“Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something
which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous
meaning . . . a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that
you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
Fire devoured the Resistance.
Flames bled out of torches, stormtroopers pointing their weapons at homes, buildings, abandoned airspeeders. Witnessing the scum of the galaxy reduced to ash and ember ought to feel victorious, yet FN-2187 was horrorstruck, mind locked in time back to the miners he’d been sent to kill in an all too similar fashion. His eyes raked over the toys laid forgotten on the dirt, the roofs crashing into family homes. His own torch rested untouched in his arms. Sweat ran down his cheeks like raindrops. His eyes stung, too, and he suspected sweat had not gotten inside.
A trooper knocked shoulders with him. FN-2187 tripped forward, his scattered thoughts rendering him less coordinated than usual, and he was jarred back into reality.
Stormtroopers had been deployed to a known Resistance base on the outskirts of the First Order’s territory, long abandoned once the troopers arrived, but only recently. The rebels had fled in a hurry, possessions still strewn over the encampment. The air had been eerily quiet seconds before the first torch spat out flames, like a ghost town.
FN-2187 started running. Where to, he didn’t know. He had to hide before getting caught for his inaction. Torch left unutilized, he instead kicked discarded items for the impression it left. He ran past burning houses, eyes forward and locked on the stormtroopers ahead of him. He thought he saw Slip eradicate a house, but he didn’t double check.
He kept running until he came across a street of untouched houses which went on for five or six homes on either side. FN-2187 couldn’t believe his eyes. The base looked like everyone’s worst nightmare a few paces in the other direction, yet he had stumbled across another ghost town.
He licked his lips, then jogged down the street.
He imagined the miners living in one of those houses. If they’d succeeded in negotiating with the First Order, maybe they would’ve lived in one of those. FN-2187 kept jogging until hearing a crunch under his boot. His heart jumping into his throat, FN-2187 steadied his breath and willed himself to look down and come to terms with the potential heirloom his boot destroyed.
Visible over the tip of his boot was a piece of paper with words written in loopy font, proclaiming, Do not be intimidated. Join the Resistance.
He blinked, rereading the words a dozen times before he bent over to pick it up.
It was a Resistance propaganda poster featuring a man wearing an orange pilot uniform for the Rebel army, a black and burnt orange helmet tucked underneath his arm, the insignia for the Resistance partially visible. His black hair contrasted well with his olive skin tone, equally dark eyes staring back at FN-2187 with a defiant gleam. The pilot taunted FN-2187—or beckoned him closer. FN-2187 couldn’t tell the difference. His mouth grew parched.
“FN-2187, what are you doing?” said Captain Phasma.
His heart spiked, stuttered breaths escaping his lungs, and he shoved the poster through a small crack in his armor between his glove and the white casing that shielded his wrist. Eyes skittering and face paling, FN-2187 was glad that Phasma could only dissect his movements, or his lack thereof. She couldn’t peer into his head and pick it apart. FN-2187 spun around and straightened his spine. He said, “Captain, we missed a zone.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Phasma tilted her helmet in a way that said, I’m waiting.
A blast of flames burst into the quiet street. Troopers swarmed in, flames swallowing up the houses. Phasma stood still and silent, watching FN-2187. Or, at least, he thought so. Her helmet pointed in his direction, which ultimately meant very little.
Then she turned away and marched off.
After the mission, FN-2187 went alone to a simulation room.
Rebels swarmed and attacked him at all angles. They bulled forward with blasters pointed at his forehead, eyes glinting with unbridled fury. As of yet, neither hologram nor trooper had fired, but FN-2187 wanted to kill them. To kill them meant that he was a trooper. Troopers killed to defend the First Order and its vow to protect the galaxy from the corruption of the Republic. Yet those rebels’ eyes, radiating rage and obstinacy, saw only FN-2187’s impassive viewport. They couldn’t see him relishing in the darkness behind his eyelids as he blinked, where there were no holograms or houses bursting into flame or miners killed in cold blood—only blackness. His fingers flexed and fiddled with the handle of his blaster.
The drawing of the Resistance pilot was still tucked away under his armor, his body suit preventing sharp corners from cutting into his skin. That enthralling gleam in the pilot’s eye haunted him, the spark so at odds with the holograms’ glowers. None of the holograms resembled the pilot. FN-2187 sought out doppelgangers, heart battering in his chest when the pilot lived in solely in a two dimensional plane.
The rebels fired, blasting his shoulder. FN-2187 stepped back, arms falling limp to his side, and searched the rebels’ faces for the pilot until the simulation switched to a tropical forest, intending to train him on guerilla warfare.
He later quit the simulation after his HUD alerted him that dinner would soon be served. When he finally made it to the canteen, the FN unit waited at attention in the corridor, their backs inches away and parallel to the wall.
“We’re due for training,” Zeroes told him, modulated voice lacking emotion.
FN-2187 felt aching and weary, yet the First Order never let the troopers rest. Not when they could be cleaning or working or learning.
“I would’ve really liked to eat during our allotted time,” said Nines, clipped and acerbic. He tilted his head. “I heard you didn’t fire again.”
On reflex, FN-2187 looked to Slip, straining his eyes to glimpse meaning into Slip’s helmet. Phasma always reprimanded FN-2187 when he held out a hand for Slip to grasp; the conversation never went the other way around. Yet he ached to see in Slip’s body language a semblance of a hand outstretched to him.
“We’re going down on Jakku soon,” said Slip. His helmet tilted, the angle sharper than Nines’.
FN-2187 wanted to slouch, or rub the back of his neck. Instead, he turned on his heels in the direction of the training room. “Let’s go,” he said, voice modulated for the unit to hear yet thick and heavy inside the helmet. He led the unit down the corridor.
Once they reported for training, the FN unit discovered they had a private session with Phasma. Weapons meant to attach to their forearms lined the walls, pinchers on either end that shot electricity. Standing beside the other troopers against a wall adjacent to the weapons, FN-2187 examined the pinchers and reasoned that the training would be a drill on how to subdue unruly prisoners. He was glad for the helmet on his head preventing anyone from seeing the expression on his face. He didn’t know how he looked, but he doubted Nines’ anger or Zeroes’ determination or Slip’s stubbornness was there.
The doors swung open and Phasma stalked inside, her red cape flickering behind her as she swept toward them. She carried a black leather bag with a metal button that couldn’t clamp because of the items poking past the brim. She stopped a few paces in front of them, peering down the line.
“You performed adequately yesterday,” she said. “Your reward is a lesson on important history concerning the relations between us and the Resistance.” She opened the bag, revealing four datapads, the insignia for the Resistance adorning the top of the frame outlining the screen. As she went down the line, each trooper grabbed a datapad and examined it, turning it over in their gloved palms. They rarely received a specialty item for them to keep and not share among everyone in the FN unit. “They are deleted of former information and redistributed for your use.” When she got to FN-2187, her helmet tilted minutely away, as if it sickened her to look at him.
He grabbed his datapad. His reflection peered back at him from the blank screen, a black and white smooth helmet, void of emotion. He strained his eyes to see if he could see his face. He wanted to see those features that were so uniquely his and unlike Zeroes or Nines or Slip. But, of course, try as he might, he saw only a stormtrooper.
“Set them aside for now. You can examine them later. For now, pick up a weapon and get in line.”
FN-2187 started first, as leaders ought to do, and faced off with Nines. Nines breathed hard, his chest and shoulders heaving at the crest of every inhale. FN-2187 stood with his knees bent and feet shoulder width apart, on the defense.
“You may begin,” said Phasma.
FN-2187 barely got to blink before Nines switched on his weapon and swiped the electric pulse across the jawline of FN-2187’s helmet. He fell down hard. He shot back up just as quickly, heart battering against his ribcage, and switched on his weapon. Vibrations from the crackling electricity drummed into him.
They circled around the training mat, the room silent save for the crackling from their weapons and the training mat squeaking beneath their boots.
FN-2187 ought to fight back. He knew all of Nines’ spots. FN-2187’s ability to read his unit and anticipate their actions helped him rise up and become the leader for the FN unit, and he was more than capable of defeating Nines in just one blow. But he didn’t attack. He kept circling around the mat. When Nines attacked, he dodged, not to draw out the fight but because he didn’t want to get hurt. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt. He wanted it all to stop.
He wanted everything to stop.
When dinner finally came, FN-2187 wasn’t hungry. Come morning he’d regret skipping meals, but he felt sick to his stomach.
Behind his closed eyes were flashes of the miners and their burnt arms, the blood oozing out of the wounds Slip shot into them, the smoke rising up into the night sky and blacking out the stars, houses burning.
He wanted to run down the halls and disappear into the FN barracks, but he couldn’t. If he did, he’d get reprimanded—or worse. Rather, he walked in a calm, steady pace to the barracks. Once he crept inside and the door locked, he ripped off his helmet and gasped for air, chucking onto his bed the helmet as if it were aflame. He paced the length of the room and shook his arms and head, trying to make the hurt escape out of his ears and leave his mind.
Of course, that didn’t work. He gritted his teeth. He breathed through his nose, yet that only made him start gasping. He crashed onto his bed, smashing his face into the mattress, eyes squeezed shut. He begged his mind to quiet down, for the images of those miners and Slip killing them and the burning houses to leave him alone. Yet they continued haunting him.
FN-2187 reached behind him and felt around the small of his back, stealing out of his belt the datapad Phasma gave him. Reading quieted his thoughts, whether the words were ingredients on labels of disinfectant or the daily agenda. Settling his pillow against the wall, he pressed his back against it and set the datapad on his thighs, pulling up his knees so the datapad stood up without the use of his hands. He switched on the datapad, the blood red insignia for the First Order greeting him. He pulled up the menu, then hunted down a folder containing the historical documents Phasma mentioned.
Resistance is Futile, read a folder. FN-2187 pressed it.
The datapad screamed. Or, rather, it beeped erratically, then the screen flashed various colors before blackening. FN-2187 beat his head against the wall. Of course, this would happen to him. If he wasn’t already the worst stormtrooper in existence. What was Phasma going to do to him when she learned he broke the datapad? A tune began playing, a victorious crescendo that had his heart swelling and stomach pinching, and FN-2187 watched the screen, enthralled. The screen lit up with an orange background, then text appeared: Welcome back, Kea. Had that been the datapad’s previous owner? Kea?
The Resistance’s insignia adorned the screen as the First Order’s had once before. The orange was amazing. Anything that wasn’t black, white, or red was automatically amazing, in FN-2187’s opinion. He fiddled around with the contents, pulling up data files, and quirked an eyebrow when he saw a file called Recruitment posters. Déjà vu peered over his shoulder as he pressed the folder, and though the notion of finding the image of that handsome pilot emerged in the back of his mind, he still jolted when those warm brown eyes smiled at him from the screen.
Oh, man. Phasma could never confiscate this datapad.
He ought to destroy the drawing he snatched from the Resistance base. That would cover his tracks and prevent others from suspecting him. The idea weighed heavy in his gut, but his bones were lead in his arms, weighing his weary body down into the bed. He felt silly and naïve, eyes locked on those of the pixelated figure. The pilot regarded FN-2187 with a stare that no one had ever before directed his way. He’d seen the stare occasionally in the locker room between troopers that were rumored to be fraternizing. The pilot believed in FN-2187. The pilot ached to know FN-2187. While a drawing, his likeness must be based on a real person. Might this pilot regard FN-2187 with that look, in private like those troopers who lingered in the sonic showers long after the water stopped running?
The datapad buzzed, and FN-2187 nearly screamed. Had he not been trained to stifle emotion, he would have.
OPEN MESSAGE? the datapad prompted him. YES? NO?
FN-2187 pressed yes.
BLACK LEADER: Status?
“Fuck,” whispered FN-2187. His hands shook as he tore off his gloves. He flicked his finger across the screen to pull up the keyboard. His body worked on autopilot as his mind froze and went into panic mode. He couldn’t explain why he felt the impulse to reply other than he felt an unquenchable need to speak to someone who wasn’t Phasma or a trooper or someone begging for their life. Hysterically, he wondered if Black Leader knew the pilot in the propaganda poster.
Alive, replied FN-2187, since at least that wasn’t a lie.
Black Leader didn’t reply. Why that disappointed FN-2187, he had no idea.
When three dots started bouncing under FN-2187’s message, he also couldn’t explain why he heard his heart beating in his ears.
We’ll send out a rescue team to pick you up. Send coordinates?
Distress signals blared in his mind, guilt pressing hard on him. He didn’t want to lie, not when Black Leader showed him nothing but kindness, even if Black Leader had no idea he was talking to a trooper. I’m on a Star Destroyer, with Kylo Ren, FN-2187 replied, adding in Kylo Ren if anything because the man frankly terrified him. Undercover spying, he wrote quickly, before Black Leader could reply. I’m really good at spying. One of the best. Top secret best.
FN-2187 breathed in sharply. He had no idea where that came from, either.
Excellent. You’re a prize to the Resistance. Have you discovered anything yet?
FN-2187 reread that message a thousand times over: ”A prize to the Resistance.” The corner of his lips jumped up on reflex, and even when he tried to stomp them down, they still fought to stay up. There’s going to be an attack on Jakku, he wrote. He would tell Black Leader anything if Black Leader called him a prize again.
That’s a shame, replied Black Leader.
When Black Leader wrote no more, FN-2187 punched keys and typed out a message that he hadn’t once thought over first in his head. I’ll find a way to sabotage it. For the Resistance. I stole the uniform off a stormtrooper I looked enough like. I’ll hold out for as long as I can.
Black Leader’s response came back quick like fire. That’s more like it!
Black Leader didn’t write anymore, and FN-2187 was so distracted by the nausea rolling in that he didn’t bother waffling up another reply. He stared at the datapad until his vision unfocused and the letters blurred together. When the datapad’s screen went to sleep mode, he didn’t bother turning it on.
A spark ignited in him. A spy for the Resistance. A self-appointed spy. Truly the best one, since no one knew his face other than him.
He felt like he had found somewhere to belong.
FN-2187 worked out a routine. He kept the drawing of the Resistance pilot stuffed up his sleeve and the datapad with him in case Black Leader contacted him again. Since the datapad had been officially distributed, he ran no risk of confiscation or reprimanding. In fact, Phasma might have beamed at him. But that was impossible to tell with the helmets.
Last night, he dug through the datapad for its settings first thing after speaking with Black Leader. Then he silenced all notifications. He checked the datapad several times throughout the day for received messages. If anyone saw him doing so, they’d only suspect he was catching up on the required readings. Black Leader hadn’t contacted him since their initial conversation, which seemed par for the course. The Resistance had to be a secretive, heavily guarded sort to stay around for so long.
Today his schedule was cleaning day. He had the datapad tucked away near the small of his back, his belt full of cleaning products and tools. He had so far cleaned several toilets, a few corridors, and was in the process of wiping down the inside of a storage closet when an urge hit him to check the datapad again.
He cleaned his way into another bathroom. Inside a trooper wiped mirrors, and they jumped when FN-2187 entered. “I’ll take a stall,” said FN-2187. “Don’t mind me.”
The other trooper nodded and returned to wiping a rag over the mirror.
FN-2187 crept toward the stall, trying hard to appear nonchalant, yet once he stepped behind those walls, he spun around and quickly shut the door, securing the lock. Tearing off his glove, FN-2187 fished out the crumpled drawing of the Resistance fighter, biting his lips as he took in the determined gleam in the pilot’s eye. FN-2187 drank in the warmth beneath the pilot’s furrowed brow, searching for a hidden softness behind that quixotic smirk. He shook his head, clearing away those thoughts, and flushed the toilet to muffle the racket of the paper getting torn into tiny pieces. Once the resistance fighter swam inside the First Order’s pipes, FN-2187 set down the lid of the toilet and sat, figuring he would just spray and wipe his armor with a rag later.
Setting the datapad on his lap, FN-2187 switched on the screen and tried not to cry out in joy when the datapad asked him: OPEN MESSAGE? YES? NO?
He pressed yes, naturally.
Still alive? Black Leader had written him.
FN-2187 promptly replied, Yes. Cleaning toilets.
I leave for Jakku tonight, wrote Black Leader. Thanks for the warning. Good luck with your mission.
FN-2187’s breath hitched, his eyes wide and heart thudding.
Fear curled in his gut as the transport ship landed on Jakku. FN-2187 stared at the white helmet of the trooper in front of him, gripping the hilt of his gun that was part blaster, part torch. He didn’t know if he were more terrified of the massacre about to take place, being discovered as a fraud, or Black Leader dying.
FN-2187 paid close attention to the gossip circulating among the troopers that day. Apparently they were meant to cleanse Jakku of rebels, which had his guts tangled in impenetrable knots, and prevent a Resistance fighter from stealing the map to Luke Skywalker, who was allegedly alive. He assumed the fighter was Black Leader.
The information spun circles in his mind, twisting and winding until he could barely see straight. He fought to deter his thoughts down another avenue, but only looking at the helmet in front of him provided him reprieve.
The transport ship docked, then the door fell open. Troopers sped out into the dusty, hot air and swarmed the landing zone, weapons at attention. All his fear bled into one constricted ball of dread as the screams of the First Order’s next victims rang in his ears. He ran with his gun sticking out in the formation that had been drilled into him. When he broke out of the transport ship, the life was sucked out of him. There was so much screaming, blasts, agony, terror. He tore blind through the panic, turning around to follow the loudest scream when it pierced through the air. Then a blaster shot past him, horror seizing him, and he spun around just in time to see Slip collapsing.
He raced toward him and crouched over him, aching to rip off his helmet and see his face, Slip’s hazel eyes as vivid as the aged stone architectures they glimpsed at in holovids. The First Order didn’t bring back the bodies of their dead. Slip would rot on Jakku in his armor, if a scavenger didn’t tear it off him.
Slip reached out to him, then his arm shook and his hand slapped FN-2187’s helmet, his blood soaked palm streaking across the viewport as life bled out of him.
FN-2187 flinched, then jerked to a stand, stumbling back. Somehow he managed to walk away. He dragged his feet forward and shook his head, trying and failing to delete the memory of Slip perishing from his mind. As FN-2187 attempted just that, he caught sight of an X-Wing in time to see a spherical droid get sucked inside and a man race underneath the laser canons toward the nose of the ship.
Then he saw troopers charge up a wide range blaster. His heart stopped.
He ran over to the troopers, who at first paid him no heed. Adrenaline seized him, otherwise he couldn’t explain why he slapped the hands of the trooper who worked to fire up the weapon.
“What the fuck are you doing?” the trooper spat, turning to face him. He must have been a head taller than FN-2187.
FN-2187 had never been more thankful for his helmet, as he definitely looked back at that trooper in genuine fear. Yet he couldn’t let him shoot down Black Leader. He also had to explain himself. “I’ll kill him personally,” said FN-2187.
The troopers all stared. Despite their armor, their disbelief was palpable.
A trooper clapped a hand on his shoulder. “About time you joined us.”
FN-2187 nodded, then he ran off, wanting less to stay with them than he ached to meet Black Leader. His boots were designed for Jakku’s sand dunes. Running to the X-Wing took no time at all, especially when he slid down the other side of the sand dune and wound up skidding to a halt at the rockets. He jogged around to the front of the ship, and, for appearance, fired off a blast.
Black Leader had yet to get in the pilot’s chair. He slid off the ship, blaster in hand. FN-2187 took a step back. When the pilot got close enough for him to see his face, he took another step back.
Black Leader was the man on the Resistance recruitment drawing. I flushed you down the toilet, thought FN-2187. Then, You’re real.
“Don’t make me kill you,” said Black Leader, voice in a growl.
“Wait, don’t,” said FN-2187, not sure where this conversation was headed, or what his mouth was doing. “It’s me.”
Black Leader halted, blaster pointed directly at FN-2187’s head. His eyebrows furrowed deeply, a hard crease between them, and his brown eyes, in the poster so full of warmth, guidance, and a spirited beckoning, now glinted with a fury that sent shivers racing along FN-2187’s spine. He sneered like the rebels in the simulation, yet with the pilot’s newfound tangibility and the memory of the poster—this hurt. FN-2187 dropped his arms, blaster clanking against his hip.
“I’m the spy,” he said, voice breaking as the defeat settled over him. Black Leader saw only a trooper, which was all that defined FN-2187. “You know, the one you’ve been talking to. I clean toilets.”
Black Leader didn’t drop his weapon.
They hadn’t spoken enough for FN-2187 to attempt bargaining for his life with evidence of their shared experiences. “I warned you about this,” said FN-2187. “Jakku. Today—tonight. What’s happening right now.”
Black Leader watched him, countenance stoic and unreadable. “You’re not from the Resistance,” he said, then looked him over from head to toe.
FN-2187 fidgeted as Black Leader’s gaze lingered. “I’m not.”
“You’re a trooper.” Black Leader quirked his head. “You saved me. Why?”
The memories flashed through him again: the miners, Slip shooting innocent people, Slip dying, those houses sent up in flames. A pressure heavy in his throat, FN-2187 shook his head, not sure what to say. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The crease eased between Black Leader’s brows, the glint in his eyes evaporating and joining the night sky. Then a grin broke out and a black eyebrow rose high up onto his forehead. “I’m going to get you out of there,” said Black Leader, full of bravado. “Once I complete my mission, I’m getting you out of there.”
Hope sprung up, such a deep-rooted ache lifted from FN-2187’s shoulders. He made to thank this stranger—to plead, more accurately, Please don’t feel obliged—but sand kicked up in the air and a wind knocked into him. Terror crawled up his spine as he saw Kylo Ren’s transporter landing on Jakku.
He sped toward Black Leader, grasping his shoulder. He didn’t pause to contemplate that Black Leader allowed his touch. “You gotta get out of here. That’s Kylo Ren. I can’t save you from him.”
Black Leader didn’t waste a second. He nodded to FN-2187, then raced back to the X-Wing and grasped part of it to hoist himself inside the cockpit. FN-2187 ran backward to give him space for lift off. The engine roared to life, and FN-2187 realized how bizarre a picture he’d painted—a dangerous, deadly scenario a trooper would never want to be caught in. He aided a Resistance fighter.
As the X-Wing’s wheels picked up speed and accelerated over the sands, FN-2187 watched in a mixture of awe and horror as the starfighter took off into the skies, the blue and orange flames blasting out of the rockets and blending into the sky until the ship was indistinguishable between the stars and moons. He thought, How beautiful, and a foreign presence penetrated his mind.
Then he fell asleep.
The lights were bright, blinding. He saw pure white, a searing pain splitting at the seams of his mind.
"...did you do with the map?"
"I don't... I don't..." FN-2187’s heart rammed inside him when he realized that scraggly, weak voice was his.
"Administer another round. I want his mind wiped clean. No Resistance scum gets the better of us. Understood?"
FN-2187 gained consciousness while Nines and Zeroes hauled him down a corridor, his arms hooked over their shoulders and ankles dragging. With his helmet secured over his head, they had no way of knowing he was awake, and for that FN-2187 was glad. His temples pulsated, his very brain felt tender. He dug through to recall the final blow from their training session that earned him this hairsplitting concussion. They carried him to the FN barracks, thumbed in the security code, then tossed him on his bed, not bothering to make sure his legs got on the mattress before they left.
He lied on the bed for an eternity, limbs refusing to move and brain refusing to fire signals to his nerves to make his limbs move. Time moved slowly, so slowly that he passed out for a brief minute, not realizing he’d done so until his helmet began beeping, alerting him that lunch would be served in a few short minutes. FN-2187 mustered up the energy to sit up and remove his helmet, then struggled to untuck his blanket, wanting nothing more than to crawl under the covers and never come out, especially if he had managed to earn a rare break from his duties. He settled back down, drawing his knees to his chest and moving his head on his pillow in attempt to find an angle that didn’t exacerbate his headache, but a hard object under the pillow kept piercing his temples. Reaching underneath the pillow, FN-2187 was staggered to pull out a datapad.
Curiosity got the better of him. He rested the datapad against the wall and tapped on the edges in search of the on switch. The datapad fired up, an orange insignia for the Resistance--Ouch--appearing. His bewilderment over the datapad’s existence disappeared as soon as he took in all the Resistance embellishments. Had Phasma given him Resistance propaganda to study?
FN-2187 thumbed through the datapad, eyebrows scrunching tighter and tighter the further he dove into the datapad’s resources. Either the First Order had uncovered a treasure trove of Resistance intel, or he had been reconditioned for centuries and woke up in time to reap the benefits. The datapad disclosed little, yet it had personality, tailored to the preferences of a Resistance fighter who presumably knew a lot yet was wise enough to not keep the information laying around. FN-2187 stopped thumbing through once he discovered a folder entitled, Recruitment posters. Unable to believe what a ridiculous contraption he’d found, FN-2187 rolled his eyes and shook his head—and promptly seethed, the pain ensuing from the flamboyant movements hitting him in waves. When the pain eased, FN-2187 pressed the folder, expression blank as the first poster appeared.
His first thought was: That's a handsome man.
He attempted reading the words written in bold, loopy letters, but a sharp pain jabbed at his mind after his eyes skittered across "resistance." He returned to examining that man. The man looked good in his orange rebel flight suit—A pilot! I need one of those—yet that thought disappeared as quickly as it came, lost in the mists of his foggy brain. The pilot beamed with a grin that was both infectious and enamoring. His eyes were easy to gaze into, a dark brown, like tree bark in rain soaked woodlands. Judging by the shadowing, the pilot’s eyes were lighter than his yet darker than Zeroes’. FN-2187 smiled, not sure if the pilot made him smile or if that were the work of his jumbled brain.
An alert popped up: OPEN MESSAGE? YES? NO?
Since FN-2187 never had much fun, he decided to press yes.
What's your name? I'm Poe.
Status? Three days no response.
Buddy, you're killing me. Status?
It's been a week. Please respond. Status?
FN-2187 squinted, his eyes not appreciating the screen’s brightness. He had the strangest suspicion these messages were meant for him, but he couldn't be sure since no one had ever spoken to him so familiarly. Or, if FN-2187 were honest, did anyone speak to him outside of necessary protocol and procedure. Clumsily, as his gloves didn't allow for precision, FN-2187 wrote, I'm alive.
He wished he knew who this Poe was. He reread the messages, feverish for extra morsels and meaning behind the text, and flushed when he realized Poe asked for his name. He contemplated lying and tossing out a name that was anything other than FN-2187, mortified at what his lack of moniker represented, but his brain was too tired to conjure a name, and he simply didn’t want to lie.
My name is FN-2187, he wrote. FN-2187, for short.
Silence. No response. The area where Poe’s rebuttal ought to be stayed blank for seemingly an eternity. FN-2187 feared he’d stumbled into a simulation for withholding information under duress, but then three dots bounced beside Poe’s username, Black Leader, and his response came lightning quick. That's not a name. I’m not using it. Can I call you Finn? Do you like that?
He loved that.
I love that.
He rolled the name over on his tongue, warmth blooming in his chest. Invigorated in the conversation, Finn hoisted himself into sitting, head pounding as he set the datapad on his knees and leaned over to write. Have we met? Sorry, I think they did something to me. I forgot a lot, I think.
Little dots bounced under Finn's message for the longest time. Eventually, Poe sent, What do you last remember?
It was a blur. That was what other troopers called reconditioning: a blur. After reconditioning, a person neither remembered their last meal nor proper fighting technique. It was fog for two days. Highly inefficient in utilizing resources, they joked.
Still, Poe seemed nice. He deserved a response. Finn definitively remembered Nines, Zeroes, and the drawing of the Resistance—Ouch—pilot. He wracked his memory for the image of the pilot. I have this poster. It's a man. He's attractive and has the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. Have you ever wanted to take off your helmet, not say “Reporting for duty” but “good morning”? I want to tell the man good morning. He's wearing a rebel pilot uniform. There's a round white and orange droid beside him. It says to join the Resis—Resis— The pain seared into him. His fingers slipped and sent the message by mistake. Finn didn’t mind, not in the least. Talking to Poe felt better than unsupervised duty.
Attractive? replied Poe.
Finn’s cheeks burned. He fumbled with the keyboard. He seems friendly. Friendly and attractive are synonyms.
Buddy, if you're describing what I think you are... I'm not backing down on my word. You're getting out of there. Finn reread the words, feeling like he had missed more of the conversation than he first perceived. I gotta fly out, so I’ll keep this short. We can’t trust those goons not to hurt you again, and we can’t trust our line of communication to stay secure if they already suspect you. So here’s your first official mission: Break open the datapad. Inside will be a lot of chips. There’s going to be a long, thin black device. It’s a droid, if you can believe it. It doubled as a comm for Kea, the ambassador who had this datapad before you. Her comm links to mine. Hook it up to a writing device, it sends written messages. Hook it up to audio, and we’re having real conversations. Do you get to keep your own helmet? Does it have a comm unit?
Finn lurched back, skin prickling. His mind spun in circles, the words on the screen blending together. Nothing in Poe’s message made sense. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, but that just made it worse. Still, he managed to type out, Of course, I have my own helmet.
Perfect. Gotta go. Good luck. I believe in you, Finn.
Finn dropped the datapad onto his bed, half convinced it would combust and prove itself to be a figment of his addled brain’s imagination. He shook his head and scratched nails over his hair, peeking out of the corner of his eye at the datapad. The messages from Poe were smudged from the distance, yet he still made them out.
Nothing made sense. From how Poe spoke, he didn’t seem to be part of the First Order, but that was impossible. Poe had to either be in on some game the troopers were pulling on him, or he was someone more troubled than Finn.
“I should sleep,” Finn told himself. “Sleep makes everything better.” He had earned it, too, after the reconditioning.
Finn laid down on his side, looking out at the barracks. He searched the room, finding that he remembered the first time the FN unit entered it and set up house. Everything became fuzzy as he tried to recall specific days or events.
He saw the bed directly across from him, the bottom bunk in one of the two bunks in the barrack. It was Slip’s. Finn remembered that because he’d panicked, worrying that the guilt of not picking Slip up would haunt him, as the other trooper would be the first thing he saw in the morning and the last thing at night.
Slip’s bed was empty. No blanket, no sheet, no pillow. Nothing.
Finn knew what that meant.
Slip was gone.
Gone from the galaxy and memory.
In fifty-two hours, the fog cleared.
Finn was on sanitation duty, mopping his way down a corridor with Nines and Zeroes, working out grime that managed to form along crevices where walls joined and formed a corner. When the fog cleared, his grip tightened around the mop. He watched as water and soap flowed out of the bristles and soaked the black tiles, a grave understanding hitting him like a blast to the chest. He didn’t kneel over, but wanted to, if only a trooper couldn’t walk past and interrogate him for breaking form.
The open secret about reconditioning, the knowledge everyone knew yet never spoke about, was the clarity of mind that followed the mind wipe. Of course, Finn always held awareness of the mind wipe—how could he not when his very brain ached? From word of mouth and toe curling lectures, stormtroopers understood the memories purged would never return. But all of that was purely intellectual. The brain, traumatized by the damage, existed during the fog on a purely functional basis, firing signals through the body as the trooper swept through the motions of existence. In two day’s time, the fog that kept the trooper in submission cleared, and the final stage of the two-fold punishment arrived: True cognizance of the irreparable damage, the loss of agency, the totality of the trooper’s frail existence. Or, at least, that was how Finn interpreted it.
Zeroes stepped beside him and set his gloved hand over the mop handle. “I’ll cover for you,” he said. Finn peered at him, fighting to see the face behind the helmet. “Go,” said Zeroes, slight agitation coloring his words.
Finn stole a rag off his belt for a disguise, and, without lending it much thought, started down in the direction toward a storage closet. He needed to take off his helmet. To breathe in unfiltered air. Feel the chilled air of the Finalizer burn his cheeks.
Words niggled away at the back of his mind, spoken in a kind voice he’d never heard before, I believe in you, Finn.
He remembered Slip’s empty bed.
Phasma had spent his last days as a cadet determined to beat out his need to protect Slip. Had she succeeded? Was that how Slip died? Finn stopped caring?
Once inside the storage closet, Finn locked it, secured a few containers in front of the door for a barricade, then sunk against the containers, stretching out his legs as much as he could in the glorified closet. He stole his datapad off his belt and set it on the floor next to his hip. Finn asked himself if he really wanted to do this. Trusting Poe was a one way trip.
I believe in you, Finn.
Finn shut his eyes and nodded, unable to look as he unclasped his helmet and tore it off.
Ordinarily he’d gasp for air like he’d been suffocating, but his mind went offline and his hands moved fast. He set the helmet on the floor and grabbed the datapad, flipping it face down on his upturned knees and fighting to rip off the casing. It popped off after some wrestling. Finn dropped it on the floor and took in the miniature city beneath the case. Circuits and chips and wires were crammed tightly inside, the complexity of its design making the multicolored chips and wires indistinguishable. Finn raked his eyes over it, frightened. If he messed up and ruined the datapad, he’d never talk to Poe again. He’d be stuck on the Finalizer. He would have to choose between killing innocent people or have Kylo Ren use the Force to make him kill people—if the Force could do that.
If breaking a datapad was the only way to prevent himself from hurting people, however, Finn wasn’t going to let fear stop him.
He tore out a chip, then set it in his lap. He anticipated sparks or fire or an alarm to blare inside the storage unit to alert Phasma to what he was doing. But that didn’t happen. He ripped out more chips and wires, digging his way through the datapad. A laugh bubbled past his lips. It was oddly fun to tear the datapad apart.
Not before long, he dug out the droid. It was long, thin, and black, just as Poe described. Finn grasped it between his fingers, slowly easing it out of the datapad, and raised it to his eyes, turning it around to glimpse at its various angles. Finn set the droid inside the helmet, then stuffed the chips and wires back inside the datapad, fighting with the case to seal it.
With the case secure, the datapad looked normal. It looked perfect. But inside, it was as twisted as Finn felt himself to be. He tucked it back into his belt, then grabbed the helmet. Inside the helmet, the HUD read out the contents of the storage closet. Finn felt around for the comm unit, which for the moment was empty as it was only necessary during battles. Finn slotted the droid in place, and paused, fingertips grazing the droid. He waited for an alarm to blare, for Phasma to bang on the closet door and demand he report for reconditioning that very second.
But that never happened.
Licking his lips, Finn initiated power to the helmet, watching as the HUD roared back to life and the data flew across the side panels. He braced himself, then snatched up the helmet and put it back on his head.
His heart fluttered. Squaring back his shoulders, Finn tested out the training he’d received for combat. “FN-2187. Access comlink,” he said.
The droid started beeping frantically back at him. His heart beat wildly. “No, no! Wait! It’s not what you think! I need to talk to Poe. Black Leader. He wanted this. Do you remember the datapad conversation? Please remember that.”
The droid stopped beeping, yet the HUD reported that no link had been established.
Finn shut his eyes. “Please.”
He waited. For what, he didn’t know. In that moment, the only thing keeping him from believing he had made up Poe entirely was the realization that he currently had a droid beeping at him inside his helmet. He couldn’t lie to himself when the truth was more absurd. “Please, please. I’ve never asked for anything before. Just this one thing. I’ll make it up to—”
“Poe, I got your flank. Watch out, there’s a TIE fighter on your left.”
Finn’s eyes shot open. A woman’s voice reverberated inside the helmet. Finn didn’t know any women besides Phasma, and that wasn’t Phasma.
“Thanks. Let’s blast these suckers out of here.”
Poe! That had to be him.
“Poe! Poe, it’s me!” said Finn, elation blossoming in his chest. He grinned wide. He couldn’t believe it. Poe was real! Poe wasn’t a delusion from the reconditioning’s brain fog!
“Finn? Oh, you… I’m so glad to hear your sweet voice again—and without that modulation,” said Poe. His voice held a softer cadence than Finn would have thought, yet it possessed a roughness that had Finn hanging onto Poe’s every word and wishing he would say something else. His kind tone was at odds with the explosions coming from his end of the comm. “Your timing’s rough, but you sure do know how to make an entrance.”
“Wait, is that Finn? Did I hear that right?” said the woman. Then she laughed. “Oh my god. He’s actually real. You weren’t making up your stormtrooper boyfriend. Say, Finn, what’s the quickest way to take out a TIE fighter, if you don’t mind?”
“It has a blind spot on its underside,” blurted Finn. “Hit it there and they’ll never see it coming.” He inhaled sharply, not knowing what came over him. No one had ever spoken to him the way these people did. And no one had referred to him as a boyfriend before, even if Jessika’s intention eluded him. “Who are you people?”
“The Resistance,” said Poe, the pride blatant in his speech. Then the comlink fell to silence. Finn strained his ears to hear the action from the other side of the comm. Then there was a massive explosion and equally loud cheering. “Fuckin’—Finn, you saved our necks! That TIE fighter’s been trailing us through lightspeed.”
Finn grinned. He saved lives. He stopped the First Order from killing people. “Yeah. Yeah! I did, huh!”
Poe chuckled. “You sure did.”
The rumble of his laugh had Finn’s stomach tingling. Poe’s laugh had a nice rhythm, low and smooth. “Hey, how can I talk to Jessika?” asked Finn. “I thought the comm connected only to you?”
“It did. But then the Resistance figured the more people who could communicate with you, the easier it’d be the rescue you. Whoever is linked to my comm can speak with you, too. Currently, that’s my squad.”
“Yep,” cut in Jessika. “That’s Commander Dameron to you.”
A laugh caught in Finn’s throat. He had somehow befriended a Commander in the Resistance, one with quite the alluring voice.
Finn caught sight of the time on the top left corner of the HUD. “Shit,” he hissed.
“You all right?” asked Poe gravely.
“Y-yeah,” said Finn, shooting up to his feet. He spun around and shoved aside the containers he used to barricade the door, setting everything back where he found it. He’d been missing from duty for around three minutes, skirting the limit for pretending he’d taken a bathroom break. He grabbed the doorknob, but paused, not turning it. “I had to hide in order to install the droid. I’m going back out to duty.”
The other side was quiet enough to make out the faint beeping of astromech droids and the turbulence of space travel. “Right,” said Poe. “We’ll be here for as long as you need us.”
Voices in his ear couldn’t stop a reprimanding. Finn bit his tongue. “Thanks.”
Finn left the storage closet. The sleek, pristine corridor jarred him, so at odds with the delightful chaos and welcoming voices in the comlink. His first steps into the corridor felt like walking on the surface of a unknown planet.
He made it halfway down the corridor until he got caught.
“You there,” called out a trooper. Finn’s heart jumped into his throat. He spun around, uncomfortably aware that Poe and Jessika were listening to his breaths grow erratic. An older trooper trailed toward him, blaster in hand yet not pointing at Finn. “What’s your name?”
Finn swallowed. “FN-2187, sir.”
“Why aren’t you with your squad? FN is scheduled for shared duty.”
“I needed the restroom, sir.”
“The can’s on the other side of this level.”
Finn didn’t know what to say, and even if he did, he was so frightened that he could barely think. He didn’t want to get caught committing a crime that he wouldn’t remember after being punished.
“Say the unit moved location without alerting you,” came Poe’s voice through the comm, gentle and warm.
“My unit moved without alerting me.” Finn swallowed. “Sir.”
The trooper was silent, helmet shifting. His fingers shifted position on the blaster. Finn wondered if that lie would stick, or if he’d only earned himself a wound. “South east corridor, by the trash compacter,” declared the trooper, pointing his blaster behind him. “Hurry up.”
Finn blew out the air in his lungs, picking up his feet and trudging along.
As he passed the trooper, he swore they were watching him. But with helmets, that could never be determined.
“Hang in there, Finn,” said Poe. “The Resistance is watching over you.”
Finn never switched off the comm, save for taking care of private necessities and fueling his body with food and sleep. Poe’s comm disconnected at various times during the day, no discernable rhythm to his absences. Poe explained that the Resistance kept him busy. The static silence on Poe’s end still brought Finn comfort. It was Finn’s link to the safe harbors outside the First Order, a symbol of what life could’ve been in the home the First Order took from him. He listened to the quiet with rapt attention, as he also didn’t want to miss a chance to talk to Poe—genuinely. Or, rather, listen to Poe. Finn couldn’t speak to him in front of the other troopers, so conversations were a tinge one-sided. Poe didn’t strike Finn as a natural chatterbox since ordinarily Poe narrated his day or described his X-Wing’s engine as he repaired it, trivial things that still meant the world to Finn. Poe was humoring him, but Finn didn’t mind. Listening to Poe became the highlight of Finn’s day. Finn liked to think he had found a friend.
Finn never had a friend before. Nines, Zeroes, and Slip were the closest he ever had. He liked to believe that friends helped each other, allowed each other to grow and mature into better people. Listening to Poe didn’t strike him as a good enough effort at being a friend, so Finn stretched the bounds of his memory and took mental notes of everything Poe talked about so Finn could make comments during rare occasions when he was separated from other troopers.
Some of his mental notes included—and they were long, as he hadn’t found a moment alone in days: Poe loved flying more than anything else. His mother taught him to fly as a child, and the lust for aviation ran strong in their veins. His longest and strongest relationship was with his droid, BB-8, who he’d never described yet Finn liked to imagine as ovular like the numeral eight. Poe loved green vegetables but hated orange vegetables, which baffled Finn as troopers were too hungry to form opinions about their food. Also, Poe really liked talking about starfighters.
“You never know when it may come in handy to fix one of these,” declared Poe one day, elbow deep in an engine, “so today I’m gonna teach you how. Hope you’re not a visual learner.”
That was another thing about Poe. He wasn’t a funny guy, but he still had a sense of humor. Finn had the sinking suspicion that Poe often teased him. Unlike the troopers who did so at his expense, Poe teased him in that soft, kind voice he used when they first spoke.
One day Poe caught Finn as he dodged blasts in a simulation.
Finn rolled onto his back and fired at a rogue droid that shot at him indiscriminately. The droid chased him through a rocky mountain terrain, which resembled nothing that Finn had ever experienced. He felt less like a trooper being drilled in technique and more like he was lost in a galaxy too far for the First Order to snatch into its clutches. He felt free to simply be. The droid fired at him, a blast zipping past his cheek.
Poe said hesitantly, “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, just running a drill,” said Finn. “No one can hear us. It’s a private simulation. I’m a little weak since losing my head and need the training.”
Finn rolled, a blast shooting right through where his helmet used to be, and he slammed into a boulder. Though a simulation, the boulder was solid, an expert piece of craftsmanship. Checking the load on his blaster, Finn shouted, “You said you’re going to be training new recruits? How’s that going?”
“Going good,” said Poe, then cut in, “How’ve you been?”
A blast hit the rock, sparks raining down over Finn. He didn’t notice, however, thrown by Poe’s question. Every time Poe asked Finn about his well being, it never ceased to catch him off guard. “Great!” said Finn, as the droid swung around the rock and shot his head.
The simulation switched into a murky swamp land. His boots slipped on the muddy grass beneath his feet, and in his hand, the blaster was replaced with a staff.
“Doesn’t sound too hot over there, but if you say so,” said Poe, chuckling that low, rumbling laugh that had Finn momentarily feel dizzy. “What is it running you through?”
Finn groaned. “Mud. Lots of mud.”
“Ah, mud. You must be… slick.”
Lifting his foot, Finn grimaced at the mud that caked the bottom of his boot. Mud splattered over the white armor shielding his leg all the way to his groin. “You have no idea,” said Finn, frowning.
Twigs snapped behind him. He adjusted his grip on the staff, sharpening his senses for signs of the intruder.
“By the way, what do you look like?” Poe blurted.
There was a holler by another man, sounding vaguely like, “Dameron! You don’t just ask a guy—” The man was cut off by BB-8 screaming out rapid fire binary.
“I look like a stormtrooper?”
“No—I mean…” Poe sighed. “What’s your hair color?”
Finn scrunched his eyebrows together. “Black.”
Between brambles, a boot tapped the grass, splashing a puddle. Its owner was completely hidden behind the foliage. Finn edged toward the boot, weapon at attention.
“You’re a brunette,” said Poe. Slight static came from his end, as well as a clattering that sounded like Poe digging through a toolbox. He had to be in the hangar, and the man presumably was another pilot. “I, uh. I always had a thing for brunettes.”
Just then the rebel burst from behind the bush, face full of rage and his blaster firing off, missing Finn entirely, but the rebel still surged toward him. Finn charged, swung his staff across the rebel’s face, and the man’s neck snapped. The simulation switched from a swamp to the cargo bay of an unknown vessel.
“Finn?” said Poe. “Still there?”
Finn blinked away the image of the rebel, and recalled Poe’s last words, I always had a thing for brunettes. His heart pounded faster at the thought of Poe merely raising the topic of attraction. He recalled troopers glaring at him over their partner’s shoulders, the water from sonic showers raining down on them. He swallowed, imagining what it’d feel like to glare at Nines or Zeroes over Poe’s shoulder.
“I’m a brunette,” he said, words rushing out. He envisioned a man crowding him against the cool tile, water pelting their shoulders raw. “My hair’s really dark. Really dark.”
“Mine’s dark, too.”
Finn stumbled through the cargo bay, catching himself before he tripped over boxes. He added dark hair to the fictitious Poe in the sonic shower daydream, fringe plastered to his forehead. His breath hitched, and he licked his lips, enamored by this image. He closed his eyes and added Poe’s voice into the daydream, the fictitious Poe pressing into him, whispering obscenities into his ear.
“You there!” shouted a woman. Finn jolted. She pointed a blaster at him. She shot his chest before he even raised his blaster.
His simulated self did not die. Instead, he collapsed to his knees, and watched as she ran to him, blaster pointed at his heart. Her eyes were filled with so much hate, it chilled him. She halted close enough that she pressed the tip of her blaster against his helmet, right over his viewport. She paused, which was likely part of the program to lend him a chance to disarm her. Finn stared at the barrel of the blaster, his knees rooted to the floor.
Poe flew out every day for the Resistance. Finn edged ever closer toward the precipice. The droid in his helmet, their often one-sided communications—this was all they could ever have. It didn’t matter if Poe were attracted to him, or if Finn were attracted to him. Finn couldn’t make it out of the Finalizer alive. The troopers who glared at him in the sonic showers had a brighter future than them.
Poe was rambling about his X-Wing, but Finn didn’t wait for a break between sentences before he spoke.
“Red hair,” he said, thinking of Nines. “I can’t get enough of it. I always thought darker hair was a bit of a turn off.”
Poe tinkered, silent.
“Do you think I might find a red haired guy someday?” said Finn, peering at the blaster and the woman holding it. “Maybe if my life had turned out differently, if I hadn’t been taken as a child. There must be a lot of guys with red hair out there, or not, I hear it’s a rare color. But most people are rare, no two people are exactly alike, but possibly, if I had the chance, if circumstances had been different, if I weren’t a trooper, and possibly if the red haired guy were a dark haired pilot in the Resistance—or not—then the hypothetical red haired guy and I could… go into a sonic shower.”
The woman fired, the impact of the blast toppling Finn, and he fell back into sand that rivaled the dunes on Jakku.
A droid belted out a series of beeps on Poe’s end. “All right, all right,” gritted Poe. “Tell General Organa I’m coming.”
The droid beeped, and Poe exhaled roughly. “Listen, buddy, I gotta go. It’s important.” There was rustling through the comm, and a tool clanked over metal. “I think, for the red haired guy, that you shouldn’t give up hope. My mother used to tell me stories about asteroids and why they kept journeying through the galaxy. They never stop. Moons or planets or other asteroids only get in the way. The asteroid leaves a massive crater behind to send a message: ‘I never asked for this. You may have won, but there are many more asteroids like me out there. I dare you to stop them all.’ Or so my mother said. Now that I think about it, the story isn’t all that uplifting.”
“Am I the asteroid?” said Finn, baffled.
“Nah. My mother told me that whenever I started annoying her about letting me fly her starfighter as a kid. She told me the story to distract me. It’s not supposed to make sense.”
“You’re trying to distract me?”
Poe exhaled, breath rough and clouding the comm with static. “I gotta go. It was good speaking with you.”
Five hours later, Poe broke the quiet while Finn patrolled corridors, as the Finalizer had scheduled an emergency drill for intruder alerts.
A gorgeous sound filtered through the comm—music. The grainy sounds didn’t pass through the transmission seamlessly, scratches when the notes grew too high or the volume suddenly changed. Finn had heard music before, of course, while watching holovids of Imperial troopers march through cities seized from the Rebellion.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” intoned Poe, voice dropping an octave. “Tonight is a special night. I can’t explain why ‘cause it’s classified, but it warrants a celebration. So these next songs go out to all those handsome fellas in the galaxy and the people who never give up on searching for you—them. Them.”
Poe switched songs, a haunting, evocative piece with notes that vibrated with stoic passion. Finn trudged along the corridor, blaster straight out, and thought the sleek black floors and cool air took on a hidden glow. There was faint clattering and rustling on Poe’s end, tell tale signs that Poe tinkered with equipment that needed fixing.
The meeting with General Organa appeared to have concluded on a positive note. Yet of all the people with whom Poe chose to celebrate, he picked Finn. As the song played on, Finn strained his ears for shuffling feet or background chatter. All he detected was Poe’s tinkering.
Curiosity killed him. Finn peered over his shoulder, ensuring no one walked behind him, then said in a very hushed, very quiet whisper, “Poe, are you alone?”
There was a clattering and an immediate round of curses. “Finn! He speaks!” said Poe soon enough, but he didn’t answer the question.
“I’m alone, too,” said Finn. He licked his lips, flooded with the vivid image of being alone with a faceless, dark haired blob of a man of indeterminate size relaxing in a cozier version of the FN barracks. Finn frowned, realizing that perhaps that might not have been all too vivid, but the tug in his stomach sure was.
Poe coughed out an airy laugh. “Ah, well, you caught me. I am alone. You don’t have to talk, by the way. We don’t want to risk anything. Anyway—” Poe let out the same airy laugh. “The other pilots are throwing a huge party, but I didn’t feel like going. Commanders, setting examples, all that good stuff. And I need to repair BB-8’s charging port. It took a beating. He’s been tired and underperforming.”
Finn bit the inside of his cheek, adjusting his grip on the blaster when he grew overly aware of his hands. His stomach sank at Poe’s reply. He wished he hadn’t asked. He hadn’t anticipated any particular answer, but that one oddly disappointed him.
“It’s fairly complex, droid chargers. Your comm is an experimental carbon dioxide fueled droid. It shouldn’t lose its charge in your helmet. BB-8 has an older model that needs to be plugged in. It’s really inefficient. If I had the time, I’d create a new charger myself.” Poe quieted and tinkered, humming softly. Then there was a slapping noise. Finn figured Poe had smacked a table as a new thought occurred to him. Poe did that from time to time. “I almost forgot to tell you! If all goes well with the classified information, this extra space in my quarters should disappear soon.”
Poe tinkered again, elaborating no more about that extra space. Finn sniffed, trying to get Poe’s attention inconspicuously.
Poe took a breath and started talking. “A truly amazing woman arrived at the base today. Rey, that’s her name,” said Poe, sounding distracted. “She flew in with Han Solo. They met on Jakku and fought over who had more claim to steal the Millennium Falcon out of the junkyard. She got under his skin for leaving General Organa, his wife, alone in the Resistance, which is a bit funny if you knew everyone. Rey’s great. Whip smart and prickly. Snaps back when I try to pull a fast one on her. I think that’s how she shows that she cares. You’d love her.
“She’s going to complete classified business soon, but in the meantime she’s bunking with me,” Poe continued. Finn flicked his gaze down at the shiny black floor and spied on his boots, fascinated at how the tip of his boots kicked up and down at each step. He quickened his pace. “I keep thinking about how she met Han Solo on Jakku. Literally one day after— Right, forget that thought. Wait, I didn’t mean it like—” Poe groaned. “Let’s change the subject.”
Finn marched around a corner. At the other end of the hall were two stormtroopers, the HUD identifying them as troopers from one of the first squads to board the Finalizer. Finn halted, straightened his back, and raised his hand in salute. “FN-2187 here.”
The troopers jerked their heads over at him. One raised his hand, and Finn lowered his hand in time with the trooper. “At ease. This corridor is clear.”
“Clear?” echoed Poe. “Were you invaded?”
“My superior officer ordered me to patrol this area and consult with higher ranking officers for the next course of action,” Finn lied. He added for Poe’s benefit, “Do you have new orders for the drill?”
“Ha, Finn! A drill. Interesting.”
“Next level up,” replied the trooper.
“Do you run drills often?” asked Poe, voice rising as curiosity seized him. “Did something happen? Are they preparing for something?”
“Thank you for letting me,” said Finn, taking a minute pause so to once again add for Poe, “know.”
Poe laughed. “You really would make a great spy for the Resistance. Say, if everyone’s preoccupied with a drill, you could go places you can’t normally. You could spy. Tell me what you find. The Resistance has a vested interest in finding the Finalizer.”
Finn waited until the troopers were far behind him. “Spy?”
“Spy,” said Poe, with a ferocity that had goosebumps rising on Finn’s arms. “You could listen around and find out the course plans. If you wanna be risky, you could break into the computer system and send us the ship’s coordinates.” Poe’s deep breaths slowed as he wound back down from his excitement. “Of course, I understand if you need to think about it. You don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to. Or if you just need time. You’ve already done more than enough.”
The idea tempted him. It could be the crater he left on the Finalizer, regardless of whether the asteroid story had any meaning. He mopped the floors near the computer system’s room countless times, stolen glimpses at the machinery inside before the doors snapped shut. His eyes flickered from side-to-side, mind lost in thought, and he was eased back into reality by the music switching to a new piece. A gentle decrescendo petered into poetic, flirtatious notes, the instrumentals curling around his ears and leaving him staring absently ahead.
“Could try,” he whispered.
Poe’s voice was warm and thick, lyrics to accompany the music. “The galaxy owes you a great debt.”
The hairs on Finn’s neck prickled in preemptive panic. “Might forget again.” He shut his eyes. “Slip died, and I forgot.”
“None of it’s your fault. That’s all the First Order. They terrorize you day in and day out. I didn’t know Slip, but I know you. Finn, the only way you forgot Slip was after they dug through your head and tried to destroy who you are, but they failed. ‘Cause now I know Slip. Now I’m mourning Slip. You’re a good man, Finn.”
Finn had been referred to as a promising cadet, a natural leader, an insubordinate stormtrooper, but never a good man.
Swells of pride and hope pressed against his breastbone. The sentiment encouraged him, but a reality that never occurred to Poe was the inescapable inevitability that regardless of whether Finn failed or succeeded to break into the computer system and aide the Resistance, both avenues were a one way street to General Hux’s torture chamber.
His throat ached, a terrible weight crushing against him. “What if,” he started, closing his eyes. “What if I forget you? I don’t want to.”
Poe’s voice boomed, like nothing Finn had heard before. The cadence was firm, pitch direct, message clear. “The First Order can blow up all the planets in the galaxy and take every memory out of you,” said Poe. “Even if I have to nick a ship off a dealer, I don’t care. The First Order can try. In fact, I dare them. Even if we have to steal a TIE fighter or squeeze into an X-Wing, even if you’ve forgotten me and I have to slug you over my shoulder and carry you out, you’re getting out of there. We’re doing this.”
Finn blinked, taken aback by the vehemence. That hadn’t been part of the conversation Finn initially entered. Then it hit him. “Did I…” He shut his eyes, fighting to seek past the holes in his mind. “I forgot you, didn’t I? I forgot Slip and you.”
The music played through the comm, Poe silent. Finn held his breath. His boots collided on the floor, far too loud. He could slow his pace, but if a trooper walked past and interrogated him about his pause, the jig would be up.
“You’re getting out,” Poe said, sharp like knives.
Sunlight streamed through sheer lavender curtains, fluttering in the wind. A still hot cup of caf sat beside a book—a true, bona fide book, paper and ink. There had once been children running and playing throughout the tiny cottage, utterly naïve to the years ahead of them. Their necks were now tucked beneath Zeroes’ and Nines’ arms, blaster shoved against their temples. Finn stood with a blaster directed at their father’s head, unable to look away from his eyes, blue like the oceans Finn had glimpsed in holovids.
Phasma set her hand on Finn’s shoulder, seething at the man. “Tell us the location of the Resistance. Should you not comply, we’ll shoot the boy first.”
The father’s eyes widened, brows shooting up to his hairline. “You don’t have to—”
“I will not ask twice,” spat Phasma. She growled. “Kill him.”
That blaster firing was a sound Finn wanted to forget.
“Tell us the location of the Resistance base, or it’s your head,” she said, growling out the threat.
The father’s gaze snapped over Finn’s shoulder. Finn imagined the girl’s terrified eyes staring back at her father, pleading for him to show her the way.
“Kill him,” Phasma told Finn, eerily calm.
His heart went haywire. He froze, limbs locked up, eyes never tearing from those ocean blue eyes gazing past his shoulder. Phasma clenched his forearm, and his nerves were so heightened that he jolted, his hands flinched, fingers slipping and pulling the trigger.
Click. The tell-tale sound of a malfunctioning blaster. Finn gasped, stiffening his muscles to hide his shock. Phasma tightened her grip on his arm, but before she reprimanded him, a blaster fired, the shot cutting past Finn, and hit the father between his eyes.
The sound of the father’s corpse falling to its knees, the orphaned girl’s cries—Finn wanted to forget every dastardly second of it.
On the flight back to the Finalizer, his eye developed a twitch that never quit. It stayed, even long after the transport carrier boarded the Finalizer and Phasma ordered the FN unit to complete their five minute sonic shower. He was slow to towel dry and begged off Zeroes and Nines by saying he was assigned solo sanitation duty. The lie struck a cord, and they marched out for lunch, leaving Finn alone with his thoughts.
Dressed only in his body suit, Finn fetched his helmet and put it on. “FN-2187. Access comlink,” he said, swallowing down hard. The connection was made. Static filled the helmet. “Can I send a message? I don’t speak droid, so just beep once for yes, twice for no.”
The droid beeped once begrudgingly.
“Great. Record this for me. Beep when you’re—oh, okay. Thanks. Hi, Poe. I’m gonna do it. Break into the computer system. I’m going to do it tonight. I don’t care what happens. The First Order must be stopped.”
“All right, Black Leader plugging in.” Poe’s grin was audible through the comm. “Can’t believe we hadn’t thought to send audio messages before. It was good to hear your voice.”
Finn marched down a series of crowded corridors, each decreasing in population as he neared the computer system located in the northwestern most part of the Finalizer. According to the times Finn had mopped the floors leading up to the computer system, he knew that for a highly prioritized piece of equipment, the barrack sized computer facility lacked much security. Taking down whoever guarded it and worked inside would be effortless, especially now that Finn found that he could no longer feel. He didn’t panic over hurting the guards. He didn’t cycle his worries over and over in his head. He simply walked on.
“I’ll walk you through all the technical aspects as much as I can,” said Poe. “I’m more of a mechanic than a techie, but I’ve dabbled. Better than nothing.” Poe laughed softly. “I had a dream the other night we were working together on a mission. I woke up because you turned to me, but I don’t know what you look like. Didn’t think the dream would come true so soon.”
Around two to three stormtroopers occupied each corridor now. Finn contemplated blasting their chests. The blasts would knock them clean off their feet and into an early night’s sleep. It tempted Finn. He turned a corner. Only three more halls to cross until he arrived to the computer system.
“Let me know when you get there. I’m sending the executable that’ll run the software to hunt down both your current coordinates and the Finalizer’s course plan. It’s designed to adopt the name of a pre-existing file and stay invisible until the techie comes and attempts to undo the damage, which’ll trigger the software to fry the hard drive. You’ll need to connect the droid to an input source, then take it out as soon as the data files transfer over. After that, you’re done. One minute, tops.”
Finn understood none of that, except for sticking the droid in the computer and clicking the file. As a self-described mechanic only, Poe sure impressed Finn well enough with his expertise.
“When the executable starts running, the command center will become linked to our comm and relay back information if the files were sent correctly. If anything gets corrupted, you might have to flip the distress signal. The executable will link us to that as a fail safe. Bottom line goal is to find the Finalizer.”
No trooper lurked in the final hall. Finn broke out in a run toward the computer system room. Skidding to a halt before the door, Finn stared wide-eyed at the keypad, blue lights illuminating the various numbers and buttons. He had seen high ranking officers type in the entry code, yet, for the life of him, Finn couldn't recall the exact numbers.
The droid comm squawked out strings of binary. “Droid is saying 569208,” said Poe, when Finn didn’t react. “They recognized the intonations of the numbers. This is legit.”
Palms sweating, Finn pressed in the code. He only had two chances to input the code, or else an alarm would alert the command center of a possible intruder.
The droid’s memory was true. The door let out a series of beeps, then a light above the knob signaled the lock coming undone. Finn cracked open the door and slipped in.
Two troopers swung around, gloved hands poised over holographic keyboards. Without a second of hesitation, Finn fired his blaster and shot them square in the chest. They crumpled to a heap on the floor.
“I’m in,” said Finn, spinning around to secure the door and ensure it was locked.
“Great,” replied Poe. There was static on his end, then he added, softly, “Be careful, Finn.”
Everything looked like a potential input source. Holograms surrounded an area where the troopers had been working, a sisterhood of electronic trees. Beneath the holograms was the computer, which consisted of massive black boxes humming and blinking lights composed of colors ranging from either end of the spectrum. Finn ran around the outside of the holographic sisterhood, searching for a port with items stuck into the computer. Nothing resembled what he sought.
“Poe, I don’t know what I’m looking for. It all looks the same.”
“Look for something with a lot of wires and contraptions like the droid. It should be close to the working area since the workers would need to constantly put things in and out. I think I heard you use a blaster?”
Finn nodded, placated by Poe’s strategic thinking. “I did,” he said, upon remembering Poe couldn’t see his reactions.
“Check around whoever you shot. Then start hooking up the droid to whatever fits.”
Finn breathed out slowly. “Okay,” he said, moving into the center of the sisterhood. “Okay. I got this. Stay calm.”
Static crackled on Poe’s end. “I can’t believe you’re really real sometimes,” Poe murmured.
Finn crouched beside the first unconscious trooper, examining every nook and cranny on the surrounding computers, finding nothing resembling what Poe described. Rushing off to the next trooper, however, proved fruitful. A few steps away from the trooper was a thin, tall computer with wires and tiny drives stuffed into it. Finn collapsed to his knees. “You were right, I found it,” he said, but didn’t take off his helmet.
Poe hesitated. “Good going, Finn.”
Finn gripped the edge of the computer. “If it doesn’t work, if something happens to the droid…” I’ll lose you.
“It’s a risk we have to take,” said Poe. But he didn’t have the conviction he often did.
Finn bobbed his head. “All right. Talk to you later.”
“Catch you in a few minutes.”
Fin ripped off the helmet and went into autopilot. He removed the droid and started pressing it into any and all free areas in which the droid could possibly fit. The fans ridding the computers of heat buzzed in his ears, blocking out all other sound and making his heart and mind race. His hands shook as every port rejected the droid. He’d have to take out an item from the computer. He chose a small device around the size of the droid, then jerked it out, ignoring the disgruntled beep from the computer, and shoved the droid in the newly vacant space.
He shot up, snatching a holographic keyboard and hunting through the files to find the executable. All of Poe’s detailed instructions began escaping his memory. Frantically, he tried to recall the steps. His hands kept shaking and clicking the wrong thing.
His eyes skimmed around a port called G: KEA. Biting his lip, Finn pressed it and hoped for the best. When he spotted a file entitled InitiateStarkiller.exe intermixed with Resistance based files, he didn’t waste a second and promptly clicked it.
The hologram flickered and all windows disappeared, then it came back with a blue screen, words and phrases firing across it at lightspeed. It looked like a success. The words halted, and the blue screen spat out a series of three massive numbers. Finn’s breath caught—the coordinates. He snatched the droid out of the computer and grabbed his helmet. He’d inserted the droid back into the comm unit and uttered, “FN-2187. Access comlink,” the second just before the sirens started blaring.
“DOUBLE INVALID PORT EXTRACTION,” said a robotic voice, clear through the sirens. “INTRUDER ALERT. INTRUDER ALERT.”
Finn punched his helmet and ran backwards, spinning around and righting himself. Of course, a form of digital security would be hooked up to the computers of all things. No wonder there were no guards. He barely made it out of the sisterhood before the doors burst open, a swarm of troopers filing in with blasters loaded and pointed right at him.
“Finn! You’re back! General Organa is—Finn? Finn? Tell me that siren ain’t bad news.”
“Got the info?” said Finn, blanching when he spotted General Hux.
“Of course. But what’s going on? Talk to me, please, Finn,” said Poe, voice rising in desperation.
“No disintegrations,” snarled Hux. “We want him alive.”
Finn blacked out before he hit the floor.
Every fiber of his body was on fire, pinpricks stabbing at his head. His ankles jerked on reflex, yet the binds didn’t allow for even slight movement.
“Administer the rounds and keep administering them until there’s foam coming out his mouth.”
FN-2187 jolted, shocked awake by Nines’ deep snores. He vividly recalled chucking a weapon at a rebel’s head during a simulation training session, watching as they fell backward with their chin pointing to the sky. Phasma had been so proud, her helmet tilting in his direction. Yet now he lied in bed, staring up at an unfamiliar top bunk, the only familiar noise being Nines’ snores. FN-2187 shifted and peered out at the barrack. The door wasn’t where it ought to be, the beds weren’t where they ought to be. He caught sight of the bed directly across from him, stripped of all markers that a person had ever slept in it.
He shut his eyes, quieting his thoughts, and wondered if the fog in his mind was caused by sleep or something else.
He fell back asleep before coming to a conclusion.
When the fog didn’t clear come morning, come breakfast, come learning Slip died, come a short training session that he fumbled his way through, FN-2187 arrived at a conclusion: He had been reconditioned.
When Phasma stared at him that morning, his back had snapped so straight, a knuckle cracked. Yet the movement came to him so instinctually, so wholeheartedly, that he discovered another fact about himself: Seeds were implanted in his mind. He couldn’t believe that his body would have embraced the First Order when his mind would not. He couldn’t even decide which section of a toilet to clean before consulting his feelings for that day. They had not only erased his memories, but they had suggested ideas to him as his mind laid open and bare to their ministrations.
He always secretly loved his armor. No one could see the horror on his face. Kylo Ren paid him no heed, and no one else could dig through his mind and see his doubts over whether or not the First Order reigned supreme. His mind had been his secret world, privy only to his imagination. Now not even his mind was safe. Inside it lurked dangers that he wouldn’t know to look for.
The schedule for the day was sanitation. FN-2187 cleaned toilets like he had never done before. He sought out the grime that embedded itself in the slightest of corners. He volunteered to clean the foulest of messes, if anything because the disgust blocked him from processing the horrors inside his own head.
He was working on his fifth toilet when he heard the static. He paused, perking an ear to the sound, and frowned. It seemed to be coming from his helmet.
FN-2187 shook his head, focusing back on his task. It didn’t serve him well to dwell on his addled mind. The clarity would come in two days. All would soon be well.
“…hold on. Let me at least try,” sounded inside his helmet.
FN-2187 flinched, dropping his rag onto the floor. Blood pumped inside his ears.
“Finn, are you there? Can you hear me?”
FN-2187 swallowed. “Stay calm. Stay calm. It’s all in your head.” He fished through his belt for another rag and rigorously cleaned the base of the toilet.
“Buddy! You’re—you survived. I was so scared. It’s been… I don’t even know how long. I missed you so much.”
FN-2187 squeezed his eyes shut, focusing on controlling his breath and scrubbing the metal bowl.
“We’ve examined the information you sent and got lots of leads. One looks foolproof. We’re heading off now, my squad and others. We’re going to get you. The Resistance is coming… Finn?”
A searing pain pierced into him behind his left eye socket. Finn couldn’t breathe, yet a croak made its way past his throat. The pain hit him in waves. That voice kept calling out to him, saying wonderful and terrible things that only made his head feel like a lightsaber impaled his skull.
He clawed at his helmet, fingers fighting to grab ahold of the clasps. “Stop, please. Stop.”
“Finn, I want to help you so bad. Tell me what’s wrong. I’ll fix—”
FN-2187 ripped off the helmet. The bathroom’s quiet liberated him from the pain. Foul odors filled his nostrils, but he still gulped down air. Looking down into the helmet, he saw a thin, black device inside the comm unit. He didn’t have to even think twice. He ripped it out just as that voice was calling out for a Finn. Silence predominated once again, resting heavily on his shoulders, a familiar weight.
Dropping the device to the floor, FN-2187 rose to his feet and stomped his boot over the device. He crushed it again and again. When he wrecked it enough that he no longer shattered it to pieces but just stomped the titled bathroom floor, he grabbed a rag. He scooped up all device’s parts and dropped it into the toilet bowl. He had hoped to let the soap soak longer, but he slapped his hand onto the lever and flushed it all down, shards and soap and whatever else.
FN-2187 snatched his helmet and snapped it back into place. Crawling along the floor, he collapsed against a wall and gazed at nothing in particular. His head felt light as the chemicals in his brain eased him back to normal.
He sobbed, overcome with fear. He was so grateful to be wearing his armor in that empty bathroom. The First Order had infected his brain, but at least with his armor, they couldn’t see him crack.
Hours later FN-2187 stood in a uniform row in a corridor, as did every trooper on the Finalizer, weapon in hand and helmet directed toward the holographic depiction of Hux as the general delivered a grand speech. The man, whose voice once swarmed FN-2187’s helmet, had spoken about the Resistance and reporting for duty. FN-2187 thought long and hard about that man’s words as he fought to block out Hux’s voice.
Three weeks ago, Hux explained, a rogue trooper secretly affiliated with the Resistance and fought on the inside to destroy the work that the First Order had put in to protect the galaxy from the New Republic’s atrocities. With the Finalizer’s location compromised, Snoke had decided that if the Resistance sought war, then war they shall get.
FN-2187 swallowed, recalling the Resistance fighter’s joy at hearing from FN-2187 after such a long absence. With his head still lost in the fog of reconditioning, it seemed quite obvious to FN-2187 who that rogue trooper was.
“And we will rise! We will destroy! We will honor the vow we have promised to the galaxy!” screamed Hux, veins popping in his neck as passion overcame him. “Together we will defeat the enemy and restore peace to our home.”
Hux chucked his hand in the air for a salute, and the onlooking stormtroopers shoved their hands up in response. FN-2187 blinked, having missed the queue, and hurried to raise his hand, yet his elbow didn’t straighten out and his fingers curled weakly toward his palm.
The troopers were then deployed into various locations on the Finalizer. The FN unit marched off to the southern most corridor, a quiet area that shouldn’t see much action. During the chaos that ensued as troopers sectioned off and swarmed the corridors, FN-2187 waited until a secluded, narrow pathway appeared off the main path. He veered away from Nines and Zeroes, then ducked into the tiny pathway. He ran, not stopping even when alarms blared that the Resistance had arrived and the Finalizer was officially under attack. He only paused when the air dipped in temperature and weight—the Force. Fear trickled up his spine, but he knew from gossip among the stormtroopers that Kylo Ren could not be near him given how light the Force’s presence felt.
He raced down the pathway, which seemed to stretch forever, but the end soon appeared. FN-2187 braced himself for what he may find there. Spat out on the other side of the pathway, FN-2187 discovered the new corridor to be empty. He grabbed the side of his helmet and rubbed it, trying to work out the tension in his head even though the effort was futile.
“You there. State your name.”
FN-2187 swung around, yet his throat closed up, no sound coming out.
A trooper with a cape hanging from their shoulder inched toward him, blaster at ready.
They quirked their helmet. “I said, state your—”
Behind the trooper, a young woman skidded into the corridor, wearing pale knee high pants and a wrap that draped over her shoulders and crossed over her chest. Her eyes were wide and skittish. Her forehead was streaked with blood.
The trooper swung around and raised his blaster, directing it at her head.
Her eyes were so wide, like those miners just before Zeroes and Nines and Slip murdered them. Chest heaving, Finn shook his head. Then, without even thinking about it, he raised his blaster, locked onto the back of the trooper’s head, and fired. All it took was one shot, and the trooper was down.
The woman flicked her gaze between the fallen trooper and FN-2187. Her hand flinched. FN-2187 followed the movement, finding her hand was angled toward a lightsaber tucked into her belt.
FN-2187 dropped his weapon, horrified. “Please, I don’t mean any trouble,” he said, raising his hands. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
She flicked her eyes away from the trooper and back to FN-2187. The air left his lungs as her gaze pierced into him, hard like steel. She watched him for the longest time, hand never moving away from its proximity to the lightsaber. FN-2187 didn’t want to incite her into action, but he needed to convey his sincerity for peace. He reached for his helmet, fighting with his unsteady fingers to grip the clasps, and wrestled it off. He dropped it immediately, blinking as it clattered to the floor.
The woman’s countenance then changed. Her eyebrows furrowed, mouth falling open. Her eyes were neither wide with fear nor aggression, but softened in what struck FN-2187 to resemble understanding.
“You’re Finn,” she said, and smiled.
FN-2187 recalled that man’s voice before he destroyed the comm. That man had called him Finn. Frowning, FN-2187 nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I think so, at least. I don’t really remember.”
One eyebrow slightly quirked, the woman beamed at him. “My name is Rey, and I’m here to save you, Finn.”
Soon after she uttered those words, a platoon of troopers marched into the corridor. Rey peered over her shoulder. “You will leave this corridor and forget you ever saw us,” she told them. “You will not return.”
The troopers halted, swaying as her mind trick took effect. “We will leave this corridor and forget we ever saw you,” they said, words not quite in unison. “We will not return.” They turned around and marched in the other direction.
FN-2187 smiled, a toothy grin that had a small laugh escaping past his lips. “Whoa,” he said, looking at Rey in unabashed amazement.
She stepped toward him and stuck out her hand. “Come on. We must hurry.”
A piece within him shifted into place, the gesture of an outstretched hand so familiar to him but not from this angle.
He ripped off his gloves, his smile widening as he saw his hand, the hand that may never see the inside of a glove again. Biting his lip, he grasped her hand, relishing in the warmth he found there, and looked into her eyes. They were a light brown with flecks of green, similar to Slip’s, but the warmth in her eyes had never been in his.
They ran off. Rey never looked back, and so neither did FN-2187. Or, rather, Finn.
Rey did several more mind tricks as they trekked through the Finalizer, explaining that Luke Skywalker had taken her as his Padawan and drilled into her the need for peace before war. Finn didn’t think mind control was quite so peaceful, but the alternative of brandishing a lightsaber seemed less desirable, he had to admit.
They journeyed toward the hangar where the Resistance had vanquished the First Order and landed a special ship flown in specifically for Finn’s rescue, according to Rey. “It’s an amazing ship,” said Rey, eyes lit up. “I’ve specialized it to near perfection.”
Finn’s stomach swarmed with butterflies.
When they made it to the hangar, all Finn’s joy and excitement were shocked out of him at the various troopers laying on the floor, blasters far from their immobilized hands. He looked at each of them as Rey tugged him along, the butterflies in his stomach transforming into a sensation he couldn’t place.
Rey came to a halt and let go of his hand, Finn stopping beside her. “Here she is,” said Rey, excitement barely contained. “The Millennium Falcon!”
She bounded up the door and disappeared into the ship. It was massive, and hideous, yet foreboding and astonishing at the same time. Finn swallowed, fear prickling at him. If he stepped inside and the door shut, and the ship were to blast off into lightspeed, he would be surrounded at all angles by an ever expanding universe, infinite space and countless planets out there to call home. After spending his life cooped up in training outposts and the Finalizer, he felt a bit agoraphobic.
He took one step forward, then another, and before his mind could process it, he had stepped onto the ship and entered into the belly of the beast.
Once he crept off the door, it elevated off the floor and the ship began to shake. An animal roared—no, that was a wookie, an actual wookie. Finn broke out into a run after the roar, needing to see it with his own eyes. He bounded upstairs and sped past complex electronics he didn’t feel like contemplating at the moment, following the roar until it led into a cockpit.
Rey was in one seat and a man in the other. Finn looked out of the viewport and at the emerging stars as the ship began to rise and adventure out into space. Then the wookie roared right into his ear, and Finn yelped.
Rey spun around, grinning. “There you are!”
The man huffed. “Right. Let’s ring up lover boy and let him know his boyfriend’s free to chat.”
“Can’t,” said Rey. “You damaged the comm in the last repairs. Had we rather—”
“Yeah, yeah... Hey, sunshine. No, not you, Chewie.”
Finn peered at the wookie. “Uh, yes?”
“You might want to buckle in, buddy. Pal. We’re gonna hit up lightspeed whether you’re ready or not.”
“Now, now, Han,” said Rey, voice trailing as she concentrated on piloting. “Play nice.”
“Kid, don’t take this the wrong way,” said Han, “but are you wearing anything under that?”
Finn regarded Chewie first, who shrugged and roared slightly. Finn had no idea if that was considered a legitimate language, but Chewie sounded friendly, at least. “I’m wearing a black body suit,” Finn replied, watching Han nod to himself.
“That’ll do. We just can’t have you walking around in the Resistance base in the armor. It won’t paint a good first impression.”
Finn fell onto the seat beside Chewie, nodding in thanks as the wookie helped him with his seatbelt. He looked to the cockpit, heart in his throat as the stars stretched like meteors before his eyes.
There was no turning back now.
As soon as the Millennium Falcon landed and they got out, a golden droid with a red arm informed Finn in polite, clipped words that he was ordered to head directly to med bay for a check up. Finn could only stare, having never seen anything before quite like the droid. In the end, Rey grasped his hand, promised C-3PO, which was apparently the droid’s name, that she would take Finn to med bay personally.
Rey nearly skipped off, and she was so excited that Finn highly doubted they were going to meet doctors. He didn’t dwell on it, however, since his mind could barely hold a coherent thought over the childlike wonder that overcame him as he glimpsed at the lush forest, blue skies, and X-Wings that flew overhead. Droids and people worked tirelessly, but they also chatted—to each other. They even smiled. They clapped each other on the back and told jokes, beaming once their conversation partner burst out in laughter.
Rey took him in the direction where lots of people in orange pilot suits were leaving. They glanced at her, then to him, and bit their lips to stop what Finn presumed were smirks. The further they went, more and more of the pilots stopped and watched them pass, leaning into each other and whispering. Finn wanted to rub the back of his neck, not used to so many people staring at him. He never thought he would actually wish for his helmet back, but all those stares and whispers did the trick.
Rey stopped by an X-Wing, the sides painted black unlike the rest that had a more neutral grey. Dropping his hand, she bounded over to the ship and stood on the tips of her toes, rapping her knuckles on the nose.
“Hold on, hold on,” called a man from inside the cockpit.
A spherical orange and white droid popped out near the engine. Its head—or, at least, Finn thought that was a head—spun around. Upon settling on Rey, the droid beeped out an exuberant string of binary and sped toward her, rolling a foot before her. “Hello, Beebee-Ate,” said Rey, bending down onto one knee. She patted the top of the droid’s head, and the droid rolled into her, beeping softly. “I missed you, too.”
The man jumped out of the cockpit, swinging down and not releasing his hands from the ship even after landing. His dark hair was mussed from his helmet, sweat curling it and pressed it into his forehead. He leaned into the ship like it was an extension of himself. He grinned at BB-8 and Rey, yet his brown eyes were harrowed and slightly vacant.
Finn started to feel like he’d intruded on something private. These people obviously knew each other quite well. He never experienced a friendship as close as theirs between troopers on the Finalizer, but always he figured that if he were involved in one, he wouldn’t have appreciated someone tagging along and killing the moment.
He cleared his throat and stepped back. “I’m gonna go to med bay.”
The man jolted, tearing away from Rey and directing his full, undivided attention to Finn. He looked straight into his eyes. Having that harrowing stare boring straight into him made Finn’s mind go blank. “Rey,” said the man, the bob of his throat bouncing. “Who is that?”
“Who do you think?” said Rey, lip quirked. “Finn, of course.”
He raked his eyes over Finn, raising an eyebrow and letting out a haggard breath. Finn looked down at himself, shifting from foot to foot and overly self-conscious at how tightly the black body suit hugged his figure. When he looked back up, the man was smirking, eyes no longer haunted yet crackling with amusement. He pushed away from the X-Wing and bounded over to him.
“So you’re Finn,” he said, coming a step too close. He set his hand on Finn’s shoulder, fingertips skirting the edge of his collar and grazing his neck. He looked into Finn’s eyes and said, “I’m Poe. Poe Dameron.”
Finn didn’t know if it was due to the warmth of Poe’s hand that seeped through his body suit and scorched his skin, but nothing in all the universe could’ve persuaded Finn to look away from Poe. His face was all sharp angles. Light stubble shadowed his jawline, and Finn admired it until he spied Poe’s lips, curled into a wicked smirk that seemed to be reeling Finn in.
Poe struck him as familiar. Finn furrowed his brows, seeking through the fog of reconditioning that still clouded his mind. Poe furrowed his brows, too, and his hand moved from Finn’s shoulder to cup his jaw. Finn thought he ought to protest that, but no one had ever looked at him the way Poe did. He wished Poe could look at him like that forever, at least for a minute longer.
Then the memory resurfaced. Finn was excited for a brief moment at the mere feat of remembering, but once he replayed the memory in his mind’s eye, he wanted to tear away from Poe and apologize profusely.
“Your voice, you’re the man from the bathroom,” said Finn, heaving. “I thought I was going crazy.”
“You thought…” Poe shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Finn wondered how to describe reconditioning in as few words as possible to a man who couldn’t possibly fathom such a thing existed. “They went through my head. I only woke up this morning. Everything was—”
Poe wrapped his other hand around Finn’s back and crashed into him, his other hand cupping the back of Finn’s head. He scratched his hair, and it felt so good that Finn’s eyes slid shut. “Finn, everything’s going to be fine now.”
Finn wrapped his arms around Poe, clinging tightly. He decided then that he liked Poe and he could listen to him forever as long as he made promises like that, even if they couldn’t be kept.
“Poe, I need to tell you something,” said Rey.
Finn opened his eyes and found she was looking anywhere but at them. Finn pulled away from Poe, missing his warmth as soon as he left his arms. Poe ruffled his hair and smiled before he turned to Rey, the hand falling from Finn’s head and tracing down his chest as he left.
Rey gestured for Poe to crouch down beside her. Leaning close, she whispered to him, yet Finn instinctually extended his ear as he’d been trained to do for battle. “Master Luke trained me in memory restoration before I completed the mission. He said I was a natural and was confident in my abilities. I tried on Finn, so many times, but I couldn’t… It wasn’t Kylo Ren. I don’t know what they did, but if it wasn’t the Force, there may be nothing we can do.”
Amusement slipped off Poe’s face. He searched her eyes, and must not have liked what he found. “You’re serious?”
Rey scratched dirt off BB-8. “I’m so sorry. I tried. I did.”
“It’s okay,” said Poe. “I believe you. Don’t worry.” He peered over his shoulder at Finn, grimacing against the sunlight blinding him. “You said you need to go to med bay? I’ll show you the way. We wouldn’t want you to get lost.”
Poe kept peering over at Finn, and so Finn peered back, not knowing what else to do. He waited for Poe to order him to stand in line beside him, but Poe only pressed a hand over his forehead, casting his face in shadows and blocking out the sun. Finn had the sinking suspicion that Poe hadn’t issued him an order, but had instead invited Finn to approve or disapprove his accompaniment to med bay.
Once Finn realized this, he didn’t have to think twice. “Sure, yeah,” he said, grinning wide. He was a bit embarrassed about how unrestrained his emotions were, exposed and bare without the helmet. “I’d love that.”
Poe smiled, the stressed lines that overcame his face after Rey’s report long gone. He shot to a stand, and his smile only grew the closer he came to Finn. He stopped a step too close again, lifting a hand and made to set it on Finn’s bicep, but he froze, fingers flexing and forming a fist. He dropped his hand. The harrowed stare returned. He smiled regardless. “Right,” he said. “I’ll show you the way.”
They walked back the way Rey and Finn had come, and the pilots who’d leaned against their X-Wings still loitered about. If their stares and whispers had unnerved Finn before, now they had his heart racing and skin prickling. A few whistled and hollered. Most were directed at Poe, and Poe just quickened his strides. Finn hurried to match his pace. They had entered the thick of it when two pilots swarmed them at either side. A tall man clapped Poe on the shoulder and started rambling about flight technique and Poe’s particularly exceptional precision in taking out TIE fighters. Beside Finn was a woman with her black hair pulled back into a ponytail loosened from battle. She smiled at him, a genuine, honest smile.
Finn couldn’t breathe.
It was all starting to crash over him—the stares, the whispers, Rey’s words, this woman who had Finn trapped beneath the warmest of smiles. It spun circles in his mind that went faster and faster the longer he dwelled on it. He fought to focus on Poe’s warmth beside him, or the stunning blue skies he had only dreamed about, but his face was on fire from mortification. The sky, while a gorgeous, otherworldly blue, didn’t have walls to condense it. Beyond the atmosphere laid countless stars and dark matter. Beyond those were other planets. Beyond the planets were galaxies, and beyond the galaxies were entire universes. And perpendicular to those were alternative universes. And parallel universes. Other Finns who were still on the Finalizer. The First Order could be anywhere. Even in the Resistance.
Finn choked, throat tightening and forcing out the air from his lungs. He halted, boots stuck to the floor. The woman’s smile slipped off her face, eyes tinged with worry. Even the man who spoke to Poe stopped.
Poe swerved around and grabbed his shoulders, the ferocity he first directed toward Finn back again. “Finn,” he murmured, kind and haunting.
Finn shrugged out of his grasp, needing space, and looked at the blue skies, accepting it as the new dome that enclosed him inside this planet. Shifting his gaze, he looked ahead toward the lush, thick forests that surrounded the Resistance base at all sides.
“We’ll see you at the debrief,” the woman told Poe, nodding to the other pilot. Then they left, disappearing into the throng of pilots watching and whispering.
“What can I—” Poe bit his lip, then sighed. “Come on. Let’s go. That sound okay?”
Finn nodded, feeling the first bit of air entering his lungs, yet he couldn’t take in a solid breath until they were once again walking in pure silence, the whispering and watching left to regard their backs.
Med bay offered him a doctor to administer his check up or a droid to do it. Despite med bay telling him the droid would be less effective, Finn had had enough of humans messing around with him for a lifetime. The answer came out at lightspeed: “Droid, please.”
Two droids looked him over, a med droid and another that spoke a language Finn actually understood. It took a little persuading to allow Poe into his room, but Finn feigned a headache arising at the idea of separating. He didn’t trust the droid anymore than a doctor. He didn’t know why he trusted Poe, but, for some reason, he did.
Finn sat on top of a bed as the medical droid flashed a light between his eyes. It started beeping off a wildfire of a response. “He says you have an astigmatism,” said the translator droid. “Subsequent tests are required at a later date.”
Finn looked over at Poe, who watched the floor and sat on a backless chair with his knees far apart, hunched forward and elbows resting on his knees. Poe was blurry from this distance, Finn thought, and his old helmet could have had a corrective lens filling in the viewport. Poe flicked his gaze up, and Finn’s stomach fluttered before he snapped his eyes back to the medical droid.
The droid switched off the light and started beeping. Concurrently to the beeps, the translator droid said, “Master Luke reported to us about your mind. Perhaps you have a deeper understanding about what the First Order did to you, but unfortunately there is nothing we can do. We can prescribe medications to treat side effects. You are very disoriented and have a short attention span.”
“It’s temporary,” said Finn, void of emotion. He was only stating facts, nothing personal, and he would gladly give up information about the First Order if it helped the Resistance defeat them. “It’ll clear up in two days.” At least, he hoped so. Hux said the rogue stormtrooper had sabotaged the First Order three weeks ago, and Finn only regained consciousness that morning.
“Your memories will return?” said the translator droid, squeaking as it attempted to convey the medical droid’s delight.
Finn’s shoulders fell. “No, it won’t,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what they do, but they sort of shock your brain into a malfunction. The trauma winds up erasing your memory. They keep doing it until you can’t remember what they wanted you to forget.” This time perhaps he didn’t sound as confident. His voice was small, difficult to hear even for his own ears. “It’s not so bad. Who knows what I did? It’s a good thing I can’t remember it.”
The medical droid beeped lowly, its flashlight falling without characteristic robotic precision. “Your therapist will meet with you next,” translated the other droid.
Finn blinked, not sure how to respond to that. “Therapist?” he said.
The medical droid retracted all its mechanic limbs and snapped up its compartments. “Good day, Master Finn,” said the other droid.
The door whooshed and disappeared into the walls, closing just as fast once the droids exited. In their wake, they left Finn and Poe to a pin drop quiet room. Leaves fluttered in the wind, audible even with the closed viewports. I can hear leaves fluttering in the wind. Actual leaves. He couldn’t believe it.
“Do you like music?” said Poe. Finn was so stunned to hear him, he jumped. Poe held his head in his palm, index finger pressed along his cheek and touching the tip of his eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” said Finn. “I’ve only heard imperial music.”
Poe pressed his lips together, tipping his chin down in a partial nod. “I have a radio. It picks up some channels. We could listen to it together, unless you don’t—”
“Yes, yes,” said Finn. “That’s great. A great idea. I’d love that.”
Poe’s lip quirked, and it curved along his face so pleasantly that Finn found he couldn’t look away.
The doors whooshed open. A man with shaggy blond hair and a thick grey and white beard stood in the door frame, wearing a tan cloak. His blue eyes pierced Finn, serenity and chaos interconnected in his gaze. A presence enveloped Finn. The Force, he realized. It wasn’t oppressive like Kylo Ren’s. It flowed through and within him like an embrace.
“Hello?” said Finn, looking over at Poe, who stared at the man in the doorway as if he’d seen a ghost.
The man smiled crookedly. “Hello, Finn. I’m Luke, your therapist.”
Low laughter rumbled out of Poe’s lips. Finn’s gaze snapped over to him, the low chuckle luring him in. Poe was already looking his way. “Aren’t you full of surprises?” he said, mouth quirking.
Luke Skywalker was not only real but gave Finn homework, meditative techniques that Jedis used in order to center themselves. When Finn regarded him with skepticism, Luke smiled.
Finn and Poe left med bay after picking up some medication Finn had to take daily for the following two weeks. They had long, complicated names that Finn didn’t bother attempting to pronounce. When they walked out into a quiet, less crowded Resistance base, Finn started to feel life slot into place. It could have been the anti-anxiety pills he’d swallowed down a few hours before leaving, but he thought the sky was brighter and less stifling.
Then it occurred to him that he was homeless. When he didn’t panic but accepted this knowledge with a mimicry of Luke’s serenity, he wished it was tomorrow so he could take his next dosage. He turned to Poe. “Where do people go to find a room?” he asked.
Poe steered them in the opposite direction from where the X-Wings were. “About that,” he said wryly. “I have some space in my room and volunteered to lend a roof over your head. Is that all right?” He frowned. “We can arrange something else. I know living with a perfect stranger isn’t ideal. There ought to be free rooms around.”
A weight settled in Finn’s stomach. “No, it’s fine. Thanks for helping me.”
Poe nodded, yet his countenance was still stormy. “I can’t show it to you right now, but I can give you the address.” He crooked his jaw. “I need to go back to the hangar and finish cleaning up after going out in the dogfight. Then there’s a debrief. I’m sorry. I wish I could take you there.”
Finn really didn’t mind. Poe kept him company in med bay and now gave him a home. “It’s okay,” he said, feeling witty as he added, “Buddy.” And, since he was in an excellent mood, he bumped shoulders.
Poe threw his head back, muttering up at the sky and closing his eyes. Yet his lip quivered at a corner, threatening to curve upward.
Poe told him the address, yet the anxiety pills hadn’t fixed Finn’s attention span, which he really hadn’t been so aware of until the droid mentioned it. Now he couldn’t stop focusing on it. Poe repeated the directions to the room, and Finn recited it back to him until he’d gotten it memorized perfectly. When it came time for Poe to leave, he set his hand on Finn’s shoulder, fingers skirting the edge of his collar like he had the first time they met. Finn didn’t know if it was the pills or that Poe had accompanied him to med bay, but he wished Poe would scratch back of his head again, or trace a thumb along his jaw. Poe was ruggedly handsome, the sort that belonged in a cockpit. Finn held his breath when they locked eyes, wondering how a few hours in Poe’s presence managed to make him so magnetic.
Poe shook his head, chuckling. “Oh, Finn?”
Finn’s stomach fluttered. “What?”
Poe looked up at him through his eyelashes. He raised his hand from Finn’s shoulder and ruffled the back of his head. “Don’t mind the mess,” he said, eyebrow raised. “I mean it.”
Finn got lost and had to ask for directions back to med bay in order to reorient and find his way to Poe’s room. The sun had set in a magnificent transcendence of velvet and burnt orange. Finn stopped in the center of a pathway, head craned back and eyes darting as the color show in the sky entranced him. He arrived to Poe’s residence long past sundown, yet hadn’t minded. He’d never seen a sunset before. He wondered if a sunrise was just as phenomenal.
He thumbed the key code for the building, Poe explaining that he needed to register his thumb print in order to use the official entry system. Finn ran through the steps Poe said to get to the room. There was an elevator, but Finn elected for the stairs. If he didn’t have to be in an enclosed space, then he didn’t want to be.
The hallway was long, narrow with grey tile. He took it all in with hungry eyes, acknowledging that while it wasn’t pretty, it still looked like nothing else he’d ever seen. He raked his eyes over the walls, the doors, the doorknobs, memorizing its intricacies. Doors were personalized with small bouquets, others with pictures of exotic flora and environments. He wondered if the pictures were of the residents’ home planet.
He wondered what planet Poe called home.
When he finally arrived at Poe’s room, he thumbed in another key code. He licked his lips as the door beeped in welcome and a green light flashed over the knob. Holding his breath, Finn opened the door and stepped inside.
Phasma would’ve had his neck if the barrack were in this condition.
Clothes hung off a chair. The desk had pens and papers haphazardly strewn about. Finn leaned against the door, shutting it behind him with his weight. His heart palpitated after he noticed Poe’s bed, the blanket bunched up at the bottom edge and his pillow concave in the center. On his bedside table were wires, screwdrivers, other utensils, and a mechanical device laying with its guts open for all to see. Finn walked carefully toward the viewport, stepping around discarded shoes, and pulled out the chair, settling down in it.
He should have asked himself why there was only one bed, especially if Poe had always known Finn would stay here. Instead of dwelling on it, he scooted the chair toward the viewport, opening it and breathing deeply as crisp air chilled his cheeks, dim twilight illuminating the room.
He crinkled the bag of medication in his hand, not sure where to put it. He didn’t want to mess with Poe’s room. There were a few doors by the entrance. Finn recalled from holovids that the New Republic allowed their citizens use of a private restroom and closets. The holovids had painted this as a negative, but Finn liked the idea of a private space. He searched for an area on the bedside table, but the mechanical device’s various tiny parts looked too fragile. Words in small font were on the largest chunk. Finn leaned toward it, amazed as his vision cleared. It was an inscription, Finn realized, squinting his eyes and reading, To Finn, the bravest man I know. He lurched back, feeling ill at ease even after his astigmatism blurred the inscription and he couldn’t see the words.
He curled his fingers, and jumped at the sound of the medicine bag crinkling. He spun around the chair and settled on putting the bag on the desk, since it was closer, and went back to admiring the stars, forcing himself to stare at the sky until he forgot about that inscription.
An older trooper who’d enlisted for the First Order had explained that people on his home planet looked at the stars and formed images, creating stories about the images they uncovered. Finn didn’t know any images, yet he hadn’t anything better to do. He strained his eyes, trying to connect the glittering dots.
He had persuaded himself that the stars connected to form a wookie when the door opened. Poe fought with the doorframe to fit in a mattress, only his hands and feet visible.
“Here, let me help you,” said Finn, walking over to the door and easing the mattress in.
Together they got it inside in no time. Finn propped it against a wall and stepped back, feeling a light pinch in his stomach at the sight of it. He hadn’t realized how curious he’d been over the single bed until Poe brought the mattress and answered that question before it’d been officially raised. Finn crossed his arms in attempt to smother that ache in his stomach.
Poe had changed. He wore black pants, a shirt that couldn’t be defined as either green nor tan, and an aged brown leather jacket with red stripes on the collar and over his left breast. The jacket intensified Poe’s rough edges, making his smirk sharper, his eyes more wicked. The trousers outlined his legs, the shirt and jacket obscuring his waist, much to Finn’s disappointment.
Finn frowned, unaware of what came over him. He rationalized away his staring as Poe being the first man he’d met outside of armor that welcomed him, but even he had to admit that he’d taken him in for a deeper reason.
Had Poe noticed, he didn’t mention it. He poked his head out the door and shouted, “All right, BB-8! It’s safe now, trust me!”
The orange and white droid rolled in, beeping excitedly. BB-8’s head twirled around. When his black orb of an eye noticed Finn, BB-8 exploded in beeps, rolling back and spinning his head.
“I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you!” said Poe, tossing his hands up. BB-8 rolled over to him and beeped more. “I know, I know. But hey, I finally finished repairing your charger.”
BB-8 whirled and dodged the shoes, flying under the desk. He rocked and rolled as he situated himself. After beeping a few times, BB-8’s light dimmed.
“Is he… sleeping?” whispered Finn, leaning toward Poe so he could be heard.
Poe bit his lip, nodding, then reached out into the hallway and retrieved a brown paper bag. He shut the door and lifted the bag up high. “Don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
“I don’t remember the last time I ate,” Finn said, wincing when Poe paled. Perhaps that wasn’t the best joke given his current amnesia crisis.
Poe looked over at the viewport. “How about a moonlit dinner?” Then he winced, but attempted to hide it by stalking over to the viewport, kicking aside the shoes blocking his path. He pulled up the chair and settled down in it. He went to set the brown bag on the beside table, but stilled, throat bobbing. He snatched the various mechanical items and set them on the desk.
The only logical place for Finn to sit was on Poe’s bed. Trying to keep his breaths from growing erratic, Finn trudged toward the bed and sat down. Shit—It’s soft, Finn thought.
Poe took out plates, utensils, napkins, and various containers from the bag and organized them on the table, popping off lids and dropping them back in the bag. The aromas coming off all those foods Finn didn’t recognize—he closed his eyes, breathing deeply, and moaned.
Poe chuckled. “Did I choose a favorite, by chance?”
Finn smiled wide and regarded him with wide eyes. “I’ve never had any of this before. It looks amazing.”
Poe peered down at the containers, hands slowing as he popped off a new lid. “You never had—” Poe exhaled. “Remind me to talk to you about the culinary arts. You have a lot of catching up to do.”
Poe scooped various foods onto his plate, and Finn, not knowing what to take, picked up the serving spoon as soon as Poe set it back down. His plate was piled a mountain high, since Finn could indulge himself now, and he paused to admire all the colors and textures, since there wasn’t a countdown until the plate was taken away and duties commenced. Everything looked amazing and smelled even better. Finn whisked up his spoon and contemplated how to fit each food on it without overcrowding the utensil. He nearly figured it out when he caught Poe committing the unfathomable: He sectioned off everything orange, scowling at the abhorrent morsels.
Finn blinked owlishly. “What’s the matter with those?”
Finn turned over his spoon, depositing the food back onto his plate, then—seeing as Poe didn’t seem concerned with proper protocol—stole the offending orange food off Poe’s plate and ate it.
It tasted—Finn couldn’t describe it. He shut his eyes and moaned again. Swallowing it down, he was quick to steal the rest of the food Poe had partitioned to the side. “You’re missing out,” he said.
A crease formed between Poe’s eyebrows. “I think this is the only time I’ve strongly disagreed with you,” he said, yet pushed more orange vegetables to the side for Finn to take.
Poe slapped his knee. “The music!” he declared, shoving his seat back and spinning it around to the desk. He reached across the desk for the radio, his jacket and shirt riding up and exposing the skin of his lower back. Finn swallowed down his food without chewing it, hungry now for something else. Poe flipped a switch, the clack audible even over the sound of Finn’s spoon scratching the bottom of his plate. A stunning noise filtered out of the radio, its gentle rhythm curling around the shell of Finn’s ear. The instruments were haunting yet possessed a cunning edge. Poe turned around and smiled at Finn before returning to his dinner.
The notes filled the room like smoke, veiling the air and hiding all that the eye could see. The piece depressed Finn somehow. The melody didn’t rise with inspiring crescendos, but eased along a winding path at a somber cadence. The food no longer smelled so tantalizing, the stars dimmed like a mirage that proved to be only heat manipulating the eyes. Poe looked even more handsome than before, yet farther, unattainable.
Finn set down his spoon. “I’m dreaming.”
It all started to make sense. Even the fog of reconditioning had cleared without Finn realizing it. Had the pills from med bay cleared the fog, or was he still asleep in the barracks?
“What makes you say that?” said Poe. His gaze bored straight and true into Finn’s.
He knew what he wanted to say, but he could barely string a thought as the longing that swelled inside him fought against merely thinking it. When he woke up in the barrack, he didn’t know how he’d survive knowing what life could’ve been had this all been real. Poe needed a response, however, so Finn shrugged, casting his eyes down to the floor.
Poe stood up and walked over to the bed, sitting down beside him. He pressed against him shoulder, hip, and foot, his warmth an electric shock wherever it touched Finn. He set his hand on Finn’s knee and traced circles over him. “Does that feel like a dream?” said Poe, his voice rough and low, yet loud because of his proximity to Finn, breath tickling his ear. Words tangled up on Finn’s tongue, his mind locked on processing the maddening sensation of Poe’s mere thumb tracing circles on his knee. It burned and tingled and fired up more nerves than Finn thought were in his own blasted knee. His stomach pinched, a stir awakening in his core.
Finn pressed the hand not trapped beneath their legs behind him, digging his fingers into the sheets. “Like the best dream ever,” he said, eyes stinging.
Poe squeezed his knee and patted it, then folded his hands and set them on his lap. The absence of his thumb massaging Finn’s knee had the warmth of Poe pressed against him begin to truly scorch him.
The song ended, a moment of pause before the same instrument led the next piece, the melody as haunting and somber.
“What kind of instrument is that?” said Finn.
“Cellos. They’re a bit depressing. I’ll switch it.”
Poe made to get up, yet Finn realized a few facts then: Wind blew in from the viewport, freezing the room, and Poe’s warmth made the temperature more endurable. Also, cellos were Finn’s favorite instrument. Before Poe could invite cold air between them, Finn set his hand on Poe’s knee and rubbed his thumb, just as Poe had. Poe melted back into the bed and surrendered his weight to Finn. He shut his eyes, shaking his head and muttering rapidly in another language.
“This is…” Poe let out a beleaguered breath. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Finn’s thumb slowed as he took in Poe’s words. Finn thought about the mattress propped against the wall, no accompanying sheets or pillows. It could be in the closet, but then Finn remembered the mechanical device with the inscription, and how Poe held Finn’s face in his hand upon meeting him. He remembered the woman with the black ponytail who smiled at him so genuinely. He thought back to Rey knowing his name in the Finalizer, to Poe speaking to him in the helmet before he crushed the comm.
His stomach went cold, colder than the air.
Three weeks was a very long time, he told himself. Long enough to forget a person, if there were the means to do so.
He focused on Poe’s weight against him. Tonight was such a delightful dream, one he would’ve been too afraid to think about in the First Order. If he had met Poe before, while on the Finalizer, he would’ve been drawn to the man as quickly as today, surely?
Poe did have blankets, sheets, and pillows tucked away in the closet. They splayed the mattress over the narrow space between the bed and desk, and Finn fell into familiar movements as he made the bed, no wrinkles or untucked corners left roaming free. The mattress wasn’t as soft as Poe’s, yet the bed lulled Finn asleep with an ease that the barracks never had.
When Finn woke up, he laid frozen in bed, disorientated at the unfamiliar sight in front of him. Then he remembered Rey and the Millennium Falcon, blinking as the frame of Poe’s bed and the storage boxes tucked beneath it came into focus. He heard light rustling, zips, and Poe whispering, “Shh, I’m gonna pick you up.” The hushed movement made Finn’s eyes grow heavy, his brain fuzzy. The doorknob turned, the door creaking open, and BB-8 rolled out. Poe went to the desk, papers rustling and a pen scratching across it. Poe walked out so quietly, Finn hadn’t realized he was gone until the door clicked shut and locked.
Finn sat up, head woozy. His eyes roamed the walls, taking in the miniature aircrafts hanging from the ceiling that he hadn’t noticed last night when it’d been so dark. Twisting around, Finn saw clouds outside the viewport, white puffs billowing into soft shapes. On the desk was a paper folded in half, sitting upright in a triangle. Scrawled in jagged edges, the paper read, Finn.
Guilt pooled in Finn’s stomach as he got out of bed and went for the note. Poe had been so careful to keep the noise down. No one on the Finalizer would have done that. In fact, troopers typically woke up to a siren blaring into the barrack, terrifying them into forgetting their nightmares.
Finn unfolded the note, and bit his lip as his eyes skittered across the page, grinning at the first two words.
Good morning! I couldn’t stay but had to report for duty at promptly 0700. There’s clothes in the closet, take anything that fits. It’s yours. I left my jacket. Take it and keep it. It’ll get cold today. I left a map under this note. Explore around. Not all of us bite. — Poe
Finn peered down at the map. Red ink outlined specific areas on the map, with jagged words providing location names and commentary.
Canteen, Poe wrote. Fresh caf at 0800, but hurry up. No one’s there for the first ten minutes. Then it’s essentially bartering.
Finn went to the closet and opened it, taking in the neutral toned clothes and the brown leather jacket that roughed up Poe. He unhooked the jacket from the hanger, slipping his arms through the sleeves and tugging the collar. It stretched across his back, impossible to zip closed, and smelled like a combination of leather and soap.
After a shower that went on for ages, Finn took his medication and left the room, map in hand and wearing clothes that looked a bit small in the bathroom mirror. He elected to wear the trousers from his body suit, as Poe’s legs might have been as long as Finn’s, yet they were certainly slimmer. Finn tried to recall last night, when he held Poe’s knee in his palm. Poe’s knee hadn’t felt different, yet the clothing phenomenon did raise more questions than it satisfied. Perhaps he might attempt to find out again tonight.
He arrived at the canteen at 0801. It was so utterly different compared to the canteen on the Finalizer that Finn wouldn’t have recognized it as one without the map and the undeniable reality of people dining. He walked past tables of people bent over datapads and foods that Finn had never seen before. One woman tapped absently on her datapad, raising a pastry slowly to her lips. The pastry had a golden brown, flaky crust and a maroon cream that dripped onto her plate.
He followed the trail of people holding cups of steaming caf. He never had caf before, only caffeine pills, as there had never been enough time to down a cup of the steaming hot drink when troopers could have been doing something more productive with their time. He quickened his pace when he caught sight of a man behind a counter handing out cups of caf. Finn watched the back of the person in front of him as he took his place in line.
When he reached the counter, the smells hit him—indescribable, he thought, was a word befitting the Resistance.
The man behind the counter beamed as soon as Finn walked up, eyes crinkling. His eyes were shut, yet he fixed Finn’s cup without fault. “Mr. Dameron! Not your usual—oh,” said the man, quieting as soon as he saw that Finn stood before him. He absently set the caf on the counter. “You must be Finn.” He smiled, eyes crinkling once more, yet he still looked at Finn, gaze full of warmth. “Are you from Yavin IV? Poe would never say.”
Finn grabbed his caf, eyebrows darting up at the unexpected heat, and took a sip. His eyes bulged as soon as he tasted the caf. Bitter did not even begin to describe it.
“Get some milk, son!” said the man, grinning as he slid a pitcher to him.
Finn filled his cup with milk until it skirted overflowing. The next sip was beyond pleasant. The milk softened the bitter flavor, bringing forth a tart nuttiness. He doubted the First Order gave troopers pills for time concerns, but rather they knew insubordination was inevitable if troopers didn’t get their caf fix. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“No, thank you. I’d never seen Poe so eager to leave his starfighter ‘till he met you.”
Finn took a swig of caf, looking away from the man and at the tan liquid. The back of his neck prickled, and he rubbed the edge of Poe’s jacket with his free hand. “Thanks for the caf,” he said, then walked away, eager to flee yet not so willing to draw excessive attention to himself.
He headed straight for the exit, his steady pace challenged by the glances directed his way, people once reading their datapads now watching him, eyes flicking to the jacket, then to his face.
Poe knew him. It was official.
The concept was absurd, as only a miracle could have connected a trooper and a starfighter pilot, but the odds tipped ever so toward this impossibility the further Finn ventured out of the canteen. Senses heightened, Finn noticed that even after he got outside and walked aimlessly through the base, people looked in his direction, first at the jacket, then at him. It was cold out, grey clouds blanketing the base in overcast skies, and Poe had been so kind that morning. Still, he didn’t know Poe. Perhaps he was like the troopers on the Finalizer, cruel and creative in his tactics.
X-Wings flew overhead, the roar from the engines thunder in the cloudy sky.
Finn stole the map out of his pocket, hunting down the command center. He wanted to thank General Organa for staging his rescue, who was the leader according to random notes Poe scrawled on the margins of the map. He blanched at the thought of needling his way into the command center and imposing himself, but logistically, Finn must have been their inside man, the rogue trooper that joined the Resistance and led to the invasion of the Finalizer. But if that rogue trooper was indeed him, he wanted to further aide the Resistance, no matter the cost.
The command center was positioned near the landing zone that the Millennium Falcon occupied yesterday. As Finn trekked through the area, his eyes drank in the sights that struck him as familiar yet part of a distant memory. Yesterday he’d been too stunned to appreciate the droids rattling off binary to tacticians and soldiers, or the organized chaos of people rushing into the hangar. Finn clutched the map as he walked past all that activity and ducked into a stairway leading into the command room. Whenever someone looked his way, Finn had a litany of excuses for his presence on the tip of his tongue, but they always glanced down at the jacket, then smiled and nodded, leaving him be.
Once he arrived inside, however, the jacket was the last thing on his mind.
Shouting, frantic beeping, expletives hurled across the room—he heard the chaos before he saw the crowds gathered around a center table, holograms flashing data and depictions of a simulated X-Wing rocketing through an unknown atmosphere. He spotted a thick beard, tan robes, and tried to discern whether or not his eyes merely tricked him into believing he saw a familiar face.
A hand clamped on his shoulder. Finn swerved around, stunned to find Han glaring at him. “Good thing you’re here, kid. We could use you,” said Han, and he dragged Finn toward the center table. “Our routine supply check got intercepted by your old acquaintances in the First Order.”
A woman with braids crowning her head bounded toward them, her expression as grim as Han’s. “Finn,” she said, firm yet gentle. “We believe they let us win the battle on the Finalizer yesterday in order to learn our battle tactics. We’re indebted to you, but if there’s anything you can tell us….”
“I’ll tell you anything you need to know,” Finn said. With the way her eyes hardened in resilience, Finn knew immediately who this woman was. “Thank you, General, for saving me.”
She nodded. “We do what we can.”
Han and General Organa led him to the center table, the heart of the command center and the first source of all new information transmitted from the epicenter of the action. Officers shifted to allow the three of them space around the table, and a blue humanoid alien gestured to Finn to regard his datapad containing a brief memo of the current status of the pilots. Finn froze as a rickety voice spoke through a comlink transmitted to the entire room. It was Poe.
“Cut off a TIE fighter. Shot two others that were hugging our rears,” said Poe.
General Organa leaned into the table. “Have you discerned their intent?”
“Negative. I believe they are trying to prevent us from landing on the planet. It’s nothing but ice. Uninhabitable. Sensors aren’t picking up any life signs.”
“Ice…” said Finn.
“Was that Finn?”
She ignored Poe, vesting her attention to Finn. “This planet is highly isolated. We went there because it’s a rendezvous point for a trade outpost. What would the First Order want with an isolated, uninhabitable planet?”
Finn regarded the holograms, the numbers and letters blurred, recognizable as information only through deductive reasoning. Data he could sparse filled the gaps in his addled mind. Finn concentrated, remembering patches of conversations, diagrams, training sessions, and instances where he had chosen the correct corridor to clean when high ranking officials happened to be exchanging intel. Humorlessly, he relished in the realization that three weeks hadn’t been enough to destroy everything Hux sought. “There were rumors about an ice planet, that they were setting it up as another base,” said Finn. “There’s a weapon, it destroys planets. That’s all I know. I’m sorry.”
“Checks out with Hosnian Prime,” said a man on the other side of the table, tapping away on a datapad. “It could be another laser canon.”
Poe cut in, “BB-8’s discovered something. Relaying the data.”
Within seconds, the data overtook the holograms. A massive planetary figure rotated over the table, a quarter cut out and revealing an intricate, systematic structure beneath the crust.
“I’ll be damned,” muttered General Organa. Then her voice dictated orders with precision. “Red Squad, Blue Squad. Relaying information to you. We’re seeing a repeat of Hosnian Prime. Dameron, your squad will destroy the laser. Red covers you. Blue covers Red. Understood?”
“Understood,” said Poe, and presented the orders to his squad in tandem with the leaders of the others.
The command center should have felt helpless in the midst of battle. After all, they were trapped at the base while half their fleet fought to save their necks in a routine supply check gone wrong, yet Poe prevented any of that. He led the squads in a mystifying interconnection of rapid fire decisions and encouraging turns of phrase, the various starfighters joining together in a cohesive whole. When a TIE fighter shot lasers at an X-Wing, another X-Wing swung around and flew beneath the TIE fighter, firing directly at its blind spot. No one got left behind on Poe’s watch. Finn rolled back his shoulders, biting the inside of his cheek as the leather jacket stretched to accommodate his broad shoulders. He scanned the room, hunting down anyone who looked at him wearing the jacket, but, understandably, everyone was riveted and gob smacked at the events that unfolded, paying him no heed.
“Poe, it’s trailing you,” shouted a woman. “I’m going after it.”
“Not a problem. Cover Snap. I’m going after the laser.”
“But it’s closing in!”
“Cover Snap, Lieutenant.”
The comm fell back into the familiar rhythm of explosions and cheers, expletives and more explosions. “Closing in,” bellowed Poe, voice slicing through the storm of war. “Got it on my crosshairs.”
“Fire when ready,” said General Organa.
“Firing in three, two—”
“Poe! That fucking—Damn it, Poe’s down. The TIE fighter hit his engine.”
Finn’s heart, once in time with the drums of war, skittered between throbs. He heard General Organa proclaim with utter clarity, “Connect to Beebee-Ate. Assess damage.”
BB-8’s beeps shrieked throughout the command center, raising the hair on Finn’s scalp despite the binary being lost on his ears. There were no pauses between beeps, one beep cutting right into the next.
“Pull the chute once you’ve cleared the atmosphere,” said General Organa. “We’ve run simulations. Sending our findings to you.”
BB-8 stopped beeping as the data was sent. Then he broke out in erratic beeps.
General Organa’s eyes softened as she said, “He’s special to us, too. Don’t worry, Beebee-Ate. It’ll work. Don’t forget to pull your own chute.”
BB-8’s beeping cut off abruptly, and despite the explosions, cheers, and expletives, the droid’s silence cast the energy in shades of grey. Finn scratched a nail along the edge of the table, and leaned toward General Organa. He asked her in a small voice, “Is he dead?”
She turned to him, lips pursed. “He’s alive. For now. He’ll survive the crash. But the warmest temperature on the planet is -30 degrees Celsius, and he’s wearing a flight suit.”
Finn averted his gaze to her shoulder, inspecting the navy blue threadwork.
BB-8 beeped once, curtly.
General Organa turned away from Finn, speaking into the comm. “Blue Squad, gather a landing party. BB-8, send them Poe’s coordinates.”
Finn couldn’t sleep.
Venturing into the night with Poe’s jacket and the map, Finn went to every location Poe had marked in red ink, the vegetable garden and the makeshift holotheater being the first destinations on his list. He trailed through the base, taking detours and longer routes to avoid one location circled in red ink that filled Finn with dread—the hangar.
I don’t know Poe, he thought, as his feet halted before a fork in the road. One led toward the hangar, the other in the complete opposite direction. You don’t develop feelings for a person in one day.
Two days, he countered himself, in an octave that oddly resembled BB-8’s beeps.
Pocketing the map, Finn went down the road leading to the hangar, each step heavily weighed with hesitance.
The sky crackled and roared with the sound of X-Wings breaking through the sky, starfighters landing now for hours, a vehicular thunder and lightning storm. The racket sent shudders through Finn, but he kept soldiering on toward the hangar, even when his heart slammed against his chest. The building came into view, having since been hidden behind a canopy of X-Wings. Finn raked his eyes over the building; it was by no means aesthetic, yet the barebones practicality had charm.
The doors burst open, and several pilots swarmed out, running on either end of a stretcher. Finn froze.
“Heart rate's too low!” said a pilot, as they fled down the path toward med bay. “How’s a bacta tank gonna—”
“What did you expect?” snapped another pilot. “He only had his droid’s lighter to keep him warm on that hellhole.”
Finn’s eyes fell downcast.
Another life saved from the First Order, he noted, but that was the last thought he had on the subject before forcing his mind elsewhere.
His trousers clung to his legs, sticky with sweat and grime. He hadn’t worn any other trousers since the Finalizer, which began to feel like an eternity ago. He recalled a sign beside the elevator in Poe’s building, a succinct “Laundry Room” written upon it. He could take a datapad, read about caf, and wash his clothes.
It felt like a plan.
Poe was kept in the bacta tank for three days. On the evening of Poe’s awakening, Rey found Finn in a workout room, lifting weights and fascinated at how the people boxing in the ring weren’t trying to kill each other.
She crouched in front of him and quirked her head to catch his eye. “They’re going to wake him up soon. BB-8’s leaving the mechanic to see him.” She paused. Upon receiving no reply, she said, “It isn’t fun waking up from a bacta tank. He’ll like seeing you there.”
Finn knew. He was no stranger to bacta tanks or the longing one felt for a kindness upon awakening. Which was also why he ignored her.
“My family abandoned me on Jakku,” said Rey lowly. “Han Solo and Chewbacca were the first to ever speak to me like I wasn’t just a scavenger.” Finn glanced at her, the arm lifting weights slowing as he took in the melancholy in her glazed over eyes. “But the first person to look at me like I was more than I perceived myself to be was Poe. He listens, and he cares. He is so patient.” Rey flicked her gaze upward, exposing herself to him, Finn realized. “He cares about you a great deal. I understand that life hasn’t been easy for you, but—”
She blinked, the glaze gone from her eyes, and the hardened glint of reality returned to her. “Consider it?” she said, pressing her hands to her knees and standing.
Long after Rey left him, and long after Finn left the workout room, his muscles in agony after close to a month without training—he tried to consider it. He had the map memorized. He could be dropped anywhere on the base and find his way to med bay. He ached to be there as Poe regained consciousness, for the man to be surrounded in a room full of people overwhelmed with relief that life still ran through his veins. Yet the First Order lurked throughout the galaxy, their presence as imminent as a sunrise. In Rey’s eyes, Finn saw the reason for taking the beaten path toward Poe’s building and heading to his messy room with too many mattresses. In Rey’s eyes was hope. Hope for a brighter future in which the First Order no longer loomed over their shoulders.
That could never happen. They were too ruthless, too ambitious. Finn realized this when Rey could not. And, for that reason, he did not go to med bay and welcome Poe out of the bacta tank.
However, going to Poe’s room proved to be a mistake.
The shoes tucked away in a corner, the blankets kicked to the edge of the bed, the various nuts and bolts of the contraption inscribed to Finn—none of that resembled anything on the Finalizer, and Finn crumbled.
He stumbled over his pallet on the floor and crashed into Poe’s bed, shoving his wrists under the pillow and smashing his face into it, losing himself in the scents of soap and leather and oil. The sheets burned him, a desire building within his core to embrace this reality he had stumbled into unwittingly. The bed’s warmth lulled him into a deep sleep, the deepest slumber, and he welcomed it, basking in the temporary escape from his own thoughts.
The door creaked open.
Finn awoke with a start, yet his limbs stayed immobile out of habit. “I’m fine, just a pulled muscle,” he heard Poe say. “Thank you for everything.”
The door shut, plunging the room into silence. Poe stepped across the room with care, which must have posed a challenge as night had long fallen, casting the room in shadows, and Poe did not turn on a light. When Finn heard the sheets on the floor rustle, he couldn’t feign his somnolence any longer. He turned on his side, out to the room, and took in Poe’s light pallor, the arm caught in a sling.
Poe was halfway tucked under the blankets, but froze at Finn’s movement.
Finn took a deep breath, and said, “I think I’m in love with you.”
Which was not what he had planned to say at all.
“You don’t know me,” said Poe.
Words flooded out without restraint. “I don’t remember you,” said Finn, “but I do know you.”
The bob of Poe’s throat bounced. “We weren’t as close as you think.”
Poe glanced up, and Finn was struck by the moonlight that cast his face in shadows, the stumble which grew into a beard since the days in a bacta tank, the harrowed stare Finn recognized from when they met under the nose of Poe’s X-Wing, which Finn understood now had not truly been them meeting for the first time.
“If we weren’t, I was lying,” said Finn. Then he threw himself out on a limb. “And I think you might have been, too.”
Poe shook his head, biting his lip. It was a defensive gesture, Finn recognized.
Finn edged toward the wall, pressing his back into it, and patted the empty space beside him. Poe smiled, a sardonic curl of his lip, but dragged himself off of the mattress on the floor and onto his bed. It was a tight squeeze, the bed designed with only one person in mind. Remembering that Poe’s original plan had not included the extra mattress on the floor, Finn couldn’t help but smile at the convincing it took to get Poe into bed with him.
Poe watched his mouth. “What is it?”
Finn didn’t reply, and he wouldn’t know what to say either. Instead, he bent his head toward Poe, and kissed him.
Poe was pliant beneath Finn, his lips soft as Finn pressed into him, but as soon as Finn’s tongue flicked his mouth open, any and all dominance Finn once had went away. Poe crashed into him, hooking a leg over Finn’s waist and pulling Finn under him. Now Finn became pliant beneath Poe’s lips, mind buzzing. Briefly, he acknowledged that Poe accomplished this with one arm in a sling, but the sling didn’t stay for long. Poe kissed him while wrestling with the straps securing his arm in the sling.
Regretfully, Finn tore away, his lips tingling, and said, “Are you sure you ought to be—”
“Just a sprain,” said Poe, pecking the corner of his mouth. “I’m on amazing pain killers and have more in the bathroom.”
He set the hand of his uninjured arm on the mattress and drew the nails of the other along Finn’s waist, scratching lightly up to his chest. Finn groaned, and shut his eyes, twitching when Poe’s nails scratched delicate spots. Snickering, Poe nosed Finn’s cheek, and Finn turned his head to the side. Poe kissed below his ear, running his teeth along the sensitive skin and biting. Finn groaned again, louder, and Poe smirked, his stubble scraping the skin wet from his kiss. Then he tore away.
Finn moaned out in protest.
Poe chuckled, and heat pooled in Finn. “I know, I know,” said Poe, tugging at the collar of his jacket. “I didn’t want to stop, either.” Finn sat up and quickly pulled it off him. When Poe tugged on the hem of his shirt, Finn was fast to pull that off, too. Poe pressed a palm onto Finn’s bare chest, searing him, and pushed him back onto the bed. Poe still wore all his clothes, which wasn’t fair at all. Finn tugged on Poe’s shirt, but rather than taking it off, Poe simply fell back over him and bit his ear.
The friction of Poe’s shirt over the hair on his chest, the alternating bites and kisses—Finn moaned, unable to prevent the sound that built low in his throat. Poe surrendered his full weight to him, pressing into him and making it hard to breathe. Finn grew more aware of how helpless he was to Poe’s lips, his tongue, the fingers tracing lines under the waistband of his trousers, scratching the skin over his hipbone. Finn struggled to stifle a moan, but his senses were sent haywire under Poe’s ministrations, and his throat refused to work. Nimbly, he raised a hand and carded his fingers through Poe’s hair, dragging his nails down the back of Poe’s scalp. Poe groaned, a cacophony of otherworldly noises.
Poe stopped kissing him, air cooling Finn’s wet skin as Poe caught his breath. He traced his lips down the tip of Finn’s ear to the beginnings of his jaw. “I’ve just been waiting awhile to do this,” said Poe, voice thick. “I sort of had a plan.” He rubbed his chin along Finn’s collarbone, the stubble searing him.
Finn swallowed. “A plan?”
Poe hummed, which wasn’t much of an answer. He sat up, his body resting on Finn’s thighs, the weight trapping Finn between his legs. Finn could free himself if he so ardently desired, but he relished in the pressure of Poe’s entire weight pressing down on him. Then Poe did the unprecedented, he took off his shirt, gingerly slipping out his injured arm. Poe chucked the shirt across the room, not seeing where it fell because his eyes were locked on Finn’s. He drew his bottom lip between his teeth, smiling as he hooked a finger on the belt loop just below Finn’s navel. Finn couldn’t take his eyes off of Poe as he released his lip and traced it with the tip of his tongue. He remembered the troopers in the sonic showers, who intimidated others into leaving them alone so they could accomplish exactly what Poe was setting out to do. Finn couldn’t believe he had once been jealous of them.
“Let’s get this out of the way first,” said Poe, pressing his thumb into Finn’s waist. “I love sucking cock. I’ve spent many nights thinking about sucking your cock in particular.”
Finn inhaled sharply. “I’ve so far spent one night thinking about...” He didn’t have the audacity required to finish that sentence.
Poe pressed his palm against Finn’s cock, then smirked. “Well, it seems tonight you’ve thought long and hard about it.”
Finn covered his eyes with his forearm. He believed before that he burned after the lightest of Poe’s touches, but from the pressure of Poe unhooking the button of his trousers, he now blazed. Poe tugged the zipper and pulled down his trousers, the cool air making Finn seethe. Poe massaged his thighs, drawing the sensitive skin taut. He traced the length of Finn’s cock over the standard issue black briefs, pressing hard against the tip. Each touch was intoxicating, forcing Finn to see only white static despite the pitch black behind his closed eyelids. Poe hooked a hand under his knee, and Finn readily obliged before Poe voiced the command. He lifted both his legs and provided Poe opportunity to rid him of the final layers of clothes still left on his body.
Now Finn was completely naked, and Poe had exposed only his bare chest. A protest rose in him, and Finn was about to voice it when the mattress dipped, Poe’s weight leaving his thighs, and a wet heat enveloped the tip of his cock.
Finn’s ankles slammed into the bed as a million synapses fired off in his brain at once. He shoved his wrist into his mouth to stifle the moans that fought their way up his throat.
Poe’s mouth left his cock. Finn sucked in a breath, disoriented at the abrupt change, and blinked in confusion as fingers curled around his wrist, pulling his arm away from his face.
Poe peered down at him with hooded eyes, back arched as he bowed over Finn’s cock. He had reached over Finn’s chest and grasped his bicep, pinning his arm behind his head and onto the pillow. Poe’s gestures were slight, as his position allowed little movement. When he released Finn’s bicep, the depth in his stare had Finn keeping his arm firmly in place, even when Poe cupped his balls and turned a languid gaze down to his cock.
Poe kissed his cock sloppily, open mouthed and dragging his tongue along the length of his cock to the tip. Then he took Finn, in his entirety, into his mouth.
For the life of him, Finn could not keep his moans at a reasonable volume without his wrist between his teeth. His fingers twitched against the pillow, digging into the fabric as Poe did what he did with his tongue. Finn’s heart palpitated, breath came short, his stomach pinched, muscles constricted. He felt his seed building, and he tried to warn Poe that he was coming, yet all he managed to utter was, “Fuck.”
Poe’s mouth never left his cock as he came. Poe took in as much of Finn as he could as his seed flowed out. If Finn could come twice in a row, he would have. Mind spinning, Finn hadn’t realized when Poe came to lay beside him, running a hand through his hair and along his shoulder, tugging Finn over his chest.
Finn’s eyes grew heavy, thoughts dulled from the onslaught of drowsiness. He closed his eyes, breath slowing to match the rhythm of Poe tracing lines along his spine, and fell asleep.
Over the coming weeks, they found a groove—and a larger bed.
No matter how quiet Poe and BB-8 were in the morning, they always woke Finn up. Feigning sadness, Finn coaxed a faux-apology out of Poe that often wound up as Poe crawling back into bed and them wrestling for a brief moment before Poe pinned Finn onto the mattress and kissed him until his head spun.
Finn worked in the hangar, acquainting himself with the weaponry and finding ways to be useful. Often General Organa asked for his expertise in the command center, yet Finn also offered insight to med bay when the infantry arrived with wounds inflicted by First Order weapons that had still been in commission while Finn was on the Finalizer.
After the supply check scrimmage, extra laser canons and astromech droid ports were installed on select cargo ships, a viewport positioned in the rear for a shooter. A sign-up post went up in the hangar bulletin board for volunteer shooters. Finn didn’t think twice before enlisting.
He woke up bright and early for the first day of training, detangling himself from Poe’s arms and legs which held him close during the night. He was first in line when the doors to the hangar opened and the volunteers marched in.
He stood in line beneath the nose of an X-Wing with the other volunteers. Save for the starfighters, individualized clothing, and friendly chatter, it was just like standing at attention with Nines and Zeroes and Slip. As General Organa sauntered down the line, nodding at each volunteer, she completed the same motion as Captain Phasma. Yet it was all so intrinsically different down to its core. Finn stood with his shoulders pulled back, mouth in a firm line to disguise his burgeoning smile, and nodded to General Organa when she did so to him.
She gestured for everyone to join in a circle, herself walking around in the center with her fingers twined at the small of her back. “I hear you’re all here because you’re good with a blaster,” she said. A man hollered in agreement. Finn dipped his chin to hide his smile. “You’re going to be watching the back of a pilot, and our training today is going to work you into shape. You’re not going to be trained to be a number two, but the pilot’s number one. And they’ll be your number one. We can’t survive on rations forever. The Resistance is relying on building effective teams to prevent future skirmishes in supply checks.”
The volunteers on the other side of the circle shifted, backs straightening, and Finn peered over his shoulder as General Organa pointed behind him. “Meet your pilots, led by our very own Black Leader,” she said.
A squadron stepped out from behind storage containers, dressed in orange flight suits and a helmet tucked under their arms. Poe was in the center, looking right at Finn and smirking. General Organa organized everyone into pairs, and Finn already knew the name of his pilot before she ordered him to join with Poe.
“Surprised to see me?” said Poe.
Finn leaned in, brows furrowed and eyes narrowed. “I literally just left you in bed. Explain yourself. Please and thank you.”
“I hope you enjoyed leaving that good morning kiss.” Mirth danced in Poe’s eyes as he looked Finn over from head to toe. “I don’t fraternize with my subordinates.”
Finn wondered how small the cockpits were. “Understood, Commander.”
Poe bit his lip, the corner of his mouth quirking despite his effort to stanch it. “Commander’s a bit much for a training session. Sir is sufficient, cadet.”
General Organa clasped her hands, redirecting the sorted pairs’ attention back to her. The now larger circle, a mixture of flight suits and civilian clothes, surrounded her, eager for their orders. Finn watched the sheer determination and resilience settling into the hardened set in their shoulders. As individuals they gathered under a common cause to rid the galaxy of suffering and pain, to restore freedom and peace. As General Organa recited this vow, Finn didn’t actively shut her out and force other thoughts to block out her voice. He soaked in every last word, breath caught to prevent background noise, and regret filled him when she finished her speech and ordered the pairs to section off.
Poe patted Finn’s shoulder and pointed over at a cargo ship. Finn looked over at his number one, inspired at the sheer nerve and steel in his eye. It startled him, slightly, to see the man who bowed over his waist and murmured into his skin guide him now toward a ship with only the press of a hand to his shoulder. There was something about the glint in his eyes, the grim press of his lips, and Finn knew that if Poe flew them into the heart of a dogfight, Finn would fire at ready.
When they got situated in the cargo ship, Finn leaned back into the cool leather chair, his thumb gliding over the top of the center stick. A thrill raced through him as the button shifted beneath his finger pad.
Finn was home.