“Phas, listen—” says Slip, reaching out a hand.
Before FN-2187 can pull him back, Phasma spins on her heel and punches Slip right in the solar plexus. He doubles over, gasping for breath. FN-2187 winces, glad for his own chestplate—Slip isn’t wearing his, just holding it under his arm. He’d already called it quits on training for the day. ‘There’s only so much my skinny limbs can handle,’ he’d said, and FN-2187 could see the self-deprecating grin in his mind even though Slip had had his helmet on. FN-2187 keeps offering him extra ration bar segments but Slip never takes them, even though he’s the smallest cadet in their squadron despite being as old as the rest of them. Seventeen, according to the rosters.
“Do not call me that,” Phasma says, voice tight. “Put your armor back on, FN-2003, and do not touch me. Ever.”
As soon as she turns and marches around the corner, FN-2187 and Zeroes rush to Slip, helping him up and leaning him against the corridor wall. Nines watches dispassionately as he tugs off his helmet and wheezes. Zeroes makes eye contact with FN-2187, who can only give her a slight shrug. Their medical training is basically useless, here, and they heal quick from bruises.
“So that’s reconditioning,” Nines says.
“Damn,” Slip says weakly, pressing his cheek to the cool metal of the wall. “Damn.”
FN-2187 doesn’t say anything and resists the urge to put a hand on Slip’s shoulder. Fraternization is prohibited.
Finn is faintly aware of a brief, warm pressure against his forehead, and an intermittent sensation in his fingers. Images are blurry, and it hurts to think.
He’ll go back to dreaming.
“If you do this, and you die,” Rey says, glaring at him, “I swear I will resurrect you just to kill you again myself.”
“Same,” Poe says, smiling and clapping a hand on his shoulder. “I mean, I’m pretty sure the Force doesn’t work like that, but you’ll be triple-dead if it does. Better not get dead in the first place.”
Finn rolls his eyes. “I’m not ready to die,” he says. “Don’t worry.”
Rey narrows her eyes, shakes her head minutely and stalks away—probably off to more daily training.
“I’m going to worry,” Poe says softly, smile fading and hand pressing down on Finn’s shoulder like a brand, even through the layers of cloth.
“What, you think I’ve got a death wish?” Finn asks.
“You rescued a Resistance pilot from the First Order’s headquarters and you took on Kylo Ren with a glowing sword you didn’t know how to use,” Poe says. “I don’t think you have a death wish, but your history isn’t giving you many points, here.”
“But I didn’t die,” Finn says.
Poe bites his lip like he’s trying not to say something. Finn gets a flash of how soft those lips probably are, and beats down the distraction. “Keep not dying,” Poe says finally, looking away. “It was—really hard, to watch you not wake up for weeks. Don’t do that again, either. BB-8 was worried.” He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. “I was worried. Stay safe.”
“Oh,” Finn says. “Okay.”
“Thank you,” Poe says, voice laced with—some nameless, free-floating emotion. “I’ll be right behind you the whole time.”
“Traitor!” he hears Nines’ voice yelling at him, and he turns to see a ‘trooper who must be his former squadmate waving his Z6 baton.
Nines advances on him and he blocks with the lightsaber—Nines had always idolized Hux like they were taught to, he’d never expressed any moral qualms like Slip or even Zeroes. It’s no wonder, but Finn is still bitter. Finn doesn’t want to hurt him but he also doesn’t want to get put out of commission, and he knows what those batons can do.
Blow, parry, blow, parry, advance, block, something is off about the way Nines is fighting—he’d been inching past Finn in close combat when they trained, but Finn feels like they’re fighting on equal terms. Nines isn’t as controlled as he should be.
Finn feels grateful for Nines’ lack of control and sick with his gratitude. They were friends.
Nines falls suddenly, bowcaster-shot, and Finn wipes his soft grunt from his memory and runs until he has to go on with the fight.
Later, when Finn is thinking about that moment, turning it around and around in his head and examining the edges, he can’t shake the notion that Nines wasn’t actually trying very hard to hit him.
In the mornings, he can see Rey outside the window closest to his cot in medbay, practicing lunges with her lightsaber. Neither of them have recalibrated their internal clocks to run by the Resistance’s looser schedule quite yet, apparently, so sometimes she visits him before she meets with Luke Skywalker, whose name Finn still trips over in his head.
There are legends, and there are legends, and whenever Slip had told stories overheard on patrols he’d always say the name ‘Skywalker’ in a hushed, reverent tone that Nines hadn’t approved of.
Poe had burst into medbay to tell him when Rey had first come back; Finn had still been bedridden on medi-droid orders. “Can you believe it? She finally brought him back,” Poe’d said. “Luke’s back!”
“Wow,” Finn could only say. “The Luke Skywalker.”
“He had the balls to tell me I’d grown up,” Poe had said. “It’s been sixteen damn years, I don’t know what he was expecting.”
At that point, Rey had made an equally dramatic entrance, new cloak billowing like in one of Dhara’s smuggled holos, and thrown herself into a hug that was highly structurally-dubious since Finn couldn’t really sit up yet and was stuck in his 20-degree reclined bed. He hadn’t minded. Poe had grinned at them until Rey dragged him down as well.
Dr. Vstvel had walked in and let out a noise that Finn suspected was a sigh, but they hadn’t bothered to reprimand them.
Now, Rey trains every day, doing all sorts of weird Force-acrobatics, and he’s still relearning how to walk. It’s a little hard to avoid feeling useless.
“You’re making progress far faster than most humans would with those injuries,” Vstvel tells him every time he can go an extra few steps without catching himself on the wall.
“Maybe I’ve got something to thank all those genetic mods for, after all,” Finn says in response, once.
Poe walks in right on time to hear him say that, and he frowns for hours. Finn has discovered that he hates it when Poe frowns—it seems so far from his natural state.
“I hate that they did that to you, that you didn’t have a choice,” Poe admits, later, quiet at Finn’s bedside, warm hands firmly kept to himself. Finn doesn’t like that, either. “I was there for what, maybe two days? You were there your whole life.”
“It wasn’t all bad,” Finn lies. Got me to you, didn’t it? he doesn’t say. “The mental effort was pretty low, since I didn’t have to do any thinking.”
“But you did, anyway,” Poe says, his smile making a dawn-bright reappearance.
“I’m gonna die before you, Eight-Seven, so when I do, you gotta promise me that you’ll do something for me,” Slip says, not looking up from where he’s methodically cleaning each part of his disassembled pistol. His helmet is on the bench, caked in sand from the desert sim they’ve been running.
“Don’t talk bantha fodder, Slip,” FN-2187 says.
“I’m serious,” Slip says. “We’ve got our first real combat mission next week, so promise me. Just do it.”
“Okay, I promise,” FN-2187 says. There’s a silence, so he prompts, “What am I promising to do?”
“Decide for yourself how you want to live,” Slip says. “And then make it happen.”
“Finn?” Poe’s voice. Poe: friend. More. “Finn, come on, don’t do this right now.”
Evaluate physical status: heavy bruising on lower right torso area. Mild head pain. Ankle broken, but cleanly. He was holding the kid, where is she?
“Finn, open your eyes, listen to me, we have to go,” Poe says. “We need to go now. The explosions just started and if we want to make it out we need to leave.”
Poe. He forces his eyes open, squinting at the bright electrical fires dotting his vision. “I’m up,” he says, though it comes out as more of a grunt. He ignores how much everything hurts and struggles to a sitting position. “Where’s the—I was holding—”
“You kept her from the worst of it but you look pretty beaten-up,” Poe says, and holds out the bundled baby to him. His eyes are kind. Everything around them is burning. Poe’s eyes are always so kind.
“Thanks,” Finn manages, taking the kid. “My ankle’s broken, I’m not going to be quick enough. You should take her and leave me behind.”
“Finn,” Poe says, far too calmly for the situation. “We are all leaving together, and nobody is leaving anybody behind.”
It’s quiet in the barracks, and FN-2187 thinks he might be able to trust these people who are, as of six weeks ago, supposed to be his squad. They’re fourteen, so they have another two years of basic training before any of them get assigned serious tasks. He’s going to be useful to the First Order, at last. He’ll make the Leader proud.
Admittedly, the joy of that idea has decreased steadily for the past three years. Maybe the others aren’t ecstatic, either—or maybe if he says anything they’ll rat him out and he’ll be reconditioned.
He doesn’t know exactly what reconditioning is, but he knows he doesn’t want it.
They sleep in bunks, four to a small room, and FN-2003 is below him. On the other side of the room, close enough that he could probably touch the edge of the bed if he reached out his arm, FN-2199 sleeps above FN-2000.
FN-2003’s breathing shifts.
“Are you awake, FN-2003?” FN-2187 whispers, but it’s still loud in the complete silence, and he hears a crash from below him. He leans over the edge of the bed and sees FN-2003 on the floor.
“Damn,” FN-2003 mutters.
“What,” FN-2000 says from across the room, sitting bolt upright in her bed and narrowly avoiding hitting her head on the top bunk.
“Sorry! FN-2187 caught me by surprise, I slipped right off my bed,” FN-2003 whispers.
“Maybe we should call you ‘Slip,’ then, you clumsy moron,” FN-2199 says, apparently having woken up sometime during the last minute.
FN-2187 frowns. “He’s not a moron,” he says.
“I am clumsy, though,” FN-2003 says. “And I don’t mind being called that. Slip.”
“Slip it is,” FN-2000 mumbles. “I’m going back to sleep.” She falls back onto her pillow, tugging her thin blanket over her head.
FN-2199 harrumphs and turns over on his bed.
A beat. Everyone’s breathing settles, and FN-2187 shifts back to the center of his bunk.
FN-2003’s head pops up next to his from below and startles him into a small flail. “What did you want to ask me, FN-2187?” FN-2003 whispers.
“Nothing, Slip,” FN-2187 replies. “Go back to sleep.”
“Liar,” Slip says. “What is it?”
“I was just wondering if you’d ever had T-94 as a teacher,” FN-2187 says.
Slip shakes his head, but FN-2000’s voice says, “I had her. She got switched to another Academy near the end of the year. My new teacher told me it was because they needed her there for a specialized class, but I think she got chosen to help the Leader with one of his projects. Isn’t that cool? She was really cool.”
“I heard she was a sympathizer,” FN-2199 says, the words brutal.
“She was,” FN-2187 says. “I overheard when Kylo Ren was interrogating her. She kept screaming that her name was Dhara and not T-94.” He makes himself continue. “Obviously, she was crazy.”
“Obviously,” FN-2199 says. “Of course her name was T-94. She didn’t rank a chosen name.”
“Yeah,” FN-2187 says. “Of course.”
Putting on the white armor again after swearing it off all those months ago feels like a blasphemy, but he knows he has to. So he does. Sacrifice is necessary.
He’s never wanted to be the key to winning any part of this war. He hadn’t even wanted to participate.
Finn shakes it off. If they finish the fighting, nobody else has to die. If the General’s plan works, if he can do this, if he remembers how to act. If they set into motion what they have to. It’s a lot of ifs.
The plastoid pieces feel tight around his ribcage. He knows that he’s maintained body mass—General Organa is very adamant that everyone gets precisely the right amount of nutrients, and the Resistance really does have better food than the Order ever did—but he wonders why, when he was wearing it every day, he never noticed that the armor made it difficult to breathe.
The shinguards click into place and he straightens, thankful that his back doesn’t act up; it’s officially healed apart from the scar, but sometimes it aches.
He picks up the helmet, sighs. It is necessary, he thinks once more. There’s movement in his peripheral vision—Poe is leaning in the doorway, watching him, and he can feel his face heat.
“I get a personal send-off from the Resistance’s best pilot?” he asks, proud of how level his voice is.
“Your send-off is in a little bit,” Poe says. “Rey will also be there, but she’s training with Luke now.” He looks away, scratches the back of his head. “I just wanted to visit.”
Analyze and qualify: evasion. Finn shoves away the thought. “Glad you showed up, then, before I go play lone hero in Order territory,” he says.
“I’m coming in right after you as soon as you signal, you’re not getting all the glory so easily,” Poe says, smiling.
“I wouldn’t expect to,” Finn says. “And I wouldn’t want to.”
Poe steps up closer to him. The smile has faded, and his facial expression says he’s—uncertain? Finn doesn’t know this twist of Poe’s mouth yet. “Finn,” he starts. “Can I just—”
He cuts himself off.
Droid chatter and the hum of machinery filters in from outside. It’s a fine day to survive, Finn thinks. “Can you just what?” he asks.
Poe takes a deep breath and moves a hand to Finn’s cheek, slowly, as if he’s afraid Finn will be spooked. His fingers hover, barely touching his skin, until Finn leans into the contact. Poe exhales. “I,” he starts again.
“Master Finn! Please report to the General immediately for your mission-start details,” C3PO’s voice calls through the door.
Poe jerks away, face turning slightly red, before visibly shaking himself off and grinning at Finn. “C’mon, let’s get you sent off properly, then.”
The first time he’s mostly aware of his surroundings after—after the cold, and the snow, and the burning in his back—he’s in the medical compound at Resistance headquarters. When he tries to move, his injury makes itself known, so he goes very, very still.
Sliding his eyes to the left, he sees Poe slumped over in the chair by his cot. One of Poe’s hands is holding onto part of Finn’s blanket, though Poe himself is apparently out cold.
Where’s Rey? Finn wants to ask, but he can’t seem to get his mouth to work.
A medical droid beeps at him gently from the other side of his bed, and he catches a glimpse of it pressing a button before everything goes dark once again.
Dr. Vstvel draws up a calendar for Finn’s recovery that looks nauseatingly fast-paced, even though he’s grown bored of his surroundings quickly. Give an ex-trooper a new ceiling to stare at before falling asleep, and suddenly he wants everything to be new and interesting all the time.
“I’m sure you’re probably tired of the same walls and the same people,” Vstvel tells him once—sometimes he suspects them of telepathy—before continuing, “but you’ll be out of here in no time.”
The doctor tends towards optimism about the healing process, along with most other things—when Finn had asked why the medbay had windows despite the security risk, Vstvel had shrugged several tentacles in response. “We find patients do better with sunlight, despite the risk,” they’d said. “But if you’re worried, you should know that the windows all have autocover blast shutters that close when the alarms go off.”
Reassuring enough, he supposes.
Poe comes to see him a lot, and the day after Finn realizes he can make it the entire length of the room without pausing to catch his breath, Poe says, “I’m going on a mostly-recon mission. Won’t be longer than a couple of weeks, but I need to ask you a couple things.”
Finn blinks at him. What knowledge does he have that Poe doesn’t? “Sure, anything,” he says.
“What was the patrol schedule like at the Academy you went to?”
Qualify: unexpected query. Response: possible. “One two-person squad through every hall every hour, no matter what. Perimeter duty was on shifts, so someone would always be watching the exit from the educational compound, and everyone between years 5 and 20 was kept there. It was massive, and I know there are other Academies like it,” Finn says. “Once, when I was fifteen, my squadmates and I bribed a ‘trooper on perimeter duty with our ration bars to let us sneak out and go visit the Chiss trading post down the road, since we’d all seen it on training runs.” He swallows, regretting this line of memory already for the frown it’s sure to put on Poe’s face. “We stored up our ration bars to trade, and the old Chiss running the post asked us why we weren’t with our parents. He had no idea. It’s not like we were wearing our suits. We didn’t even have official suits, yet. The guy just thought we were some kids out late.”
“There were non-First Order people living near the Academy, and they didn’t know what it was?” Poe asks. His voice is low and steady, but his fingers are white-knuckled on the edges of his chair.
“I guess,” Finn says. “Or maybe he just thought we were still allowed to have families. I don’t know.”
“Finn,” Poe says like he’s been wounded.
Finn reaches out and pries Poe’s fingers off the chair, lacing them with his own. “The First Order did all it could to convince people that everything was perfect and wonderful. Not like they were broadcasting to the Galaxy that their army was made up of kidnapped orphans,” he says, then pauses. “And sometimes, it’s easier to tell yourself you don’t know something than it is to face that it’s real.”
“Finn,” Poe says again, ducking his head and squeezing Finn’s hand so very tightly, and it’s enough.
FN-2187 waits to be the last person out of the classroom, since he has no interest in talking to any of his classmates. They keep whispering about how their teacher, T-94, is a traitor for showing them pictures from outside the First Order’s territories. A sympathizer.
She seems nice enough.
“FN-2187,” she says before he can get to the heavy steel door. He pauses. Disrespect of authority is prohibited. “How old are you?”
“About eleven standard years, teacher,” he replies, moving to stand in front of her at parade rest.
“About eleven,” she repeats, “and already standing like a soldier. Do you know what day of the year you were born?”
“No,” he says.
“I didn’t think so. Celebrating birthdays is a frivolous waste of time,” she says. She sounds displeased, somehow.
“Yes?” he offers.
She shakes her head, then hesitates. “Listen, kid. I’m asking you because I can tell you’re gonna be something, and I saw the way you looked at those vids I showed,” she says. “In ten minutes, Hux’s goons will be here for me. In five, my friends are zooming by to snatch me up, and we’re headed back to safe territory. Republic territory. Life is better on the other side. There are no rations, no mandatory ‘trooper training, no assigned namecodes. You can pick your own future. You can come with me. There’s enough room for an about-eleven-year-old on the ship.”
“You are a sympathizer,” FN-2187 whispers.
“That’s right, though we prefer it when people call us the Resistance. And my name is Dhara, not T-94. They took my planet, but they can’t take my name from me,” she says.
“The First Order is the only future possible and the Republic is dangerous, depraved and disorderly,” FN-2187 says slowly. It’s what they’ve always been taught. Every speech he hears on the airwaves features those words.
“Snoke just wants everyone here to think that,” Dhara says. “But the Republic doesn’t force its children into weapons training before they can walk. They don’t stamp people with their insignia and a damn barcode, they don’t mindwipe you if you step a toe out of line or mess with your genes. Has anyone ever asked you what you wanted to do? Think.” She taps him on the forehead with one long brown finger.
There’s heavy knocking at the door. “T-94,” a voice calls. “Open this door immediately. You stand accused of treason against the glorious First Order, and must be held accountable for your actions.”
Dhara mutters several curses under her breath. “They weren’t supposed to be here yet,” she says, then pauses, staring at him. “And if they know I was trying to corrupt you, you’ll get shot, too.”
FN-2187 swallows. He doesn’t want to die. “But you haven’t corrupted me,” he says.
She laughs, but it’s a quiet and unhappy sound. “Like that matters,” she says, and looks him up and down, speculative. “You got a weapon on you, kid?”
“Only a knife,” he says. He hasn’t been given his own blaster yet, since he doesn’t start direct battle simulations until next year, even though he’s been doing weapons training and target practice for as long as he can remember.
“Alright,” she says, voice low. She pulls a ‘trooper pistol from her desk drawer. “You know how to use one of these? It’s an SE-44C.” At his nod, she continues, “Do exactly as I say. Take this, and hold it to my head, and yell ‘I’ve captured the traitor!’ and when they come in, act like you actually did. Say you took the pistol from me. That should get you some points. Unless my friends pull off a miracle, I’m a dead woman, but you don’t have to be. How’s your acting?”
One of the most important abilities you can cultivate is to be calm under pressure, they had been told at their last year-meeting. He grits his teeth.
“T-94,” the voice from outside says. “We are entering this room in fifteen seconds. If you surrender yourself now, your punishment will be merciful.”
“It’ll have to work. You’ll be fine. Do it,” Dhara whispers. When he still hesitates to lift the pistol, she shakes him a little and he puts it to her head. “Do it now!”
“I’ve captured the traitor!” FN-2187 yells.
There’s a silence outside the door. “Who is speaking?”
Dhara nods at him.
“FN-2187, Stormtrooper Academy 5, Group 17,” he calls.
The lock on the door turns red and falls away, and a man in a black helmet walks in, tailed by three stormtroopers who quickly surround Dhara and point their weapons at her, one of them nudging FN-2187 to the side. The man in black looks down at FN-2187 and he feels an unpleasant crawling sensation down his neck. “You’ve done well, FN-2187. This woman is a dangerous traitor,” the man says. “Did she corrupt you?”
FN-2187 shakes his head. “She was lying,” he says. He can hear his own heartbeat. “The First Order is the only path to the future!”
“Good,” the man says. He turns to Dhara and takes off his helmet. “Lucky for you, you’re my first assignment as the leader of the knights of Ren. My name is Kylo Ren, and you will tell me what you know about the Resistance.”
“I know exactly who you are, and you damn well aren’t that,” Dhara says, and spits at his feet. “You forget that you haven’t managed to kill all the Force-sensitives in the galaxy, Ben.”
“Silence,” Kylo Ren says, and motions with one hand. There’s a sickening crack that sounds like it comes from inside Dhara’s body, and she inhales sharply, making a tiny, wounded noise.
“Sir, what should we do with this kid?” one of the stormtroopers asks.
“Get him out of here and tell his group leader to commend him on a job well done,” Ren says. “He’s assisted in the capture of a Tier 2 criminal.”
“You heard him,” the stormtrooper says, herding FN-2187 out the door.
He goes, remembering to hold his shoulders high, as if he’s proud of his success.
When Dhara starts screaming behind them, he hopes nobody notices his shiver.
“So, I never got to ask—whose baby is it?” Poe asks, when they clamber out of the X-wing and find Rey on the ground, waiting for them. Finn reveals the face in the tiny bundle he’s been carrying since he left the Star Destroyer, and Rey’s eyes light up as she immediately reaches out a finger which the baby grabs.
“Friends of mine,” Finn says, unable to keep his voice from wobbling. “They’ll come back for her.”
Poe is silent for a long time. “General Organa loves kids,” he says at last.
“I know,” Finn says.
“So does Chewie,” Rey adds.
The ‘trooper takes off his helmet, and Finn can’t stop his shock from showing on his face. “You’re the Resistance’s stormtrooper insider?”
Nines gives him an incredibly withering glare. “A little louder, please,” Nines says. “I don’t think the whole damn ship heard you.”
As he’s lying in the snow, all he can think is that he’s still not ready to die, but at least there’s nobody who will miss him. Normal people have that, he thinks—on those holos that Dhara let them watch, the people in the Republic had families that loved each other. There were parents and children, and they all wanted to be together because they loved each other. They knew each other’s faces. They had names, true names.
Finn has nobody. He thinks in a more fortunate universe, it might have been different. This isn’t that universe. In that universe, Slip is alive, and Finn hasn’t seen death stalking in his shadow so many times.
His back is burning and he can’t move to get snow on it. There’s the dim swish of lightsabers in the background, but it’s inconsequential. He’s been introduced to five people since leaving the First Order and one of them is dead already, and he doesn’t think Rey is a match for Kylo Ren.
But Rey can’t die. She’s not allowed to. Poe’s not allowed to, either. He warned them, he told them this was a bad idea, that they should run across the whole galaxy in the opposite direction from the First Order, and they didn’t listen, and they’re going to die. They can’t die. Finn needs to tell them—he needs to get up.
The snow is soft, and his skin feels like it’s on fire. He knows he’s slipping, going into shock, but he can’t stay awake. He’s not strong enough.
He’s so tired.
The first time Slip kisses him, they’re eighteen and for once, Zeroes and Nines are the ones out late running punishment laps.
FN-2187 smuggled their nutrient bars back from the distribution line for them and left them on Zeroes’ bunk, and he and Slip are playing cards on the floor when Slip leans over and presses their lips together.
It feels nicer than FN-2187 really expected it to, if he ever expected it, but they can’t. They both know they can’t. “Fraternization—” he starts when Slip draws back a little to breathe.
“I know,” Slip says, moves more fully away. “I know.”
FN-2187 takes Slip’s hand, squeezes it. Qualify: warm, calloused. Safe. “I’m sorry,” he says. “If we get caught, we get reconditioned. You saw what happened to Phasma.”
Slip hangs his head and is silent for a few beats, then looks back up, eyes defiant. “Don’t you want one thing that’s yours?” he demands, voice heated. “We won’t get caught. You keep helping me, and I know I’m not much, but all I have to give you is me.”
FN-2187 feels like he can’t get enough air into his lungs, but he fights past it. “I’m helping you because you deserve to be helped, because you’re good, in here,” he says, poking a finger at Slip’s chest. “You don’t have to give me anything in return.”
Slip looks at him like he’s being particularly dense. “I know I don’t have to give you anything in return. But I want to, just because. Because you’re the best person I’ve ever met, in here,” he says, and takes the finger FN-2187 still has in the air and turns it around to point at FN-2187’s own heart instead.
“Thanks,” Finn says, taking the baby from Poe. She’s small, and so very fragile, and he hopes desperately that her parents are going to make it out of this. “My ankle’s broken, I’m not going to be quick enough. You should take her and leave me behind.”
“Finn,” Poe says, voice kind. “We are all leaving together, and nobody is leaving anybody behind.”
He leans in, and Finn thinks that this really isn’t the time, but they’re kissing and Poe’s lips are warm and slightly chapped and he’s been waiting. He’s been waiting for such a long time.
“You’ve got to set it now, Finn, Order just brought in reinforcements,” Poe is yelling over the comm. “I’ve got your six and Statura’s breathing down my neck out here, come on and get out of there!”
“I’m trying,” Finn yells back, staring at the screen in front of him. The baby sniffles into the crook of his elbow, and he mutters, “Sorry, we’re leaving soon.”
He knows he can remember the code, the memory mods have to be good for something, he just has to dig—
They’re almost seventeen and FZ-1458, Phas, two years older, is telling them that she’s going to be a Captain. They already trust me with the codes, she whispers, excited. They’ll trust me with more after reco, but they promised it’s not like regular reco. It won’t hurt.
What codes? Slip asks.
The Destroyer access codes, Phas says, her smile full of mischief. If you want, I’ll tell them to you, but you gotta promise to keep quiet or they’ll send us all to reco, and it won’t be the nice kind.
“If you don’t remember the codes we can bombard from the outside,” Poe’s voice calls. “But we gotta do it soon!”
“I know them, I know them!” Finn says, frantically typing in the sequence one-handed and praying to the First Order’s endless bureaucracy that it hasn’t been changed in seven years. “Got it!”
The countdown clock starts, and he’s sprinting away towards the evac pods, baby secure in his arms.
When he manages to track her down, Rey is in the bowels of the hangar, drawing up an X-wing blueprint. BB-8 is with her, having adopted her as a second parent for when Poe is absent.
“You building your own?” Finn asks.
“Luke keeps telling me that my path is different because I’m a Jedi,” she says. “And I always wanted to fly, growing up, but now I don’t know. I love it, and I’m not shelving my plans for a ship, but there’s a pull towards—elsewhere, somehow. It’s the Force, I guess.”
“I’m still not really sure what the Force is, to be honest,” Finn says.
Rey snorts. “I’m not, either,” she says. She draws a thick line, out of place, then stops and sighs. “All the training is about expanding outwards. Being more than myself.” She frowns faintly. “I don’t know that I want to be more than myself, but it’s a duty.”
“How do you mean?”
“We expand outwards to understand others, but also to understand ourselves,” she says in an imitation of Luke’s lake-placid voice. “One day, you will be able to perceive the entire galaxy, Rey.”
“Sounds like it’ll be useful.”
“It should be, yeah,” Rey says. “For finding people who don’t want to be found.”
Finn stares at her. “Oh,” he says.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Finn,” General Organa says, turning her gaze to him. He stands up straighter, though his back gives an small, unhappy twinge. He’s got another four days until he’s fully healed, according to Vstvel’s schedule, but it doesn’t seem like quite enough time. “What do you know about the Leonis Ring?”
Finn frowns. “Nothing, ma’am. What is it?”
She glances at Poe, who just looks back at her steadily. “There’s never been a better time,” he says, slinging an arm around Finn’s shoulders.
She narrows her eyes, but makes no comment. “Yes,” she says instead, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Finn, the Leonis Ring is a group of our people living under the First Order’s rule who send intelligence reports directly to Lieutenant Commander Pava, who sends those reports to me. We’re able to get as much intel as we do largely because of their efforts.”
“Okay,” Finn says. What does this have to do with me? he doesn’t ask. Disrespect of authority is—frowned upon.
“We’ve been getting reports of brewing discontent among the stormtroopers. Of course, our agents have been doing all they can to stir the pot.” The ghost of a smile crosses her face. “When the First Order decided to start stealing kids and training them up to be intelligent as well as perfectly obedient, they forgot that you can’t have both, with sentient beings. Teach someone to think independently, even a little bit, and they’ll bite back when they see a good enough chance. Like you did.”
“I don’t remember there being much discontent,” Finn says slowly. “Everyone is terrified all the time, but eventually that fades into the background. Nobody wants to be reconditioned. Or get rations taken away.”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” General Organa says. “You can’t indefinitely rule a people through fear. Even a people that have been raised to it.”
“It’s been working out for them so far,” Finn can’t resist pointing out, despite the flinch that some ingrained part of him still wants to give at the concept of questioning his superiors.
“That’s where you come in,” Poe says, squeezing his shoulders and throwing a fond look at Organa. “The General has a grand plan she’s working up to.”
She nods. “You know more about the First Order than any of us,” she says. “And our people in the Stormtrooper Corps assure us that the time is now. There’s a determined group within the Corps that has been working to stash weapons and when we signal them, they’re going to dispatch the command team. Without Hux and Phasma, the troops are leaderless and will follow whoever rises to the occasion—in this case, whoever takes control of the secondary command center.” She has the blueprint zoom in and taps the center of the ship. Location: emergency bridge. Designation: FN-2187, you have not been granted access to these areas. Finn shakes off the voice as the General continues. “If we can make sure the people who rise are ours, we can turn the tide. We won’t need to directly defeat Snoke or,” she barely hesitates, before setting her jaw and continuing, “Kylo Ren. Without people at their command they have no means of controlling their territory, and people will rise up. No territory, no troops, no power.”
“The troops are psychologically conditioned for loyalty to the First Order,” Finn says, crossing his arms at Organa’s unimpressed look. “I was just defective. What makes you think the rest of them will just follow whoever sounds powerful enough even when it goes against their training?”
“The First Order still hasn’t fully recovered from the destruction of Starkiller and the troops are all on half-rations and high alert. Since you left, reconditionings and more public punishments have increased in frequency. Even the average ‘trooper has probably noticed,” the General says. “We have to act as soon as possible.”
“And,” Poe adds, grinning, “we’ve been helping that along. Calrissian got ahold of the location of the Stormtrooper Academy’s primary base in the Unknown Regions, one of Bogo Rai’s moons. Six academies on the ground, thousands of kid ‘troopers each. So when I’ve been away in the past few weeks, I’ve been running airdrops there. You said you’d never eaten food that actually tasted good before coming here, and you were eating one of our ration bars,” he says, his grin becoming softer. Finn’s heart gives a lurch and Poe hands him a small plastic button. “So we airdropped these and loads and loads of mealpacks, right outside the school compounds. Upwards of 50,000 now, and none of my pilots have been shot down yet.”
Greetings from the Resistance, the button says in Basic when he presses it. It speaks in General Organa’s voice, which is just a touch unnerving, as she’s standing next to him. As a gesture of goodwill, we will be dropping food in this location at 22:45 on the fifth day after today, so please do not shoot down our pilots. Have a nice day!
“Hux must be kicking himself that these came through,” Finn says. “Wouldn’t that put them on high alert? Paints a big damn target on your backs.” He looks away. Attachment is a weakness.
“We do it a few hours before, and we never drop anything big enough to injure,” Poe says. “And my pilots are better than the Order’s.”
“And Hux is kicking himself,” Organa says, dry as dust. “Months ago, while you were still asleep and healing, we ran some bombings on the First Order’s food supply stores, so they’ve been leaning more heavily on their territories to provide the troops with food. The airwaves we’ve picked up say that anyone caught with our mealpacks is a traitor to the glory of the First Order, but the first time we did it, we didn’t warn them beforehand. So everyone knows it’s fine food, and the older ‘troopers assigned to keep people from it have been ignoring their stun-on-sight orders because they don’t want to do widespread riot control on the younger ‘troopers picking it up. For that matter, most of them have already had it themselves. Which means that now, the First Order has to deal with their own people questioning why they can’t provide real food if they’re the best thing in the galaxy and we’re the worst.” She shrugs, but her smile is vicious. “Rebellion is contagious.”
What a commander, Finn thinks, admiring. Phasma was brilliant at tactics, but Organa could probably outmatch her with one eye closed and no map to fly by. “What do you want me to do?” Finn asks.
“You’ve got a direct line to us and you know how to fake your way as a ‘trooper. You would need to pose as someone reporting on the Leonis Ring to Hux and then make sure that he and Phasma are in the same place at the same time,” she says, and pulls a tiny transmitter out of her pocket. “Then you press this, and our people on the inside storm the gates and take out Phasma and Hux, and our people on the outside—your friend Commander Dameron here, for one—keep the Order loyalists distracted. Extraction might get messy.” He knows that’s code for ‘you might die,’ but that’s a risk on any mission. Sacrifice is necessary. “Especially since it’ll be on the main Star Destroyer they’ve got right now, and not dirtside. The Ring has told me that there’s discontent there as well, but humanitarian coups like the mealpack airdrops aren’t easy when the people in need are on a ship. I can’t promise that you won’t have to kill anyone, but this is vital. This could be the fight that ends the fighting.”
“Hux isn’t easy to access, and he’s not an idiot, so he must know you’re planning something. Also, Phasma knows the designations of all the ‘troopers,” Finn says. Quantify potential risk level: orange-red. Dangerous. “She’ll recognize me.”
“You’ll have help,” Organa says. “One of ours has agreed to trade you his armor for an armor we’ve recovered, and we’ve got a voice mod pill you’ll have to take when the time comes. Unfortunately, our people on the inside are already running a huge risk and might be caught and reconditioned at any time if they slip up, particularly now, but you would have an advantage as someone coming in from the outside who already knows how to get back out.” She pauses, and meets his eyes. “Additionally, you’ve proven yourself, and I trust you. You have forty-eight hours to make your decision, and nobody will think any less of you if you refuse. I understand that I am asking you to enter a situation which may make you relive traumatic past experiences, and believe me, I wish I could spare you this, but I have to ask because you are categorically the best person for this mission.” She sighs, rubs a hand across her face, then visibly steels herself and continues. “This is, obviously, confidential and extremely time-sensitive. Thank you.”
Promise me, Eight-Seven, Slip says in his head. You can pick your own future, Dhara’s voice chimes in. He already knows what his answer will be.
The General leaves and Poe relaxes slightly next to him.
“Feel like one of us, yet?” he asks, turning his biggest smile on Finn. Finn struggles not to let his knees go weak.
“You better not die on me, Slip,” FN-2187 whispers into the darkness. “It’s not allowed, you hear me? You can’t die.”
Slip, who’s been feigning sleep in the too-small bunk they’re sharing, gives no verbal sign that he’s heard, but his fingers tighten in FN-2187’s. That will have to be enough.
“You got shot,” Finn says as Nines, never the neatest ‘trooper in the squad, is taking off his armor piece by piece and heaping it in a pile. Finn blinks and starts to take off his own pilfered armor.
“Thank you, Eight-Seven, I’d forgotten,” Nines says. “I did get shot, and the hours in the bacta-tank afterwards were awful, but also that meant I didn’t have to shoot anyone else. Plus, bonus, I didn’t die and I got to make myself look like your betrayed squadmate who would fight even harder against you.”
Finn snorts. “Of course,” he says. “What about Zeroes? She in on this?”
Nines pauses in the middle of taking off a glove. He’s got that face on—like he doesn’t know whether to lie or not. “She’s currently indisposed,” he says.
Some of Finn’s concern must show, because Nines shakes his head. “Not reconditioning,” he clarifies. “She’s, ah—she’s giving birth.”
“A few weeks after you defected, she started to show,” Nines shifts, uncomfortable. “And since, you know, ‘fraternization is prohibited,’ she ran. I helped set her up planetside on Bogo Rai IX with another member of the Ring. Swore up and down she’d be here in time for the fighting, but I got word this morning that—well. She won’t be here in time for the fighting.”
Finn squints at him. Analyze and qualify: incomplete information. “You helped her, even though it wasn’t the best timing. Even though it gave you away, and it must have been really risky to get her off-base. Oh, no,” he says, realization dawning. “It’s your kid.”
Nines spreads his hands. “You were always better than me at risk calculations,” he says.
Finn mumbles several curses. He’s seen Zeroes with her clothes off, they’d all taken showers together at some point; she’d had two small scars on the front of her abdomen. All the pregnancy-capable ‘troopers were sterilized. To discourage unwise attachment, Phasma had told Slip once. Before. “I thought she—”
“Obviously, it stopped working,” Nines snaps.
They shuck the rest of their armor in silence, then switch piles and start methodically putting armor pieces back on in the silence, racing to be finished. Old habits.
Nines finishes first, but by a narrow margin. Finn is still reeling from the new information, and Nines hasn’t put the helmet on yet, is just holding it as he frowns.
“What is it?” Finn asks. He knows that look, too.
Now Nines grimaces. “I’m sorry about Slip,” he says. “I know you two were close.”
Finn feels it like a kick, so he pushes the impact away. “Thanks,” he says. “He knew. Kept saying he was gonna die first.”
“No, I’m not finished, sorry,” Nines says. “You need to know. I wanted to bring him into the Ring, but he was—too obvious. Too many tells, too overtly emotional.” He huffs a quiet laugh. “His face whenever he was around you—‘fraternization is prohibited.’ Come on. It was written all over him how much he hated this life, and he would have been caught and killed real damn fast, and you and I both know it. Still, I’m sorry, Eight-Seven.”
Finn has to look away, fighting the dull ache in his throat. They don’t have time for this. Hux must have just received word that he has a meeting in Briefing Room 26, and Finn has to be there and he doesn’t have time for this. He forces himself to meet Nines’ eyes. “Thanks,” he says. “And I go by Finn, now, not Eight-Seven.”
Nines nods and hands him a pill. “All right. Take the voice mod now, it’ll last you half an hour,” he says.
Finn swallows it. “How quickly does it go into effect?” he asks, coughing a little. It burns—reminds him of the Corellian brandy Poe had let him try once, after declaring it a travesty that Finn had never had the ‘best moonshine in the galaxy’ before.
“Two minutes,” Nines says. “It’ll take you that long to get to BR26. You’ve got less than five minutes after that before we bust in. Ready?”
Why do people keep asking that and expecting that he’ll respond positively? “As I’ll ever be,” he says. His voice has gone a notch lower already.
“Good,” Nines says. “Time to go. See you on the flipside, Finn—and good luck.”
“You guys keep treating me like I’m somebody special,” Finn says. “But I’m not. Lots of other people are good shots or good runners or good tacticians. I’m not the first or the last trooper to defect, you know.”
“Finn, you’re being ridiculous,” Rey says in that too-patient, I’m-training-with-a-Jedi-master voice. “Who cares if you’re first or last, or if you can shoot? Any idiot can shoot. You’re you. You’re the one who’s going to change the whole stupid system. You broke their rules but you’re still coming back to fight because you feel, in here,” she taps at his chest, “that you have to, and that’s going to crack their control right down the middle. Of course you’re special.”
The General is waiting for them when they finally report to the war room after two long hours sitting in medbay watching Nines and Zeroes play happy families with their kid. Organa looks tense, but maybe a little less so than usual.
“Overall, mission success,” she says. “Despite the bumpy ride. We tracked the vast majority of the evac pods to Bogo Rai IX, and all our eyes and ears there are giving us reports of mass desertion of the Academies. You’ve started a revolution, boys.”
She turns to Finn. “Finn,” she says, then stops for a few moments, raising an eyebrow at his slightly-singed appearance. “Thank you for your service. Next mission, less almost-dying, please. And tell Vstvel to get you some damn painkillers, you look like you stepped into a star core.”
Finn salutes. Can’t argue with that.
Organa turns to Poe, face going stormy. “Dameron, your half-baked rescue plan was selfish, foolhardy, and could’ve gotten both of you killed. And then I would have lost two key people, and not just one,” she tells him. “You disobeyed a direct order from Admiral Statura and the only reason we aren’t grounding you permanently is you’re too damn good a pilot and any semblance of military order we were trying to maintain for the sake of politics was shot to pieces when they blew up the whole damn Hosnian system. Six weeks, no flying. Not even sims. You can run training for the firsties. Starting now.”
Poe dips his head, chagrined. “Yes, ma’am,” he says.
She sighs, and relents. “Next time, if you’re going to go against orders, at least let me know so I can help you not be stupid about it. I’ve got significantly more experience with that sort of thing than you do,” she says. She pauses for just a moment, then continues. “And if either of you had died, I would have had to personally do some revenge killing, because I’m not losing any more of my kids. It all would have been very time-consuming.”
Finn blinks. Beside him, Poe looks overcome. “General,” Poe starts.
“Shut up,” Organa says, and pulls him into a fierce hug. “You moron.”
Finn shuffles awkwardly back, freezing when Organa glares at him. She lets go of Poe, and marches up to Finn and hugs him as well. His bruised ribs protest, but he has a hard time caring.
Didn’t we have parents, somewhere, too? Slip’s voice asks.
“You too, rookie,” Organa says, then steps back. “We all do stupid shit for the people we care about. The key is to not get dead doing it.”
Finn nods on autopilot. “Yes, ma’am,” he says.
She rolls her eyes. “Get out of here, and keep each other out of trouble,” she says, waving a hand in dismissal and turning back to her maps.
When they reach the secondary bridge, Finn stuns the two guards easily, Nines occupied with covering his baby’s ears. “You figure out where Ren is,” Finn says. “I’ll figure out the access codes.”
“If we’re really blowing the place with warning, I need to get to the PA,” Nines says. “And the nearest one is on Deck 4.”
“So we’ll work fast,” Finn says.
“All right,” Nines says. “Then you need to take the kid. You’ll be closer to a way out than I will be.”
Finn nods, and taps his comm. “Admiral, this is Finn. I’ve got a new plan, over.”
“Copy. Go ahead, Finn,” Statura says.
“I think we can trap Ren,” Finn says. “We’re going to initiate the ship’s self-destruct and evacuate as many troopers as we can.”
“Do you have enough time to get clear?” Statura asks.
Finn runs the numbers in his head—the destruct sequence gives him five whole minutes from activation, but the ship is huge and he’ll have to sprint. Sacrifice is necessary. “Probably,” he says.
“Do it,” Statura says.
“Yes, sir,” Finn says, clicking off.
Nines beckons him over to the monitors. “Found him,” he says. “He’s in a waiting room—I haven’t locked the room itself but I closed the next three emergency doors. He’ll get through them when he realizes, but it’ll take a while.”
“Good,” Finn says. “I’ll start the sequence.”
Nines squints at him. “Do you remember it?” he asks.
“I will,” Finn says.
“All right,” Nines says, and hands him the baby. “Keep her safe.”
“I will,” Finn repeats.
Jess Pava’s birthday rolls around when Rey has been back for four weeks. Finn’s alcohol tolerance, never high, is sorely tested, but the buzz makes the pain in his back fade. Vstvel has been doling out painkillers with the precision of Phasma on ration distribution duty, so Finn welcomes the drinks that somehow keep getting sent his way.
Poe, who somehow seems less drunk than Finn despite having gone shot-for-shot with Lando Calrissian, shepherds him back to his room at the end of the night.
“Birthdays, huh,” Finn says, bleary. He’s too tired to form sentences. “They always supposed to be like that?”
“Not always,” Poe says, a line of low heat at Finn’s side. “But pretty often, yeah. You ever do birthdays?”
Celebrating birthdays is a frivolous waste of time, Dhara’s voice mocks.
“Nah,” Finn says. “Once every standard year, there was a Celebration Day that they told us was—it was supposed to be, sort of, everyone’s birthday at the same time. But it was only different from every other day because they thanked us and told us we’d succeeded in another year of upholding the glory of the First Order.” He wrinkles his nose.
“Not much of a celebration,” Poe says.
“No,” Finn agrees. “But last year we, Slip and me, we decided to celebrate the night before Celebration Day, yeah? Real rebels. He confiscated a bottle of tihaar from someone and we got really, really drunk. No tolerance. Our squadmates, Nines and Zeroes, they made us switch with them for cleaning duty because we hadn’t shared. Slip laughed his ass off at their faces.”
No love, Zeroes had lamented. Not for you, Slip had replied, tongue loose from the alcohol and arm heavy around Finn’s shoulders.
None of them had mentioned it the next morning. When he’d been FN-2187, Finn had been relieved, but now, he wonders what they’d thought.
He can hear the sounds of Jess’ party echoing through the halls of the base. Slightly above-average hearing: thanks, genetic modifications.
Vstvel tells him that cracking jokes about the First Order tampering with his DNA isn’t the worst coping mechanism, as far as coping mechanisms go. The concept of a coping mechanism isn’t exactly something Finn had been familiar with before his desertion, so he’s willing to believe the good doctor.
“Slip was one of the troopers I shot, wasn’t he?” Poe asks.
Finn sighs. “Yeah,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” Poe says.
Finn looks at him. He’s either too drunk or not drunk enough for this, but for Poe, he can try anyway. “We were on opposite sides,” he says. “And if it wasn’t you on that mission, it would have been someone else on the next.” He looks away. Poe’s eyes are wide and too full of sympathy. “Slip wasn’t a happy guy doing what the Order told him. I tried to protect him, but people noticed. He was due for reconditioning after that mission.”
Make sure Slip doesn’t try and eat his own blaster to get out of reco, Nines had said without preamble when they’d been suiting up. You’re probably the only one of us that could stop him.
“I’m still sorry,” Poe says.
“I know,” Finn says. He feels unbearably heavy and he leans into Poe, and Poe lets him.
Zeroes is watching over a securely-tied Hux and Phasma when General Organa’s voice breaks over the open comm line and overtakes Statura’s low cursing in Finn’s ears. “Sorry, Admiral, this is urgent. Rey and Luke have located Kylo Ren. He is on the Star Destroyer,” she says. “Do what you have to do.”
“Copy that,” Finn hears himself saying. “I know, one of the other Ring members told me.”
“Do what you have to,” she repeats, then clicks off.
Nines looks at him expectantly. “What now, bigshot?” he asks.
“New parameters. We have to take out Ren if we can,” Finn says. “But I don’t know how to do that with minimum casualties.”
Nines looks thoughtful. “The secondary bridge has all the commands of the primary. We can blow the ship and announce evac for the troopers, let them know we won’t shoot their pods if they’re not hostile.”
“Ren will notice if everyone’s running past him towards the podbay,” Zeroes says. “He’s self-absorbed but not completely oblivious.”
“We can make sure he’s stuck somewhere and then blow the ship and announce evac,” Finn says. “Since he’ll try to stop us, anyway, if he realizes we’ve left Hux and Phasma for sitting ducks.”
“Sounds risky,” Nines says.
“I’m in,” Zeroes says, cheerful.
“We’re gonna do one more drop before the Destroyer mission,” Poe says. “I wanted to ask if you could record the button-message, this time. It’ll be the widest drop we’ve done.”
Finn stares at him. “Is there a script?” he ventures.
Poe looks amused. “I was kind of hoping you could make one up,” he says.
“Okay,” Finn agrees, not really sure what he’s agreed to.
Four days later, thousands of children and young people on Bogo Rai IX sneak out of their compounds to pick up mealpacks and buttons that talk in Finn’s voice. Each button’s speech begins with “My name is Finn, but I used to go by the designation FN-2187, and I was just like you,” and ends with “The First Order is wrong. You do have a place in the galaxy, and you can choose it for yourself.”
Eventually, General Organa hears reports about it. She tells Finn that at first, the older ‘troopers tried to confiscate the buttons, but the children hid them away. They played them at night after lights-out, when things were quiet, or at mealtimes, when everything was loud enough to cover the sound.
At one Academy, an instructor tried to take one from a student in class, and the student refused. “Don’t make me send you to reco,” the instructor said.
“You’d have to send all of us,” said another student. Others nodded or glared their agreement. The instructor gave up.
He has one minute to get out and he isn’t going to make it—there are too many wayward ‘troopers, too much confusion. Nines’ voice over the speakers is level, and Finn hopes he set it to repeat and left. He hopes Zeroes left, too.
The baby is somehow quiet in his arms.
“Poe,” he says into his comm. His voice has almost completely faded back to being his own. “I’m almost at the podbay but I won’t get there in time. I can hear the first explosions starting on this end of the ship.”
Poe doesn’t answer, but Finn sees something that is distinctly not First Order-manufactured flying in through the open hangar doors, and he’s about to start yelling into the comm at Poe to get out of there before something behind him explodes and he throws himself down, curling protectively over the baby, and everything goes dark.
Rey and Poe sit with Finn and the baby in the medbay for what feels like hours but can’t be more than forty minutes. Rey keeps letting her finger get caught in tiny hands. The medical droids only do a cursory sweep of all of them, and leave them on a bed without hassle after a human nurse binds Finn’s ankle with a promise to return later.
At some point, Poe leaves and comes back with some sort of drink that he says Jess says Snap says is good for human babies. This theory is supported by the fact that it comes in a bottle with a sucker-top, though Finn also thinks he wouldn’t notice if it didn’t, because he trusts Poe to an extent that should probably be alarming but somehow isn’t. He leans into the warmth of Poe’s shoulder when he sits down next to him, contemplating his own lack of worry. Poe’s fingers find his.
Eventually, the canvas over the doorway is pushed aside and two forms in ‘trooper blacks stagger in, one listing heavily into the other.
“Finn,” Nines says, lifting a hand in greeting.
“Don’t strain yourself,” Zeroes says, and dumps Nines on an empty cot, straightening and turning to Finn. He can see the tension in the line of her shoulders. “My kid.”
Finn holds out the baby and Zeroes takes her with trembling hands. She smiles and the baby laughs at her. “Thank you,” Zeroes says, leaning over to press a kiss to Finn’s forehead. “Maybe I should name her after you despite my alternate plans.”
Nines sits and his eyebrows go up. “You didn’t name our kid?” he asks. “She’s already existed for hours. Isn’t it key for normal families to name their kids?”
“I didn’t exactly have time to name the damn baby, since I hijacked a ship and flew out to save your sorry hides as soon as they cut the cord in that ass-end-of-the-planet rebel hospital you sent me to!” Zeroes’ voice rises by the end. “They were playing the news on the feeds in my birthing room and said Ren was out and about, maintaining the Destroyer fleet for the ‘glory of the Order.’ Not like I could get that info to you any other way.”
“We can pretend you waited to name her until we were safely reunited,” Nines says, grinning. It’s the first honest smile Finn’s seen on his face in—years. Even through the blood and sweat.
“I told you, I already picked out a name,” Zeroes says. “And if you try to contradict me I swear I’ll shoot you dead myself. I’m hormonal and we all almost died today.”
“Glad we didn’t,” Poe says, reaching out his free hand. Zeroes shakes it. “Poe Dameron.”
“I used to go by Zeroes, but that feels wrong, now,” she says, smiling crookedly and shaking Rey’s hand as well.
“You could choose another name,” Rey tells her. “I’m Rey.”
Zeroes glances at Nines, who just stares back before shrugging. Finn hopes he never looks so obviously besotted. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“What are you going to name her?” Rey asks.
Zeroes meets Finn’s eyes. “Dhara,” she says.
Finn thinks he might be squeezing Poe’s fingers too hard, but Poe doesn’t make a single sound of complaint.
“Attention, all,” Nines’ voice says, echoing through most of the halls. “This ship is going to self-destruct in approximately four minutes, so proceed to evac pods now. This is the Resistance. We are ex-stormtroopers, and pilots, and medics, and civilians, and we are staging a rebellion against the oppressive control of the First Order, beginning on the Academy planet Bogo Rai IX. Repeat: if you wish to participate in fighting for your freedom, please launch your pods towards Bogo Rai IX.”
“If you do not wish to fight for your freedom but you still want to survive today, launch your pod out of the ship and wait for First Order pick-up. We will destroy any active hostiles. Repeat: active hostiles will be destroyed. If you do not shoot at us, we will not shoot at you. Please proceed calmly to the podbay.”
“Didn’t we have parents somewhere, too?” Slip asks, fingers tracing ambiguous patterns into FN-2187’s stomach. “Before they took us and messed with our brains and our genes to make us into soldiers. Didn’t we have families? Normal people do.”
Nines and Zeroes are on a station patrol, but FN-2187 almost wishes they were here so he could avoid this line of conversation.
“I guess,” FN-2187 says. “Somewhere, I guess. Maybe our families didn’t want us.”
“I don’t think so,” Slip says, then grins at him, all teeth in the dim light. “Who could ever look at you and not want to keep you?”
FN-2187 snorts. “Maybe I was an ugly baby,” he says.
“Nah, I doubt it,” Slip says, then frowns again, mercurial. “We were all just stolen.”
FN-2187 nudges him. “Maybe that means we’ll find our way back, someday.”
He’s the first into the briefing room, but Hux and Phasma follow not long after. He salutes.
“At ease,” Phasma says. “FN-2199. Your record is exemplary, despite spending a long time in close contact with some unsavory elements.” That’s me, Finn thinks with grim determination as he presses the transmitter at his hip. An unsavory element. “You said you had crucial information for us.”
“And it better be crucial,” Hux says. “We’re short on time, there’s an important passenger arrival scheduled shortly.”
“Yes, sir,” Finn says, stifling the initial strangeness of Nines’ voice coming out of his own mouth. He has to concentrate—he’s basically flying solo for the next few minutes. “I’ve noticed some unusual activity with FN-2104.” Someone in the squad that had bunked two rooms down from his. Finn hopes 2104 hasn’t died in the past few months.
“Get on with it,” Hux says. “What unusual activity?”
“He’s been sneaking out rations, sir,” Finn lies. “And hiding them.”
To his great relief, this is the moment when the door opens and a ‘trooper walks in, saluting. “Excuse me,” she says. “I have news—”
“We are having a private meeting, Cadet,” Phasma says evenly. “Please return in five minutes.”
The ‘trooper, in a split second, pulls out two blasters and stuns both Phasma and Hux. She pulls off her helmet.
“Hey, Zeroes,” Finn says, tugging off his own. “Thought you weren’t gonna make it.”
“I did get slightly held up,” she says. “But I knew I had to come help you morons. Nines!”
Another trooper walks in, cradling a bundle in one arm and carrying thick cords in the other.
“Finn, look at my kid,” Nines says, voice full of amazement as he reveals a small brown face in the blanket.
Zeroes takes the rope from him, begins to loop it around Phasma. “‘My’ kid, he says,” she gripes. “I’m the one who gave birth to her.”
“She’s so small,” Finn can only say, looking at her in awe, before horror dawns. “Why did you bring a newborn into an active battlefield?”
“Couldn’t go back, now could I?” Zeroes asks. “And I wasn’t gonna leave her behind. My plan was to get you two and get out. And to tell you that Kylo Ren is coming here.”
“What?” Finn says.
Zeroes gives him a grim look. “You heard me,” she says. “It was all over the feeds in the medcenter.”
Finn breathes out, slow. The General must not know about this, yet. “Okay,” he says. “All right. First, we handle them. Then, we’ll figure it out.”
“She was right, you know,” Finn says, later, in Poe’s bunk. Somehow, he’s always ending up sharing tiny bunks with people larger than him and finding himself completely comfortable.
“Who, about what?” Poe asks, mumbling into Finn’s neck from where he’s curled into Finn’s side.
“The General,” Finn says. “Leaving me and getting out of there would have been the more expedient choice. You could have died.”
Poe looks up at him. “But I didn’t,” Poe says.
“But you could have,” Finn says. “I can’t—you can’t die, Poe. You can’t.”
He smiles that sun-smile—the one that makes it difficult for Finn to concentrate. “All right, I won’t,” he says. “But Finn? You can’t, either.”
A beat, and Finn makes his peace. “Okay,” he says. “Staying alive, then. Together.”
Poe tangles their fingers, smile going softer and warmer. “Together,” he agrees.
Finn can live with that.
He grits his teeth and pushes open the door. “General,” he says, saluting.
Organa looks up from where she’s frowning at a datapad. “At ease, don’t strain your back two days after getting cleared to move out of medbay,” she says. “What is it?”
“Dr. Vstvel says I’ll be fully healed in three weeks, and I want to offer my assistance in any way possible,” he says. “I don’t know how to fly an X-wing, but I’m a good shot and I probably know more than most people here about the way that the Order works. I can help with tactics.”
There’s a pause as she carefully lays the datapad down on the table. His stomach sinks and he tries not to fidget—does he still have to prove himself because he tried to leave on Takodana? “Finn,” General Organa says finally, gentle around the sound of his name. “You don’t have to be useful to the movement to have a right to exist.”
That’s—a lot. He ducks his head so he can gather himself. There’s a pressure in his chest that he’s having a hard time shoving away, so they breathe into the silence for a few minutes. “I know I don’t have to be,” he says, even though he thinks he probably didn’t really, truly know that until she told him. “But I want to be.”
She cocks her head at him. “All right,” she says, giving him a tiny smile. “Then let’s get to work.”
“Finn,” Poe says, voice impossibly kind. “We are all leaving together, and nobody is leaving anybody behind.”
He leans in and presses their mouths together and Finn wonders how people live, feeling this much all the time. It can’t be possible. But—but. He takes a breath. Poe leans back and his smile is dazzling. They’re all leaving together, and nobody is getting left behind.