Skywalker found her in the hangar, sitting on the folded wings of the Black One and making wrenches, screwdrivers, plugs and fuses float up and around her. It was loud and busy in the hangar, pilots and copilots and mechanics all talking over one another in so many languages that Rey wasn't sure she could understand them all.
Unkar Plutt had always kept her close because she was able to pick up languages so quickly - so much more quickly than most humanoids. She brought the best pieces and she had the gift of tongues and she was probably sold to him for a high price. He made sure she was fed and not dead in return, and she wondered if her family knew who they were leaving her with when they left her waiting on the burning sands of a war-torn planet.
"My masters would have scolded me for using the Force so lightly," Skywalker told her, and she looked down at him, surprised; a wrench thunking on her head and making her wince. He smiled a little, laying a hand on the body of the X-wing, and Rey thought that Poe would probably die of giddiness to know that Skywalker had laid hands on his baby. "I like to think of them as helpful exercises in control."
She nodded, but didn't speak, and after a moment Skywalker sighed and dropped his hand again, looking up to her once more. His wide eyes looked clouded, and she got the feeling she wasn't going to like what he was going to say. She took a deep breath and braced herself.
"We have been here for too long. Leia has heard that the First Order is recuperating and they know where this base is. They need to move to a new one."
"Will we be going with them?"
"For part of the way," Skywalker nodded, still looking up at her. She wondered if she should climb down, but decided not to; sometimes it was good for the last of the Jedi to be separate from her, and she thought he probably appreciated her treating him like he was a flawed human more than not. Just a flawed human with powers singing beneath his aged skin, whispering secrets of the universe and streaking with remembered Dark.
"And the other part?"
"We must return to the Temple. You are not ready to face Kylo Ren, and should we follow the base, your path will lead to him sooner than hoped for."
Rey pressed her lips together and felt her shoulders tighten; thought of the curling, smoky black thing that was Kylo Ren and shivered despite herself. Sometimes she still closed her eyes and saw his face, emotionless and broken like a doll's, and it made her want to curl into nothingness and cry.
"...Can I tell my friends?"
Skywalker looked at her for a long time, and she almost worried he was going to tell her no; that Poe Dameron and Finn didn't need to know, and she had to cut off all ties to be a true Jedi. But then he nodded, and she relaxed, and he left without saying goodbye.
General Organa told her that her brother always left without saying goodbye. That way, he had the open-promise of coming back.
Poe came into their shared room to see Finn methodically stretching out his muscles; breathing hard and sweat slicking down his back, dancing along the metal vertebrae serving as support. He had a collection of small scars that he quietly explained when it was dark and Poe couldn't see them; medical incisions, mostly, a few from training. He showed stitching along his left ribs and explained he had done that to himself, and Poe had had to get up and take a walk before he punched something.
The brand on Finn's arm, FN-2187, always made him feel sick, and Finn took to never walking around Poe without long sleeves on.
Poe was no stranger to scars and naked bodies. Sometimes pilots got hurt; sometimes pilots had to make emergency landings and sometimes pilots had to bathe in twos and threes when they were in enemy territory and couldn't leave anyone alone. Snap had freckles in weird places and Jess had a birthmark on her shoulder shaped like an Ewok and Nien Nunb - well. He had some of the most impressive war scars anyone ever had.
But it was still wrong to see Finn scarred, because he told him that Jakku had been his first battle, yet he still had more battle-scars than Poe did. He still had more stories about stitching and damage and pain than some of the older Resistance fighters.
Rey was different, as if the sands of Jakku had smoothed away the hardship of her life. She was all skin and bones; protruding vertebrae and racks of ribs and hip bones like stick shifts. She was wired to be slight and strong, and he was wired to be loping and angular and small, because pilots tended to be small, just to fit into the cockpit.
And Finn was wired square and stocky and strong, but when Poe saw his back or the scars or the brand, he just wanted to cover Finn's eyes and tell him the world was kinder than he had learned.
Sometimes he forgot that his name was Finn and not FN-2187.
Someone in the mess or in the hall or in the war room would call out to him, and it would take him a minute to respond, because he had spent his whole life a series of numbers, and suddenly he had a name and it wasn't a second skin.
It helped when he was with Rey or Poe, because he would hold their hands and they would squeeze his, carefully reminding him that he was a person, now; he was a person, not another piece of a machine, and he could reply to people like a person.
Captains were the only 'troopers given the gift of names, the gift of being People. She had been numbers until She was a Captain; Her numbers had been AT-0033 and She had been just like everyone else.
But then She showed her Promise, and She salvaged chromium from a derelict yacht on the planet Naboo, and She reflected in the cold light of Starkiller's sun, staring down at the 'troopers and reminding them all that She had a name.
FN-2187 had showed Promise. He would have been given a name and nice armor and he would have been a person in the Order, too. But instead he was given a name by a Resistance pilot, who decided that no one, not even 'troopers with faltering promise, deserved to be nameless; given a name by a man who would become a rock in a stormy existence simply by holding his hand and reminding him of his gift.
Finn wrapped himself up in his existence like he wrapped himself in the jacket, and if his hand shook when someone looked at him and asked what's your name? and he could reply Finn, I'm Finn, then that was his own business.
Rey used to be able to shove everything she owned into her satchel in less than an hour, ready to go at the drop of a pin.
She had perfected the routine, for whenever her family came back for her; knew where her doll was and where her helmet was and where her extra set of clothes were. She always had a blanket and her protective gear with her; always had a bottle full of water that she kept pressed against her skin, in case another scavenger thought to try and steal it. Her staff was close at hand in those cases, and she had knocked scavengers trying to scavenge her bloody for the crime of reaching.
When she unexpectedly left Jakku, she had none of her personal belongings, and out of everything she had owned she missed the doll the most. It looked like Poe, she realized, and it was soft and warm and age-worn; had been her only friend and companion throughout the entirety of her life, living in the hollowed inside of an AT-AT and waiting for a family that would never come.
Now, she had clothes and a 'sabre and her staff, and trinkets and a necklace shaped like a star and books; laden down with so many things she didn't know what to do with herself.
So she got Poe and Finn to help her, and they were only happy to.
Finn packed her clothes with a careful precision that spoke of order and exact measures and an exacting mind that had a fine-tuned spatial awareness to envy. He packed pants, and shirts, and arm wraps, and even underthings, all with the same careful expression and none of the bluster he tried on to show he wasn't just another piece in the assembly-line.
Poe helped her with the trinkets, knowing how to pack up little things in creative ways, to ensure they weren't lost or broken or worse. He wrapped fragile things in scraps of cloth; stuffed jewelry into socks and sleeves and lined her pack with books to create a firm wall around everything tucked away in the middle.
Both ways told her a lot about both men; how Finn had a clear, clean mind for organization and how Poe had moved his life around, from base-to-base-to-base so often it was second nature and his feet itched if he stayed still for too long.
She only had two packs, but it was more than the satchel she had ever had, and as she dragged her things onto the Falcon, she realized that her life meant so much more now.
She was done with waiting. Now, she was doing.
Poe remembered the tree in the backyard of his home on Yavin IV.
It was a large tree, big enough that he could climb it, and he would hide in the branches and press his face to the bark and feel it humming with life and Force.
He knew it was Force-sensitive; his father had taken him aside after he'd clambered down its trunk, telling him he had to be careful of the tree because it was such a special, precious tree. Poe had listened, sombre and long-faced, and then he had run off to bother his mother and ask her to take him flying again.
The tree had been a companion to him when no one else had been. That wasn't to say that Poe didn't have friends - he did, plenty of them. Friends by the bunches, and they would run around and play Rebel versus Imperial and Han Solo versus Stormtroopers and Luke Skywalker versus the Emperor with zeal. Poe always got to be the rebel; got to be Han; got to be Luke, because Poe was the most charismatic and also his parents had been real rebels and he knew the stories best.
But the tree was there when he didn't want to be with his friends; it was there when his mom died, and he had run from the funeral because he didn't want to see her burned up. He climbed high into the branches and pressed his face to the humming bark and cried as hard as he could, because his mom was gone and his dad was only half a person now and life was a little more empty without her laugh.
When he grew up and left Yavin IV behind him, he left the tree, too; tucked it away in the back of his mind like the memory of his mom's laugh or the whisper-scent of hot chocolate on nights when it was cool and his dad found him curled up under three blankets and a sweater two sizes too big. It was a comfort, a steady truth. The tree was standing and Poe was alive. He was the best pilot in the Resistance and he felt his mother's guiding hands every time he slid into the cockpit.
Poe promised himself, as he helped Finn and Rey tuck away the last of their belongings as they got ready to uproot themselves to a new system, that he would show the two of them the tree one day, when all was said and done.
Maybe they would get the same comfort from it as he did.
When General Leia Organa told him that they would be moving their base to a new system, in order to protect themselves from the Order, he had not been sure if she was telling him because they were leaving him behind, or telling him because she was inviting him along.
The Resistance was different but the same from the Order; where the Order had everyone in uniform white and black with the occasional grey and, one instance, chrome, the Resistance was a splash of browns, greens, blues, greys, whites, oranges, and even blacks. Where the Order had everyone wake at the same time and sleep at the same time, never earlier, never later, the Resistance had people on the clock at all hours; had people waking up in the middle of the night and wandering, just because they could. Where the Order had each 'trooper assigned their own, small cubicle, just big enough to sleep in, the Resistance had barracks, and soldiers shared their quarters with fellow soldiers, and sometimes they would talk until they fell asleep.
But the Resistance was still an organization that fought, and brought order, and it needed its spies - but it also knew of spies.
Many people in the Resistance, behind their friendly smiles and familiar gestures, looked at Finn and thought him the snake in their grasses, and he was certain that many of them would be okay with leaving him behind.
Staring down at his clothes, the metal along his spine stretching his skin to near-discomfort, Finn wondered for a moment if he should leave now or wait until someone told him to come with them.
He wondered if anyone would.
Rey made sure she was at the tarmac when Poe's squadron got ready to take off, flying as protection for the rest of the Resistance ships.
Finn was already there, standing beside Poe and gripping onto his arm, knuckles bleeding white from how hard he grasped onto the flight suit. Poe had a hand against Finn's neck, forehead pressed to Finn's, and for a moment Rey felt like she was interrupting something private; something best shared between people with a bond she understood but didn't, because she had never given a person an identity and she had never given a person hope for a tomorrow before.
But then Poe looked over and caught her eye, and she rushed over and crashed into their sides, and the three of them wrapped around each other like they were meant to.
"We'll be fine," Poe assured; kissed her forehead, touched her cheeks, and she felt something lift off her shoulders and settle over her again; anxiety replaced with comfort. Finn's arm around her waist squeezed, and she smiled. "We'll all be fine. You and Luke Skywalker are heading back to the Temple, right?"
"Right," Rey nodded, and Finn's arm twitched around her, and Poe's eyes flickered over to see something on the former 'trooper's face that he didn't seem to like. She turned, back against Poe's chest, and reached up to cup Finn's face.
"Skywalker told me that R2-D2 can communicate with BB-8 and C-3P0. I'll holo you every week, Finn. Okay? You have to make sure you're there so I can holo you every week, because I'm going to miss you and I'm not leaving forever, just for a little bit."
Finn stared at her, but then he nodded and smiled ruefully, and Rey wanted to wipe the expression off his face, because he had every right to be scared of people leaving him. People were always leaving; she never wanted Finn to have to wait for someone who was never coming back.
"I'll be around as well," Poe said, and he pressed one of his hands against Rey's, still resting on Finn's cheek, and something that had been worrying Finn seemed to settle, and he closed his eyes and leaned closer to them. Poe leaned over Rey and pressed his lips to Finn's forehead, and that seemed to seal a binding contract, because they all separated just as easily.
Rey then wrapped her arms around Finn and squeezed, smiling when Finn lifted her up a little; and then she turned around and wrapped her arms around Poe and squeezed, and he buried his face in her neck and breathed her in.
"We'll see each other again," she promised, her voice a whisper; dark hands on her shoulders and gloved hands on her waist. "I can feel it."
As soon as they were in the air, the comm link crackled to life and Poe prepared himself for the worst.
"Two of them, Dameron?"
Of course it was Snap. Jess was probably keeping back, biding her time, learning everything she could before holding all the teases above his head like a pail of water about to be dumped onto him. Jess was terrible like that; she liked to be thorough in her lighthearted teases.
"I believe the General told us to only speak in case of emergencies, Snap."
"This IS an emergency!"
"No, this is you being nosy, Snap. Butt out."
Nien Nunb said something in his slithering native tongue; something about how they could pester Black Leader once they were in the new system and settled down a bit more. It wasn't exactly comforting, but it got Snap to snap his mouth shut, so Poe sent a little thank you to Nien all the same.
He knew that people were going to talk as soon as he saw Rey and Finn approaching him on the tarmac. Knew that his squad was watching, interested to see how Poe Dameron knew Luke Skywalker's apprentice and the Stormtrooper who had taken down Starkiller's shields. Knew that they were curious, and nosy, and only meant the best.
He didn't particularly want to share Rey and Finn, though.
They weren't his, never his, no one belonged to anyone but themselves. But they shared themselves with him; Rey with her quiet confidences and the way she always sat on his feet, because his feet were always cold and she seemed to carry Jakku's sun in her skin. Finn with his brash attitude, an attempt to copy Poe as he first saw him, down on his knees, quipping sarcasm to a nightmare in a mask.
Rey with her constant tinkering, always trying to improve his X-wing when he was busy just keeping it to standard; Finn with his questions about droid binary, and his questions about things that seemed so common yet weren't.
Those moments were his, and they shared them so easily with him and with each other that he knew he was part of something good and pure and Light, never Dark.
He didn't want anyone else to be privy to them.
General Leia Organa asked him to board her vessel, and he followed after her with wide eyes and hunched shoulders and the distinct feeling she was making a point.
Once in the command centre, she sat him down at a desk with a holo screen, gave him a list of things that needed to be done, and pressed her hands to his shoulders, telling him to 'get it done'. And he nodded, and stared at the keypad for a long moment before something seemed to click, and he was typing in codes and commands and strings of letters and numbers as if he had been doing it forever.
No one bothered him.
When night cycle approached, she came up to him again and asked him to share a drink with her, and he followed after her and knew that she was making a point, passing each and every person who watched him with wary eyes and half-convincing smiles.
He sat across from her in her private living section, accepting the drink of water, and watched as she settled herself across from him and sipped at wine that came from a planet he had only read about in his youth.
"Poe said you were a quick study," she said, and Finn smiled and felt that warmth that was human and not medical; the warmth that reminded him he was human and he had thoughts and feelings and dreams and ambitions. The warmth was warm eyes and a lazy half-smile; was thin, callused hands and dark hair and sunburnt skin. It grew when Rey's lips touched his cheek or Poe's nose pressed to his and the both of them just breathed.
"You show a lot of promise."
And then Finn flinched and curled into himself and avoided General Leia Organa's eyes as she went from proud to concerned.
"I don't want to stand out, ma'am," he whispered; twitching when worn, callused hands reached out and wrapped around his fingers, making him look up at the woman who sat before him. Her gaze was still concerned, but also understanding and also angry, and he wondered which of the emotions was for him and which were for the Order and which were just her default. "I just want to stay."
"You'll always have a place with us, Finn," the General promised, and she squeezed his hands, and tentatively, he squeezed back. "Always."
The Falcon wrapped around her like the leather jacket, and she breathed in deeply and found she had missed the scent of wookie and dust and history.
Skywalker was already in the common area, sitting on the bench that had once held Finn when he was unconscious with his back ripped apart and his life in a balance. His eyes were closed, his hands on his knees, and he looked almost peaceful if it weren't for the twist of his mouth making him look so uncomfortable.
She sat on the table that held the dejarik, closing her eyes and mimicking him almost immediately. The Force surrounded her, wrapping her up like Finn's arms, and she breathed in deeply and let go of her wondering, wandering thoughts.
She always felt like the universe expanded within her when she meditated, helping her learn more and more without ever hearing a word out of Skywalker's lopsided mouth. She wondered if Skywalker knew she experienced this; wondered if Skywalker experienced it, too.
She sighed, breathed in, and held it for five seconds before letting it out in a gust of air.
The first time Poe ever kissed anyone, it was his very best friend in the universe and it probably ruined the friendship forever.
Poe had always had a hard time trying to explain to people how his heart worked; how his love worked. When he tried to tell them that he only wanted to do things with people when he truly knew them, had a bond and knew he trusted them and loved them without a doubt, people got offended. I like that, too, they'd tell him, but he had to tell them it was different, that it wasn't just a nice bonus, it was necessary. Else there was just nothing there, and his friend was a friend and he broke someone's heart and really didn't mean to.
The first time he kissed anyone, it was his very best friend, and they had pushed him back and asked him what the kriffing hell he was thinking. And he stammered out something, an apology or an explanation, and they left him alone in his backyard beside the tree; the tree humming life and comfort as he buried his face in his hands and pretended he wasn't crying.
When Rey took their hands and said she loved them, she had crawled into Poe's bed first and curled against his chest as small as she could get, hiding beneath the blankets and tucking her nose to her knees. He ran his fingers through her hair, and she whispered to him that she didn't know what to do now; that sometimes she liked the thought of being with Finn and him, and sometimes she didn't because she had never wanted it before, and what they had now was perfect, wasn't it? They didn't have to do anything, did they?
She tried her best to describe herself, and in return Poe tried his best to describe himself, and together they cobbled together something that felt like understanding between them.
The first time he kissed Rey, she was stiff and unresponsive before she hesitatingly pushed back; when he pulled away, she hid her face in his neck and muttered that she had never had anyone before, never loved anyone before, and she knew what she was doing but she didn't, not really. She really didn't know even though she understood it all to some degree.
So he just pushed her away and kissed her again, and again, and slowly she got used to it.
Finn took to hiding himself in smaller areas where he could do something and no one would pay attention to him.
At first it would just be one of the common areas in the ship, and he would go through his exercises and strengthen his core and his back and his arms; go through familiar drills that made him feel like lead inside but was comforting in its familiarity all the same. And then it would be the training areas, where he would shoot a blaster and people would comment on his excellent aim, and he'd try to feel pride. When he went to mess, he acted as open and honest as he could, and no one looked at him like a spy anymore, just that kid who the General seemed to have adopted, and that was okay, too.
That was okay, too.
The Falcon separated from the rest of the Resistance group a week in their flight, and she quickly rushed to R2-D2 to try and get a holo out.
BB-8 was with Poe, and she stared out at the expanse of stars before the little droid turned to its master and Poe grinned at her; not looking at her for too long, too intent on making sure he didn't crash into any of his friends.
"We're separating now," Rey said, and she squeezed her fingers into her elbows and hoped she didn't leave behind marks. Skywalker was somewhere in the room, she knew; she could feel him, but she ignored him for now. This was more important. "I don't know when I'll be back - tell Finn that I'll see him soon, okay?"
"Will do, Rey," Poe nodded, and she smiled and breathed in before looking at him again. He glanced at her and caught her eye, waiting for her to finish.
"Tell him I love him," she said finally, and then she let go and reached out to touch the flickering blue of his holo. "Tell him to tell you I love you, too."
Poe's grin widened, and he gave her a salute.
"Love you, too, Rey. See you soon."
"...See you, soon."
The first time Poe kissed Finn, they reached their new base and Finn looked like he was escaping.
He had hopped out of his X-wing, and his squadron was milling around, waiting for the moment to strike and ask him about Rey and Finn and what they had, when suddenly Finn was marching up to him, the cadence that of a 'trooper's, and Poe watched as Finn nearly collided against his chest.
He didn't ask what was wrong; didn't ask what had happened, because he got the feeling that it was less something that had happened and more something that Finn hadn't expected; didn't ask and just leaned in and kissed him.
Finn jerked, his hands twitched, and he pulled back and stared at Poe with wide, wide eyes; so wide that Poe was almost sure he had somehow messed up. And then Finn curled his fingers into his flight suit and pressed into him and it was stiff and awkward, and Poe pressed his hands to Finn's neck and nudged his nose with his until the poor boy finally relaxed.
When he pulled away, Finn was looking at him with stars and a hundred questions in his eyes, and he could see Jess and Snap and Nien Nunb idling away just a few feet to his left; so Poe smiled, wrapped an arm around Finn's shoulders, and led the two of them right out of the hangar and towards the base's centre of operations so that he could report to General Leia and get his next assignment while also ignoring the impending ribbing.
Finn leaned against him and wrapped an arm around his waist, hand between his shoulders, and he was warm and solid and the leather jacket hid the bump of a metallic spine.
"Rey says she loves you," he said finally, and Finn rested his head against his shoulder and nodded. "Told you to tell me she loved me, too."
"She loves you, too," Finn said, automatically, and Poe grinned. Finn then pressed a little closer to him, and Poe squeezed him against his side. "I love you, too."
It was like something soft settled around him; the familiar hum of the tree wrapping around him and assuring him that everything was fine and he loved just fine.
Shortly after they had started to settle onto their new base, General Leia Organa asked for Finn.
He came, because he was used to orders from powerful women and knew that to keep them waiting was a bad idea. He never thought that General Leia Organa would be the same as Her, but he didn't want to risk it; didn't want to be proven wrong. He couldn't tell what was 'evil' and what was just human nature when you were in command, and he never wanted to learn the difference.
The General sat him down and started to ask him questions; what was training like for 'troopers, what was the chain of command, who were the Important Ones.
Finn recalled Hux and Ren and Snoke; recalled Her and the way she loomed. He recalled basic education from the time he could walk to physical education from the time he could do basic maths; recalled the constant medical visits and the medi-droids who poked and prodded and changed them in what ways they were programmed to deem fit.
He remembered syringes and pills and scalpels and the clicking of equipment. Recalled the invasive questions that didn't seem so invasive at the time, because how did he know better?
General Leia Organa listened with her heavy heart on her face, and he spoke with the drone of someone who had experienced something horrific so often that it became part of routine.
"They tried to beat the human out of you," was what she told him, after he was done and his words had run dry. He shrugged, and kept quiet, and she sighed and reached out and squeezed his wrist. "I'm so sorry."
He was dismissed. He left.
He wondered what made a person a person, anyway.
Rey grinned widely, leaning towards R2 with her knees tucked to her collarbones. Finn appeared in flickering holo blue, smiling his wide, wonderful smile and looking healthy and happy and still there.
"Rey! You back at the Temple yet?"
"Yep!" Rey looked around at her little shelter; her grass pallet and her cloak and her sanctuary from training and breathing and concentrating. Here, with the dinged up R2-D2 unit beeping and rocking happily, she could be content with a cluttered mind and short little breaths because she was excited. "It's so beautiful here, Finn, I wish you could see it."
When she had first arrived at Skywalker's secluded planet, Chewie rumbling a mournful growl every once in a while and R2-D2 shaking in its excitement, she hadn't appreciated the planet of rocky islands and huge bodies of water. She had been too focused on climbing stairs that took concentration and time and a lot of thoughts; too focused on reaching the very top, where Skywalker stood staring out at the water as if it held the answers to his questions and the resolutions to his failures.
It was only now that she was back that she felt the sense of peace the planet had. It was quiet, and still, and abandoned - rocky foundations of ancient civilizations from a religious order long since slaughtered. Sometimes, in certain places, she felt blood seep up from the grass and squelch between her toes; thought she heard the screaming of dying Jedi as those they had trusted turned on them and shot them in the back.
There wasn't much information on how the Jedi were lost; ragged documents on Order 66, from the crumbling remains of the Empire. The First Order had squashed any link to the Empire, intent on being the true order of the galaxy and doing better than Palpatine had ever done. So while they never denied that everything during those chaotic years had happened, they never associated with them; thought themselves above the use of mystics and wizards.
Rey wondered how Kylo Ren fit into that world, but she never liked to think on Kylo Ren for too long.
"I'll have to come with you one day, take the grand tour."
Rey smiled a little at that, hiding it in her knees as Finn grinned widely and openly at her. Finn was so open, and she envied him for it. He wore his heart on his sleeve and his truths on his face. He owned up to what he was before she could find out in the worst possible way; turned back around when he had run because he knew he had to. From the many, many talks they had had during his recovery, Rey knew Finn thought himself inconsequential; a pawn, easily tossed aside, damaged and unimportant. A coward. A fool.
Rey knew better than that, though. It took a brave sort of person to be open about how he felt all the time.
"I'll be only too happy to show you around."
As soon as they were landed, General Leia sent Poe and his squadron back into the skies for a quick scouting mission and information run.
She promised him with a soft expression and a barely-there smile that Finn would be fine, and then looked the other way when the ace pilot of the Resistance grabbed Finn by the shoulders and kissed him without further ado. Jess and Snap and the others whistled in the background, and when Poe finally pulled back, Finn was grinning and Poe didn't feel a bit embarrassed.
He only pulled away and saluted General Leia when he absolutely had to, climbing back into his Black One and waiting for BB-8 to slot into its spot as neatly as ever.
It was just when he got into the air and out of orbit back into the quiet weightlessness of space that the rest of Blue and Red squadrons bombarded him with questions.
"Since when were you and that guy a thing?"
"When did you guys even talk, he was in a coma for two months!"
"You don't care that he was a Stormtrooper?"
Immediately Poe scowled.
"After this mission, you're all reporting to me once we're back on the ground and we're having a long talk. It's gonna be informative, and it's gonna probably hurt, and you're gonna sit there and listen to me because what was just said? Such bantha shit, I never want to hear it again."
Silence reigned for a moment, before there were a few quiet affirmations, and Poe's grip on the stick shift relaxed.
"Now then - less gossip, more mission. We don't want to be in the sky for too long, we only just got a new base and I need to claim the good room."
"With a nice big bed?"
"Nah, Snap - I'll leave that for you." Laughter filtered through the comm, tinny and a bit sharp against his ears, but it was familiar, and Poe finally felt at home like he was meant to. He flicked a switch, turning his X-wing slightly to the left, and head towards the first habitable planet in the system to make sure First Order hadn't created an influence since they had first scouted it.
Nobody brought up Finn again.
When Finn found the training area, he was brought up to one of the drill sergeants and immediately asked about 'trooper weaponry.
They showed him a collection of weapons they had collected together in an attempt to understand the fighting style of 'troopers, especially considering that they had improved since the days of the Empire. The First Order had taken the training of the Imperial troops and enhanced it. It helped that they had medicine and time on their side.
It helped that they trained their soldiers since youth.
He had always been good with weaponry. He had been the best shot, the best at hand-to-hand. His instructors had upheld him as the perfect example of a Stormtrooper - loyal and full of Promise and competent.
He wondered if they cursed his name, or if they had the free will to even try it.
He took apart the blasters they had in seconds, showing the parts and how it was powered and what kind of kick it held. He took apart the riot shields, showing that they were filled with a numbing electric shock that was meant to quieten crowds.
When he came upon the baton, he was reminded of the 'trooper that died on Takodana. The one who had screamed traitor.
That had been a hell of a fight, and Zeroes had overpowered him, and the only reason he was still alive to be staring down at the baton was because Han Solo shot Zeroes in the chest and he had died.
More blood from his squadron. More blood on his hands, in his eyes, and his hands didn't shake when he reached out and picked up the baton, but he felt like they should have.
"You spin these to power them - the more spins, the higher the voltage," he explained, turning to the sergeant. "I know how to use all of these. I can show your soldiers. Just tell me when."
Skywalker told her to climb to the top of the most intact structure, and up, up, up she went, pretending it was a derelict Stardestroyer and she was looking for prime scraps of metal. Maybe parts that could be used to fix up other junked ships; maybe something to break apart and build something completely different, because the Empire didn't give you much outside of breaking opportunities.
She climbed, her fingers finding natural notches in the stone, her feet testing the support of walls and crumbling rooftops, and she never once looked back because if she looked back she would fall.
When she got to the very top, she sat on the edge, and looked down, and saw Skywalker climbing up behind her; his fingers strong and steady, his back moving in familiar movements, as if he did this every day. She scooted to the side when he came up beside her, and he sat down, and they looked out at the horizon together.
"You remind me of him," he said, and she turned to him and wondered who he meant. He refused to look at her. "Ben. When he was still my nephew - when he was still part of the Light. He had the same look of determination that you do - the same need to prove you can do something. The same habit of never looking back."
"I don't know if I want to be compared to him."
"Ben was a good kid. Quiet, and alone, but good." Rey frowned, and Skywalker smiled, and told her about his nephew before he was the man in the mask. Told her about how he had probably been too young when he had taken him in for training; how he had been raised onto a pedestal because he was Luke Skywalker's nephew and Leia Organa and Han Solo's son and the grandson of Darth Vader, who was terrible and terrifying but also Anakin Skywalker who had been the best pilot of the Republic and the most powerful Jedi known to the galaxy.
She wondered if any of that had shaped him; if he had taken all of those identities and forgotten to have an identity of his own. She wondered if it was because he was a child with nothing to call himself that Snoke gripped onto his heart and dragged him to the Dark side.
Wondered if it was because his father was a war hero and a grand smuggler and Han Solo that Ben finally stabbed him through the chest in an effort to look in the mirror and finally see himself.
"...He's not good anymore," she finally said, and Skywalker said nothing as she glared down at her knees. "He's not."
Because no one good would stab their father and call it self-discovery. No one.
He heard that Finn was in the training room, and so he went to see what he was doing and if he wanted to get lunch.
When Poe got there, though, he stopped at the door and watched what was happening inside.
Finn was alone in the centre of a circle made of Resistance soldiers, all of them with batons and staffs. Finn held out what looked like a 'trooper riot baton, and he spun it around like Poe had seen dozens of others, but faster than he had ever seen, with a precision that was terrifying. It crackled and zapped to life, and it came so close to his unprotected side, but he never moved, and he held it out like an extension of himself, and suddenly all the soldiers came at him and it was a blur of sparks and movement.
And throughout it all, he heard Finn talking.
"Riot 'troopers, is what we call them - they control crowds, mostly. Civilians and the like, those without weapons. They hit them, on the back and the backs of their legs, to get them moving, herding them like banthas or tauntauns. They tend to stick to lower frequencies then - they don't want to kill the civilians, not yet. Riot 'troopers are for when they're looking for information. For control of a large population."
He spun, and struck out, and three soldiers went down and rolled away, rubbing at their arms and listening intently. A sergeant stood off to the side, a timer and a baton of his own in his hand, watching carefully to make sure nothing off happened. Finn stepped back, spun the baton again, and it crackled stronger.
"There's a medium frequency, meant to knock out people. Prisoners, then, people important enough to warrant a questioning from higher ups." Poe thought back to himself, dragged to his feet to his knees to his feet again, staring up into the blank, blank mask of Kylo Ren and wishing his heart would lodge out of his throat - wondering if the blaster shot frozen in midair was going to come at him and knock him right in the head, killing him. Wondering if tonight was the night he was going to die.
A few more soldiers came at Finn, and he hit at them carefully, making sure not to make contact - they allowed it, because none of them especially wanted to be knocked out; all of them feeling the difference in pulsating energy and strength.
Finn stepped back, spun the baton once more, and the crack of electricity was so loud that everyone in the room jumped and stepped back.
"Last frequency - they don't want you. They don't need you. They just want you dead."
And he slammed the baton into a dummy and everyone watched as the cloth blackened and caught on fire before knocking over; sizzling and hissing and squealing as if a creature in pain. Finn stood there, breathing, and Poe remembered Han Solo describing the 'trooper who had been attacking Finn in the battle of Takodana - could remember him saying that his weapon was crackling with blue lights and humming as loudly as anything.
Made him realize that the 'troopers wanted Finn dead very, very badly.
Finn sat in Poe's room on Poe's bed and stared at the walls with wide eyes, wondering if he was going to share with the man again or if he was going to be asked to have his own place, because they had the room for it now and Poe loved him, sure, but maybe he didn't want to sleep in the same room as him anymore.
Poe walked in, then, saw him sitting on the bed, and grinned.
"That's not a sight I thought I'd see."
Poe walked over, sat on the bed next to Finn, and held out his hand. Finn reached out and curled his fingers around Poe's - dark brown next to dusty brown, the both of them hard and callused but always soft with each other. Poe swiped his thumb over Finn's knuckles and Finn leaned closer to him and took what contact he could get.
"Not that I mind you on my bed." Finn blinked at him and raised his eyebrows, and Poe snorted. "I'm kidding with you."
"That was a sex joke."
"Well, when you say it so bluntly, it doesn't sound as flirty."
"I've heard you don't have sex."
Poe blinked, eyebrows raised. "Wow people like to talk." But Finn kept staring at him, and Poe sighed and smiled and shrugged, before trying to explain to him a concept that was foreign to Finn and sometimes to Poe and to everyone else who didn't know or understand or feel the same.
"I don't - it's true, I don't, I never want to unless there's someone I cherish more than anything. And it's only when I have a bond or trust or love with them that I want to, and even then sometimes I still don't want to. Sometimes I just want to hold their hand or stay by their side or kiss them. It's not important to me - I don't feel like I'm missing anything if I don't have sex. Why? Do you want sex?"
Finn pressed his lips together, brow furrowed, before shaking his head.
"No. I don't. The idea means nothing to me. Emotional intimacy doesn't necessitate physical intimacy and I don't want it and I don't need it. I don't desire it, like I've seen some people desire it. Maybe something in my training broke me."
Poe covered his mouth with a hand, then, and Finn looked wide-eyed at him as Poe scowled.
"There's nothing wrong with you, and you're not broken, and I'll be damned if you ever say that about yourself again."
Finn blinked, reached up to pull Poe's hand away, and held both of his hands tightly in his own.
"What makes someone human?"
Poe stared back at him, and squeezed his hand.
"Questions just like that."
"There's a difference between you and Ben, should you wish to know it."
Rey looked over at Skywalker, holding her bowl of waterfowl stew close to her chest; the broth something briny and salty and nothing at all like she had had before. Slowly the memory of sand-coated rations and murky water tainted by traces of oil thirty years old drained away from her, cleared away by sea breezes and soft grass and stones worn away by time.
Skywalker did not look at her, merely poking at the pot with the stew over the fire, and he sat hunched and small, and for a moment he looked so old. Older than he had ever seemed, and sad, and she wondered if maybe Skywalker was just as broken and heartsick as the rest of the universe.
"What's that?" she finally asked, and Skywalker smiled, glancing over at her and curling his metal hand into a fist on his lap.
"Love. You have love in your heart; it beats around you, blankets you with the Force - makes the Light stronger. Ben drew away from love, hid from it. Thought that it would bring him nothing but weakness, and the idea was given food and strength by Snoke. But you reach for it. You hold onto it. ... the Code would disagree, but. But it's good."
Rey stared at him and thought of Poe with his crinkling smile and cold feet and oil-stained, warm hands; thought of Finn and the metal down his spine and his smile like the sun and the way his hands never shook when he held a weapon but always shook when he reached for her. Remembered hands on her cheeks and lips on her forehead and felt something pleasant and warm and soft, like a hug from Chewie, curl around her and protect her from the loneliness of the planet.
"... It is good, isn't it?"