* * *
I said to the sun,
"Tell me about the Big Bang."
The sun said,
"It hurts to become."
—Andrea Gibson, “I Sing The Body Electric; Especially When My Power's Out”
* * *
This is FN-2187’s earliest memory:
He is curled up in his bunk. He does not know it at the time, but fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years later, he will still be assigned the same bunk, whenever he’s on the Star Destroyer; he will sleep on the same thin, firm mattress, which smells like the harsh chemical wash they use to get blood and sweat and worse out, and he will stare at the same view he’s been staring at for his entire life: hundreds of identical bunks, hundreds of Troopers, some sleeping, most wide awake, shifting restlessly, trying to find a position that doesn’t hurt their aching muscles.
He is curled up in his bunk. He is four, maybe five years old. He does not remember what happened directly before this, as if he came into existence on his bunk, halfway through the night. He is staring straight ahead, at the metal frame of FN-2936’s bunk. FN-2936 herself is sleeping, or at least faking it well. Even at four years old, FN-2187 knows the signs of faking sleep: silent, suppressed breaths, unnatural stillness, closed mouth.
Whenever Captain Wern comes round to check on them, every single Trooper fakes sleep.
This is his earliest memory. Curled up in a ball. Skinny arms wrapped around knobby knees. The quiet. The half-dark, the odd greenish glow of the overheads. The thin, firm mattress. FN-2936, whose arm is dangling over the side of her bunk, fingertips brushing the floor. The fear in his stomach, because Captain Wern will come round soon, and his boots and cloak make awful dragging noises, like a monster scraping its belly across the floor.
FN-2187 thinks, I want to go home, even though he doesn’t really know what home means. He once heard an older Trooper mention a home planet, so all FN-2187 knows of home is: not here.
I want to go home, he thinks, even though he knows, at four years old, that there’s no point wanting impossible things.
* * *
Finn wakes up two weeks after Rey leaves to find Luke Skywalker. He wakes up both panicked and dopey with painkillers, which is a terrible combination that leads to him flailing sideways off the hospital bed, unable to speak with his numb, heavy tongue. It takes a solid ten minutes for the medics to convince him that he wasn’t captured by the First Order, that they didn’t get him, they didn’t take him back.
His spine was nearly cut in half. According to the medics, Kylo Ren’s lightsaber sliced through his flesh but only glanced off his fifth and sixth thoracic vertebrae. One millimeter deeper, one extra pound of pressure from Ren, and Finn’s spinal cord would have been severed. Best-case scenario, he’d be paralyzed from the neck down forever. Most likely scenario, he’d never wake up. There’s only so much that metal inserts and bacta gel can fix.
When the medics tell him that, Finn almost bursts into tears. Like a dumb, scared kid who botches a training exercise and almost gets himself blasted and only realizes how close he was to being dead, gone, kaput, after the adrenaline wears off.
The Resistance medics replace Finn’s fifth and sixth thoracic vertebrae with metal discs, stick him in a bacta tank for a couple days. He emerges woozy but well rested, the flesh on his back scarred over and shiny.
Three weeks after Rey leaves, one week after Finn wakes up, he gets discharged from the medbay.
“Where do I go?” he asks the head medic, trying not to sound too pitiful.
“You’ve been assigned a room,” she tells him, consulting her tablet. “Sector B. Room 76."
“Do you know how to get there,” the medic says, already focused on something else. Finn ends up lying through his teeth—yes, of course I know how to get to Sector B, it’s not like I just now learned this place has sectors—and scurries off as fast as his broken freaking spine allows.
He finds Sector B.
He limps down the long, narrow corridor, counting off the room numbers as he passes them. 64. 66. 68. 70.
Finn stops in front of Room 76 and promptly realizes there’s a biometric scanner beside the door, and it doesn’t accept any of his fingerprints, of course. He groans out loud, desperate to just get inside and sleep in a place that doesn’t smell like antiseptic and chemical wash.
“Okay,” he mumbles to himself, “new plan—”
The door swings open.
“Finn,” says Poe Dameron, eyes wide with shock, and something about that makes Finn want to weep, except this time he doesn’t know why.
* * *
The first night, Finn sleeps in Poe’s bed, and Poe curls up on the floor with a blanket and a pillow. The second night, Finn is more aware and less desperate and outright refuses to take the bed again, so Poe ends up finding an extra mattress and dragging it into the center of the room, and Finn sleeps there.
The third night, Finn wakes up gasping and choking, covered in cold sweat, the cobwebs of a nightmare still gathered in the corners of his brain: Phasma. Hux. Ren. Their faces shifting and warping and melting into each other. Rey. Poe. A black forest. A frozen tundra. Rey, flung backward through the air. Rey, her head cracking against a tree, her skull shattering into ice. Poe, slumped in the wreckage of his X-wing, his face the color of snow.
Finn puts his head between his knees, trying to catch his breath. Slowly, the real world trickles back in.
Poe’s room, he tells himself. Sector B. Resistance base. D’Qar. Poe’s room. Sector B. Resistance base. D’Qar. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth nights pass by in a blur of fitful sleep and nightmares and wrenching awake, heart pounding, a nauseating cycle of adrenaline spikes and crashes, leaving Finn exhausted and wondering if this is what going crazy feels like.
The seventh night, Finn gets back late from physical therapy in the medbay. He’s limping maybe a little less, getting used to the new pull of scar tissue over his back, regaining flexibility in his spine. The medics keep telling him he’s pushing it, he doesn’t need to go so fast. Finn ignores them, because this is a war, and he is a soldier, and the Resistance doesn’t have any use for broken boys.
The seventh night, he walks into Poe’s room to find his mattress right next to Poe’s bunk. Poe is already in bed, cheek smushed into the pillow, breathing slow and deep. D’Qar’s twin moons shine in from the window, pale silver light falling across Poe’s face, his dark hair. One of his arms is half off the edge of the bed, curving toward the floor.
Finn crawls onto his mattress and slides beneath the blankets. He looks up at Poe, at the small shadows of Poe’s eyelashes across his cheekbones. The soft, half-open smear of his mouth.
Poe’s a good actor. But Finn knows fake sleep when he sees it.
“Goodnight, Poe,” he whispers, and closes his eyes.
(He wakes up four hours later, shuddering in residual terror from yet another nightmare. This time, he sits up and leans against the side of Poe’s bunk, pressing his nose to the mattress and breathing in. Poe’s arm is still right there, hanging off the bed, and Finn’s too freaked out and exhausted to think twice before he reaches out to take Poe’s hand, cupping it between both of his own, feeling the warmth of it against his skin. His fingers find the pulse at Poe’s wrist, and he breathes to the rhythm of it until he’s ready to sink back into sleep.)
* * *
On the sixteenth night since Finn moved into Poe’s room, Poe is the one who wakes up at four a.m. with a high, choked-off noise, quickly stifled but still enough to wake Finn up.
“Poe,” says Finn, his voice low and rough with sleep, and Poe jolts, startled, on the bed above him. He looks down at Finn, and he’s just a shape in the darkness, his edges kissed by moonlight, but Finn can still read the fear in his body, the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
“Sorry, pal,” says Poe. “Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep.”
“Hypocrite,” Finn mumbles, and Poe lets out a quiet, surprised laugh.
Finn sits up, his head level with Poe’s torso. He leans against the side of the bunk, a habit by now, and gropes for Poe’s hand. When he takes it in his own, he hears Poe’s soft intake of breath.
“S’okay,” says Finn, holding Poe’s hand loosely. “You’re okay.”
It’s the same thing he used to do for other Troopers in his squadron, whenever one of them had nightmares. It was absolutely not allowed—Captain Wern once beat him for it, when he caught Finn curled up on another Trooper’s bunk, and then after Wern died, Phasma pulled Finn aside only two days into her captaincy and said, I’ve heard about you, good and bad, you have potential, if you’d just—if you’d just—and even the Troopers themselves frowned upon it, narrowed their eyes at Finn, fell silent when he walked past, kept their distance. Finn had a target on his back, and everyone knew it.
(But in the dark, when a Trooper woke up crying, not a single one shoved Finn away when he picked his way through the bunks to kneel at their bedside, reminding them quietly: you’re okay. You’re here. You’re okay.)
So he holds Poe’s hand, rubs his thumb over Poe’s knuckles, and says, “You’re okay, you’re all right, you’re here, you’re okay,” over and over again until the words bleed into each other, the mindless, generic repetitions of someone who doesn’t know what Poe saw in his dreams, doesn’t know Poe’s particular brand of fear.
Eventually, Poe settles back down into his bed, curling up to face Finn so their faces are only inches apart. He never lets go of Finn’s hand. So Finn keeps holding his, even when Poe slips back into sleep, his breathing evening out, his grip on Finn’s hand growing loose.
In the morning, Finn wakes up with his head still on Poe’s mattress. He apparently slept the rest of the night in a sitting position, which is absolute freaking hell on his spine, but Poe is still asleep, their fingertips touching, Poe’s hair tickling the top of Finn’s head, and Finn finds himself wanting to stay here a little longer, even if it aches.
* * *
They don’t talk about that night.
* * *
After that, they work out a system. Finn has nightmares more often than Poe, but they both get them, and they both have plenty of issues sleeping through the night anyway. So Poe procures a deck of cards from somewhere, and on the nights when they both find themselves awake, they play cards by moonlight, sometimes children’s games and sometimes a game from Poe’s home moon, Yavin 4. The game’s name translates to “One Thousand Faces,” and it involves a lot of rules about combinations of colors and numbers that honestly Finn still doesn’t understand even after they play a few games. He always loses horribly, but it’s nice. It’s nice.
* * *
Finn settles into life on D’Qar. The destruction of the Starkiller base led to a lull in the war, a deceptively calm time during which the Resistance doesn’t quite know what to do with itself other than carry on with reconnaissance missions. They all know this strange peace won’t last long—the First Order is simply licking its wounds, retreating briefly to rebuild its power before it strikes again—but for the moment, all is well.
And finally, finally, Finn gets a message from Rey.
General Organa finds him and Poe in the mess hall, bent over mugs of strong Spiran caf. When she enters, the crowded hall seems to seems to quiet for a moment. Just like the first time Finn met her, General Organa fills the entire room with her presence. The world seems to expand around her: a subtle power, an ancient grace she carries with her effortlessly. Finn wonders if Luke Skywalker has the same effect. If it runs in the family, or if it’s unique to the General.
Kylo Ren has that effect, Finn realizes, but in reverse. When Ren enters a room, it becomes a vacuum around him, shrinking uncomfortably until even the largest, grandest halls seem suffocating.
“Commander Dameron,” says the General, standing at the head of the table. “Finn.” She looks at Finn, her brown eyes warm. Those eyes surprise him, every time he sees her around the base. He’s never seen such warmth in an authority figure before.
He and Poe get to their feet and shoot off quick salutes, the Resistance way.
“As you were,” she says. “I’m just here to fetch you, Finn.”
“Me?” he says. He glances at Poe, who shrugs, looking clueless.
“I’ve just received a comm from Luke,” says the General, and Finn’s jaw drops.
“And Rey?” he yelps. “And Rey?”
“And Rey,” says General Organa, her lips quirking up, and Finn forgets decorum, forgets grace and tact and professionalism; he whoops loudly and punches the air, right there in the middle of the mess hall. His heart feels bright and warm inside his chest, like sunlight breaking through the clouds after weeks of cold rain.
“Can we go can we go can we go,” he asks, practically bouncing up and down, and he can swear the General is trying not to laugh. Beside him, Poe isn’t even trying. He’s grinning big and toothy, and as Finn looks at him, he claps a hand on Finn’s shoulder and says, “I’ll grab you some custard bread, just go!”
The General leads him to a control room with a large projection screen. And there’s Rey’s face, taking up most of the wall, bluish and pixelated but whole, alive, squinting against some unseen sun.
The holovid isn’t live, but that’s just as well: Finn is able to watch it three times in a row, reveling in his best friend’s voice.
“Hello,” she starts out, oddly formal. “To General Organa and the Resistance: I am alive and well. I have found Luke Skywalker and begun training in the ways of the Force. Like the Jedi Knights who sacrificed themselves to defeat the Empire in the Old War, I will fight the First Order with everything I’ve got. This is my promise.”
Then she pauses, and all the tension, the radiating power, fades from of her voice. She smiles, small and sad around the edges, but there’s still a spark in her eyes, and there’s the Rey Finn knows. There’s the clever scavenger from Jakku.
“Hi Finn,” she says. “General Organa said you’re doing all right. I wish I’d been there when you woke up. I’m so sorry I wasn’t.” Pause. “When I left Jakku, I was so worried that…that somebody would come for me, and I wouldn’t be there when they did. But. Leaving D’Qar, leaving you when you were hurt, that was the first time I left something behind that was—real. Important. Not just a dream. And I am sorry for it. I wish things had turned out different.” Pause. She looks away, seems to rally again. “Don’t get me wrong—being here at the Temple with Luke Skywalker, the Luke Skywalker, it’s amazing, it’s indescribable. But I miss you a lot, Finn. I really do.” Something catches her eye off-screen, and she nods. “I’ve got to go. Lots of training to be done and never enough time to do it in. I’ll send another comm soon.”
She smiles again. “Bye, Finn. Oh, and say hello to that pilot for me.”
The holovid ends. Finn watches it again. Again. He knows General Organa is standing behind him, waiting, but screw it—he misses Rey with an ache.
Finally, he lets the screen stay black. He turns to General Organa and asks, “Can I…can I reply? Ma’am?”
“Of course,” she says, and Finn grins.
His message for Rey is a lot longer than hers was; General Organa pretty much just lets him talk until he runs out of words. He tells Rey about D’Qar, about how it’s just as green as Takodana in most places, especially out at the edges of the base, where the fields turn into a deep, shadowed forest. He tells her about the base itself, about the training grounds and the massive hangars full of spacecraft—you’ll fit right in, you’ll give all the Resistance mechanics a run for their money—and the food they serve in the mess hall—they have these things called donuts, Rey, I can’t even describe them but they’re incredible—and the room he shares with Poe. He tells her that BB-8’s doing fine as ever, even if it misses Rey almost as bad as Finn does, and that they haven’t been attacked since Starkiller but they’re ready for anything, and how he’s healing well, barely limping at all anymore, and he tells her about Poe, and Poe, and Poe.
“He’s ridiculous, you’d like him,” Finn says, smiling softly into the holo screen. He imagines Rey watching his holovid, and hopes she sees that he really is okay. “He’s been helping me with PT a lot. And he found out I’ve really only ever eaten ration bars, so now he’s made it his personal mission to make me try every food in the known universe. I think my favorite so far is ettel nut donuts, but there’s also custard bread, and vegetable stew….oh, and you know Poe’s a pilot, so he has all these cool pilot friends, real hero types…he wants to introduce them to me, but. But. You know. I’m not exactly…like them.”
He ducks his head, clears his throat. A big part of him wants to tell Rey about his nights with Poe: the card games, the moonlight, how Finn’s mattress migrated across the room until it was right beside Poe’s bed. The handholding. The breathless moments right after Finn wakes up from a nightmare, when he doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t know who he is, but he can feel Poe’s callused palm against his own, Poe’s warmth under his fingers.
Finn wants to tell Rey about all of it, and maybe ask her: is this what being a human is like?
Why does it make me ache?
He wants to tell her. But there is another part of him, a smaller but more deeply guarded, shameful part, that makes him swallow the words. There is a part that says—
Finn clears his throat. “Anyway. Uh, I’ve already gone on way too long, like, you’re probably begging me to shut up at this point. Sorry. Tell Luke hi from me. No—don’t do that. And don’t tell him I called him Luke instead of Master Skywalker. Okay. I’m gonna go now. Bye, Rey. I miss you. I damn well hope all this Force stuff is worth it, ‘cause if it’s not, you just say the word, I’ll steal a ship and drag you back here myself.” He winces, suddenly remembering that General Leia Organa is standing right freaking behind him. “Uh, kidding. Sort of. Okay. Bye.”
He shuts off the comm. When he turns around, General Organa is just watching him with raised eyebrows. “You’ll steal a ship, will you?”
“It was a joke,” Finn says weakly.
“Uh huh,” she says, eyes sparkling, and thankfully, she doesn’t bring it up again.
* * *
There is a part of him that says:
- You are not a human.
- You do not feel.
- If it hurts, ignore it.
- If it is gentle, break it.
- You are not a human.
- You do not feel.
- If you hurt, ignore it.
- If you are gentle, you will be broken.
- You are a machine.
- You march.
- You pull the trigger.
- You pull the trigger.
- You pull the trigger.
- You do not cry. You do not fall to your knees. You do not feel fear, like a knife-blade, push its cold self into your heart. You do not kneel beside one of your squad mates when he falls. You do not feel your eyes catch on the shudder of his white-plated arm. You do not see his white fingertips smeared with blood. You do not wish you could tell him I’m sorry. You do not stagger toward the huddled group of villagers and look in their eyes and see the burning village and the blood and the dust and the black oily smoke reflected back, and more than that: fear, you see fear in their eyes, it is unmistakable and brutal, and here is the worst part, the worst part, the worst part: it is identical to your own. But how could that be? How could that be? You have tried so hard, for so long, to not be afraid. How could you have failed so completely.
* * *
It was only a matter of time, Finn thinks, after the fact.
He hurries down the long, narrow hallways of the base, not going anywhere in particular other than away. His back is hurting something awful, every step seeming to wrench at the scar across his reinforced spine, but he doesn’t slow down. He knows he probably looks crazy, wide-eyed and breathing too fast and sweating with pain and exertion, but he doesn’t slow down.
You think you’re welcome here?
He reaches a dead end, a corridor that leads to nothing but a locked storage closet and a big bucket of cleaning chemicals and dirty rags. The smell of the chemicals washes over him and he almost gags.
Just because you’ve got the General fooled—
Finn sags against the wall, catching his breath. He presses the heels of his palms against his eyes until colored dots explode behind his eyelids. He can already feel the humiliation curling in his guts, that hot sick shame.
We’re watching you, Trooper.
(He was outside the mess hall. He was heading to the medbay for his PT appointment. The sun was bright, the air chilly and dry. He was thinking about nothing in particular and then two Resistance soldiers turned the corner and saw him and their faces twisted into something fierce and ugly.)
The stupid thing is that Finn was expecting this. He was prepared for this to happen; honestly, he’s surprised it didn’t happen earlier. He is surrounded by hundreds, thousands of people who have lost loved ones to the First Order. Who have watched faceless Stormtroopers kill their family and friends since the reign of the Empire. Of course some of them wouldn’t want an ex-Trooper in their midst. He knew that. He knew, in theory, that not everyone in the Resistance is like Poe or General Organa.
But there’s a big difference between knowing something in theory and watching someone on your side spit, “Trooper,” as if the word itself is something dark and foul tasting.
You think you’re welcome here?
He takes a few slow, deep breaths, consciously relaxing his tense muscles. He stays like that, leaning against the wall, until his heart rate slows down.
Once the initial shock is over, Finn feels a little silly. Back in the First Order, he got so much shit from the other Troopers, let alone the Captains, every single day—now he’s letting one backwards soldier freak him out.
“Calm down,” he mumbles to himself. “Calm down, breathe….”
Finn jumps a little, startled, and then curses when it hurts his back. He turns to see Poe, walking down the hallway toward him. He’s not in his orange pilot jumpsuit, just regular clothes: soft black pants, a long-sleeved gray tunic that Finn has borrowed a few times.
Poe walks up, peering at Finn with concerned eyes. “Are you okay? What are you doing back here?”
“Nothing,” Finn says quickly. “Just catching my breath.”
“Is it your back?” Poe nudges Finn away from the wall, runs one hand lightly over Finn’s spine. “Did something happen?”
“Why are you back here?” Finn says, stalling for time.
“Dr. Kalla said you never showed up for PT,” says Poe. “I’m on break, so I offered to track you down…well, you’re not bleeding from anywhere new, so that’s good. Do you need—?”
“My back’s fine,” Finn says, shifting away from Poe’s touch. He’s still not sure how to deal with the whole…casual touching thing. It wasn’t exactly commonplace back in the First Order. For his whole life, up until these last few weeks, being touched usually meant being hurt.
“Sorry,” says Poe, and drops his hand.
And it’s what Finn wanted, but for some reason he wants to apologize right back. Lift Poe’s hand and put it back against his spine, right over the strange mottled flesh of his scar, where the skin is always just a couple degrees too warm, as if the heat of Ren’s lightsaber was somehow trapped inside Finn’s body. A constant, burning reminder.
But that doesn’t make sense, Finn tells himself. Poe’s hands are warm, not cool. They would do nothing for Finn’s overheated skin.
“Can I do anything,” says Poe, and his voice is quieter now, softer, and his eyes are softer too. He always, always knows when something’s wrong with Finn, even when Finn’s trying his damndest not to telegraph anything.
“Guess you probably don’t have a deck of cards with you,” says Finn.
“Sorry,” says Poe. “I’ve got an extra ration bar, if you want that?” He laughs when Finn makes a face. “Yeah, you probably had enough of those to last a lifetime.”
“Or two,” Finn says, and manages to smile. “Was Dr. Kalla mad I didn’t show?”
“Well, I might have told her you’d been called to a meeting with General Organa. Top secret. Fate of the universe. That kind of thing.”
“Oh, for—if she asks me, I’m gonna sell you out,” Finn warns him. “Won’t be my ass under fire, that’s for sure.”
Poe groans. “You wouldn’t. Dr. Kalla already doesn’t like me.”
“That’s because you always distract me during PT!”
“No,” says Poe, “it’s because she thinks you’re all innocent and adorable, and I am a bad influence.”
“I used to be a Stormtrooper,” Finn protests. He crosses his arms over his chest, squaring his shoulders. “I’m not adorable. I’m cool and tough.”
“Doesn’t mean you’re not adorable,” says Poe.
“Also, bad influence? You?” Finn leans in close, scrutinizing Poe, pretending to look for signs of lurking evil. “Hmmm….yeah, I’m not seeing it.”
“Maybe you aren’t looking hard enough.”
“Or maybe,” says Finn, “you’re just a golden boy through and through, flyboy.”
Poe’s eyes widen slightly. And just like that, with such a tiny movement, Finn realizes how close they’re standing. How, even accounting for Poe’s ridiculously (and carefully) tousled hair, they’re almost the exact same height. Nose to nose, eye to eye. And Finn realizes with a jolt that it’s not just his scar that feels warm anymore. His whole body feels hot, thrumming with energy, his heart pounding a little too fast; it feels like he’s run a mile, or maybe that he wants to, or like he was very cold and just now stepped inside a warm room.
He swallows. Poe’s eyes flick down to his throat.
Finn wishes he felt cold again.
Or maybe he wishes he wanted to feel cold again.
Or maybe he just doesn’t know what the hell is happening right now.
For another breathless moment, neither of them speak. Finn wonders, vaguely, if Poe can hear his heart beating, too loud and too quick.
“Buddy,” says Poe, and clears his throat, and takes a step back. “You should probably head back to the dorms. You’re not supposed to be upright for this long.”
“I’m fine,” says Finn automatically. He blinks a couple times, swallows again. This time, Poe’s gaze doesn’t waver. “I’m getting better every day.”
“Well, skipping PT doesn’t help,” says Poe. “I covered for you this time, but go tomorrow, yeah? If only to brighten Dr. Kalla’s day.”
“Oh, hush,” says Finn, “you’re just jealous because she likes me best,” and it’s that easy, falling back into normalcy, into recognizable territory, into the carefully charted map of their friendship.
* * *
Of course, the lull between battles couldn’t last forever.
Six weeks after Rey leaves, a tiny Resistance outpost on Lothal gets blown up by Stormtroopers. Casualties: one hundred and twenty-nine. Of the 129, only sixty were known Resistance agents or sympathizers; the rest were civilians. And that’s awful, tragic, but the thing is, compared to the obliteration of entire planets, a death toll of 129 is statistically insignificant.
It is, however, a message.
“They are reminding us of our weakness,” says General Organa, standing at the head of the control room. Her eyes are grave. “And how easy it is to exploit. Lothal is a small, remote farming planet. Few live there, but many of them depend on the Republic for transport and supplies. The First Order chose to attack the outpost on Lothal not for strategic gain, but because they know we cannot—will not—stand for the loss of innocent life.”
Finn glances at Poe, who’s watching the General solemnly. The control room is filled with D’Qar’s best: captains, commanders, admirals, generals, tech geniuses, star strategists, war heroes who fought in the Galactic Civil War and are still fighting now. And Finn.
He fights the urge to squirm. He’s been decked out in the olive green standard uniform, and something about it—being a soldier again, with or without the mask—makes him jittery.
General Organa keeps talking, and other people join her: Admiral Ackbar outlines a plan to reinforce the shields around the base, Admiral Statura announces increased reconnaissance trips out to known First Order outposts. Finn feels the knot of anxiety in his stomach tightening as the meeting goes on and on. This is it, he knows, this is the march back into a familiar war, and for the first time in his life, Finn won’t be fighting in white armor.
He pays attention as best he can. Beside him, Poe scribbles notes on his tablet, his mouth set in a firm line.
Two hours into the meeting, Ackbar turns on the holo and brings up a set of maps. Finn leans forward, squinting at the shimmering blue mass of star systems and targets, and then someone says, “Should we really be doing this in present company?"
Ackbar stops. “Excuse me?”
An officer toward the back of the room stands up. He’s pale, fair-haired, with eyes like chips of glass. A captain, judging by the badges, but Finn doesn’t know his name. “I said, should we really be doing this in present company? You’ve just pulled up a map of our battle plan, for stars’ sake.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Finn sees Poe tense up.
“Yes,” says Ackbar slowly, nostrils flaring. “What of it?”
“Sir,” says the unnamed captain, “I mean no disrespect to you or General Organa, but quite frankly”—he gestures at the holo projection—“that’s a complete visual of our upcoming attacks on the First Order, and now it’s safe and sound in the memory of a Stormtrooper!”
Finn’s stomach turns to ice. Around him, the control room erupts in murmurs, but Finn can’t make sense of any individual words; all sound is suddenly muffled, reverberating oddly inside Finn’s skull. All he can hear is Stormtrooper, and all he can see is an entire control room of people staring at him, their mouths moving silently. A minute ago he was invisible, the least important person in the room, but now he feels as if every last pair of eyes is trained on him.
You think you’re welcome here?
“Someone’s got to say it!” the captain continues, and oh, stars, people are agreeing with him now, whispering their assent, staring at Finn with barely concealed suspicion and anger. The captain notices and it seems to bolster him; his voice grows louder, more confident. “General Organa, I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable working with a product of the First Order. They train the Troopers from birth, brainwash them until they’re barely human. For all we know there’s a kill switch inside him—his old leader says one word and he’s brainwashed again, he’ll do whatever they say, he’s a weapon—a tool—”
Finn wants to get out of here—
—he wants to run but he can’t move—
“Quiet, Captain!” barks General Organa, right as Poe jumps to his feet, his chair screeching across the floor, and shouts, “Enough!”
Finn can’t move.
“I’ll say this once,” says Poe, his voice low and deadly, cutting through the room like a blade. “Even if Finn hadn’t saved my life, even if he hadn’t risked everything, everything, to protect Rey—she’s only the latest Jedi Initiate, in case any of you forgot—and deliver the Skywalker map safely into our hands, even if he wasn’t the mastermind behind the attack on Starkiller Base, even if he hadn’t proven over and over again that he wants to help the Resistance in any way he can, despite the lifelong brainwashing, which wasn’t his fault in the first place no matter how much you want to blame him—”
Finn can’t move.
“—even if he hadn’t almost died in the name of the Resistance, back on Starkiller Base,” Poe says, louder now, his hands clenched into fists, “Finn would still be the bravest man I know. And you can damn well bet that includes you, Captain.” He turns, making sure everyone in the control room can hear him. “Finn defected from the First Order. He is one of us. I trust him with my life. If anyone’s got a problem with that, I suggest you speak up now.”
Silence. The captain who’d first spoken looks furious, his pale cheeks red with anger and humiliation, but he doesn’t say a word.
“Great,” says Poe, and sits back down. “Glad we got that sorted.”
The rest of the meeting passes in a blur. Finn sits there, frozen, gaze on the table in front of him. He does not look at Poe.
Finally, General Organa calls the meeting to an end. Finn’s one of the first people out the door, even though moving quickly still makes his spine ache: he saw General Organa looking in his direction, as if she wanted to beckon him over, and he just…can’t deal with that. He can’t.
Now that he can move again, he doesn’t stop until he gets back to his and Poe’s room, until the door is shut securely behind him. Then he stumbles to a corner of the room, sinks to the floor, and wraps his arms around his legs, burying his face in the crook of his elbow.
He closes his eyes. He breathes. He tells himself: well, that was the worst that could happen. And it happened.
He tries not to think about all those war heroes agreeing with the captain who spoke up. All those brave, powerful people, the Resistance’s best, all wanting Finn gone.
But surely General Organa won’t kick him out. Surely she won’t.
(The thing is, Finn knows better than to be sure of anything. Not in the middle of a war.)
He stays like that, sitting on the hard floor, until he hears the beep of the biometric scanner. Finn’s stomach drops, and for the hundredth time in the past half hour, he sees Poe’s face, bright-eyed and furious, as he said, I trust him with my life.
Poe steps into their room and catches sight of Finn immediately. For a moment, neither of them move.
Then Poe walks over, slowly, and slides down the wall to sit beside Finn, their elbows brushing.
“Hi,” says Finn, for lack of anything better.
“Hi,” says Poe.
A beat of silence, and then Finn says quietly, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Poe winces. “Yeah. I know.”
For some reason, that hurts.
But then Poe continues, “I’m sorry, Finn. I know you can take care of yourself. That moron pissed me off, is all. I mean, talk about a backwards, no-good, cowardly son of a fucking bantha—,” he breaks off. “Sorry.”
“No, that’s not—what?” says Finn. “That’s not what I’m saying, I’m saying you shouldn’t have done that because you just painted a big fat target on your back!”
“Good,” says Poe, looking way too self-satisfied. “Let ‘em at me. It’ll keep things exciting.”
“We are in a war,” says Finn. “Is that not enough excitement for you?”
Poe shrugs. “I’m a pilot. Adrenaline junkie is part of the job description.”
“People won’t trust you,” Finn insists. “You just threw in with the Stormtrooper.”
“Don’t call yourself that,” Poe snaps, glancing sharply at Finn. “That’s not who you are anymore.”
“Then who am I,” Finn says, and it comes out all wrong: he sounds way too small, too young, too plaintive, but he can’t take the words back, so he just keeps going. “That’s my whole life right there, everything I ever learned. Take away the Stormtrooper, what’s left?”
“A good man,” says Poe. He’s looking at Finn, his eyes soft and dark, and Finn stares down at his own boots. “A good friend. A hero—”
“A hero,” Poe says, “you might as well just accept it, because I’m sure as hell not gonna stop saying it—”
“I didn’t almost die in the name of the Resistance!” Finn says too loudly. “You said, in the meeting you said that’s why I almost got myself killed back on Starkiller, when I fought Ren, but that’s not true! Poe, I wasn’t there for the Resistance, I was just there to get Rey!”
“Why the hell do you think I was there?” Poe retorts. “Or General Solo, or General Organa, or anyone else? Finn, you idiot, we’re not somehow different from you. We’re not somehow—better, or purer, or whatever you think. We’re just a bunch of people fighting for our own Reys.”
“Not you,” says Finn mutinously. “Kylo Ren himself had a hard time getting information from you, don’t tell me that’s not bravery.”
“Of course it’s bravery,” Poe says. “That’s what I’m saying. You wanting to rescue Rey, that’s bravery. Shit, Finn, you’re literally sitting here trying to argue that destroying a First Order base the size of a planet wasn’t brave because you did it to save someone you love.”
“Well—,” Finn starts, and then stops. “Well—”
“Face it,” says Poe. “I win. You’re a hero.”
Finn sighs. “You’re the worst.”
“Oh yeah, I’m terrible.”
“Shut up,” Finn says, thanking the stars that Poe can’t tell he’s blushing. He sighs again, then slumps sideways, pressing his cheek into Poe’s shoulder. Poe stiffens and Finn almost moves away, but then Poe relaxes again, even shifting a little closer. Finn takes a deep, quiet breath. After so many nights spent leaning against Poe’s bed, the smell of him is automatically calming. He moves closer, until they’re pressed together from shoulder to calf, and lets his eyes fall shut, the adrenaline finally leaching out of him, leaving him tired and boneless.
“How do you always smell good,” he mumbles, nosing at Poe’s shoulder a little. “You spend most of your time in a hangar.”
“Uh,” Poe says, “just, um, lucky. I guess.”
“Mm.” Finn pauses. After a lifetime of zero casual touching, he’s sometimes not clear on exactly where the line is. Even though he and Poe pretty much hold hands every night now, as they fall asleep. “’S this okay?”
“Yup,” says Poe. He clears his throat. “Yeah, buddy, of course.”
Finn nods. He likes how Poe’s shoulder feels under his cheek, all warm and solid. Poe in general is warm and solid, both in body and in presence; Finn is beginning to realize just how there Poe is, always, if Finn needs him, eager to offer a hug, a pat on the arm, a ration bar, a favor, a smile.
Finn likes it.
Finn likes it a lot.
As if to punctuate Finn’s thoughts, Poe wraps an arm around him, pulling him even closer. His touch is light, wary of Finn’s back, and that thought alone makes Finn curl his fingers in Poe’s shirt, right over Poe’s sternum. He can feel Poe’s heartbeat below his hand, feel the soft rise and fall of his chest with each breath.
“You shouldn’t have done it,” Finn whispers. “But thanks.”
“Anytime,” says Poe, like he means it, like he really, really means it, and of all the things he’s given Finn, that’s probably the best.
* * *
They stay like that, wrapped around each other in the corner of their room, for a long time. They only break apart when BB-8, who was “asleep” on its charging station by Poe’s desk, wakes up with a chirp, lights a-twinkle. It beeps something at Poe that makes him groan and remove his arm from Finn’s shoulders, and for the rest of the day, Finn feels cold.
* * *
Finn is experiencing a lot of things for the first time now that he’s with the Resistance, but perhaps the most unexpected—and strangely difficult to contend with—is the concept of free time.
In the First Order, Finn’s days were structured in rigid, monitored blocks of work-train-patrol that barely gave him time to grab four hours’ sleep between shifts in Sanitation, let alone develop a hobby. He remembers the perpetual exhaustion, the mind-numbing crawl of identical days, how much he wanted everything to just stop for a while. How he daydreamed about getting even a single hour to himself, and then felt guilty and paranoid afterward, as if Kylo Ren might be listening in to his thoughts.
(As if Kylo Ren thought him a threat.)
Now Finn’s wish has been granted. Since he’s technically still in recovery, all he has to do is show up to his PT appointments. No matter how much he pesters Dr. Kalla, she still hasn’t cleared him for combat training. In a fit of desperation, he tries to get the go-ahead from General Organa, but she just gives him a very pointed, very knowing look, and he immediately drops the subject.
As Poe would say: Finn is shit outta luck.
The thing is, an abundance of free time is only fun for, oh, about two days. Then it gets boring. Then it gets really boring. Then it gets to the point where Finn starts just wandering around the base each day, searching for anything to do.
Then it gets to the point where Finn catches himself kinda-sorta hiding in the mess hall ‘fresher for the third time in as many days, because at least nobody looks at him in here, and he says aloud, “Okay, this is just ridiculous.”
“I can’t help it,” comes a voice from one of the stalls. It sounds suspiciously like Admiral Ackbar. “Nuna eggs don’t agree with me.”
“Right. Well. Good luck with that,” Finn says, and hightails it out of the ‘fresher.
He doesn’t realize he’s headed for the spacecraft hangars until he’s already halfway there. He balks for a moment, thinking about Poe’s cool pilot friends—especially Jessika Pava, who sometimes stares at Finn in the mess hall and is almost as scary as Rey—but the thought of another empty afternoon, all those long hours stretching out with nothing to fill them, makes him keep going.
Poe will be there, Finn tells himself, and feels a small prickle of heat inside his chest, somewhere behind his ribs. He ends up doubling back to the mess hall and grabbing a chunk of custard bread. Poe’s always starving at dinnertime after he gets off a work shift.
For all the weeks Finn’s lived here at the base, he’s never actually been to the hangars. He knows where they are, and Poe’s offered to take him multiple times, but….
Well, no more avoiding it, Finn thinks. Poe’s friends might be loud (and overprotective, and very flippant about Poe’s technical authority, according to Poe himself) but Finn can’t put off meeting them forever.
He hears the first strains of music two long hallways before he even gets to the hangars.
* * *
(The first time Finn heard music, he was twelve years old and one of the older Troopers brought back a battered, thumb-sized music player from some mission on a civilized planet, and by day’s end the player had been passed around three different barracks. The Troopers huddled around it, one of them keeping a lookout for Wern, and leaned in close to hear the tinny, static-y song that came out when you hit the green button. There was just the one song. It was thirty-two seconds long. It was slow, and sometimes it got stuck on one note and repeated it over and over again until you gave the thing a good shake. Finn heard the song four times, and then Wern found them and crushed the player under his boot. But they already knew the tune, and even five years later, Finn still heard Troopers humming it sometimes, in the showers or during shifts in Sanitation.
The second time Finn heard music, he was stepping into Maz Kanata’s fortress with Rey at his side.)
* * *
Finn pauses outside the door to the main hangar. He can hear the music clear and loud now. He hasn’t heard this kind of song before; it’s neither the simple, high-pitched tune from the music player or the rich, bouncy song from Maz’s. It sounds like…like a heartbeat, sort of, but with big, sweeping sounds on top, and fast sounds in the middle. Finn stands still for almost two minutes, just listening, letting the strange sounds flow through him. He can hear some kind of horn, maybe, like the war-horn some armies use. But here, it’s used to make music.
Finn swallows down his nerves and opens the hangar door.
Immediately, the music is about a hundred times louder. Finn stops dead in the doorway, momentarily overwhelmed with a new rush of sensation: he can feel the deep parts of the music reverberating inside him, pulsing inside his ribcage like a second heart. He can even feel it vibrating up through his feet, as if his very bones are buzzing.
“Whoa,” he says aloud, and then someone across the hangar yells, “Poe! Your boyfriend’s here!”
Finn blinks and looks up. The main hangar is massive, big enough to hold six X-wings and a couple other spacecraft, the huge mechanized doors on the far end currently open to the runways and the blue sky. There are a bunch of pilots and mechanics milling around, doing routine maintenance on the ships, laughing and shouting to each other. As Finn watches, one of the pilots spins around and dances to the music for a moment, pretending to sing into his wrench. Another pilot rolls her eyes and laughs at him.
“Poe!” someone yells again, and Finn sees Jessika Pava jogging toward him, her long black hair tied back in a ponytail. It’s the first time he’s seen her outside the mess hall.
“Hey there, stranger,” she says when she comes close enough, speaking loudly over the music. She holds her hand out for Finn to shake; her grip is strong, her palm callused like Poe’s. “We were wondering when you’d come visit.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” says Finn, and Jessika snorts.
“Hell no,” she says. “Call me Jess. Want me to grab your boy?”
Finn frowns. “Poe isn’t my boy.”
“Oh, sweet mother of a Rhotandran moon,” says Jess, and jogs off again without another word. Finn follows her, if only so he isn’t just standing awkwardly at the door.
Jess leads him toward the open end of the hangar, where the chilly breeze from outside makes him shiver. Then Finn catches sight of Poe, who’s elbow-deep in the engine of his X-wing and mid-conversation with BB-8, and hurries forward. It’s only when Jess gives Finn a strange look that he realizes he’s grinning.
“Poe!” he calls out, and Poe and BB-8 look over at the same time. Poe’s face brightens instantly, his teeth white against his tan skin. Finn refrains from shooting Jess a vindictive look, like: see? It’s not weird to smile.
BB-8 rolls over to bump gently against Finn’s boots, beeping happily.
“Hey, little buddy,” says Finn, and crouches down to BB-8’s level just like he’s seen Poe do. He pats the droid on the head. “How’s it going?”
BB-8 chirps, its multicolored lights blinking.
“I’m gonna learn how to speak droid, I promise,” says Finn, which makes BB-8 go off in a long series of beeps. “Whoa, I said I’m gonna! I can’t understand you yet!”
“BB-8 says you better hurry up,” says Poe, and Finn looks up. Poe is standing over him, hands on his hips. He’s still smiling, but there’s something softer about it now, something Finn wants to call fondness in his warm brown eyes. There’s a streak of black grease across his forehead, and his cheeks are flushed with cold.
“Hi,” says Finn, and straightens up.
“Hi,” says Poe. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Spur of the moment,” Finn shrugs. “Figured I’d find out what you do all day.”
“I’ll tell you what he does all day,” says Jess, and Finn twitches a bit; he forgot she was here. “A whole lot of nothing, except of course when he waxes poetic about—”
“Jess,” Poe says sharply, “Weren’t you about to go check the oil pod levels?”
“Actually,” says Jess, “I think I was about to go on lunch break. Right, boss?”
Poe narrows his eyes.
“Although I could stay here and talk to my new pal Finn,” she says. “After all, there’s so much I could tell him.”
“Take your break,” says Poe. “But if you’re not back here in one hour, Pava, you’re on pod duty for a week.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Jess. She fixes Finn with a scrutinizing look, and he’s suddenly reminded of Han Solo’s words to him, back on the Millennium Falcon: Women always figure out the truth. Always. “Nice meeting you, Finn. Let’s grab caf sometime, okay?”
“Uh, okay,” Finn says, honestly a little terrified of the glint in her eyes, and then she’s gone, jogging back across the hangar.
Finn turns to Poe. “Is it weird that I’m scared of her?”
“Not at all, buddy,” says Poe. “Not at all.”
* * *
(No, that’s not true.
The first time Finn heard music, he was twelve years old and huddled around a battered, thumb-sized music player.
The second time Finn heard music, he was stepping into Maz Kanata’s fortress with Rey at his side.
The third time Finn heard music, he was curled up on his mattress, the light from two moons falling across his body in pale squares, sliding across the walls as night shifted slowly in the sky. His eyes were closed, but he wasn’t asleep; he was just drifting, half-aware, in that odd weightless place between waking and sleeping. He heard the biometric scanner beep as it read Poe’s thumbprint, and then Poe came into their room. Finn knew that Poe would be back this late, because Poe told him, earlier in the week, about taking a night shift. Poe told him because that’s what people do: they say, I’ll be back late tonight. Don’t wait up. That’s what people do when they have someone who might wait up.
Finn kept his eyes closed when Poe came into the room. He listened to Poe fumble around in the dark, shedding his jumpsuit and changing into his soft sleep clothes.
And Poe started singing.
It was so quiet Finn didn’t realize what it was, at first. He thought Poe was mumbling to himself, maybe, or talking to BB-8. But then he heard Poe’s voice drop and waver a little at the end of a word, and Finn realized what was happening.
Poe was singing to himself under his breath. Absentmindedly, words half-formed, as if he didn’t even know he was doing it. The song was in a language Finn didn’t understand, but it sounded…melancholy. Like footsteps in a vast, empty hallway. That lonely noise, that quiet echo.
Finn lay there, motionless. Something about Poe’s soft, barely-there singing made his chest hurt for once, instead of his spine.
Then Poe stopped short. He cursed once, in a whisper, and after that he moved slowly, carefully, making as little noise as possible. He’d probably remembered that he didn’t live alone anymore.
Finn listened to Poe’s sheets rustle as he slid into bed, just inches above Finn’s pillow, and did not say, it’s okay. You didn’t have to stop.
That was the third time Finn heard music.)
* * *
“What is this, anyway?” Finn asks, gesturing vaguely, as if the music in the hangar were a tangible thing hanging in the air around them.
“Oh, some band Wexley’s really into right now. I think they’re popular on Coruscant,” says Poe, and then his eyes widen. “Wait. You know what music is, right?”
“Of course,” says Finn, as if the very suggestion offends him deeply, even though, yeah, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. “Just…not all that familiar with this band. In particular. I know other bands.”
Poe gives him an all too knowing look but doesn’t challenge him. Finn’s grateful for that. Instead, Poe just says, “I’ll keep that in mind. Hey, wanna meet everyone? I promise they’re not all like Jess.”
“Okay,” says Finn, and he’s still nervous about meeting all the pilots, but it gets a little more worth it when Poe grins.
Poe leads him across the hangar, BB-8 in tow. Finn can’t help but ogle all the X-wings as they pass by; he remembers standing in the wreckage of Maz’s fortress, momentarily frozen despite the swarming Stormtroopers, watching in awe as a pilot he didn’t know was Poe swooped through the sky, diving and dodging and shooting with perfect accuracy.
On the ground, the X-wings look kind of unwieldy, with long tapering wings and big hyperspace-equipped engines in back. But back on Takodana, Finn saw Poe give that great metal machine all the grace of a bird, soaring effortlessly through the sky.
“Finn,” says Poe, bringing Finn back to the present. “This is Snap Wexley. Wexley, this is my buddy Finn.”
“Hi, Buddy Finn,” says a man Finn recognizes from when they were planning their attack on Starkiller Base. Snap’s crouched below one of the X-wings, fiddling with the blaster on its undercarriage. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” He raises his eyebrows at Finn, his dark eyes unreadable. “A lot.”
“Okay,” says Poe, “you’ve met Wexley. He’s not very interesting, so let’s move on now.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Snap continues, flat out ignoring Poe. Finn’s beginning to get the idea that authority works much differently in the Resistance than in the First Order. “I guess Dameron’s been keeping you all to himself.”
“Okay,” says Poe. “Totally regretting this entire introduction.”
Finn feels the need to defend him. “It’s not Poe’s fault I didn’t visit earlier,” he says. “He really wanted me to meet all of you.”
“Did he now,” says Snap, and Poe lets out a strangled groan, burying his face in his hands. Finn looks between him and Snap, nonplussed. It seems like he just made things worse, but he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s some layer of social interaction that he hasn’t grasped yet?
At his feet, BB-8 chirps something that makes Snap burst out laughing. Poe peeks out from behind his hands to give BB-8 an accusatory look. “Not you too,” he says, and Snap snorts.
Finn sighs. “I really need to learn droidspeak.”
“Please do,” says Snap, and then Poe says, “Come on, Finn,” and grabs Finn’s wrist, practically dragging him away. Finn shifts his grip so they’re holding hands, because at this point it feels natural, holding hands with Poe. He likes feeling Poe’s rough calluses against his palm.
“Fucking incredible,” he hears Snap say behind them, and Poe clears his throat loudly but doesn’t look back. He laces their fingers together, squeezes Finn’s hand.
“Your friends are weird,” Finn says, and Poe says, “Oh pal, you don’t know the half of it.”
He introduces Finn to a few other pilots: Karé Kun and Iolo Arana and Nien Nunb, who thankfully aren’t nearly as confusing as Jess and Snap. They all just shake Finn’s hand and ask him how he likes life on D’Qar. Then Poe turns to Finn, smiling a little, and says, “So what do you wanna do next?”
“Sure,” says Poe. “My shift’s basically up, dinner isn’t for a couple hours—“
“Oh!” Finn yelps. “I forgot!” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the chunk of custard bread, wrapped carefully in a napkin, and presents it to Poe. “Brought you this.”
Poe looks down at it. “Custard bread?”
“You’re always hungry after work,” Finn says, cheeks growing warm. He’s suddenly, viscerally aware that this is the first thing he’s ever given Poe. That seems somehow significant, a grand overture of friendship that should have happened weeks ago, even though it’s not like Finn’s had anything to give.
Poe gave Finn a jacket and a way off the Star Destroyer and a name. And here’s what Finn is offering him in return: a measly piece of mess hall bread. He wants to kick himself.
“Sorry,” he starts, but then Poe’s grabbing the bread and taking a big bite.
“Thank you,” he says. And just like that, Poe turns a measly piece of mess hall bread into something important. As if Finn’s done him some huge and wonderful favor. “You’re right. I was starving.”
“Gross,” says Finn, “don’t talk with your mouth full,” but he’s blushing.
* * *
That night, he will lay on his mattress and listen to Poe’s slow breathing and remember how Poe’s voice sounded when he said thank you, and Finn will think: I want to hear that again.
* * *
Poe finishes his bread and gives Finn an expectant look. “So?”
“So what do you wanna do?” Poe bumps their shoulders together as they walk back toward his X-wing at the mouth of the hangar. “Anything you’re dying to see? I could take you to the training fields.”
Finn thinks about the training fields, where there are always a few people sparring, running laps, practicing their blaster aim on human-shaped targets. He hasn’t been out there yet for a reason: the fields remind him too much of his own training, the endless sparring and running and marching and target practice and battle simulations. The thought makes his stomach hurt.
Anything you’re dying to see?
He turns to Poe and says, “Can I watch you fly?”
* * *
Finn stands on the edge of the tarmac, BB-8 at his feet. It’s colder out here than in the hangar, enough that Finn grips Poe’s jacket tighter around him, flipping up the collar to keep his neck warm. His ears and the tips of his fingers are especially chilly, but Finn relishes the feeling of it, breathing in all that fresh cold air. It smells like the woods, like the soft dark earth, like the grass surrounding the runways; the smell couldn’t be further from the stale, recycled air Finn grew up on.
BB-8 gives a little trill and nudges Finn’s ankle. He smiles, pats its head, and then looks up again, squinting against the white sun, and finds Poe’s X-wing in the pale blue sky.
X-wings are combat ships designed for speed and tight aerial maneuvers on the battlefield, but Poe’s flying doesn’t say combat; it doesn’t say get the job done, not right now. Poe’s flying just for the hell of it—
—just for Finn—
—and it’s like nothing Finn’s ever seen. Poe’s black-tipped X-wing soars in figure eights above the training fields and the runways, dipping up and down, moving more gracefully than any 5,000-pound hunk of metal has a right to. Finn imagines Poe in the cockpit, hands light on the controls, the only thing moving in a wide and open sky. It’s…beautiful. Like so few things in Finn’s life up until the last couple months, it is beautiful. He feels like he could watch Poe fly for hours. Forever.
But eventually, Poe comes back down to earth. The X-wing descends in a long, loose spiral, and then it touches down on the runway and Poe climbs out of the cockpit.
Finn’s moving before Poe even has time to pull off his helmet. He hurries over to Poe, BB-8 close behind. He feels breathless, even though it wasn’t him up in the sky, even though he’s spent the past forty minutes standing stock-still.
“That was amazing,” he says, resisting the urge to grab Poe’s hand. “Seriously, that was amazing, Poe, that was, that was—thank you.”
“No big deal,” says Poe. He runs a hand through his hair, which is damp and darker with sweat, tousled from the helmet. “Was it really that fun for you? I felt bad leaving you on the ground.”
Finn smiles. “I like watching. Besides, not like I can fly myself.”
“Well,” says Poe. “I could teach you.”
“To fly.” Poe looks up, his eyes careful. “I teach the pilot trainees all the time. It’s really not hard.” When Finn gives him a doubtful look, he says, “Hey, I’ve seen you get the hang of TIE blasters in about ten seconds, you can definitely handle a little old X-wing.”
“I don’t know…,” Finn says. He glances at Poe’s X-wing. Now that it’s back on the ground, it looks much more intimidating. He’s no stranger to spacecraft, obviously, but he is a stranger to being the one behind the controls. Alone. With zero backup. He bites his bottom lip, weighing the pros and cons.
Cons: possible death if he screws up. Death could involve explosions, going splat, or suffocating slowly in the terrifying vacuum of space.
Pros: he’d get to hang out with Poe.
He worries at his lip, deliberating. He looks back at Poe, who is focusing intently on rubbing a bit of grease off his jumpsuit.
“Okay,” Finn says. “I’m in, but don’t blame me if I fall out of the sky.”
“I’ve only ever seen two people actually fall out of the sky,” says Poe.
Finn gapes at him. “That actually happens? I was joking!”
“So was I, buddy,” Poe says, grinning, and claps a hand on Finn’s shoulder. “You’ll do great.”
* * *
Poe says they can start Finn’s flying lessons the next day. Two hours later, a First Order starship is sighted one system away, lurking on the horizon of a small, oceanic moon.
They get the news at dinner. General Organa sweeps into the mess hall to collect Poe, Jess, Snap, all the pilots Finn now knows by name. They will be dispatched immediately to run reconnaissance on the starship. Strictly observational. No contact, no combat. According to the General, it should take two days tops.
Finn can’t breathe.
The pilots stand in unison, their faces solemn, when just two minutes before they’d been laughing and teasing each other. General Organa leaves, heading back to the control room to oversee their mission, and Poe looks down at Finn.
“Two days,” Poe says quietly. The other pilots are already filing out of the mess hall. “And low risk, Finn. The least risky mission I’ve had in a while, actually. Practically a vacation.”
“I’m not worried,” says Finn, totally sounding worried. He tries not to flush with embarrassment. He knows perfectly well that Poe is the best of the best, and a grown man who can take care of himself, and they’re in a war and this is what happens in a war. People leave.
He looks up at Poe, at the face he’s seen the most over the past couple months. The dark hair, the soft brown eyes, the smooth, tan skin. Finn knows Poe’s face like he knows a blaster, all those individual pieces adding up into something he can hold, something his hands know how to touch.
No, that’s not right. He doesn’t touch Poe’s face.
“Be careful,” Finn says. “Don’t be an idiot.”
Poe makes a face. “I’m never an idiot.”
Finn opens his mouth to make a joke: something like, Oh really? Because BB-8’s got some stories, or, you do realize I’ve met you, right? But what comes out is: “Just come back.”
“I will,” says Poe, and he sounds surprised. His eyes are dark and intent, as if searching Finn’s face for something, but Finn doesn’t know what he’s looking for, or how to give it to him.
“Okay,” Finn says. He swallows. “Okay.”
“Oh, hell,” Poe mutters, and then says, “c’mere,” and then he’s dragging Finn up out of his seat and pulling him into a tight hug, Poe’s arms curled around Finn’s shoulders, their bodies pressing together in one long, warm line. Finn doesn’t move for a second, but then he wraps his arms around Poe’s waist, hands spread out across the small of his back. He can feel the heat of Poe’s skin even through his shirt.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Finn knows they’re in the middle of the crowded mess hall, and Poe really should be going, and Poe should not be hugging the Stormtrooper in front of the entire Resistance. But for once, Finn just thinks screw it, screw it. If he knows anything in this universe, he knows the First Order, and he knows there is no such thing as low risk, not with them, and he imagines Poe’s tiny X-wing barreling toward a massive starship filled with Troopers, where anything could happen, so screw it, he thinks, and buries his face in the crook of Poe’s neck, breathing him in, and Poe stands on the tips of his toes, leaning into Finn with all his weight.
For a long, breathless moment, they just stand here, wrapped around each other.
Then Poe whispers, “See you in two days.” He unwinds his arms from around Finn’s neck and heads out of the mess hall without looking back.
Finn watches him go.
Something nudges his shin. He looks down to see BB-8, peering up at him. It gives a soft beep, almost like a question.
“You better go,” says Finn. “They can’t leave without you.”
BB-8 doesn’t move.
“I’ll miss you too, little buddy,” Finn tells it, patting its head. He crouches, looking directly into BB-8’s single eye. “Keep him safe, okay?"
BB-8 chirps. Its front compartment opens, its little metal arm extends, and it gives Finn a careful thumbs-up with its butane lighter.
Finn returns the thumbs-up. “Thanks, BB-8. I know I can count on you.”
One more beep, and BB-8 rolls away. Finn sits back down and stares at his half-eaten tray of dinner. He was starving just a few minutes ago, but now he doesn’t feel hungry at all.
* * *
Finn wakes up the next morning, glances up at Poe’s bed out of habit, and then remembers Poe’s off on a mission.
The day doesn’t get better from there.
Now that Poe and all the pilots are gone, Finn is uncomfortably aware that he really, really does not know anyone else on this base (except General Organa, but he can’t exactly go hang out with her. Probably.). He goes to PT after breakfast, and after that…he’s right back where he was a few days ago, dying with boredom, except this time he can’t even go visit the hangars.
And, of course, boredom is much worse when it’s only a thin layer over a gigantic heap of constant, uncontrollable anxiety. Finn thought being worried about Rey was bad enough, but being worried about Rey and Poe at the same time? He feels like he downed four cups of strong caf—his insides are jittering, his stomach twisting itself in knots.
The thing is, Finn doesn’t need to worry about Rey. She’s with Luke Skywalker on a tiny, distant planet untouched by war. She’s probably safer than Finn is.
But Poe—oh, stars.
Finn wants Poe back. He wants Rey back. He wants BB-8 back. He even wants Jess and Snap and the others back. They may be a little overwhelming, and they still give Finn strange, indecipherable looks sometimes, but at least they’re familiar. At least they’re nice.
Finn lies on his mattress back in his and Poe’s room, staring up at the ceiling. His back always hurts after PT, the muscles stretched out more than usual, the scar twingeing with unnatural heat. He wonders if it will always feel like this when he exerts himself. If he will always ache and burn.
“Nope,” he says aloud, shaking his head. “None of that. Lighten up, dummy. What would Rey do?”
He thinks about it. What would Rey do, cooped up in this base?
Finn decides on three things:
- Explore. The first thing Rey did on the Falcon, after they escaped Jakku, was explore the whole ship and find the best hiding places.
- Kick butt if necessary. It’s not necessary at the moment, but Finn files that one away for later. You never know.
- Make this place her own. The second thing Rey did on the Falcon, after they escaped Jakku and she figured out how to crawl into the air ducts, was organize the cockpit. She raised the pilot’s seat a few inches to compensate for her height. She brushed the dust off the controls. She changed the heat settings and the autopilot speed; she fixed a broken circuit, she unstuck a sticky lever. She cleared a space for BB-8, so it could sit near her and watch her fly.
Okay, Finn thinks. I can do those things.
* * *
For the first time, he goes past the training fields into the forest.
Just a few steps past the tree line, it’s like an entirely different world. It’s darker and quieter in the forest; Finn can no longer hear the laughs and shouts from the training fields, the pop of blaster fire from target practice. It’s as if the trees and the thick green moss swallow up sound and sunlight, replacing it with a heavy, blanketlike quiet, a canopy of shadow.
Finn looks up, craning his neck. The trees are so tall—they’ve got to be at least two hundred feet, their branches spanning out like long arms, carving up the sky. There’s so much to look at here, to touch and smell, Finn’s almost dizzy with it. He runs his fingers across rough tree bark, holds a palmful of wet black dirt. Soft, spongy moss. Leaves like paper. Vines with six-inch thorns, vines furrier than Chewbacca.
All this time, this forest has existed. And Finn knows there are a thousand more forests like it, and then a thousand forests that look different. A thousand Jakku deserts, a thousand oceans, a thousand skies….
He sinks to the ground near the roots of a massive tree, leaning back against the trunk, and tries not to hyperventilate.
All this time. All this world, all this universe, and he grew up in a colorless tin can eating ration bars for every fucking meal, learning how to aim a blaster instead of learning about forests and music and donuts and big blue skies and soft beds and what it feels like to be a fucking person, what it feels like to hug someone goodbye and say please come back—
His cheeks are wet. He sniffles, cleans his face off on his shirt. Which means now there are tears and snot on his shirt, and he totally borrowed this shirt from Poe. Great.
At least the jacket’s still clean. Or as clean as possible, considering the big rip in the back. On the second day after Finn woke up from his coma, Poe patched it up with another piece of leather and said, now it has character. Hey, you even kinda match.
Privately, Finn thinks it just looks ruined. But it doesn’t stop him from wearing the damn thing everywhere, because it was a gift from Poe. The first thing he’s ever owned.
Now, sitting at the base of a huge tree, he pulls the jacket tighter around him. He presses his nose into the collar, breathing in.
It smells like Poe. Just like at night, when Finn wakes up from a nightmare and leans against Poe’s bed, the smell calms him down. His heartbeat slows, his breaths even out. Finn squeezes his eyes shut and imagines that Poe is right here next to him, warm and solid. He imagines that he can reach out and take Poe’s hand, or even hug him. He imagines Poe’s arms around his shoulders, Poe’s fingers against the scar on his spine, Poe’s chest flush with his own—
Finn’s eyes snap open. He blinks a few times, regaining his bearings. He shivers, even though he’s not cold at all right now.
He stays under the tree a few minutes longer, until he’s sure it doesn’t look like he’s been crying, and then he walks quickly back to the base. He’s had enough exploring for today.
* * *
That night, Finn is alone in the dark for the first time since he joined the Resistance.
He lies on his stomach, taking the weight off his spine, and tries to sleep without the sound of Poe’s breathing, without the soft hum of BB-8’s charging station. He stares at the twin moons outside the window until his eyes hurt. He closes his eyes and takes deep, slow breaths and even tries the trick he used to teach the younger Troopers: counting to his designation number by fives. Except he doesn’t try to reach 2,187 this time; he just keeps counting until he accepts that it’s not going to work.
Here, in the dark, it’s impossible to not think about Poe, somewhere in a vast black ocean of stars and planets. He’s probably reached the First Order ship by now. He’s probably hovering nearby, waiting for the action to begin.
Finn tries not to groan out loud. Don’t do anything stupid, he thinks, trying to push the thought out into the universe. Like maybe if he thinks it hard enough, the Force will somehow carry it to Poe. (Finn is still not quite sure how the Force works, but it’s worth a try. When Rey gets back, she can explain it to him.)
Around two a.m., after five hours of trying unsuccessfully to sleep, Finn clambers up onto Poe’s bed. He settles onto the mattress and shoves his face into the pillow. In this bed, everything smells like Poe, like his soap and shampoo and the stuff he uses to shave his face, which smells kind of earthy, like the forest.
Finn closes his eyes.
* * *
This is what Finn dreams:
He is back in the woods. The trees tower over him, even larger than in real life, hundreds of feet tall and wide. Their bark is smooth and shiny, like metal. He can’t see the sky.
He’s running. The trees blur past, melting into each other until they become a huge metal wall, like the walls on the Starkiller, that impossibly deep chasm that swallowed Han Solo’s falling body. Finn’s at the bottom of it now, his footsteps echoing loudly as he runs.
“Rey!” he yells, and realizes he’s looking for her. “Poe!”
He stops and spins. Yells their names again, his voice bouncing back to him, but there’s nothing but chrome and the polished black floor. Finn steps forward and his leg feels too heavy and he realizes he’s wearing his white Stormtrooper armor again, and his vision narrows out and his breathing is too loud and that’s the helmet, squeezing his skull, pressing on his throat with every gasp. He tries to run again, but his legs are so heavy, weighed down with the armor, and he can barely even lift his foot. He can’t move.
“Poe!” he yells, voice hoarse. “Poe, get out of here! Get away!"
Away from what?
“FN-2187,” comes a voice from behind him, and he knows that voice. He has heard that voice on the Star Destroyer, on Jakku, in the freezing, snowy woods of the Starkiller; he has heard that voice scream and grunt with pain; he has heard that voice right before his spine caught fire and the whole world spiraled down, down, down into absolute darkness.
Finn struggles, twisting around as best he can with his feet planted to the floor, his legs unresponsive. And there he is: Kylo Ren, Han and Leia’s son, his black robes dragging behind him, his face white as any moon.
“Ben,” Finn chokes out, “your name is Ben,” and he doesn’t know why he says it, but it seems somehow important, and it makes Kylo Ren’s eyes blacken with rage.
“FN-2187,” says Ren, and Finn says, “No, that’s wrong, you’re wrong,” and then everything shifts.
He is standing in the main spacecraft hangar. The ceiling is gone. Above him, there is nothing but sky and sunlight.
“Hey there,” says Poe, and Finn turns. Poe strides up to him, wearing his orange jumpsuit, carrying his helmet under one arm.
“You’re back,” says Finn. “You came back.”
“Of course I came back,” says Poe. He smiles and takes two steps forward, leans in, and kisses Finn on the cheek. He lingers just a moment, just long enough for Finn to register the feeling of stubble against his jaw, and then Poe pulls away, still smiling.
“Oh,” says Finn, eyes wide. He reaches up to touch his own skin, the spot where Poe just kissed. “Oh,” he says again.
A red blaster ray hits Poe square in the chest.
For a moment, everything is frozen. Poe looks down at the horrible wound in his chest, the bloom of blood and burned flesh, the scorched hole in the front of his jumpsuit. Like he’s confused. Like he doesn’t realize what just happened.
He crumples. Finn only just barely manages to catch him before he hits the ground.
“Poe,” Finn’s saying, “Poe,” over and over again, but it doesn’t matter; Poe’s skin is somehow already cold, his eyes empty, the blood on his chest dried and dark, like he’s been dead for hours—
Finn clutches Poe’s body, holding it close. He cups Poe’s cold face with one hand and curls over him, pressing their foreheads together, unable to cry, unable to do anything but gasp senselessly for air—
—no no no please no please no please—
Finn wakes up.
* * *
He makes it to the ‘fresher but not the toilet. He wretches into the sink, spitting sour, awful bile down the drain.
It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re here. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real.
It might be, Finn thinks, slumping against the sink. It might be real. There is no such thing as a low risk mission, no such thing as no danger, not with the First Order, not in a war. The unthinkable can happen between one second and the next.
All Finn wants to do is see Poe. See him, hear his voice, hold his hand, to know for sure that he’s real and whole and alive.
One more day, he tells himself, and tries not to think about all the missions in the future. The missions that won’t be low risk, no combat, reconnaissance only.
As Finn splashes cold water on his face, he remembers another moment from his dream: Poe leaning in, his lips warm and soft against Finn’s cheek. How that warmth stayed in Finn’s skin. Not like how his scar prickles with the memory of a burn—more like a tiny patch of sunlight, spreading through his entire body, like something bright and golden coursing through his veins.
* * *
On the second day of Poe’s mission, General Organa fetches Finn and brings him to the control room. Rey has sent a new comm. It’s maybe the only reason Finn doesn’t go completely freaking nuts.
Rey’s message is longer than usual. She tells Finn about her training, which apparently involves a lot of lessons that Master Luke insists are “absolutely necessary” and Rey deems “pointless and frustrating.” She tells Finn how Luke made her balance tiny, fingernail-sized pebbles on top of each other until the stack was as tall as her, and how it took hours and hours of intense concentration, how she almost passed out at the end of it. Apparently, Luke noticed how much she was struggling and said simply, “Be glad you aren’t taller.”
She’s rolling her eyes as she tells the story, but Finn can tell she’s actually enjoying her training. Pebble stacking aside.
She tells him about the Jedi Temple—“kind of boring, mostly rocks”—and the island around it—“beautiful, Finn, all soft and green, and the ocean, have you ever seen an ocean? It’s like a sky made out of water.” She tells him about learning to duel with a lightsaber, and how she’s only beaten Luke once, but it was awesome. She finishes with the usual, “I miss you, I’ll see you soon, I promise, stay safe,” but this time—
This time, Rey also says, “And when I get back, you are going to spill about Poe.”
At that, General Organa makes a little noise behind Finn. Almost like a choked-off laugh. When he turns around, she looks completely absorbed in her tablet.
Finn is blushing hard and he doesn’t even know why.
He sends a comm back to Rey, telling her about the new foods he’s tried and the forest and how PT is going fine. He wants to tell her about his dream, but there’s no way he’ll talk about a Kylo Ren nightmare in front of General Organa.
“Get back soon, Rey,” he says. “Good luck kicking Luke’s butt.”
General Organa snorts.
* * *
“Have you heard from the pilots? Ma’am?” Finn asks after he sends the holo comm, trying not to sound desperate.
General Organa looks solemn, and for a split second, Finn feels the entire world drop out from under his feet. But then she says, “As of two hours ago, they were all okay. They’ll be heading home soon.”
Finn shudders out a breath.
“Finn,” says the General. “I wanted to tell you something.”
“Oh, stop with the ma’am, it makes me sound ancient,” she says. “Anyway. I wanted to tell you—remind you, really—that you are welcome here. In the Resistance, in this base. If it’s under my jurisdiction, you are welcome to stay however long you want. Even if you never join a single battle. Even if you lounge around eating donuts for the rest of your life, you are welcome here.”
“I,” Finn starts, but there’s a lump in his throat.
“Commander Dameron is not the only one willing to protect you,” says General Organa. “In fact, at this point, there are a grand total of four Force sensitive people in the entire galaxy, and you’ve got three of them on your side.” She smiles wryly. “And one very tenacious pilot. And Chewie.”
And BB-8, Finn thinks, realizing it. And Jess and Snap. Maybe the other pilots, too.
The lump in his throat grows.
“Thank you,” he manages. He’s really, really trying not to cry. Crying twice in two days would be ridiculous.
“He’ll be back soon,” the General says, her brown eyes gentle, and Finn is once again reminded: women always figure out the truth.
* * *
And, as Finn is quickly learning, women are always right.
The pilots return forty-seven minutes late, but they return. Finn is still with General Organa in the control room when she gets the message, and all it takes is one look at the relief in her eyes before he’s scrambling out of the room, through the halls, through the hangars and out onto the runways. It’s gotten much colder over the past two days—the General said D’Qar winters are unpredictable and take their sweet time settling in for good—and the freezing air is a slap in the face when Finn runs out onto the runways, but it feels somehow good, somehow fresh and clean. He can feel the cold beneath Poe’s jacket, on his scar. Running makes his spine hurt, but right now? Finn doesn’t care one bit.
It only takes a couple minutes for the X-wings to appear in the sky. They’re flying in perfect formation: Poe in front, Jess and Snap on either side, Karé and Nien and Iolo bringing up the rear. Finn squints, looking for damage, for smoke or blaster marks, but all the X-wings look fine.
Thank the stars, he thinks fervently, feeling something inside him expand.
General Organa joins him outside, and together they watch the X-wings land, the air shimmering beneath their engines as they descend slowly onto the tarmac. Finn fights the urge to bounce up and down with a mixture of adrenaline and relief and pure, overwhelming, sun-bright happiness.
When Poe climbs out of the cockpit and hops to the ground, Finn forgets everything else.
* * *
(Later, Finn will think about that moment: the cold, the pale sky, the weak winter sun, the frost-tipped grass, the hum of the engines, and how he forgot all of it, and he will think, oh.)
* * *
“Poe,” he calls out, his voice carrying over the cooling engines, and Poe’s head snaps up, and they’re both running.
* * *
(Finn wonders, briefly: how many times will they do this? Is this their fate, then, to always be running toward each other?)
* * *
Their bodies collide.
Poe’s got one arm around Finn’s shoulders, the other around Finn’s waist. His face is kind of smushed against Finn’s neck, his hair tickling Finn’s jaw, but it feels so damn good—all the tension from the past forty-eight hours leaves Finn all at once, like a full-body exhale, and he feels the knots in his guts loosen. Finally.
He clutches Poe with all his strength, twisting his fingers into the back of Poe’s jumpsuit. This, right here, is so different from when he held Poe in his nightmare, when he pulled Poe’s lifeless body onto his lap and hunched over it, gasping. Now, Poe is solid and real in Finn’s arms. Finn thinks he can even feel Poe’s heartbeat, although he knows he’s probably just imagining it.
This, Finn thinks, taking a deep, shaky breath. This this this this this.
“Hi,” Poe murmurs into Finn’s neck, and Finn opens his eyes.
(When did he close them?)
“Hi,” he whispers, but neither of them pull back. If anything, Poe’s arms tighten around him, holding him so close it’s actually kind of difficult to breathe, but Finn really, truly does not care right now. “You came back.”
“Of course I came back,” says Poe, and Finn blinks.
(“You’re back,” says Finn. “You came back.”
“Of course I came back,” says Poe. He smiles and takes two steps forward, leans in, and—)
Finn’s entire body feels strangely hot. He shifts involuntarily, suddenly uncomfortable, and Poe steps away, his hands sliding to grip Finn’s biceps. Poe’s grinning, wide and bright, his brown eyes lit up with it, and Finn—
Finn leans in and kisses Poe on the cheek. It lasts barely a second, just a brush of his lips across Poe’s cheekbone, and then he’s pulling back. He says, “Welcome home,” and hopes to every last damn star in the galaxy that he sounds casual.
Poe’s staring. He looks vaguely stunned, like someone just knocked him over the head with the wrong end of a blaster. Finn’s stomach drops. Was that inappropriate? Do people not do that? He’s pretty sure he’s seen other people around the base kiss each other on the cheek, but maybe that’s somehow different?
He’s about to start apologizing when a familiar voice says, “For the love of Helbrona and her five ringed sister-planets, he was gone for two days.” Jessika Pava walks up, giving Finn a deeply unimpressed look. “I mean, where’s my welcome back kiss?”
Finn kind of wants to die a little bit. But he steels himself and accepts Jess’s hug, and kisses her on the cheek, too—mostly just relieved that he hadn’t committed some unforgivable slight against Poe—and then Snap is coming over to shake his hand—“Don’t give me that look, kid, I’m not gonna make you kiss me”—and the pilots all file into the main hangar after General Organa for their debriefing session. Poe trails behind, first to eject BB-8 from his X-wing and then to give Finn one more short, one-armed hug.
“BB-8 missed you,” says Poe, his face only a few inches from Finn’s.
Finn laughs. “I missed you too, little buddy.”
BB-8 gives a long string of shrill, fast beeps, most of them directed at Poe.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” says Poe. He sighs, his cheeks flushed from the cold. “We better get to the debriefing. See you at dinner?”
“I dunno,” says Finn. “I made tons of friends while you were gone. There might not be room at my table.”
“Damn,” Poe sighs. “I guess it was a matter of time, huh?” He bumps their shoulders together. “Everyone loves a bad boy.”
“Oh yeah, I’m so bad. This morning?” Finn leans in, lowering his voice. “I showered for eleven minutes instead of ten. Total rule breaker, that’s me.”
“Uh huh, you bet,” says Poe, sounding strangled. He clears his throat. “Um, anyway—I gotta—“
“Go on, Commander,” says Finn. “See you later.”
“Yup,” says Poe. He jogs off, BB-8 rolling along behind him.
Finn stands there for a long time, just feeling everything tight and cold inside him grow soft, and warm, and alive.
* * *
Now that worry no longer gnaws at his belly, Finn has an actual appetite. He sits with the pilots at dinner, Poe beside him, their thighs brushing under the table whenever one of them moves, and listens to Jess and Snap recount what happened on the mission. Which basically boils down to:
“Nothing,” says Jess, dipping bread into her fish stew. “The starship looked completely abandoned. Obviously it wasn’t, because someone had to be keeping it in position, but…no pods in or out, no signals, no comms…it was weird. And they weren’t hiding from us, either. No shields, even though they had to know we were there.”
“They didn’t go on the offensive?” Finn asks.
“Nope,” she says. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s not the First Order’s M.O.”
“You’re not wrong,” says Finn. He frowns into his stew. “They’ve gotta be up to something."
“The General will probably send us back at some point,” says Poe. He catches Finn’s look and says, “Not for a while, though. We’re spread too thin to keep dispatching whole squadrons on recon.”
Finn relaxes, tearing off another chunk of bread. He tries dipping it in his stew like Jess did. Without meeting Poe’s eyes, he says, “Maybe next time I can come.”
Poe looks at him. “What?”
“You said you would teach me to fly!” Finn says. “Just saying, you know, if I can get the hang of it….”
“Finn, even recon missions can get really dangerous.”
“Okay, well, first of all,” says Finn, pointing at Poe, “you told me this last mission was low risk, so see if I ever believe that again.” He hears Jess stifle a laugh across the table. “Second of all, I am completely aware of how dangerous the First Order is. Like, of all people, Poe.”
Poe winces. “I just meant—“
“You just meant you want me to sit pretty while you go risk your life!”
“I have a whole squad with me out there,” says Poe, “it’s not like I’m alone.“
“Well, I am!” says Finn. “I was alone for two days with nothing to do but worry, and it was seriously not fun, so—,” he breaks off, suddenly aware of the other pilots focusing very intently on their dinners. His next words are softer. “So let me come with you next time. If only so I don’t go nuts. Please?”
“Oh my stars,” says Jess. “Someone taught him puppy eyes.”
Finn ignores her, his gaze never leaving Poe’s. Poe looks at him for a long moment, and then he groans and says, “Fine, fine, I’ll think about it.”
“Pathetic, Dameron,” says Snap.
“I just said I’ll think about it,” Poe says. “And the General would have to agree. And you’d have to pass the pilot’s test.”
“Got it,” says Finn. He grins at Poe, unable not to, and nudges their shoulders together as he turns back to his stew.
“You’re a menace,” says Poe, sounding a little amazed.
“You’re a force of nature,” says Jess, saluting Finn with her bread.
“You’re way cooler than Dameron,” says Snap, and Poe sputters, and Finn just laughs.
* * *
“By the way,” Jess says, as they’re all clearing their trays, “party tonight, to celebrate us once again not dying. Pilots’ lounge. Bring whoever. I’ve got four bottles of prime Corellian rum and I intend to use them.”
“Rum?” says Finn.
Jess winks at him. “Ask your boy. See you tonight!”
She heads out of the mess hall, and Finn turns to Poe. “Rum?”
“Okay,” says Poe, falling into step beside Finn, BB-8 chirping happily at their heels. “Do you know what a party is?”
“Theoretically,” says Finn.
As they walk back toward their room, Poe explains what a party is. Apparently, a good party requires four things:
“Okay,” says Finn. “That sounds…fun.”
He likes friends. He likes food. He likes music. The only thing he’s not sure about is alcohol: he’s never tried it, even though some of the other Troopers had. There was always a flask passed around late at night, a bottle smuggled in and hidden beneath someone’s bunk. Finn was always too nervous to try any, too paranoid about Wern or Phasma catching them. He’d seen people beaten for so much less.
“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” says Poe, pressing his thumb to the scanner. He leads Finn inside, shutting the door quietly behind them. “Jess won’t get mad or anything, I promise. You can sit this one out.”
“I want to go,” Finn says stubbornly, and Poe cracks a smile.
“How did I know you’d say that,” he says. He unzips his jumpsuit, shoving it down so the top half dangles from his waist. He always wears a tight black shirt underneath, some thermal material that keeps him warm in the tiny, bare-bones X-wing.
Finn looks at his feet. He hears Poe undressing, slipping into his civvies. Across the room, BB-8 rolls onto its charging station and goes into low power mode, humming quietly.
“Hey,” says Poe, and Finn looks up. Poe’s got one hand behind his back, a small smile playing across his lips. “Brought you something.”
Finn blinks at him. “What, from your mission?”
“You know how we were forty-seven minutes late?”
“Yeah,” says Finn. “Don’t tell me….”
“I made a quick stop at a trading outpost here on D’Qar, just a few miles away.” Poe brings his hand out from behind his back with a flourish, presenting Finn with a lumpy, palm-sized parcel wrapped in shiny foil.
“Poe,” says Finn, unable to keep the dismay from his voice, and Poe’s smile fades.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “Do you not want it?”
No. Yes. Too much. Finn turns away. He flops down to sit on his mattress, resting his chin on his knees, arms wrapped around his legs. After a moment, Poe follows him. He settles on the floor in front of Finn, peering up at him in confusion. He’s still holding the little parcel, cupping it in one hand. Finn wants to reach out and take it and see what’s inside, but—
“You keep giving me things,” Finn blurts out. “I don’t know how to repay you. I don’t have anything to give.”
“Buddy,” Poe says, “you don’t owe me anything, you don’t need to give me anything—“
“But I want to,” Finn says. “I want to.“
* * *
He wants to say:
You gave me your jacket. You gave me a way off the Star Destroyer. You gave me a name. You gave me friends. You gave me half your room. You gave me your hand, at night, when I can’t tell where my mind ends and the dark begins. You gave me forests, and music, and donuts, and big blue skies and soft beds and hugs and a damn good idea of what it feels like to be a person.
How can I ever repay that?
Where do I even begin?
* * *
“Okay,” says Poe, terribly gentle. “I get it. I do. Hey, you know what? I know what you can give me.”
“What?” Finn asks.
“A letter,” says Poe. “My ma used to write letters to my father all the time when she was off on a mission—for the Rebel Alliance, back then. Just telling him how things were going. She’d even draw little pictures sometimes.”
There are about a thousand questions Finn wants to ask about that, starting with, what was it like to grow up with a mother in the Alliance? Or maybe just, what was it like to grow up with parents? But he pushes his questions aside for now, focusing on this new and strange idea.
“A letter,” he says, testing it out. “You’d want that?”
“’Course,” says Poe. “Everyone likes letters. I could take it with me when I’m off-planet.”
They’re quiet for a moment, Finn caught up in his own thoughts, and then Poe says, “Can I give you your present now?”
Finn rolls his eyes, smiling. “If you must.”
“Oh, I must.” Poe drops the little parcel in Finn’s hands and sits back, watching him open it. Finn peels back the foil slowly, careful not to rip it. Inside are five small, round, brown…things.
“Nuts?” Finn asks. “Protein balls?”
“Finn, I swear on the Force that I would never give you protein balls,” says Poe. “That would be cruel.”
“Well, what are they?”
“Try one and find out.”
Finn gives Poe a deeply skeptical look but pops one of the things into his mouth anyway. For a moment he tastes nothing but bitterness, kind of like caf without milk and sugar, but then the bitterness melts away and Finn moans, his eyes fluttering shut, as he experiences literally the best thing he has ever tasted.
It’s better than custard bread. Better than donuts, even. It’s rich and smooth and creamy, melting on his tongue, sweet but not overpowering.
“What is this,” Finn murmurs, eyes still closed.
“Chocolate,” says Poe. His voice is low, almost hoarse. “Shipped out here from Coruscant.”
Finn opens his eyes and looks down at the four remaining chocolates, amazed. “Screw war, screw peace negotiations—if you wanna defeat the First Order, all you have to do is get bundles of this stuff to the Troopers. If I’d known this was a thing, I would’ve defected years ago.”
Poe smiles at him, small and warm. “Glad you like it.”
“Here,” says Finn, “take one.”
“No way, they’re all yours.”
“Take one,” Finn insists. “C’mon, I’ve never had anything to share before. Let me bask in this.”
“You’re something else,” Poe says quietly, giving Finn an odd, wide-eyed look, but he takes a chocolate all the same.
* * *
Parties, Finn decides, are weird.
And alcohol? Alcohol is really, really weird.
Frankly, no matter what Jess says, Corellian rum tastes absolutely awful. Finn almost choked the first time he tried it; his eyes watered, his nose burned, and the rum had a horrible aftertaste that reminded him of what chemical wash smells like. The only good thing was how it warmed him up from the inside out, a long, hot line from throat to belly.
By Finn’s third drink, the rum is actually a lot easier to get down. He’s getting better at just sort of opening his throat up and tossing it down quick, so he tastes it as little as possible. Actually, Finn’s kind of a pro at drinking rum now. He’s got this. He has got this.
“I’ve got this,” he informs Jess, swirling the contents of his fourth drink. It’s a mixed drink this time, rum on the bottom with some kind of red juice (kavasa fruit, maybe? Is that was Jess said?) on top. He sniffs it, wrinkles his nose, and takes a sip. “Oh, hey,” he says. “That’s not so bad. That’s not gross at all. Like, four gross.”
“Four gross?” says Jess. It looks like she’s trying not to laugh. Usually Finn would be embarrassed, but right now? Nope. He feels fantastic.
“Four out of ten,” he says. “Ten being grossest gross. Like, ration bar gross. Scrubroot stew gross.”
“Oh man,” Jess says, “Finn, sweetie, you are officially drunk.”
He peers down into his cup. “Yup. I think maybe yes. Maybe yes I am.”
“Do you want me to go get Poe?”
Finn looks up. He stares at Jess in amazement, his mouth falling open. “Yes,” he says happily, “yes, Poe, go get Poe!”
“Oh man,” Jess says again, and then she’s gone, winding through the crowded lounge, her hair tumbling down over her back like black water.
Finn downs the rest of his drink. The party’s been going strong for a couple hours now, people streaming in and out of the pilots’ lounge, everyone talking and laughing and singing along to the music. There’s a space cleared out in the middle of the crowd where some people are dancing; Finn can see Karé and Iolo doing some complicated dance together that involves a lot of arm movements and twirling. There’s a table of food set out, too, things Finn’s never tried before: colorful fruits, crunchy little fried things, shiny candies. The options are honestly overwhelming. Finn hasn’t eaten anything so far, simply because he’s not sure where to start.
Drinking is easy, though. Drinking is great. Drinking makes Finn feel warm and hazy and a little lightheaded, just enough to make the room tip a tiny bit when he moves, just enough to make the lights a little brighter than usual.
Finn stands on his tiptoes, searching the crowd for Poe’s familiar dark curls. Poe tried to stick near Finn at the beginning of the party, but people kept pulling him away to congratulate him on his latest mission, and Finn hasn’t seen him since about halfway through his second drink.
A warm hand clasps Finn’s shoulder, and then there’s Poe’s voice in his ear, soft and low: “Having fun?”
“Poe,” Finn says, his heart soaring. He turns around and throws his arms around Poe’s shoulders, dragging him into a hug. “I figured out how to drink rum!”
He pulls back just far enough to look Poe in the eyes. Poe looks even more handsome than usual: his cheeks are flushed with drink, his eyes wide and dark, his hair tousled, one curl falling across his forehead. He’s been in high demand all night, everyone’s favorite, the center of every group he joins, the star around which people orbit, and Finn takes a moment to just think, he’s my friend. He’s my best friend.
(Then he quickly tells the universe, or the Force, or whoever might be listening: Rey is also my best friend. When she gets back, we are definitely having a party.)
“I can see that,” Poe says, laughing. His hands slide up to hold Finn’s waist. “How much have you had, buddy?”
“Four or five,” says Finn. “This is so weird, Poe. I feel so weird. The room keeps spinning. But in like, a good way. Is that normal?”
“Yeah, it’s normal,” says Poe. “Maybe wait a little while before you have another drink, though.”
Finn nods. “Okay. Okay okay okay okay.” He hops up and down a little, bouncing on the soles of his feet, and then a thought occurs and he reaches up to grab Poe’s face with both hands. He yanks Poe closer, pressing their foreheads together, his fingers tangled in Poe’s hair.
“Whoa,” Poe says, “Finn, wait—“
“You’re my best friend,” Finn tells him, enunciating each word to make sure Poe understands. “Even if I’m not yours! It’s okay! Because you’re my best friend, Poe. And Rey is also my best friend. That’s okay, right? Am I allowed to have two?” He sighs. “I don’t know how this stuff works.”
“You can definitely have two best friends,” Poe says. This close, Finn can smell the rum on his breath. “And Finn?”
“You’re my best friend too,” Poe says quietly, barely loud enough to be heard over the music. He smiles and pulls back, so their faces are close but their foreheads aren’t touching, and Finn finds himself missing the contact. “Which is why I deeply regret leaving you alone with Pava. I’m pretty sure she made it her personal mission to get you drunk.”
“She succeeded,” says Finn. “Wait! Are you drunk too?”
“Not enough,” Poe mutters, and then lets go of Finn’s waist and steps back all the way. “How ‘bout we get you some water, okay?”
“Okay,” says Finn. “Can I hold your hand?”
“Yeah, pal, whatever you want.”
Finn grabs Poe’s hand and laces their fingers together. He lets Poe lead him through the crowd, trying not to jostle anyone, focusing on the back of Poe’s head, the nape of his neck, that flash of tan skin.
Poe makes Finn drink two cups of water, saying only, “You’ll thank me in the morning,” whatever that means. Then Jess comes back over and throws an arm across Finn’s shoulders, singing incoherently in his ear, and Snap joins them and starts tugging Poe into the throng of dancers, yelling something about how Poe owes him for “that time on Bri’kari.”
Jess gives Finn a mischievous look, eyes glittering. “Wanna join them?”
“Oh,” says Finn, “no, I mean, I’ve never danced before—“
“Never?” Jess gapes at him for a second, and then she grabs his wrist and pulls him after Snap and Poe. Finn doesn’t even have time to protest before he’s in the middle of a sweaty, bouncing crowd, all of them dancing to the music, some just jumping and laughing and some, like Karé and Iolo, moving with more purpose, more fluidity. Jess immediately joins in, shimmying and tossing her hair, and Finn just stands there, totally lost, trying not to get knocked over. He feels himself swaying as he stands, as if the floor is shifting beneath his feet.
Alcohol. Is. Weird.
Then Jess is yelling, “C’mon, Finn, dance with us!” and grabbing Finn’s hands, and he finds himself in a sloppy, lopsided circle with Jess and some girl he vaguely recognizes from the mess hall, all holding hands and just sort of…jumping up and down.
This isn’t so bad, Finn thinks.
He sees Snap a couple feet away, wiggling his hips, and can’t help but laugh. He looks around automatically and finds Poe, meets his eyes. Finn jerks his head toward Snap, like, are you seeing this?, and Poe cracks up.
They hold each other’s gaze for a long moment, separated by a few sweaty, moving bodies. Poe ducks someone’s flailing arm and comes over, messy-haired and smiling, to lay a steadying hand on Finn’s back.
“Poe, I like dancing,” Finn tells him, leaning in to be heard over the music. Every movement makes his head swim a little; he’s very glad he only had four drinks. “Let’s dance!”
He takes Poe’s hands and spins him in a little circle. Poe cracks up again, eyes crinkling as he laughs, his hands warm and strong in Finn’s, and something about this moment makes Finn feel shaky inside. He feels scraped out, hollowed, like being hungry but not. He wants—
What does he want?
Someone bumps into him from behind. Finn stumbles forward, catching himself right before he falls right into Poe. He grips Poe’s shoulders, regaining his balance, the Corellian rum still slowing his movements. Finn is suddenly hyperaware of how hot he is, sweat shining on his skin, body heat radiating off the crowd around him, and how fast his heart is beating after all the dancing.
Poe’s hands are on his waist. They, too, are radiating heat.
* * *
What does he want?
* * *
He lets himself lean into Poe. Into the curve of Poe’s body. Finn lets his head drop onto Poe’s shoulder; he lets his fingers twist into Poe’s sleeves.
He can feel the music inside him, vibrating up from his feet through his bones and into the cavity of his chest. He moves with it, shifting his feet, swaying from side to side. Finn can’t hear the noise of the crowd anymore, all the shouting and singing and bursts of laughter. The world has narrowed down into the deep thrum of the music, the headiness of being drunk for the first time, the warmth of Poe’s body against his.
Finn saw other people dancing like this, earlier in the night. At the time, he didn’t really see the appeal. It didn’t look like much fun compared to jumping up and down.
But Poe feels so good. He smells so good.
“I like dancing,” Finn says for a second time, letting his eyes slide shut. His nose brushes Poe’s neck.
“Yeah,” says Poe. His hands are spanning the small of Finn’s back, his thumbs rubbing idle circles over Finn’s shirt. “Yeah, Finn.”
And Finn feels something inside him grow and solidify. An empty space, made full.
* * *
(This is FN-2187’s earliest memory:
He is curled up in his bunk. He is four, maybe five years old. He does not remember what happened directly before this, as if he came into existence on his bunk, halfway through the night.
There is the quiet. The half-dark. The thin mattress. The fear.
He thinks, I want to go home, even though he doesn’t really know what home means. All FN-2187 knows of home is: not here.
I want to go home, he thinks, even though he knows, at four years old, that there’s no point wanting impossible things.
Home is, without a doubt, an impossible thing.)
* * *
Finn pulls away. He lets his hands fall from Poe’s shoulders, lets the front half of his body go cold as he puts space between them.
“I’m tired,” he lies. “I think I’m gonna head back.”
“Oh,” says Poe, brow furrowing a little; Finn doesn’t meet his gaze. “Okay. I’ll come with. Lemme just tell Pava.“
“You don’t have to come,” Finn says. “You know, if you’re having fun—“
Poe shrugs. “Not my first party, won’t be my last. You’re drunk. I wanna make sure you get back all right.”
“Okay,” Finn says softly.
Poe gives him a short, unreadable look, and Finn tries not to squirm. But Poe doesn’t say anything. He just turns away, winding through the crowd to find Jess and the other pilots. Finn knows he should follow, he knows he should say goodbye too, but the idea of facing Jess’s sharp, knowing eyes makes him recoil. He waits for Poe by the door, chewing restlessly at his bottom lip.
The empty space is back.
Finn once again feels so…hollow, or hungry, or something, and he doesn’t know why. He tells himself it’s a side effect of being drunk, and tries to ignore how the feeling intensifies when he spots Poe coming back toward him through the crowded room.
It doesn’t mean anything.
* * *
Somewhere between the pilots’ lounge and Sector B, Finn becomes exhausted. It hits him all at once: one minute he’s strangely on edge, his heart racing in his chest, hyperaware of his surroundings, and the next he’s using all his energy just to keep his eyes open. He concentrates on staying upright, trying not to drag his feet too much, all the way down the hall to their room.
He leans against the wall as Poe presses his thumb to the scanner. Then Poe’s opening the door and Finn trails after him into their room. The only illumination is from the faint, waning moonlight outside the window, the power button on BB-8’s charging station. Finn rubs his eyes, adjusting to the sudden dark, and walks right into Poe.
Poe laughs quietly and turns around. “Want me to get the—?“
He stops. Neither of them move. They are so close, face-to-face, as close as they were a few minutes ago when they were dancing slow. But this time, they’re alone. In the dark. And Finn feels so weird.
He can feel the warmth of Poe’s body. He can see the brightness of Poe’s eyes, the curve of his mouth, and Finn can’t help but think—
* * *
Here’s the thing. Here’s the stupid, humiliating, eternally shameful fucking thing.
Finn has never been good at controlling his thoughts. Not at night. At night, something about the quiet and the emptiness and the soft, heavy dark makes the boundaries in Finn’s brain melt away, like chocolate on his tongue, or like ice. At night, Finn’s mind spools out in front of him, and he cannot pull it back. At night, Finn has thoughts that he knows, he knows are wrong.
Thoughts like: I want to go home.
Thoughts like: I don’t know if I can kill for them.
Thoughts like: I want to get out of here.
* * *
Finn looks at Poe. In the darkness, in the moonlight, in their small and silent room.
He looks at Poe, and he thinks, I want to touch him.
For a split second, that’s the only thing Finn knows.
Then Poe says, “Buddy,” oddly loud, and he turns around and says, “let’s get you to bed, c’mon,” and busies himself with changing into his sleep clothes. He flicks on a lamp, and Finn comes back to himself, to reality, blinking hard.
He changes quickly and slides beneath the blankets without making eye contact with Poe. He thinks maybe if he looks at Poe right now, he’ll do something terrible, like reach out and grab Poe’s shirt and tuck his face into the crook of Poe’s neck and stay there for a week.
Finn almost asks Poe to leave the light on, just so he isn’t left alone with his thoughts. But instead he just mumbles, “Night,” and tries not to think about the strange new truth rattling around inside his head.
I want to touch him.
* * *
Finn wakes up with a headache, a dry mouth, and a deep, unsettling feeling in his stomach. He lies there for a few moments, wondering why he feels like a steaming pile of bantha crap.
The party. The drinks. The dancing. The darkness. Poe—
Oh, stars. Finn rolls over, curling up into a ball like he used to do when he was younger. Making his body small always made his mind feel more contained, more guarded. He does not drag the blanket up to cover his face, even though he really wants to, because he is an adult. Adults do not hide under blankets. Right?
“Morning,” says Poe, his voice low and rasping, and Finn’s stomach swoops.
He rolls back over slowly. Poe is still in bed, peering down at Finn from the bunk. There are creases on Poe’s cheek from lying on his pillow weird. His hair is messy, sticking up in back like a bird. His eyes are hooded and dark and sleepy.
“My mouth tastes how scrubroot smells,” says Finn. “And my head hurts. And I wanna turn off the sun.”
Poe nods. “Welcome to your first morning after.”
“Is this a hangover?”
“You betcha.” Poe offers him a lopsided smile. “What’s the verdict?”
“Well,” Finn says. “I liked the drinking part.”
“Most people do.”
“Could do without this part, though.”
“Yup,” Poe says cheerfully. “This part sucks wampa balls.”
Finn flops over onto his back and kicks off his blankets. He stretches, feeling achy throughout his whole body, and relishes the satisfying burn in his muscles, in his back. “So what’s the cure for a hangover?”
“Oh pal,” says Poe, and Finn’s stomach swoops again. “Wait till you find out.”
* * *
The cure for a hangover, as it turns out, is the most ridiculously indulgent breakfast Finn has ever eaten in his entire life. Literally. He follows Poe down the buffet line in the mess hall, his eyes growing progressively wider as Poe piles their trays with donuts, nuna eggs with cheese and vegetables, some sort of disc-shaped meat, a scoop of squishy purple stuff, glasses of cold water and red berry juice, steaming cups of strong caf. They sit at a corner table, far from the windows where the sun is streaming in just a little too brightly.
Poe digs right in, tearing a donut in half and dunking it in his caf, but Finn doesn’t even know where to begin. He stares down at his tray, loaded with enough food to feed his entire FN squad, and can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed.
Then Poe’s saying, “Here,” and passing Finn the other half of his donut. “Dunk it. Tried and true combo.”
Finn dunks it. Tried and true combo, indeed. From there, he finds it easier to tackle his breakfast. He ends up going clockwise around his tray, tasting everything, deciding which things he likes best.
They’re almost done with their trays when Poe says, “Do you still want to fly?”
“Yes!” Finn says immediately. “Yes. I want to be useful. I wanna be able to—to fight, if I’m needed.”
Poe gives him a long look. His eyes are dark, inscrutable. Finn meets his gaze and holds it, trying to give Poe whatever he’s looking for: trust or bravery or determination or any of those things that Finn’s still not sure he has, but wants desperately.
“Okay,” says Poe. “Okay.”
“We’re doing this?” Finn says, feeling himself smile.
“We’re doing this,” says Poe, and steals a bite of Finn’s eggs.
* * *
They’re in the cockpit of Poe’s X-wing, Finn in the pilot’s seat and Poe sort of squished beside him in the tiny, one-person space. Poe’s pointing at one of the joysticks, explaining what it does, explaining about the shift from flight to hyperdrive, about the shields and the blasters and how to take off without the engine shuddering apart—because that’s apparently a thing that’s happened to people before—and Finn’s paying attention, he really is, because this hunk of metal is the only thing between him and Poe and a potentially fiery death, but—
To be honest, when Finn asked for flying lessons, he was picturing himself soaring into battle, finally a true member of the Resistance. Or touching down on the Jedi Temple, hopping out of the X-wing and showing Rey that he’s just as brave and cool as she is, now.
He was so caught up in fantasy that he didn’t consider two things:
- This hunk of metal.
- Is the only thing between him and Poe and a potentially fiery death.
Oh, and one more thing:
- Finn is the one controlling it.
He’s starting to rethink this whole “flying lessons” thing. Unfortunately, it’s a little too late.
“And this,” Poe says, pointing to a black button to the right of the flight controls, “is the eject. You remember that one, right?”
Finn nods, an image flashing behind his eyes: spiraling down through the Jakku atmosphere, going from black space to thin, hazy clouds in a matter of seconds, Poe yelling frantically for Finn to get ready, we’re gonna eject and it’s gonna hurt—
And the horrible wrench of the parachute when it opened, stopping his fall so suddenly that it felt like he’d been torn in half. Then spinning, nausea, looking wildly for Poe but not seeing him anywhere. Blacking out.
“Yup,” Finn says. “Parachute for emergencies. Only slightly better than hitting the ground at a million miles per hour. Got it.”
Poe huffs a laugh, basically right in Finn’s ear. There is really no room in this freaking cockpit. “Exactly. Oh, big note: TIE fighters have two parachutes, for the pilot and the shooter. X-wings are built for one person, so they only have one.”
“Only one chance to not go splat,” Finn says. “Got it.”
“You’re not gonna go splat.” Poe nudges their shoulders together. “Trust me, you’re already parsecs ahead of most trainees.”
“Are you forgetting that one time you singlehandedly took out, like, three of the Finalizer’s turbo lasers? Because you mastered TIE fighter blasters in ten seconds?”
“Are you forgetting that one time we crash landed on Jakku? Because we got hit?”
“That was my fault,” says Poe. “Totally on me. Dodging was my job.” He glances at Finn. “Turned out okay, though.”
“Well, yeah,” says Finn. “If we hadn’t crashed, I wouldn’t have gotten this badass jacket.” He does a little wiggle in his seat, popping the jacket’s collar up and giving Poe a cheeky grin.
“Not fair,” says Poe, “now I want it back.”
Finn scoots over as much as possible, which is about two inches. “No way, it’s mine forever,” he says, hardly believing his own daring. “Besides—you said I look better in it.”
Poe looks at him. “That I did.”
Their eyes catch. Finn’s stomach takes a nosedive for the third time that morning, and he really hopes this isn’t a thing he’s going to have to deal with all the time now. That would seriously make his life difficult. He really, really does not want this to be a thing.
Poe looks away, back at the controls. “All right, buddy,” he says. “Next up, the horizontal stabilizer….”
They go over the controls until Finn can recite each one’s name and purpose when prompted. He thinks that’ll be all for the first day, until Poe looks at him, eyes glittering, and says, “Wanna take her up?”
Finn blinks. “What?” It comes out as a squeak.
“You heard me,” says Poe, and oh, now there’s a challenge in his eyes, in his voice. “We can talk about the accelerator and the stabilizers and the steering stick for a year straight, but it won’t mean jack until you’re actually up there.”
“In the sky?” Finn says, still higher pitched than he’d like.
“We don’t have to,” Poe says. “No pressure.”
Finn looks at him, at the panel of joysticks and buttons and blinking lights, and then back at Poe. “Okay,” he says. “I can do this.”
“You can do this.”
“I can do this,” Finn mumbles. “I can do this.” He shakes himself out, squares his shoulders. Then he looks at Poe again. “You’ll stay in here with me, right?”
“Oh yeah,” says Poe. “No way are you going up alone.”
“Okay. Okay.” Finn nods. He’s scared as hell, but also…excited. He’s excited. “Let’s do this."
Poe squeezes onto half the pilot’s seat, which is apparently just par for the course when it comes to training new pilots. Finn fastens the lower strap of the seatbelt over both their laps and takes a deep breath, mentally preparing himself to fly.
“One more thing,” says Poe, right before Finn turns on the engines. “Gotta wear a helmet, remember?”
He reaches behind them and retrieves his own pilot’s helmet, emblazoned with the red, three-pronged Starbird, the Phoenix, the symbol that once belonged to the Rebel Alliance and now belongs to the Resistance. He holds it out to Finn.
Finn looks down at it with wide eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure,” says Poe. “Put it on, hotshot.”
Finn does. He tries not to think about how the inside of the helmet smells like metal and sweat, but also like Poe’s hair.
Poe gives him a thumbs-up and Finn turns on the engines. They rumble to life beneath him, making the whole cockpit vibrate slightly, a massive thrumming power at Finn’s command.
Finn maneuvers the X-wing out of the hangar and onto the runways outside. It’s a cold, clear day, no cloud cover, a breeze but no heavy winds, nothing but a wide blue sky. Perfect conditions. If something goes wrong in the air, it will be completely Finn’s fault.
I can do this, Finn tells himself a little hysterically. I can do this.
He flexes his fingers on the joysticks. He takes a deep breath.
“You got this, Finn,” says Poe.
“What if I don’t got this?”
“Then I’m right here. I’ll get us back down just fine.”
Okay, Finn thinks, and then there’s nothing left to deliberate. He braces himself, puts one foot on the accelerator, and presses the joystick forward and up.
They shoot forward, one hundred feet of smooth gray tarmac blurring past in less than two seconds. Then the X-wing’s nose tips upward, Finn keeps pressing the joystick, the wings follow, the front wheels lift off the ground, and oh—oh—
Finn’s fucking flying.
He whoops, a wordless noise of pure, uncontainable adrenaline and relief, as the ground falls away, the clear transparisteel of the cockpit showing nothing but blue, blue sky. He brings the X-wing up in a long curve until it’s cleared the tops of the nearest trees, and the Resistance base itself is nothing but a series of gray boxes on the ground, far below.
“Holy shit!” Finn yells, jabbing the horizontal stabilizer; the X-wing evens out in the air, correcting its tilt automatically. “Poe! Holy shit!”
“You did it!” Poe yells back. “You’re flying!”
“I’m flying!” He laughs, too loud and too wild, unable to put what he’s feeling into words. It feels like he left all his insides on the runway below, and now he’s nothing but air and breath and surging, crazy happiness. He’s white-knuckling the controls, his fingers almost numb, but he can’t loosen his grip. His whole body is tense and shaking in the best, most incredible way.
I want I want I want, he thinks, and twists to look at Poe.
Poe, who is wide-eyed and flushed and laughing. Poe, whose thigh is pressing warm and solid against Finn’s. Poe, who is beautiful like the sky is beautiful, like adrenaline and heat are beautiful, like the power under Finn’s hands is beautiful, like the lurch in Finn’s stomach is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
I want I want I want.
“I did it,” Finn says, breathless.
Poe grins at him. Beautiful. “You sure fucking did.”
Finn looks out the cockpit window again, at the expanse of sky and the curve of the horizon, and thinks yes, oh yes, and presses the accelerator.
* * *
Finn stays in the air as long as the fuel cells allow him. For almost two hours, he just flies: cutting through the sky in big, lazy circles, until he could draw an aerial map of this corner of D’Qar with his eyes closed. He memorizes the gray of the base, the deep, tangled green of the forest, the steely blue-gray lake.
At first, he doesn’t talk much, focusing on not screwing up, and Poe sits quietly behind him. But after a while, Finn feels more comfortable with the controls in his hands; the X-wing feels less like a scary metal monster and more like an extension of Finn’s body, intuitive and fluid.
At the two-hour mark, Finn glances at Poe and says, “How old were you when you learned to fly?”
“Five or six,” says Poe, and laughs at Finn’s startled look. “My ma used to take me up in her A-wing, let me sit on her lap and work the controls.”
“She was a pilot in the Alliance,” Finn remembers.
“Yup. One of the best. One of the craziest, too. Way my pa tells it, Ma once singlehandedly took out three Empire TIE fighters, mid-barrel roll.” Poe sounds proud. “She loved that I loved flying. My tenth birthday present was my first solo flight.”
Poe hums, distracted by memory. “I was so excited I pissed myself a little,” he says. “Still my best birthday ever, and the best present I ever got.”
“Birthday present,” Finn says slowly, still stuck on it.
“Yeah, it was—wait. Wait.” Poe actually twists around in the tiny cockpit space to stare at Finn. “Wait—do you not—Finn, do you know what a birthday is?”
“Um,” Finn says. He squints out the cockpit window, pulling the X-wing into another big arc over the forest, toward the lake. Embarrassment curdles in the pit of his stomach, hot and sickly.
(Sometimes it feels like every conversation is a battle simulation, full of hidden traps, and he manages to stumble into every single one.)
“Okay, all right,” Poe mutters. He shifts back into Finn, their bodies pressing together from knee to shoulder. “What about—do you know which day you were born?”
Finn shrugs. He wishes he’d kept his big mouth shut.
“Hey, that’s fine,” says Poe. “No big deal. All that means is you get to pick your own birthday.”
“Yup. Any day you want. Or a different day every year, if that’s how you wanna do it.” Poe puts a hand on Finn’s shoulder, which, considering their cramped conditions, is no easy task. His thumb slides along Finn’s collarbone. “No rules.”
“No rules,” Finn repeats, dizzy with the idea of it. The impossible idea of it.
Finn’s quiet for a long time. He brings the X-wing down to skim over the lake, only a few feet above the water, close enough to kick up a wake of white froth. He thinks about no rules. He thinks about the days of the year, and how they all blurred together for so long, each day exactly like the next….
“The day you named me,” Finn says, shifting his grip on the joystick. He does not meet Poe’s eyes. “That’s my birthday. That’s when I got born.”
“No, Finn,” says Poe. His voice is gentle in Finn’s ear, almost too soft to hear over the hum of the X-wing’s engines. “That can be your birthday, but don’t make it something it ain’t. You weren’t born when I named you. You were born when you set yourself free.”
* * *
The fuel cell display fades from bright green to yellowish, as D’Qar’s small, faraway sun begins to slide down over the horizon, the sky blushing pink, bleeding red. The lake shimmers with golden light, as if the sun is setting directly into the water, sinking slowly beneath the calm, flat surface.
Finn says, “Should we go back down?”
Poe says, “Probably.”
They’re on the far edge of the lake. Finn should shift the joystick, pull the X-wing around, loop back toward the base. He doesn’t move.
“Do you ever just want to keep going,” he says quietly. “Like, when you’re flying. Do you ever just want to keep going, and never look back.”
The sunset fills the cockpit, turning everything dusty and gold.
Poe says, “You know, Jakku was only my second mission for the Resistance.”
Poe says, “I was in the Republic Navy before, and I did a handful of missions for them. But it wasn’t big time stuff. Some recon, some supply runs. Some defensive maneuvers. Thing is, the Republic doesn’t wanna get their hands dirty with this war. They don’t wanna pick a side, just in case it turns out they picked the wrong one. So the Resistance—that was the first time I was really in the thick of it. And my second mission ever, the General sends me after the Skywalker map. And she told me before I went that I was on my own. No backup. No rescue if things went pear-shaped. She couldn’t risk it."
Poe says, “And—well, you know what happened. Things went pear-shaped, all right. And I’m in that chair, I can’t move, and Kylo Ren is digging around in my head and I can feel it. I can feel him, like—like a worm or something, all cold and slimy, eating tunnels through my brain. Worst thing I ever felt. I still get nightmares about it, Finn, and I don’t know if they’ll ever stop. I have nightmares that I’m strapped down, I can’t move, and I can feel that horrible wet worm inside my brain.”
Poe says, “I thought I was gonna die. Like, I was absolutely sure of it. No backup, no rescue, and Kylo Ren got everything he needed. I said goodbye to everyone. BB-8, Pava, Wexley, the General, all of ‘em. I remember thinking at least I’d see my ma again soon. And I remember hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad.”
Finn says, “Poe, Poe,” and his voice breaks.
Poe says, “So this Stormtrooper comes to get me. I think, okay, this is it. They’re gonna execute me. Probably do it in front of the Troopers, make a whole big show of it. To boost morale or whatever. He’s leading me through that massive fucking starship and I’m telling myself it’s okay, it’s okay, BB-8 has the map, there’s still a chance. It’ll be okay.” He pauses. “And then the Stormtrooper takes me into a, a closet, and he takes off his helmet—Stormtroopers don’t do that, that’s their whole thing, but he takes off his helmet—and he looks at me and I swear, he’s got the kindest eyes.”
Poe says, “He saves my life. And I get us shot down over Jakku. I get thrown and I wake up at night and I can’t find the wreckage. I can’t find him. I get to a village, and some local woman tells me about the sinking fields. She says they swallow everything, and nothing ever comes back out.”
“Finn,” says Poe, “Finn, I lost the map. I got myself captured. I couldn’t keep Kylo Ren out of my head. And then this—miracle of a human being comes along and saves me, and I get him killed.”
“You asked if I ever wanna just keep going. Fly away and never look back.” Poe draws in a shaky breath. “I’m telling you: of course I do. Of course I do. I’m a total mess, Finn; sometimes flying away seems like the only thing that makes a lick of sense.”
“I’m sorry,” Finn says senselessly, “I’m sorry, Poe, I’m here—“
“No, no, that’s not it. All I’m saying is that it’s normal. Okay?” Poe looks at him; Finn can’t meet his eyes, he can’t. “We’re in a war. It’s huge and awful and terrifying and honestly, Finn, I’d be more concerned if you didn’t wanna run.”
“I want to go back,” Finn says, “I want to go down,” instead of: I want to touch you. I want to touch your face and your chest and your arms and smell you and breathe you in and know that you are real, and you are here with me, and we are both still here.
“All right,” says Poe, easy as anything. “Let’s bring her in.”
* * *
The second the X-wing touches down, Finn’s scrambling out of the cockpit. He wrenches his helmet off and leaps to the ground, landing hard, and turns just in time to see Poe climbing out behind him. Poe jumps down and takes off his own helmet, and he looks pale and exhausted and sad under it, just like Finn feared, and no, just—no.
Finn reaches for him and pulls him close, clumsy and too rough; Poe drops his helmet in surprise and it bounces and clangs and rolls, but Finn barely notices. He wraps his arms around Poe’s shoulders, hugging him tight, bringing one hand up to cup the back of Poe’s head. Poe’s hair is damp with sweat beneath his fingers.
“We got the map,” Finn says, “we found Luke, and I didn’t die on Jakku, and I’m never gonna go back to that piece of shit planet anyway, seriously, screw Jakku, and Kylo Ren’s never gonna touch you ever again. I swear it. Never again.” He’s breathing harsh and wet against Poe’s neck. “I’d take another lightsaber to the back before I let that happen. Okay? He’ll have to go through me.”
Poe pulls back far enough to stare at Finn. His eyes are wide, his lips parted. His hands are curled in Finn’s shirt, right over Finn’s crashing, racing heart.
“We’re gonna stay here,” Finn says firmly. “We’re gonna stay here together.”
He leans forward and presses his mouth to Poe’s forehead; barely a kiss, more a simple exchange of warmth and touch. He hears Poe’s breath hitch.
Finn likes that noise. He wants to hear that noise again. Slowly, eyes closed, he kisses Poe’s forehead a second time. He kisses the bridge of Poe’s nose.
This is probably really weird, he thinks dazedly, this probably isn’t a normal thing to do, but it’s like there’s a tug in the bottom of Finn’s belly, pulling him forward, making his fingers tighten in Poe’s hair. He feels out of control. His heart is pounding and his stomach is doing barrel rolls and he feels like he’s losing his mind, maybe. He noses at Poe’s temple and kisses the delicate skin there, right over the pale blue vein.
“Buddy,” Poe says, too loud.
Finn twitches, almost startled. He draws back.
“Thank you,” Poe says. He clears his throat and shuffles back a little, putting inches of space between them. “Thanks, Finn. Pal. Thank you, really. You hungry?”
“Uh,” Finn says. He blinks rapidly, trying to clear the fog out of his head. “Yes?”
“Might be some scraps left in the mess hall,” Poe says. He scoops his helmet off the tarmac and strides quickly away from Finn and the cooling X-wing, toward the main hangar. He does not look back to see if Finn is following.
The last streaks of sunset are receding from the runways, purple dusk turning everything to haze and shadows. Finn stands there, staring after Poe in confusion, and tries to figure out what just happened.
* * *
Two weeks pass.
Finn has a few more flying lessons, and Poe goes up with him, but the lessons are a lot shorter now, and Poe doesn’t speak except to remind Finn about the antigrav boosters, which always stick a little in Black One, or to ease up on the steering stick.
Finn practices the leap into hyperdrive. It goes fine. Poe congratulates him with a clap on the shoulder; when they get back to base, Poe just gives Finn another good job, pal, and they do not hug.
At night, Poe no longer sleeps with one arm hanging over the edge of his bunk, fingers close enough for Finn to reach. For the first couple nights, Finn doesn’t understand. He thinks maybe Poe just…forgot, or something, forgot that the handholding is their ritual. They sleep, they dream, and sometimes they wake up terrified, and they grope for each other in the dark. They’ve been doing this for months.
But maybe Poe just forgot.
* * *
By the end of the second week, Finn knows that Poe did not forget. He’s not sure what happened, or why Poe doesn’t touch him anymore—
—or hold his gaze, or talk to him for more than thirty seconds—
—but he knows it is a deliberate choice.
* * *
Finn didn’t realize how much time he spent at the hangars until he stops going. Suddenly, his days yawn open again. He goes to PT for an hour, he practices flying every other day or so, he goes to meals in the mess hall, and that’s it. That’s his day. He doesn’t hang around Jess anymore, passing her tools while she fiddles with her X-wing; he doesn’t pester Snap with endless questions about the Resistance, culture, language, stories. He doesn’t sit next to BB-8, foot tapping to whatever music is blaring through the main hangar.
He doesn’t show up for Poe’s lunch break. He doesn’t sit on the edge of the tarmac with Poe and a heel of custard bread and a mug of hot caf. He doesn’t shiver in the winter chill and sway an inch closer to Poe, to the heat radiating off him, and pretend he doesn’t notice he’s doing it.
If Finn were really brave, he would go to the hangar and look Poe right in the eyes and say:
What did I do wrong?
Was this inevitable?
* * *
Here’s the thing about the universe.
One body always orbits another. One body’s pull is always stronger. Two moons orbit D’Qar. Their names are Yanna and Ulga. They were named for ancient goddesses: Yanna, who lost a daughter to war and went mad with grief, wailing, yanking out fistfuls of her own hair. When her hair touched the ground, it became the forest. When her tears fell, they became the lakes, the oceans, the rivers. Every two years, it rains on D’Qar’s northern hemisphere for three months straight. This is Yanna. She will never stop mourning.
Ulga is the one who killed Yanna’s daughter. She slit the daughter’s throat in battle. Ulga is the bigger moon. She orbits parallel to Yanna, on the same celestial plane. This is Ulga’s fate: to face the grieving mother. The collateral damage. The aftermath. To face Yanna, until the sun dies and the whole star system collapses into itself.
Birth and death, creation and destruction, circling each other for millennia, close but never colliding. Finn learned this story from Snap, who ended it with, “And I guess there’s a lesson in that. There always is.”
Finn guessed, “Don’t kill people? War is bad? Actions have consequences?”
“Yeah,” said Snap, “but it’s probably more than that.”
* * *
Two moons orbit D’Qar. D’Qar orbits a small, faraway sun. Five other planets orbit the same sun. Each planet has its own moons, its own rings of meteors, its own legends and gods and interpretations of the Force. That’s the thing about the universe. Bodies orbit each other. Always, there is one body that pulls, and another that is pulled.
Finn lies awake at night, thinking about the pull between bodies. He thinks about Yanna and Ulga. He thinks about war, and death, and the absolute terror of loss.
He thinks about flying.
He thinks about fumbling in the dark for Poe’s hand.
He thinks about sitting on the edge of the tarmac. The gray sky, the chilly breeze. The small, faraway sun. How there was always a hot mug of caf in his hands, and a jacket that kept the cold out, but he still swayed into Poe. He couldn’t help it.
* * *
He thinks about facing consequences.
* * *
Finn holes up in a corner of the mess hall after dinner, after most people have filed out. He turns on his tablet and starts writing two letters.
To Rey. Hi. It’s Finn. Writing is weird. Harder than talking, and talking’s hard enough. I’m not sure how to do this or what’s proper so I will just dive in. (Also I guess you probably don’t care about what’s proper anyway. That’s definitely one of my favorite things about you.) I miss you. Rey I miss you so much. I wish you were here so I could show you things. It doesn’t hurt to move anymore so I could go for walks in the forest if I wanted to but it would be a lot more fun with you. (Also you could fight off wild animals. You’ve been getting lots of practice with Chewie after all.) (DON’T TELL HIM I SAID THAT.)
Rey I gotta tell you I’m writing this for a selfish reason.
I think I messed up. But I don’t know what I did. And I don’t know how to fix it.
To Poe. Hi. It’s Finn.
* * *
C-3PO fetches Finn and Poe at dawn. He refuses to tell them why they’re being summoned, just orders them to “get some proper clothes on and please call off your droid, Commander, he’s as insufferable as R2!”
(It’s been three weeks since Poe stopped touching Finn. Finn’s totally over it. These things happen. It’s fine.)
(It’s also been three weeks since Finn got a full night’s sleep. He tells himself it’s a coincidence.)
They follow C-3PO through the narrow halls, mostly empty this early in the morning, to the control room, where General Organa is waiting with Statura and Ackbar and a bunch of other techs and strategists, all crowded around the big holo projection the center of the room. Some sort of map is being projected, blue and shimmering; Finn sees a small moon. A spacecraft, hovering nearby.
Finn glances at Poe out of habit, looking for answers, but Poe’s watching the General. He doesn’t seem to sense Finn’s gaze.
“Commander Dameron,” says the General. “Private Finn. We’ve got a situation.”
She beckons them over to the holo map. This close, Finn can see details: it’s a map of a small moon labeled RGE-67. And a First Order starship, fixed at five thousand kilometers from RGE-67’s surface.
“Black Squadron did recon on that ship,” Poe says. “No incoming or outgoing transmissions. The moon is uninhabited.” He addresses the room. “We advised the General to keep a close watch on it.”
“And we did,” says the General. “Two hours ago, we finally recorded some radio activity from the ship. Heavily encrypted comms sent in a seemingly random direction.” She shifts the holo map. A small dotted line appears, indicating the starship’s outgoing signal. “It’s a good thing we followed it.”
Admiral Statura steps forward. “RGE-67 itself may be small, but it occupies a unique spot in its star system. It orbits the gaseous planet Aris-592C, which in turn orbits its sun.” A complete map of the star system appears in the holo projection. “There’s not much about RGE-67 in any database, but we were able to find some information on Aris.” He magnifies Aris. Finn leans in, studying the sphere of blue light, watching clouds of gas shift across its surface like sand in the wind. “Turns out, Aris has an abnormally unstable magnetic field. Its poles wander constantly; the North and South poles completely reverse about once every century or so.”
“Which is pretty much completely unheard of,” says the General. “And if the magnetic field is unstable, so is everything else. Including its orbit. In fact, it would be relatively easy to knock it off course.”
Something cold grows in the bottom of Finn’s stomach.
“Like how easy,” says Poe. “Like blowing up a tiny moon easy?”
“Here.” Statura hits a button on the holo pad. “We simulated it.”
All eyes turn to the holo projection. Statura switches it back to show Aris’s whole star system. As they watch, little RGE-67 disappears.
For a few moments, nothing happens. Then Aris starts trembling. The tremors grow bigger, until the entire planet is wobbling on its axis, as if being shaken by a giant hand. It wobbles off the elliptical track of its orbit and collides with the bright blue sun.
Everyone watches, dead silent, as the sun expands, explodes, and collapses into itself until there is a miniature black hole in the holo projection. The rest of the star system—tiny planets and their tinier moons—is sucked into it, swallowed up, until Statura ends the simulation.
A star system destroyed in the span of a few seconds. All because of one little moon.
“Of course, this only happens at a very specific point in Aris’s orbit,” says the General. “There’s a window of about two weeks. Too early, and Aris just swings out of the sun’s gravitational pull. Too late, and Aris hits the sun at too shallow an angle; there is no explosion.”
“Let me guess,” says Poe. “That two week window is coming up.”
The General nods. Her brown eyes are fixed on the holo projection, on the black hole. “The window begins in approximately three days. We predict the First Order will attempt to destroy RGE-67 on the first possible day. They’re not much for patience.”
“Okay,” says a tech standing behind Finn. “So what’s the fallout? Are there any inhabited planets in that system? How far will the black hole’s vacuum reach?”
The unspoken question: will it reach us?
“D’Qar will be swallowed,” says the General, and the silence in the control room seems to take shape, grow heavier, as the words sink in. “But I actually don’t think we’re the main target. There is one inhabited planet at the edge of Aris’s star system.” She shifts the projection again; the black hole disappears and is replaced by the star system map. “Here. Mallai.”
“That’s—,” someone says, and someone else says, “Oh, goddesses,” and Finn looks at Poe, and Poe’s eyes are wide and dark.
“The planet Mallai is under the Republic’s jurisdiction,” says Statura. “It is the homeworld of the Supreme Chancellor.”
“They’re forcing the Republic’s hand,” says Poe. His voice seems to cut through the whispers in the room. “They’re forcing an all-out war.”
“Yes,” says General Organa. “Two billion will die on Mallai. The Republic will be unable to remain semi-neutral. They will send out troops by the million.”
“But,” says Finn, and immediately squirms when half the room turns to look at him. “But—I’m sorry, I’m still kind of—I mean, isn’t that a good thing? Don’t we want help from the Republic?”
“We want money for ships and supplies,” says the General. “We want bases for refugees of war. We want alliances with other governments, other planets. We even want troops—if they’re loyal to us. Private Finn, if the First Order provokes the Republic so blatantly, that’s not what we’ll get.” She speaks gently, as if Finn is the only one in the room. “We will get absolute chaos. Absolute death. The Republic will have only one goal: to annihilate the First Order. They don’t care who they crush underfoot along the way.”
Her voice rings out, filling the room. “The destruction of the moon RGE-67 is a catalyst. The first spark in an inferno that will consume countless systems. Billions of lives. We cannot let this happen.”
In that moment, Finn truly sees General Organa for the first time. There is no trace of Princess Leia here. No trace of the girl who loved Han and Luke, the girl whose young, laughing face is forever preserved in holovids, her eyes sparkling, her arms wrapped around Han or Chewie. There is no Leia, the lover, the mourner, with the soft brown eyes, the sad smile. There is only the General, and her eyes are flint; her spine is steel; her words could rebuild universes. Could rebuild people.
Finn looks at her and thinks, I understand why people die for you.
* * *
It takes four hours to come up with a plan that might work.
At the three-hour mark, Admiral Ackbar looks at Finn and says, “He could infiltrate the starship. The one hovering off RGE-67. If we can get someone on the inside, we could reroute the missiles. Buy us some time to go on the offensive.” He searches Finn’s face. “He was a Trooper. He could do it.”
Poe says, “No.”
The General says, “That might work.”
Poe says, “No.”
The General says, “Finn?”
And Finn says, “I can try.”
* * *
They take two days to prepare for the mission. During those two days, Poe has about a dozen arguments with General Organa, Admiral Statura, Admiral Ackbar, and anyone else in the vicinity about Finn’s involvement. Finn knows he isn’t supposed to hear any of it, but as the hours tick by, counting down to takeoff from D’Qar, Poe’s voice grows louder, more desperate.
Finn can hear him now, through the door of the armory. Poe and the General are waiting in the corridor outside, waiting for Finn, and Finn should not be eavesdropping on their conversation. He definitely should not be pressing one ear to the thick metal door, straining to catch Poe’s words.
“He hasn’t been training,” Poe’s insisting, his voice muffled. “He hasn’t been in a combat situation since Starkiller, his spine’s only just healed, a month ago he was still limping—“
Humiliation trickles into Finn’s belly. He feels his cheeks grow hot, a sick flush spreading through his body.
This, then, is how Poe truly thinks of him: a damaged ex-soldier. A liability.
“Of course it’s not ideal,” the General says. “But I have faith in him, Commander.”
“He’s trying to prove himself, he’s trying to prove he’s useful,” Poe says, an edge creeping into his voice. “General, I know him, I know him, he’ll do anything for the Resistance, even if it gets him—captured, or, or—”
“Poe,” the General says, and Poe falls silent immediately. Finn presses even closer to the door, eyes wide, listening hard. He’s never heard the General call Poe anything but Commander Dameron. And he’s never heard her use such a soft, familiar tone with anyone. She is kind to Finn, yes, but this….
“Poe,” she says again. And Finn realizes: this must be what a mother sounds like.
“I know it’s hard,” she says. “Watching their backs as they walk away.”
“It shouldn’t have to be him,” says Poe.
“Yes,” says the General. “Yes, that is true.”
“Or he should have more time. To prepare himself.”
“Yes,” says the General. “I wish I could give that to him.” She sounds suddenly exhausted. “I wish I could give that to all of us.”
A few beats of silence. Finn almost steps away from the door, but then Poe says, “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to disrespect you. I’m just….”
“Scared,” she says. “Oh, Poe. Don’t you think I understand?”
Poe doesn’t say anything after that. Finn waits a minute, then finally shuffles back, takes a deep breath, steadies himself, and opens the door. He steps out into the corridor; Poe and the General look almost surprised to see him, as if they forgot why they’re waiting outside the armory in the first place.
Then they get a good look at him.
“Hell,” says Poe hoarsely, the color draining from his face.
Finn raises his arms, and the white beetle-shell Stormtrooper armor catches the overhead lights. It pinches in the armpits and the knee-joints when he moves, and the collar jabs into his Adam’s apple. The Trooper this armor belonged to must have been a bit smaller than Finn.
(Finn is trying not to think about the Trooper this armor belonged to.)
He lowers his arms, wiggles his fingers, getting used to the added weight on his limbs and torso, the added pressure against his spine and abdomen. It is amazing, he thinks, how quickly you forget: this is how it feels to carry sixty pounds of inflexible plastoid. This is how it feels to be systematically detached from the simplicity of your own body. This is how it feels to never, ever be free.
“I haven’t tried on the helmet yet,” he says quietly. “It’ll fit, though. They’re standard issue. One size fits all.”
Poe scrubs a hand over his face. He looks at the floor, the walls, the General. Anywhere but at Finn. His eyes are wide and dark, his mouth a thin white line.
“Well?” Finn says. “Do I make a convincing Stormtrooper?”
General Organa studies him for a long moment, arms crossed over her chest. “You know, Private,” she says, “fighting a war means doing things you don’t want to do. And sometimes it means being things you do not want to be.”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Finn.
“That being said,” she says, “I really don’t think you make a good Stormtrooper.”
“That’s okay,” says Finn, his voice shaking. “You know, I think I’m okay with that.”
* * *
Twelve hours until Finn leaves D’Qar. It is dark. It is night. He is lying in bed, too jittery to sleep, watching Yanna and Ulga slide by outside the window. He can hear Poe breathing above him, deep and slow. Every so often, Poe shifts slightly, the sheets rustling.
Poe’s a good actor. But Finn knows fake sleep.
In twelve hours, Finn will board a freighter and be flown out to RGE-67. The freighter will shield itself until it docks on the First Order starship, until Finn is able to sneak off and join the ranks of the Stormtroopers. Poe, Jess, and Nien Nunb are his backup; they’ll be following in their X-wings, close enough to attack if necessary but far enough away to avoid detection.
Backup. It’s a nice idea. But Finn knows perfectly well that once he’s inside the starship, he’s on his own.
He closes his eyes, trying to calm the crash of his heart. You can do this, he tells himself. You can do this. In 24 hours, it’ll be over.
One way or another.
* * *
If Finn were really brave, he would sit up. He would push the blankets off and sit up and grab Poe’s hand and say:
What did I do wrong? Why won’t you look at me? Why don’t you want me to do this? Do you not trust me?
Do you not believe in me?
If Finn were really brave, he would let himself think about leaping down from the X-wing, hitting the ground hard, feeling something indescribable expand inside his chest, taking his breath away, almost painful, as if his very ribs were cracking outward with the force of it. He would think about how that indescribable thing propelled him forward until he collided with Poe. Or perhaps it didn’t propel him at all. Perhaps he was pulled. A body, orbiting. Circling something bright and warm. He would think about how Poe felt so solid against him. Poe’s sweat-damp hair between Finn’s fingers. How Poe’s breath stuttered when Finn held him even tighter, how Finn wanted to keep going, to press their bodies somehow closer, to hear that sound again, to hear Poe’s breaths come fast.
If he were really brave, he would let himself think about all of it. Poe, and warmth, and home, and other impossible things.
* * *
To Poe. Hi. It’s Finn.
You told me to write you a letter. Sorry it took this long. We leave for RGE-67 in fifteen hours and I guess the adrenaline’s finally got my ass in gear. Also I don’t think I’m very good at writing letters. Not sure what’s right to say and what isn’t. So I guess I’ll just say a bunch of true things and hope one of em sticks.
- I think I love you.
- I think I’m not supposed to.
- I didn’t know it would be a problem but there’s a lot of things I don’t know. About this kind of thing, about everything. About being a person. All I know is you haven’t looked at me or hugged me or anything for like three weeks and the only reason is if you figured out how I feel and you don’t want it. Which is okay. You don’t have to give me anything.
- It’s bullshit that you didn’t just talk to me about this. Sorry but it is.
- It really sucks to miss a person who’s right next to you.
- Im scared for tomorrow. I’m scared that I’ll mess up and they’ll catch me. I’m scared that you’ll die. I’m scared that I’ll die. I’m scared that I’ll fail. I know it’s a war and things happen. But you said it was normal to be scared and I am so scared. I am so scared all the time, Poe.
- You wanna know something really sick. I’m not even that scared of torture. If they catch me I mean. That’s a terrible thing to say to you of all people, I know, but its true. When I have nightmares about them catching me again Im not scared that they’ll make me bleed. I’m scared that they’ll recondition me. Wipe my brain clean so I don’t remember anything. I don’t want to forget. Poe. I don’t want to forget any of this.
- I wasn’t a good Stormtrooper. I hope I am better at being a person.
- If I die tomorrow that’s how I wanna be remembered. Ok? Promise me that. Promise me I’ll be remembered as a person. In the First Order they leave dead Troopers behind on the battlefield. Or dump them out the airlock if they’re hurt too bad. But Snap told me if someone dies you have a ceremony. Burn them or bury them or sing them up into the stars. I don’t care what you do with my body. Burn me, bury me. But call me Finn while you do it.
- I think I started loving you the second you gave me that name.
- So you don’t have to give me anything else. I mean it. That was enough.
- My name is Finn.
- I am a person.
- I love. I love. I love.
* * *
They gather in the main hangar the next day at 1200. Finn is already in his Stormtrooper armor, carrying the helmet under his arm. He doesn’t want to put it on until he absolutely has to.
The pilot who will be flying him out to the First Order starship is a woman Finn hasn’t met before. Her skin is brown like his, her hair black and curly, her eyes a clear gold. She seems smart. Serious. She introduces herself as Eya, shakes Finn’s hand with a strong grip. She tells him, “I won’t leave that starship until you’re back aboard my girl.”
It is, perhaps, a lie. But it’s a kind lie, so Finn likes her.
Poe, Jess, and Nien prep their X-wings. The General is here to send them off, along with Statura and Ackbar. There’s a sense of unease in the air, something that makes everyone speak in hushed voices. Finn hasn’t been in this situation before, but he thinks maybe this is how people act before they go somewhere they might not come back from.
It’s okay, he tells himself. No matter what happens, all he has to do is reroute the missiles. It’s okay if he doesn’t make it back out, as long as he does that.
They open the massive hangar door. Outside, the winter sun is small and pale, the grass around the runways white with frost. Finn stands near Eya’s freighter and just looks, taking it all in. The sun, the grass, the blanket-gray sky, the black tarmac, the feeling of cold air in his lungs.
He looks to the western horizon. Yanna and Ulga are still visible, thin, translucent crescents hanging low in the sky. The mother and the killer, facing each other until the end of days.
Finn thinks he understands the lesson in their story, now. It’s not about the daughter. It’s not about grief, or violence, or suffering, or even consequences. The thing about Ulga is that she didn’t try to run. She stepped up to Yanna and looked in her eyes and saw her pain and did not flinch, or try to avoid it. In the end, Finn thinks, Ulga was a soldier. There was a war. You do things you do not want to do. You become things you do not want to become. All you can do is hope that future generations do not forget how you fought, paradoxically, because you wanted the war to end.
Finn looks at Ulga and thinks, I will not forget.
He thinks, Someday this will end.
Footsteps behind him. Finn turns to see Poe, who comes to stand by his side.
“Hi,” says Poe.
“Hi,” says Finn.
“In twelve hours, this will all be over,” says Poe. “We’ll be right back here. Safe and sound.”
“Yeah,” says Finn.
They’re quiet for a moment. Then Poe says quietly, “I’m so sorry you have to do this. Put on the helmet, get on that starship, all of it. I’m so fucking sorry, Finn. I wish there was any other way.”
Finn ducks his head. “I know you don’t think I can do it.”
“I heard you,” he says, the words tumbling out, “with the General, when I was in the armory—trust me, I know you wish there was another way, but I’m not gonna let the Resistance down. I swear. I’ll finish this no matter what.”
“What?” Poe says. “Wait, you heard what?”
“Private Finn!” the General calls out from behind them. “Commander Dameron. It’s time.”
Finn faces Poe. Looks him right in the eye. He takes one last moment to study Poe’s features, committing all of him to memory, just in case: the big brown eyes, the dark, furrowed brows, the strong nose, the stubble on his cheeks and jaw. The soft, wide mouth.
“If things go bad,” Finn says, low and quick, “if I don’t make it out, there’s a letter for you on your bed. And tell Rey she’s my best friend and she’ll be the best Jedi ever, a million times better than Luke. No offense to Luke. Tell her I said that, okay?”
“Finn,” says Poe, eyes wide, “fuck, no, you’re gonna make it out—”
“There’s a letter on your bed,” Finn repeats, and then he’s walking back toward the ships, toward the General and Eya and the others. He salutes the General. He salutes Jess and Nien. He follows Eya aboard the freighter, and he doesn’t look back at Poe, because he thinks maybe if he does, he’ll fly apart.
* * *
Finn’s looking out the window when Eya takes them out of hyperdrive, the stars blurring out of blue parallax and back into tiny, distant flecks of light. He spots RGE-67 immediately, the only big object in sight. And there, off the curve of its atmosphere, he can just barely see the First Order starship.
It’s a Star Destroyer. Smaller than the Finalizer, but Finn knows they’ve all basically got the same layout inside. The control room won’t be hard to find. He can do this. He can totally do this.
Eya calls back to him from the cockpit. “It’s time. Shields are up. Docking ETA seven minutes.”
“Roger,” says Finn, and turns away from the window. He picks up the Stormtrooper helmet, handling it carefully. The smooth plastoid catches the light. He takes a breath, straightens his back, shakes the tension from his muscles, and puts it on.
His field of vision reduced to a slit. The pressure on his Adam’s apple, like fingers wrapped around his throat. The sudden weight on his shoulders. All of it feels so much more familiar than it should. Finn stands still for a moment, listening to the rasp of his breath, and focuses on staying calm.
Eya says, “Docking ETA four minutes. You ready, Private?”
“Yes ma’am.” He almost flinches at the sound of his own voice, metallic and artificial, ground up by the helmet.
He presses a button on the helmet’s jaw. The tiny screen in front of his eyes flickers to life, displaying his vitals—heart rate, oxygen levels—and his comm transmitter, which is linked to Eya, Poe, Jess, Nien, and the control room back on D’Qar. “Comms up.”
“Docking ETA three minutes,” says Eya, and this time Finn hears her from the cockpit and also as a filtered voice in his ear. “Black Squadron, check in.”
“Black One checking in,” says Poe over the comm link. “Got your back, Commander.”
“Black Two,” says Jess, and Nien adds, “Black Three,” in his strange, liquid voice.
“D’Qar, check in,” says Eya.
“Checking in,” comes the General’s voice, clipped and serious. Finn imagines her all the way back on D’Qar, watching their progress on the holo. “Private Finn, you have the faith of the Resistance behind you. We’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“Yes ma’am,” says Finn, unable to say anything else. His mouth has gone dryer than the Jakku desert.
Eya shifts their course, steering the freighter in a wide curve toward the tail end of the Star Destroyer. “Docking ETA two minutes.”
Finn swallows hard. The Star Destroyer looms above them, a massive shape against the vast black ocean of stars, a hole cut out of the galaxy. This close, Finn can make out each turbo laser on the ship’s underbelly, the four big vectral cannons, the ports for TIE fighters and escape pods. He can see lit hallways along the exterior.
He knows those hallways. He has marched them, back on the Finalizer. He has walked in perfect formation down those hallways for hours, simultaneously paranoid and bored out of his skull, blaster against his shoulder, his footsteps echoing off the polished floor.
“Docking ETA,” says Eya. “One minute.”
“May the Force be with you,” says General Organa, her voice soft in Finn’s ear.
“Good luck,” says Jessika. “Give ‘em hell.”
“We are behind you,” says Nien.
“You got this, Finn,” says Poe.
“Here we go,” says Eya, wrenching the joystick sideways, “Docking ETA ten seconds—nine—“
* * *
The air smells the same.
It’s the first thing Finn notices, when he slips off Eya’s freighter and into the Star Destroyer’s port. The air smells like steel and chemical wash, that thick, metallic taste on the back of the tongue, heavy like blood, ozone-sharp like a lightsaber. He grew up with that smell. He didn’t know there was anything else until that first raid on Jakku. His mask filtered out the particles of smoke, but not the smell. Finn knows he will never forget his first breath of the outside world, and how it tasted like fire and oil and burning, melting flesh.
(D’Qar smells like rain and grass, like heat coming off tarmac, like engine oil, like caf and custard bread and wet, dark soil. It smells like Finn’s pillow, like Poe’s blankets, like soap and sweat and salt.)
Finn ducks behind a corner, avoiding a patrol team as they march down the corridor. He makes it across half the Star Destroyer like that, heading toward the control room in stops and starts, sometimes hiding and sometimes, terrifyingly, stepping out into plain sight, walking purposefully through streams of Stormtroopers and somehow, somehow never getting caught, even though he feels like surely he must stand out. Surely he cannot blend in so well.
He is only questioned once. A Stormtrooper with a red shoulder plate walks past him, pauses, turns around. Says, “You there.”
Finn’s heart stops. His breath freezes in his lungs.
“Designation,” says the Stormtrooper.
Finn says, “FN-2003.”
“And where are you supposed to be, FN-2003?”
“Sanitation,” Finn says. Somehow his voice does not shake. “Garbage chute’s backed up. I was ordered to fetch odor wash.”
“It’s backed up again?” the Stormtrooper says, exasperated. “That’s three times in two weeks.”
“Go,” says the Stormtrooper. “Go, get on with it.”
“Yessir.” Finn hurries away, fighting the urge to run. It is a miracle, he thinks, that every Stormtrooper in the room can’t hear his heart pounding.
The control room is near the nose of the Star Destroyer. There is a 24-hour guard on the control room doors, both inside and out, and patrol teams do a sweep every four minutes. There are usually a couple officers inside the control room itself, and all the computers require a biometric scan—thumbprint or cornea—and a 21-character passcode. Get the passcode wrong once, and the computer locks down; it broadcasts a distress signal to every Stormtrooper in the vicinity. Finn’s seen it happen a dozen times over the years, and it always ends with a very pissed off, very embarrassed officer yelling at a gaggle of Troopers for nearly blasting his head off over a typo.
There is another way.
Finn turns into an empty corridor, two corners away from the control room. He leans against the smooth, white wall. He takes a deep breath. His tongue tastes like metal.
“Commander Dameron,” he murmurs. “Listen carefully.”
“Finn?” says Poe, his voice small and tinny through the comms. “Everything okay? Control room’s close—“
“I’m not going to the control room,” says Finn. “There’s no way to get past the guards and I don’t have any biological data in the system. The main computers aren’t an option.”
“There’s a backup system,” Finn says. “Primitive tech. Held in a separate room, in case the control room goes under fire. Makes constant copies of the ship’s data. Troopers aren’t supposed to know it exists.” He swallows. “Phasma showed me. I had promise. I picked up tech quickly. Fixed a bug in the simulator once.”
“Finn,” Poe says slowly, “what’s going on?”
“I can reroute the missiles using the backup system,” says Finn. “No guards except the patrol teams, and they won’t be sniffing around. They don’t know it’s there.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before, Private?” says General Organa, but oh, it sounds like she already knows, or at least has an idea; she sounds blank, carefully so, all General, no Leia. Finn’s guts twist. He knows damn well she never wants to lose a soldier.
“Because when you access the backup system it sends an automatic signal,” he says in a rush. “There’s a grace period of two minutes. For emergencies, you know, if someone has to save the data but can’t do the biometric scan—you get two minutes. Then the signal goes out. The Troopers come.”
Silence on the comms.
“I can reroute the missiles within two minutes,” Finn says. “I can destroy the whole, the whole freaking system, I can make it so they won’t ever touch RGE-67, General, I promise, but—but I don’t think I’ll be able to get out.”
Silence, and then Poe says, “Finn, no, don’t you dare, don’t you fucking dare,” and his voice is raw and tight, like Finn’s never heard him sound before; he has never heard Poe sound scared, not on the Finalizer and not before they stormed Starkiller and certainly not after.
“Commander Dameron,” says Finn, “if we let this happen, billions of people are gonna die.”
“You could have told us,” Poe says, “you could have told me—”
Finn closes his eyes. “You wouldn’t have let me come. You or the General.”
“That’s because the Resistance doesn’t believe in suicide missions!” Poe snaps. “General, please, there’s gotta be another way.”
“No,” says Finn. “The missiles could be remote fire. Even if we blew up this whole ship, it wouldn’t guarantee RGE’s safety. If you go through the main computer system, it’s too easy to reverse. Wiping the backup system is the only way.”
The General breaks in. “Private Finn,” she says, “are you absolutely sure you can reroute the missiles in time?”
“Yes,” says Finn. “Yes, ma’am.”
“No,” says Poe, louder now, “what the hell, no, he is not doing this!”
Something sharp and hot flashes in Finn’s chest. For the first time, he thinks of the conversation he overheard outside the armory, and he feels angry. He remembers: he hasn’t been in training, he hasn’t been in a combat situation since Starkiller, his spine’s only just healed, a month ago he was still limping; he remembers: he’s trying to prove himself, he’s trying to prove he’s useful, he’ll do anything for the Resistance; he remembers: it shouldn’t have to be him; he remembers Poe’s avoidance these past few weeks, Poe’s downcast eyes, Poe leaning away from Finn’s hands, how Finn’s been dying to grab Poe’s shoulders and look him right in the eye and say—
“I can do this.”
“I will not let you down.”
“You need to believe in me, Poe.” Finn blinks quickly, drawing a shaky breath. “You need to trust me. I can do this.”
“I do trust you,” says Poe, sounding scraped-hoarse but also—surprised, or something close to it. “Of course I trust you, that’s not—Finn.“
Footsteps sound in the hallway outside Finn’s hiding spot. Six pairs of footsteps, marching in time. “Patrol team just passed,” he says. “General, I need to go now.”
“Tell Commander Dameron the second you wipe the system,” says the General. “The pilots will try to get you out, Private. We will not leave you behind.”
(Unless we have to. She does not say it, because she is so deeply, perpetually kind, and Finn loves her for that. But he hears it, all the same.)
“Yes ma’am,” he says, “yes ma’am,” and he pushes off the smooth white wall, and thinks: you fight because you want the war to end. Someday, someday, it will end.
* * *
This is FN-2187’s earliest memory:
He is curled up in his bunk. He is four, maybe five years old. He does not remember what happened directly before this, as if he came into existence on his bunk, halfway through the night. This is his earliest memory. Curled up in a ball. Skinny arms wrapped around knobby knees. The quiet. The half-dark, the odd greenish glow of the overheads. The thin mattress. The small, sleeping bodies around him, those little heartbeats, those soft, shallow breaths.
FN-2187 thinks, I want to go home, even though he doesn’t really know what home means. He once heard an older Trooper mention a home planet, so all FN-2187 knows of home is: not here.
I want to go home, he thinks, even though he knows, at four years old, that there’s no point wanting impossible things.
* * *
This is what it feels like to be human:
You ache. Like frostbite, the pain comes only after you begin to thaw. You did not know it was possible to hurt this much. Your heart is not ice, or stone, or machine, or whatever else they told you. Your heart is red and slippery; your pulse crashes; your breaths are chaotic in your chest. You are a disaster. You are raw material. You are warm and messy and newborn, stumbling your way through this world, colliding with other bodies in the dark. You are confused. You are scared. You are too much, and then sometimes you are not enough. Sometimes you feel so hard that your lungs burst and your throat closes and you bite your tongue and your ribs crack, thrusting outward, breaking through your flesh, your heart swollen and shivering, your guts laid bare for anyone to see. Sometimes you are very small, and you curl up in your bed, and you want desperately to be cold again. That’s the worst part, maybe: that sometimes you want to be cold again.
You expand. You contract. This happens more often in the beginning, right after you are born. You lurch between extremes. The world is loud and bright and makes such strange noises. You wonder if it will be like this forever. You wonder: how does everyone else bear it?
And yet somehow they do. And so you try.
You wake up each morning and shake the ice from your limbs. You crawl out into the world. You learn about forests, and music, and donuts, and big blue skies and soft beds and hugs, and friends, and the odd shudder of laughter, and stories and history and funerals, and chocolate, and parties, and flying, and long showers, and warmth, and warmth, and warmth.
Slowly, you thaw.
* * *
As Finn predicted, there are no guards outside the door to the second control room. There’s a keypad but no biometric scanner; it’s a simple matter of studying the traces of wear and skin-oil on the keypad buttons. Finn gets the four-digit passcode on the first try. The door slides open and he steps inside.
The room is tiny, dark, blanketed with dust. Empty but for the ancient computer system, whirring in the corner, holding redundancies upon redundancies of the Star Destroyer’s data, everything from default oxygen levels to security cam feeds to the exact mass of garbage in the trash compacter. And, of course, the Command logs. The raw data of the weapons system. Blasters and lasers and cannons, reduced to single lines of binary.
I can do this.
“Okay,” Finn says into the comms. “Am I good to go?”
“On the two minute mark, you take cover no matter what,” says Poe tightly. “Even if you didn’t wipe the system. Two minutes and we’re blasting our way in.”
“Don’t get blasted,” Finn says. “Got it.”
“Go,” says the General.
“Going,” he says, and puts his fingers on the keys.
* * *
It takes one minute and sixteen seconds to reroute the Star Destroyer’s missiles. He was right. Six missiles, with enough explosive power to destroy a small moon, are firing from a remote location, some tiny, empty meteor a few thousand kilometers away. They were set to fire tomorrow at noon. Now, however, they will fire in exactly three minutes. They will rocket about half a kilometer off the surface of that tiny, empty meteor, and then they will collide with each other. They will explode. They will burn each other up, in the middle of a thousand empty kilometers of space, and then it will all be over.
It takes thirty-nine seconds to wipe the backup system. Now, even if the Star Destroyer finds out about the missile reroute, they will be unable to stop it. They can’t send or receive signals. Finn’s killed their nervous system.
That’s for my spine, he thinks fiercely, pushing it out into the universe. That’s for my fucking spine.
The wipe completes. The entire operation took one minute and fifty-five seconds.
“Done,” Finn says. “It’s done.”
“Take cover and grab onto something,” says Poe, “we’re coming at you, Finn.”
Two minutes. The computer screen pulses red.
Finn drops to the floor, slides back against the inner wall. Covers his helmeted face as best he can.
You did it, he tells himself. You did it. It’s over.
He feels calm. His heartbeat is steady. His lungs expand and contract.
He hears scattered, hurried footsteps in the corridor outside. Six pairs of footsteps. Maybe seven. Someone shouts.
Finn closes his eyes and imagines RGE-67, small and blue, all ocean. He imagines Aris-592C and its strange, wandering poles. Mallai, the Supreme Chancellor’s homeworld. D’Qar, one star system over. Takodana. Jakku, all sand and heat and wide, pink sky. The planets and their moons and stars and suns and all those billions and billions of people, living their weird, messy lives, stumbling blind, colliding with each other in the dark.
It’s okay. It’s okay.
The door jolts open. Two Stormtroopers crash inside, blasters drawn.
Finn says, “I am Designation FN-2003, I got lost trying to find odor wash.”
“You’re a traitor,” one of the Troopers says.
Two things happen at once:
- The Trooper pulls the trigger.
- The outer wall bursts open.
Everything goes to hell. One of the Troopers is immediately sucked out of the room, his body flung out into space; the other screams and grabs the door only to be hit by a ray of green blaster fire. Finn grips the edge of the doorway with all his might, gasping for air in a newly airless vacuum, boots scrabbling against the floor—Poe’s voice comes over the comms, but Finn can’t understand what he’s saying—more blaster fire, red and green, and then a horrible lurch and Finn’s flying backward and he can’t breathe and—
“Finn,” Poe’s saying, “Finn,” but it’s not just over the comms anymore.
Finn gasps and doubles over, trying not to throw up. The cockpit hatch reseals with a hiss above him, the transparisteel dome showing a bizarre view of space on one side, the burning, ruined control room on the other.
He is squished inside the cockpit of Black One, sprawled half on top of Poe. Black One, for its part, is hovering right off the big, charred hole it just blasted into the Star Destroyer’s nose.
“What,” says Finn, and wrestles the Stormtrooper helmet off his head. He blinks. He blinks again. He could swear that five seconds ago, he was not in Poe’s X-wing.
“Sorry,” says Poe, “I had to use the BB-8 pincher to get you in here. But hey, it worked.”
“Oh wow,” says Finn, still dizzy, still lost, and then the X-wing rocks with blaster fire. Poe curses and yanks at the controls. The X-wing banks hard, tipping almost completely vertical; Finn’s skull smacks into the transparisteel and bright lights pop in front of his eyes. He probably could have avoided that, but he feels kind of…sluggish. Slow to react.
“You pinchered me up and squished me in here,” he says, not sure if it’s a question.
Poe curves the X-wing around, until Finn can see the whole Star Destroyer and Eya’s freighter, trailing after him and Poe, and oh, there’s Jess and Nien, darting around the Star Destroyer like tiny wasps, shooting green.
“Yup,” says Poe. “Eya couldn’t get in close enough. Also, I was really pissed.”
“Reckless,” says Finn dazedly. He straightens up, trying to get comfortable. It feels like there’s something jabbing into his side.
He glances at Poe. Who is really close. Like, really close, like his thigh is kind of underneath Finn’s left leg, their shoulders pressed together, Poe’s face inches from Finn’s. Poe’s staring straight ahead, jaw clenched, white-knuckling the joystick. He looks a little crazed. A little wild-eyed, a little pale around the edges.
Finn’s head hurts. He wonders if maybe he got a concussion when he hit the transparisteel. Do concussions come on this quick, though? Surely it’s only been a few seconds. He blinks, trying to focus, trying to look out the cockpit. His vision is swimming. Smearing, almost, like the parallax of the stars.
He shakes his head and immediately regrets it, stomach flipping. He closes his eyes and takes slow, even breaths. He really, really does not want to vomit on Poe in this stupid, claustrophobic cockpit.
“Finn?” says Poe. He sounds far away. “You okay?”
Finn sighs. He feels himself list sideways, slumping against Poe, his head on Poe’s shoulder.
“Finn,” Poe says again, an edge in his voice, “c’mon, buddy, talk to me here.”
There is something wet on Finn’s leg. For a split second, he thinks he somehow vomited, or pissed, or something—he forces his eyes open and reaches down to touch the wetness, feeling strangely detached from it, only vaguely, objectively curious to see if he just pissed himself.
His white-plastoid fingers come away red.
“Oh,” he says. “Huh, no, that’s not good.”
“What’s not—?” says Poe, and then Finn hears Poe’s breath stutter, and he says, “Oh fuck, oh fuck, Finn, no no no,” and then, “Finn’s been hit, it looks bad, requesting immediate removal from combat zone, Finn has been hit—ribs maybe, there’s a lot of blood—,” and then everything goes hazy and time slips and Poe’s saying, “Finn, come on, eyes open, eyes open,” over and over again.
“Eyes open,” Finn mumbles.
“That’s right,” says Poe. “That’s right, eyes stay open. We’re gonna get you patched right up, so hold on just a minute, okay? Just a minute, I promise. Finn. Finn. Eyes open, Finn. Can you talk to me?”
Finn frowns. He wants to open his eyes, but his eyelids are so heavy. “Too tired.”
“Nope,” says Poe. “No, come on, talk to me. What’s your favorite thing about D’Qar? What’s the first thing you’re gonna show Rey?”
“Yeah, remember? You wanted to show her tons of stuff. Talk to me—Roger that. Yes ma’am. Hyperdrive in five seconds. Eyes open, Finn, Finn, fuck, come on—“
He sounds scared. Finn doesn’t like it. He opens his eyes as much as he can, even though everything is still smearing, and tries to focus. “Poe.”
“Black One hyperdrive in three—two—“
The X-wing spins sideways. Finn cracks his head against the transparisteel for a second time, almost bites clean through the tip of his tongue. His mouth fills with blood and spit.
Poe’s talking loud and fast, but Finn can’t quite make out what he’s saying.
He keeps his eyes open. He watches Poe. He thinks maybe they are spiraling downward. The whole X-wing is rattling, and there’s a familiar swooping sensation in Finn’s stomach. He remembers this. He remembers the TIE fighter, how it shuddered when it hit the Jakku atmosphere, how they fell down, down, down.
Finn remembers the spinning, the nausea, waking up alone. Looking for Poe in the desert, in the wreckage. The pang of loss when he found nothing but a jacket.
Finn thinks, Not this time.
This time, he watches Poe. The X-wing rattles around them, louder and louder, as if it might shake apart completely. Poe is yelling something. Finn watches him; he will not lose sight of him again.
* * *
(It happens like this: a tectonic plate shifts a single inch and everything changes. The earth groans. The ocean swells. The world cracks open beneath your feet.
It happens like this: it’s morning. You’re in the mess hall. You’re eating grainmush and weird tubers, washing it down with sweet, milky caf. You look at him. The sun is in his eyes. A tectonic plate shifts a single inch. You think, home.)
* * *
“Finn,” Poe says, right in his face. “Listen to me.”
“We’re gonna switch places, okay?” Poe says. Too loud. Almost yelling. “There’s a parachute attached to the pilot’s seat. I’m just gonna move you a little, then you’re gonna eject. I need you to brace yourself, Finn.”
Poe’s eyes are big and scared and so, so close.
And Finn remembers:
“Oh, big note: TIE fighters have two parachutes, for the pilot and the shooter. X-wings are built for one person, so they only have one.”
One parachute. One parachute, attached to the pilot’s seat.
“No,” Finn says, “no,” but he can’t make other words come out. He squirms. Poe’s eyes widen and he twists in his seat, grabbing Finn’s shoulder.
“Don’t move,” he says. “Don’t move, let me do it. Everything’s gonna be okay, Finn.”
“No,” says Finn.
“You’re gonna be okay,” Poe says. “I promise.” His hand moves from Finn’s shoulder to cup Finn’s face, thumb against Finn’s cheekbone. For a moment, Poe holds him steady, his hand solid and warm against Finn’s skin, his palm rough with callouses.
“You’re gonna be okay,” Poe says again, and presses his mouth to Finn’s forehead. Hard and quick. Hot, like a brand. Then he pulls back, his hand slipping off Finn’s face, and says, “Let’s switch places, come on, let’s get you strapped in—“
He moves to unbuckle his the straps across his chest. Out the cockpit window, Finn can see nothing but blue. It doesn’t look like the sky, though; it is too dark, and there’s a strange shattering of light across the surface of it, a strange pale sparkle.
“Poe,” says Finn, “Poe Dameron, oh hell.”
He leans forward, his ribs searing with sudden, horrible pain, as if his bones are grinding together beneath his skin, and hits the parachute eject button.
There is a fraction of a second in which Poe realizes what Finn just did. Finn sees it register on his face. He sees Poe’s horror, visceral and immediate.
Then the cockpit dome pops open and the pilot’s seat ejects, wrenching violently away from the spinning, smoking X-wing, and Poe is gone.
* * *
* * *
He cannot breathe. He can see nothing but that odd glittering dark blue, and then sometimes he can see shiny white, and black, and wet, wet red.
His head is filled with fog.
He reaches out, fumbles blindly at the X-wing controls. He knows there is a button, and it is somehow important. He does not know what this button does.
His fingers find something small and raised. He presses it. The air is screaming in his ears. He cannot breathe. He presses the button and the world jolts and his head snaps backward and everything goes dark.
* * *
He dreams about vast, endless deserts of white salt. A deep blue sky, roiling.
* * *
He wakes up.
* * *
For the second time in his life, Finn opens his eyes to the white ceiling of the Resistance medbay, bright lights humming overhead. Slowly, still surfacing from the heavy black drag of unconsciousness, he catalogues information: he is in the medbay. He feels all soft and floaty—that’s familiar, that’s morphine and sedatives. His eyes are dry. His throat feels like he swallowed half of Jakku.
He lets his eyes flutter shut, already dreading the day. Half an hour for breakfast, which is a protein sludge with even less taste than a First Order ration bar, and then two hours of physical therapy with Dr. Kalla, who is nice, but also super evil and makes Finn practice walking down the hallway until he’s sweating and panting, his entire back lit up with pain. Then half an hour for lunch. Then—
Finn’s eyes snap wide open. He gasps and immediately starts choking on the tube down his throat. He tries to breathe, to sit up, but his arms feel heavy and numb and he can’t get over the horrible cold sensation of the tube, the weight on his tongue, the pressure on his gag reflex. He swallows compulsively, trying not to throw up.
“Hold still, hold still,” someone’s saying, and a pair of hands presses him back down onto the cot. He drifts for a minute; when he regains focus, the tube is sliding out of his throat, and the lights don’t seem quite so blinding, so white.
He blinks. The world slips into focus.
“Hello, Finn,” says Dr. Kalla, gazing down at him. “Couldn’t stay away, huh?”
He tries to speak. Nothing comes out but a long, low rasp. Dr. Kalla passes him a cup of water, tips his head up to help him drink.
“What,” he says, as soon as he can. “What—?”
She says, “You, my friend, are very lucky. Or perhaps just very, very smart.”
She says, “Do you remember the mission for RGE-67?”
And memory slams into him like a blaster ray. Finn remembers the Star Destroyer, the second control room, the missile reroute, the system wipe—the Stormtroopers breaking down the door, the wall exploding, the escape in Black One—
—the blood on his fingers—the fall—
“Poe,” he says, “Poe,” and the monitors next to him are going wild, beeping loud and quick, and Dr. Kalla has a hand on his chest, holding him down.
“Commander Dameron is safe, he’s fine, thanks to you,” Dr. Kalla says, and then she tells him the whole story.
Black One was hit by one of the Star Destroyer’s turbo lasers. Poe managed to steer it, flightless and spiraling, through the thin atmosphere of RGE-67. He planned to switch places with Finn, to strap Finn into the pilot’s seat and eject him with the single parachute. And Finn, who had sustained a blaster ray to the torso and was half-delirious with blood loss, managed not only to eject Poe instead of himself, but also to activate the X-wing’s horizontal stabilizers at the last possible second before crashing into the freezing ocean of RGE-67. Jessika Pava found Black One bobbing in the open ocean, Finn unconscious in the cockpit. Poe was floating a couple kilometers away, the big white parachute trailing behind him in the water.
That was three days ago. Finn has been in artificial sleep since, the left half of his torso slathered with bacta gel. He has gained another scar: the strange burnt starburst of the blaster ray, about two inches below his ribs. The Stormtrooper armor, says Dr. Kalla, is what saved him. If he hadn’t been wearing it, the blaster ray would have punched a hole straight through him.
Finn…doesn’t know what to think about that.
“And everyone’s okay?” he asks. “Poe, Jess, Eya, Nien…?”
“Yes,” says Dr. Kalla. “Commander Dameron got away with nothing but some bruising from the ejection. The other pilots were completely unharmed.”
Finn sinks back into the pillows, useless adrenaline still flooding through him. “Thank you.”
“Finn,” says Dr. Kalla, her dark eyes big and gentle. “Two times now, you have risked your life to save entire galaxies. To save us all. Thank you.” She pauses. “Of course, as much as I enjoy your visits, please do try to stop almost dying. If only so Commander Dameron quits hanging around here with those sad puppy dog eyes.”
“Poe’s been here?” Finn says.
“Oh, constantly,” she says; it looks like she’s trying not to smile. “Only reason he’s gone right now is I kicked him out. I don’t think he’s slept in three days.”
“Oh,” says Finn. He doesn’t know what to think about that, either.
After that, Dr. Kalla reapplies the bacta gel on his side with quick, careful hands. She helps him drink more water. Then she leaves, and almost immediately Finn sinks back into sleep, and this time, he does not dream.
* * *
The next time Finn wakes, the medbay is dark. He can hear doctors and med droids in the hallway outside, but his room is small and quiet, lit only by Yanna and Ulga, waning, two thin white fingernails. And the faraway stars, like a handful of sugar strewn across the sky.
Finn’s room is quiet, but he isn’t alone. There’s a weight on the right side of the bed, pressing against the undamaged side of his torso. A shape, slumped over, transmuted by moonlight into a series of small, illuminated details: the curve of an arm, a tumble of dark hair, a patch of smooth olive skin.
Finn watches Poe sleep for a long time. He listens to Poe breathe, deep and slow, watches his fingers twitch occasionally against Finn’s sheets. Poe isn’t wearing his orange flight suit or his brown Resistance uniform; he’s in his sleep clothes, a loose blue shirt and black pants. He looks soft all over, like the impression of a person instead of the real thing.
There, in the dark, in the medbay, aching and scarred but miraculously alive, with Poe sleeping so close, Finn feels something settle inside his chest, some fluttering thing grow calm and steady.
And then he remembers the fucking letter.
“Oh shit,” he yelps, jolting upright without thinking, and then he curses again because he has a healing blaster wound in his side and he maybe just screwed up his own internal organs, and of course that’s when Poe startles awake, eyes flying open. Of course.
Finn’s gasping, clutching his left side. Poe scrambles to his feet immediately and helps him lie back down, grabs a cooling pack from the bedside table and presses it against Finn’s bandages.
“It’s okay,” Poe’s murmuring, “it’s okay, you’re okay, you’re safe, you’re here,” and Finn almost stops him, almost says that’s not the problem, until he realizes where he’s heard those words before.
Months ago, another D’Qar night. The first time he heard Poe wrench himself from a nightmare. Finn had held Poe’s hand, stroked his hair, and said, it’s okay it’s okay you’re okay you’re all right you’re here you’re okay, until he felt Poe’s heartbeat settle, and then they sat in silence for hours, until the night went pale with dawn.
He closes his eyes. He breathes.
He opens his eyes, and there’s Poe, hovering over him with a bright, wide-eyed look, his mouth tight with worry.
“Hi,” says Finn.
“Hi,” says Poe. “Hi, hey, you’re awake.”
Finn nods cautiously. Poe lets out a breath and sits back down at Finn’s bedside. The moonlight catches on his eyes, on the edges of him. He sits still for a moment, hands clasped in his lap, and then he says, “Finn,” quietly, hardly more than a whisper, and then, gesturing vaguely, “Can I—?”
“Yeah,” Finn says, even though he doesn’t know what Poe’s asking. A moment later, Poe is getting up and leaning over him, hands on his shoulders in some careful approximation of a hug. His face is in the crook of Finn’s neck, nose brushing Finn’s pulse point.
Slowly, Finn brings his hands up to rest on Poe’s shoulder blades. He lets himself grip the thin material of Poe’s shirt, feeling his warmth, his solidity. Poe smells like soap, as always, and a little like caf.
“Don’t do that again,” says Poe. “Please.”
“Do what again,” says Finn.
“Sacrifice yourself. Not tell me your plans. Get shot. Sacrifice yourself again.” He huffs against Finn’s neck. “Take your pick.”
“I had to,” Finn says softly. “For all of those.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“No,” says Poe, pulling back a few inches, just enough to look at Finn, “no, you really didn’t, at least not for the last one—shit, Finn, do you have any idea—,” he breaks off and bites his lip, looking away for a moment and then back; when he meets Finn’s eyes, his gaze is dark and almost scared. “Do you have any idea—after the parachute opened, and I was just hanging there, watching you fall—“
Poe leans back into Finn. This time, he rests his forehead on Finn’s chest, over Finn’s sternum. His back is a curve, lit by the moons. He says, “Don’t know if I’ve ever been more scared in my whole damn life.”
“Terrified,” says Poe.
“Why?” Poe turns his head a little, cheekbone against Finn’s chest, enough that they can look at each other. “Finn, I thought you were gonna die.”
“But,” Finn says, struggling to find the right words, “but you don’t—you don’t—“
For a moment, Poe just stares up at Finn. Then he says, “I’m an idiot.”
“No, listen,” says Poe. “I’m an idiot. I have been an idiot, and I’ve also been a complete asshole to you, and you deserve to know the stupid, selfish reason why.”
He pauses. Finn waits, breath caught in his throat. The moonlight slips across the sheets.
“The thing about growing up in a war,” says Poe, “growing up like I did, and like you did, is that…you get used to losing things. People run, or die. Villages burn, cities are bombed flat. Planets eaten by their own sun. That’s the only constant: the idea that tomorrow morning, the world could be entirely different. You could lose someone you love, lose your home, get shot out of the sky. The only thing you know for sure is that you never know.” He straightens up, still leaning close to Finn’s body but not touching him. “And after a while—and I know you know this—it gets engrained in you. Carved into your soul. Every single day, you tell yourself, this could all be gone tomorrow. This time tomorrow, we might all be fine, but we might all be dead.” He smiles, wry and awful. “Drives you a little crazy, sometimes.”
Finn reaches out. He brushes his fingertips across the back of Poe’s hand, and Poe turns his hand over, so Finn is touching the lines of his palm.
“Sometimes,” Poe says, “sometimes, when you find something really good, you kind of sabotage yourself. You get tangled up, thinking, this could all be gone tomorrow. A war like this, really good things are always the first to get taken away. And more than that—,” he clears his throat, “more than that, you have this stupid idea in your head, that if you care about something—if you let yourself think about how good it is—you turn it into a target.”
Poe moves forward, half out of his chair, to cup Finn’s face in his hands. Finn cannot move, or breathe; all he can do is look up into Poe’s eyes, and feel the roughness of Poe’s callouses against his cheeks, and wait, and listen.
“Finn,” says Poe. “You are so damn good. You are kind, and brave, and strong and sweet and so fucking smart, Finn, and I swear I don’t know how the hell you turned out like this, it should’ve been impossible, but you did. And I’m scared and screwed up and I can still feel Kylo Ren in my head, sometimes, he poisons my memories, he touches them and turns them all twisted and horrible, but he never seems to touch you.”
“Poe,” says Finn, and winds his arms around Poe’s neck, ignoring the sick pulse of pain in his side. He pulls Poe down until their foreheads are pressed together, Poe’s hands still big and warm on Finn’s face, his thumbs at the corners of Finn’s mouth. They are sharing air, sharing breath, so close that all Finn can see is Poe’s soft dark eyes.
“You’re not gonna lose me,” says Finn, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ve almost lost you three times now,” says Poe. “Walk the walk, pal.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Finn whispers, and Poe huffs a laugh, his eyes crinkling up with it.
Then his smile fades, and he whispers, “I’m sorry. I was an ass and I hurt you because I was scared. Which isn’t an excuse. You didn’t deserve that.”
“No, I didn’t,” says Finn. “Poe, why didn’t you just talk to me?”
“Yeah, honestly, duh.”
“Thought I wouldn’t be able to distance myself if I did,” says Poe. He sounds...sheepish. “You have a sort of pull, you know. You just kinda draw people in.”
Finn blushes. “That’s not true.”
“Finn, you were head to toe in Trooper gear when we met, and within ten seconds I trusted you with my life.”
“I took off my helmet.”
“Could’ve been a trick.”
“Nah,” says Finn. “First Order isn’t that subtle. They’d much rather just try to blow up a planet.”
Poe laughs, soft and almost silent, and Finn can feel the rush of his breath. “Got me there.”
They stay quiet for a few long moments, holding onto each other in the dark. Finn knows, vaguely, that his heart is thumping in his chest, like a war drum, or maybe like one of the songs from Jessika’s party. He doesn’t dwell on it. He is used to it by now, just like he is used to heat spreading through him from Poe’s hands, and the strange hyperawareness of their closeness, the single breaths between them, the barely-there space between their mouths.
After a while, Poe pulls away. He says, “I’ll let you sleep.”
Finn says, “I forgive you. Don’t do it again. But I forgive you.”
“I won’t do it again,” Poe promises. “Some things are inevitable.” Before Finn can ask what he means, he says, “And you—never again, you hear me? No more close calls. No more sacrifice.”
“I can’t promise that,” Finn tells him. “None of us can.”
“Then promise me this,” says Poe. He’s standing halfway to the door, looking back at Finn, his eyes bright in the moonlight, half his face in shadow. “Promise me that you’ll at least warn me next time. You know, before you risk your life to commit some impossible act of heroism that saves billions of people. Warn me, so I can have your back.”
Finn gives him a small, closemouthed smile. “I promise.”
“Okay,” says Poe. He doesn’t move for a second, just watching Finn, and then he mutters, “okay, all right,” and turns away, and says, “goodnight, Finn,” and then he’s gone, the door closing behind him with a snick. And Finn settles back into the warmth of his bed and closes his eyes.
He tries not to think about how Poe didn’t mention the letter.
How Finn was waiting for it this whole time, waiting for Poe to say, I read it, or maybe, I read it, and I’m sorry. I don’t feel the same way. And then Finn could tell him: it’s okay. You have given me enough. You don’t have to give me this.
(Finn isn’t even sure what this is, to be honest. He knows what he wants, in a sort of hazy, unspecified way; he knows the tug in his stomach when Poe looks at him, but he doesn’t know how it translates into reality. He has never felt like this before. He doesn’t know how this works.
All he could do was tell Poe: I think I love you. Push the thought out into the universe, and wait to see what comes next.)
But Poe didn’t mention the letter.
* * *
General Organa comes to visit Finn the next morning.
She says the Resistance is grateful. The entire galaxy is grateful.
She says if Finn ever keeps a secret like that again, if he ever goes into a mission without sharing all the information, she will wring his neck. Her eyes are bright and soft when she says it. And Finn realizes he was wrong. There is no difference between the General and Leia. There is no difference between the warrior and the mother; the commander of armies and the mourner of lost children. There never was.
Finn hugs her. She stiffens at first, and then she hugs him back.
(She also tells him: Rey is on her way to D’Qar with Chewbacca, R2-D2, the Millennium Falcon, a brand new lightsaber, and Luke Skywalker. Rey is coming home. She’s coming home.
Finn blinks back tears, and General Leia Organa hugs him tighter.)
* * *
Dr. Kalla lets Finn out of the medbay that afternoon, with strict orders to reapply bacta gel every four hours and to take it easy or I’ll put you on bed rest for a week. So, for the second time in his life, he trudges through the Resistance base, careful not to put too much weight on his left side. He heads for the dorms. For Sector B, Room 76.
(The last time he made this slow journey from the medbay, he drew stares from everyone he passed. At best, they looked curious or cautious; at worst, they stared at him with open revulsion, open hatred.
He draws stares this time, too. But there is a difference. This time, Finn sees no revulsion in people’s eyes, no hatred; he doesn’t even see caution. He sees something he is not yet sure how to describe.)
He makes it to the familiar narrow corridor. He passes Rooms 64, 66, 68. 70, where Snap lives. 72. 74.
He presses his thumb to the biometric scanner outside Room 76. It beeps, blinks green, and Finn opens the door.
Poe’s sitting on the edge of the desk, in uniform pants but a civvy shirt, his bare feet dangling a couple inches above the floor. When Finn steps into the room, Poe’s head snaps up. His eyes are huge. His lips are parted. He is holding a tablet, the screen open to a page of cramped, neat, horribly familiar handwriting.
Finn’s stomach drops so fast he sways with it, feeling sick. For a moment, he and Poe just stare at each other with wide, shocked eyes.
Then BB-8 rolls across the room and bumps into Finn’s legs, nearly bowling him over. He stumbles backward, the moment broken, and BB-8 lets out a long series of beeps and trills.
“Hi there, buddy,” Finn says. His voice is shaking. Oh, stars. “Didja miss me?”
BB-8 beeps, rolls in a little circle. Finn waits for Poe to translate, but Poe stays silent. Finn cannot look at him. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he says. “Um, BB-8, I missed you too, but would you mind, um, stepping—rolling out—for just a second? Just a quick second?”
BB-8 stops. Its little head swivels from Finn, to Poe, then back to Finn again.
Finn tries to smile. It comes out more as a pained grimace.
Slowly, BB-8 rolls toward the doorway, somehow managing to convey total suspicion without a freaking face. Finn opens the door for BB-8 to slip through, feeling more awkward and miserable than ever before in his entire awkward, miserable life, and closes the door behind BB-8 again, and then he is alone with Poe. And the tablet. And the letter.
Finn is maybe on the verge of a panic attack. He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, tries to steel himself. He thinks, some things are inevitable.
He turns to face Poe.
Poe, who is still sitting on the desk, staring at Finn, his face is frozen with shock. Poe, who is gripping the tablet with white-knuckled hands.
“I didn’t read it before,” Poe says hoarsely, breaking the awful silence. “I couldn’t—when you were unconscious. Felt too much like. Like something you’d do after someone died.”
“Okay,” says Finn.
He doesn’t move. He stays in the center of the room, opposite Poe, some part of him itching to just run.
But he doesn’t move.
“You could have died,” says Poe, almost to himself; he looks down at his lap, at his hands, at the letter. “You could have died, and you would’ve died thinking….“
“I forgave you,” says Finn, “I forgave you, it’s okay, you don’t need to, you know, be nice about it. In the,“ he gestures at the tablet, “I said you don’t owe me. I meant it. Poe, you don’t owe me any—“
“I love you,” says Poe. He says it so quietly, but he looks up, meeting Finn’s gaze. “I’m in love with you. So much I can’t even breathe around it sometimes. It’s ridiculous, it’s completely ridiculous how much.” He shudders out a breath, scrubs a hand over his face. “Shit, Finn.”
There is a moment of breathless, frozen silence.
Then Finn crosses the room in two strides, completely ignoring the burst of pain in his side, and reaches out, curling his hands around Poe’s jaw. He pauses just long enough to hear Poe’s intake of breath, to meet his eyes, and then he leans in and kisses Poe’s mouth.
He waits a second and then pulls back. He takes one hand off Poe’s jaw, reaching up to touch his own bottom lip.
“So that’s what that feels like,” he says, without really meaning to.
Poe blinks up at him, his skin smooth under Finn’s palm. He looks stunned, his eyes big and brown and kind of glazed over.
“You,” he says, sounding dazed, and then he blinks again and his mouth drops open a little and he says, “wait, that was your first—?“
Finn is blushing so hard, he might fall over. “Is that bad?” It’s totally bad.
But Poe just settles back on the desk, tugging Finn forward by his shirt, until he’s standing in the open vee of Poe’s legs. Poe spreads his hands out on Finn’s waist, his thumbs skimming Finn’s hipbones. He looks up at Finn, and he’s flushed; Poe’s cheeks are pink, and that’s because of Finn.
Finn brushes his knuckles across Poe’s cheekbone, feeling the heat beneath his skin. He trails his fingertips along the edge of Poe’s face: his cheekbone, the hinge of his jaw, the catch of stubble where he missed a spot shaving. Poe lets him do it. He even nudges into Finn’s touch, breathing shallowly, tilting his chin up so Finn can touch the soft underside of it, the delicate skin of his throat. His eyes are wide and dark, pupils blown, fixed on Finn’s face.
The familiar ache is back in the pit of Finn’s stomach. That odd hollow feeling, that low, pulsing heat. His gaze drops to Poe’s mouth.
I kissed him there, Finn thinks, amazed. I kissed him there, and he might let me do it again.
“Can I…?” he murmurs, just to make sure.
“Yes,” Poe says, “yes. Finn.”
Finn kisses the shape of his own name off Poe’s mouth. This time, he isn’t too nervous to register the sensation of the kiss, of the act of kissing: the softness of Poe’s mouth, his full bottom lip, how his breath stutters when Finn slides his hands into his hair. How his mouth opens beneath Finn’s, just a little, just enough for Finn to realize the staggering potential there. He didn’t even really know open mouths were an option.
He keeps his hands in Poe’s hair, cradling his skull. He kisses Poe slowly, figuring out how this strange thing works, how to move his lips and breathe through his nose and tilt his head to get a better angle. He takes Poe’s bottom lip into his mouth, kisses the upper one, kisses each corner of Poe’s mouth, exploring. Memorizing the shape of a kiss, the taste, the soft, shared breaths. He memorizes the catching sounds of their mouths. He opens his eyes for a moment and memorizes Poe’s eyebrows, furrowed in concentration, his closed eyelids, the smear of lashes on each cheekbone.
And Poe lets Finn control the kiss. He lets Finn go as slow as he wants. He sits there on the desk, his legs open around Finn’s hips, his hands hot but unmoving on Finn’s waist, and lets himself be kissed, closemouthed and unhurried, for—Finn doesn’t even know how long. He has lost track of time.
Finn pulls back an inch, catching his breath. He leans his forehead against Poe’s, their noses still brushing.
“Sorry if I’m not good at this,” he whispers. “I’ll get better.”
“There is literally nothing you could do right now that wouldn’t be good,” Poe says quietly, into the space between their mouths. “But for the record, Finn, you’ve always picked things up fast.”
“Oh yeah,” says Poe, a grin spreading across his reddened lips, and Finn kisses him again, messy and lopsided, mostly on Poe’s teeth. Poe cracks up, and Finn shoves him a little, blushing. He bites his lip, holding back his own grin, and Poe stops laughing and goes a little wide-eyed, his fingers tightening on Finn’s waist.
“Oh,” Finn says, and does it again, purposefully, wetting his bottom lip, pressing his teeth into it. “You—this?”
“You’ve got no idea,” says Poe, “holy shit, you don’t even know,” and Finn says, “Don’t even know what,” and Poe says, “Everything about you, Finn, seriously, fuck,” and Finn says, “Show me how,” and Poe does; he leans up and kisses Finn hard, his mouth open, breath hot against Finn’s lips. Finn melts into him immediately. He tangles his fingers in Poe’s hair and copies him, opening his own mouth and—“oh”—shuddering when he feels Poe’s tongue.
Poe kisses him deep and wet. His hands slide over Finn’s sides, carefully avoiding his bandages, grasping his hips for a minute and then going lower, farther back. He pulls Finn even closer, until their chests are pressed together, Poe’s thighs tight around him—and they are pressed together other places, too; Finn can feel Poe against him, the warm swell of the spot between his legs. He realizes, with a rush, that he’s hard, too.
He jerks back a little, embarrassment pooling in his stomach. Poe’s eyes flutter open and he looks up at Finn, breathing hard. His lips are red and swollen.
“I,” Finn says. “I, I don’t.”
“Hey, no problem,” says Poe. He scoots back a little on the desk, putting a couple inches between their—between them. “No problem at all.”
“Sorry,” Finn mumbles, looking away. He feels suddenly young and stupid, all his inexperience catching up with him. Poe knows how to kiss, and Poe definitely knows how to bring their bodies together, how to touch Finn in a way that makes his legs shaky.
Well, of course. Poe is kind, and smart, and he’s good at making people laugh. He’s the best pilot in the Resistance, always at the center of every group. He puts people at ease with nothing but a smile or a well-placed joke, and he always kneels when he speaks to BB-8, making sure they’re on the same level.
And he is beautiful, Finn thinks, studying Poe’s face almost clinically. Finn isn’t sure what not-beautiful looks like, but he loves how Poe looks: his tan skin, his dark, tousled hair, his high cheekbones and the shadow of his stubble, his strong jaw, his big nose, and his eyes most of all, the color of those little chocolates from Coruscant. Finn thinks he is beautiful, and he’s heard Jess and the other pilots tease Poe about being handsome, so he’s definitely not the only one.
So. Of course Poe wouldn’t lack experience in—this kind of thing.
Finn squirms a little. Poe is watching him, waiting for him to speak.
“Don’t know how,” he says finally. He doesn’t meet Poe’s eyes. “I want to, but. But maybe not—today.”
“Okay,” says Poe. “No big deal.” He smiles, brings one hand up to card through Finn’s short hair. “No big deal even if it’s never, okay?”
Finn nods. Then, just for the sake of clarification, he says, “It won’t be never.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You’re like, really hot.”
Poe snorts and ducks his head, his hair tickling Finn’s chin. “Oh, man.”
They stay like that for a long time, holding each other loosely as the sun sinks over the edge of the horizon, the golden light of sunset spilling into the room like water. Occasionally, Finn kisses Poe’s forehead, or cheek, or mouth, just because he can.
“Hey,” Finn says, after a long time. “This is a good thing, right?”
“Yeah,” says Poe. He nudges his nose into Finn’s neck, breath warm on Finn’s skin. “Yeah, this is a good thing.”
“It’s not gonna get taken away,” Finn tells him softly. Poe goes still. “That’s the thing. About war, life, nightmares, whatever, all of it. Sometimes things go away, but sometimes they stay. And no matter what, you know, the good things are always stronger than the bad. Death only happens because life does; loss only happens because you love something. And nothing can change the fact that—that we’re here right now, and this is a good thing.”
Poe doesn’t say anything else, but he cups Finn’s face in his hands and kisses Finn’s mouth, long and sweet and gentle, and that is answer enough.
* * *
This is a memory that belongs to Finn:
He is curled up in bed. He is twenty-three, almost twenty-four years old. He is lying on his back, watching the moonlight slip across the dark room. Yanna and Ulga, both of them made from light, both of them soft and silver on Finn’s skin, on Poe’s skin, on the blankets.
Poe is asleep next to him, breathing slow and quiet, his cheek smushed into Finn’s shoulder. His hair falling across his forehead. Every so often, his fingers twitch; he snuffles a little; he shifts, moves closer to Finn’s warmth, winds an arm around Finn’s chest.
Tomorrow, the Millennium Falcon will land on D’Qar. Finn will see Rey again, and meet Luke Skywalker, and he will remember that they bring with them the machinery of this massive, churning war, which will not stop until the First Order surrenders. Until Kylo Ren kneels, or dies at Rey’s hand. A different version of Finn thought this was impossible.
That is tomorrow.
Right now, all is quiet, and warm, and alive. And Finn knows that there are no impossible things, not really.