The new kids always came in crying. They remembered their families and their home planets and called out names in their sleep.
FN-2187 worried a lot about FN-2003. He was pale, hazel-eyed, his hair newly shorn; he was small and thin and scrawny. Even though he was about six standard years old like the rest of the unit, he looked much younger.
The first night it happened, it woke FN-2187 up: soft sobs shaking the bunk he shared with FN-2003. But then the cries had muffled, subsided, and FN-2187’s eyelids were drooping, anyway, because the constant night recordings were playing, soothing, throughout the barracks, telling the cadets that everything was alright, the First Order kept you safe and you belonged.
The second night it happened, FN-2003 didn’t stop. So FN-2187 pulled himself from his sleepy stupor, climbing up to FN-2003’s bed.
“Why are you crying?” FN-2187 asked. He reached out, put his hand on FN-2003’s shoulders, settling beside him like it was his own bunk.
FN-2003 wiped his eyes. “Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“It’s okay,” FN-2187 said. “You can tell me.”
“Promise you won’t tell anyone.”
FN-2187 hesitated, then said, “I promise.”
In the dark, FN-2003 told him about a story his mother used to tell him. If you misbehaved, if you stole or lied or acted bad, then this mysterious scary being would hurt you. It was a story that his mother had grown up hearing from her parents, who were from a place called Cerosha: The Dark Wraith will get you, youngling, so behave well.
FN-2003’s mother had died, though, so it was a very faint memory. He was left in an orphanage, until one day, a big man with red hair dressed in black looked down at him with a kindly smile and took away his name.
FN-2003 was having bad dreams of a monster that wasn’t real? FN-2187 had never heard of a tale like that before. Unlike FN-2003, he didn’t know anything about his life before the Absolution or even if he had one, since he had been living in the ship’s sleek hallways and communal barracks and neatly arranged classrooms for as long as he could remember.
FN-2187 wasn’t entirely sure what to say to make FN-2003 feel better. But he knew he couldn’t leave FN-2003 alone to be troubled by nightmares. “Don’t cry. You’re safe here, you know that, right?”
FN-2003 nodded. “There’s food here. I like the protein packs. I like learning instead of working in the orphanage’s factories.”
“The lessons are fun,” FN-2187 agreed. “They don’t teach us about monsters.”
There were a lot of stories: the brave stormtrooper who helped save her squadron from greedy pirates; the clever officer who outwitted a corrupt king; the security droid that sacrificed itself so a star destroyer could escape the New Republic’s clutches.
“This one’s my favorite,” FN-2187 said, pointing up to the ceiling as it began to play. “Listen, FN-2003. It’s long, but it always helps me sleep.”
FN-2003 murmured, “Okay,” and together, they listened, curled against each other in the shadows of the barracks.
It was a story about a cadet who quickly rose through the ranks. He wasn’t designated a number - merely called The Trooper by the narrator - but it was the little details about his story that FN-2187 appreciated.
The Trooper was a medic-in-training, and he tended to the wounds of his unit when they were hurt, administering medpacs with careful proficiency. The Trooper reassured his unit when they were recovering, always with one of the First Order sayings on hand.
Armor clean, helmet on, trooper strong. A true soldier wins with a steady fist, a steely heart, and blaster bolts that never miss. Peace through order.
Eventually, FN-2003 slept, eyelids fluttering shut, his breaths coming out slow and even. FN-2187 was about to return to his own bunk, when he realized--
There was someone watching.
“Captain,” he said, sitting up in bed.
“FN-2187,” Captain Cardinal said. He wasn’t wearing his usual red armor, only dressed in his officer uniform, nearly blending in with the shadows. But it was him, alright, blue-black hair and dark brown eyes.
“Sir, I’m sorry. I know I should be sleeping.”
“No, it’s alright,” Cardinal said, smiling. “You did well. I was about to help FN-2003 myself, and I’m glad you were able to comfort him. I’m proud of you, FN-2187.”
“You are?” FN-2187 asked. He thought Cardinal would be upset at him for being up long past lights-out.
“I am,” Cardinal said. “That’s what a good leader does -- he’s mindful of his squad’s morale. He ensures that everyone gets a good night’s rest so they’re ready for the next training or battle.”
“Oh,” FN-2187 said. “That makes sense.”
“I think you’ll always keep making me proud, as long as you keep it up,” Cardinal said, with an easy shrug of his shoulders. “You received the top score on yesterday’s assessment. You’ve been practicing and studying and keeping your unit in check.”
Cardinal’s praise made FN-2187 flush with happiness. He liked memorizing the stories, sayings, and songs. And he liked the Echani forms, pulling your body into a series of exercises that flowed from one contortion to the next. They hadn’t started weapons training yet, but he knew they would soon, and he was looking forward to it, getting his hands on a practice blaster and trying to hit a target.
As for keeping his unit in check, it wasn’t anything much. He helped FN-3156 cut her hair regulation length, or studied alongside FN-3761, quizzing each other about basic first aid and history. He wasn’t their teacher like Captain Cardinal.
“Thank you, sir,” FN-2187 said. “I like learning new things, and I don’t want to let you down.”
Cardinal smiled again, and it was a nice smile, a real smile. “Maybe you’ll be in my place one day in the far off future, training cadets for the Order. You have the right attitude for it. For now, keep doing what you’re doing and excel.”
Finn had a hard time sleeping without the voices.
Now that things were relatively calmed down for the Resistance--they had fled Crait; they received assistance on Ryloth and rescued the prisoners on Corellia; their ranks were slowly replenishing even though they hadn’t established a permanent stable base yet--it was nice to take a breather.
Yet he still couldn’t sleep.
Currently, they were on the planet of Anoat. Finn was in a tent crammed with cots.
The tent was filtered to keep out the garbage planet’s poisoned air. However, the Resistance didn’t have a lot of tech to do that--the generator’s priority was to power the comms and monitoring systems in control domes--and it was like being an awkward afterthought, a handful of crowded tents that housed the Resistance’s forces.
It had been easy to fall asleep in the Millennium Falcon, tired from the excitement and hyperspace travel, drifting off to the sound of humming engines. He shared quarters with Rey when she wasn’t piloting. She was a quiet sleeper; there was something soothing about her presence.
But he had waved off of sleeping on the Falcon once they pitched the tents on Anoat. He felt a pull towards the other members and he didn’t want to isolate himself on the Falcon with people like General Organa and Rey, who were Important with a capital I.
Even though Finn cared about them and he had survived a lot of crazy dangerous things on behalf of the Resistance, he still didn’t know if he really fit in. He was raised a soldier, after all, and he was no hero or Jedi.
Here, amongst the recruits and the Raddus survivors, he was surrounded by snores and warm bodies. It was like being in the barracks again, except First Order slogans and parables weren’t broadcast into his ears.
Unbidden, they rose up in his head: We are the storm and the staff and the shooter--peace through order--peace through order--
He got up. He snapped on a filtration mask and slipped out of the tent.
The night sky of Anoat was a smouldering black-green that shut out starlight. Wild trees and cluttered ruins surrounded the Resistance’s temporary base.
For a moment, Finn considered going into one of the control domes. Rose and Connix were sure to be there, still working with other operations staff. Rose would welcome him and ask him to help her with some task or other, her face grease-stained and a porg perched on her shoulder.
However, he felt jumpy--he didn’t feel like he had the concentration to read through datafiles or keep his eyes on multiple screens--and instead, he walked toward the clearing where the ships were docked.
He wasn’t surprised to find Poe awake, fiddling with one of the battered ships that Dross Squadron had brought back from Bracca. BB-8 beeped something, Poe laughed through his own filtration mask, shaking his wrench at the astromech, and Finn felt a familiar warmth stir in his chest as he approached them.
“Hey, buddy, you’re awake,” Poe said. He was lit up by a single floodlight attached to BB-8, illuminating him in Avoat’s murky darkness.
“Too much caf, maybe,” Finn said, as nonchalantly as he could. “You couldn’t sleep either?”
“Probably the same as you,” Poe said. “Suralinda brews strong caf.”
That was an excuse, too, Finn thought. He hadn’t shared a cabin on the Falcon with Poe, and now on Anoat, he knew Poe usually slept on the ship he had borrowed from Grakkus the Hutt, but... He knew Poe was still dealing with a lot lately in the fallout of the Raddus. Poe was Poe, though, and he kept going despite anything, and Finn wasn’t going to bother him about his feelings.
Instead, Finn leaned against the ship’s wing and watched as Poe worked. They talked about everything and nothing at all--Poe’s progress on brainstorming strategy with General Organa; how much they missed the food on Tah’Nuhna, where the Resistance had briefly stopped for fuel, food, and supplies; Finn’s progress with the new recruits.
They were picking up new pilots. Finn mostly helped the scrappy kids who grew up on stories of the old Rebels and jumped at the chance to fill their ranks. Some of them had some New Republic military training or planetary defense force experience, while others loved flight sims and speeders and pod races at home and wanted to fly for real for a cause.
A lot of them didn’t know how to handle a blaster from ass-end up, and Finn found himself shuffled in the role of impromptu instructor.
It started like this: on Tah’Nuhna, the young pilot Pacer Agoyo had stumbled upon Finn practicing.
Since it was all ice and snow outside, the Tah’Nuhnans had amazing indoor greenhouses within their emerald glass palaces. Finn had woken up early one morning to snag a fruit from one of the trees. Then, restless, he had fallen back on old habits by stretching, doing push-ups and sit-ups, and practicing his old Echani forms out of habit, cycling through punches, blocks, and kicks.
“Teach me,” Pacer demanded, walking out from beneath the trees. He must have recently been outside, because there were snowflakes in his hair. “I don’t know Echani, and I want to be strong enough to survive this war and then challenge Teza Nasz to a duel.”
Which, what, this kid was ridiculous. The real enemy was the First Order. Sure, Pacer had an understandable grudge against the ex-Imperial officer who apparently killed his brother.
But Nasz was on their side now. Did Pacer really hope to defeat her one day, a former warlord who had a vibro-ax clipped to her belt?
Yet there was something burning in Pacer’s eyes that made Finn relent. It looked like his own eyes reflected in Captain Phasma’s shining chrome armor.
So, he showed Pacer a couple of forms, and somehow, the training continued and expanded, as word spread and more people joined, not only pilots, but mechanics and support staff who didn’t have much of a combat background.
“Yama Dex’s getting really good with the throws,” Finn said, thoughtfully, to Poe. The quiet redhead had flipped over Shasa Zaro yesterday. Shasa was more of a co-instructor than anything -- she was proficient in some kind of Naboo martial art -- and it was a surprise to see her go down.
“I bet,” Poe said. “That asshole First Order boss of hers roughed her up badly. That’s great motivation.”
That reminded Finn of something. “When we were on Fondor a while back, Vi Moradi told me that she thinks Yama should get intelligence training. You think that’s a good idea? She seems happy enough as she is, helping with datawork.”
“She’s fifteen,” Poe said, letting out a tuneless hum. “But you’re right that she might be good at it. She’s got an eidetic memory like Starling -- Connix mentioned she’s an expert slicer -- she knows how the First Order is like since she’s worked for them. We lost a lot of spies after the Hosnian cataclysm and the fleet…” His voice trailed off.
Fifteen? Finn wondered. Pacer Agoyo and some of the other younger recruits were barely older than that. And when Finn was fifteen, he had been training under Captain Phasma on the Finalizer after graduating from Captain Cardinal’s program. She was different from Cardinal, scrutinizing his every action, and as time went on, he found himself hesitating and doubting, feeling out of place and on edge, until that fateful moment on Jakku.
“What do fifteen-year-olds usually do?” Finn said. “When they’re not in Resistance movements.” Or in First Order training programs.
“Depends on the culture and planet,” Poe said. “Me, I was going to the local school on Yavin, joyriding my ma’s old A-wing, helping my dad on the ranch, dating around.” He waggled an eyebrow at Finn, and Finn snorted. “I was a bit of hellion, and my dad was glad to be rid of me when I left for flight academy.”
That was Poe for sure. Finn couldn’t even imagine Poe in his place, standing in the sterile training room of the Finalizer, twirling a riot control baton and repeating First Order mantras. Poe was wild and brash and space-seeking, and it made Finn shudder to imagine Poe’s nice hair cut First Order regulation short.
Finn grinned, and asked Poe some questions about Yavin-- what did you grow on your ranch? what’s school like? where did you fly with your mother’s A-wing? what are your parents like? --and Poe told him about the koyo trees and the mountains and his old classmates. His parents were heroes from the old Rebellion, although his mother had passed away later when he was young--”Sorry,” Finn said, awkwardly, and Poe said, “It’s alright, it was a long time ago,” -- but all in all, it sounded like a neat childhood.
“You have any stories to tell?” Poe said, when he finished, and he sounded tentative, because obviously Finn’s past wasn’t entirely adventures and hijinks, but hey, he wasn’t that boring.
“Actually, I do,” Finn said.
The problem with raising teenagers to be perfect soldiers was that they were still teenagers. Finn maintained that he didn’t have a proper rebellious stage -- but even if you dosed cadets with drugged waters and blared subliminal messages every second of the day, they still couldn’t help but be themselves.
Which is why it was simultaneously hilarious and terrifying when he caught AD-2508 and KM-8713 in a refresher, attempting to brew moonshine in a spare trooper helmet.
“Did you snitch,” Poe said, looking unimpressed.
“I did not snitch,” Finn said. “They set off the fire alarm and ran off.”
The wannabe bootleggers were part of a unit that recently finished its first mission with Phasma. They were older than Finn at the time, around seventeen standard years, while he was thirteen, assigned refresher cleaning duty on the roster.
The Absolution was the closest star destroyer around, so the unit had stopped by for rest and recovery and ship maintenance. The younger cadets were awestruck by the older unit, while Finn found himself abruptly disillusioned.
“So,” Poe said, “they left you there with the evidence on fire…? Were you in trouble instead of them?”
“I didn’t. I threw some of the, uh, alcohol ingredients on my face and said I didn’t see who did it, because the insubordinate rulebreakers blinded me. It hurt like hell; it was like being bitten by a gnaw-jaw in the eyeball.”
Finn winced, recalling the sensation. It had been a split second decision, but he had done it, and he knew that the med-droids would be able to fix him up, anyway. “I had the feeling that Captain Phasma wouldn’t be happy and would try to make an example of AD-2508 and KM-8713 in front of us younger cadets, and it didn’t seem fair, y’know?”
After all, he and other cadets broke rules, too, albeit in smaller ways, like reading non-sanctioned material like comics on the HoloNet.
“Phasma didn’t believe me,” Finn admitted. “Captain Cardinal didn’t seem to, either, but he stuck up for me and convinced her to drop it. He was one of the nicer officers, or at least I thought so, even if there was all that indoctrination. The Absolution wasn’t involved in the attack on the Resistance fleet, and I wonder…”
“Cardinal?” Poe said, abruptly, looking up. “Shit. The general didn’t tell you? Or Vi?”
“Finn,” Poe said, sighing, drumming his fingers on the ship. “That Cardinal guy defected to the Resistance a little while before you did.”
Finn froze. “Where is he? I haven’t seen him--”
“He went with Vi to establish a base in the Outer Rim,” Poe said. “It’s a long story and you’d be better off looking through the data reports, but--Cardinal captured and tortured Vi. Somehow, she turned him.”
Poe told him: Vi Moradi brought Cardinal with her to D’Qar, and Cardinal was soon sent off-planet to heal and undergo de-conditioning. And then, on General Organa’s orders, Cardinal had left with Vi on her mission.
“We’re still waiting to hear word from them,” Poe said. “We lost contact recently. The general’s worried, but she has faith in Vi.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Finn said, stunned. He wasn’t the only First Order stormtrooper to join the Resistance. He hadn’t even been the first.
“The Cardinal situation is… complicated,” Poe said. “I think Vi didn’t tell you because… you know how she was like, right?”
“Yeah,” Finn acknowledged, quietly.
The Fondorian authorities had turned down General Organa’s request for aid. So, Finn, Vi, and a small crew were sent on a supply run to Fondor. The small group pretended to be smugglers and plotted to steal cargo from local pirates.
The mission was ultimately a success. Vi was a top-notch spy, her quick-thinking saving their lives on multiple occasions, but she was… jumpy. Her hand was almost always on her blaster, when she wasn’t knitting.
That explained it, if Cardinal had captured and tortured her.
“As for General Organa, I dunno,” Poe said, with a shrug. “I don’t think anyone knows you knew him, and besides, she’s got a lot on her plate. I’m guessing we’re not making any big announcements about having an ex-FO Captain on our side, in case it paints an even bigger target on his and Vi’s back, or turns off new recruits.
“And he isn’t the same as you. Vi dragged him off of the star destroyer near-dead, and he has a tracking bracelet on his ankle. He’s not -- loyal. There’s no point making his defection well-known if he turns back.”
“He won’t turn back,” Finn said, and he was surprised to hear the fervency in his voice. “I knew him, Poe. If he chose to turn, he means it.”
“I hope so, for Vi’s sake,” Poe said, quietly. “He still hurt her.” He touched his filtration mask, and Finn remembered seeing Poe Dameron, the Resistance pilot strapped to the black interrogation chair, covered in blood and sweat, his voice hoarse from screaming. “But who am I to talk about forgiveness and moving on from past sins, huh?”
Finn closed his eyes and remembered being a child in the dark, telling a scared boy that the First Order was nothing like an evil wraith that harmed children.
Except it was exactly that.
Finn had believed for so long. Every day he told himself that he didn’t always believe in it, that he was always a brave secret rebel underneath his armor, but he had. He had cared so much and so deeply.
“Chin up, shoulders back, stand up tall, don’t be slack.” It was Dolin who said it, prompting Batuu’s Resistance chapter-- mostly farm boys and farm girls, Vi had called them earlier, with a soft laugh, prompting Poe to say, is that a bad thing? --to straighten, to run their fingers over the wrinkles in their uniforms.
Finn watched them go through blaster drills. They weren’t like his trainees, more of an informal militia than everything, but he was glad to have their support. The Resistance had all survived the First Order attack over Batuu, protecting the base and the planet, and after all this time, it was good to have a real win.
“I think Archex taught Dolin that saying,” Vi said, sitting next to Finn on a stone in the ruins. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about him.”
“It’s alright,” Finn said. General Organa had told him about Cardinal’s death, after Vi informed her of the news, and he still didn’t know how he felt about it.
How were you supposed to feel about a man who turned you into a weapon, but also encouraged you and comforted you? How were you supposed to feel about a man who succeeded in what you failed to do, dying for the Resistance-- Finn had tried to sacrifice himself amongst the red sands of Crait--he tried but Rose saved him --
And it was strange to think of Cardinal as Archex, who had grown up on Jakku like Rey.
(Learning that Cardinal was from Jakku was an enlightening moment. Once, Finn had nearly tripped over a mess of wires on the Millennium Falcon and was cursing up a storm, because those porgs could be destructive, while Rey listened and laughed. She said, “You swear like a native from Jakku.” Finn blinked, because he’d always sworn like this, like exclaiming over R’iia’s various body parts, whoever that was. That was what Cardinal muttered under his breath about Phasma whenever he thought no one could hear him.)
Vi recounted stories of Archex setting up the base, cooking dinner, weaving baskets, carving statues, saving her life and her companions’ lives. In the end, it wasn’t solely about Archex; it was her story, her clear fondness for Dolin and Zade and Kriki and Ylena and Pook and life in the Black Spire Outpost all shining through.
“It sounds like you’ve settled here,” Finn said, when she finished.
“We would’ve lost it all without Archex,” Vi said.
For a second, Finn imagined Archex here, blue-black hair glinting in the moons’ light, wearing a Resistance uniform, training the team on Batuu. Congratulating them when their aim was true, amiably correcting their mistakes, knowing each and every one of them.
Finally home, just like Vi.
A place to unpack.
Finn swallowed, and he made an excuse to Vi and went to find Rey.
Rey was in one of the caverns, holding a lightsaber in her hands. It wasn’t the one she had been using since the very beginning, the one that Maz Kanata had on Takodana. That one was still broken, Finn knew, hidden aboard the Millennium Falcon; Rey was in the process of studying Jedi texts and trying to find a way to fix it.
No, she had found this lightsaber here, from one of the local shops. She ignited it now, glowing bright blue, and it illuminated her robes, her snow white capelet, her face, and her half-disarrayed hair.
When she saw Finn, she disignited it.
“Hey,” she said, with a tired smile, but she was bright, like she always was.
“Hey,” he said back to her and pulled her into a hug. She smiled, swept him in his arms. It always felt heartening, these I’m glad you’re alive hugs, and it made Finn want to be lifted up and twirled around by whoever he hugged. He was sure Rey could do it, anyway. “Did you have a good nap?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I woke up five minutes ago. I’d say thank you to Pook for running medical scans on me and making sure I’m alright, but…”
“He’s a rude son of a mynock,” Finn finished, and she flashed him a rueful grin in agreement.
The droid was ruder than BB-8 had been when he first met Finn. Pook had berated Lieutenant Bek and the others for being momentarily captured on the star destroyer. Well, they’d saved them, though; Finn’s infiltration mission was a success, and the rest of the Resistance fleet had come swooping in from hyperspace to save day.
“Is there any food?”
He knew that she would ask him that. He pulled out a container from his satchel, where he had stored some leftovers. “Ronto meat and roasted vegetables from a local eatery. And there’s some casks of wine and liquor outside because this purple-haired guy that Vi recruited is apparently part-timing as a bartender.”
“That’s useful,” Rey remarked. She accepted the container and the spork he offered, eagerly digging in. “They’re celebrating?”
“They might be throwing a party,” Finn confirmed. “Vi’s people were trying to show off their blaster skills to us offplanet Resistance bigwigs--thankfully, I don’t think they’re too drunk and their blasters are set to stun. But everyone’s living it up.”
The Resistance members were chatting and drinking by the firelight and the moons’ light. They were talking excitedly about crippling the Finalizer and forcing the infamous Kylo Ren and General Hux to run--about liberating their friends and allies who had been captured--as well as asking their Batuu counterparts about their lives here.
Last Finn saw them, Suralinda was dancing badly, while Jess looked exasperated, but dancing beside her; Snap and Karé had the heads bowed closely together, holding hands and whispering; Shriv and Nien Nunb seemed to be regaling Pacer and Zay and Ylena and Yama with a long story about the last war; Teza Nasz was sharpening her vibro-ax while a tiny Chandra-Fan was shyly stammering something to her; BB-8 was beeping something at a pig creature; and Poe was bickering good-naturedly with the purple-haired Resistance-member-slash-bartender, and Finn had the impression that the guy was flirting --
Anyways, he was glad to be here with Rey--he was trying not to think of Cardinal, of Archex, because it made him tempted to drink, and maybe it was First Order regulation drilled into him, but he felt like he couldn’t, not right now.
Rey was eating her dinner while Finn was lost in thought, letting him be, until Finn nudged her and said, “So you fixed your lightsaber problem. You don’t have to fix the broken one. You’ve got this one.”
“Not at all,” she said. “This is someone else’s lightsaber.”
Finn frowned. “What do you mean? Yours was someone else’s, too.”
“Luke used it,” Rey said. “And his father before him. I want to keep using it as mine, because even if it wasn’t long, I knew Luke for a while, and it feels… right. Ever since it called to me. Even if it has a clouded history. But this one,” she said, tapping her finger against it, “it’s an old Jedi’s lightsaber, someone whose name I don’t know, someone who fought during the Clone Wars. I don’t have the right to use it.”
“You used it to fight Ren.”
“Because I had to,” Rey said. “The Force let me for that moment, but it’s not mine to use any more. Once we get back to Pacara, Beaumont can probably help figure out the Jedi who wielded it--maybe there’s a home planet we can return it to--but otherwise, it’s not mine. My staff works fine.” She gestured towards it, leaning against the stone wall.
Finn still didn’t completely understand this Jedi stuff, but it intrigued him. He had found himself flipping through the translated text files that Beaumont and C3-PO had helped Rey put together, reading old stories about the Jedi and the Sith--and he was absorbed and fascinated.
He never understood the vague spiritual writings, but he liked the tales of the ancients, like the one about a wandering Jedi who roamed from planet to planet, bearing a sword and shield and helping people in need.
In a weird, deja vu way, it reminded him of the stories he learned from the First Order, folkloric and dramatic, except this was epic and grand in a different way. It wasn’t about simply good guys versus bad guys and you learned a lesson at the end, but it was about the Force, this thing that touched lives across time and space, sweeping them up in a myth larger than themselves.
Maybe he wasn’t a Jedi, but Finn thought that he felt the myth, felt it ever since he had landed on Jakku, becoming more than FN-2187 following orders. It was in the billowing angry darkness of Kylo Ren; it was in the burning determined brightness in Rey’s eyes; it was in the way Poe laughed, brave and bold; it was radiating from Leia in waves, in gusts, almost intense enough to bring you to your knees.
Maybe it was in him, too. He hoped more than anything that it was.
Then, startled, he saw Rey reach into her cloak, and she opened her palm. “Besides, I have these, too.”
There were two crystals lying in her hand, gleaming bright.
“I’ll fix my lightsaber, but when the time’s right, I’ll make my own,” Rey said.
Finn found his hand moving, drawn, touching the crystal on the left. “Kyber,” he said, with a sharp exhale. Rey’s Jedi books had pictures of them. “I thought these were near impossible to find, stripped from planets by the Empire and the Order. The shop guy had these, too?”
Rey inclined her head. “From Savi, yes. He said that he had been waiting for me.” There was a thoughtful expression on her face as Finn’s hand hovered over hers. “You can keep that one. It’s yours, I think.”
Finn’s mouth dropped open. “I’m not a Jedi! You can’t hand me a rare lightsaber part, Rey. What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Anything you want,” Rey said. “I don’t need two crystals. The Force wills it.”
“Last week, you told Poe that the Force wills it for him to never pilot the Falcon. ”
“Take it,” Rey said, insistent. “It’s a gift, Finn. I mean it.”
He did. He closed the kyber inside his hand, and it felt warm.
Due to the last two pest control fiascos, FN-2187 had been assigned to a taskforce that went hunting for Kowakian monkey-lizards every time there was a reported sighting.
It was a wild bantha chase, since most troopers treated the customized MONKEY-LIZARD ALERT as a joke, FN-2187’s datapad pinging with-- I believe a Kowakian destroyed Control Room 53 on a day Kylo Ren was in one of his moods; or A monkey-lizard stole the emergency rations from my utility belt -- which, come on, some trooper was clearly fishing for extra rations.
“I mean, a Kowakian could have done this,” FN-3761 said, gesturing to the charred screens and beheaded security droids in Control Room 53.
“If it got its hands on Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, sure,” FN-2187 said.
They got to work cleaning up the debris. FN-3761 left to take the cart of busted scraps to the trash compactor, while FN-2187 sent in a request for a maintenance bot. Under the field CAUSE OF PROPERTY DAMAGE, he selected Kowakian monkey-lizards, undetermined species of carnivorous bats, or miscellaneous vermin in the dropdown menu.
The last of FN-2187’s shift was spent ‘searching’ for the monkey-lizard, so he could write in his report that he had done everything he could. It was an arduous process of sweeping the base, checking door to door, hallway to hallway, then he would take the turbolift to the next level and do it again.
He looked through control rooms, meeting rooms, storage rooms, muttering a perfunctory explanation to whoever he disturbed. Troopers or officers waved him on and let him search, poking at corners and crevices with his vibro-staff.
Then, he heard a loud caterwauling yell.
It was from one of the training rooms. FN-2187 paused, keyed in his code at the door, but unlike some kind of mock fight between troopers like he was expecting, it was merely a young woman practicing by herself with a vibro-staff. She had tan skin, sheer black hair, and she was whirling, her face twisted in a determined snarl as she struck at an invisible enemy.
“Oh!” she said, when she saw him, stopping mid-form.
“Sorry, I’m patrolling for a Kowakian monkey-lizard. It tore up Control Room 53,” he said. And even though he didn’t usually introduce himself during this particular task, there was something about her that made him say, “Designation FN-2187.”
The trooper looked at him in bemusement. She was young, FN-2187 noted, likely recently graduated and didn’t understand the nuances of trooper life yet and Kylo Ren’s tantrums. But she brightened when she heard his number. “I’ve heard of you. Captain Cardinal said you set one of the highest recorded scores for his Endor simulation.”
“One of the highest scores?” FN-2187 said. “When I graduated, I had the top. All I hear from recent grads is how hard it is, and I get it. Those Ewoks are tough, but you need the right timing. Who beat me?”
“You’re looking at her,” the trooper said. “UV-8855.”
“Nice,” FN-2187 said, impressed. “How’s the captain doing? I haven’t seen him since I graduated.”
“Same as usual,” UV-8855 said. “Someone in my batch--UV-7777--Lucky--tried to slice her way through the Hoth sim. Cardinal turned it into this big lecture about honor and integrity, but he appreciated that Lucky was willing to do whatever it takes to win. He didn’t punish her and gave her a middling score.”
“He hasn't changed a bit.”
Cardinal was the same to every class, it seemed--endlessly understanding and patient, fondly speaking of current and former students, so his cadets felt motivated and inspired. Cardinal saw potential in everyone, and on his bad days, FN-2187 would remember all the commendations Cardinal had given him, even though his stormtrooper career hadn’t turned out like he expected.
As if she knew what he was thinking, UV-8855 said, awkwardly, “Sorry you got stuck on pest control duty. Although I’m sure it’s an integral task.”
“You’re right, it’s important,” FN-2187 said. He kept his tone even, not letting any feelings color it, because he knew he had to be careful. “Captain Phasma assigned it to me. Every cog in its place makes for order and grace.” He recited the rhyme from memory.
“Phasma,” UV-8855 said, her eyes darkening into an unidentifiable emotion. She said the name oddly, a strange lilting accent creeping in, but then it was gone the next words she said. “Well, maybe you can take a break once your shift’s up. Do you want to practice with me? So we can settle who’s better outside of sims.” She hefted her staff upward.
It had been a while since he had sparred with anyone outside of his unit. Finn missed the feeling of facing a new challenge. “Sure. I’ll be back when my shift ends.”
He finished sweeping the training room for a monkey-lizard--no surprises, not here--but before he turned to leave, she said, “I’ll see you soon, FN-2187 -- hey, do you have a nickname?”
FN-2187 shook his head.
“Okay,” she said, shrugging. “My unit calls me Warcry. You can call me that, too.”
Not for the first time, Finn thought of Warcry, as he sparred with Pacer Agoyo outside the base on Batuu, their staves clashing against each other. Most of the Resistance members were sleeping in, tired from yesterday’s mission or struggling with hangovers, but the teenage pilot was up and early for training.
Pacer was lithe and fast, his dark hair streaming behind him while he ducked and dodged and attacked. Finn was taller than him, but the Echani arts training had paid off, because Pacer was smartly targeting vulnerable areas of his body.
Finn had sparred with Warcry several times; and it was something that she was definitely way better at than him, letting out her trademark yell. She fought like it was for survival, like she was born with a vibro-staff in her hands, and he had liked her, thought they were almost becoming friends--
Until she died.
Troopers disappeared regularly, not returning from dangerous missions, or because they incited the disapproval from someone higher up and you were never seen again. No one talked about it. No one mentioned it. It was normal.
Even back on the Absolution, Cardinal didn’t say anything, though he looked surprised, his gaze lingering over an empty bunk. A little kid here one day and gone the next.
Warcry’s death was reported as a training accident, and Finn thought: Was it really? Or was it like how he had marked down Kylo Ren’s rampage as a Kowakian monkey-lizard infestation?
You pretended everything was normal.
Finn didn’t ask these questions out loud. He kept his head down like he always did.
He never forgot her, though. When he had picked up a riot control baton and confronted Phasma, for a moment, for a second, he thought Warcry was right behind him, holding the baton with him, howling --
(-- fortheScyreforKeldoforYlva-- )
--Phasma went down, she went down, gone.
Breathing hard, Finn shook off the memory, his staff against Pacer’s throat, the pilot sprawled on the dirt ground. “Gotcha.” He drew back and offered Pacer his hand.
Pacer frowned, but pulled himself up with Finn’s help. “I’m getting better.”
Finn clapped him on the shoulder. “You are. You need to work on your footwork. And good flying, by the way. I saw you up there yesterday--you got in some good hits.”
“Thanks,” Pacer said. “Looks like everyone’s telling me to improve, though, Commander Zibsara chewed me out for diving in too fast; I almost clipped Shasa’s Y-wing.” He glowered in consternation. “She said that she couldn’t afford to lose me, and if I had the sense to stay alive, I’d be commander one day like her, but I’ll probably die at this rate. That old---”
“Watch it, Pacer,” Finn cut in. “Elna’s right. Take appropriate risks and don’t get yourself killed. You have things to do after this war.”
“Obviously,” Pacer said. “I’m gonna go grab breakfast. Later.” He disappeared back into the caverns, leaving Finn shaking his head in his wake. Stubborn kid.
“You’re good with him.” Startled, Finn saw Poe emerge from the sidelines, still in his flightsuit from yesterday, his usually immaculate hair looking slightly ruffled. “Morning -- or what is it they say here again? Rising suns.”
“Rising suns,” Finn echoed. He sighed and set down the training staff. “Pacer’s… difficult. I don’t know if I should be encouraging his revenge quest, but he’s not wrong that having hand-to-hand skills might come in handy. Me and Elna and Shriv are trying to redirect his priorities into flying--hinting that the Resistance could resurrect Phantom Squadron with him in charge--but I don’t know if our efforts are landing.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Poe said. “Well, I’m all for authorizing a Phantom Squadron whenever you think he’s ready. I’m sure that general will agree, too.”
“Thanks, Poe,” Finn said, smiling. Poe smiled back, and it was one of those moments, both of them connecting and staring at each other. Finn’s heart was doing something weird in his chest, as if he was on the Millennium Falcon and it was accelerating into uncharted territory.
Don’t be a karking idiot, Finn told himself.
Poe cleared his throat. “You disappeared from the party last night. You doing okay?”
Finn shrugged. “I went to check on Rey.”
“Yeah, she’s brave, facing that crazy Kylo Ren again. That’s good you went to see her.” There was an unasked question in Poe’s voice.
“Last night, you were getting friendly with that purple-hair guy,” Finn said.
Poe looked startled, then he let out a huff of a laugh. “Zade? Nothing much. He was telling me about his favorite cocktail mixes. Conversation went sourer than spoiled blue milk when we found out we have old acquaintances in common from---well, it’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.”
“Sure,” Finn said. That was different; Poe didn’t usually didn’t do mysterious. For kriff’s sake, Finn knew the name of Poe’s favorite instructor from flight academy--not Wedge Antilles, but Snap’s mother Norra--and the title of Poe’s favorite Core Drive song.
Poe said, “It looked like you were upset, though. You don’t have to tell me; it looked like Vi said something, and I can talk to her--”
“No, it’s not her fault,” Finn said. “Seriously, Poe, I’m fine. She was telling me about Captain Cardinal. Archex.”
“Oh,” Poe said, blinking. “The guy who trained you in the First Order.”
“I wish I could’ve seen him again,” Finn said. “I wonder what he would’ve said. About me in the Resistance right now, making the same choice he did.”
“From what Vi says, he was a good man, in the end. He would’ve been proud of you, buddy.”
“I hope I’m doing the right thing,” Finn said. “Teaching these kids in the Resistance. Telling them this is all worth it. Of course it is, but I’m worried.”
“It’s not the same,” Poe said, firmly. “You’re not brainwashing anyone. Our recruits are free to leave, and they’re not disposable blaster fodder. There were some good things you learned from Cardinal as your teacher, and it means a lot that you’re passing it on to our people and making it your own. I don’t mean blaster techniques or Echani, but how you care about them.”
But that’s the problem, Finn thought. The caring.
He was raised to be a weapon, yet he still ended up here. What did that mean? The First Order shaped him, taught him how to fight and survive and be prepared to die for a cause. He remained the soldier that he had been since he was younger, and it scared him, knowing that he would have been nothing without them.
This was what Finn didn’t tell Poe: he found a transcribed recording of Captain Cardinal, speaking to Doctor Kalonia in the D’Qar medbay.
The captain said, “You have to understand, Doctor, the First Order doesn’t take away our sense of kindness. They sharpen it like a vibroknife and tell us where to aim.”
“You can always say no,” Finn said. “You don’t have to do this, Yama.”
“This is my decision,” Yama Dex said, glaring at him. As if forgetting her hair was recently cut short, she ran a hand through her orange hair, which was styled into a neat bob. That girl loved her hair, tying it back in new and different ways when it was long, but the humid climate of Ajan Kloss had driven her to cut it, and besides, she told him, if I’m going to be a spy, every little thing helps to not be recognized.
It was technically Finn’s fault. She had insisted on joining his Green Team to infiltrate the star destroyer during the mission to Batuu -- she provided key intel for the mission in the first place, reeling off perfectly memorized details about the 709th Legion’s members and weapons arsenal -- and it seemed like she had gotten a taste for espionage.
It didn’t help that she had immediately clicked with Vi while the Resistance had briefly stayed on Batuu, listening to the intelligence operative’s stories with wide eyes.
“I want to be useful,” Yama said. “While everyone’s out there--flying, fighting, recruiting--I don’t want to be stuck here doing datawork. Aydee’s taken over most of the admin stuff, anyway.”
“Our support staff is important,” Finn reminded her. “You’re not a droid. You’re an analyst.”
“I can do more.”
Finn threw up his hands. “Alright, you can do more! I know you’ve been having some intelligence training sessions with Seossra--but that doesn’t mean you need to put that damned thing in your mouth.”
“Yes, I do,” Yama said. “It’s the first step if I want to go out into the field. There’s too much information in my head, Finn -- the First Order’s not going to get that, ever, not if I can do anything about it. The location of our base, our offensive and defensive capabilities, where every single one of Threepio’s operatives are stationed around the entire kriffing galaxy, everything.”
Yama was shaping up to be an ideal intelligence operative. She understood the value of knowledge, every little number and fact that would result in the Resistance gaining more resources and advantages over the First Order.
Her eidetic memory was an asset, but it also would be a catastrophe if she fell into enemy hands, so here she was, arguing with him that she should put a poison capsule in her mouth as a contingency measure.
She was no longer fifteen standard years old, but recently turned sixteen. Like Finn, she had been forced to work for the First Order, but she had lived a much different life. She was raised by her grandmother, who passed away from illness right around the time the First Order occupied Corellia, and they had plucked Yama Dex from a foster home and told her to work for them.
She passionately discussed racing scores and statistics with Pacer and Zay; she spoke wistfully about her friends in Coronet City; she was flourishing because of the Resistance’s incredibly lax uniform standards, often wearing a colorfully knitted head covering that Vi had sent her.
Even though she was a rebel like the rest of them, she was also stunningly normal and young, and Finn didn’t want her to have the too-easy means to carry it out: I’ll die for the Resistance encapsulated into a single stinging tooth.
Sighing, Finn asked, “Did General Organa sign off on this?”
“I did,” said a steely voice, and Finn turned around and saw Leia emerge from behind them, joining them at the mouth of the cavern. “She made her choice, Finn. I outlined all the risks--Doctor Kalonia performed a psychological assessment--and she’s cleared. Go on, Yama, Vazzet’s waiting for you.”
Yama gave him a look, as if to say I told you so. Before Finn could say anything else, she darted into the cave.
“It’s hard,” Leia said, softly, walking up to Finn. “I know it’s hard.”
“She’s such a good kid,” Finn said. Absentmindedly, he touched one of the pockets of Poe’s jacket-turned-vest, sleeves cut like Yama’s hair due to the planet’s searing climate. He had put the crystal that Rey had given him inside, and he frequently found himself patting it, a new habit of reassurance. “It’s her choice, but it’s a big choice, General. Putting her own life in her hands like that.”
“During the last war, there was a time when I wished I could’ve had that option,” Leia murmured.
Finn looked up sharply. “It worked out for the best that you didn’t. The Rebel Alliance wouldn’t have won without you, and we need you now. It’s not the same. She’s sixteen.”
“I was nineteen,” Leia said, with a shake of her head. “And when I was her age, I discovered my parents’ plans for rebellion against the Empire. Oh, of course they objected, but I joined them, I lied right in Tarkin’s face… Sometimes, there are some things you can’t hide from our young, not when there’s a shadow cast over the entire galaxy. She’s a Rebel, Finn. Let her rebel.”
“I can’t exactly argue with your direct orders,” Finn said, wryly. “I guess I’ve grown too… close. I’m not objective here.”
And he always remembered: the First Order. The voices that whispered in their ears while sleeping, insidious: die for us.
He thought of Vi’s farm kids on Batuu, who had prodded Finn for stories about the legendary Princess Leia. He thought of Suralinda’s recruiting campaigns on the HoloNet and Shasa’s slickly designed posters. The trainees that Finn taught, who liked having three square meals a day, who wanted to be heroes, who enjoyed the unflinching camaraderie of a movement that said it was like a fire, a flame, an inferno.
Gently, Leia said, “We can’t lock up Yama here on Ajan Kloss forever. I won’t send her out in the field alone, and certainly not right away. We do everything we can to keep our people safe, no matter the danger."
“Yeah,” Finn said, and he meant it. “I know you do.”
He had seen firsthand, the weight on her shoulders after Crait, and the way she kept going as the Resistance’s leader even though she had lost her husband and her brother. He knew he was being unfair, drawing parallels that didn’t quite match up, but R’iia, these kids, these kids who were around the same age as Warcry when she disappeared.
“It means a lot you’re protective,” Leia said. “The new members all look up to you. They know they’ve got an advocate.” She touched his shoulder. “I couldn’t ask for a better instructor. Poe tells me all the time how brilliant you are.”
That made Finn flush, his cheeks warming, but the mention of Poe made his stomach churn in an abrupt epiphany. “Did you fit Poe with a tooth? On the Finalizer, could he have used it?” Before Finn had freed him--?
“He ran covert missions for us before the Hosnian cataclysm, before the First Order engaged in open conflict,” Leia said. Black Squadron, Finn remembered. Poe had told him. “But I didn’t even think of giving him one. He was never quite a spy like Magpie, primarily a pilot, and I think it’s wise that we didn’t for him…”
Yeah, Finn thought. He knew Poe. Poe probably would have bitten down on it before Kylo Ren was able to get the information out of him.
Leia’s eyes were sad. “Poe believes in the Resistance so much. It’s his strength and his heart, but it’s his weakness, too. He doesn’t always think before he acts. Keep him grounded, Finn. Remind him what’s important.”
“I’m not his guardian,” Finn said, ducking his head. “Besides, like you said, he’s a pilot. I can’t keep him grounded for the life of me.”
“A pilot, not a spy,” Leia said, with a noise of agreement. “He’s too recognizable at this point, isn’t he?”
Finn smiled, recalling their recent mission to Tevel. He and Poe had both disguised themselves as First Order inspectors to infiltrate a bacta plant, but the First Order major had seen past the charade. “It’s the hair.”
Leia gave him a knowing smile in return. “Definitely the hair.”
Finn’s hand strayed to his vest again. “Have you heard from the Falcon yet? I thought they were supposed to come back around the same time as me and Chewie.”
“I did,” Leia confirmed. “They answered a distress call from Minfar, and they’re on their way back now.”
Later that evening, the Millenium Falcon eventually landed on Ajan Kloss. Rey slung her arm around Finn’s shoulders and told him she wished he could have seen Minfar, because the food and the people were amazing, while Rose gave him a jaunty wave, reporting that they had left some of the porgs on Minfar.
Poe was wearing a crown of dried flowers--”Where did you get that from?” Finn said in disbelief, tousling it. Poe grinned and said that the locals--the Zixons--had given it to him. He really did have nice hair.
Jannah touched it, a small spot underneath Finn’s chin, just a swipe of her thumb. “Yeah, you have it, too,” she said. Finn shrugged her hand aside, his cheeks burning, and she laughed. “Sorry. I don’t bite.”
“Vocoder scar,” Forten pronounced, baring his neck upward. “We’ve all got it, ever since they outfitted us with helmets since we were little.”
“I was abducted into the First Order and all they gave me was a hickey!” Jayelle said, giggling. She raised her bottle of ale, her cheeks a rosy red. Typical stormtrooper tolerance, Finn thought, amused, despite himself, and he saw Jannah push a canteen of water in Jayelle’s direction, while Forten barked a jovial laugh.
“I noticed it,” Finn said, “but I didn’t think about it much. They really should have designed better helmets.” He rubbed his chin himself, circling the patch of skin. It was a barely perceptible indentation, but Jannah was right, it was there.
“Just the helmets?” Forten said. “How about proper between-the-legs coverage--?”
Finn let out a muted wince. That was a big design flaw, too. Apparently, padding that area would impede movement, not that the armor was already heavy…
Jannah snorted. “I still can’t believe I saw Captain Cardinal exploit that particular loophole.”
“You were part of that batch?” Finn said. “I heard the story, but I didn’t know if it was true or not.”
Mess hall talk traveled pretty fast in the First Order, but sometimes certain claims were exaggerated or outright falsified, like the karking weirdos who speculated about the love lives of First Order officers and superiors (gross, who wanted to think about Hux like that).
“I was a witness, too,” Forten said. “During a sparring session, JB-007 was saying something about how he couldn’t wait to graduate and train under Phasma, because he thought Cardinal was weak and boring. And then, bam. Went down like he had been stomped in the delicates by an AT-AT. Cardinal looked sorry after that and he didn’t officially reprimand Double-Oh, but it sure shut him up.”
Finn whistled. “That was Cardinal for you.”
“By the way, is it true that he defected?” Jannah asked, leaning forward. “Official word was that Cardinal died on a mission, but we thought something was off, since he had been out of the field for ages.”
“It’s true. The Resistance turned him. He sacrificed himself to save one of our bases. It’s a crazy long story.”
Forten said, “Never thought he would defect, but it makes sense it was him. Jannah has an interesting theory about him.”
“He still brainwashed us,” Jannah said. “Can’t forgive him for that. But, hey, Finn, did you notice something, hmm, unusual about the sims he designed?”
“What do you mean?” Finn asked.
“Think. Not the sims made by old man Hux--not the ones that Phasma tweaked--but the ones Cardinal personally made and used, over and over again, when we were younger.”
“We won the war, and you’re quizzing me about old tests,” Finn said, groaning. They were sitting outside on Ajan Kloss after the Battle of Exegol, crouched over a fire, former stormtroopers clustered together.
The other Resistance members were mostly awake and talking, celebrating and mourning and remembering. Alcohol was flowing freely--apparently Zade Kalliday had personally flown in from Batuu to deliver several boxes of it--and there was a lot of laughter and tears and music.
After Finn had caught up with Rey and Poe, Rey had declared herself exhausted and she needed undisturbed sleep for at least forty-eight hours. That was fair; it sounded like she had been through a lot, and she had muttered something about still feeling lightning on her fingertips. Poe had disappeared to talk with Karé, Suralinda, Jess, Norra Wexley and Wedge Antilles. The former Black Squadron and Snap’s parents, grieving Snap Wexley in their own way.
Finn didn’t follow Poe--he hadn’t known Snap like they did, and he knew that they probably wanted space. So he found himself gravitating toward a couple members of Company 77, who had eagerly invited him to drink with them and reminisce.
He thought over Jannah’s question. Then he said, “Cardinal’s sims weren’t like Phasma’s at all. There was a lot of---working together, like one trooper steering an AT-AT, another trooper blasting, another trooper doing scans. There were some sims where it was impossible to win by yourself. Phasma’s sims did have squad battle formations, but you could technically still break away from most of them and win the sim’s ‘goal’ by yourself. Like the Coruscant one about securing a datacard.”
“Or the desert one where you were supposed to take an insurgent leader hostage,” Jayelle pitched in. “Hated that one. It was a nightmare.”
“Right on the credits, Finn,” Jannah said, taking a sip of her ale. “And, exactly, Jay, that one was the worst. Those stupid wolf things.”
“So what’s your big theory?” Finn asked.
“Under Cardinal, we still had our souls,” Jannah said. “Just a little. He lacked a lot of morals and he wasn’t our dad, but Cardinal? Kind of a softie. Once we were sent higher to train under Phasma and go out into the field, we were supposed to lose it completely, but some of us got to the point where we couldn’t. We said no.
“It’s not solely because of him accidentally disrupting the conditioning, though. Don’t give him all the credit. We had each other, too. Our jokes and nicknames and dumb little habits that made us different. The knowledge that we could get away with breaking some rules, whether it was downloading Twi'lek porn from the HoloNet or stealing an extra pair of quadnocs.
“We just needed to take that next step together. Shoot unarmed civilians, or don’t.”
“You’re lucky,” Finn said. It was his turn to bring his hand up and cup it around the helmet mark underneath her chin. “I didn’t have anyone else.”
“Did you?” she said, thrusting her head up and looking him in the eye.
Sparring with Warcry, bantering with her about sim scores, listening as she told him about her unit and her day -- Lucky reprogrammed one of the astromechs to play music; Captain Phasma said I shouldn’t yell all the time, but it’s my thing.
Training with Slip, helping him keep up with the others even though he wasn’t as fast or as strong, watching as he died right in front of him.
Commiserating with FN-3761 about dull pest control and janitorial duties, trading jokes to keep themselves occupied; Finn still wondered where he was, if he had died on Starkiller Base with the rest of them--
“I did,” Finn admitted. “Although I left by myself. I’ll always regret it, but you’re right. I wasn’t alone the entire time.” He dropped his hand away.
“Well, you have us now,” Jannah said. “Renegade troopers to the end.” She raised her bottle of ale, and he followed, as well as Forten and Jayelle, clinking bottles together and drinking.
“To the end,” they said in unison.
And Finn felt… warm.
It was so easy to hate himself for having been a stormtrooper. Finn knew he would always be wishing for parents who protected him and loved him--for teachers who didn’t grade him on his ability to put enemies in a stranglehold--for a home, a place that wasn’t the cold unfeeling durasteel of a ship--for a way of life that wasn’t military routine and duty.
But he couldn’t change it. He could only take what he was given, proud that he was finally free, proud that he was himself. He was FN-2187. He was Finn. He was co-general of the Resistance. He cared about his friends and allies, and he enjoyed teaching and training recruits. He liked eating good food and playing pazaak and dejarik. He liked reading about the Jedi knights of old. He was Force-sensitive, and wasn’t that karking incredible, if terrifying.
He talked a little more to Jannah, Forten, and Jayelle, before telling them that he was tired and wanted to go to bed. They bid him farewell, and Finn was walking between the trees of Ajan Kloss, walking underneath starlight, and he didn’t know if it was the Force or by coincidence, but then there was Poe.
“Not sleeping yet?”
Poe was standing by himself, a little ways off from the base’s tents and cavern headquarters. “Not yet,” he said. He was looking at the stars, as if counting them.
“I’m sorry about Snap,” Finn said, solemnly. “I know he was a close friend of yours.”
“Losing him and Leia both,” Poe said, his mouth a downturned line. “This war… gods, this war. I’ve written letters to families before, but telling Wedge and Norra--I never imagined I’d be telling them one day. I know that the cavalry came in time, but I haven’t learned my lesson, have I? Still the same idiot who strikes fast and gets people killed.”
“Hey, enough of that,” Finn said. “Don’t do that guilty shtick, Poe, don’t. We won, and I know that you did the best you could to keep everyone alive. You were calling a retreat by that point.”
“What if I mess this up?” Poe said. “There’s some more clean-up left to get rid of the First Order. Every action matters if we’re going to establish peace for good. I have to get this right, and Leia made me general--”
“And you made me general, too,” Finn said, sighing. “And I’ll tell you if you go too far or too fast. Don’t you trust me?”
Poe said, “I trust you more than anyone."
Poe was looking at Finn like he had looked at the stars, like he was something bright and familiar and sad. Finn wanted Poe to look at him like that forever, endlessly, but without the sadness, because this was ridiculous --
This was another thing Finn knew that he liked. He liked that Poe Dameron was in love with him.
Finn had been figuring this out, just like he was figuring everything else out.
He was meeting Poe’s gaze everytime they were in the same room; he was returning Poe’s smiles and friendly touches; he was talking to him about not only the Resistance, but their pasts and their hopes and the things they wanted to do afterwards.
I wonder what hover-sledding in the snow is like, Finn said on Tah’Nuhna, looking at the emerald glass mountains covered in ice, and Poe said, I’ll take you when the war ends.
Wish I could try a koyo melon, Finn said, after Poe described it to him, and when Poe returned from a mission, he had given Finn one, fresh and sweet, while Suralinda whispered to Finn that it cost quite a bit, since they were far from Yavin IV and it was out of season, too--
And there were so many sleepless nights, nights when they sought each other out and talked. Eventually Finn could go to bed and close his eyes, hearing Poe’s voice in his head instead of the First Order’s subliminal songs.
“I trust you, too,” Finn said. “There’s something you need to know. It’s what I wanted to tell Rey.”
Poe inhaled, a sharp harsh breath. “Finn, it’s fine. I shouldn’t have been so pushy earlier. You should tell her--”
“Let me show you.”
Finn reached for his pocket, and he took out the crystal, the kyber that fit in his palm. By this point, he knew every jagged edge, every little point and vertice. He closed his eyes, reaching, reaching for the galaxy--
The kyber crystal lit up, incandescent, blinding. It was blue, bathing him in the light of it, illuminating them both and the towering trees around them.
And Poe was staring, his dark eyes wide, and it was as if everything was burning in cerulean fire, just for the moment.
After a heartbeat, Finn closed his palm, and the crystal’s light died. He tucked it into its place in his pocket.
“Holy shit,” Poe said, “holy shit, you’re a Force user. Like Rey, like Leia!”
“Yeah,” Finn said, beaming. “I’m not a real Jedi, but I can sense things and do that little party trick. It scared the hell out of me the first time I did it.”
“It’s not a party trick,” Poe said. “It’s beautiful, you’re--”
Poe stopped, but Finn heard it: You’re beautiful.
He loves me, Finn thought. By the Force, by the stars, this guy really loves me, doesn’t he?
“Jedi potential or not, there are some things you still can’t erase. Jannah told me something about us ex-stormtroopers,” Finn said. “She reminded me that we have a little mark underneath our chins from our helmets.” He reached down, grasping Poe’s hand into his, and he brought it up there underneath his mouth, Poe’s breath hitching again, his dark eyes swirling.
“It doesn’t feel like much,” Poe said, a staccato whisper. He stroked it, gentle, careful. “But I feel it. I wish those murdering assholes hadn’t raised you, but you don’t know how happy I am that I met you, that you saved my life, that you’re here.”
And he tipped up Finn’s head with his hand, and he kissed him, light and hesitant. Finn let out a sound and he curled his hand in Poe’s hair and pulled him forward, deepening the kiss, more, mine --
Eventually they broke apart. Poe was laughing, breathless, incredulous. “I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if you felt the same.”
“I do,” Finn said. “Well? You going to take me to bed, General?”
“Of course, General.”