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from the wrong side of the river

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“My heart is so tired.”


 

The first time I notice the boy, the sky is a dreary yellowish colour, shades of grey swirling and blurring into each other like dirty washwater.

The man I have come to collect lies on a narrow bed, his face lined beyond his age, with a tired soul that awaits me lying down, like he could not wait to finally sleep. When I scoop him into my arms, his resignation and sorrow makes him weigh heavier than most.

There are three people in the room. The wife looks like her husband, but angrier; her jaw firmly set and her eyes hard and dry. The toddler she is holding in her arms is crying loudly, like he knows his father is gone, but what strikes me is the second son. 

The boy is thin and small, barely reaches to his mother’s elbow, and he has dark eyes that look too big for his face. He stands off to the side, doesn’t reach for his mother’s hand, his fingers wrap a little too tightly around a worn blaster. The boy does not cry; he is very still. For a moment I think he has not understood what happened, but then I see it.

His big dark eyes that look like he has swallowed the darkness of war whole – they look at me.

 


 

I first meet her on an endless, lavish plain of deep green grass swaying in the breeze. The sky is of a pale blue, untainted by clouds, and the billowing cloak of the man with the cruel smile is the only white thing in sight. I’ve never found white particularly innocent, personally, and she does not, either. Not after this day.

Lyra Erso’s soul awaits me on her feet, a proud, defiant glint in her eyes. She looks back at her husband bent over her still form with a small, sorrowful glance, then she tears her eyes away like she can bear the sight no longer. 

She greets me with a smile that regrets only the future she lost, not what she has done.

It is as we walk away that I catch a glimpse of her – no more than a movement in the high grass, the vague idea of pattering children’s feet, of ragged breaths and a sob not quite swallowed.

Lyra Erso does not see her daughter, and I think that’s a blessing. I do not point her out.

 


“I always marvel at the humans’ ability to keep going. They always manage to stagger on even with tears streaming down their faces.”


 

The second time I see the boy, he is merely a bystander, wrong place, wrong time.

There are three dead partisans mere inches from the tips of his dirty shoes, but again, he does not cry, does not look horrified. He’s a little older than the first time, but not by a lot, and his eyes are as dark and sad and focused as the first time. 

He crouches down, pretending to tie his laces, and I see his calloused fingers close around the hilt of a knife protruding from his boot. 

I lift the men’s souls into my arms and try to ignore his piercing eyes. 

The boy is not dead. He should not see me.

He should not have to.

 


 

I find Lyra’s daughter again in a makeshift hospital, between two men who are screaming and writhing in agony. The night sky is of a very dark purple, flecked with greyish little clouds shrouding the stars from view.

Her green eyes stare at the men with a strange mixture of annoyance and empathy, and I understand. I wish that I could take them with me, allow them to leave their pain behind, but I am not here for them. 

I lift the dead woman off a worn stretcher – her soul is sitting up, eying me in fear and curiosity – and steal another glance at the girl as I pass her by. 

Somebody braided her hair, though not as neatly as her mother used to. She looks battered and feverish, but well-fed. Her eyes are big and green, they’re her father’s eyes, but they have her mother’s steel in them. I do not think that I will be coming for this one soon, and that’s a good thing, but I worry for her.

 


“Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out.”


 

The first time I hear his voice is also the first time I see him cry. The sky is blue, not the piercing deep blue it is when I come for his mother a while later, but a soft, soothing tone with the faintest tinge of purple, set off nicely against the snow where it is white.

The snow where the boy kneels is flecked with ruby red, so are his hands where they helplessly clutch at the small limp form in front of him. 

The little boy’s soul looks at me in uncertain curiosity, like he wants to come with me but is not sure if he’s allowed. His eyes are the same as his brother’s, but they have none of that darkness, of that cruel, sharp focus.

His older brother screams his name, in a high, warm voice that makes me flinch. He screams and screams as I pick up the little boy and carry him away, and the sound tears at my heart. 

The boy hasn’t cried for his father, and won’t cry for his mother when I come for her underneath a steely blue summer sky, but his tears melt ditches into the snow when he picks up the small body and carries him away. 

We walk in opposite directions, and the little boy stares after his big brother over my shoulder.

 


 

She stands under a pale grey sky soaked with unfallen rain, the pin of the grenade still in her hand. To the five men in the tank, their death came as a surprise. They never saw the small girl with the shaggy brown hair who rolled explosives underneath the tank from the shadows of a dark alley.

I search her face for regret, but I don’t find any, not on the surface. 

She wears her mother’s stubborn defiance, and I do not think anyone would see the broken little girl underneath it unless they know where to look, and something tells me the people she lives with now have no wish to see it.

She smiles a little, a tired, angry, sad, smile that’s too old for her little face, and I realise she will get a pat on the back for this, and only for this. I sigh and gather up the five souls and wish this girl could curl up with a book in front of a fire instead of throwing grenades at soldiers.

I cannot change the world.

 


“I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”


 

Under a white sky lined with grey, like marble, I find the boy with his father’s old blaster in hand. I did not expect to find him there, and it takes me a moment to realise he is what brought me here – or rather, the blaster wound in the back of the man in Imperial uniform.

He looks a little older then he did when I came for his mother – he might be thirteen now, maybe. He’s grown quite a bit, his dark hair is falling into his piercing eyes in what appears to be a (vain) attempt to cover the bad skin on his forehead.

He isn’t crying, but his face looks curiously blank. His right hand still clutches the blaster, but his left is closed around the Imperial’s wrist, like he was trying to comfort him. 

I often wonder if that helps. The boy seems to think so.

As I lift up the Imperial’s soul, a man with a pointed, stern face walks up to the boy, puts a hand on his shoulder, mutters a few quiet words. The boy looks up at him, still with that lost, blank face, but struggles through a smile. 

“You did well, Cassian,” the man says as I leave, and it makes me sigh. I think of the girl throwing grenades as I watch the boy struggle to his feet and tag after the man.

He turns around to look after me.

 


 

The sky is blue, streaked with a vibrant pink. 

She has grown, too. Her hair is shorter now and a little neater. She wears a soldier’s clothes, haphazardly shortened to fit her small frame. There is now a blaster strapped to her leg, it spans the entire length of her thigh.

She is singing as I enter, an old song, has almost reached the final verse. There are tears drying on her cheeks and she clutches a pillow that is stained with blood.

There is blood on the face of the young woman on the bed, too, slightly smeared. Her soul is very light in my arms. The girl’s singing is ringing in my ears, long after I’ve left.

 


“She decided to make suffering her triumph. When it refused to let go of her, she succumbed to it. She embraced it."


 

The next time I see him, the sky is of a pale blue, spotted with white clouds. 

He does not look shocked anymore. As I arrive, he is already leaving, a tall droid by his side that he’s relaying a list of orders to. 

The boy’s eyes flicker towards me, then he walks on. 

He’s no longer a boy, though, not really. He’s grown tall now, still a little gangly but it’s fading, childish softness melting into hard muscles and bones. His face is all sharp edges, it makes him look older than he is, and his eyes seem to have soaked up more darkness and cold. 

He doesn’t look back at the body; the only indication he is aware that he just ran a knife across a man’s throat is the way he meticulously wipes his hands on his trousers.

The ghost of stubble across his jaw and cheeks does not quite hide the tension in his face.

He does not look back at me this time.

Cassian, I remember as I gather up the soul of the Imperial officer. 

The man in my arms will have a pompous memorial service, if only for propaganda. 

Children like Cassian, though... I’m not sure who will remember them. I will, of course – I remember all of them, every single one. I do not know that that is much consolation to either of us, though.

 


 

Underneath a white-and-blue sky dotted with grey and red little puffs of clouds, Jyn Erso climbs out of a bunker into a field strewn with dead soldiers, Rebels and Imperials alike, and makes me jump.

She is shouting for someone, someone called Saw, but there is no one but me and the crows to hear it. After a while, she seems to realise that herself. With an enraged scream, she kicks an empty helmet across the field, then suddenly stills. Readjusts the blaster strapped to her hip, closes her jacket, shifts the knife in her boot. 

She takes a few deep breaths, runs her hands over her face to dry off the tears. She is older, more woman than girl, still balancing on the verge. She has grown beautiful, in the ways rage and hurt and raw hope can be beautiful, that is. It is a painful sort of beauty, I find.

She breathes, slowly, deliberately, then she pushes her hands into the pockets of her jacket and walks away.

 


 “She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.”


 

The sky is drenched and dark, like drying black ink. Three men are lying in the back of a dark room, the two still breathing shivering with fever and cold. He looks bad, ghostly pale and full of blood. It is quiet in the room except for the rain drumming on the roof and occasional coughing.

The eyes of a tall droid shimmer through the darkness.

I step closer to the beds, and he looks right at me, deliberately this time.

“Have you come for me?” he asks, faintly, and something like a tired smile pulls at his lips.

I should be surprised, perhaps, but I am not.

“No,” I say very quietly, and think not yet. Not yet.

But soon.

I go about my work without another word. He falls asleep, blood seeping into the thin mattress. 

 


 

The sky is of a greyish white, the ground covered in flecks of snow. I come to pick up a handful of stormtroopers inside a transport vehicle, and am more than surprised to find her outside, struggling in vain against the grip of a vaguely familiar droid.

I smile despite myself at her croaking insults at the unimpressed droid as I make my way past them to get to the three men inside. 

When I pick them up, they’re not shrouded in cold white plastic. They’re people, you see, and they look like people. One of them is very young, and I swallow down the anger at the fact that nobody ever bothers to remove their helmets and look at the faces of their adversaries.

It is a war. There is no time for my brand of sentimentality, it seems.

 


 "I am haunted by humans."


 

On Eadu, Galen Erso dies in his daughter’s arms in the rain, underneath a dark sky lit only by the fires of the engines.

His soul is lighter than I expected. He greets me with a tired smile, the golden specks in his eyes riddled with regrets.

His daughter is clutching his arm, but someone runs up to her.

Familiar dark eyes lock with mine. 

“He’s gone,” Cassian says firmly, and pries her away.

I am not surprised.

These two were linked in my mind for a long time. 

 


“It kills me sometimes, how people die.”


 

Scarif is several days work for me. 

I don’t have a specific order, not really – I make a point of taking my time for all of them. 

Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus await me standing upright, the former with a mild smile, the latter with a gruff little nod. 

The soul of Bodhi Rook looks up at me and throws me a shy, warm smile, and my heart aches. I am not one to lament whether people die young or old, but there is something about the big brown eyes of this man that leave a bittersweet taste.

I do not have a specific order, but I make a point of saving the two of them for last.

The sky is burning bright, warm, bizarrely comforting shades of orange and yellow.

Cassian sees me first, and there is a flicker of something in his eyes that might be regret, but he smiles a little. I have never seen his eyes look this warm. He looks worn and tired, but something has smoothened out some of the lines and angles of his face – he looks his age now, for the first time.

I remember how heavy his father was, his woes drenching his clothes. Cassian is just as tired, more broken even, perhaps, but his soul is light.

His father died resigned to defeat.

His son dies for a victory, not the ultimate victory, perhaps, but victory. It is enough for him, and I think that is enough for me.

Jyn too looks tired, her mother’s steel gleaming in her father’s eyes. There’s that same touch of regret in her gaze, but there’s also pride. Contentment.

Lyra Erso died angry, and in vain.

Her daughter dies, too young, but at peace. 

I will not keep them apart for long. I am not cruel. I know you think I am, but I am not. I do what I have to. 

The sky over Scarif burns bright and beautiful and terrible.

 


“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”