“-and I sense it would cheer him.”
Chirrut was just finishing as Jyn rounded the corner, his smile as wide and placid as ever. It was a rare sight, Chirrut without Baze at his side. She’d come to suspect that Baze’s constant presence a form of supervision. Born of affection, obviously, yes, but also a need to make sure that Chirrut was not causing some sort of trouble, or needlessly mystifying people.
Here, on the drifting fleet of ships that was home until they could find another, tempers ran high and short, and Chirrut’s peculiar utterances were more often met with irritation or apprehension than with the interest they were due. Baze rolling his eyes or following with a low, dry quip did more perhaps even he knew to diffuse the tension on such occasions.
And so, yes, it was strange to see one without the other. Strange, too, was the sight of Cassian leaning back against the wall, his hand on Chirrut’s shoulder and a smile creasing his eyes. She admonished herself for wishing he would do that more.
“It’s a good plan,” he was saying. “A nice idea.”
Chirrut tipped his head. “Jyn.” And Cassian turned.
Jyn glanced down at her boots wryly. “Every time…”
Chirrut reached for her as she approached and gripped her shoulder. “We are planning a surprise,” he said gravely. “For Baze, who hates surprises, and so he assumes I will never surprise him, and so the surprise shall be all the greater.”
The logic was almost impeccable. Almost.
“It’s his birthday soon,” Cassian explained. “Chirrut thought, maybe just us…” He shrugged. “I said I could cook something.”
Jyn let out a short laugh. “You?”
Like a drawing in sand, his smile was gone. “Problem?”
“Cassian assures me he will not poison us,” Chirrut said, squeezing her shoulder again and letting his hand fall. “Although if you insult his cooking I cannot say his promise extends to you.” Cheerful and self-assured, the monk glided off down the corridor with a gentle laugh.
They watched him go. Or rather, Jyn watched him go. Or rather, Jyn saw him go, but was instead focused on the feeling of Cassian’s eyes on her, as so often she felt they were. That line between them was still one she couldn’t quite walk. Each time she thought she’d found her balance, it would tauten with a jolt, a smile over the shoulder, or slacken with a playful insult with just the wrong timing. Idiot.
“Nice idea,” she said. “Just us. Kay? Bodhi?”
“Of course. And we’ll ask Luke.” And he seemed about to say something else, but he didn’t.
She wasn’t sure how to reverse the damage of something so small, something that should have done no damage at all. Feebly, “I didn’t know you could cook.”
She didn’t need hearing like Chirrut’s to know it was Cassian’s strange loping march receding from her. He was – it was complicated.
It was about proportions. They were always all wrong. They could do… what they had done. Hold each other for dear life, for lack of it, for anything, and it was like nothing; but the small things of life, of conversation, of just being… it was ludicrous how easily they were spun in and out.
The orbit she’d found herself falling into back in the hangar on Yavin was, she decided, highly elliptical. Whether the inevitability of that was comforting or not, she couldn’t decide. It rather depended where she was at any given time.
How Bodhi had wangled it, they would never know, although Jyn guessed it had something to do with Luke and his hero status, but somehow they had a senatorial suite for the evening. Suite was a grander term for it than it really was – a cooking area, a bedroom off through a side door, a table, a couch, a little floor space… it was nothing, really, but palacial compared to the bare cells and dormitories in which most of them passed their nights. Jyn supposed that even on scrappy, homeless directionless fleets of ships, people must need a holiday, people must marry…
And there she was, handing a bright piece of cloth to Kay with HAPPY BIRTHDAY burnt awkwardly into it with a soldering iron, and there Kay was, reaching higher than she could to press it to the wall, and there Cassian was, his back to them, industrious and focused, and dear Force…
“That smells amazing,” she said, and instantly bit her lip; did it seem too pleading after her unwitting insult? But he turned around, and again the smile…
“Come and try it!” he said, holding out a spoon.
She felt her own smile spread wide across her face as she came over; she reached out to take it but he pulled it away, the corner of his mouth quirking up. She stared, and he relented, handing it over.
If it smelt good, it tasted even better. Force knew how he’d got hold of these ingredients, but it was like nothing she’d ever eaten before. She looked up at him again, and his silent delight mirrored her own.
“It’s delicious,” she beamed. “Everyone’s going to love this.”
“I won’t,” came Kay’s voice from near their scrappy excuse for a banner. “I don’t eat.”
She laughed, and Cassian shook his head despairingly as he turned back to his work.
Baze’s response had been gruff, sardonic, and more evidently moved than he cared to admit. The lack of presents was no dampener – what could they make for him that he wanted or needed? – and the pathetic banner the subject of uproarious laughter when it fell from the wall and Kay simply said “Correct” to it. Bodhi and Luke had arrived, frivolous with excitement, carrying between them a box filled with bottles that were quite definitely the result of Luke’s status at the on-board cantina.
It had taken them no time to fall, she mused as she watched them over dinner. Baze and Chirrut to her left, leaning gradually more into each other, familiar and easy; Bodhi and Luke to her right, animated, glowing, all light playful touches and shining eyes. And opposite her – Cassian, quiet, gentle, watching the happiness with detached approval. He caught her looking.
Always that line between them; across the table, down the traverse between old and new, something terrifying and brilliant that she knew must light her as it seemed to light him, if only they could just –
“Music!” exclaimed Bodhi, and from somewhere in the box – many of the bottles now empty already – he pulled out a device and set it on the counter, chivvying everyone to help move the table and chairs aside.
It was a Bodhi she was delighted to see, all his nervousness turned to cheer, his determination to exuberance. It was the version of himself he deserved to be, the energy within him still distinct, a kind of skittishness she’s never had, and never envied, and had never before thought to admire. At first sight, they could have been thought too similar to work, but Luke was his opposite, somehow – some years younger but grounded in a strange, bright seriousness.
Kay was still standing, rather cluelessly, in the kitchen, and regarding the pilots’ slightly chaotic, laughing dance with an air that, despite his expressionless countenance, breathed absolute indifference. Cassian turned around and said something Jyn couldn’t hear over the music, but Kay’s response was loud enough:
“I do; it is. Thank you. Goodnight.” He left, pausing at the door to glance around. “Happy birthday, Baze,” he added, before ducking out.
It was a soft, warm kind of bleariness, with a glass in her hand, on the couch. Chirrut and Baze were still in their chairs, leaning into each other and smiling at the younger men dancing and batting each other; as she looked, Baze kissed Chirrut’s cheek and put his arm around him.
The table, shoved to the side, was still piled high with plates and dishes, teetering with empty bottles, the kitchen still crowded with pans and utensils. Cassian was finishing stacking things more carefully, and finally he found his way to sit beside her.
She’d had more than she normally did to drink, she knew, and it felt easy to tip her head onto his shoulder as she gestured at the room.
“Nice night. Thanks for the food.”
Cassian didn’t say anything – he didn’t move, for a second; he seemed frozen. But then he nudged her head with his chin and said, “Yours was poisoned.”
“Obviously.” She took another sip of wine. “You know, I’ve never been to a birthday party before.”
“I don’t really pay attention to mine,” she went on. “I barely knew the date on Wobani, anyway.”
He rested his head down on hers. “I don’t really care for mine, either,” he said. “It’s just I always know when it is.”
“It’s the day after Conmemorario. It’s a holiday on my home planet. Sort of a day of remembering the dead, you know. My birthday’s always the day after. It was a couple of weeks ago.”
Jyn blinked slowly and took in the feeling of his shoulder, firm against her cheek, the movement of his jaw against the top of her head as he talked, the sound of the upbeat music not quite loud enough to dance to, which nonetheless didn’t seem to be preventing the dancing, although as she watched, Luke excused himself to the fresher. Bodhi had ripped the ill-fated banner into strips and tied one around his head, and he now advanced on Jyn purposefully.
“Come and dance,” he begged. “Come on, Jyn…”
He hauled her up, ignoring her faint protests.
“Go on,” said Cassian from below. “You’ve still never been to a birthday party if you haven’t danced.”
She shrugged and drained her drink, and let Bodhi drag her across the room to the space beside the device that was desperately attempting to push out tinny music at a useful volume. It felt awkward, and exposing, and she didn’t really know what to do, although Bodhi held her hands with a broad grin and moved her arms around vaguely. It was like having a brother, she thought. Or what having a brother might have been like; she didn’t know. And Baze had called her sister. Luke, she knew, had no family at all, now… here they all were… some kind of family.
But there was Cassian, the safest and the most frightening of them all, and she knew he was watching her failure to dance, and it bothered her that it bothered her. But then Luke reappeared and hugged her – she never really knew how to do that – and Bodhi’s attention slid away from her in a haze until Cassian was beside them –
“Mind if I cut in?”
She wasn’t sure if it was tipsiness that made her stumble a little more, but suddenly he was holding her up, and then holding her nearer … she realised she hadn’t seen him drink anything all evening, and it didn’t seem entirely fair that he got to be steady and co-ordinated while she weaved awkwardly; but now she had the strangest feeling of being a good dancer. She wasn’t, she knew, but something about his hands on her sides…
Chirrut made some comment, and Baze grunted agreement, and Jyn wasn’t sure later what they’d said but she remembered thinking first they had meant Bodhi and Luke, and then wondering if that were really so.
Breathless, dizzy, electric, and he seemed as wary as she felt. Every fraction his hands crept around her, pulling her in, was a new frontier, and no, this wasn’t new because – and yet it was. She placed her hands slowly against his chest, and dared herself to look up.
Nothing new, was what it was, the look in his eyes, and the look she knew was in hers. Nothing new, but stripped of despair and exhaustion, nothing new but in steady light. Soft, and longing, and from here, highly elliptical was the worst possible thing.
She’d made it back to safety at the end of the song, back to the couch, swinging into the table as she passed and knocking a knife to the floor with a clatter, and now she opened her eyes she could see it had gone, and the table was clear; the kitchen was tidy; the room was unlit.
And Cassian was there on the couch, too, awake, eyes on her.
“You tidied up,” she said, and he looked around at her.
“Yeah... sorry, I just…”
The room was dark, splashed with greys, edges hinted with green from the emergency light near the door. Jyn suddenly realised she was cold.
She sighed and hauled herself up. “I should get back to my room.”
“Mm.” He stood as well, and they slipped out into the corridor. Back to their rooms; they were heading in the same direction, quiet, not to wake anybody.
“What did you make of Bodhi’s head-tie thing?” Cassian whispered with a laugh.
“Suited him,” she laughed back. “I mean… maybe not his look, but I liked it.”
“He’s more of a party guy than I thought.”
They walked on, and Jyn looked up at him beside her with a sense of dread. Highly elliptical, she reminded herself. Whatever that was… whatever happened… it’d come again. But right now, she wanted it to be again right now; he wasn’t looking at her but she didn’t look away, kept walking and traced the line of his profile, looked at his lips and oh, she wasn’t used to it, didn’t know how this worked but it wasn’t fair how they came and went and everything went unspoken at every turn.
“Happy birthday,” she said.
“It’s not my birthday.”
“No, but I missed it.”
He smiled down at her. “Then happy birthday.”
And he stopped walking; she stopped walking – who stopped first? But there they were, facing each other in the corridor lit only by sporadic green standby lights, and she didn’t know what to do now. She looked at his lips again, watched them change as his smile dropped away uncertainly, hopefully; he licked them quickly, swallowed, and she looked back up at his eyes.
It could change, she told herself. It didn’t have to always be far away and back again; just a nudge, just a…
She lifted an unsteady hand to his face, felt his fingers brush the side of her neck, just the air by the skin of her neck, and closed her eyes as he brought his face nearer, fraction by disbelieving fraction…
Soft, and cautious, shaking breath as she took his bottom lip between her own, her head light like swimming in a cold river, his hand on her neck pressing gently, slipping round, and he was hardly moving, he was holding his breath, she thought.
Then he sighed into her mouth, and it was like surrender, and if the world reeling as he pulled her in hungrily was some change of orbit, then, she thought, gravity could take them.