The first time FN-2187 learns to fly, he is thirteen and in a First Order flight simulator. He is undergoing his assessment phase where he will be soon assessed on his capabilities, and sent to an appropriate base for more specialised training. He has been training for this day his whole life (and when did that begin? He doesn’t quite know) and he knows that there will be some of the most feared officers witnessing the assessment for each specialty. Ground combat (generalised at first, further streamlined at sixteen), fighter piloting, cargo piloting, technicians, bombers, guard detail for the Knights of Ren and the most feared of all… being taken away from the Stormtrooper program entirely, to be assessed by the feared Knights of Ren for Force-sensitivity.
The cadets who go, never come back.
Decommissioned, they say.
Killed, FN-2187 dares to think.
FN-2187 waits his turn in the flight simulator, mentally going through the theory he was taught by his instructors, committing every last detail to memory. He tells himself, don’t screw up but don’t do brilliant either, just be average, maybe they’ll keep you in the Academy a little longer, maybe they’ll assign you crèche duty, maybe you’ll get away with being just a regular Stormtrooper, maybe–
“FN-2187. Report for flight simulation assessment.”
He silently gulps, taking a breath before saluting his instructor and the officer present–some TIE-Fighter Commander–and sits at the simulator. He runs through the standard pre-flight checks and takes off, flying smoothly for the first part, executing the manoeuvres commanded by his instructor well for the most part. (he’s so nervous, his hands shake on the controls and sweat drips down his forehead inside his helmet, he mustn’t do well, he has to be average) He then flies on into a combat simulation, shooting with average accuracy, watching the Resistance and New Republic Starfighters go down in fiery explosions. He chances a glance at the score; he’s in the average range, he is safe.
Next is the bombing simulation. He flies over a semi-populated Mid Rim city, instructed to bomb not just key installations such as spaceports and city halls and transport systems, but civilian installations as well. Schools, markets, tourist spots, random streets, homes. (he wonders if this is what happened to his home). He aims at all but civilian installations; he knows he has failed the overall simulation; not bad enough to warrant reconditioning, but bad enough that he will never get a pilot posting. FN-2187 is safe.
“The first time FN-2187 learns to fly, he is thirteen and in a First Order flight simulator. He is undergoing his assessment phase where he will be soon assessed on his capabilities, and sent to an appropriate base for more specialised training.”
This is a lie.
The first time FN-2187 learns to fly, it is in his dreams. He sits in the cockpit of a transport, a small child, just barely crèche age, a woman’s voice guiding his hands over the controls. He knows he doesn’t actually fly anything, knows that he is too small and too young, and for a moment he thinks oh no I don’t even know this woman but he does. He somehow knows the soft kind voice calling him something too soft to make out, but he knows it isn’t his designation. He knows it is a name. (his name?)
He raises his head, looking up, at the bright blue-green sky, at the clouds passing by as he “flies” the ship, the woman’s voice softly laughing and guiding and teaching him; there is the throttle, this is the main console, that is the hyperdrive…
Before he can learn who she is, he wakes up to the morning alarm, the first noises of wakefulness from his comrades and the knowledge of flight fresh in his mind. When he tries as he gets dressed, to remember what the woman looked like, to learn the name she was calling, he falters and FN-2187 is resigned to never knowing. Yet, there is still hope, for when he woke up, he felt something click into place in him; he felt he had changed, that he had something to remember from Before. From Before the Order.
To the records, FN-2187 is thirteen standard years of age, assessed to be fit for ground combat as a normal Stormtrooper, and shows no aptitude for piloting.
To his heart, FN-2187 is thirteen standard years of age, assessed to be fit for ground combat as a normal Stormtrooper, and was born to fly amongst the stars almost every night in his dreams.
“Why are you helping me?” the Resistance pilot asks, confusion clear as day on his face.
FN-2187 thinks. He doesn’t need a pilot, not in that sense, but he needs this pilot. He needs this pilot to bring him to the Resistance or to safety or anywhere that isn’t the Order.
He needs to make sure no more people die on his watch.
(and isn’t that a thought? A Stormtrooper wanting to heal and protect and save more than kill?)
“Because it’s the right thing to do”
He doesn’t fly in the Millennium Falcon when he, Rey and BB-8 try to get off of Jakku, he can’t.
Just hours ago, Finn crashed for the first time, no wakefulness or dream magic to stop the fall. He can’t fly because now he knows the price of the fall.
Poe Dameron is dead in the desert.
Finn can’t fly again, not yet, not so soon.
Not when the only thing he can think of is crashingburningdying.
His back is healed, jacket patched up (thank you, Poe!) his physio is almost complete and oh yeah–how could he forget?–Finn has a family. He learns his mother is one of the legendary Grey Flight pilots, none other than Grey Seven herself, Major Prithi Dey, or amma to him. He sees her for the first time and knows that she is the woman from his dreams, the one guiding and laughing and teaching and loving him. She is a pilot who decided to find her destiny among the stars rather than to learn the ways of the Force, so strong is the stardust in her blood.
She tells him stories of his youth, from Before. He was an adorable baby apparently, all big dark brown eyes and pouty lips, chubby cheeks and wide smile, curiosity and laughter constantly bubbling out of him. He gasps at the holos, because there with his amma is none other than Luke Skywalker. Commander-turned-Jedi-Master Luke Skywalker. The legendary Red Five Luke Skywalker.
The revelation should be surprising. And yet it isn’t.
Finn always knew he had the stardust blood that all pilots did, the ache to be somewhere in space, cruising through hyperspace and hopping from system to system, flying for the thrill of it all. He’s known from the first dream; from the rush of adrenaline he gets in a ship’s cockpit. He has also known that something about him wasn’t the same as all the other ‘troopers. He knows from the way his aim was always on target and dead centre, even when he was tired or his view was partially obstructed, the way he seemed to remember things from before reconditionings better than others who went through it, the way the lightsabre felt in his hand, the strange kinship he felt with Han, Leia and Chewie, even the way he somehow knew that it was Poe on Takodana leading the Resistance assault even though by all accounts to Finn’s knowledge, Poe was dead.
He doesn’t act out in a major way, how could he when he knew it deep in his heart all along?
He is a pilot, he is Force-sensitive, he is as Skywalker as they come.
Finn’s first time in an X-Wing is the second best flight of his life. (the first is of course, his first dream-flight). His amma watches from the ground, Lieutenant Connix is in his ear, directing his ship to the tarmac, Poe is suited up and ready to fly next to him in Black One and Finn is in the new and improved T-70 version of Red Five.
“Black Leader, Red Five, you are cleared for take-off. Stay safe and have fun guys!” Connix chirps through the radio and after acknowledging her, they’re off in to the skies.
They fly for a while, Poe moving from a supervising/guiding role to a more friendly and relaxed role, BB-8 chirping happy commentary as they tear through the skies, flying wild and flying free. They do lazy loops and race each other a bit, Finn’s earlier slight nerves melting into nothing as he finds his place in the sky.
“Hey Finn, wanna see something cool?” Poe laughs into the comms after a round of dizzying loops.
“Yeah sure, what is it?” Finn asks, stars twinkling in his eyes.
“Let’s break atmo and then you can see it,” Poe says into the comms, “Ground control, are we clear to break atmo?”
“Affirmative, Black Leader. Now, you take care of my boy there, you hear me?” Prithi teases, and Finn can hear the smile in her voice. Finn bursts into laughter, no doubt picturing the endearing blush on Poe’s face.
“Yes ma’am, I’ll have him home in one piece by the second sunset, swear on the Force,” Poe jokes along with her, and leads the ascent out of the planet’s atmosphere, Finn following close behind (because how could he not follow Poe Dameron to the ends of the galaxy and back?).
They break atmo and Finn is floored by the sight that greets him. In his line of sight, are the stars, so plentiful and bright and wow, that’s what the planet looks like from up here? It’s gorgeous, and Finn is speechless. They idle in space for a short while, in a companionable and comfortable silence, punctuated by BB-8 beeping out constellations, both existing and made up ones to the pair of pilots.
“Thank you for showing this to me Poe, it means so much to me,” Finn says, grateful to fly for leisure and fun for once, no need to rush or fear attack, just him and Poe and BB-8 and the stars.
“It was my pleasure Finn, you looked like could use a little joyride,” Poe says over their private comm channel, this moment for no one but themselves.
“Black Leader, Red Five, our proximity readings are coming in, we’ve got company, and we’re not sure if they’re friendly,” Prithi comms them over the open channels, “Hail them and ask them to state their business.”
“Roger that, Base One,” Finn says and he and Poe fly towards the incoming vessel, still too far away to determine the nature of. They hail it, multiple times, and wait for a reply from the crew. They wait for a while and just as they are about to assume it is hostile and bring it down, it comes close enough for them to recognise it.
It’s unmistakeably the Falcon, and Rey, Chewie and Luke have come back home.
Finn smiles and over the comms asks, “Millennium Falcon, this is Red Five, let us escort you back to base, won’t you? We’ve been expecting you for a while.”
How fitting for a son of Skywalker to reunite with his father amongst the stars.