FN-4545 is the best soldier in the squad. She’s always at the front for the morning speeches from Hux, her chin tipped up, her pale eyes bright with fervour. Her salutes are crisp and clean and sharp. Her uniform is always immaculate. She keeps her boots shined better than the commissioned officers. She obeys, promptly and swiftly, doing precisely what she is told -- no more and no less. She is utterly free from the sin of innovation. Her marksmanship is second to none; she can strip a blaster down to its bones and reassemble it in less than a minute.
They say she might be officer material.
Stormtroopers do not have friends, of course, but her comrades are ready and eager to listen to her when she speaks of the Order’s glorious purpose. No Stormtrooper would ever tell a bedtime story -- such things are blasphemy! -- but before they sleep, FN-4545 recites the speech they heard that morning. Her memory is all but flawless.
She does not like FN-2187. Thus, the rest of the squad do not like him.
FN-4545 is always awake when the lights turn on. She is always the first dressed. They rotate beds, to prevent the forming of unpatriotic ties, and today FN-2187 is in the bunk above her. He wakes as the lights turn on, bright white glare cutting into the black of sleep. Automatic, he swings out of bed, landing light-footed.
FN-4545 is still in bed.
This is strange. She is never in bed when he wakes.
No talking is permitted before morning inspection. No one ever breaks this rule; but there are looks spared to FN-4545, who is still in bed; and remains so even as the others straighten their bedding, pull on their uniforms.
She is well-liked. They listen to her. And yet not one of them nudges her awake.
If she doesn’t wake up, she will be punished.
Her back is to FN-2187. Her breathing sounds strange: thick and laboured.
He clears his throat. She doesn’t respond. He does so again, louder, and draws a couple of odd looks from his fellow cadets. FN-1222, known as Gaptooth (he is losing his teeth; they have been told that this is all very normal; that humans do lose teeth as they grow up, but FN-2187 still is frightened by it, and dreads the day when he wakes up with wobbly canines and the taste of blood in his mouth) glowers at him.
He doesn’t talk. He can’t. His throat closes up at the very thought of it, because he knows what happens if you break the rules.
Instead, he plants his palm between her shoulderblades and pushes her.
Her skin is very hot and very wet. He yanks his hand back, astonished, and she finally responds, rolling to face him. Normally, her skin is sunless, near translucent, but there’s a bright flush on it now, red smears on her cheeks.
“FN,” she rasps.
He puts his finger to his lips and shushes her. Her eyes fly wide in panic when she realises that she almost broke the rule.
Wordlessly, FN-2187 pushes her uniform at her. She shucks off her sleeping tunic, pulls on the blacks, and rakes her fingers through her hair. It sticks up in sweaty red spikes.
When the Captain comes, she stands straight and proud as ever.
She does not eat her breakfast. She cuts it up, pushes it around, grey nutrition bar crumbling. She stares at it. Her eyes are wet. Her skin is wet and red.
FN-2187 does not know what happens when they do not eat. He has never been told. He can guess, though, that it will not be good.
He nudges her hip. She meets his eyes, just for a moment.
He switches their plates over, and bolts her portion down.
Today, they work on cardio. Legs up. Keep running. Legs down. Stop. Rest. FN-2187 knows the steps very well. He focuses on the exercises, the ones that all in the Lesser Cadets -- that is, those between the ages of four and six -- know off by heart.
He is three rows behind FN-4545. Her movements are not as sharp as normal. Not as sure.
And then she falls.
THere’s silence, high and tense and singing, and though no one pauses in their routine every eye is on her.
Her knees smack the training-yard ground. She springs to her feet, trying to recover herself, red hair slung over her red face and she staggers .
Legs up. Legs down. Everything in time. Everything in time. Stormtroopers are one unit, one heartbeat, for the Glory of the Order, for ever and ever.
That night. Lights off.
FN-4545 coughs. FN-2187 listens. They all listen.
This is not the cough of someone who has swallowed clumsily. This is a wet, wracking, shudder of a cough. It seems to come from the pit of her stomach and shake all her limbs. It’s full of water, or blood, or her guts. It’s thick and wet.
FN-2187’s fingers curl into his sheets. He wants to go to her. He wants to get her a glass of water.
There’s no water here. They’re not allowed to drink at night time. Everything is regimented. Everything has a time and a place, and after what seems like forever the coughing ceases and FN-2187 slips into fretful dreams.
The next morning, FN-2187 wakes before the lights, and shakes FN-4545 awake. By the time everyone else is up, she is dressed and holding herself to attention at the foot of her bunk.
The red flush is gone. Her skin is sallow now, greasy with sweat.
At breakfast, FN-2187 is not assigned to sit by her. He can only watch as she eats with painful swallows, crumbling her nutrition block up, swallowing it with glugs from her canteen.
She doesn’t finish by the time the bell goes for the start of training.
She stumbles on the assault course. When called on to answer a question in class, she stammers over the answer.
“I’m fine,” she says. Her voice is soft and low and lost.
“Yes,” says FN-2187, who does not have the words to comfort her. “Yes, you are.”
She doesn’t recite Hux’s morning speech to them that evening.
FN-2187 is woken by murmurings. The lights are not on. There are figures across the dorm.
“Come on 4545. Follow me.”
It is the voice of their Captain.
“No, don’t worry about your bedthings. Leave them.”
Icy claws trill down his spine. They never leave their bedthings unmade. It is an offense punishable by laps and laps and laps. He forgot to straighten his bed once, and he had to run until he vomited.
Two shapes leave. FN-2187 screws his eyes shut, feigns sleep, and tries to ignore the sting of salt against his lips.
They never mention 4545 again.
Fifteen years later, or thereabouts, and Finn wakes with wet sheets clamped tight against his skin. He wriggles free, cold D-Qar air biting at his skin.
Across the room, Poe mutters something in his sleep, rolls over.
Finn's breath comes in tight, painful bursts. His stomach is one hot ache, and his palms are slick and rancid with sweat.
What is wrong with him?
Breakfasts in the Resistance are more leisurely affairs, but the habits of a Stormtrooper upbringing are hard to break, and so Finn demolishes his meal in the time it takes Poe to finish his first cup of caf.
"Steady on," grins Jessika, who means no harm but does not understand, "No one'll take it away from you."
Finn grabs another slice of bread, butters it, grins as he takes a bite. Oh, the luxury of food that you can choose! There's so much choice here it's obscene; it's gorgeous, ridiculous.
Poe slaps his shoulder. Affection is given so freely here -- hugs and kisses and held hands. In the Order, Troopers might touch when fighting, but that's it. Hand-holding earns a demerit. A hug would be grounds for decommissioning.
He's tried to explain to Poe how wonderful it all is -- how it is nothing short of a miracle to him that he can reach out, shove at Pava, pull Poe into a hug, press a kiss to Rey's temple (Rey always screws her face up, slaps at him, but she understands as well: that longing for touch) -- but he doesn't think Poe quite gets it.
Poe's grown up in an extravagance of affection. He's always had people around him -- loud, bright, wonderful people -- and oh how Finn aches to think of a childhood spent scuff-kneed and wide-eyed, learning to fly on your father's lap, learning to shoot at your mother's side, hands gentle on yours, hands soft as they show you how to hold a gun, how to read and write.
Still. There is something wrong with him, and he doesn't know what it is.
He's recovered from the lightsabre to the back, which makes him -- as Poe is prone to saying -- 'a gods-damn miracle'. He understands why he was healed. He is a soldier, and a good one, and it makes sense to have him around. He flew with the First Order, and he has access to valuable intel. He talks with the pilots about how to slip past shields and how TIE fighters strategise.
He is valuable propeganda, he knows.
It is beneficent for the Resistance to have a reformed Stormtrooper around. He makes sure to tell his story as often as he can: to officers and to pilots, to children and families. It is his duty. It is why they saved him.
He is repaying his debt.
But injury is one thing -- sickness is another. Sickness, he knows, is an indication of moral failing.
So he tries to hide his growing weakness.
But it is so difficult -- especially as his symptoms have no rhyme or reason. His voice is prone to catching. His hands get hot and slippery with sweat at random intervals. His stomach curdles. He sweats more than normal.
His...genitals do not obey him.
Everything is going so very very wrong and it is only a matter of time before General Organa pulls him to one side and has a quiet word about the best course of action.
"When it comes to it," he says to Poe, "please can you make sure you put my name somewhere?"
"Wha?" says Poe. He's not terribly coherent. This is probably because it is one of his rare rest days and he is nursing a hangover the size of an entire quadrant. He expected to be in bed til at least noon; instead he has been woken up in the arse-end of the morning by his roomie hovering over his bed like a large, looming thing.
It is first thing in the morning. Poe's mouth tastes like the inside of a Hutt's colon.
Well. What he might imagine a Hutt's colon to taste like. He's never actually --
Finn's staring at him, frightfully earnest. "I'm ill," he says, "When they deal with me can you please make sure that I have a name plaque somewhere? Just a little one."
It takes Poe a moment to work out what Finn is talking about.
When he does he has to choke back bile. "Oh God. Oh Finn, oh no, no one does that here -- Finny -- " and he reaches for him out of sheer instinct, tugging him down onto the bed and Finn goes soft and slack and pliant, permitting Poe to curl an arm around his shoulders, kiss his cheek. "Oh no," he says, again.
"It's just," Finn says, "I think I'm dying."
"What makes you say that?"
"I'm...oh God it's happening now!" And in a whirl of movement -- far livelier than one might expect from a boy supposedly on death's doorstep -- Finn stands, pacing back and forth. "My skin's all hot. My palms are sweating. My mouth's going strange and..." he makes a vague, abortive gesture towards his --
"Finn -- I think you might just be --"
"And I don't know why!" Finn wails. His fists quiver. Strong, sleek lines of muscle stand out on his arms and shoulders and not the time to be thinking that Dameron. "It's just...random. I mean," he slumps down again onto Poe's bed, and Poe curls back around him. Finn presses against him. His heart is hammer-hard, fast as the wings of a caged hummer-bird. "I mean, it's happening now. I don't know why. When I was...when I was in training there was this girl, and she got ill, and they took her away and she died, she must have died, only she could have got better and --"
Poe presses his hand over Finn's mouth. He's intending to stem the flood of words, but instead he gets Finn's hot, damp breath on his skin and the flicker of Finn's tongue against his fingers and a bolt of sheer white lust rockets straight to his cock.
And Finn -- Finn moans -- full on moans, like he's getting the world's best blowjob. Those clockspring lashes fly wide. His eyes are huge and black and simmering with heat.
Poe leans forward. "So," he says. "Does it, uh. Does it happen around anyone in particular?" He removes his hand and becomes all to aware of Finn's plump lips, spit-wet and shining.
"Around you," Finn says. "Is that a symptom? I don't want to infect you."
"No. No. Well. You already have," and Poe immediately regrets the cheesy line as Finn's face contorts in panic. "It's a crush. It's...I like you. And you like me. I think?"
"So this..." Finn flusters a hand at himself. "This is what it feels when you...when you like someone?"
"Yeah. Yeah, this is it."
"Yeah. It is."
"Huh," says Finn.
Poe has a whole speech lining up in his head. He plans to talk about consent and sex, about taking things slow and about the power of hormones, about how Finn needs a lot of education and about how he can make that journey with him; about how Finn is the most glorious thing Poe's ever seen and about how the First Order are absolute dicks.
He has everything he intends to say all ready.
Then Finn kisses him.
It's a terrible kiss. Lips bumping together. Too much tongue. Finn's clearly been watching the wrong kind of holovids, because his hands go straight for Poe's nipples, and his tongue laps all over Poe's lips before almost catching on his teeth, and when they part there is literal drool on Poe's chin --
But it's still the best kiss he's ever had.
"Sorry," Finn says, thumbing at the saliva on the corner of Poe's mouth. "I don't --"
"It's fine," says Poe. "I'm going to teach you."
The unspoken sings in the air between them. Teach you about family. About kindness. About touch, and caring, and how there are so many people in this universe who love you. Teach you that we do not see you as expendable, that we see you as a person, an entity: Finn.
When Poe kisses him again, he does not say those things.
He doesn't have to.