“No one soldier in a rebellion needs to live the whole way through.”
“That sounds awfully contrary of you, soldier. Should I reassign your mission?”
Cassian’s hands flinched as they constructed his sniper rifle. He turned an icy glare at Draven. “I will extract the target.”
“You don’t need to be so thorough. The heart will do.”
“The heart is the target,” he replied, now flowing easily through the motions to gear up for his drop-off. “Though I don’t believe in ancient superstitions.”
“It’s what people need to hear right now. We’ve found ways around it, should we fail. All we need is the story that we’ve delivered the heart of a star to the princess in captivity. Should that fail, we have genetic material enough for a clone or two to keep the faith that she survived, an immortal princess. You don’t look convinced.”
The statement was jarring, accusing. Cassian glanced up from his blaster. “I don’t need to believe. I’m in this rebellion because I’m doing what I think is right. I don’t need a false icon.”
Draven laughed, clapping him on the back. “That’s more like it, soldier. It’s fallen only a few clicks from here, so to prevent startling it, here’s your drop-off and you can continue on foot.”
K2 stepped forward, the one tool that would guarantee it capture, but Cassian waved it off. K2 had a habit of trying to defend Cassian’s methods, which made him feel worse.
“K, you’ve never countered anything like this. It’s not in your programming. Stay with the ship.”
A good liar used true statements to hide what they actually meant.
It wasn’t killing the star that bothered him, it was treating one life like it was better than the rest. He knew Princess Leia couldn’t have known about the plot the council cooked up, the immortal queen of the rebellion’s cause; even if he failed, it could be synthesized every few years with replacement princesses. His mission, if successful in every way, could make for the stuff of legends. But if he failed or not, it had to be on the books anyway for evidence of the cover-up.
The wooded terrain made navigation difficult, but there was a faint glow in the distance that solved the problem before it ever became one.
He found the crater, found the star lying in it. He knew that all he had known about stars was flipped on its head on this planet, that this was the only safe place on could land. As soon as the star was spotted falling by one of their scouts, he was sent to find it.
He knew, on paper, what he would find.
And it lay in base of the melted stone, which was cooling rapidly in the night, cloaked in silver and with long white hair. Its form was female, but Draven warned him against that as one would a knife-wielding prostitute, and Andor was not the sort of soldier that would have that be his downfall.
“Did you see a falling star around here?” he called out, just to see if it was awake.
The star sat up, its hair whipping around like a lightning strike.
“Just about,” the tone was flippant, he saw a grimace upon its face as it tried to get up.
“Are you alright?”
He entered the crater, easily walking across the slick melted stone with heavy boots. The star was lovelier close up, with a shock of messy white hair and white eyes, but otherwise, perfection didn’t distance him from the face that looked back at him. There was something unbearably human about the heart he sought. He’d seen plenty of celestial beings, but none of them had such easily emotional faces, or a grounds of a sullen expression to take away from their divinity.
“I can’t stand,” it lowered itself from palms to elbows, and he was vaguely convinced it was ready to pounce on him anyway. “My ankle.”
“This one?” he knelt, keeping the guise of a struck dumb, helpful benevolence until he was as close to it as he needed to be.
“Do you always go poking around, looking for fallen stars?”
The look on the star’s face was irritable, the large eyes in its humanoid face flickering nervously at the dark woods surrounding them. He didn’t like befriending his targets, but he certainly felt sympathy for the star.
He decided to make it quick.
“This happens every day,” he glanced up at the sky. “But it could only be here, on this planet, that we could find one. The atmosphere is just thin enough to keep it from burning up into stardust upon entry. Any other planet’s atmospheric pressure would break it to pieces. So luckily for you, we brought something to safely transport you. A carbonite freeze.”
It glared at him. “Me, or the thing you’re really after?”
He adjusted his weapon, wondering if it even deserved the truth. Did anyone deserve it more than the people who already died by his lies?
“We have a nice little box that will keep your heart from collapsing,” he informed the star evenly.
The star didn’t think to flinch away in time, and like lighting his hand was wrapped loosely but firmly around the bruised limb. His human kindness was gone, he was all cold efficiency. It hissed and tried to kick him away, but only managed to hurt itself further.
“I’m not going to squeeze,” he said, but the conditional nature of that promise was terrifyingly obvious before he even continued speaking. “I won’t squeeze, if you give me what I want.”
A strand of silver hair flopped in the star’s face, it blew it aside. Air filled those lungs, just as it did his.
“And what is that?”
This was supposed to be easy. This was supposed to be less human, not more.
“To make this as painless as possible.”
That was the truth, given freely to reveal exactly what his intentions were.
It was an impossible feeling, the allure and glamor of this girl-shaped thing. The shimmer to her.
It. Her. It.
“Pity for you won’t persuade me to lie back and die.”
Her good leg swung at him. He could tell if she wasn’t injured, fragile as she looked, she could win this fight. He crawled his body forward, held her down, and exposed the flesh above her heart. She wriggled, shrieking under him, her fists landing on his chest. He forgot the ankle or the leverage it gave him, he just grit his teeth and raised his kyber knife, the only thing shy of a lightsaber that would crack her open. She flinched at the fight of it.
“I don’t know, has anyone ever filed down one of your mother’s bones and stabbed you with it?” she spat back.
He held one hand to her throat to keep her down, but the bladed hand kept the knife aloft.
“I have to do this.”
“I’m sure there’s a reason for immortality that tempts you. But you don’t have to. The minute you tell yourself you don’t have choice, you’ve made the wrong one.”
Flecks of silver covered her entire body and face like a spray of freckles. They kept catching the moonlight, there was a shimmer like water surrounding them in the black stone crater.
He had to get close to see it. Such was the risk of any intimacy.
“What’s your name?”
He hesitated. “Cassian.”
She might as well have a piece of him, if he was going to take her heart.
Her head lulled back against the stone.
Her neck arched up, vulnerable. “Cassian, who are you giving my heart to?”
She sounded ready, passing the flame of herself into his open hands. He remembered the panic in her eyes when he had arrived. She was lost. Maybe her fear made it easier for him to-
“Are you...making this easy for me?”
She turned her icy eyes back up at him. “I can’t cross the atmosphere of this planet. I can’t go home. Might as well.”
He took a deep breath, his head bowing. “I’m sorry.”
“So who is it for.”
She sighed, a cold coo that furled on its way up to his ears like a thin smoke. “That sounds romantic. I heard about romance before, when I was above.”
His shoulders shook. Her light eyes turned assessing. He couldn’t stop looking at the silver covering her skin, the faint glow she still had.
“I hope she’s worth it…” there was a longing in her tone, like she wouldn't mind the sacrifice. She would have been a better rebellion soldier than he was.
“It’s not- it’s not like that. She’s a rebellion leader, and we need her to, to…”
To be just as much as a piece of it as we all are.
Leia didn’t know about this mission. She would never sanction this.
Because no life had meant more than the other, Cassian had never spared one for the cause.
But he let her go. Shoved away and sat back on the stone with his head in his hands. He tossed the knife aside.
She crawled backwards on shaky legs, staring at him with both a coltish expression and posture. Her white and silver face was vulnerable, confused.
He pointed at the sky.
“Your family is right there. They’re not leaving you. They’re never leaving you. It’s their turn to watch you.”
She took a shaky step towards him. “Why…?”
He shook his head. “I can’t. Just go.”
Like a flash of light, she was tearing off into the woods away from him. Her stride was incredibly shaky, the limp was obvious.
The stars watched, and they waited, because that’s all they could do.
He’s in a shootout on Tatooine, he’s outnumbered and outgunned. He doesn’t protect his life with the righteousness many of his comrades do. It’s not worth more than any of the lives he’s taken.
A well-aimed shot takes his blaster right of his hands, the metal warped and unusable. He grimaces. Lifts his hands. Perhaps this is the time of atonement.
A blast ripples through his chest, right under the eaves of his ribcage. He has no back up. No one to call for help. Atonement is all he can pretend to be comforted by. He’s bleeding on the sand. There is no hope, no sparing, final shot to end it all. He usually supplied that mercy, little that it was. He was left to die.
He doesn’t die. He half-believes his final judgement is to bleed out for hours, but the pain ceases after a few minutes. He chases blackness, he chases light; but all he can see is that which is right in front of him.
He knows the wound he received. Hollowed between his ribs, punched the air straight out of his lungs. K2 could have put and arm through the hole in his torso. Knows why it should have killed him, in the way he knows his own name and the color of the sky on Fest.
He knew where she was. Where she could not leave, for risk of melting into dust. He wondered if he should go there next. If she was waiting for him.
The star did not only forgive him.
She gave him her heart.