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A Big Deal in the Resistance

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On his first official day as a member of the Resistance, Finn receives a toothbrush, one small bottle of shampoo, five pairs of underwear, three slightly worn uniforms with patches at the elbows, a scuffed helmet, a holster that looks shiny and new, and a bandolier for carrying extra ammunition. He does not receive a rule book, a vision statement, or a picture of General Organa.

He holds up the underwear uncertainly. It’s bright orange, and it seems to be missing some fabric. The back of it is just a thin orange string.

“Um?” he says. That’s all. Just um. He doesn’t know if it’s polite to ask something more specific, like ‘please explain the underthings of your people.’

The quartermaster, who has six eyes on three stalks, gives a burbling sigh and says, “Sorry, man, this is all we got. The CPO was drunk when he made the order.”

Finn’s not sure who CPO is, although he hopes he’s alive and wasn’t punished too harshly for the underwear mistake.

Then the quartermaster yells “NEXT!” and Finn walks away from the counter even though he still hasn’t been given a rule book, a vision statement, or a picture of General Organa.

***

His first roommates are methane-breathers, and he almost dies in a cloud of toxic gas. Poe finds him gasping on the floor of the corridor, hauls him to his feet, and asks for his ID card. Finn hands it over immediately; he’s had it in his front pocket this whole time, but nobody had asked to see it, not even when he got lost and wandered through the hangar bay for half an hour.

“Kriffing idiots. This says you’re a silicon-based lifeform,” Poe says, handing back the card. “Come on, there’s empty bunks in my room. We’ll get you switched officially tomorrow.”

Finn’s not sure it’s a good idea to sleep in another room. They’ll probably both get in trouble when the deck officer comes to do bed checks. But Poe’s kind of a big deal in the Resistance, so maybe he’s allowed to decide where people live.

“You like top bunk or bottom?” Poe asks. He’s got an arm slung around Finn’s shoulder, and he’s grinning.

Finn likes the way he feels when Poe smiles at him like that. Smiling wasn’t really a thing in the First Order, or at least, it wasn’t a thing you could do casually. You had to think carefully if the occasion was appropriate. If you interpreted the sayings of the Supreme Leader appropriately, smiling was good; if you saw your buddy in the mess hall, smiling was bad. What if they’d gotten in trouble and you didn’t know and everybody thought you approved of what they’d done? People here smile all the time though, and Finn always smiles back. When he does that, it’s like a light turns on behind people’s eyes, Poe’s especially. Finn likes seeing that.

Poe doesn’t seem to notice that Finn’s lost in thought. He’s still got his arm around Finn’s shoulders, and he’s saying “See, the ceilings are kinda low, so if you take the top bunk, you can’t sit up all the way. But if you take the bottom bunk, everybody’s gonna use it for a couch all day, and I’m warning you, Snap doesn’t always bathe.”

“What do you have?” Finn asks. He’s lost count of the number of times people have asked him for his preferences today, and it’s getting exhausting.

“Top,” Poe says. “Always the top.”

Finn nods. “Yeah, me too.”

***

Finn had imagined his quarters would be made of bright white metal or polished chrome, like the medical ship he’d spent the last two months on. But the First Order had been right about one thing: very little in the Resistance is orderly. Their new barracks are in some kind of cave, and the bunks are jammed awkwardly against the sloping rock walls, with dented metal lockers in between them. None of the bedcovers match.

As soon as he steps inside, he checks for pictures of General Organa and Admiral Statura so he won’t accidentally put his things in front of them, or worse, on top of them. But there aren’t any. There hadn’t been any in the infirmary either, even though Finn had thought it would be a good way to inspire the troops and discourage malingering. Then again, the base is new. Maybe they haven’t had time to hang up the posters yet.

Poe breezes into the room behind him and slaps the mattress of a vacant bed. “This is the only top bunk that’s free,” he says. “Feels like the mattress is alright.”

A woman whose flight suit says Jessika Pava peers out from one of the bottom bunks. “Yeah, but be careful if you take that one. There’s a weird bulge in the rock that’ll hit you right about here.” She taps on her forehead where a bruise is peeking out from her bangs.

Poe and Jessika and the guy called Snap are all staring at him expectantly, and Finn realizes he’s supposed to make yet another decision. He swings his duffle onto the top bunk, hoping he looks decisive.

Poe picks up the pillow and moves it down to the other end of the bed. “Here, sleep with your head at this end. Weird rock problem solved.”

Finn manages not to gape and ask if that’s allowed.

***

In the morning, Finn learns about snooze buttons. It hadn’t occurred to him that waking up would be his personal responsibility; in the stormtrooper barracks, all the lights came on automatically, and everyone got up at the same time. The thought that he could’ve missed his first shift makes him panic, but it doesn’t seem to worry anybody else. The alarm clock goes off every five minutes, and Snap just throws something at it and goes back to sleep.

Finn figures he can ask Poe about some of the rules, like how fast he has to use the ‘fresher and how much food he’s allowed for breakfast, but he doesn’t get the chance. Poe tiptoes out the door for an early briefing with a little wave that Finn hopes means ‘I’ll see you at breakfast.’

Not having a rulebook doesn’t seem to bother anyone else, so Finn resolves not to let it bother him. He figures he’ll just wait for Snap and Jess to use wake up, and he’ll do what they do. The downside is that they end up dressed and ready before Finn’s even had a shower, and he has to ask them to wait before they go to the mess hall. Jess looks at Snap and grins, Snap nods, and they both say “sure no problem” in a weird way that makes him wonder if something’s going on.

He takes as long as he wants in the ‘fresher -- a luxuriant four minutes and forty-eight seconds -- which is less than half the time Jess took, but when he comes out, everybody’s gone.

Finn tells himself not to worry about it. Maybe they got hungry. Maybe their shifts start before his. Or maybe they just don’t want a weird defector following them around. Whatever. He’d escaped from the First Order; he can find the mess hall by himself.

He reaches into his locker for a fresh uniform, but nothing’s there. Well, almost nothing. Just the weird bright orange underwear, which he puts on because he’s got no other choice. He can’t find his uniforms anywhere -- not in the other lockers, not under the beds or wrapped up in anyone’s sheets or wadded up in the corner of the ‘fresher. His helmet and his holster and his bandolier are there though. What is he supposed to do? March to his first shift wearing orange underpants and a blaster?

The door opens, and Finn doesn’t even have time to think about hiding before Poe strides in. A slow smile spreads across his face and he says, “Nice underwear, buddy. I’m not saying people wouldn’t appreciate the show, but you might wanna get dressed before breakfast.”

Finn’s mouth opens and closes, but no sound comes out. He can feel the blood rushing to his face, and he does this weird sideways walk thing so he can stand behind one of the beds without letting Poe see him from behind.

Poe sighs. “Jess and Snap stole your clothes, didn’t they? I’m sorry, man. I should’ve told them not to mess with you like that.”

“That would’ve been nice,” Finn manages. “Or maybe you should’ve asked them before you moved an enemy soldier into their room.” Everyone in the Resistance has been nice so far, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to sleep with a stormtrooper.

Poe shakes his head. “It’s not like that, I swear. It’s a prank. A joke. It’s how we say welcome to the team. You should’ve seen what the guys left me to wear on the day I joined.” His face turns a little red. “Or, come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing you didn’t.”

With that, he tosses Finn a pair of pants and a t-shirt from his own locker. The fabric is worn in places, but softer than anything Finn’s ever owned, and he can tell instantly that it’s been very loved. He wonders if maybe Poe would let him keep it, the same casual way he’d given away the jacket.

Poe’s still chattering away, like he hasn’t noticed that Finn’s lost in thought, or maybe he’s just too nice to point it out. “What we have to do is get them back,” he’s saying. “What do you think -- blue hair dye in the shampoo? Nah, that would probably look good on Jess. We need something a little edgier, don’t you think?”

Finn nods absentmindedly. He’s stuck on all the times Poe said we.

Poe leads them toward the mess hall, pondering their options for pranks. “See, the piss puck is usually a classic, but you can’t do that to your own roommates. It’s no good.”

Finn frowns. “Piss puck?”

Poe nods eagerly. “Yeah, you know, when you piss in a plate and put it in the blast chiller? And then you slide it under somebody’s door?”

“That’s a thing?” Finn asks, and Poe just smiles like sliding human waste into people’s sleeping quarters is hilarious and not disturbingly unsanitary.

Poe puts a hand on Finn’s shoulder. “Yeah. You’re new here, so somebody’s probably gonna pull that on you in the next couple days. If some yellow ice slides under the door, don’t touch it, okay?”

Finn nods, and Poe says, “Okay, your turn. How’re we gonna get back at Snap and Jess?”

“We could put a holo of Kylo Ren on the inside of the ‘fresher lid,” Finn suggests.

Now it’s Poe’s turn to look confused. “Is that a Stormtrooper thing?”

Finn’s already grinning with at the memory. Hiding propaganda holos of Kylo Ren had been the best game. “Oh yeah,” he says. “See, Kylo Ren’s holos had this special program so he was looking at you no matter where you were, and it freaked us all out. So we used to hide them, like, at the bottom of each other’s underwear piles or on the inside of the ‘fresher lid. You always knew you got somebody when they screamed and peed a little on the floor.”

He’s about to explain how tampering with propaganda holos was normally a tier three offense, but you could get away with it if you said you were just simulating how Kylo Ren could hear your innermost thoughts and find your most secret hiding places -- but there’s a weird distant look in Poe’s eyes, so he stops.

“Or we could just, you know, put Snap’s toothbrush in our buttcracks,” he finishes lamely.

Poe almost doubles over laughing. “You are one sick moof milker,” he says, slapping Finn on the back. “I like it. And maybe I’m locking up my toothbrush.”

Finn blinks. “So we’re doing it?” he asks. He hadn’t actually wanted to put anyone’s toothbrush in his asscrack. Mostly he’d just said it because he wanted Poe to look like himself again.

Poe shakes his head, looking a little wistful. “Nah. That’s probably a little too far. I don’t wanna give anyone a weird disease.”

“Your buttcrack gives people diseases?” he asks, just so he can see Poe smile again.

***

Finn barely manages not to yelp when General Organa herself is waiting for him at the end of his shift. He doesn’t have a rule book, he hasn’t memorized the Resistance’s mission statement, and he definitely hasn’t been trained in the protocol for approaching a high-ranking officer.

But hey, he can probably guess. Chances are anything the Order had taught him is polite enough for here. He draws himself up to full attention and says, “How can I be of service, ma’am?”

The General looks at him incredulously. “I thought we were done with all this,” she says, waving a hand at his rigid posture. “Did you or did you not charge into the CIC on the first day I met you and demand to lead a rescue mission?”

Finn clears his throat. “Well, uh, that was different, ma’am. I wasn’t on duty, and I thought my friend would die.”

“Well, technically, you’re not on duty now,” General Organa says, pointing at the chronometer on the wall. “I’m only ma’am when I’m giving orders. Right now, I’m here to talk.”

“Uh, why?” Finn asks. General Hux didn’t speak to underlings. He just sent them to reconditioning if their salutes weren’t crisp enough.

“Well, you did help destroy the shield generator, rescue Rey, and survive the most impressive lightsaber wound I’ve ever seen.” She drops her voice conspiratorially. “Try not to get as vain as Dameron, but you’re kind of a big deal in the Resistance.”

“I am?” Finn asks.

“Yes,” General Organa says firmly. “There’ll be a commendation ceremony and everything, once you’ve had time to settle in. Now, tell me, how was your first day of duty? You’re dressed, so if your bunkmates stole your uniform, you must’ve gotten it back.”

“You knew they’d do that?” Finn asks.

General Organa nods. “They do it to everyone. Even me, a very, very long time ago.”

Finn’s shoulders sag a little bit relief. He hadn’t thought Poe would lie to him, and Jess and Snap had seemed perfectly happy to see him at the mess table. They’d handed over a bag of his clothes while he still had time to change, and they’d even given him the popberries on their breakfast trays because they were his favorite. Still, he was glad to hear that even General Organa considered uniform theft some kind of weird initiation ritual.

“Now, which fool’s errands did they send you on?” the General asks, her eyes dancing.

“None,” Finn says, feeling unreasonably proud. Major Dara had asked him for a bucket of fusial wash, but he’d hung out with Poe enough to know that was the air stream from the back of an X-wing’s engine. Lieutenant Seldar had asked him to retrieve the blasters from the fallopian tubes, but even stormtroopers got sex ed, so he’d said, “If you’ve got a gun in your fallopian tubes, that’s definitely a personal problem.” Everybody had laughed, and he’d felt like he was getting the hang of things.

General Organa nods approvingly. “Good for you,” she says. “Of course, that just means they’ll try harder tomorrow. There’s no such thing as an atmospheric mail buoy, so if anyone tries to make you strap on a jet pack and hang out in the stratosphere waiting for one, just say no.” She shrugs. “Unless it will get you out of something more tedious, in which case volunteer enthusiastically every day until everyone else is finished cleaning out the guns.”

Finn doesn’t mention that he had cleaned all the guns today, apparently in record time. Afterward, he’d done a firing test on the obstacle course and Major Dara had complimented his stance, even though he’d felt stiff and awkward with the new scar tissue on his back.

“Is that all, ma’am?” Finn asks. “I mean, is that all, uh, friendly person who’s also a general?”

“Not quite,” General Organa says, her eyes dancing. “How are we getting back at your roommates for stealing your things?”

“Not with a piss puck,” Finn says quickly. That’s just gross. “And not with hair dye in their shampoo.” That’s as far as he and Poe had gotten this morning.

“Come on,” General Organa says, laying a hand on his elbow. “I’ve got something in my office you might like.”

Finn follows her obediently because it’s not like he’s going to refuse the General, of all people. He just really doesn’t understand what’s happening.

“Uh, General?” he asks. “Why are you doing this?”

She stops and spins around so fast that he almost bumps into her in the narrow corridor. “Some idiot is going to fill your head with the notion that I like adopting strays, but I really don’t, not after that incident with the loth-cat when my son was four. But I happen to know a thing or two about suddenly finding yourself in a completely different life than the one you’d prepared for. You’re a valuable member of our team, and I’d like to make sure the transition goes smoothly.”

And then she’s off again, charging down the corridor a lot quicker than Finn had imagined she could, given how short her legs are.

“So pranking people is part of a smooth transition?” he asks. He’d wanted to ask Poe to explain that this morning, but he also kind of hated telling Poe how confused he was.

“Yes,” the General says firmly. She presses her thumb against the control panel of a rather undistinguished-looking brown door, and it slides open. “If you let people joke with you and you joke back, they think you’re one of them.”

Finn follows the General into her office, then stops and stares. It’s bigger than the Quarter Master’s office, but not much. There’s a Resistance logo hanging askance on the wall, a disorganized pile of data pads on the desk, and a row of the same dented metal storage lockers that he’d seen everywhere else on base.

“Were you expecting something else?” General Organa asks, eyebrows raised.

“It’s not very...intimidating,” Finn says lamely. Phasma’s headquarters were made from polished black metal. An enormous portrait of her standing between Kylo Ren and General Hux hung on the wall, with the Supreme Leader looking down on them from above. The rest of the walls had been covered with weapons.

General Organa steps around the desk and puts her hand on his. “We don’t rule by fear here. Is that clear?”

“Then what do you rule by?” Finn asks.

The General is nice enough not to laugh. “Competence. Respect. A clear understanding of the value of all sentient human beings. Well, except the stupid ones. If you’re an idiot, all bets are off.” She yanks on a drawer and it opens with a screech. “Here,” she says, passing Finn a metal tube. “Do you know what to do with this?”

“Spray Cheez?” Finn reads off the label. This day just keeps getting weirder.

“Yes. It’s not very good for you, but my husband has a weakness for it. Had a weakness.” She pauses and presses her lips together, then shakes her head. “Anyway, take the pad out of your roommates’ helmets, cover the back of them with cheese, and then put them back. That’s all you have to do.”

On the one hand, this prank doesn’t involve body fluid. On the other hand, Finn doesn’t understand how it’s a prank.

General Organa seems to notice his confusion because she pats his arm. “Trust me, I used to do it to my brother all the time. Black Squadron will be finished with their drills at 15:30 tomorrow. Why don’t you wait for them next to the landing pad?”

***

Finn bursts through the door with what he hopes is a confident swagger, brandishes the can of spray cheese, and announces, “We’re putting this in Jess and Snap’s helmets.” Luckily, he’d remembered to check that Jess and Snap weren’t there before he said it.

Poe’s mouth drops open. “Genius!” he exclaims, flopping down on Jess’ bed next to Finn. Their shoulders brush together, and Finn feels the warmth even through the thick fabric of his uniform.

Then Poe looks at him with narrowed eyes, and Finn thinks he’s going to have to admit he has no idea why you’d put fake cheese under the padding of someone’s helmet. But all Finn says is, “Hey, where did you even get this?”

Finn shrugs. “General Organa,” he says, like it’s no big deal the General had invited him into her office for a private chat.

Poe nods and snaps the cap off the Spray Cheez. “She does like picking up strays.”

“No she doesn’t,” Finn says matter-of-factly. “Not after the incident with the loth-cat when her son was four.”

“You really have to stop memorizing what authority figures say,” Poe says. “It’s weird. Also, she’s full of bantha shit sometimes. She kriffing loves orphans and strays.”

He squirts some of the spray cheese into his mouth, then passes it over to Finn. Finn eyes it warily, then shakes his head. He’s all for new experiences, but he kinda likes not having cancer, and he feels like cheese in a can probably gives people cancer.

“Suit yourself,” Poe mutters, and he leans out to grab Snap’s helmet from the floor. The floor, apparently, is where Snap keeps most of his things.

Finn starts pulling up the padding at the same time Poe does, and their fingers brush together. He pulls his hand back quickly, and Poe looks at him with a questioning expression, then shifts over on the bed so their shoulders aren’t touching anymore. The whole thing is somehow even more confusing than the fact that they’re filling their roommate’s helmet with cancer cheese. But Finn doesn’t get time to process it before Poe is bounding around their room again, snatching Jess’ helmet from the hook on the wall, and then collecting all the bars of soap from the shower.

“What are we doing with that?” Finn says, pointing at the soap.

Poe finishes spray cheesing Jess’s helmet, then squirts the last of the can into his mouth. “We are upping the ante, my friend.”

Ante, Finn is pleased to know, refers to an initial monetary bet placed by a player in a gambling game. He’s been keeping a little file of unfamiliar references in his data pad ever since he woke up, although he’s been careful not to let Poe see it.

Poe reaches into Jess’ locker, rummages around for a few minutes, and retrieves a bottle of clear nail varnish and a packet of crisps, which he tosses to Finn. Finn stares at the brightly colored package in his hands.

“Are we stealing from our roommates?” he asks. “Is that an okay thing here?”

Poe grins. “Depends on the roommate. See, Jess doesn’t really consider it stealing so long as you replace it. Snap, on the other hand...well, if you eat too many of his snacks, he’ll start hiding laxatives in them.”

“Just so we’re clear, at what point do you start hiding laxatives in your stuff?” Finn asks. The question wouldn’t have occurred to him even five minutes ago, but now it seems like an important fact to know.

Poe’s sitting on the floor, spreading Jess’ nail varnish across the soap, but he looks up and grins. “Never. What’s mine is yours, buddy.”

“Really?” Finn asks. It’s extraordinarily generous, considering that Finn has absolutely nothing of his own to share.

“Absolutely,” Poe says. “You saved my life. If you wanna borrow a t-shirt, help yourself.”

“You too,” Finn says quickly. “Well, I mean, at some point. When I have stuff. You can borrow it.”

Poe doesn’t say anything, but Finn thinks he can see a faint pink blush spreading across his cheekbones. The silence that settles between them is comfortable, and Poe’s shoulder keeps bumping up against Finn’s knee. Poe’s almost never this still, and Finn doesn’t want to ruin it by talking, but he really has to know what the hell is going on with the soap.

“What are you doing?” he asks finally.

“It doesn’t lather up when you put nail polish on it,” Poe says, pointing down at the neat row of soap bars lying on the floor. He grins. “Hey, sorry if you wanted to take a shower tomorrow morning. It’ll be worth it, okay?”

Following Poe is usually worth it, so Finn just nods and plays along.

***

That night, Finn drifts off to sleep thinking about the way Poe’s casual little touches make him feel warm inside. He doesn’t think it means anything, at least, not the way Jess seems to think it does when she shoots Poe knowing looks. It’s just that Poe’s the only person he really knows here. He was even at the infirmary when Finn woke up -- which meant that he’d been visiting even when Finn was asleep.

He heard Poe’s voice before he saw his face. It was soft and worn, like the old t-shirt he’d let Finn borrow this morning, and he’d said, “hey, buddy, nice to have you back” like they were old friends. He’d cracked his eyes open and stared up at Poe, and kept looking at him even while a medical droid was spouting off information he couldn’t really understand.

Poe had said, “It’s weird waking up like this, isn’t it? I was in a coma for twelve days once. Rammed a TIE fighter with my X-wing. That’s not an approved battle maneuver by the way, so don’t try it. It’ll probably take awhile before your memory starts working again, so here, I’m gonna write down what the droid said for you. I’ll leave it right next to your bed, okay?”

Poe did little favors like that every time he visited. He read messages from Rey out loud, and he brought a special protein powder that didn’t taste like sand -- or, at least, not as sandy as the others -- and vids with storylines that were easy to follow. If Finn tripped on the way to the ‘fresher, Poe looped an arm around his waist with practiced ease and said, “Don’t worry about it, man, I’ve been there.”

“You know you don’t have to do this, right?” Finn had asked quietly.

Poe reached across the bed to squeeze his shoulder. “I don’t do it because I have to. I do it because I want to.” A slow grin spread across his face. “Besides, you saved my life. A couple hospital visits is the least I can do.”

Finn had wanted to protest. He’d saved Poe’s life because he needed a pilot; Poe had known that right away. If he’d forgotten somehow, Finn ought to remind him -- but he hadn’t.

He stillhasn’t. The lie is so easy, and the friendship feels so good, that he just keeps on taking t-shirts and bags of crisps and whatever else Poe wants to give him.

***

The guilt gnaws away at him all day, only growing heavier when he realizes that Poe had personally gotten him off duty so he could come to the landing strip and watch the pilots come in. The worst part is that he knows he’s not going to say anything today either. He’s going to stand here and wait to see what happens when you put spray cheese in a pilot’s helmet. Not surprisingly, Poe’s gotten him a good spot, right next to the landing signal officer, who guides the arriving pilots in with slang instructions that make no sense but still somehow sound cool.

“Do I have green deck?” Poe’s voice crackles over the comm.

“Deck is green,” the LSO confirms, even though it’s actually gray, painted with three concentric circles.

Finn takes his eyes off the descending X-wing for a moment to stare at the ground crew dancing around each other. Their uniforms are color-coded; that much is obvious even if Finn doesn’t know what all the colors mean yet. The ones in red are almost certainly fire and medical. They wait at the edge of the landing strip, looking calm but alert. The yellow people might be fuel handlers, Finn guesses. Some of them are holding gigantic hoses. There are almost more colors than he can count -- green, blue, purple, white, gold, just in one glance. The amazing thing is how clear it is that everyone knows their place and plans to do their job.

So it is possible, Finn thinks. You can make a whole orderly, functioning army without stealing anyone from their parents, erasing their personalities, or shipping them off to reconditioning every time they stick a toe out of line. It’s not like he’d been planning on leaving the Resistance anytime soon, but now he knows what he’s staying for, even if it isn’t written down neatly in some mission statement tacked up in large print on every empty wall.

Poe’s X-wing is almost on the ground now, its landing gear centered neatly over the smallest circle in the middle of the landing pad. As soon as it lands, a swarm of green-uniformed handlers rush over, carrying a ladder and a whole lot of other equipment Finn doesn’t recognize.

One of them hands Poe a data pad and says, “Anything for the gripe sheet?”

Poe frowns and says, “Pitch pedal’s getting sluggish.”

Finn makes a mental note to find out what the hell a pitch pedal is, so he can sound like he knows what he’s talking about tonight. Sorry about your pitch pedal, man, that’s a real drag.

Now Poe’s jogging toward them, his face lighting up with a grin as soon as he sees Finn.

“OK-3,” the landing signal officer announces, and then the screen above the hangar doors refreshes. Now Poe’s name is up at the top: Dameron/Black One, OK-3. Poe watches the green letters scroll across the screen with a smug little smirk on his face.

“Is OK-3 good?” Finn whispers.

Poe smirks gets even more smug. “Highest landing score.”

Finn makes a note to write that down in the little book of slang he’s been keeping under his bunk. OK-3 means perfect landing, and Poe does it all the time.

The LSO announces, “Lieutenant Pava, you have green deck.”

Poe’s grin widens. “Let the fun begin,” he says, squeezing Finn’s shoulder.

Jess’ landing is good, but not as good as Poe’s. Her landing gear touches down on the edge of the middle circle, and judging from the loud crack when her X-wing hits the pavement, Finn thinks she might’ve come in harder than Poe. OK-2 appears on the flight board, and the guys in the green uniforms burst into laughter when she pops the canopy.

Jess charges toward them as soon as she sees them. Yellow goo is dripping down her face.

“What the fuck is this?” she snaps, shoving her helmet into Poe’s stomach just a little too hard to be strictly friendly.

Poe just shrugs. “Don’t look at me. It was his idea.”

“Then I declare war on you both,” she says, lifting her chin and striding away.

Snap emerges from his X-wing tentatively licking his upper lip. “Is this spray cheese? Nice one. Started melting right over the photosphere, just when I needed a snack. Kinda a waste of good spray cheese though.”

Finn looks down at Jess’ helmet. “So...we put the cheese in the helmet, and when it got hot, the cheese melted and combined with their sweat,” he says slowly. “Good prank.”

Poe looks at him strangely. “Yeah, man, what did you think would happen?” He shakes his head without waiting for an answer. “Nevermind. We gotta get downstairs for act two.”

When they get to their room, Jess and Snap are scuffling over who gets the shower first. Snap has the advantage in height and weight, so Finn’s betting on him, but Jess trips him with some kind of fancy kick and locks him out of the ‘fresher before he recovers. She emerges two minutes later, wrapped in a towel, yellow goo still dripping down her face.

“How in the kriffing hell did you break my soap, Dameron?” she asks. Finn normally doesn’t find half-naked people wielding soap particularly menacing, but now that he’s seen what Jess can do, he’s a little scared.

“Nail polish,” Snap says from his bunk. Apparently he’s not worried about getting melted spray cheese in it. “I haven’t seen that one since the Academy. Nice.”

Poe reaches in his locker and tosses her a fresh bar of soap, and just like that, everybody’s laughing again.

“This is definitely war. You two better watch out,” Jess says, but she’s smiling.

That night Finn works on his latest letter to Rey, which is really more like a manual for how to fit in with the Resistance. He’s a little worried that she’ll turn into some mysterious Jedi warrior and never comes back, but he figures the odds are better if she knows she’s got a place here. In the Order, fitting in was all about reciting propaganda and knowing the right people, he writes, but here all you have to do is make sure people laugh. If you need a good prank for your roommates when you get back, try putting nail polish on their soap.

***

When Finn comes back from duty the next day, his bed and his pillow are covered with several layers of clear plastic film. So is Poe’s.

“Hey! They sanitary wrapped our bunks!” he exclaims. Frankly, he’s relieved. The Order and the hospital ship both had some kind of special coating on the mattresses that prevented them from absorbing stains and odors. His mattress here looks like it’s been through alot, and he doesn’t feel like the sheets are adequate protection.

Jess and Snap look crestfallen -- which, no wonder, their beds didn’t get wrapped. Snap’s eating a ration bar on his, and crumbs keep drifting down into the sheets.

“I’m sure they’ll get yours tomorrow,” Finn says. Probably they’d done Poe’s first because he’s a superior officer, and they’d done his because, well, he doesn’t really know. He’d just gotten lucky.

“Look in your locker,” Snap says, a smile playing around the edge of his lips.

Finn opens the door obediently. Everything inside is wrapped in the same plastic film -- and, okay, he can see now that this is supposed to be retaliation for the cheese helmets. His toothbrush is practically mummified; it’ll take an hour with a utility knife to liberate it. But that doesn’t mean he has to play along.

He turns to face Jess and Snap with an enormous grin. “Do they do this every week?” he asks. “It’s like everything’s brand new again!”

Jess narrows her eyes. “Are you sure you’re happy about this? I mean, your pillow’s stuck to your bed.”

Finn shrugs and swings himself up onto his new, sanitary bunk. This, he really doesn’t mind. Having his pillow stuck in one place is a little inconvenient, but hey, at least it won’t fall off his bed in the middle of the night. And if he puts his extra set of sheets over the plastic, it won’t make weird squeaky noises or stick to his skin.

“Mission failure,” Jess murmurs to Snap. “The new guy loves clingwrap.”

***

You are kriffing brilliant. They really thought you liked the clingwrap! And the things Snap had to do to get that much of it from catering...” Poe gives him a rakish wink and claps him on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re on my side. Well, I really hope you’re on my side. I’m kinda fucked if you’re not. You’re on my side, right?”

“Always,” Finn says, a little too fast. Probably it sounds a little over the top. He’s not sure how people here act so utterly nonchalant about having friends.

But Poe doesn’t look phased. He just beams back. “So what do you think they’ll do next?” he asks. “We gotta prepare.”

Finn frowns. “Are you drooling?”

Poe wipes his mouth with his thumb and then stares down at his finger. “What the -- wait, you’re drooling too.”

At least, that’s what Finn thinks he said. The words come out all blurry and indistinct. Finn tries to answer back, but his tongue’s gone all heavy in his mouth. Nothing he says sounds right, and he’s pretty sure he’s biting his tongue every time he tries to talk, but it’s hard to tell -- he can’t really feel it.

Poe jumps up from the mess table and tears down the corridor to their room. When Finn catches up to him, he’s on his knees, rifling through the trash bin in the ‘fresher. He holds up a bright yellow and orange tube and grimaces.

TOPICAL ORAL ANALGESIC CREAM, it says. Extra strength for eight-hour relief.

Poe gives up trying to talk and types out a message on his comm instead. Numbing gel on our toothbrushes. They got us, buddy.

Finn doesn’t want to be upset. He knows it’s a game, and it was his idea to fill Jess and Snap’s helmets with spray cheese, even if he hadn’t understood quite what he was doing. The thing is, Jess and Snap have been here forever. They’re great at their jobs, everybody loves them, and they can afford a demerit or two on their records. Finn’s brand new here, he’s still not in top shape, and he’s not sure that everybody trusts him. So what if the Resistance isn’t going to haul him off to reconditioning? He still needs to do his job perfectly, just to prove he belongs.

He keeps telling himself that it’ll be okay. Most everybody is laughing at him -- with him, Poe would insist -- and a lot of the infantry guys have been the victim of a prank like this at least once in their military careers. He can still polish the guns and do inventory, just a little slower than usual since he has to stop every ten seconds to wipe away the drool. But then, sometime after lunch, his comm starts blaring something called “The Song That Does Not End” at top volume. All the controls have been overridden, so he has to yank out the battery to stop it. By then, Major Dara’s actually pissed, so he spends the rest of his shift swabbing out the ‘fresher next to the mess hall. It’s not an unfamiliar task; he wouldn’t even mind doing it, except it’s such a public place that everyone can see he’s in trouble.

Poe finds him reorganizing the custodial closet long after his shift was supposed to have ended. The messiness actually does bother him -- the First Order had made sure of that -- but mostly, he doesn’t want to face whatever ridicule is waiting for him.

“I’ve never seen the mess hall ‘fresher so clean,” Poe says. He sounds like he thinks it’s funny.

Finn turns around reluctantly. “Well, it hadn’t to be perfect, didn’t it?” he asks. He can tell his voice is too flat, not at all like himself, but he can’t help it.

Poe’s brow creases. “What do you mean, buddy?”

Finn grits his teeth. Doe he really have to explain? “It was punishment. You’d better do punishment right the first time, or…”

Understanding slowly dawns on Poe’s face. “Are you - are you worried something’s going to happen to you?”

“Well, yeah,” Finn says. The Resistance is different, but it can’t be that different. “I stepped out of line. They’re going to want to inspect all my work, obviously, and probably also our bunk --”

“Not gonna happen. I guarantee it,” Poe says quickly. Finn’s still looking at him questioningly, so he adds, “Who do you think is supposed to be inspecting our bunk?”

“Commander Dameron,” Finn says slowly. It’s dumb. He’d known Poe’s rank, but somehow he hadn’t processed until now how weird it is that a superior officer would be living with them, treating them like equals. Then another thought occurs to him: maybe Poe is here to deliver the demerits personally. He’s not Finn’s direct CO, but he lives with him, so maybe…

“Can you help me out a little here?” Poe asks, his forehead wrinkling. “I can tell you’re upset. I wanna help, but you gotta help me understand what you’re thinking.”

Finn clenches his jaw. “If you’re here to deliver demerits or assign punishment detail, I wish you’d get on with it.” It’s not a respectful way to address a senior officer, but he’d gotten so used to thinking of Poe as his friend. He can’t flip the switch in his brain that fast.

“What?” Poe asks, looking surprised. “That’s not -- I mean, I’m not your CO. We don’t even have demerits here.”

Finn leans back against the wall. His head is spinning. He likes the Resistance, or at least, he thinks he does. But where the First Order had had too many rules, the Resistance barely has any. How does anybody understand their place here, if you can live with a commander and never get demerits and half-ass your way through punishment detail?

Poe reaches for his arm. His hand is warm and steady. “Come on, let’s talk somewhere else. We stay in the janitor’s closet too long, people are gonna get the wrong idea.”

He flashes Finn a rakish grin, which Poe isn’t really up for returning. He just follows Poe down the corridor that leads to the command offices. For a second, it looks like they’re headed toward the one labeled Black Squadron Commander, but at the last minute, Poe changes direction and leads him outside instead, where they can sit in between the trees.

“Today really rattled you, huh?” he says softly.

Finn swallows. He doesn’t really even know where to start -- the numbing cream? Having to clean the ‘fresher? Or the sudden realization that the Resistance’s entire chain of command makes no sense and he’ll never know if he’s doing the right thing or not?

“I thought you were just my friend,” he says finally. “I didn’t think about the whole commander thing. And now I’m not sure if I’ve been --”

“Insubordinate?” Poe finishes with a snort.

“Could you please not say ‘it’s different here, buddy?’” Finn asks suddenly. He knows Poe’s just trying to help, but he’s figured out it’s not the same as the Order -- that’s the problem.

“Okay,” Poe says carefully. “Here, you can have an on-duty relationship and an off-duty relationship with someone. In our quarters, at the mess hall, whatever, it’s all off-duty. I live with you and Jess and Snap ‘cause we get along, and almost nobody gets along with Snap, so I’m kinda worried if I moved out, somebody else would kill him. Or he’d kill somebody else.”

“Could you have your own room if you wanted it?” Finn asks.

“If I insisted, yeah. But it’s kind of...not good form. There’s not exactly a lot of space here, so if every squad leader demanded his own bunk, that’d mean everybody else would be crammed in real tight. I don’t really want people under me to suffer just to make me feel special.” He shrugs. “So I live with people I like, and I trust them to have an on-duty relationship when we need one.”

“Okay,” Finn says slowly. “That makes sense.”

All he’s really getting is that no, there are no defined rules and relationships in the Resistance. It ought to feel good, but it really doesn’t.

“What else?” Poe says, nudging Finn’s foot gently with his toe.

“Did they have to mess up my job?” he asks, embarrassed by the intensity in his voice. In the Order, he’d always scored top marks on his evals, before he’d refused to fire his blaster, anyway. In the Resistance, he feels like he’s bullshitting all the time -- except when he’s working in the infantry.

Poe nods. “I don’t think they understood things from your perspective,” he says quietly. “I’ll make sure they explain what happened to Major Dara tomorrow. That oughta smooth things out.”

“Thanks,” Finn says, pushing himself up from the grass. Normally, he likes sitting around with Poe like this, drifting in and out of conversation with the warmth of their bodies mingling together. It’s the only time he doesn’t worry about whether he’s saying or doing the right thing. Now, though, he still feels unsettled from the day’s events and he doesn’t know how to explain why.

Rather than going back to his bunk, he returns to the armory. It’s quiet here now -- just a couple ensigns on duty in case an alert goes off. He tenses reflexively when he sees them, but neither of them ask what he’s doing. First, he walks through the ordinance room. The ammo that came in today has all been unloaded and labeled, but the support equipment is a mess. The holsters’ straps are all tangled up, and the spare helmets are cluttered in a corner, gathering dust. Putting them back in order makes him feel better, so he moves onto the obstacle course.

The sensors in some of the targets aren’t calibrated right, so they miss every third or fourth shot, and Finn thinks the timing is off -- just by a few tenths of a second, but still enough to affect somebody’s score. He spends the rest of the night toying with the settings until they’re perfect. Getting it right takes some time; he has to recalibrate for each kind of weapon, and the Resistance has a lot. He doesn’t really mind though. He’s always liked taking care of the details. They fill up his whole mind, so he doesn’t have to think about anything else.

***

By the time the sun rises, his stomach is grumbling too loudly for him to ditch breakfast, even though he doesn’t feel ready to talk to Poe or Snap or Jess just yet. He’d thought he might be early enough to miss them, but no such luck -- the three of them wind up just behind him in the chow line. That means they all notice when he tries to scan his barcode to get breakfast.

The barcodes were First Order SOP. Everybody got one as soon as they arrived for induction, tattooed right on their forearm with their operating number beneath. Finn had always thought it was pretty logical. Whenever you checked out equipment or got food or picked up medicine, you scanned the code. Simple, right?

But nobody does that here. He’d caught onto that on his first day, and he hadn’t held his arm underneath the device on the wall that looked like a scanner but was actually a hand sanitizer dispenser. Now, though, he’s tired and still out of sorts from the night before, and presenting his bar code is such a reflex he does it without thinking. Of course, he realizes the mistake immediately and pulls his arm back, but by then it’s too late.

“Is that a bar code on your arm?” Jess asks, her voice soft and her eyes wide.

Poe’s hand shoots out and wraps around Finn’s elbow. He stares at the tattoo, looking like he might actually cry. All he says is, “Finn.”

By now they’re at the front of the chow line, and Finn pulls his arm back. “It’s not a big deal,” he says gruffly, smoothing his sleeve back down. He collects his breakfast tray and walks to their regular table, trying to ignore the way Jess and Poe are staring at his back.

They’re both quiet when they sit down. Snap seems oblivious, just like he always does, which is a relief. He’d been tapping away on his personal data screen through the whole incident at the chow line. Now he holds it out for them to see.

“Look, I made it just like me!” he says, pointing at the picture on the screen. It’s a cartoon portrait of Snap. He appears to be farting so much that a gas cloud has propelled him into the air.

Jess snatches the data screen and turns it off. “Snap and I got here early so we’d be sure to catch you. We want to apologize,” she says primly, glaring at Snap. “We didn’t think about how you’d feel if we pranked you while you were on duty. It’s scary to be new here, and it must be a tough transition from the First Order.”

Snap says nothing, which is fine by Finn - if they’re willing to forget about the bar code, he doesn’t need to talk about the prank.

Jess, however, doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’s inclined to let things go. There’s a soft thud, like maybe she’d kicked Snap under the table. “Right, Snap?” she says, looking at him meaningfully.

“He pranked us while we were on duty,” he grumbles.

Finn’s about to apologize, but Jess punches Snap in the arm hard enough to make him wince.

“Okay, okay,” he mutters. He raises his voice to normal volume and says, “But nobody could see that you’d pranked us while it was happening, we didn’t get in trouble, and we’re used to dealing with way weirder shit than spray cheese while we fly.”

“And?” Jess prompts.

Snap slides a thin, gold-wrapped package across the table.

“We’d like to you to have this chocolate bar that we’d been saving,” he says dutifully.

“Truce?” Jess asks, holding out her hand.

Finn shakes it, feeling relieved. “No more pranks?” he asks.

Snap smiles. “Not till you’ve had at least three months in your permanent duty assignment. Then all bets are off.”

Finn unwraps the chocolate bar and broke it into four equal pieces, one for each of them. “I can accept those conditions,” he says, managing something that looks like a smile.

***

Finn’s got a day of R&R, and what to do with it is a bit of a mystery. The Order, not surprisingly, didn’t give days off. He’d had lots of downtime on the hospital ship, but that had been different -- there’d been a schedule of physical therapy, and afterward, he’d been so tired he mostly slept. Today is the first day he’s ever gotten to decide what he wants to do -- or what to wear.

Not that he has anything to put on. Poe’s jacket hadn’t survived its encounter with Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, so uniforms are all he’s got. His eyes land on Poe’s locker. What’s mine is yours, buddy. Had he really meant that? Was it really okay to just take his things without asking?

Okay or not, Finn already knows what he’s going to do. The shirt Poe had let him borrow on his first day is sitting on top of a small pile of civilian clothes. As soon as Finn pulls the soft fabric over his head, he feels better - like he really does have a place here, even if he doesn’t quite understand what it is yet. And it smells like Poe. That makes him feel better too.

That thought makes him freeze for a second. Is he seriously smelling his buddy’s clothes? He might not have a grasp on all the unspoken rules of the Resistance, but he’s pretty sure that’s weird. It was a moment of weakness, he tells himself. He was feeling weird because of last night, but it was a one-time thing and it won’t happen again. Now he just has to focus on the task at hand -- which is what, exactly?

Research, he decides. There’s a data screen on the top shelf of Poe’s locker, and Finn slides it into the cargo pocket of his trousers. Everybody else has favorite bands, favorite curse words, favorite holos of loth-cats doing weird things, and he’s going to have some too. That’ll make him feel more like he fits in, and he won’t feel so paranoid about breaking the rules.

With that resolution in mind, he heads back toward the mess hall, which is never deserted, no matter the time of day. But before he can get there, General Organa intercepts him.

“I know you’re off-duty,” she says, “but could I have a few minutes of your time?”

Okay, Finn thinks, this is what Poe had meant about an on-duty and an off-duty relationship. That makes it a little less weird to think the general of the entire Resistance is asking if he’ll talk to her.

“Um, sure,” he says, even managing not to add “ma’am” to the end of the sentence.

General Organa ushers him into her office -- which is still as small and untidy as Finn remembered -- and points him toward a chair in front of the battered metal desk.

“Now, about your commendation ceremony,” she says, hunting around her desk for a data pad. There’s a stylus behind her ear, and and a few strands of hair have escaped from her braids.

Finn clears his throat uneasily, and the General’s head snaps up.

“Is there a problem?” she asks. Her voice is sharp, Finn thinks, but not unkind.

Finn hopes desperately that an off-duty relationship is a real thing, and not something Poe had made up to make him feel better. “I don’t want a ceremony,” he says. “Or a commendation.”

The General looks at him skeptically. “And why is that?”

“I, uh, don’t deserve it,” he says. “Ma’am.”

“Because?” she asks, still looking skeptical.

Finn takes a breath, then wills himself to say the thing that might get him kicked out of the Resistance. “I didn’t rescue Poe because it was the right thing to do. I just needed a pilot so I could get away from the Order. And I only went to Starkiller Base because I wanted to rescue Rey.”

The General steps out from behind her desk and comes to stand close to him. She lowers herself to sit on the rim of a filing cabinet, and up this close, Finn can see the dark circles under her eyes.

“So what you’re telling me is that you wanted a better life for yourself, and you wanted to keep your friend safe?” she says. He doesn’t exactly have a lot of experience with mothers, but he thinks she looks like one right now. The problem is, she’s giving him way more credit than he deserves.

“I -- yeah. When you put it that way, it sounds better than it was,” he says. “But I’m not a hero.”

The General pats his hand. “You know, everyone wants a better life for themselves, and everyone wants their friends to be safe -- but if those two things conflict, they usually pick themselves. You had a lot of easier courses open to you than going to Starkiller Base, but you didn’t even think about them. You’d only known her for a few days, but you were willing to die for her. That’s brave.”

Finn shakes his head. “But I -- I wasn’t doing it for the Resistance.”

“Yes, you were,” the General says firmly. “Anyone who’s fighting for their friends is fighting for the Resistance. The Order is no place for friends, no place for family, no place for love. I firmly believe that if everyone in the galaxy fought for the true best interest of the people they care about, they would fight on our side.”

Finn doesn’t have an answer to that, mostly because he agrees with the General. But the thought of a commendation ceremony still makes him want to squirm. Pinning a medal on his chest feels like a lie -- or, not exactly a lie, but propaganda. He doesn’t want to be an inspirational hologram hanging on someone’s wall.

Some of the skepticism must have registered on his face because the General rolls her eyes and says, “You wouldn’t be the first soldier to turn down a ceremony, but you’re keeping the medal, and the commendation will become a part of your permanent record.”

With that, she turns around, yanks open a desk drawer, and hands him a box with a clear lid.

“Whoa,” Finn breathes. He’s not sure what he expected, but it wasn’t this. The box is heavy in his hand, and the gold medal gleams in the light. The Resistance logo is embossed in the center, and tiny X-wings dance around the rim. He wonders dimly if Poe will be impressed.

“Change your mind about the ceremony?” the General asks, eyebrows raised.

For a fleeting second, Finn wonders if Poe would find a ceremony even more impressive than the medal itself. Then he shakes his head. “No, General,” he says. “This is good enough.”

He’s not going to be propaganda, no matter what it might help him do -- or who it might help him impress.

“Well then, consider yourself officially commended,” she says, standing up straight and holding out a hand to shake. “Now get back to whatever you do for fun.”

***

Poe finds him in the mess hall at lunch, reading the New Republic constitution -- which is weird and dumb and not exactly what he’d planned to do with his free time, but he still needs to know what the Resistance is fighting for, beyond a way to help his friends.

“What are you working on?” Poe asks, sliding into the seat across from Finn. Usually they sit next to each other, and Finn’s not sure why he’s so disappointed at the thought that would change.

He knows he should just tell the truth -- that he’s reading the constitution -- but he doesn’t want to admit how ridiculously hard it is to understand. It’s full of terms like “separation of powers” and “popular sovereignty” that the Order had never, ever wanted stormtroopers to know, so he has to pause to look up every other word.

Maybe he’s been quiet for too long because Poe looks a little hurt and says, “It’s alright. Don’t tell me if you don’t want to.”

Finn shakes his head and mutters, “I’m reading the Constitution.”

“No shit,” Poe says, his eyes lighting up. “You know who’d love to hear that?”

Finn shakes his head, but Poe isn’t even looking at him. He’s waving an arm at someone at the other end of the mess hall.

“Hey General!” he yells, and Finn quickly grabs his hand and pushes it back down to the table.

Poe looks at him questioningly, and Finn mutters, “I’d rather just have lunch with you.”

Some tension slides out of Poe’s shoulders and he says quietly, “Are we - are we alright?”

“Yeah,” he says, just a little too quickly. “Of course, buddy.”

Poe’s favorite phrase sounds weird coming out of his mouth, and Poe gives him a sharp look.

“Really?” he asks. “Because I could swear you were still upset when you left last night, and you didn’t really seem like yourself this morning either.”

Finn shakes his head. With the medal in his pocket, he feels like a real part of the team, even if he’s still a little fuzzy on the rules. “It’s okay now,” he says. He pauses and adds, “Do we have to make a big thing out of the bar code? Because a lot of bad things happened in the Order, but that’s not -- I mean, worse things happened than a tattoo. But I don’t want you to feel sorry for me because of any of them..”

Poe presses his lips into a thin, flat line, and Finn realizes he’s never seen his friend look so upset. “I just don’t like thinking of you being just a number,” he says. It sounds like there’s a lump in his throat.

Finn smiles. “Well, I’m not anymore, right?”

Leaving this much space between him and Poe feels weird, and he slides his foot forward until it’s resting against Poe’s. A slow smile spreads across Poe’s face, and he shifts his foot ever so slightly so that his leg is pressing against Finn’s underneath the table.

“Hey, you’re wearing my shirt,” Poe says, and Finn’s relieved to see a familiar light in his eyes. “How come all my clothes look so much better on you?”

***

Finn’s looking forward to seeing Poe at the end of the day, but he’s not at the mess hall at dinner time, and not back in their quarters by lights-out. Neither is Snap. The base is humming with some secret energy, and Finn catches sight of color-coded landing crews running back and forth to the landing strip long after normal flight operations have usually ceased. He figures that means some kind of aerial ops are afoot, probably way above his security clearance. He tries not to let it bother him, but their quarters are too quiet without Snap thrashing around like an angry rathtar and Poe filling up the space with their endless conversation.

Jess doesn’t like it any better than Finn does. He can hear her twisting and turning in her bunk for almost an hour before she says, “Hey, come down here.”

Getting to Jess’ bunk doesn’t exactly take a long time, but by the time he crosses the room, she’s already set her bed up like a little couch -- three or four pillows propped against the wall, blankets neatly divided for two people. Finn isn’t really surprised; whenever extra stuff finds its way to their quarters, they give it to Jess because she always shares.

“Do you know what’s going on?” he asks. He’d planned to sit at the far end of the bed, but she’d patted the mattress right next to her, and he’s glad for the warmth of another body so close to him.

In the dim glow of their nightlight, he can barely see Jess shake her head. “Nope,” she says glumly. “Most of Black Squadron made it back a couple hours ago, but they’re in debrief, so I can’t ask them.”

“Poe and Snap will come back,” Finn says firmly, because he can’t stand to believe otherwise.

“They always do. Waiting’s sure a bitch though,” Jess says, and Finn wonders how often she sits up like this, waiting for other pilots to come back home.

“Snap’s your best friend,” Finn says. It’s not really a question. When they’re on base, they’re always together, swapping snacks, elbowing each other in the ribs, trading inside jokes. In the beginning, Finn had thought they might be together, but it’s obvious now that Jess only really likes girls that way -- and someone who loves making messes and telling fart jokes as much as Snap probably isn’t seeing anyone at all.

“We came through the Naval Academy together,” Jess says. “I thought I hated him. I mean, he kind of always says the most offensive thing he can think of. But then we did SERE training. You know, where they dump you out in the wilderness and teach you to survive. You’re not supposed to work in teams, but we managed to hide food and water for each other, and we had these secret signals for when the enemy was coming. Eventually they had to order us to surrender so we could practice getting through an interrogation.”

“Whoa,” Finn says. “They teach you how to survive?”

Jess’s head swivels toward him. “The Order doesn’t?”

Finn shakes his head. “Why train people if you’ve got an infinite supply? They have so many TIE pilots and stormtroopers. If we go down, they just fill our spots with somebody else.”

Jess shivers next to him, and he can feel her eyes on his forearm, where the barcode is, even if it’s too dark for her to make it out. “Hey Finn,” she says quietly, “I couldn’t really say this at breakfast, but I know what it’s like to have to worry all the time what’ll happen if you do something wrong. Like, when you don’t know exactly what would happen, but it would be terrible and you don’t ever want to find out.”

Finn exhales slowly. He wouldn’t have put it that way exactly, but yeah, it’s pretty much exactly how he’d felt as soon as his comm had started blaring that song -- like he’d been waiting for something to happen, and he didn’t know what it was, but it would be worse than he imagined. Because that’s exactly what would have happened in the Order.

“How do you know?” he asks, hoping the relief in his voice doesn’t somehow come across as excitement. He’s not glad for whatever happened to Jess, just happy to know somebody understands.

“My stepdad,” she says. Her voice sounds hollow, and Finn presses up against her, just in case she needs the support. “He and my mom got married so fast, and he seemed so nice. But when she left on deployment, well, it turned out he wasn’t very nice at all. If you did any little thing wrong, if you didn’t make the bed or wash the dishes or --”

Her voice breaks and Finn says quickly, “You don’t have to tell me the details. I mean, not if you don’t want to.”

She squeezes his hand. “You get the idea, huh?”

“Yeah. Actually, I do,” Finn says. When people are trying to control you, they go for the little things first. If you’re afraid of what’ll happen if you don’t tuck in your sheets just right, you don’t even think about disobeying the really big orders.

“Anyway, it was over pretty fast. School started, I wrote something in my journal, and my teacher reported it. My mom got a divorce and he got arrested.” She squeezes his hand again. “It takes awhile to get used to the idea you’re safe. But it really is better here. I promise.”

***

Finn’s not sure when he and Jess drifted off, but he wakes up with her head slumped against his chest and her hand still wrapped around his. The lights are back on, and Snap and Poe are staring at them.

“Look, they fell asleep waiting for us,” Poe says. “So cute.”

Snap snorts. “Yeah right. They were conspiring. Bet they put our toothbrushes in their asscracks.”

Jess sits up slowly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Why would I do that? You toothbrush is diseased, and you already smell like a bantha’s asshole.” She leans out of the bunk and prods him toward the ‘fresher with her toe. “Seriously. A bantha’s asshole. Shower, now, or go back wherever you came from.”

Finn knows he’s supposed to say something smartass like Jess, to show he’s a hardened Resistance fighter who doesn’t freak out when his friends go missing. Maybe something like, I’m not even sure what a bantha is, but your foul stench would probably knock one over. But telling jokes to cover up his feelings isn’t really his style, so he launches himself across the room and hugs Poe, no matter how uncool it makes him look.

“I’m glad you’re back,” he says, wrapping his arms around his friend.

He’s not expecting what a good job Poe does hugging him back. He doesn’t do the guy thing and clap him on the back; he just wraps his arms around Finn and squeezes, and Finn can hear him smiling somewhere close to his ear.

“Good to see you too, buddy,” he says, and there’s nothing teasing in his voice at all. He really means it.

Finn only lets go when he hears Jess say, “Yech. If you hold onto him much longer, you’re going to smell like bantha farts too.”

Poe sits down heavily on Snap’s bunk, tugging Finn down with him. Even though his face looks haggard, his eyes are twinkling as he launches into the story of how they’d gotten separated from the rest of the squadron and had to stop for emergency refueling on a swamp world. Finn manages a derisive look when Poe claims a space worm tried to swallow his ship, but the truth is, he’s barely listening. He’s fixated on the warmth of Poe’s thigh pressed against his, and the way their fingers brush together every time he reaches over to adjust the pillows.

***

The next evening, Finn’s in the ‘fresher when Jess and Snap come in. He knows eavesdropping is wrong, but he can’t help the way his ears prick up when he realizes they’re talking about Poe -- and anyway, it’s not his fault their voices travel through the thin metal door.

“Dameron’s got it bad,” Snap says. “I’ve never seen him like this before.”

Jess giggles. “He needs to say something - if only to put the rest of us out of our misery.” She drops her voice to imitate Poe’s. “Do you think it means anything that he wore my shirt? Our legs touched yesterday, do you think he’s into me?”

“He’s scared,” Snap says. “He’s never liked anybody this much before.”

“Well, not since his boyhood crush on General Organa,” Jess says. “Maybe Finn will ask him out. I mean, the guy fought Kylo Ren. He’s probably got the balls for a simple dinner invitation.”

“If he even knows Dameron’s interested. I mean, how could he? It’s not like Poe’s doing anything to show it. He thinks he’s being all noble, not saying anything in case Finn’s not ready for a relationship yet.” He sighs. “What’s happening to me, Jess? Since when do I give a fuck about anyone’s love life?”

“Fuck it. Maybe we should just tell Finn ourselves,” she says. “Or better yet, let’s go get drunk and make fun of Poe some more.”

Finn waits till he hears the door shut, then swings himself up onto his bunk, which still has the nice layer of cling wrap underneath the sheets. He wishes, not for the first time, that Rey was back from her Jedi training. It would be nice to talk to someone about this, but Poe’s the person he discusses everything with, and he can’t exactly do that now. Hey, Poe, can you help me figure out if I have a thing for you?

Maybe that’s not even the part he needs help with. He’s wearing Poe’s t-shirt right now -- not just because it’s soft and comfortable, but because it smells like him. He may not know a lot about romance, but he’s pretty sure most people don’t smell their friends. What to do about his more-than-friendly interest is the problem.

Hey, Poe, do you want to get dinner with me sometime? Totally pointless. Sure, buddy, we have dinner together every night.

He could bring flowers, maybe, except the flowers on this planet have sharp thorns. Touching them causes allergic reactions that may include rashes, blisters, and painful pustules. The med droids had hung warning signs all over the blast doors.

Going out for kaf is supposed to be a good first date, but you can’t do that here. The only kaf comes from the mess hall.

That only leaves the sneak spots people use for sex, and Finn doesn’t want to lead off with an indecent proposal. Hey, I heard if you’re really flexible, you can do it in the maintenance tube under the laser canon. Not exactly a romantic first impression.

He drifts off wondering what it would feel like if Poe were lying next to him, and he wakes up because Poe is poking his shoulder. Well, more like stabbing his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” he mutters, batting Poe’s hand away and rubbing at the sore spot.

It’s too dark to see Poe grin, but he can hear it. Before he’d come here, he’d never known that smiling made a sound.

“Sorry, buddy, you were kinda hard to wake up.” Poe’s feet shift around on the floor. It sounds like he’s wearing combat boots, and the light coming through the ‘fresher window glints dully off his beaten helmet. He’s dressed for flight, then.

“You headed out?” Finn asks, sitting up carefully so he won’t bang his head on the rocky ceiling.

Poe swallows. “Yeah. I wanna talk to you before I go. Just a minute, but we gotta hurry.”

Finn nods -- not that Poe can see it in the dark -- and slides down from the bed. The floor’s cold, and he stuffs his feet into a pair of slippers Jess had given him. Poe takes off down the corridor, and Finn has to rush to catch up.

“Sorry,” Poe mutters, slowing down a fraction. “I don’t have much time.”

Their knuckles brush together as they walk, and Finn thinks how easy it would be to curl his hand around Poe’s. Before he can work up his resolve, Poe stops abruptly and tugs him into an alcove in the corridor. The lights are all the way up here, even though it’s only 0300, and people in bright orange flight suits are streaming past, oblivious to Finn and Poe’s presence.

For the first time, Finn notices that Poe’s wearing an infantry t-shirt. Finn’s infantry t-shirt. He can see the logo through the half-zipped opening of Poe’s flight suit. Poe notices him staring and winks, and suddenly Finn can see how easy it would be to confess his feelings for Poe. Keep the shirt. It looks better on you, he’d say, and then I want to share all my things with you. My clothes, my bed, my life.

But Poe doesn’t give him the chance. “Listen, I’ve got a mission. It’s dangerous -- I can’t guarantee I’ll come back. There’s a letter for you in my files if I don’t make it.”

Finn frowns. “What are you saying? Of course you’ll come back. You always come back.”

He waits for Poe’s usual bravado to return, but instead, Poe just shakes his head. “Nobody’s promised that. Listen, okay? I wrote a letter, but I’d rather say it. You’re listening, right?”

“Yeah, of course, always,” Finn says. “But --”

“Just listen,” Poe says quietly, squeezing Finn’s wrist. “I used to have this friend Ben when I was a teenager. He was my best friend, actually. He died. And before he went, he did some things -- the kind of things that made me question whether I could ever really know anybody. After that, it got hard to trust people. And that sucks, because I love people. But it’s always in the back of my mind, that I might not really know who they are. Except you. I look at you, and I can trust you. I’ve always known that. So thank you.”

Finn swallows. It would be so easy to lean closer to Poe, to lean his head against his shoulder or even tilt his head up for a kiss. But it wouldn’t be right. Reluctantly, he pulls his wrist out of Poe’s grip. “I’m not who you think I am. I wish I was. But Poe -- I didn’t save your life because I’m a good person. I needed a pilot. You said it yourself.”

“Buddy.” Poe scrubs a hand over his face. “We went over this at the hospital, remember?”

Finn shakes his head. “We did?”

“Yeah. Every time you saw me for, like, a week. Your short term memory was a mess and you were on all these drugs -- but I figured you finally remembered since you didn’t bring it up again.” He squeezes Finn’s shoulder and looks in his eyes. “I’m gonna say this one more time. Actually, no, I’m gonna say it as many times as you need to hear it. You saved me because you needed a pilot. You needed a pilot because you refused to fire on a crowd of innocent people. Innocent people who got in trouble because of my mission, by the way. That’s actually the definition of a good person, Finn. I don’t just like you for it. I admire you.”

Finn stumbles back against the wall, feeling weak with relief. He reaches for Poe’s wrist, but their hands collide, and suddenly Poe’s fingers are twined through his. He tugs a little -- not enough to actually knock Poe off balance -- but Poe pretends to stagger anyway, so they’re both pressed against the wall together. Maybe he doesn’t have to say anything to Poe at all. If he just turns his head a little bit --

But he doesn’t get the chance. An alert sounds, red lights flash on the walls, and Poe lets go of his hand after one last squeeze. Then they’re both running in opposite directions toward their duty stations, and there’s no time to look back.

***

Finn doesn’t remember much of the battle. Loading weapons and climbing into a troop transport is second nature from his days in the Order, and he gets ready so fast he ends up helping the newer recruits fasten their straps and adjust their holsters. When they emerge from the transport in front of a First Order base, Finn worries that he won’t be able to fire, especially not on Stormtroopers just like him. Then he sees the X-wings soaring overhead and remembers that the people in white armor want to shoot Poe out of the sky. Pressing the trigger is easier after that.

The battle is a victory for the Resistance. After a few hours of fighting, Finn sees streams of stormtroopers marching toward the Resistance ships with their hands on their heads. Meanwhile, Resistance intel squads are swarming across the Order’s weapons installations, photographing the equipment and collecting memory sticks. His own battalion will have guard duty later tonight, but for now, they’ve been ordered to stand down. Finn watches in awe as everyone removes their helmets without being told. Major Dara is clapping him on the back, congratulating him on his speed and accuracy, but Finn’s attention is on the massive laser cannons that surround the base. Poe had said this was a dangerous mission. Had he made it back to the ground?

It takes a minute to register that the Major is peering at him with concern. “Do you want to go check on your pilot friend?” she asks quietly. The kindness in her normally sharp eyes makes his stomach drop, and he runs toward a stand of trees where he can see General Organa talking to Snap and Jess.

“It was my fault, General,” Snap is saying. “I should’ve seen the laser cannon. If he hadn’t taken the hit for me…”

Jess reaches over to squeeze his shoulder. “You would’ve taken a direct hit, Snap. He took it on the wing and he ejected in time. I saw it.”

General Organa touches Snap’s elbow lightly. “You would have done the same for him, I’m sure. Search and rescue crews are already on the ground.”

Finn doesn’t need to ask if they’re talking about Poe; he can tell from the anguished expression on their faces.

“I volunteer to join the SAR team, General,” Finn says quickly. He can’t sit here doing nothing while his best friend -- No, not even that anymore. Someone he loves. He can’t sit here while someone he loves needs help.

“Us too, General,” Snap says just as quickly.

The General purses her lips. “You two aren’t trained for ground combat. And you’re fresh out of a multi-hour battle,” she says, shooting Finn a meaningful look. “It’s dangerous out there. The Order left booby traps, probably troops hidden in the forest…”

“Which is why we have to go,” Finn says quickly. In any other situation, arguing with a superior officer would have terrified him. Now all he can think about is Poe.

A hint of a smile ghosts around the General’s lips. “I suppose if I forbid you, you’ll just go by yourselves, which is even more dangerous. Major Dara is assembling a team now. If you slow her down because you’re tired or you’re not used to ground operations, I expect you to return to base immediately.”

The three of them barely manage to nod before they sprint toward the Major.

***

As night falls, Finn tells himself that Poe’s just fine. He’d had that SERE training Jess talked about; he was probably climbing trees, eating bugs for protein, and collecting even more wild and improbable stories to tell. They’d stumble across him in an hour or two, and he’d slap Finn on the back and say, “What took you so long, buddy? I was starting to get bored out here with no one to talk to.”

But every time he looks back at Jess and Snap’s worried faces, he starts to think they know something he doesn’t. Finally, when they pause to gulp down some water and ration bars, he whispers, “Poe’s okay, right? I mean, he had a parachute. You saw it open, didn’t you, Jess?”

Snap and Jess exchange a look. Then Snap says, “You take this one, Jess.”

“It’s not like that, Finn,” she says quietly. “When you eject, there’s explosives under your seat and more explosives to blow the canopy open. If you stayed conscious the whole time, maybe you could tuck your arms and legs in, but most people black out from the g-force. Usually, when you eject, most of your limbs get broken. Sometimes your back.”

The fantasy of Poe waiting for them happily in a cave vanishes abruptly. Now all he can see is Poe’s limp body dangling from the trees. The moon rises without a signal from Poe’s beacon, and Finn feels the team’s mood shift. Before, they’d believed Poe had chosen not to activate the beacon in case an Order patrol heard it; now, it seems that he might be captured, injured, or worse.

Working through the night doesn’t bother Finn as much as it does everyone else. Even without the Order’s chemicals floating in his system, he’s used to sleep deprivation. Maybe that’s why he’s the one who spots the first piece of wreckage: a scrap of an X-wing’s hull that says BLA DAM in charred lettering. It’s not hard to figure out that it used to say BLACK ONE and DAMERON. Not long after that, they find a scrap of an orange flight suit.

If Finn hadn’t paused to look at the stars while he wiped the sweat off his face, he might never have seen Poe’s yellow shoelaces dangling from a tree branch. They weren’t standard issue. Snap had made fun of them. Poe had said they were cheerful, and Jess had agreed. Finn, who’d been brand new to the Resistance, hadn’t weighed in. He sided with Poe, of course, but he hadn’t wanted to sound like a sycophant.

He’s remembering that night while he follows the bright shoelaces up to the sole of a combat boot. Above it, almost hidden by the thick leaves, he can see Poe’s leg bent at an awkward angle. There’s a thin white sliver of bone poking through the skin. Before today, Finn wouldn’t have thought he could climb a tree while he was wearing body armor and a backpack full of supplies and ammunition. Now, though, he barely registers the ache in his arms as he pulls himself up through the branches.

One of Poe’s eyes is swollen shut. The other is closed. His body is perfectly still.

Finn’s hands are shaking when he reaches to check for the pulse in Poe’s neck. His skin is warm, and underneath it, he can feel the vibration of Poe’s beating heart. Very slowly, Poe raises his hand, and Finn catches it in his own.

“Finn,” he says. His voice is hoarse, but the words come out clearly. “Knew you’d find me.”

“You didn’t even open your eyes,” Finn says.

Somehow, impossibly, Poe manages to smile. “Didn’t have to. Knew it would be you.”

***

Finn has grand plans for taking care of Poe. He’ll write down everything the med droids say, bring better food from the mess hall, supply entertaining holovids and escort Poe to the ‘fresher like it’s no big deal. In reality, he spends an entire day watching Poe sleep. Maybe it shouldn’t feel like one of the best days of his life, but it does.

Poe opens his eyes for the first time early the next morning. Finn passes him some ice chips, because that’s what the nurse had told him to do. After that, he just stares.

Poe’s lips quirk up in a half smile. “Hey,” he says.

“Good to see you,” Finn says back. He lays a hand over Poe’s and squeezes gently, and Poe’s smile grows. He thinks maybe he should just tell Poe how he feels right now, but he still hasn’t figured out the right words. And anyway, Poe’s already shifted his hand out of Finn’s grasp, and now he’s staring up at the ceiling.

“How bad is it?” he rasps. “Just tell me the truth, okay?”

“It’s really not bad,” Finn says quickly. “I mean, your legs are broken. Also a lot of your ribs. There was a punctured lung, but I think they fixed that in surgery. And you have lots minor contusions, and a couple major ones. Oh, and a concussion.”

Poe looks back at Finn, frowning. “Thank you, buddy. That doesn’t sound bad at all.” He licks his lips and swallows. “Can I fly again? Don’t lie.”

“There’s nothing to lie about,” Finn says softly. “The doctor said you need some time in the bacta tank, and physical therapy, but everything’s fixable.”

Poe lets out a soft, slow breath. “And BB-8?”

“Rolled away from the crash site and jammed the comms of the First Order patrols who were looking for you,” Finn says. “He needs some repairs, but he’ll be okay.”

“Then what do you look so afraid to tell me?” Poe asks.

Finn swallows. He hadn’t counted on having to figure this out so quickly. He’d spent half his time at Poe’s bedside trying to decide what to say, but he still wasn’t any better off than he had been the night he’d overheard Jess and Snap’s conversation.

“I was going to ask if you wanted to have dinner, but we always have dinner, and now you’re in the infirmary, so we can’t do that anyway,” he says. “Then I was going to get flowers, but they’re all poisonous here, so I thought that would be a bad gift and --”

Poe cuts off the rush of words with a feeble wave of his hand. “What are you talking about, buddy?”

Finn lays his hand over Poe’s again and hopes he doesn’t pull it back. When he doesn’t, Finn takes a breath and forces himself to speak slowly. “I like you a lot, but I don’t know what to do about that because I’ve never done this before. Maybe this isn’t the right time or place to talk about this, but I would’ve been really lonely without you, and I want you to know how I feel.”

Then, just in case the meaning isn’t clear, he bends down and brushes his lips against Poe’s.

Poe gives him the softest smile he’s ever seen. “You too, buddy. All of it. Wish I could do a better job kissing you back.”

“We’ll have time later,” Finn says, and Poe falls asleep with that soft smile still on his face.

***

Poe wakes up again sometime around lunch time. He stares at their intertwined hands with a questioning look and says, “Hey, buddy, my memory’s a little off. Did you kiss me?”

Finn swallows. He can feel blood rushing up to his face. “I, uh, yeah. I did.” He forces himself to continue bravely. “I told you that I would’ve been lonely without you, and I wanted you to know I felt. And then I kissed you. Was that okay?”

“I dunno,” Poe says softly. “Maybe you should do it again.”

Finn brushes his lips against Poe’s, and Poe lets out a soft, happy sigh. “Yeah,” he says. “I think that was okay.”

And then he falls asleep with that same soft smile on his face.

The whole thing happens again just before dinner, and again when he wakes up at midnight. That’s what Finn realizes that Poe’s lying. He remembers everything; he just wants Finn to kiss him again.