Jessika Pava is on the landing strip outside the base on D’Qar when it happens and she has no idea what’s going on.
The ship touches down on the planet’s surface and everyone can tell from the markings that the vessel is First Order. She’s got her blaster out and at the ready, braced in a defensive position as the door to the ship opens and polished white armor shows through the opening. There are others forming a defensive line behind her, but they allow her to continue forward.
She mentally curses each of them but steps closer to the ship and announces herself. “This is Lieutenant Jessika Pava with the Resistance. Come out with your hands up and state your name and business!”
A helmet and blaster are tossed out on the ground before her and Jessika tenses, finger curling around the trigger of her blaster, ready to fire.
The helmet is a Stormtrooper’s.
A voice comes from within the ship as the person at the door steps out, hands in the air, eyes darting around in a panic. The speaker is young, no older than 17, blonde curls falling over his forehead. Behind him stands a girl, the same age, tanned skin standing out against her white armor, black hair pulled into a tight bun on the back of her head. She tosses her helmet and weapon out onto the ground as well. She wobbles on her feet.
“Designation KR-0598, behind me is KS-2528, ma’am,” the boy says, holding himself stiffly, eyes finally falling to Jessika, who he seems to pick out as the commanding officer in the situation. She thinks she probably is the highest ranking one there, but she still has no idea how to handle this.
“State your intentions, KR-0598,” Pava orders.
The boy sags a little, his eyes growing slightly panicked again. “Kas… I mean, KS-2528 and I, and the squadron,” and oh kriff, there are more of them? “we came in search of someone. We’re looking for Commander Poe Dameron. We heard a man by that name helped FN-2187 escape.”
Pava thinks she’s going to strangle her commanding officer the next time she sees him.
Jessika has two of the techs who happened to be out there with her retrieve the discarded helmets and weapons, instructs KR-0598 to retrieve whoever else they’ve got on board with them, keeps an eye on KS-2528 as the girl sways dangerously on her feet, orders another tech to page someone from medical.
There are twelve other people on board and they are all children.
They all discard helmets and small blasters on the ground at Jessika’s feet and stand by the ship at attention, hands in the air. Jess thinks she might be sick.
The techs collect the rest of the weapons off the ground and Jess kicks the helmets out of the way, approaches the ship and its passengers, hears others pouring out of the hangar behind her.
Took them long enough.
“How old are you?” she asks.
“Seventeen, ma’am, so is KS-2528. The cadets are all nine years old,” the answer isn’t really spoken to her. The boy is looking dead ahead, not at Jess.
KS-2528 grabs the side of the ship door to steady herself. Jess turns and barks an order to the people coming up behind her.
“Take the girl to medical. The others stay with me.” She doesn’t leave room to argue. She’s small, but she’s infuriated right now, looking at these children who shouldn’t be looking like this. “And somebody tell Dameron to get his ass to the Pilot Commons.”
Medics rush to KS-2528, sweeping the girl onto a stretcher just before it looks like she’s going to fall. KR-0598′s eyes go wide, but he says nothing.
“All of you,” Jess turns to the squadrons of children, “follow me. Scour that ship. Make sure it’s clean then park it next to Black One. Its Dameron’s problem now.” Jessika says, adding the last part just to piss off her Commander.
She knows he’ll appreciate it after he gets a chance to pick apart a First Order ship.
Jessika takes the squadron to the Pilot Commons, the common area that was open to anyone, but used by the pilots so frequently, they’d claimed it as their own.
Poe isn’t there when she arrives and she really wants to make sure the poor KS girl got to medical, wants to know what’s wrong with her, so she grabs the first person to walk by the room – some pilot from Dagger Squadron– tells them not to let anyone in but Poe Dameron, and takes off with a parting, “He’ll be here soon. None of you leave.”
KR-0598 starts pacing immediately once Jessika leaves, his hands wringing together because troopers who go to medical don’t always come back and he doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t know what they were thinking…
He stops pacing when his thoughts are cut off by a voice belonging to a man in an orange flight suit.
Poe walks into the Pilot Commons unsure of what to expect. He’s blown away when he sees what’s waiting for him. They’d said Stormtroopers. They hadn’t said children.
Poe doesn’t know what to think.
He speaks instead.
“I heard you came here looking for me,” Poe says, voice strong, but not loud or threatening. They are Stormtroopers, but they’re only children. He doesn’t miss the way the tallest one moves to stand between Poe and the younger troopers. “I’m Commander Poe Dameron. What are you looking for me for?”
“I’m designation KR-0598, and we heard you helped FN-2187 escape.”
The young boy stands at attention, hands clasped behind his back, eyes fixed dead ahead. Poe can tell that standing this way is hurting him somehow, but he doubts the boy will ever say anything. He’ll get to that in a moment.
“You heard right, kid,” Poe says softly, “But his name is Finn. FN-2187 is a serial number. And you guys are people, not things. Things get serial numbers. People get names.” Poe looks them all over carefully, twelve children in Stormtrooper armor over standard issue black under layers and one older boy obviously responsible enough to get them all here, but still, all of them children. Poe thinks he might be sick, but he shoves the feeling down. “What should I call you guys?” Poe asks, hoping he’ll get more than serial numbers.
KR-0598 hesitates before saying quietly, “Well, Commander, my squad mates used to call me Kicks.”
“You wanna keep that nickname?” The boy nods. “We can give you a name later on if you decide that’s what you want.” Kicks nods again and looks to the younger ones behind him, pointing them out and giving Poe their designations.
They go through the girls first and then the boys, six of each. Poe wonders how his life came to this, standing in the Pilot Commons naming child Stormtroopers.
SA-3421 they decide to call Sola.
KN-5692 they call Kandria.
KN-0067 becomes Kendri.
KC-8675 keeps her nickname, KC.
KD-2005 wants to be called Kade.
SA-9931 gets the name Scerra.
The boys stick to nicknames they had already, Switch, Two, Zap, Red, Tip and Wick.
Poe smiles at them when they’re finished, glad that they’re just as accepting of names as Finn was, then turns to Kicks.
“Kid, what’s wrong with your shoulder?”
The boy’s eyes go wide again, and he shakes his head, taking a step back.
“Nothing, Commander. I’m fine. KS-2528 and I are both fit for active service. She doesn’t need to be in medical. She’s fine, sir. We both are.” His hands fidget and twist together in front of him. Poe stands directly in front of him and tries not to appear intimidating.
“Kicks, I asked you what’s wrong with your shoulder. Can you give me an honest answer?” Kicks’ hands are shaking now. “Kid, I want to help you guys. But I can’t do that if you’re lying to me. Are any of you injured?”
There’s a beat. A long pause that drags out as Poe watches Kicks, the smaller kids watching Poe back nervously.
Kicks finally draws in a deep breath and says, “Dislocated right shoulder, sir. It was fixed for me before we left. Its fine. Just… healing still. I’m still good to fight. And a couple of the cadets,” he turns around, calls Switch and Scerra forward. They place themselves so they’re partially hidden behind Kicks. “Switch and SA…. I mean, Scerra, they’ve both got sprained wrists, but they’re healing. They’ll be back to normal in a couple days. Its nothing to be concerned about, Commander.”
Poe shakes his head and sighs and reaches for the comm on his belt. “Snap, get down to PC. I need you to take a trip to medical.”
Kicks’ eyes goes wide and he shakes his head. “Commander Dameron, that’s not necessary. We’re fine. They’re healing fine, they don’t need to go to medical. Kas doesn’t need to be there either. Please, sir.”
Poe looks back up, catching Kicks’ panicked look and pushes himself upright from where he’d been leaning against a wall.
He reaches out, places a hand on Kicks’ good shoulder and looks directly into his eyes. “Buddy. Its okay. Snap is one of my squadron. He’s a good man, and you, Scerra and Switch will be safe with him. He’s going to take you three to medical and they’ll fix up the kids’ wrists, probably give you a sling for your shoulder. It’ll be okay.”
Kicks’ face falls, but he nods, and chokes out the words, “Yes, Commander.”
Snap takes a while to get down to the Pilot Commons. He comes into the room with a smile on his face and claps Poe on the shoulder.
“Apparently, you’re collecting strays, Poe,” Snap jokes, and Kicks’ brow furrows in confusion. He looks up at Poe and opens his mouth, before snapping it shut. “What is it, kid?” Snap asks, turning towards him, smile still in place.
Kicks shakes his head. “I’m sorry, sir, I just thought… Commander Dameron said you were one of his squadron. We didn’t know you were a Commander as well.”
Snap shakes his head, steps forward and offers a hand to shake. “Nope. Lieutenant Temmin Wexley, but everyone calls me Snap.”
Kicks reaches out tentatively and shakes Snap’s hand. “KR-0598, Lieutenant.”
Poe shakes his head. “He wants to be called Kicks. That’s what his squad called him.”
Snap nods, releasing Kicks’ hand and placing his hands on his hips. “Nice to meet you Kicks. You can call me Snap. I’m here to take a couple of you to medical, is that right?“
Kicks tenses again but he nods and beckons Scerra and Switch forward. “Commander,” Kicks acknowledges, saluting Poe as he walks by, obviously biting back a wince at the way his shoulder moves.
The second he puts his hand down, Scerra and Switch latch onto him, holding his hands tightly. Kicks winces when Switch tugs too hard on his arm, but says nothing even as the young boy aggravates his injured shoulder.
Poe turns his attention to the other children as Snap leads the three out of the room and does the first thing he can think of. He tells them stories of Finn.
He tries not to think about the way they watch Kicks go like they’ll never see him again.
Kicks grips Scerra and Switch’s hands tightly as he leads them down the hall, following Snap.
He doesn’t understand the way Snap had interacted with Poe Dameron. Poe is Snap’s commanding officer. If Kicks or any of the cadets acted that way, they’d be punished, but Poe had smiled, and seemed happy to see his Lieutenant. Kicks doesn’t understand.
As soon as he can put a little distance between them and Snap, Kicks bends a little, whispering to Scerra and Switch, “We’ll be okay. Your injuries aren’t bad. They’ll heal in less than a week.” He can’t help but notice the way the cadets are shaking. He doesn’t want to think that they might encounter Kas in medical. He doesn’t want to think that they might never see her again. “I’ve never heard about someone getting decommissioned for a sprain. You’ll be okay.“
He doesn’t say what he’s thinking about himself. His firing arm’s been compromised, and the doctor will know. A Stormtrooper who can’t fire is no good to anyone.
Medical is a lot quieter than Kicks expects, and the first thing they see when they walk in is a woman in an orange flight suit, her arm bent at an angle that shouldn’t be possible, a medic hovering around her, examining her injury, cutting her out of her flight suit. There’s blood at her temple and there’s a droid coming up behind her at the medic’s beckoning, and Kicks thinks this is it.
This is where the woman gets decommissioned.
But she doesn’t.
The droid helps the medic ease the woman into a bed, uncaring that she’s staining the clean white sheets, and moves on. The medic stays with the woman, and Kicks and the cadets move on.
He thinks the woman must be of some importance, otherwise they’d never keep a soldier wounded that severely.
Kicks doesn’t look back, doesn’t want to see what happens next. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t think he wants to.
He holds Switch and Scerra’s hands a little tighter.
Snap leads them through medical towards the back of the area, greeting a man in a white coat and a woman in brown robes as they pass them. They end up in a small room in the back, a single bed in the corner, sink on the wall opposite, various medical supplies on the counter around it. There’s no windows and only one door out.
It opens seconds after it closes behind Snap and a strict looking woman comes in, her gray hair pulled back into a tight bun, clipboard in hand. She raises an eyebrow at their white armor, flicks her gaze to Snap and then says, “What seems to be the problem?”
Snap says quietly, “Poe sent me with ‘em, they’re a couple of the ones who came in today, said they should come pay a visit. This is Kicks, and I don’t know about the little ones.”
“Switch and Scerra,” Kicks answers quietly. “Sprained wrists on the cadets, both left side. Shoulder injury on me. Right side.”
Finn rushes to medical the second Poe tells him where he sent Kicks and the two younger troopers.
He remembers it vividly, it wasn’t that long ago after all, the fear of being sent to the medical unit, fear that you wouldn’t come back. Anyone with injuries more severe than simple cuts, scrapes and occasionally sprains would be decommissioned without a second thought from any of the medics.
The children are probably terrified, and Finn knows how to calm them.
Karé Kun, one of Poe’s old squadron, is getting a cast on her arm when Finn walks in, her flight suit cut away from her arm. She directs him the way she saw Snap take them, and wishes him luck.
Finn knocks quietly before opening the door to the room he’s directed to, coming in slowly. Snap is sitting in the corner, looking over something on his comm, while Kicks and the two younger troopers, Switch and Scerra, he thinks, sit on the bed, one kid on each side of Kicks.
Finn shuts the door behind him, and gives a short wave to Snap when the other man looks up, then turns his attention to the children.
Kicks straightens out when he sees Finn is looking at him, sliding off the bed to stand at attention. Finn notices the way the boy winces when Switch hangs onto his arm.
Kicks looks at Finn, gives the man a once over and then says, “So you’re the one that’s going to do it, huh?” He sounds resigned, but Finn can tell by the way his hands are shaking that he’s afraid. “Let’s just go outside, at least. Please. I don’t want the cadets to see this.”
Finn shakes his head, a sad smile crossing his lips. “Hey, no. That’s not... its not like that here.”
Kicks scoffs. “Right. A soldier who can’t use his firing arm is no good.”
“I am right. My name’s Finn. You probably know me by FN-2187. I used to be a Stormtrooper.”
Switch and Scerra jump off the bed and run towards Finn, looking up at him with wide eyes, both speaking at the same time.
“You’re real? Oh Maker, you’re real! We thought you were a myth. Captain Phasma told us you never really existed, but everyone talked about you...”
“Everyone was telling stories, even a few of the officers and we didn’t know you were really real but we ran anyway, and Kicks helped us and...”
Finn cuts them both off, smiling gently, drops down to one knee so he’s on their level. “I am very much real, and you’re all very brave. It takes a lot of guts to do what you did.”
“You did it too!” Switch exclaims.
“Well I had help from a friend,” Finn says softly, then looks up at Kicks. “Pava says you’re only seventeen. You got an entire squad of cadets out on your own? I’m impressed, Kicks.” Finn says, standing and holding out a hand to shake.
Kicks just stares, somewhere between Finn’s hand and his chest, taking a moment before he reaches out. “I had help. KS-2528, Kas, I think she’s already... I believe she was already decommissioned. But she helped. We got them out together.”
Finn takes a step closer, claps a hand onto the shoulder he thinks isn’t injured, his heart breaking for the boy in front of him.
“We do not decommission people here. You are not things that can be thrown out when they get a little banged up,” Finn says, and he realizes he’s repeating the words that Poe said to him when Finn was in Kicks’ position. “I promise you, Kas is still alive. We’ll make sure she gets better.” Kicks is still looking at him warily. Finn sighs, the sad smile coming back. “I know how scary it is, I was in your position only a few weeks ago. But I even spent a week in a coma and I’m still here. I took a lightsaber to the back, and no one ever said a word about getting rid of me. That doesn’t happen here.” As he speaks, Finn tugs aside the collar of his shirt and the collar of Poe’s jacket to show where his scar peeks up over his shoulder.
Kicks’ eyes blow wide in shock. “You weren’t decommissioned for that? That goes down your whole back? How...?”
“It does, and I told you, there’s no decommissioning. Its wrong. They’ll take care of you here, I promise. I’m going to find out where your friend is when the medic comes back in and we’ll take you to see her soon as we can, okay?”
Kicks nods, and for the first time since Finn stepped into the room, probably the first time in a very long time, Kicks smiles.
Finn smiles right back.