“Easy, now, buddy. Easy.”
Finn snapped awake, scrabbling at the snow under his hands, forcing himself into a sitting position, half-blinded by light that shouldn’t exist. His hands were so numbed by cold the snow seemed smooth and dry. Where was the light coming from? Where was Rey? He twisted in a wild arc, willing himself to see more clearly and started to fall.
A pair of solid hands on his arms guided him back to safety.
Finn squeezed his eyes tight shut and opened them again. Slowly the world eased into focus and he found himself staring into Poe Dameron’s face, concern written in knitted brows.
“Where am I?”
“Always a classic. Good start. We’re back on the base. You remember your name, kid?”
“Why? Don’t you? You named me.” Funny how quickly his new name had become him in a few days more than his designation had in his whole life.
“And I did a hell of a job.” Poe grinned, settling back in his chair. Not the cocky grin he’d flashed when they’d stolen the TIE fighter, but the other one. The one that Finn had watched spread across his face when they’d run towards each other, just happy to see each other alive. Finn frowned.
“How dead was I?”
“On a scale of one to total annihilation I’d say you were pretty high up there. You’ve been asleep a while.”
“How long, exactly?”
Poe’s eyes flickered away and then returned. “Couple of weeks.”
Finn glanced around the small room. Nothing much to do here but sit. “You weren’t here the whole time, were you?”
There was that flickering again. What did that mean?
“What? You think I haven’t got better things to do than babysit a moof-milker who got himself sabered in the back?” Poe folded his arms, looking away. “Sometimes I had BB-8 watch you instead.”
Something rushed inside Finn like a rusty faucet twisted open, but he ignored it. “Rey,” he said, suddenly panicked, swinging his legs over the side of his sickbed. “Where’s Rey?”
Poe put a steadying hand on Finn’s leg. “Relax. She’s good. At least, we’re pretty sure she’s good. She took Chewie and R2 in the Falcon and they left to find Skywalker. She’s bringing him home, but they’re taking some kind of detour first. Skywalker insisted.”
Finn’s eyes widened. “For real?”
“Go, Rey,” he muttered, pushing away the unreasonable thought that she could have waited for him. Of course she couldn’t; there was work to do and it wasn’t as if comas came with an alarm clock setting. Then, “Poe, Kylo Ren. I saw what...General Organa, is she…?”
“She’s hurting, but she’s not sharing. She’ll want to see you now you’re awake, though.” Poe examined Finn with a critical eye. He motioned at his own chin. “Maybe clean up a bit first. That fuzz on your face looks like you’ve been attacked by fungus. Also--and I say this as a friend--you stink like nerf dung. Two weeks in a coma’ll do that to a guy.”
Finn sniffed at an armpit and grimaced. No arguing the point there. He looked around. They were in a small room separated from the main command room by thick, plastic sheeting. Beyond it, dim figures moved with purpose like a dance Finn didn’t know the steps to. The room was deserted except for the two of them. “So can I just...walk out of here?”
“Let’s ask someone who knows. Stay there, kid, I’ll go bring Doctor Kalonia.”
“Don’t call me kid!” Finn called after him. Han Solo could have called Finn anything he wanted and Finn would have borne it without complaint. What else could you do with a legend? But the designation had died with him and Finn couldn’t imagine it would ever sit right from anyone else. Poe was already gone and did not hear him. Without him everything seemed too quiet and Finn hummed to himself to make a little noise. Halfway through the third measure he realized he was humming a First Order anthem and ground to a halt. He shuddered. He’d run fast and he’d run far, but they were still in his head in ways he couldn’t fathom. You were either theirs or you were dead and Finn was breaking all the rules. Punishment was harsh and swift and rare among the stormtrooper ranks. Who needed it when prisons were in each of their heads?
The plastic sheeting rustled and a gaunt figure with greying hair stepped into the room. “I see my favorite patient is up and about.”
Finn shook his head free of the strains of melody. “Favorite, huh?”
“You were quiet and still and let me poke you with needles without complaint. Best type of patient, I’d say.” The doctor’s face was grave, but her eyes smiled. This was okay. This was joking, this wasn’t compliance training. Finn let himself relax.
“I aim to please. Am I good to go, doc?”
“Just a few checks, if you don’t mind. No needles now, I promise.”
“Do what you gotta do,” said Finn, and held out his arm.
Somewhere behind Doctor Kalonia’s left shoulder, Poe hovered, tapping his chrono and holding his nose. Finn shook his head, idiot, and there was that rusty faucet again, creaking open and flooding him with something that made his limbs crackle. Maybe it was an after-effect of the lightsaber wound. Maybe it had done something bad to his nervous system that they were keeping from him for his own good.
“Well, I don’t recommend you diving straight back into heroics,” said the doctor eventually, tucking the reflex hammer back into her pocket, “but I’d say you were fit to return to quarters provided someone is responsible for you.”
“He’s with me,” said Poe. “We saved each other’s lives one time and all the stories say that makes us responsible for each other.”
Doctor Kalonia raised her eyebrows. “Tell that to a doctor.”
“So it’s possible the stories are mynock shit,” Poe conceded. “But I’m taking him anyway.”
Doctor Kalonia held up her hands. “You’ll get no arguments from me. Make sure he drinks plenty of fluids and don’t let him eat too much for his first meal or you may find yourself responsible for the consequences and no one wants that, life-saving reciprocity or no.” She drew a tube of cream out of another pocket and handed it to Poe. “Rub this over the wound area on his back. Gently, now! His shoulder is healing nicely and should look after itself. After a shower, before sleep, on waking. I’ll expect him back tomorrow for follow up. Any weakness, tingling, numbness, come straight back in. Some muscle fatigue is to be expected, so don’t worry too much about that.” With that she patted Finn on the shoulder and left them to it.
“Let’s get out of here,” Finn said, standing up. Or at least, that was what he was aiming to do. His legs, apparently unused to the movement, buckled under him and he would have hit the floor hard if Poe hadn’t grabbed him in time, sliding his arm around Finn’s waist and dragging Finn’s arm across his shoulder.
“I got you, buddy,” said Poe. “C’mon, baby steps now.”
Progress to Poe’s quarters was slow. Poe was pressed tight along Finn’s body, taking his weight and Finn’s stomach churned with a mix of nerves and queasiness. It was probably the aftermath of everything that had happened; after all, in some ways the fight with Kylo Ren was only minutes ago, in others it was weeks, no wonder his brain and his body were out of sync. As they neared the building BB-8 squealed out of the door, rolling straight to Finn and bumping him in the legs, chattering non-stop in binary.
“Hey, watch the invalid!” Finn complained with zero animosity.
“He says, ‘Welcome back,’” Poe translated. “I think he missed you.”
BB-8 rattled off another string of incomprehensible beeps.
“No, I will not. No, I do not. None of your business.” Poe’s grip tightened on Finn’s waist and he was aware for the first time of a steady, throbbing pain along the length of his spine, worse where Poe’s arm pressed against it.
He flinched, unable to stop himself. Poe stopped in his tracks.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing. I’m good, let’s go.”
“Kid, I don’t need the Force to know that you’re lying.”
“Don’t call me kid,” Finn said on autopilot. “And if you have to know, it’s my back. Where he...you know.”
“Shit, I’m sorry.” Poe relaxed his grasp to Finn’s immediate relief. “Can you make it? It’s only a few more steps.”
Finn nodded. His legs were starting to feel more solid. He could do this.
By the time he’d made the sanctuary of Poe’s cot he was sweating and shaking like a severed rathtar tentacle. “Just gotta lie down,” he said. “Rest.”
“Oh no you don’t. ‘fresher first, you stink beast.”
Finn shook his head. “I can’t. I’ll die.”
“Seems like you’re pretty hard to kill. I guess you’ll survive.”
Finn groaned. “Don’t make me, Poe. You’re supposed to be my friend.” Finn had to admit he had a shaky grasp on what friendship actually meant, but he was pretty sure it didn’t include torture by shower.
Poe sighed. “Do you want me to help you?”
“Yes. Please, yes.”
Of course, if Finn had thought it through he would have realized that being helped into the refresher by Poe would mean that at least one of them would have to be naked, but it still came as a surprise when Poe started to tug at the tunic they’d put on him in the medbay. His first instinct was to shove Poe’s hands away, but then he remembered he’d asked for this and raised his arms instead. As he pulled at the tunic, Poe’s knuckles grazed Finn’s sides. The shock of it made him convulse. No one had touched him there with such gentleness. That wasn’t how it worked.
“Shit, did I hurt you?” Poe froze, tunic halfway up Finn’s outstretched arms.
He shook his head, mute, half-dreading, half-anticipating what was going to come next. Poe finished with the tunic and pulled Finn to his feet.
“Pants,” he said. “Can you do those yourself?”
Finn looked down at the loose pants tied with a drawstring. “Yeah,” he said, disappointed in a way that made no sense to him. He fumbled the knot open with trembling fingers and let the fabric slide down under its own weight. It was soft against his skin, pooling around his ankles. Finn stayed where he was, pressing his own knuckles into the outside of his thighs. It wasn’t the same. Poe cast him an odd look and then started shucking his own clothes.
Finn watched in fascination, his fatigue forgotten for the moment. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen naked bodies before, but they were those he had grown up with, stripped of meaning by overexposure. This was what you all looked like under your armor. You had limbs and genitals and navels. Finn remembered being small, when he hadn’t learned yet, and he’d been fascinated because everyone in his unit had a navel that went in, but FN-1246 had one that stuck out. He’d resisted for as long as he could, taking his allocated place and allocated time for daily ablutions, but one day he’d broken rank and marched straight up to FN-1246, reaching out to touch that strange protrusion. FN-1246 had screamed and he had screamed too and then the Cadet Squadron Commander had backhanded him so hard he’d flown across the room. He’d had his rations cut for a week. After that, Finn only looked down at his feet during ablutions time. Even later when things were different he never let his eyes rest in one place for too long, just in case.
Now, though. Now he stared as Poe’s body emerged from under layers of clothing, his warm skin slowly revealed. Some part of him expected still to be punished for this watching and he fought against the rising panic. Then Poe caught his eye and Finn’s heart hammered in his throat. Maybe it didn’t have to be the Commander who meted out the punishment, maybe it wasn’t okay to stare like this even outside of the Order.
But Poe winked. He winked and ran a hand through his hair and said, “Like what you see, huh?”
“I...I...I…” Finn stammered, the panic of potential pain receding only to be replaced by a wash of burning shame that spread across his whole body.
“I’m kidding!” Poe shook his head. “Sheesh. I’m sorry, Finn. I forget you grew up in a hotbed of evil, repressed lunatics. Probably did a real number on you, right?”
“I think I’m only just figuring out how much,” Finn agreed, shame receding under Poe’s friendly gaze.
Poe reached out and grasped Finn’s shoulder. “I know Rey’s not here right now, but you’re not alone, okay? I got your back for as long as you need it. And that means for anything.”
“Thanks,” said Finn, totally aware of how inadequate the word was.
“Now get in that shower before you get this placed condemned for toxic waste.” Poe took both of Finn’s hands. “Careful, now,” he said, nodding towards where Finn’s feet were still tangled in his pants.
Finn nodded and let himself be led, keeping his eyes on his feet the whole time.
“Here we are,” said Poe.
Finn looked up, recognizing the simple water shower unit from when he and Rey had arrived at the base. Then he’d shared the communal refreshers, this time was the first in his life that he’d been in a place where he could actually shower alone. Not that he was, but the idea was enough to make him grin.
“You get to just be in here. You know, by yourself. And with water. You don’t have to keep count in your head until your turn is up. Or make sure you expose everything to the sonics. You could just like, I don’t know, stand under the water and think. That’s so cool.”
Poe laughed. “Kid, since you broke me out you’ve seen more than you probably could’ve ever imagined and it’s the shower that gets you going? You’re a little nuts. I’m blaming the coma.”
“Still not a kid. And shut up, you have no idea. C’mon, let’s go!”
Poe let go of Finn, still laughing, and turned to a panel on the wall. Finn looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes. His eyelids flickered as the first drops hit his face, but then he relaxed into it, the water rolling across his parched skin. He moaned. “This feels so good.”
Finn felt it like a shift in the water temperature, the change in the quality of Poe’s silence. He dropped his head back down, opening his eyes and shaking them clear of water. Poe leaned against the wall, serious and watching. There was something in his face that Finn didn’t understand and yet it brought back the thudding pulse in his throat.
“What?” he said.
“Soap.” Poe’s expression flicked back to open and smiling so quickly Finn was disoriented. He shook his head again to see if it would help. It didn’t.
“Soap,” he repeated, just for something to say.
“You do know how to shower, right? Water’s only half the battle.”
Finn was back on solid ground. “Sure. I mean the First Order only had evil soap for hand sanitizing, but I guess Resistance soap works on the same kind of cleaning principle. Just over a bigger area.”
“Bigger and better.”
Poe hit some more buttons and a drawer slid out. He handed the contents to Finn. “You can do this yourself, right? You probably don’t want me touching…” He waved towards Finn’s genitals, eyes looking anywhere but there.
Something sparked inside Finn. He looked down at his genitals and then across at Poe’s. His fingers twitched. What would it be like to touch any part of Poe? Why not there, too?
“Because it’s weird?”
“I’m confused. Why what?”
“Sweet mother of chaos, Finn, you haven’t...What did those bastards do to you?”
“I don’t understand.” Finn’s chest tightened.
“Hey, hey, don’t sweat it.” Poe said, those knitted brows back in full force. “Let’s just get you clean, yeah?” He took the packets from Finn’s unresisting hands, snapping one open and pouring the contents onto his palm, mixing it with water. It swelled into a small, pale yellow lump, mottled with holes.
Poe handed it back. “Sponge.” He snapped open the second packet and tipped it out over the sponge. “You know the drill.”
Finn nodded and squeezed the powder into the sponge, a rich lather bubbling up and sliding away down his hand. Without thought he began the routine. Head first, scrubbing the bubbles through his hair, letting them drain away over his face. Arms, armpits, chest, counting down sixty to zero.
“Yo, Speedy, take your time and watch that burn on your shoulder. It’s still looking pretty raw.”
Startled, Finn lost count. How had he forgotten about that? He ran a finger over the area. It didn’t hurt, but the skin was smooth, unused. He’d burned himself on a faulty conduit once. The healing skin had been a livid pink for weeks, reminding him to take better care or at least better gloves. He kept washing and turned around. “Tell me.”
He heard Poe suck in a breath and braced himself. “I don't know what you want me to say."
"Well, it's not pretty. You were kind of charcoaled there. They had to cut away a whole lot, cloned your tissue and grafted it back on. It's paler than the rest of you, I guess because it hasn't seen the sun, and you have two scars running either side. Neat, but kinda angry looking."
"Show me.” Finn resisted the temptation to twist his head to try and look as Poe tracked a path either side of his spine, stopping at his lower back. There was some sensation there, but muted, nothing like Poe’s knuckles against him earlier. For a second, Finn imagined grabbing Poe’s hand and dragging it over his skin and then something connected in his brain and he said, “My spine.”
Poe’s fingers dropped away. “You’re not 100% Finn any more, but you get to be able to move, so that’s a bonus.”
Finn turned back around. “I feel like me.”
“Microscopic repair bots working their little miracles. It’s why you were out so long. What does it mean to feel like you anyway?”
That was a question Finn didn’t have the answer to. Not yet.
“Shit,” said Poe. “I’ve freaked you out again. I really gotta learn when to close my damn mouth.”
“No, I’m good,” said Finn and at least on some level he knew he was telling the truth.
Eventually, clean and shaved, Finn sat on Poe’s cot, elbows resting on his thighs as Poe rubbed the cream from the doctor onto his graft.
“Gotta question,” said Poe, fingers moving in tight circles over the new skin.
“It’s kinda awkward.”
“Whatever,” said Finn, relaxed and, for someone who’d been in a coma for days, surprisingly sleepy.
Poe’s fingers stilled for a moment and then started up again. “Before. In the ‘fresher. When I said you wouldn’t want me washing your junk and you were...surprised. Have you never...I mean, you do know what...Ah, shit, you know that’s not just for pissing, right?”
“Not just for...Wait. Oh, man.” Finn straightened up, glancing sideways at Poe. “You think I don’t know about sex? I’m pretty sure everyone in the galaxy knows about sex. Maybe not little kids, but.”
Poe’s face was a comical mixture of relief and confusion. “But you wanted to know why I shouldn’t…And then you were confused, so I thought...”
Finn tried to figure this from Poe’s perspective. He didn’t know the rules of this world, only what the First Order had taught him. They probably did things differently here. Maybe better. “You’re the one who said it was weird.”
“Only because you asked why.”
“Hold up,” said Finn. “Seems to me like we crossed wires somewhere. Here’s how it went back in the First Order. When you got old enough there were these classes. Sex ed. All the basic plumbing and all the shit that could go wrong. We were taught that sex was a natural outlet to reduce surplus aggression and that if we needed to do it, we should find someone else who needed to do it and, you know, do it.”
“With anyone who wanted to.”
“Wow.” Poe stopped rubbing again. “I guess that makes some kind of sense. I remember being a horny teenager. Nothing’s gonna be more likely to screw with the whole brainwashing thing than thwarted hormones. Clever bastards.” He squirted more cream on his fingers and reapplied himself to Finn’s back. “So you’ve…”
“Oh, yeah. Lots.”
“We didn’t do friends.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sex was okay, sex with the same person only was deviant and got you sent for reconditioning. It was never about the person, only the act.”
“Is it?” Finn thought about the bond he’d formed with Rey, the one he’d formed with Poe. They were both fierce and forged in fire and he thought that maybe in some way he loved them. Not in the same way he’d been taught to love the First Order, but because they’d rescued each other when they’d needed it. But he didn’t know where it was supposed to go from here. How did it work now they weren’t running?
“You can’t understand. We were so indoctrinated into the cause we never stepped out of line. They taught us that caring about someone more than anyone else was favoritism and against the code of the Order. They said the Order was about everyone being equal, all of us. It didn’t matter if we worked in sanitation or as Kylo Ren’s personal bodyguard, every stormtrooper fought for the advancement of the Order. That was how it was. We were chosen, that’s what they told us. Not stolen, chosen. They made us believe. We believed so hard, we would have done anything.” Finn’s stomach churned and he pressed a hand over it to quiet it.
“What changed for you?”
Finn shook his head. “I don’t know. When we came to the village to find you it was the first time I’d gone into battle for them. Then I saw FN-2300 die. I felt it. We weren’t supposed to...but we’d worked sanitation together. He’d crack these jokes about the weird shit we’d find in the compactors. I guess I liked him. Maybe we were friends, I don’t know. But then he was dead and I got what that meant. I got what we were doing. And then the villagers.”
Finn stopped, heart racing as he remembered the intense wave of terror and pain that had rolled over him in waves as the other stormtroopers lifted their blasters and gunned the people down like it was nothing. He’d never experienced anything like it before, not even in the sims where he’d balked at the idea of killing even AI civilians. This was a visceral, bone-stripping agony of hundreds of voices, real voices, facing their end. With each crumpling body the pain lessened, but that had done nothing to ease Finn’s distress. He’d only kept his feet by the strength of his training. How was he supposed to explain that?
He tried, “It was like waking up from a dream, you know? Like when you’re in it it all makes sense and you’re just going along for the ride but the second you wake up you realize how messed up it all is and if the dream you had any sense he’d have run screaming. I did, I guess. I didn’t stop screaming until I found you. I don’t know if I have yet.” It would have to do.
Poe was very still for a second, something in his face impossible to read. Then he said, “I’d say you’re safe now, but we both know that’s not true. How about we settle for you finding me was a good day for both of us?”
Finn nodded. There was part of him that just wanted to slide down until his head was in Poe’s lap and go to sleep there. Like, sure they were only in a temporary reprieve from First Order attacks, but if he could lie his head there and sleep while Poe kept watch then he’d be as safe as it was possible to be.
“You look done in,” said Poe. “Here, you’re all set with your back. Why don’t you lie down and take a nap?”
For a second, Finn thought Poe had read his mind and then Poe was shifting off the cot, making room. He swallowed down his disappointment. Sleeping on your buddy’s lap was probably something else there were rules about. He was going to have to learn a whole set of new ones. Later, though. He lay down, punching the pillow into comfortable submission, and was asleep in seconds.
“Poe!” he called, but he was alone. Or no, not alone. BB-8 rolled towards him emitting a series of concerned sounding beeps and offering Finn a piece of flimsi in one pincered arm.
“Thanks, buddy.” Finn took the flimsi and unfolded it. It was a handwritten note from Poe. Finn hadn’t seen anything handwritten since they’d been taught their letters as junior cadets. Poe’s writing was neat and precise, printed letters of regimented heights. It didn’t feel quite natural, like Poe had taken extra concern to make sure Finn would be able to read it.
“Sorry to duck out on you, kid,” it read. Finn narrowed his eyes. Not a kid. “Got called away by the General. Left you some clean gear. Get dressed and come to Ops when you're done. If you can’t make it under your own steam send BB-8 to get help.” Then there was a scrawl Finn assumed was Poe’s name and some way under that, as if it were an afterthought he'd had to write down, in a much more relaxed hand that seemed way more like the Poe Finn was getting to know, “Hope you slept good.”
Just like that, the fear mixed from the residue of his dream and from waking alone vanished. Finn grinned at BB-8. “Okay, you're the boss here. Clothes?” BB-8 rolled over to a straight-backed chair set by the wall, a neat pile of folded laundry on the seat, a brown belt curled on top like a sleeping snake. A long, green jacket hung over the back of the chair. Finn swung himself up onto his feet, swaying a little as his vision fizzled at the edges. “Whoa,” he told himself. “Stood up too quick.”
BB-8 made some frantic sounds and bumped against his legs--trying to shore him up Finn figured. “Nice try, but we both know I could take us both down and only you’d bounce back. I can do this.”
If he could convince the droid, he could convince himself. It was easy enough to make the few steps to the chair. Finn let the towel fall from his waist and got himself dressed, taking it nice and slow. The clothes were a snug fit, so Finn guessed they had to be Poe’s own. They were much the same height, but Poe was a narrower build. He picked up the jacket. With luck this would be a little looser. Finn didn’t want to take out yet another one of Poe’s jackets even if the loss of the first wasn’t exactly his fault. Impulsively, he sniffed at the collar. There was a faint scent of engine oil to it, stronger ones of starched fabric and some kind of cleaning product, and something else cutting through it all, something that reminded Finn of Poe. Stood to reason. All humans had their own smell. He’d shared close quarters long enough to be only too aware of that. On the scale of sweaty feet to sweaty armpits he’d gotten used to, Poe was definitely winning. Finn slipped on the jacket, belting it loose enough to avoid it pressing on his back.
Outside the air was warm and still, the dry heat so different to the desert torture of Jakku. Besides the odd, “Hey, it’s that guy! Way to go, that guy!” from folk taking a break in the shade of entrances to various underground rooms. Finn was undisturbed in his slow meander to Ops. BB-8 rolled by his side the whole way, veering off only to let Finn know when he was headed in the wrong direction. Sweat was pricking his armpits and Finn was starting to wonder about the wisdom of wearing a jacket by the time he walked up to the entrance.
“Sir,” said a Nosaurian, pushing himself off the wall where he’d been lounging and snapping to attention. “You’re expected.”
“I’m not a sir,” Finn said, hoping he was managing to conceal the No, but look at those horns that was all his brain was apparently capable of producing. His exposure to non-human sentient species had been mostly through Galactic Ecology lessons and there was a whole world--a whole galaxy--of difference between acing his identification tests and actually seeing the objects of his study in the flesh. It was so cool. So unbelievably cool. At Maz Kanata’s place he’d been too freaked out to take it all in, but now... He remembered Han’s admonition about staring and figured that was a lesson worth hanging on to. He hauled his hand back from where it was creeping out of its own accord to touch the Nosaurian’s scales. No, Finn. Bad touch.
“Totally out of my depth, sure. Sir, no.” Well, it looked like Finn had found something else he wasn’t going to attach his identity to. Not a stormtrooper, a kid or a sir. That still had to leave a whole bunch of options, right?
He walked down the steps into the chamber, roots clinging to neat blocks of stone that shored up the walls. The first thing he noticed was the coolness of the dimly lit room, the tech ancient and shabby compared to the spare, yet modern First Order. It was cold enough down here for him to get goosebumps; maybe the jacket hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. The second was Poe, across the room but directly in Finn’s line of sight, grinning at him as if he’d performed some minor miracle by getting here. BB-8 rolled a little toward Poe and then back to Finn, back and forth with little keening beeps.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” said Finn. “He ordered you to stick to me like glue, but you want to be over in the action. I’m walking, all right? Keep your antennae on.”
Poe murmured something to the person he was talking to and she turned around, coming towards him with an outstretched hand, face transforming from grave to appreciative in an instant: General Organa. Finn took a moment to feel bad for having lied to her about the shields, and another to feel worse that Han wasn’t here to take the opportunity to split on him. Then he found himself pumping her hand and answering the smile in her eyes with a wide beam of his own.
“Good to see you on your feet,” said General Organa, retrieving her hand. “We’re all so grateful for what you did. You saved many lives.”
The guilt rose again as Finn heard the unspoken loss in her voice. She wasn’t accusing him; Finn could do that all by himself.
“I didn’t do anything anyone else here wouldn’t do,” he said.
“Be that as it may, you did a great thing, Finn. To walk away like that, to turn away from darkness, it can’t have been easy.”
It would be easier if she’d just say what she meant, Finn thought. Then he could, too. He could say, I’m not sure if I’m just a coward, if I’d have stayed if I hadn’t had to look into the eyes of the people I was supposed to kill. I’m not sure I would have gone in to Starkiller Base if not for Rey. Instead he said, “It’s quiet out there.”
Poe took half a step forward. “We may have destroyed the super weapon, but the First Order still know we’re here. They’ll regroup and come for us. We’ve already moved most of the key personnel and equipment to another base. General Organa should be gone, too, but she refused to go before you were brought out of the coma.”
“It wasn’t considered safe to move you while you were in the middle of treatment and I wanted to be here when you woke up.” General Organa touched his arm. “I at least owed you that. I tried to order Poe off world--long range scanners or not, I didn’t want to risk our best pilot--but he flat out refused to go.”
“Nearly got me a court-martial,” said Poe, the shared look of amusement between him and the General giving the lie to his words. “Worth it.”
“We’ll leave in the morning. You’ll come with us, of course?”
“Sure, General.” Why the hell not? Rey would be back and he needed to be somewhere while he was figuring his stuff out.
“I’m sure we can find you something useful to do. What’s your skillset?”
Now that was a question Finn knew the answer to. It’s just that it wasn’t exactly a great answer. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I can recycle your trash? Maybe unblock the sewage?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I was in sanitation. Sanitation and the FN- Battalion. So I guess I’m pretty handy with a blaster and precision marching, too, if you’ve got any need for that kind of thing.”
General Organa raised her eyebrows. “You’re fit, brave and resourceful. We’ll figure something out.”
“If you want my opinion, he’s a natural gunner,” said Poe. “Saved our asses more than once when we escaped. Bit of training and he’ll be a real asset.”
Finn’s chest puffed and he stood a little straighter. Whenever Hux had said “asset” it had sounded disposable, no difference between a wrench and a trooper. The way Poe said it made Finn want to earn it, reach out and grab the word and pin it to his chest like a star.
“I think we could make that happen,” General Organa agreed. “When he’s fully recovered, of course.” She started to turn away and then thought better of it. “By the way, Finn what?”
“Finn what what?”
“We document everything--it’s important not to lose sight of where we came from. In the interests of accuracy we need your full name.”
“It’s just Finn,” said Finn.
“No family name? That's unusual for a human. Not a problem--plenty of sentients have only one name--just unusual.”
“No family. No name before Poe gave me one.”
General Organa looked between the two of them. “Explain.”
“She doesn’t know?” Finn asked Poe.
Poe shook his head. “It hasn’t come up.” He turned to the General. “Ma’am, the stormtroopers are stolen children. They have no identity beyond what the First Order gives them. They’re a string of letters and numbers, barely human at all.”
General Organa clenched her fists. “Those evil-” Her hand touched Finn’s arm again. “I’m sorry for what they did to you, but I can’t be sorry you were brought to us. Let us be your family now.”
For a brief second Finn was weightless, buoyed up by the possibilities of a future he could never have imagined. “Thank you!” he said, taking her hand and pumping it again, “I won’t let you down, I swear. I mean, I really swear. Like, a lot.”
The General laughed. “I’m gonna need that arm back. It comes in handy for a few things.”
Finn dropped her hand like an overheated blaster. “Sorry.”
“He gets a little over-excited,” said Poe, moving to stand next to him and putting a hand on his shoulder. “But he means well.”
“I can tell. Now go eat or something. Black Leader here will escort us in his own ship, of course, but you should be at the transport bay at first light.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Poe and Finn chorused and did as they were told.
“No way! Why does everybody keep going back to that-”
“Your face!” crowed Poe and doubled over with laughter, BB-8’s beeps sounding suspiciously like giggling.
“You’re a real dirtbag, you know that?”
Poe straightened up, shrugging. “Oh, yeah. Man and boy.” He cocked his head to one side. “That jacket looks good on you.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Then quit looking better in my clothes than I do.”
There was that rush and crackle that was starting to become familiar. Three times now and all around Poe, so he was definitely the catalyst here. Was this a friendship thing, when it made you feel good to be around someone? If it was, then Finn liked it. Maybe they could do it some more.
“Should I have another name?”
“Because of what the General said?”
“Because everyone has two. Humans, anyway. There’s you--Poe Dameron, then Han Solo, Luke and Leia Skywalker, hell, even Kylo Ren has two names. Twice. I’m just Finn.” Like Rey was just Rey.
Poe twisted the cup he was holding around and around. “Mostly we get our names from our families. There’s nothing wrong with only having one.”
Finn heard the words he was carefully not saying, but there was no sense in regretting what he’d never known. “Yeah, I get that. But what if I wanted another one?”
Poe stopped twisting and looked across at Finn. “I guess you could call yourself whatever you wanted. It’s not like either of us put a whole lot of thought into coming up with Finn.”
“I like Finn,” said Finn, frowning.
“I’m not saying I don’t. Well? Do you have a name in mind or what?”
Finn considered. Let us be your family now, General Organa had said and he and Poe were already brothers-in-arms. He shrugged, holding out his hands. “Dameron?” he said slowly, testing the word out on his tongue. Finn Dameron. That felt...okay, actually.
Poe’s eyebrows climbed halfway off his head. “You...so...that…” He bit his lip. “Start again. I’m kinda...flattered? But there would be a hell of a lot of talk, if you know what I’m saying?”
“What kind of talk? Are people not supposed to take the names of people they admire?”
“It’s not...Wow, you do not play fair.” Poe downed his drink. “Why don’t you think about it a little? It’s not like you need official idents any time soon. Maybe something that fits you more will occur.”
Finn frowned. Seemed to him that it fit fine the way he had it. But maybe people were precious about their names in this world where they were handed them at birth by loving parents. He could understand that. Since the moment Poe had given him Finn, he’d held it to him like a tiny flame cupped in his hand, precious and fragile, growing stronger with every time someone called his name.
“If you want me to think about it, I’ll think about it,” said Finn, looking away and setting his jaw. He’d think about how people might look at the two of them together and say, “Oh, there go the Dameron boys. Getting up to trouble, no doubt.” He’d think about he’d managed to luck his way into this extraordinary life thanks to a guy he barely knew who’d greeted him like a long lost friend and sat with him as he slept so that he wouldn’t be alone. He’d think about how even if he still wasn’t sure who he was, then he at least knew who he could count on. Rey didn’t have a name to give him and Poe did. If Poe wanted him to go quietly for now, then he would, but it didn’t mean Finn couldn’t slip Finn Dameron under his skin to see if he could wear it well.
The ground came nearer and Finn saw a low sprawl of camouflaged buildings and tents resolve themselves out of the landscape. He wondered which of those would be his quarters. He wondered who he was going to be when he got there. He wasn’t a kid or a sir or a stormtrooper. He wasn’t even Resistance, not yet. He caught sight of Poe’s black T-70 X-wing touching down in a field close by the buildings. Maybe for now he could be Finn: Poe’s friend. It didn’t seem like a long-term solution, but since running from the First Order it wasn’t like Finn was thinking about pension plans anyway.
Yeah, okay, thought Finn, as they made landfall. He’d start over here on Seven Flames, Poe’s friend, trainee whatever they wanted him to be and he’d build himself from the ground up, the best Finn he could be.
When the door of the transport thudded open, Finn caught sight of Poe among the throng of people awaiting the General’s arrival. He stood to the side, arms folded and waggled his fingers at Finn in greeting. It was only the knowledge that if he even attempted to run he’d be meeting this planet face first that stopped Finn sprinting straight for him. The trip hadn’t even been that long yet it felt like he hadn’t seen Poe in days. He had a thousand things to tell him and most of them were, hi, hi, hi!, have you seen this place? Have you seen the color of the leaves? I didn’t even know they came in that flavor of orange. Hi!
He made do with what he hoped was a casual saunter. Snap Wexley passing in the opposite direction slapped him on the back with a, “Thanks for the assist with the shields, friend.” The pain was immediate and intense, shooting through him, an echo of the lightsaber burn. Finn tipped forward, grasping his thighs and trying to stop himself throwing up the entire contents of his stomach. He stared at the grass, counting each blade to distract himself from the pain. Back in Basic it had been screws in the wall.
Back in Basic no one had slipped an arm around his shoulders and said, “Finn. Finn. You got this and I've got you. Keep breathing, buddy. Take your time. Let it pass.”
Somewhere beyond the haze of agony, Finn could hear Poe fielding murmured voices of concern. By the time he had himself in enough control to stand up, they were alone, everyone else dispersed about their business.
“You doing okay?”
Finn nodded, not trusting his voice not to crack.
“Can you walk?”
He nodded again.
“I had you assigned to my quarters if you’re okay with that. I figured you might not want strangers gawking at your back and asking questions. And then there’s…” Poe trailed off, putting a little pressure on Finn’s elbow to get them moving. “You know,” he added eventually.
Finn knew. He’d had that same dream again last night, shaken awake before the horrifying conclusion, Poe crouching down in front of his face and telling him who and where he was, that he was safe, whole.
“Thanks. I don’t need my unit knowing what a freak I am on my first day.”
“Team,” said Poe. “You haven’t been cleared yet, remember? And you’re not a freak.”
“Okay,” he said because it was easier to accept it than to question it. It always was.
“Good man. We’ll get you settled and then if you don’t feel like moving I can bring us some food from the mess.”
“Don’t you have better things to do than take care of me?”
“Nah. My bird is in good hands. And I have nothing scheduled tomorrow. Want to go explore?”
“Can we? Are there boats?”
Poe laughed. “Easy, easy. Let’s see what the doc says before you go risking both our lives on the water.”
Finn pulled a face. “Sure, start being sensible now,” he said. “It’s not like you pull off impossible missions for a living.”
“There’s impossible and there’s dumb. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Through here.”
Poe led them into a squat, one-story building, a long, white corridor stretching in front of them, doors painted a neutral gray set at regular intervals along both sides.
“Used to be an Alliance support base back in the day,” Poe told Finn. “Nice setup for diplomatic interventions. We started expanding a couple of years ago because no one wants another Hoth. You gotta have somewhere to run.”
Finn had only heard of the Battle of Hoth as a great victory for the fallen Empire. It had been part of a cautionary tale of how hubris could bring down even the mightiest of leaders and through that the defeat of an admirable ideology. The Empire had been held up as an example of how a hierarchy could be destroyed by the actions of a few. The First Order, they had been told, was different because they were equal. All had a stake in bringing their vision of the future to the galaxy and in this way would succeed where the Empire had failed. Their generals were issuing orders on behalf of all of them. Finn had always had some difficulty understanding why he would issue himself an order to go unblock the nastiest of all the sewage pipes after Supreme Leader Day, but who was he to argue with history?
“Does that mean you’ll be scouting for a new base soon?”
“Already on it.” Poe read off a number on a door. “This is us. Home, sweet temporary home.” He opened the door and gestured Finn in with an exaggerated sweep of his arm.
“Wow,” said Finn.
“Really. This place is huge.”
“It’s really not.”
Finn walked into the center of the room and slowly turned around, his arms outstretched.
“What are you doing?”
“Not hitting anything.” It was a simple space, plain pale gray walls, a cot set at either side, a good few feet apart, a locker by each of them. There were two straight-backed canvas chairs stacked in a corner and a long, thin cupboard behind the door. Nothing touched anything else. It was beautiful.
Poe’s laugh was uncertain. “Is this because of the concussion? Should I get the doc?”
Finn stopped turning and dropped his arms to his sides. “I grew up in a room this size. Guess how many of us slept in it.”
Poe looked around. “Four? Six at a push.”
“You’re kidding me.”
Poe shook his head. “How would you even-? Like, maybe if none of you had limbs. And where would you put your stuff?”
“We didn’t have stuff.”
It was a simple truth, but Poe stared at Finn with those big, brown eyes and even Finn, who’d spent most of his adult life looking at helmets rather than faces could see the, “you poor bastard,” written in them. An unexpected flash of anger coursed through him. He wanted to defend himself, defend his life. Possessions were distractions. The First Order demanded humility in service to the cause. Humility meant valuing all as you valued yourself. To value objects as you valued life was to diminish those around you. He was about to spit this at Poe when Poe said,
“Twelve of you, huh? Bet the air was so ripe you could’ve split it and served it with a cool glass of Fizzade.”
-and he deflated so fast it made his head spin. He gave a laugh that sounded queasy even to him and stumbled for the closest cot, sitting on the edge and gripping it with both hands, watching the stars dance behind his eyelids.
“Don’t like my jokes, huh? I get that a lot.” Poe came to sit next to him. “You can have stuff here if you want to. We have surfaces that aren’t required for sleeping.” He indicated the lockers set next to each bed.
Finn squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, holding it for a long count before letting it out. The world righted itself again. “What stuff?”
“All kinds of stuff. Holocubes. Souvenirs? You know, things you pick up to remind you of times you’ve experienced. Like I have the emergency toolkit from the first ship I ever flew--my mom's old A-wing. It’s no use for the X-wing, wrong shape, but catch me trashing it. Way too many memories wrapped up in those wrenches to throw ‘em away.”
Finn was going to have to chalk this one up to ‘you probably had to be there.’ He'd spent some pretty intimate time with a spanner over his years in sanitation, but he had no wish to carry it around with him for always. To remember what? That time the waste pipe burst over his head and made his helmet stink like shit for weeks no matter what he did to clean it? That was already burned into his brain, thanks anyway.
“You'll see,” said Poe to his absent response. “I can tell you’re going to be the clutter type. Now, you want me to take a look at your back? Check Snap didn’t damage anything?”
Finn nodded and took off his jacket and shirt. He laid them across his lap as Poe got on with his inspection, rubbing the collar of the jacket between finger and thumb. He paused. “Where do clothes come from?” he asked.
“Well, when a mommy sock loves a daddy sock very much...What do you mean, ‘where do clothes come from?’”
“You saw what I was wearing when we met up on D’Qar.”
“You mean other than my jacket?”
Finn looked down at Poe’s other jacket on his lap and smiled. “Yeah. Other than that. The black combo?”
“That was my clothes.”
“There was underwear too, and socks, but, yeah. That was it.”
“You’re looking fine back here, big guy. Damage points scored: zero. But you can’t have always been the strapping specimen you are today. You must have had smaller clothes at some point that got replaced. And you weren’t wearing the same underwear every day, right? Because some things go beyond the definition of gross.”
“No! It was...okay, so you had what you wore and you took it off at night and put it in the chute and in the morning there’d be a clean pile at the bottom of your bed. Exact same stuff every day. All black, always, to go under the armor. If you were non-troops it was uniform. I figured it worked the same way for them.”
“Wow, that’s-” The cot creaked as Poe shifted beside him. “I think for both our sakes we’re gonna have to accept the fact that every time you tell me something about how you were raised I’m gonna want to a, go back in time and punch the sons of a Murglak who stole you in the face and other parts and b, hug you and call you my poor youngling and explain that the real world doesn’t work that way. Because holy milking Sith, that is nuts.”
“I’m getting that?” said Finn and it was more of a question than he’d hoped. “But seriously, Poe. I’m not totally dumb, I’ve got eyes. I know people wear different clothes and they have to pick them out somewhere, I just don’t know how it happens. Or how they get clean or fixed. And, like, I am totally okay with wearing yours, but you’ll probably need them back. I’m going to need some of my own unless everyone’s cool with a naked dude running about the place. They probably aren’t. Right?”
“Right,” Poe agreed. “You’ve never been to a store? A market? Never took a crash course in microeconomics?”
Finn shook his head, a hot flush starting to creep over his cheeks. This was such a dumb thing to get tripped up over, and it was only going to be one of many. He could see his life stretching ahead of him in a series of stupid questions while everyone looked at him like he’d grown two heads. It was not the most appealing future he could imagine, he had to admit.
“You must think I’m a moron.” Finn glanced sideways at Poe, not really wanting to see his expression.
Poe gripped Finn’s shoulder and shook it. “I really don’t. But we’re gonna have to get you some holobooks so you can start getting to know the galaxy from a non-evil perspective. Gotta say, I’m concerned you’re a bad student.”
“Obviously the First Order were teaching you evil, you know, basic through advance. Only you must have flunked out because--and I say this as someone who’s had the pleasure of working with you--it did not stick at all. So I’m guessing you daydreamed your way through Evil School, but now it’s time to dig in.”
“I’m not...I wasn’t the only one.”
“Only one what?”
“The only stormtrooper who quit.”
“That sounds like a book for younglings. Maybe you could have a second career as a writer. What do you mean you weren’t the only one? You’re the only one I’ve ever heard of.”
“There’s a reason for that.”
“You. None of the others had you to fly them the hell out of there. First sign of non-conformity gets you sent to re-education. Second gets you sent for neural reconditioning. Third gets you shot.” It was the rarest of all punishments, but Finn remembered every single one. They made you watch, the helmet of the offender removed so you could see their fear and pain. If you were in their unit, there was a lottery to see who would have to shoot them. Finn’s unit had been solid so his number had never come up. If they’d been caught, he wondered who would have had the honor of killing him. No one left alive that cared one way or the other, he thought.
“Nope,” said Poe. “This isn’t going to work.”
“What isn’t?” Finn’s stomach swooped. He’d been too much trouble already, he knew that.
Poe flung his arms around Finn’s shoulders and pulled him in for an awkward sideways hug. “I have a job. I have to do stuff. I do not have time to be constantly needing to let you know how glad I am that you made it out of there alive.”
“I’m sorry,” said Finn, misery rising in his throat.
“Trust me, kid. It’s not you, it’s me.”
“I’m not a kid,” Finn protested weakly, relieved, as Poe relaxed the hug, pulling Finn’s head down and kissing the top of it with a loud smacking sound.
“Whatever you say, kid,” said Poe, and ducked out of the way across the room as Finn reached for a pillow and flung it at his head.