Poe wakes up to the feeling of sand clawing down his throat and thinks, oh good, we landed on Jakku after all.
He rolls over onto his stomach to spit a few times, taking in deep breaths of the scorching desert air once his mouth is no longer a total kriffing gravel pit. Over the sounds of his own panting, he hears a weird noise he cannot place no matter how hard he tries. There's a loud hard clacking, and then the swish of fabric, and then a soft thump before the clacking starts up again.
Poe looks around wildly, trying to find the source of the sounds and hoping it's not an undiscovered species of giant man-eating Jakkuvian wildlife. His vision swims a bit, still dizzy from the crash, but when everything stops blurring so much he manages to focus on where it's coming from.
It's Finn, shedding his Stormtrooper armour in a kind of manic way, frantically ripping the pieces off and dropping them onto the sand.
Poe pushes himself onto his feet with some effort and a lot of groaning, and limps over to Finn. Hearing his approach, Finn whips around in alarm, eyes too wide and chest heaving, hyperventilating.
"Whoa, hey, it's okay, it's just me," Poe says, holding his hands out to show he means no harm.
Finn swallows and nods but his breathing doesn't slow down any. His armour is completely off, scattered around him like garbage, and he looks smaller and softer in his underclothes.
"Listen," Poe says, daring to take a few steps closer, and then a few more steps closer when Finn doesn't back away, "we need to find my droid, okay? I can help you get further away after that, but first we have to find my droid and get that map, because if we don't—"
Poe's explanation about why he's stranded them onto the planet Finn explicitly did not want to go back to is cut off by the loud shriek of rending metal and the low groans of shifting sand.
Shit. The sand.
"We need to get out of here," Poe says.
"That's what I've been saying," Finn grouses, but he's scrambling away from the crash site while he says it and Poe follows after him, a hand on his back to push him forward faster.
They've landed on unstable ground and it's giving way fast. It opens up and swallows the wreck of the TIE-fighter, and Poe can feel it start to crumble beneath his feet. Finn yelps and grabs his hand, pulling him away. They manage to run up an embankment onto sand that feels more solid, and look back in disbelief at how the place they were standing mere seconds ago is now just empty.
"Fuck, that was a close call," Poe says, adrenaline coursing through his veins.
Finn has not let go of his hand yet.
Poe doesn't comment on it and leaves their fingers clasped as he looks around from their new vantage point. There's desert on all sides as far as the eye can see, but there are tracks in the distance and he figures that all trails lead to trading posts on a desert planet. He knows that BB-8 is smart enough to head for the nearest settlement to wait for him, so their best bet would be to follow a trail until they hit a town.
"Alright buddy, here's the plan," Poe says, turning to Finn, who startles like he's forgotten Poe was there and drops his hand in a hurry. "We're going to head southeast until we hit those tracks over there," he says, gamely ignoring Finn's awkward behaviour. The guy literally just escaped a lifelong murder cult fifteen minutes ago, Poe's not going to fault him for being a bit jumpy, "and then we'll follow it to the closest town. We'll find my droid, find a working aircraft, and get you far far away from the Finalizer, okay? Sound good?"
Finn chews his lip worriedly. "Do I have a choice?"
Poe looks around one more time just in case there's anything he's missed. "I mean, I don't want to force you to do anything, but it does look pretty bleak out here. We'll probably have the best chance of surviving if we stick together. But if you really want to split up, I won't stop you. You don't have to do anything you don't want to anymore, okay? You got out."
Finn's frown deepens, and his hand inches forward, as if on impulse, to clutch at Poe's hand again. Poe keeps his mouth shut about it.
"Fine, let's go," Finn decides.
Poe leads the way. The terrain makes it hard going, the sand giving way beneath their boots making every step extra effort. Finn toughs it out and doesn't complain, although he does establish a funny little pattern of grabbing Poe's hand whenever he's worried and then letting go of it as soon as he realizes what he's done. Poe tries and fails to not find it completely charming.
They walk for a while in silence under the scorching sun. Not talking conserves both energy and water, but Poe would still have been more comfortable with a bit of chitchat. He wants to ask Finn so many questions about what being a Stormtrooper was like, why he decided to defect, what he wants to do next, and he also wants to tell him all about the Resistance, although that probably is a desire he should tamp down on for the sake of, you know, security. It's almost a relief when Finn finally speaks up.
"Hey, so, about that droid?"
"Yeah? It's called BB-8, not another one like it in the whole galaxy. Best astromech and friend a guy could ever ask for."
"Yeah okay that's nice but...um, so it has a map...you said it has a map to Luke Skywalker? Like, the terrorist Luke Skywalker?"
Poe stops. "No, like the Jedi hero Luke Skywalker. The key to defeating the First Order Luke Skywalker," he says slowly.
"But why is there a map to him? Why do we want to find him? Are we getting the map so we can destroy it so no one will ever find him?"
"No...we want to find him because no one else has as much knowledge of the Force, and the only way we can fight people like Kylo Ren is with his help."
Finn's hand creeps toward Poe's again, but when Poe reaches forward to take it Finn snatches it back like Poe's going to bite him. "But he's dangerous," Finn says, looking deeply concerned. "They showed us holovids. He has fangs."
Poe presses his lips into a very, very tight line to prevent himself from laughing. Lifelong murder cult propaganda. Not funny. "Finn," he says, very gently, "if the First Order wanted you to be scared of Luke Skywalker, they must have had a reason, right? Why do you think they wanted you to think he has fangs?"
"Does he not?"
"I know for a fact he doesn't. My commanding general is his twin sister, and she doesn't have fangs. Come on, why do you think they want you to be scared of him?"
"Because they..." Finn's thought process is practically written across his face as he puzzles out the logic behind it. "They wanted us to think of him as the enemy. And to run away from him, and not listen to anyone from his side. But if he's the enemy of the First Order, and I don't want to be part of the First Order anymore, then he isn't my enemy."
"That's right." It stirs something within Poe's chest, a sense of something like bittersweet pride. Finn is clearly smart and capable, clever enough to think his way through the brainwashing he's been put through his whole life. What would have happened to him if Poe didn't just happen to get captured that day? He shakes it off—best to press forward and not think about might-have-beens. "Come on, let's keep moving and find that map. You can see for yourself how not scary Luke Skywalker is when we stop the First Order and save the universe, okay?"
Finn nods, but he's still frowning to himself, lost in thought. There must be so much going through his mind now. Poe lets him sort out all these new ideas on his own, staying quiet and trying not to offer his hand unless Finn really, really looks like he might need it. He only interrupts the quietness they've settled into when he feels it's time for them to take a break. They've been walking since they crashed, and it's important to take time to recharge so they don't wear their out completely and render them useless.
He finds a large, flat rock jutting out of the sand that looks like a reasonable stable base, and lays a hand on Finn's shoulder to get his attention. "Let's take a rest here for a few minutes, okay?"
The rock, which has been baking out in the sun for who even knows how many years, is hot to the touch, but Poe's clothing protects him enough to allow him to sit down. Finn crouches like some rare off-world bird, folding his limbs and gingerly keeping himself off of the stone.
Poe fishes out one of the ration bars he keeps in a pouch on his belt for emergencies. He unwraps it and breaks it in half, holds one half out to Finn, who's looking at him with a combination of confusion and horror.
"It's food," Poe elaborates. "We have to keep our energy up, I don't know how long we'll have to walk before we reach town."
"Makes sense," Finn nods solemnly. He does not move to take his half of the ration bar.
"What? Is it different from the stuff they fed you in the First Order? It's not that bad, I swear, it's just nuts and dried fruit and whatever. It tastes okay."
Finn, who looks borderline pained, says, "Okay, but you didn't wash your hands."
Poe blinks. "Wow, they really kept your life strictly regimented, huh? I almost never wash my hands before I eat, and look at me! Healthy as a nerf."
Finn does not seem to be any less disgusted despite Poe's strong endorsement of eating with dirty hands. "Observing good hygiene is essential to preventing the outbreak of contagions amongst personnel in close quarters," he recites stiffly.
"Come ooooon, you must be hungry," Poe says, wiggling the piece of ration bar in front of his face. "Doesn't this look great? Mm-mmm." He eats his own half in three bites, licking his lips exaggeratedly and then patting his belly in a hyperbole of satisfaction. He winks at Finn.
Finn can't help but laugh, which Poe delights in way more than he should. But Finn still doesn't take the bar, and Poe's arm is starting to get tired from holding it out. "Finn, just eat it," he says.
Finn immediately jumps to attention and takes the ration bar from Poe gingerly, with the very tips of his fingers like he's afraid of touching it too much. He takes a tiny bite with just his front teeth, and then his eyes widen in surprise. "It tastes normal," he says.
"I told you! It's just ground up nuts!"
Finn eats the rest quickly and efficiently, leaving a neat border around where his fingers are holding the bar and throwing that last piece away into the sand.
Poe raises an eyebrow.
"I didn't wash my hands," Finn points out.
Poe shakes his head fondly and tries his best to keep his thoughts cleaner than their unwashed hands.
Dusk begins to fall after a few more hours, and Finn gets jitterier the darker it gets. Every shadow is viewed with renewed suspicion, and everything Poe says is met with alarm and then immediate compliance. Poe thinks another break is long overdue, so they can sleep off the night and hopefully wake up refreshed and ready to take on the world.
They set up camp in what looks like a passably defensible location—the overhanging rock provides some shelter and they can keep their backs to it on at least two sides. They haven't seen any hostiles for the entire time they've been walking, so it should do. Based on the increasingly heavy traffic of the tracks they're following, Poe can guess that they're getting close to some sort of settlement, which is good because they're going to run out of water fairly soon.
Poe takes a gamble based on the educated guess that staying well hydrated now so they can reach town as soon as possible will work out better than portioning out their water and slowing their progress, and unclips his canteen from his belt. He doesn't even realize how thirsty he is until the water hits his dusty tongue, and then he's guzzling it greedily, but he makes sure to leave about half for Finn.
"Here you go, buddy," Poe says, shaking it so Finn can hear the water swish around.
"Oh, no thank you," Finn says, even though he has to be at least as thirsty as Poe.
"What, did they make you wash up before you drink too? The water is clean, I swear. It's in a container, it's never even touched my hands."
"It's the last of your water. You should drink it. Or save it for tomorrow."
"It's the last of our water," Poe says, suddenly acutely aware that Finn has literally nothing to his newly-minted name besides the clothes on his back. Newly minted by me, Poe realizes. Finn has nothing besides the clothes on his back and the random name Poe vomited out in a hurry while under heavy fire.
Finn licks his dry, cracked lips. "Your water."
"It's yours. Drink it," Poe insists.
Finn's spine straightens like Poe has just issued an official order. He grabs the canteen quickly and drains it, gulping loudly. When he's done he opens his mouth wide and sticks out his tongue to prove that he's swallowed. "There, I drank it, see?"
"No, look, it's okay if you really didn't want to drink it," Poe says. "You don't need to show me your back teeth."
"But you just told me to," Finn says.
"I didn't mean it like—" Poe stops in frustration, replaying the day back in his head and trying to figure out how to explain things. Lifelong murder cult, he reminds himself. "Remember when I said you don't have to do anything you don't want to anymore?"
"I wasn't lying. I'm not your commanding officer, I'm not going to hurt you if you don't follow my orders, I'm not even giving you orders. I'm just suggesting. Maybe a little bit of coaxing, because I don't want you to faint from dehydration. But if you really, really want to exercise your freedom to faint dead away and dry out into a desiccated husk? You can go ahead and do that. You're free now. I mean, please don't actually do that because it would make me sad, but I'm saying no one can stop you, theoretically."
A smile creeps across Finn's face, and Poe has to bite the inside of his mouth to stop himself from pumping his fist in victory.
"You don't have to listen to anything I suggest, okay? None of it is an order. You don't have to be scared of anything."
"What are you scared of?" Poe asks gently.
"Um, I don't know, everything?" Finn says, in a tone that sounds less like a person in fear of everything and more like a person talking to a very dim-witted baby bantha.
Poe pats the nice soft sand next to him, now cool without the sun to beat relentlessly on it. Finn narrows his eyes at him but he does come sit down. "Tell me," Poe says. "That's not an order, by the way, it's a request."
"When we were still too little to hold blasters, they would show us holovids," Finn begins. "Documentaries about those who would oppose us, so we would understand our enemies better and understand why they're evil and need to be stopped. The ones about the Resistance were really...graphic."
Poe checks to see if Finn wants to hold his hand, but the way he's sitting, with his knees drawn to his chest and his body closed off against the world, Poe figures he probably doesn't want to be touched.
"Resistance fighters get their strength from eating babies, right?"
This is so completely out of the blue that it startles a laugh out of Poe, which makes it sound like he's laughing at the thought of eating babies, which earns him a dirty look from Finn. "Sorry, no, I've just never heard that one before."
"Resistance fighters get their strength from eating the babies of sentient species," Finn continues, "and they take lots and lots of contraband pharmaceutical substances and they indulge in wildly decadent orgies involving non-sentient animals every Primeday."
Finn stutters on the word 'orgies' and it makes his cheeks darken. Poe has to wrestle with two extremely conflicting urges inside himself: one to coo in delight over how cute Finn is, and the other to find the nearest spacecraft and fly it straight back into the Finalizer so he can lay waste to the people who put those images into an infant's head and taught him to fear the rest of the universe.
"Finn," Poe says, with all the solemnity he can muster because even though it's a ridiculous sentence he never thought he would utter, it's still very important and he wants Finn to know that he understands the gravity of what Finn was made to believe, "I promise you, I have never eaten a baby, ever, not even once, in my whole entire life. And I won't eat you when you fall asleep tonight, okay?"
Finn does not admit to worrying about that, but from the way his shoulders relax Poe can guess that he sort of was, a little bit.
"That was all just propaganda, to get you used to the idea of shooting Resistance fighters without remorse. Just like what they said about Luke Skywalker having fangs. None of it is true, and when we defeat the First Order we're going to rescue all of the children they've kidnapped and everything's going to be okay, you'll see. We'll take care of all of them and we won't eat a single one." Poe risks a joke and nudges Finn with his shoulder.
Finn smiles at him, weakly, but it's a smile.
And then, because Poe has to know—"So, when you didn't want to eat that ration bar, did you actually think...there was...ground up baby meat inside?"
Finn drops his head into his arms and groans. "You must think I'm pretty stupid, huh?"
"No! No," Poe says earnestly. "I think you're pretty brave. They told you that for your whole life and even though you thought the Resistance were baby-eating monsters, you still ran away from everything you knew because you didn't want to kill innocent villagers. That's courage."
Finn looks horribly embarrassed but also pleased, and Poe figures they probably weren't big on giving out praise back at the lifelong murder cult. Poe plans to make up for it.
The wind starts howling across the desert sands once the sun is fully down, and it gets surprisingly cold as the night draws on. Every fibre of Poe's being wants to flirtatiously suggest they huddle close together for warmth, but he respects that Finn is going through a major paradigm shift right now. He knows that despite everything Finn has intellectually processed, he still feels scared, and the last thing he ever wants to do is add to Finn's fear. Instead of crowding close to him, Poe takes off his own jacket and drapes it across Finn's back before backing away to leave some distance between them.
"Won't you be cold?" Finn asked.
"I'm wearing more than you," Poe assures him. "I'll take first watch, okay? Get as much sleep as you can and I'll wake you when I'm tired."
Finn pulls the jacket tighter around himself and curls up on the sand, closing his eyes.
Against his better judgement and all the survival skills he's been taught about conserving energy and sharing duties, Poe lets Finn sleep through the night. He can't find it in his heart to wake him when he looks the most relaxed Poe has ever seen him.
Luckily, this poor decision doesn't come back to bite Poe in the ass the next day, because they only have to walk for a few hours before seeing clear signs of civilization. They run into more and more traders and travellers along their route, and by midday they've reached what looks like a bazaar, with many cloth tents and a few more permanent structures.
"This is a good sign!" Poe says, while Finn looks uneasy.
They pick their way down the sand dunes towards the busiest part of the market, and Poe starts asking the locals if they've seen an astromech in the area. Finn hangs back more cautiously, fiddling with the hem of the jacket that he has yet to give back and that Poe has yet to ask for.
A familiar beeping demands why some thief is wearing Poe's jacket, and Poe perks up at the sound. He finds BB-8 hurtling towards him, causing people to jump out of its way as it plows through. He runs toward BB-8 to meet it halfway, whooping in joy and kneeling down to greet it. "I gave it to him! He's not some thief, he saved my life! It's a long story, buddy."
BB-8 expresses happiness and relief that Poe is 1) alive, and 2) able to get the map to Luke Skywalker back where it needs to go because holy kriff it had no idea what it was going to do if it had to get such an important piece of galaxy-saving intel back to the Resistance by itself, it doesn't have any kriffing arms you know.
Poe laughs. "Right back atcha! Glad to see you safe and sound, and so glad you still have the map. Now let's get—"
"Hey, you! Unhand that droid." A voice, brimming with authority, booms across the bazaar from several stalls away. A young woman strides towards them holding a long staff in a slightly threatening manner.
Poe gets to his feet in a hurry, but before he has to do anything BB-8 reassures her that Poe was the one it was looking for.
The woman's expression changes from a blank wall to a warm smile, her arms relaxing and no longer looking so ready to clobber Poe across the head with her staff. "Oh good, so you've found your Resistance pilot master! He came back for you after all." She smiles at BB-8, who is busy bleeping and blooping away, filling Poe in on all the details of how this human named Rey rescued it from scrap metal dealers and kept it company until Poe arrived.
"Thank you so much for taking care of BB-8, Rey," Poe says.
"Well, it was all alone and vulnerable, of course I had to take care of it," Rey replies matter-of-factly.
"It was the right thing to do, huh?" Poe says, and beams at her, and then at Finn, and then at her again.
They both look at him like they have no idea what language he's speaking.
"I'm Poe," he says to Rey, "and this is my friend Finn." He gestures towards Finn, but instead of smiling at Rey as he was a second ago, Finn is now looking off into the distance and he's gone completely ash grey. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Finn swallows hard and says, "They're coming."
Poe follows his line of sight and sees a pair of Stormtroopers roughly shoving people around. They're too far away to be heard, but Poe can imagine that they're also asking everybody whether they have seen a little round droid, white and orange in colour, or perhaps two suspicious-looking fugitives.
BB-8 chirps that they need to get out of there, and Poe agrees.
"There's only two of them, why not stand our ground and fight?" Rey asks, and Poe has only known her for all of thirty standard seconds but he already feels like she might get him on a soul-deep level.
"Unfortunately not an option," he says, yanking Finn and Rey along with him as he ducks into a tent flap and slips behind the stall. "Our friend BB-8 is carrying some pretty important information, and we can't afford to take any risks at all."
"What kind of important information?" Rey asks, pulling out of Poe's grip impatiently. "I know how to walk by myself," she adds.
"There's a map to Luke Skywalker," Finn whispers, eyes wide like it's only just hit him that this is all happening.
Rey's eyes widen to match his, and they hurry to keep up with Poe, who's begun running.
"Is there a ship we can borrow around here?" Poe asks.
"Yeah, alright, follow me."
Rey leads the way as they sprint through the market, BB-8 rolling at their heels, but the Stormtroopers catch sight of them in a gap where the crowd thins out. There are shouts, and then blaster fire. They scatter to make themselves a less concentrated target, and Poe ends up somersaulting behind some crates with BB-8 next to him. The blasters hit something incendiary and an explosion breaks out, fire heating up the already sweltering air. Poe's heart clenches when he hears Finn yelp.
Adrenaline makes everything a blur. Poe finds himself running towards the flames rather than away, which BB-8 frantically counsels against. Finn and Rey approach from a direction he's not expecting, and he feels a sharp relief at the sight of them with all their limbs intact.
He yells something at them, he doesn't even know what, and Rey yells something equally unintelligible back, and then they're running again, sprinting across the sand away from the market. After a while, the blaster fire ceases and Poe almost thinks they've gotten lucky and lost their pursuers, but then Finn says ominously, "They've gone to get backup."
He's right, of course. They have no time to waste. "We need to get to a ship," Poe stresses to Rey.
"There's an old piece of junk that no one will miss parked right over the next hill," she says, "We should be able to get to it before they bring back more serious firepower."
Finn reaches out to take her hand, and she pulls back in annoyance. "I don't need you to hold may hand."
Poe knows it's not his place to say, but he can't help coming to Finn's defence. "Just let him," he says. "He's—" he catches himself before he says 'afraid,' but something in his tone must have given it away anyway. Rey goes from hard edges to softening all over, like a piece of dried out Naboo sea sponge that's suddenly dipped in water. She takes Finn's hand.
Poe grabs his other hand and they hike towards the ship Rey has in mind. "It's really old," she warns Poe, "the controls are probably not like anything you're used to."
"I can fly anything," he reassures her, and she rolls her eyes at him.
They can hear TIE-fighter engines in the distance, and they hurriedly make their way to what looks like an ancient YT-series freighter. Poe is already itching to get into the pilot seat, and Rey proves her competence by going head of them and breaking her way in. Before Poe follows her onto the spacecraft, he turns and tugs Finn in close by their linked hands.
"They're never going to get you back, okay?" he says, searching Finn's eyes.
He looks scared, like always, but he squares his shoulders and looks steadily back at Poe. "Okay," he says.
They strap themselves into the cockpit, Rey and Poe and Finn and BB-8, and they leave Jakku behind.