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Old Soldiers

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Finn wakes up slowly, still groggy from the sedatives. He's only been out of the coma a few days, and the doctor says he's still got a lot more healing to do before he can leave the med bay. He glances over at the visitor's chair Poe pulled up by his bed, but instead of Poe, it's occupied by the oldest human Finn's ever seen. He's bald, but he makes up for it with a full white beard. He's thin, but it's a wiry kind of thin, the kind that looks strong, even though his skin looks as fragile as dried leaves. He also sits up straight as any sergeant Finn's ever seen.

Finn blinks, hoping to clear the sleep from his eyes and his mind, and tries to sit up before pain--muted but still there--shoots through him and he remembers that his back is still healing and he's not supposed to move.

He pants through the pain, because the answers are more important. "Is something wrong? Is Rey all right? Where's Poe?"

"The new Jedi? She's fine. She and Master Skywalker should be back in a few days. And Commander Dameron is flying his shift on the CAP. Not to worry."

Finn exhales slowly in relief. "Am I in trouble?" he asks.

The man smiles. He still has all his teeth. "Not at all. I heard about the stormtrooper who defected, and I had to see for myself."

Finn returns the smile uneasily. "I guess the Resistance doesn't see too many of those, huh."

"No. None."

Finn thinks about that for a long moment. "Never?"

"Never. I reckon they must frag anyone who's thinking of it."

He's never heard of such a thing, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Though it would make sense that the First Order wouldn't want its foot soldiers to think, well, anything at all, let alone that they could walk away. His own squad called him traitor, and that might have hurt more if he'd ever felt like he'd fit in with them, like they'd cared for him at all the way he'd tried to care for them.

"Huh."

The old man scratches his beard and nods once to himself. "I was a soldier once. I'd still be out in the field if the General hadn't told me in no uncertain terms that I'm retired." He gets a fond, nostalgic look on his face. "She'd give me a talking-to if she ever heard me say it, and she'd be well within her rights, but she reminds me of her father. The best parts of him, anyway. The man I followed into battle for years."

Finn works his way through that and decides he's not going to touch the part about the General's father. Instead, he says, "You were a stormtrooper, too?"

"No, son. I was a Clone Trooper. CT-7567, but you can call me Rex. I was a captain in the Grand Army of the Republic."

Finn does the math and then figures his brain is still cloudy from the pain medication, because the result he gets can't be right. "How is that even possible? I thought the clones all died off because of rapid aging. Uh, no offense, Rex. Captain. Sir."

Rex waves a hand. "None taken. It wasn't until after the Battle of Endor that some New Republic scientists were able to figure out how to fix that." He frowns. "Most of my brothers died long before then, but a few of us hung on." He looks away, his eyes going unfocused and faraway. "As far as I know, I'm the last one standing."

"Wow, I--Wow. That sounds rough."

"I'll live," Rex says wryly, and Finn has to smile at that. "The Resistance is made up of misfits and strays and last men standing, Finn. You'll fit right in."

"I hope so, sir."

Rex rises slowly, and Finn imagines he can hear the creaking of old bones. "When you get out of here, come see me. I can teach you a few tricks about fighting beside a Jedi. No one was better at it than us clones."

They were also pretty good at killing Jedi, if Finn remembers correctly, but he's not going to think about that now. If the General trusts Rex, Finn's not going to question it (though he might give Rey a heads-up when she gets back).

He grits his teeth against the ache and raises his right hand to his forehead in a salute, the way he's seen others do it here, not the way he was taught as a cadet. "Yes, sir."

Rex salutes back, as sharp as a man half his age. "At ease, soldier. You'll do fine." He turns on his heel and leaves with a grin.

Finn relaxes back against his pillows, and marvels again at how weird the galaxy is, and how much of it he's getting to see.