the commanding officers, the chatter in the armory. He wishes he had listened more closely. But back then, he would have turned himself in had he known he'd be sitting with the General of the Resistance, ready to fly missions for the enemy.
"Unless?" Lieutenant Brance prompts.
"They lost the Starkiller. This could be the next best thing that they can produce fast enough to take out entire cities."
"Or they could be using the uranium in a new way that even we don't know about," Poe suggests, "Or maybe they just want to look really nice for our next battle. Whatever it is, I'm ready to fly recon on Kelaatha."
"I thought you might take Airman Finn with you," General Organa says before Finn could say that he was in as well. She must have sensed his hesitance. "Kelaatha is not an active war zone. You might have a bit of trouble getting through the tree branches but overall I think it's a fairly simple mission."
"Finn can fly through the trees, no problem," Poe says.
"I'd be honored to join Commander Dameron," Finn agrees.
"Can you set out tomorrow?" General Organa asks.
"We'll set out tomorrow," Poe says.
"Good," she says and looks back at the planet for a moment before looking back at them with a faint smile. "Thank you."
"How's your X-Wing?" Poe asks the moment that the briefing room door closes after the two of them. "Almost done? Have you tested it out yet?"
"I've been testing it," Finn says, "Jess and I were going to make a few more upgrades but it's fully functional as is."
"Good," Poe says, settling back into the casual demeanor Finn was more familiar with. They head back towards the barracks, falling easily into step. The sun is almost gone and Finn looks over at Poe's profile, silhouetted against the twilight sky.
"Excited?" Poe asks, slinging an easy arm around Finn's shoulders and looking at him.
Finn quickly looks back ahead, then down at his shoes before allowing himself to look at Poe out of the corner of his eye. Caught.
"Nervous," he admits. He'd been flying every day for nearly three months by now but he couldn't shake the feeling that he had no idea what the hell he was doing most of the time.
"Don't be," Poe says, "You're a great pilot. Maybe not the greatest since that title's clearly taken--" He grins at Finn. "--but still pretty good. We're gonna recon the hell out of this planet tomorrow and flood General Organa with so much footage that they have to spend an entire week going through it all." He squeezes Finn's shoulders and cuffs the back of his head before turning away towards the officer barracks.
"Are we planning to spend an entire year there?" Finn asks, only half joking because he isn't sure how long the mission is supposed to be. Surely no longer than a day?
"See you in the morning," Poe says by way of response, lifting his hand in a wave without turning around as he disappears through the door.
"Please don't be an entire year," Finn mutters to himself.
The planet itself is kind of difficult to find. They'd jumped to the right vicinity but the actual planet itself was much smaller than either of them expected--more like a moon than a full fledged planet. The cloud cover is the same as they'd seen in the images. There are no giant looming evil spaceships like the Finalizer hanging around so Finn counts that as a plus.
However, approximately five minutes after entering the planet's atmosphere, everything goes to hell.
"You should lead, I'll take your four," Poe says over the radio, dropping behind Finn as they make it far enough through the clouds to see the fine meshwork of branches. It takes all of Finn's focus to keep dodging the branches. As they descend further and further, the spaces between the trees gets smaller and smaller and Finn has to maneuver more deftly in order to avoid crashing.
"Maybe we should pull up," Poe says, "I can barely see where the roots of these trees are. If we're looking for a mine, it's going to be in a--"
And he cuts out. Finn can't hear anything except the hum of his X-Wing's engine, not even the low hiss of static that told him he was connected to Poe. When he glances down, he realizes that his radar is out.
"Oh, no," Finn says to himself, just as a blast hits the back of his wing. He starts to ascend--there was no way he was skilled enough to return fire with all these damn branches in the way. Except as he tries to rise out of the trees, there's firing from above. Three TIE fighters come into view, darting in between the branches and firing on him.
He grabs the weapons control joystick and starts to fire back. Some of the shots hit stray branches and break them in half--one of them finds its mark and the TIE fighter veers into a branch and explodes.
Two shots from another one of the TIEs hit Finn's wing, and the X-Wing starts to beep, alerting him to damage to his left upper turbine. A few red shots from behind Finn's ship hits the TIE straight on--wing, wing, body--and it starts to fall. Poe must be right on Finn's tail.
There were more TIEs surrounding them from every angle if the number of hits his X-Wing was taking was any indication. Their best bet would be to break clear of the branches so they could set the hyperdrive for the coordinates back to base. Finn guns the accelerator, knuckles white against the wing angle lever as he pulls the X-Wing into an almost vertical position--
His ship shakes with the impact of two explosions, one right after the other. His systems check tells him that he's lost function in his right turbine. The TIEs keep appearing from between the branches, no matter how many he and Poe manage to shoot down. They're too far down in the meshwork of tree branches still--they weren't going to make it--
With all of the alarms blaring and a calm voice telling him to eject (where? right into the trees where the TIEs could shoot him down the moment his parachute got caught on a branch?), Finn's X-Wing starts to dive.
Finn stabs at the radio controls, swinging the dial from left to right, trying to catch any hint of static. And despite the alarms and the continual shaking of the ship every time they scraped past another branch on the way down, there was not a single signal to be found. He hoped that Poe had flown out of there--that he'd jumped to hyperspace already. Maybe he'd send a rescue team for Finn--or maybe he'd assume that Finn had died in the crash.
As much as he pulls on the steering wheel, the X-Wing refuses to pull up, out of the fall. His wings are too badly damaged. Finn stares at the blinking controls for a moment. Think. What had he been learning all these months?
The antigravity accelerators! The wings might have been damaged too badly but the accelerators were all along the bottom of the body of the ship, all the way to the nose. But they were coupled too closely with the wing controls--the X-Wings were programmed that way--
He'd watched Jess work on the wiring under the dashboard. There was a story she'd told, about the time she'd wired the antigravity accelerators the wrong way and had sent one of their X-Wings into the lake for a few weeks before they could tow it back to land. The wires she'd been working on were yellow. He should have paid more attention.
He digs his sweaty fingers under the panel on the bottom of his dashboard, bracing himself against the seat. It takes him two tries but he pries it off--yellow, yellow--aha! And here was where the yellow wire fed into a circuit board--he jerked it free, whispering, "Please, please, please, please," under his breath before pulling the wing levers down all the way--
The antigravity accelerators flare into action and Finn finds himself thrown back into his seat as the ship leveled out. Finn presses a disbelieving hand to his mouth--elation at having saved his own life overwhelming the panic of being stranded on a foreign planet. He did it!
After a few moments, he gets it together enough that he can try to figure out where he is and what to do next. It's far darker down here than it was near the treetops and Finn's radar is still out. He unstraps himself and hits the button to open the cockpit.
The air is thinner and it takes much less effort for him to climb onto the nose of the X-Wing than he expected. The gravity must be weaker here--he remembered something about a hollowed core from the almanac. He's not choking to death so at least that's a plus. He grabs hold of a nearby branch and moves out towards the edge of the nose, looking down.
Maybe about two hundred feet down, he can see the edges of one of those giant islands. Best plan of action was to land the X-Wing, assess the damage, see if he could fix the radio, and beam a signal out to Poe if he was still around. He leaps lightly back into the pilot's seat and closes the cockpit. He slowly pushes up on the antigravity accelerator lever until the ships starts a slow descent again, landing with a light thud against the ground of the island.
He's still got four of the six fuel cells full. Even if the First Order had tracked his and Poe's descent and waited for them to reach the trees where they couldn't maneuver, the TIE fighters hadn't managed to reach them for a full three minutes. Wherever they were based, it was a decent distance away. Which meant that if Finn could somehow get his X-Wing in flying order again, he could clear the treetops and make the jump into hyperspace even before they could even catch him.
He digs a flashlight out from under his seat and climbs out of the X-Wing. A quick scan of the ship shows that at least all of the broken turbines are still attached to the wings at least. The wings are scraped up by the tree branches and charred by blaster shots but nothing that would affect flight as long as he could fix the turbines.
Radio first, thought--he wanted to see if Poe was still stuck on the planet too. Stormtrooper training had always suggested that working in groups would achieve the greatest good and Finn hadn't experienced anything to the contrary yet. Plus--he wasn't even sure he could fix the turbines by himself. Jess had barely done anything more than install them on the X-Wing when Finn had been in the workshop.
Hopping back into the cockpit, he set the flashlight up in a nice spot and picked up a screwdriver to open the radio transmitter box. Time to get to work.
Poe's face is pressed against his windshield.
"Poe!" Finn shouts, elated to see him.
Poe smiles and gives him a thumbs up through the windshield before backing away. In moments, Finn has the cockpit open and he leaps onto the ground. Poe pulls him into a hug and Finn can't stop laughing with relief.
"I thought you got away--where's your X-Wing?"
"Crash-landed maybe half a mile away from here," Poe says, still holding on to his shoulders as he looks Finn up and down, "Are you alright? Did you get hurt in the crash?"
"I'm okay," Finn says, "How did you find me?"
"You've got a short range transmitter that sends distress signals on a Resistance backchannel that I honed in on," Poe says, letting him go so that he can look at Finn's ship, "The fight sure did a number on Carolina but I gotta say your ship looks like it can fly out of here."
"Both turbines on the right are out. And the one on the upper left," Poe says, "I thought General Organa said this planet wasn't a warzone? Where did those TIE fighters come from?"
"We obviously misjudged this planet," Poe says, "Did you take a look at the turbines already?" Without waiting for an answer from Finn, he climbs on the side of Finn's ship, inspecting the turbines.
"I did," Finn says, "And then I realized I had no idea how to fix them. I've been working on the radio, I was going to signal out to you to see if you were still around. Worst case scenario, I was gonna try to make my way to a city and see if I could get myself some spare parts."
"Not a lot of spare X-Wing turbines in this neighborhood," Poe says, swinging easily over onto the other side of Finn's ship to inspect the other turbines. "You're going to get some listing with with this wing too--it's bent out of shape." He pats the wing.
"I saw that," Finn says, "Can you fix the turbines?"
"Not with the spare parts we carry," Poe says, jumping lightly to the ground.
"What are we going to do?"
Poe runs a hand through his hair, eyes still on Finn's ship. It's a little lighter out now than it had been when Finn had given up and gone to sleep for the night but still dark enough that Finn's surprised Poe can see any details at all. Finn looks upwards. The branches criss-cross so much above him that he can barely make out much sky at the other end. It probably didn't help that the planet had so much cloud cover all the time.
"The moment your signal cut out, I knew we were in for it," Poe says, looking back at Finn now, "I don't know how the First Order managed to set roots down here without any of us noticing but that's beyond the point now."
The realization sinks in. "They set up a transponder blocker."
"I already tried to beam a rescue signal and it just bounced back," Poe agrees.
Finn runs a hand over his face. "That blocker could have a hundred mile radius."
"I have a feeling you're not enthused about potentially dragging a damaged X-Wing around for a hundred miles."
"We're stranded," Finn concludes.
Poe shoves his hands in his pockets.
"The Resistance," Finn says, "If we don't show up in the next couple of days, will they come searching for us?"
"The corps is already thin enough as it is," Poe says, "I don't think it would be wise to put more pilots in danger."
"You're the greatest pilot in the Resistance!" Finn says, "You're telling me they wouldn't come rescue you?"
"You're important too, Finn. We don't make a habit of leaving anyone behind," Poe says. He looks upwards too, at the thin slivers of sky. "Normally they might send a scout to search the crash sites but I don't think we have the resources right now. Most of the scouts are busy in the Anoat sector trying to track down an arms dealer. It's a hard argument to send a scout into unknown territory where two fighters have gone missing and I don't know if General Organa would even suggest it."
Finn slumps against the ship. "We're stranded."
"Maybe not," Poe says, "If we can send a distress signal to let them know that we're alive, they'd definitely send a rescue team."
Finn knocks his knuckles against the hull of his X-Wing. "I guess the antigravity accelerators still work on this ship. Which direction do you want to drag this one?"
"Commerce transponders are never blocked," Poe says, "There's bound to be one in every major city and we know Kelaatha's got a lot to trade."
"Is the closest city under a hundred miles away?"
Poe starts to pull things out of his pockets. He pulls out a ration bar and holds it out to Finn. "You hungry?"
"That's yours," Finn says because he can't imagine Poe had very many ration bars on him and it seemed like they would be on Kelaatha for longer than expected.
"I'm offering it to you," Poe says, already distracted with the map he's pulled out with his other hand.
Finn hesitates for only a second longer before taking it. "Thanks," he says.
Poe expands the map out and starts to calculate their trajectory, muttering aloud to himself as Finn unwraps the ration bar. He hadn't even realized how ravenous he was until the prospect of food was offered to him. He forces himself to take small bites and to chew each mouthful for as long as possible. He wasn't sure where their next meal was going to come from.
"Nineteen miles northeast," Poe says.
"That's not far at all," Finn says around a mouthful of ration bar.
"Fifty-five hundred feet," Poe adds, pointing at the sky, "Straight up."
Between the weird spindly branches and the fact that there's barely any light down where they're travelling, Finn's reminded of the terrible sim training exercises that he'd hated when he was fifteen. They'd kept Finn's entire platoon in a simulation center for a month, creating a planet far away from its sun. It'd been cold and dark the entire time. Their platoon was supposed to learn how to work together to infiltrate a Resistance camp but all Finn can remember now is the feeling of hopelessness that came with staring into the cold dark sky day after day.
Not to mention that not all of the branches connected with each other. Sometimes they have to take the long way around to get from suspended island to suspended island. They've doubled back more times than Finn would like to admit and the twenty mile journey has easily grown into thirty five.
By the time Poe suggests they stop for the night, they're nearly to the main road that would take them straight up to the city. It's probably too much to ask for stairs but Finn figures that anything would be better than testing the stability of flimsy branches and hoping for the best.
Poe's busy defeathering and gutting the two weird looking birds that Finn had shot down. Finn had actually shot down four but only two of them fell on the island; the other two had fallen somewhere over the edge. It's a pity because the birds are tiny and Finn could probably eat ten of them if given the chance. Maybe they could barter for some real food in the city tomorrow.
Finn adds more loose twigs to the small fire they've got going. Poe waves a stick of bird at him and grins. "Dinner?"
Finn takes it and starts to roast it over the fire. Poe takes a seat on a rock nearby and starts to roast his too. "I could even go for some instabread right now."
Finn had been trained to always keep his mouth shut about how tired or hungry he was--you did as the officers asked and you were responsible for your own well-being because nobody else cared. But Poe leans forward and dips his bird into the fire a few times experimentally before looking up at Finn and saying, "I bet you're starving too."
"I could go for some stew," Finn admits, smiling lopsidedly.
"If there's one thing the Resistance is good at, it's food," Poe says, pulling back his bird and poking sadly at its still raw sides.
"That's not even close to being done," Finn says, turning his own bird slowly.
"We don't have any salt either," Poe sighs. He puts the bird back into the fire and looks back at Finn.
"How'd you join the Resistance anyway?" Finn asks, "Lured in by the good food?"
Poe lets out a laugh. "No," he says, "Both my parents were Resistance fighters. My mom was a pilot. Guess it runs in the family."
"Was she as good as you?"
"Better." Poe grins. "Way better. She taught me everything I know."
Finn tries to imagine a tiny Poe crawling all over an X-Wing. He grins, looking into the fire and turns his bird again.
"Do you believe in it?" Finn asks, "The cause of the Resistance, I mean. Everything that you're doing."
"I don't think I'd be a good commander if I didn't," Poe says. His smile fades somewhat. "I think planets should be able to govern themselves. I think those who don't have the Force shouldn't be bullied into subordination by those who do. That's what the Resistance stands for."
"You're not scared?" Finn asks.
"Scared?" Poe says, "Hell Finn, everyone's damn scared all the time. It wouldn't be a war if we weren't."
"How do you do it?" Finn asks, "How do you get over the fear?"
Poe doesn't answer for a long moment, just stares into the fire. When he finally does, he's speaking quietly. "You have to want it bad enough. Whatever it is that you want."
"The end of the war," Finn says.
Poe looks up at him and smiles. "I want that too."
They settle into silence, broken only by the occasional snap of the fire. Finn pulls his bird back and cuts into it with his pocketknife. The juice runs clear but the skin is still too hot to the touch. Poe does the same, but doesn't seem to mind the heat--he tears into the sad carcass of his tiny bird immediately.
"The First Order has nine class one warships," Finn says, "That's one class up from the Finalizer. They've probably got another twenty like the finalizer. They're probably working on another Starkiller as we speak."
"You tell General Organa about this?" Poe asks.
"I did. Do you want to know how the First Order manages to command so many resources?"
Poe doesn't say anything so Finn presses on. "They infiltrate planets and demand taxes for protection. The people usually can't pay the taxes so they end up siphoning the natural resources for payment instead. They'll look for whoever's unhappy with the local state of affairs--anyone who's unemployed, who can be easily controlled, and they put them in power. Add a few Stormtroopers to keep the peace and you can have control of that planet for a long long time."
"Is that what you think happened to this planet?" Poe asks.
"How many planets do you think the First Order has control of?
"Thousands," Finn says, "And to keep the locals loyal, every couple has to give up their firstborn son to train as a Stormtrooper."
Poe is silent but he's watching Finn.
"Can you imagine the size of the First Order army?" Finn asks, looking at the fire because he can't look at Poe. "Can you imagine an army so large that they consider the vast majority of their troops cannon fodder, something to just throw at the enemy until they wear down? The full brunt of that power focused on hunting you down and destroying you?"
Finn falls silent. The bird has cooled down enough to eat but Finn just fiddles with the stick.
"Can I make a confession?" Finn asks, glancing at Poe just for a moment without meeting his eyes. It's an ugly secret that he's kept, one that he never really wanted to consciously acknowledge. But it weighs too heavily on his shoulders and he wants to tell Poe the truth.
"I'm listening," Poe says.
"When you offered to train me as a pilot, I thought it'd be my chance," Finn says, "I thought that when I was done, I would be able to get away by myself, maybe sell my new skills in the outer rim. Somewhere the First Order wouldn't find me."
"You were going to steal a ship?" Poe asks, though he doesn't sound particularly accusatory.
"You probably don't think very highly of me now," Finn mumbles, looking at his own feet and worrying at the fraying end of the stick. He still hasn't touched the bird.
"Finn," Poe says. His voice sounds much closer and Finn looks up to find Poe taking a seat next to him on the same rock. "There was one moment when I wasn't sure if the Resistance was worth it."
Poe swallows. Finn follows the movement in the firelight.
"It was when Kylo Ren was digging through my thoughts. For a few seconds I felt him come over the link he made. There was so much fear and violence--it hurt so badly," Poe bites his lip and pauses for a moment before looking down at the ground. "I'm not proud of this moment."
He looks over at Finn. "What I'm saying is, I only saw that world for a few seconds. Finn, you've seen it your entire life." He presses his shoulder to Finn's and Finn feels almost overwhelmed with relief. "I don't think of you any less."
Finn smiles, a little shakily.
"Eat your bird," Poe says, not moving away, "It's getting cold."
In fact, the main road could barely even be called that. A few of the branches are knotted together to form a precarious looking ladder leading straight up. It looks badly kept; some of the knots have broken. No sign of transport in the least--clearly the vast majority of the locals relied on air transport.
Not that they've seen a single planetary ship so far.
Even with the reduced gravity, Finn's muscles start to ache halfway in. He keeps his mouth shut though, and only suggests they take a break when he sees the grim line of Poe's mouth and the sweat matting his hair down to his forehead.
"We can't stay here for long," Poe says, scanning their surroundings. It's brighter here. The sky is only framed in irregular honeycomb shapes of branches criss-crossing each other rather than the pale slivers they could see from below.
"We've got to make the island before nightfall," Poe adds. They'd already wasted half the morning trying to find the damn road because it was so innocuous.
Finn's thirsty, mostly. He tries not to think about it.
"Ready?" Poe asks after a moment.
"Alright old man," Finn says, "Let's see if you can make it to the top."
It leads to the side of the airfield on the island. Poe's in front of Finn and he peers over the edge briefly before backtracking a few steps and bending down towards Finn. "Stormtroopers."
"A lot of them?" Finn asks. If only a few stormtroopers stood between him and a stall selling water, he probably still had enough strength in him to beat them up.
Poe looks over the edge again. "It looks like they're just moving stuff into a freighter."
"Should we wait?" Finn asks. His arms are tired from holding on to the branches for so long.
"They look busy," Poe says, "Let's move quickly." He climbs over the edge and is gone from sight before Finn can even confirm.
Finn hauls himself over the side of the island and is momentarily flooded with happiness at the solid ground beneath his feet. There are five Stormtroopers moving a stack of crates into the sole spacecraft parked on this side of the airfield. Finn sees Poe already moving into an abandoned alleyway between two warehouses--he ducks behind a loading truck and hurries after Poe.
"Where's the tower?" Finn asks. Poe's already got his map out and he's zooming in as far as the atlas will allow him. But Kelaatha doesn't seem to be well charted because the shape of the island is about as far as the map will zoom in.
"We could look for the industrial district," Finn suggests.
"Or," Poe says, looking above Finn's shoulder at something behind him, "We could look for that."
Finn turns. There's a cluster of white satellite dishes on a thin building built halfway up one of the larger trunks supporting the entire island.
Great. More climbing.
"Can we find food first?" Finn says, not taking his eyes off the building.
Poe turns off the map with a click. "Now there's an idea I can get behind."
The restaurant seems strangely deserted for how worn the space seems to look. Finn waves the waitress over for another glass of water. She drops off another jar without a word. He drinks this one slowly, looking around the restaurant more closely.
The locals have low, squat bodies and rather flat faces--probably to accommodate the low gravity. There's someone sitting along the back wall breathing something out of a jar. Finn watches him bring the tube to his mouth and inhale deeply. The jar he's breathing from glows blue every time he inhales. Finn looks away.
There's a grizzled looking local sitting on the other side of the bar from the Stormtroopers. The Stormtroopers aren't in uniform but one of them's carrying a standard issue blaster rifle on his back. He's surprised that they've been granted leave to do something like this--Captain Phasma would have never let any of her platoon on-planet to mingle with the locals.
The grizzled local seems to know who they are too. He's crushing a blap biscuit with his three-fingered hand and staring hard at the Stormtroopers.
"Here," Poe says, setting a bowl of soup and instabread in front of him. "Just what we wanted. huh?" He climbs onto the stool across the table and tears the instabread into smaller pieces. "They wouldn't accept Republican currency so I had to barter away my good knife."
"The Stormtroopers didn't see you?" Finn asks, fear spiking momentarily. If they'd seen even a glimpse of Republican currency--
"No, they were too busy complaining about the overtime their captain is making them put in."
Finn frowns. Captain Phasma would have punished anyone for daring to complain about the work that they had been brought up from birth to do.
"Dig in," Poe says, gesturing with his bread at Finn's bowl, "We'll get to somewhere safe and I'll tell you what I learned from the barkeeper."
The sun is setting, but Finn can still make out the footholds leading up to the transmission tower. Poe's below him this time around and Finn can make out his face every time he looks down for the next foothold.
"They've cleaned out the entire uranium mine and said it was tax for protection," Poe says, "She swore that she hadn't even seen a tenth of the uranium go through the port so whatever they're doing with it, it's probably getting incorporated in that ship."
"A big ship," Finn repeats, reaching for the next handhold.
"It doesn't seem like one of these islands could hold a ship of that size," Poe says, "I'm thinking it's probably down near the mine. The clouds give it perfect cover. No wonder we had no idea what was going on."
"You think that's where the TIEs are probably stationed?" Finn asks.
"It'd be my guess," Poe says.
His arms were so tired. Finn squints upward. The transmission tower wasn't too far away now.
"We were attacked maybe about six minutes from the moment we entered the atmosphere," Poe muses aloud, "And the average velocity of the TIE fighter is three thousand miles per hour."
Finn thinks fast. "That leaves a potential radius of three hundred miles from where we were attacked."
"Makes sense that they'd have a blocker already set up in the area," Poe says.
They climb in silence for a few more moments. Finn forces himself to grab the next handhold, then the next. The next, the next, the next.
"What the hell are they doing with all that uranium?" It's more of a frustrated rhetorical question than anything else.
Poe chuckles. "High powered beauty products."
Finn can't but grin. He reaches for the next handhold.
"Wonderful," Poe says. He shuts the door after Finn and makes a grand gesture at the stairs. His arms droop a little--they're both exhausted and unwilling to admit it.
Finn unshoulders his blaster rifle and takes the lead. The stairs lead up maybe, four, five flights, before ending in a choice of three doors.
Poe drops to his knees to unlock the first one. Finn stands behind him, blaster rifle at the ready.
The door swings open. It's dark inside but the stale smell of sweat and nerf jerky drifts out. Poe gropes along the inside of a wall for a switch of some sort. The light floods the room; it's a lounge of some sort. Finn moves in cautiously in case someone was still inside--but it's clear. He opens the refrigerator unit--nothing but half empty bottles of Almakian apple cider. There's imprints of mold where someone must have hastily cleaned the fridge out. The place looks thoroughly abandoned.
By the time he steps back out in the hallway, Poe's already got the second door open. This one leads to a terminal where Poe is already seated at the computer, waiting for the system to boot up. He leans back in the chair to look at Finn. "You think the third room's full of spare X-Wing parts?"
"We're not that lucky," Finn says, swinging the chair next to Poe around so that it's facing the door. He sinks into the chair with his rifle across his lap.
"I'll ask home base for some then," Poe says, looking up at the activated terminal.
"We're going back for the X-Wings?"
"What kind of heartless bastard do you think I am?" Poe says, pressing an offended hand to his chest, "I would never abandon Carolina."
"Hope the scavengers haven't gotten to them," Finn says.
"Don't think there's a lot of scavengers on this planet," Poe says, typing on the keyboard, "Stormtroopers have probably driven them all out of this area if there were."
Finn closes his eyes, just for a moment. But the next thing he knows, Poe's shaking his shoulder, murmuring, "Wake up, Finn."
Finn forces himself into consciousness. "Sorry--I didn't mean to--"
"The corps are coming for us in the morning." Poe checks his watch. "General Organa said they'd have enough pilots assembled to come for us when the mission from Nixus gets in."
"Did you tell her about the First Order ship?"
"I told her about the ship."
"Where are they picking us up?"
"Right here," Poe says, "We can't hear them coming anywhere else."
"You told her about the transponder blocker?"
"We're switching to a short range backchannel," Poe says. He grins at Finn, punching his arm. "I like that you think of everything."
Finn smiles back, trying not to let on that he was still half asleep.
"Think we'd be more comfortable in the lounge?"
Finn thinks about the stale smell of nerf jerky. "Maybe we should stay here," he says, "In case they call earlier or something."
"You okay sleeping in a chair?"
"I've slept in much worse," Finn says.
Poe gets up to turn the lights out and to open the door wider. The only lights in the room are the blink of the machinery and the soft red light of the transmitter power switch illuminating the half of Poe's face that Finn can see.
"I'll take first watch," Poe says.
"I can take first watch," Finn says, "I just took a nap. You're probably exhausted."
"Alright I'm going to pull commanding officer powers this time," Poe says, "Go to sleep Finn."
Finn thinks that maybe he should argue more but instinct keeps his mouth shut. He couldn't even suggest disobeying a direct order. Even if it was Poe. Especially if it was Poe.
The indecision doesn't last long. The exhaustion catches up with him again and drags him down.
"Sorry," Poe says, "I was going to try to scan the First Order frequencies but I didn't realize the volume was turned all the way up."
"What time is it?" Finn asks.
"Nearly four hours," Poe says, glancing down at his watch, "I was going to wake you in fifteen minutes or so."
"Anything happen while I was out?"
"Picked up a couple of weird transmissions from the First Order," Poe says, "This tower has a pretty shitty decryption program though so none of the messages make sense. One of them seemed to be about launching something through, so I thought--maybe relevant?"
He slides a printout of the original message across to Finn and clicks on a flashlight he must have found while Finn was sleeping. Finn looks at the symbols and recognizes the code. It was a slightly more advanced one that they taught the potential officers among the Stormtrooper cadets.
Poe digs around momentarily on the console before handing him a half chewed one. One side of it is sticky. Finn twirls it so he's not touching the sticky side and gets to work.
A few minutes later, he slides the decrypted code back to Poe. "Seems like you got the launch part right."
Poe looks at the decrypted message for a long moment before letting a long breath out between his teeth. "I should tell General Organa. The corps can't come."
Finn swallows and looks at the faintly crackling radio. No foreseeable rescue. It was possible that they could wait it out--but every day they were away from their ships, the likelihood of scavengers stripping them for spare parts increased. There was almost no wild game down below--and even if there was, they could barely see the unmoving vegetation, much less small animals.
The prospect is nearly unbearable. But what he says instead is, "I agree."
"I guess it's time for Plan B," Poe says, waking the transmitter from its idle state to type out the new message. "Ideas?"
"Steal a transport," Finn says immediately.
"Locals won't have hyperdrives on their ships," Poe says.
"Steal a Stormtrooper freighter."
"I'd rather not die."
"Steal a TIE fighter."
"What did I just say?"
"Fix the X-Wings."
"X-Wing parts are hard to come by, especially in Order-controlled territories."
"Jump on a merchant freighter."
"Possible," Poe says, pausing in the middle of typing, "I guess it depends on how many merchant freighters are still around and how stringent the Stormtroopers are about checking exports."
"We can go wherever they go and call a rescue from there instead," Finn supplies.
"What if that planet's Order-controlled too?"
"Find a merchant who's going somewhere safe."
"Ah, we could ask around," Poe says, turning his head to smile at Finn, "But then you start attracting unwanted attention."
Finn leans forward, propping his elbow up on the console. "I'll think of more," he says.
Poe hums in response, finishing up the rest of his message. Finn watches Poe's fingers for a lack of anything more interesting to look at. Poe reaches for the radio transmitter again--but this time the crackle is much quieter as he slowly spins the two dials.
"Poe," Finn says, "Can I ask you a weird question?"
Poe's fingers still. "Sure."
"Why do you fight?" Finn asks, "Why be a Resistance pilot when you could probably land yourself any piloting job you wanted?"
"I grew up in the Resistance," Poe says after a moment, "I've known these people all my life. I love these people. I think what we're fighting for is the right thing."
"Don't you ever wonder who you might have been if you weren't born into this war?"
Poe tips his head to one side, considering. "Not really," he says after a moment, "What is, is what is. I can't change the past." He shrugs. "Maybe I'll find out who I could be, after the war."
Silence. Finn stares at Poe's hands again.
"Who do you think you'd be if the Stormtroopers hadn't found you?" Poe asks.
That was the question, wasn't it? Who was he without the disciplined fear, the instinct to obey? Was he anyone at all?
Was joining the Resistance the path of least resistance? Was he just settling into the familiar role he had always known? How long before his Stormtrooper conditioning kicked in and he did something reprehensible?
"I don't know," Finn says.
"I can tell you what I know," Poe says, letting go of the radio transmitter. "You're brave. You saved my life. You jumped into this mission even though you're still learning. You're smart. You think every situation through and assess for the best option. You're funny. You've got heart." He pauses a moment before smiling at Finn. "That's who I think you are."
"Do you think I should stay with the Resistance?" Finn asks.
"What I think is irrelevant, Finn," Poe says, "That's something you have to decide for yourself." He licks his lower lip and opens his mouth as if to say something else--
The transmitter beeps with an incoming message. Finn looks up at the screen where the computer is busy decrypting the message.
NEGATIVE, the message reads, SHIP LAUNCH INFO RECEIVED. CORPS STILL ARRIVING ETA 3.5H. NO ARGUMENT BE READY.
"And sometimes," Poe says softly, "You fight to save your friends."
"Anything interesting?" Poe asks around a yawn.
"Just waiting," Finn says, easing his grip on the blaster rifle.
"Think they'll bring us breakfast?" Poe asks, pulling the computer out of its idle state, "I'll check in."
Finn takes his seat next to Poe at the console. He hesitates before asking, "You think the First Order is listening in on your transmissions?"
"I'm sure they are," Poe answers easily, "But we don't have much choice and I'm sure the corps are ready for that prospect."
Finn looks at the side of Poe's face, half illuminated in red with the light from outside outlining his profile. He's chewing on his bottom lip as he types. He looks tired--bags under his eyes and hair mussed with wind and sweat. He finishes his message with a final flourish and glances back at Finn, smiling.
Finn looks away quickly, feeling like he'd been caught. That same strange feeling in the pit of his stomach that he'd been ignoring for weeks. He doesn't want to examine it too closely in fear of finding what he was scared of.
The transmitter beeps with an incoming message. Finn looks up at the monitor.
ETA 5M. BE READY
"Ready to go?" Poe asks.
Finn shoulders his blast rifle and nods.
"Can you hear that?" Poe asks.
Finn can't hear a thing except for the occasional rustle of birds in the sparse foliage overhead.
"I think they're here," Finn says, grinning and continuing his descent. Finn strains harder to hear but there's nothing but muffled wind and a sudden flap of bird wings.
But not even three minutes later, there's the familiar distant hum of an X-Wing engine. Within half a minute, the lights of a starship shine through the fog, sliding over them before settling on the ground of the island. The lights blink out.
"Anora," Poe says even though Finn can't see the ship clearly enough to confirm. "I can tell from that intermittent engine waver."
Finn hadn't ever noticed an intermittent engine waver the weeks he'd been flying in the training craft.
"Boss," Jess's voice calls from somewhere in the fog.
"Nice landing," Poe calls back.
It only takes a few more moments for them to scramble off the tree and onto the ground. Jess is standing on the ground next to Anora who has two hard storage cases slung against her sides. Finn can't help but feel a little panicked--if the ship had no weapons, how would they be able to fight back if the TIEs found them? Open the cockpit and shoot back with his blaster rifle?
"Snap's out there creating a diversion," Jess tells them, "The transponder blocker doesn't seem to work on the backchannel. I didn't enter the atmosphere until Snap said he was engaged so I don't think the First Order noticed me."
"Good," Poe says, pulling himself up onto the X-Wing without waiting. He pulls the map out of his pocket and tosses it at Finn who catches it reflexively. "I marked the crash coordinates. Drop me off first and then you two take Anora over to Finn's ship."
Finn fumbles with the map for a moment. Poe's in the pilot's seat and Jess is already pulling him toward the X-Wing. "Take the seat," she tells him, "I'm used to standing in this ship."
He gets in. Poe's already flipping controls on the dashboard. Jess drops into the cockpit and pushes up against Finn's side, hitting the cockpit close button. Even before it's fully shut, Poe has the ship off the ground.
"Coordinates," Poe says, swinging around the outside of the island as he descends through the branches, fluid evasions that seem effortless.
Finn pulls up the map.
"Easy fix," Jess says as she swings the flashlight on the holes where they used to be, "You want to do that while I work on your turbines?"
Finn opens the cockpit of his ship and grabs the flashlight he'd left behind. There's a spot on the windshield where it looks like someone tried to crack the reinforced glass open--they probably wanted the flashlight in the pilot's seat. He switches it on and goes for the extra headlights hidden in the back, all part of the standard replacement kit in every X-Wing.
"How'd you guys get all the way up to that city?" Jess asks. Finn climbs out of the cockpit.
"Climbed," Finn says, setting his flashlight up to give himself enough light to work. "I never want to see another ladder as long as I live."
"You know there's like five ladders at the back of the workshop, right?" Jess points out. He hears the whirr of her drill.
"I'm never stepping foot in the workshop again," Finn tells her.
She laughs. "Twenty ration bars says the workshop's going to be your first stop."
"You can't bet ration bars against someone who's starving," Finn says, "That's cheating."
The drill stops. "Here," Jess says after a moment, "Catch." Finn looks up just in time to stop two ration bars from hitting his face.
"Am I going to owe you twenty-two ration bars?" Finn asks, but stops stripping wires long enough to unwrap one of the bars.
"Nah," Jess says, the drill whirring to life again, "These are on me. I'm nice like that."
By the time Jess is finished with fixing the right side turbines, Finn has finished installing one of the headlights, fixed the circuitry with the antigravity accelerators, and is stripping wires for the second headlight. She pauses to inspect his handiwork and cuffs him on the back of the head. "Nice," she says, before swinging onto the ship to get at the left upper turbine.
"Do I graduate?" Finn asks, taking another bite of the second ration bar.
"Nobody graduates," Jess tells him, "X-Wing maintenance is forever."
There's the sound of faint blaster fire from somewhere above. Both he and Jess go for their flashlights at the same time, Jess's power tools falling silent. Finn stares into the darkness above them. The slivers of sky above are dark grey at best--must be the thicker cloud cover they saw earlier up on the island. He can't see any TIE lights.
"Better hurry," Jess says, "Snap could probably use our help." She turns her flashlight back on.
Finn turns his on too and stuffs the last of the ration bar in his mouth. He wraps the wires around each other--yellow to yellow, blue to blue, red to red--and fits the headlight into the X-Wing.
"Almost done with the turbine," Jess says when Finn stands up. "Bring that flashlight over here, will you?"
Finn moves over and shines the flashlight on her hands. She's pressing something into place and drilling it down--hell if Finn knows what. She tests the strength of the turbine attachment before saying, "That's as good as we can get it for now. Your alarm's still going to be going off when you turn her on but it's stable enough for flight and hyperspace travel."
She hops down from the X-Wing and wipes her hands on the rag hanging out of her back pocket.
"I thought you would take her," Finn says when he realizes she's headed back to Anora.
"Why?" Jess asks, "She's your ship."
"You're more experienced than me," Finn says, "I can't fight as well as you." It'd be inefficient, he thinks and does not say.
"How else are you going to get any experience?" Jess asks, climbing into her cockpit.
Finn has no choice but to climb into his own.
"Finn," Jess calls out, "You're more than you give yourself credit for."
Finn puts his helmet on. He gives Jess a thumbs up signal.
"Clear the way for me," she says, "Kick some First Order ass."
"Are we all above the treetops?" Poe's voice aks over the radio, "Radio if you're not."
There's silence except for the bursts of blaster fire. Poe's the last one to come up and Finn can see his patched ship rise slowly above the tendril-like branches. Finn's not the only one to notice, he realizes, because suddenly four TIE fighters peel off from harassing the pinned-down X-Wings and immediately go for the already damaged ship.
Finn goes after them, shooting as quickly as he can. Only one of them turns to face him--he dodges the returning fire before locking onto the attachment of the TIE wing and firing a short burst of shots. The wing goes crooked and the TIE starts to dive. Finn immediately turns his attention back on the other three who are having trouble hitting Poe despite the fact that his wing was barely held on with scrap metal and propane can welding. Finn tears holes in the wings of another TIE, leaving only two--
Finn wouldn't have seen it if he weren't pointed in the right direction. In the distance, there are another fifty-some TIEs rising above the treelines. Fifty-some fresh TIE fighters against twelve worn X-Wings.
"We have to go," Finn says, "We have to go right now." He swings around to look at the main brunt of the fighting.
There are at least seven X-Wings still engaged--they'd never get clear long enough to charge up their hyperdrive without being hit. Poe seems to have gotten rid of the two TIEs who were after him.
"I see them too," Snap says, "Boss?"
"I see them," Poe says, "Creel, Rhysode--you need to break away as fast as you can. We all need to prepare for the jump into hyperspace. If you're clear, get out of here now."
The TIEs are bearing down on them far too quickly but no one is making the jump into hyperspace. Finn can't leave Poe and Jess behind. He squares himself and swings his ship around on the oncoming TIEs.
He starts to shoot when they get in range. A few of them shoot back--but most of them just veer away, turning sharply upwards. Barely thirty seconds pass between the moment Finn would have sworn they were all going to die and the moment they've all disappeared into thin wispy clouds above.
"What the hell?" he hears himself saying.
The other TIEs are leaving too, disengaging from the X-Wings and heading into space--even the ones already badly damaged by X-Wing fire.
Stormtroopers never surrendered. Stormtroopers never retreated. This was so antithetical to anything Finn had ever been taught. Stormtroopers fought until the very end and if they were lucky, they won glory for the First Order.
He starts accelerating upwards, following the path the straggling TIEs took.
"Finn," Poe says sharply.
"There's something weird here," Finn says, "There's something wrong."
The clouds thin out into nothing. A huge ship comes into view--much bigger than the Finalizer--along with a fleet of smaller bright red ships approaching the planet's orbit. Some TIE fighters have already started approaching the smaller ships and Finn can see the fire being exchanged, even from this far away.
"Did General Organa send backup?" Finn asks.
"What?" Poe asks at the same time that Snap says, "No."
"We've got company," Finn says.
"Good company or bad company?" Poe asks.
"I'm not sure," Finn replies, "I don't recognize the sigils on the side of these ships."
Poe's ship appears on his radar a few moments before it drifts into view, hovering in the thin upper stratosphere next to Finn.
"Des'maric pirates," Poe says, "Some incredibly idiotic Des'maric pirates to go up against that class of fighter. We should thank our lucky stars."
"What do you want to do, boss?" Snap asks. The rest of the X-Wings have followed them to the edge of the stratosphere.
"Jump," Poe says, "Rescue objective completed. No need to get ourselves in more danger."
"It's safe for me to come up?" Jess asks.
"Roger. We are ready to jump," Poe says, "See you guys on the other side."
Finn doesn't engage his hyperdrive. Something about the way that the TIEs are grouped looks weird. It's been nearly five minutes since he'd started watching the fight, which should have been more than enough time for the troopers on board the warship to power up at least one of the four laser cannons to send the pirates scattering. But instead they're only attacking by TIE fighter--a much more tedious process considering how tiny the TIEs were in comparison to the Des'maric ships. One cleverly aimed laser cannon could have cut through the whole formation.
"Finn," Poe says, "Is there something wrong with your hyperdrive?"
Finn looks down at his radar--he and Poe are the only ones left. Hell, he was surprised that Poe hadn't already left--but he must have felt some compulsion as commander to stay until the last team member was gone.
"I've been watching those TIEs," Finn says, "I've noticed they're not arranged like they should be in an offense. Look at the number of TIEs clustered around that ship. They're entirely on the defensive."
It takes a moment for Poe to respond. "I see it."
"I don't think that warship has a working weapons system right now," Finn concludes.
"They're certainly being stingy with the missiles and laser canon," Poe agrees. They watch the Des'maric ships advance on the First Order, plasma grenades flaring brightly every few minutes as they strike unlucky TIE fighters. "What are you thinking?"
"I think we could disable that warship for real," Finn says, "The TIEs are all concentrated on the front between the warship and the Des'maric ships. If we swooped in from the side at full speed, hit the cannons, then dive straight into hyperspace on the other side? I think we could guarantee the win for the Des'maric."
Poe is silent. Finn is momentarily scared that he's overstepped his boundaries as a soldier, but then Poe asks, "How many turrets do you count?"
"Four," Finn says automatically. He'd seen ship designs like this before--alternating two and two on opposite long sides of the boxlike craft.
"I count four too," Poe says. He falls silent for another moment before saying, "What were you thinking to take out the turrets?"
"Explosives," Finn says without hesitation, "Blaster fire won't touch those cannons. Two missiles each, as precise as we can get it."
"I agree," Poe says, "Your plan--you're going to have to aim, fire, avoid any TIEs that might come after you, and prepare for hyperspace jump all at the same time. You think you can do that Finn?"
He's never been more unsure in his life. "Yes, he says.
"You want to take the right ones?" Poe asks, "I'll take the left."
Holy shit. They were actually going to do this. Finn grips his steering wheel a little tighter. "Roger that," he says.
"As long as you've got clear path, hit the hyperdrive right before you toss the second set of grenades," Poe says.
Finn takes in a deep breath. His heart is pounding out of his chest. "Yes."
The two of them tear across the mile or so of space between where they are and where the nearest turrets of the warship are. Finn keeps his path straight and pulls up on the missile launchers. He gauges the distance and launches the missiles before shooting past and immediately shifting the controls to target the second turret. Two explosions behind him--he doesn't even know if his missiles hit dead on.
Poe was behind him and none of the TIEs had responded fast enough to come cut him off ahead. He moves the hyperdrive into gear. Space feels like it's warping around him as he hits the missile launch button. The missiles look like they're moving in slow motion. He has to shift the engine from fuel cell to quantum.
By the time Finn comes out the other side of hyperspace with the gleaming lake of the Resistance base underneath him, it feels like endless time has already passed when the entire run couldn't possibly have taken longer than fifty seconds. He flies forward to land his X-Wing in a clearing near the workshop with shaking hands and keeps an eye on the radar.
Poe pops over the lake barely a minute later. Finn laughs out loud when he sees the dot of Poe's ship on his radar and feels like he could run a hundred miles and scream what they managed to do for the entire world to hear. He's never felt so exhilarated in his entire life.
Jess is on the ground when he opens his cockpit and practically leaps out of his X-Wing. "What happened?" she calls up to him.
Finn jumps from his cockpit and grabs her hands, twirling her around. "We took down a warship!" he yells, "A class one warship!"
"Are you crazy?" she yells back at him but she's grinning.
Poe's ship lands in the clearing right next to Finn's. Finn lets go of her, practically sprinting towards Poe's now-singed X-Wing. Poe climbs out, pulling his helmet off.
"I saw it!" Poe yells down at him, "Holy shit you were such a good shot! They hit straight on!"
"I saw those two TIEs come after you," Poe shouts back up at him, feeling like he's going to burst out of his skin with excitement, "I knew you'd outrun them!"
Poe leaps down and grabs Finn's shoulders. "That was an amazing plan. You are amazing."
"You taught me everything I know about flying," Finn shoots back.
"No Finn," Poe says, "This one's all on you."
Finn kisses him. Poe grabs the back of his head and immediately opens his mouth, turning the kiss into something deeper, hungrier. Finn digs his fingers into the jacket over Poe's shoulders, pushing Poe forward until his back hits the side of the X-Wing. One of Poe's hands goes from the back of Finn's head to his ass, lining their chests and pulling them together as close as he can. Finn breathes out unsteadily, feeling like he's going to shake out of his own skin and slip right into Poe's--the high of the adrenaline from the thrill of danger culminating in the fierce way that Poe's mouth moves against his. He presses Poe up against the side of the X-Wing, one hand moving instinctively to yank open Poe's jumpsuit at the neck, grinding his hips a little against the erection he can feel through the thick fabric against his thigh.
Poe makes an obscene noise against his mouth at the movement. Finn moves his lips to Poe's chin, marking it with his teeth, then to his neck, sucking hard until Poe digs his fingernails into the back of Finn's neck, gasping hot breath against Finn's ear.
It takes a moment for Finn to register the word and an even longer moment for him to forcibly drag himself away from Poe. Jess is standing half hidden behind Finn's ship, purposefully looking into the distance. "I really didn't want to interrupt but General Organa is asking for you two."
Finn touches his mouth, staring at Poe. Poe's hair is messed up, his mouth is red and Finn cannot stop staring at the exposed triangle of Poe's chest. He wants to run his hands over that skin, wants to press his tongue against it. He wants to take the entire fucking jumpsuit off of Poe with his goddamn mouth if he had to.
"Right," Poe says in attempt at calm and collected but he sounds exactly as shaky as Finn feels. "We'll be there in a moment."
"I'll let her know," Jess says and hurries away.
Poe tips his head back down and looks at Finn. Finn's eyes snap back up to Poe's face and he can't stop looking back. Poe tugs Finn forward by the hand and presses his sweaty forehead to Finn's.
"Later," he murmurs.
"Later," Finn promises.
What neither Finn nor Poe knew was that the Resistance had a tentative relationship with the Des'maric pirates, starting from when the Resistance had inadvertently saved them from an ambush off Lothal during another mission. The bombing of the turrets had only strengthened the friendship between the two and General Organa was optimistic about the possibility that the pirates wouldn't turn around and ransom the ship right back to the First Order.
Finn spent most of the debrief trying to answer questions as best he could and trying not to stare at Poe. It was hard. Poe seemed so calm as he argued against half the things that the trade advisor brought up and Finn wanted to press him against the nearest wall and kiss him senseless again. He spent a lot of time staring at the table and hoping that General Organa's ability with the Force didn't extend to reading his mind. It didn't help that he and Poe were sitting next to each other, close enough that Finn was certain that he could feel the heat radiating off Poe's knee and that Poe could feel exactly how tense Finn was.
The meeting concludes and half the officers are standing up when General Organa says, "One moment please."
The chatter dies down at her words and a few of the standing officers take a seat again.
"I'd like to take a moment to commemorate the young pilot who made this wonderful news for the Resistance even possible," General Organa says, turning to smile at him, "Finn, your quick thinking and courageous action have achieved us a significant victory. Your conduct has been the most commendable."
Poe starts clapping. It takes barely a moment for the applause to catch on and within moments, even General Organa is clapping for him. Finn grins, feeling the blush rise into his face. Poe claps him on the shoulder.
After a while the applause dies down but General Organa comes to lay a hand on his shoulder. "I can't wait to see what you'll accomplish in the future," she says, smiling at him. He's left a little breathless in the wake of her words--someone he'd only really ever thought of as a legend now has expectations for him.
"Want to head out?" Poe asks, hand curled lightly around Finn's bicep. Finn meets his eyes and licks his lips unconsciously. He doesn't miss the way that Poe's eyes snap to his mouth and is immediately thrilled by the fact. Maybe Poe wasn't as calm as he seemed on the outside.
"I'm so proud of you," Poe tells him when they're out in the hallway. The hand that had been on his bicep is now curled around his elbow. Finn smiles and turns his head to look at Poe. Poe leans in and presses a closed mouth kiss to the corner of his lips. "Finn, I could shout from the top of the world how proud I am of you."
"Greatest pilot in the Resistance," Finn reminds him and Poe laughs. Finn wants to make him laugh like that always.
Poe's hand slides from his elbow down his arm and links his fingers between Finn's. "Come on," he murmurs, as he tugs Finn forward, "I remember a conversation that was interrupted."
"You call that a conversation?" Finn says, laughing. He lets himself be pulled towards the officer's quarters.
Poe has a room to himself and a lock on the door. He has stray X-Wing parts strewn all over and a huge collection of model starships taking up the vast majority of a bookshelf with only a few books on the bottom shelf. These are the only things that Finn notices before Poe has him against the wall, head tilted as he angles for a kiss. Finn curls a hand into Poe's soft hair, breathing him in as he uses his other hand to pull Poe's shirt open. Poe's loosens his fingers from where he's grabbed onto the collar of Finn's jacket, pulling away but still keeping his face close as he looks down.
"You," Poe breathes, "In this jacket," He kisses Finn again and Finn pushes a hand under Poe's shirt, palm of his hand sliding across warm skin. Poe pushes the jacket off his shoulders and it drops to the ground. Immediately, Poe's hands are on his ass, pulling him forward even as Finn tries to push Poe's shirt off.
Poe breaks away for just a moment to pull the shirt over his head. Finn gets only a brief glimpse of the scars across his torso before he leans back in to kiss Finn again, pulling him forward by the waist until they're at the bed. He sits on the edge and Finn practically has to climb into his lap to keep kissing Poe. Poe laughs into his mouth and moves him bodily so he's pinned down beneath Poe on the bed.
Poe pulls away and helps him pull his shirt over his head. He stares up at Poe, his fingers absently running a long scar curving across Poe's side, under the ribs. He can feel the puckered tissue under his fingers.
There was so much he didn't know about Poe. He wanted more--he wanted everything.
"I have no idea what I'm doing," he confesses breathlessly.
Poe grins down at him and bends to press a kiss against the corner of his jaw before opening his mouth, hot against Finn's neck. He sucks a heated kiss here before moving down and murmuring into Finn's collarbone, "You're winging it just fine."
Finn can't stifle the slight whimper that comes out of him when Poe noses at one of his nipple--he had no idea that it could even do that--and grabs on to Poe's shoulders when Poe presses the flat of his tongue to it before teasing it softly. Poe laughs against his skin and does it again, one hand around Finn's hip to hold him down. He noses his way down again before reaching the top of Finn's pants.
Poe strokes Finn's erection through his pants before squeezing him lightly through the thick fabric. Finn feels like he's about to hyperventilate--he's never had anyone touch him like this before. Poe hooks his fingers over the top of Finn's pants, and slowly, agonizingly drags them down. Finn's cock springs free. Poe strokes the inside of his thigh lightly, bringing his face close enough to Finn's cock that Finn could just barely feel the hot breath.
"Please," Finn whimpers.
Poe slides his closed lips against the side of Finn's cock, making it twitch with arousal. Poe takes the base in his hand and Finn isn't sure how much of this he can actually take without coming embarrassingly early.
"Poe," he begs. Poe wraps his lips around the tip of his cock and the back of Finn's head hits the bed. He didn't even know he could whimper like that--high and needy.
Poe takes more of him in his mouth and it takes all of Finn's self control not to push his hips up. Poe pets his knee and smiles around his cock before he starts to move in earnest, squeezing lightly at the base.
It's so much better than any time Finn had taken himself in hand, furtively jerking off in the Stormtrooper barracks. It's amazing--Poe is amazing. He can't last for long--it builds and it builds, climbing higher and higher until Finn is half squirming on the bed, saying Poe's name over and over again until he hits the peak and drops into what feels like freefall, entire body light with pleasure.
Poe swallows as he comes up--Finn sees his Adam's apple bob and hell if it isn't enough to make his spent cock twitch with interest again. Poe grins, looking pleased with himself as he cups Finn's face and kisses him.
Finn kisses him back, stroking his back. After a moment, he pulls back and asks with a grin, "So when do I get to do that to you?"
He slowly gets up, careful not to disturb Poe. He pulls on his clothes, putting Poe's old jacket on last. He zips it slowly as so not to make much noise before looking back over at the bed. Poe's sprawled out, still asleep.
BB-8 is outside the door. It beeps at Finn when he steps out of Poe's room and Finn bends down to shush the droid. The door to Poe's room closes. Finn rubs a spot of dirt off BB-8's body and murmurs, "Sorry we didn't take you to Kelaatha, buddy. But you were much safer here anyway. Who knows if the scavengers would have taken you?"
BB-8 beeps at him. One day Finn will have to learn droidspeak. He pats BB-8 and stands up to go to his own quarters where he'd left his equipment.
He grabs the only thing that he really owns: the blaster rifle. He'd never had much use for personal effects as a Stormtrooper and some habits just died hard, He slings it across his shoulder. BB-8 rolls into his room and nudges against his feet, beeping.
Finn heads out. There's nobody else up this early--most of them got up with the sun or a little later. He stops at his X-Wing, which still hasn't been towed into the workshop yet. He touches her nose. Last he looked, there were still three full fuel cells.
He could climb into the cockpit. He could become anybody.
BB-8 beeps at him again, rolling up behind him. Finn looks down at the little droid. "Insistent, aren't you?" BB-8 beeps. It sounds like it's agreeing.
Finn keeps walking, all the way to the training grounds. He keys in the password for access to the training droid. Within moments the lockbox opens and the training droid hovers into the air, awaiting his instructions.
By the time that Finn notices Poe leaning against a tree at the edge of the training grounds, he's finished two targeting practice simulations set on hard and has worked up a bit of a sweat. It's been too long since he trained in melee combat and it feels good to use the skills he'd been so good at once more.
Poe comes towards him, holding out a cask of water. Finn takes it gratefully and nearly down the whole thing in a couple of gulps.
"BB-8 thought you were leaving," Poe says, trying to sound casual. His eyes are intent on Finn's face though.
"I wanted to train," Finn says, wiping the water from his mouth. He pauses before saying, "I need to get stronger, if I'm going to protect you and Rey. All of you guys."
Poe breaks out into a smile. Finn can't help but to grin back.
"Need a training partner?" Poe asks.
Finn pulls off Poe's old coat and drapes it across BB-8 who beeps in surprise. "If you think you can keep up, flyboy."
"Hell yeah," Poe says, shoving at his shoulder with a grin, "I'm the greatest pilot in the Resistance, remember?"
Finn laughs and pulls him forward by the hand.