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Water Over Stones

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She did not let herself use the word "happy," ever,.....how sick would that be.....but by that first spring after they'd crashed, she felt…..good. Both of them were healed from the burns and broken bones, and strong by then enough to ride and hike long distances. The nightmares that had gnawed at them both through that long winter had begun to slowly fade, most nights at least.

No one was looking for them and no one knew, as far as they could tell, that they were even still alive. They were stranded with access to no tech more useful than a few bits of gear and weapons pulled from the damaged black shuttle they’d escaped in, and a half-crazy receiver linked to a broken Imperial beacon. They were getting signal from the outside galaxy, knew that the war raged on, that the DeathStar was gone, the Alliance was on the run....but were still unable to contact anyone. It was terrifying and disorienting.

It was also, in a weird, this-is-how-profoundly-fucked-up-you-are way, the best time in Jyn Erso's adult life.

Maybe it was the increased daylight that helped, or maybe it was the sex they'd started having in the fall. Either way. “Good” was the word that kept coming to her.

The first legit “explore the planet" trip they took together was down to the Riverlands'

The Taun had become very fond of Cassian after he helped them negotiate with the Scavengers and had seemed more than eager to carry them down to see an old wrecked spaceship on the bluffs. “Carry them" in this case meaning "climb up on our three meter high backs and hang onto our long hair while we run very very scarily fast."

She had been places where live creatures were used as transport before, although never before had any of them asked her if she minded if they practiced their singing as they ran because they had a house concert coming up and needed to rehearse.

Jogging along, she remembered shaggy hill donkeys on Ord Mandell and big reptiles on Lethe VII. Riding a Bantha on Tatooine as an adolescent came back to her too .......hot, nasty and unbearably smelly. As fiercely as she tried to seem a battle-hardened fighter, she'd still thrown up in the sagebrush as soon as they dismounted and the breeze had turned. A couple of the local Tuskans had laughed....she'd picked up enough of the dialect to make out "your daughter..." and "delicate".....but Saw must have shut them down hard because nobody said a word after she came back.

He had handed her a canteen and averted his eyes as she spit a little of the precious water out, just to rinse her mouth. It was kindness, at least among the Partisans, and the kind of rare fatherly gesture Saw still made, randomly, in those days. No doubt that was why she had blocked the memory of it for years.

Why the fuck had they even been on Tatooine anyway? He'd already broken with the Alliance by then. Thinking back, Saw had gotten more and more desperate after that trip. It seemed to her, looking back on it now, to be after that he'd begun concentrating solely on sabotage and ratcheted up his obsession with isolation and secrecy.

They had already crossed the river at a shallow place and the Taun were kneeling to let them climb down...oh thank heaven...She shuffled these reminiscences away quickly, but there must have been something still lingering on her face, because Cassian moved back toward her as his feet hit the ground. Just looked at her, one eyebrow slightly raised, eyes a little darker than even usual....inquiring.

Oh hell, he was so quick at reading her now.

She shook her head and tried to give him a smile. "Your hair's a mess," she said.

She wasn't fooling him, but he let the pushback go. This backwards dance of intimacy and lingering concealment was something they were still working out. It was so strange. Dying in each other's arms was supposed to be the way relationships ended, not how they began.

They had pretty much reached the place Cassian's new friends had wanted to bring them, below the old wreck. Elfla and Ferla even offered to climb up the bluff carrying them. They could uncurl their hoof-like feet into curved talons for sloth-like climbing....a truly terrifying prospect.....but Cassian diplomatically assured them that he and Jyn could easily hike up on their own.

"Very well then," Elfla said, in his/her oboe-like voice, "if yo-ou'd rather explo-ore on yo-our o-own. We will head do-own to check with the harvesters and co-ome back to-o meet to-omorro-ow."

"It will be interesting to-o hear what yo-ou can tell us abo-out it," Ferla said, "it has puzzled me since I was a child." They galloped off down the riverbank,

It was a rough hike up the limestone bluff, but it took only a few hours, even with their packs. The Taun were a little lax on such concepts as time. "Tomorrow " might mean tomorrow morning, or it might mean two days from now, so they'd brought gear enough to camp it for a couple of days.

She had thought of asking Cassian if he'd gotten directions on looking for the wreck, but once they'd reached the top of the palisade, it hadn't been at all hard to find. This wasn't a fighter or a shuttle. Whatever had come down here was......had been..... a full space ship. Even mostly buried and covered in tall grass it looked to be at least 50-60 meters wide. Impressively crescent curved, from the shape that could still be made out. The aft struts had partly detached and several good sized birch trees were actually growing though the gap.

"In my youth" was the vague date Elfla had given for the ship's crash....which might have meant something if either Jyn or Cassian had the slightest idea how long an average Taun lifespan was, which they didn't. Still, this thing had to have come down at least 20 or 25 years ago, given the amount of vegetation and soil build up. Erosion on the cliff face had exposed the two points of it's curve. Another decade and some good hard rains might send it toppling down to the river below. Jyn grabbed two handfuls of grass near an edge and pulled, topsoil came up with the matted roots. Cassian copied her and they quickly uncovered several meters of white and silver hull plating.

Jyn was no expert in ship identification, but something about this rang a bell. Kestrel Dawn had gotten very good at lifting the credit clearance IDs of wealthy travelers in several busy space ports.

Steal from the poor and they notice right away, steal from the wealthy.....at least the right kind of wealthy, and not too much at any one time....and it may take them days to notice. If ever.

This sideways curve design looked familiar.....

"Fucking hell," she said, "It almost looks like a Lux"

Cassian nodded, running a hand along the scratched but still unstained hull, "Sorosub Luxury 4000. A classic, or so I've been told."

"I didn't know you were familiar with expensive vintage spacecraft, Captain." She was trying to tease him....but got no smile.

He shrugged. "I had occasion to deal with people who were." She had unwittingly crossed a line, she sensed.

I'm sorry, she thought, whatever it is I've made you remember, I'm sorry.

"Me, too," she said.

He nodded, and edged around the now-exposed paneling. "There would be a main ramp entry at the front, " he moved back a meter, looking up, "the flight deck would be above it....and this," he kicked at the rounded shape they'd revealed. "would be the roof of the starboard observation lounge." They still had several hours of daylight, and a couple of folding shovels they'd borrowed from the Scavengers, so it seemed worthwhile to climb up right onto the grass-grown top of the thing and dig a few holes. If any equipment survived that would be of use to them, it would probably be on the flight deck

She dropped her camp pack and shouldered her bundle of "break and enter" gear.

"Give me a boost up," she said.

He laid his pack aside and she stepped close, expecting him to lower his hands so she could use them as a step. Instead of that, ....seeming to change his mind mid-motion......he slipped hands behind her elbows and pulled her toward him, guiding her hands around his back and putting his arms around her.

It wasn't unwelcome, oh my no, no....just unexpected....here, now. She let the bundle of tools fall and burrowed her head in against his neck, tightening her hold, as he pressed her against him.

These clothes were too bulky. Heavy jackets had been shed after getting to the top of the climb, but it still had been a cold spring morning. She felt for the shape of his back, his ribs, through the thick cloth shirt. Cassian? His heart was beating hard enough to feel. Not panic attack fast…but….not in the good way either.

What is it, Cassian?

She couldn't ask....they didn't ask each other questions like that. You don't breach floodgates, you have to let the water out a little at a time.

He stepped back before she could turn her face up, to either kiss him, or look in his eyes.

"Sorry," he said, shaking his head, as if annoyed with himself over some show of weakness, some mistake. It was one of his gestures, she was starting to learn.

My love. What do you want? What do you need me to do?

"Hey, soldier...." she said, keeping her hands on his arms now, "this can wait, much as I like wreck diving, there are other things I like more."

Fucking brilliant way with words you've got, Jyn, she thought.

Cassian stepped back and handed her her gear again, "Good to know…I just, lost track of things for a moment. Come on. Let’s at least get a start on this first. Work before leisure.” His smile made it seem as if a cloud had passed. She put her right hand on his bowed-down shoulder and lifted her boot onto his joined hands. He boosted her up, onto the grassy mound. Not too hard, as a joke, or too little, leaving her to scramble the last few centimeters,

It astonished her every day, that extraordinary care he took with things, with her.

She couched low and reached a hand back to help him up in turn.

The view of the river below was so pretty from up here. The sun was high now and the day was clear. She could see down the river as it wound, sparkling, down the valley toward the grasslands and the main branch of the bigger Green River. The hardwood forests stretched off down the opposite bank. It was harder to make out the shape of the wreck from on top of it. Cassian had thought to bring up a couple of long sticks and stuck one forward from the edge where they'd climbed up.

"Inward about 20 paces from this," he said. She walked across the squishy turf from where he indicated and stopped.

"Here?" she asked

He came up alongside her and took an extra step. "Short legs," he said with one of his small smiles.

"Bite me," she replied, glad that the awkwardness had passed.

He was right enough though, they uncovered the hatch quickly. The loose turf was mostly light crumbly soil, held together by matted grass and roots and came up easily. Marking out the edges, they could see that it was intact, still sealed.

"Holy hell," Jyn said. The hull was obviously compromised somewhere, those trees were coming up through the aft strut, but if the main cabins were sealed and undamaged....this could be a treasure trove.

The trick was...."Manual hatch controls are inside," Cassian said, "It might be hard to get in." 

"Are you speaking as a relatively law abiding citizen?"

"No," he said, "Just a man far separated from his lock-pick tools."

She rolled her eyes,....you were spoiled, let me show you how it's done, spy boy....then knelt and took a thin silica knife from the rough leg-sheath she'd made for herself. The blade was made from a cut and polished circuit board and she'd won it off one of the Scavengers in a dart game. Not a vibra-knife, but a useful blade if you kept it sharpened. She slid it exploringly around the door seal, and almost immediately could hear a faint hiss of air.

"It's open," she said, astonished. The manual release must have already been engaged from inside.

 

 

The pneumatic hingeing was long gone, so they had to work together to lift the hatch, but once the seals were cut it prized open far easier than she would have dreamed. Cassian propped it with a large branch and a couple of rocks because neither of them much liked the idea of getting trapped inside.


It was dark, this style of ship had lots of clear observation windows, but those were all covered with dirt. The only torch they had was one of the last emergency glow-flares they'd pulled from their crashed shuttle. Still,  when tucked into a glass mirrored box, like the one the Taun had given them as a lamp, it gave off a fair amount of light. Jyn went in first. Cassian passed her the lamp and lowered himself in behind her. The air had not rushed out very hard as they’d forced the hatch, so clearly there must have been some cracks in the hull somewhere, or a least open vents, but it was close and faintly damp. Cassian passed her a toxin-check strip. Pink. Not great, but with the hatch propped it should be fine. The sweetish smell was immediately recognizable to both of them....how could it not be?.... it was faint and stale though, not recent. There were two pilots seats, but only one body. The remains were skeletal, stripped pretty clean. It seemed almost complete and, though disarticulated, lay largely unscattered over the chair and control console. Whatever small cracks or openings there were in the hull must have let in the tiny scavenger lizards, otherwise an enclosed space like this would have slowed decay a little more. Bigger scavengers would have moved things around more violently though. Jyn stepped forward with the lamp for a better look, but Cassian held a hand up, reflexively, as if to hold her back.

Oh for heavens sake, she thought, like dry bones were something that would bother her.

But that didn't seem to be it, exactly. As he took the light and crouched down to examine the skull, facing toward them on the console, he had a look that seemed so strange. A mix of questioning, and….unhappiness? pain maybe? The skull was elongated, humanoid but not human. There were bright circles still around some of the finger bones, jeweled rings, and rags of what might have been silk robes and brocade.

“Cerean,” he said, “looks like an elderly male.” There was something like relief in his voice, maybe.

They moved around the flight deck. Cut off from solar charge, most of the batteries were so down as to be useless, but they managed to get some chemical emergency lighting strips on the floor to work, opened cabinets, checked compartments.

They moved out to inspect the ramps, and the other cabins, searching as best they could in the poor lighting. There was a great deal here that could be used, or traded, but this was clearly a pleasure craft and not a military one. Lamps, fixtures, even dishes and interior windows and wire would be desirable to the Scavenger bands where they were staying, north of here. The Taun did not value such things for themselves but would appreciate having goods to trade. They liked salvaged fabric and some of these pillows and carpets would make them happy, even with a little must and mold. Jyn found a couple of outmoded but workable data pads, solar battery packs and medical equipment that she and Cassian could claim. No weapons, but they could search more carefully later, with better lamps. Some might be stowed in the interior.

There was still the sweetish smell of  decay, but no sign of other passengers. No visible bodies. No sign of food in the cabinets. The wine racks were empty, to Jyn’s slight disappointment. Although beautifully decorated, the ship seemed stripped, austere, at least from what she imagined of a wealthy party ship of the Early Republican Golden Age. She'd never actually been inside one.  Cassian seemed to be studying the controls, dead as they were, and the one engine strut they could see into.

“It didn’t crash,” he said, thoughtfully, “he landed it here. Landed it quite well.”

She had noticed this too, everything seemed so intact. Nothing had slid. A crystal cup was still sitting on a table in the main cabin. Books, discarded jewelry. lay on others, scattered between beautiful leather couches.  Cassian paused by an interior door off the main lounge cabin. It was open, but too dark to see anything inside, and he held the light low, as if hesitating to lift it and look.

“What is it?” Jyn asked.

‘The master bedroom,” he said, “or, should be....the way ships like this are usually laid out.” Something was strangely flat in his voice.

“Give me the lamp,” she said. It suddenly seemed important to her that he not go in there.

“No,” he held it up a little, “I’ll be fine.”

“Cassian….please..”

He shook his head as if trying to shake something out of it, “No.” he turned to look back at her, “This ship is like one I’ve….been in before, that’s all. It isn’t....it can't be that one though.….this ship must have come here shortly after the Purges, just after Palpatine seized power.”

“How do you know that?” she asked. He pointed to a carved jade table beside the door.  There was a broken silver chain laying on it, square linked, heavy, it looked familiar. She had seen them in a few pictures.

Most recently she had seen one on Mon Mothma across the conference room on Yavin IV.

“A senatorial chain?”

“Pre-Imperial Design. The Last “free” Senate. They were all supposed to be collected and re-forged into the design for the Imperial Senate. Mothma had one and wore it for her famous resignation speech....still wears one, as did a very few other renegades. I’m told Padme Amidala was buried in hers….only a few survived.”

She moved close, to stand close by him as he lifted the lamp and walked into the cabin. She could make out gleaming furniture lining the walls, armoires and chests, a large gilt mirror.

Nice, the Scavengers would cut that up and sell it by the piece,Oh hell, girl, she thought, You're already going native.

A large bed stood in the center of the room, covered with what looked like tapestries. Another Cerean body lay covered in it, one skeletal hand laying above the coverlet.

“Another elderly male,” Cassian said quietly, “judging by the ridges.”

They came here to die, Jyn thought. Who were they? What were they escaping? Why did they have the hatches unlocked, but sealed, as if they just made no attempt to leave?

She looked at Cassian and was suddenly filled with concern for him, with out being able to articulate why. This place was sad, but what was bothering him was more than a mystery of two dead Cerean noblemen, dying alone ahead of the Empire’s rise.

Something else was hurting him here. She wanted to get him out of this ship.

“Come on,” she said. “Enough.”

He let her lead him out.

The sun was setting. It would have been safer to sleep inside the ship but she was damned if she was going to do that. A ways off from the wreck, at the top of the bluff they set up a fire and ran what the Taun called a “coal rope” of twisted slow-burning fiber around a good-sized camp site. The blue lizards came out after dark. They were mainly a problem down in the valley, not high on the hills, but burning the rope created a circle of ash that they would not cross and made it safer to camp on the ground.

Jyn laid out her blankets and sat down to eat some of the wrinkled fruit and nutcake that they had brought. Cassian had lifted his bedroll and stood for a moment, as if thinking about where to put it. The sun was setting off behind the bluffs west of them, and the first of the moons was already up and brightening.

“Do you mind?” he said, seeming to ask about laying it down beside hers.

Now we are getting nuts, she thought. What is this about?


“Do you not want to?” she asked, annoyed to hear her voice sound like a teenager whose sweetheart is asking for their sweater back.

“Of course I want to, he said, “I just…I wanted to make sure.”

 

Even before they had become....whatever it was they were....they always shared a bed, back at the stone house they’d made a place in, near the place the shuttle had brought them down. They had for months, ever since since their rescuers had pulled them, burned and broken, out of the wrecked Imperial shuttle. They had changed each other's bandages, held onto each other through nightmares. Even before Scarif...if "before" mattered......they'd both been soldiers, liars, underground dwellers. Privacy was something people like them knew as a mental discipline rather than a physical one, a matter of millimeters, averted eyes, discretion.

He had her at a disadvantage that way, of course, knowing...or at least thinking he did...so much about her.

Imperial prison medical records, she'd thought bitterly, sometimes, the ultimate dating information site. 

She thought now, as she sometimes had before,  of how it was usually she who reached for him, still. In those first days she'd been nervous about his his back, his slowly healing broken ribs, but she had been the one to..… for lack of a better word, jump him first. His response was always so quick, so hungry, yet so agonizingly careful at the same time.

The very first time he had said, "You have to tell me, please...if I do anything …." 

"I trust you," she'd said, and it was true.

He trusted her too, although she still wondered if she sometimes blundered into hurting him in her desperation.

Water over stones she had thought, when he ran his hands over the scars on her back and legs, when she had touched his chest, and shoulders, curled against him in the night....trying to wear away the memory of the sound his bones had made, breaking as he struck the beams falling in the data tower, smooth it into something else.


He shook his head when she offered him half the cake, and took a long drink of the water water instead.

It was getting dark in earnest now, and the stars were flickering on. He laid down as if very tired, with his head on his rolled jacket.

She watched him, looking up at the stars, and found herself fingering her kyber necklace, as she often did when she felt at an utter loss.“Tell me a story,” she said, something she had a sudden memory of saying to her mother.

“About what?” he asked, looking up at the sky.

“About spaceships,” she said.

He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. Looking at the stars and not at her, he began:

 


Once there was an Imperial Military Provisional Governor. A well-bred, intelligent and ruthless man, the sort of fellow who tends to go far in Imperial Administration. He was packed off to a posting where he could have the opportunity to prove himself, as the new Military Governor on a planet…let’s say, in the Corellian Trade sectors…. with orders to bring a restive population to heel, and quickly establish secure weapons transport facilities.

The Governor was warned by Command that his continued advancement depended on both immediate job results and fewer distracting public scandals. Being a narcissistic sadist, in and of itself, was no disqualification for promotion, but he had a reputation for….intemperance. He had luxurious time-wasting tastes in wine, fast speed racing, classic spaceships, antiques, and the purely recreational physical and physiological abuse of anyone he felt to be in his power.

He also had a fairly young wife. She had previously been his mistress, the widow of one of his former commanders actually. There had been rumors, but the scandal was soon hushed up as his career advanced.

Maybe he was blackmailing her, or maybe she didn’t know exactly what he was when she traded up and married him. He was manipulative and could be very charming. Maybe she did know, and being ambitious herself, thought she could handle it. Whatever the case, after the “provisional” posting she found her situation unbearable. He was under Grand Moff Tarkin’s watch now, and this combination of greater work stress, added to the loss of the well-trained servants and house staff that had been her partial buffer for years, meant that she was now not just his favorite object of torment, but his only one.

She was contacted by a local resistance cell, who offered to get her off-planet and into Rebel territory in return for information on her husband’s security raids and movements. She asked for sizable payment in cash-credit up front. The Alliance would have been hard-pressed to meet her demands even if they trusted her not to just take the money and run, but they did not. They counter-offered her a smaller sum in advance, with the rest to be paid to her off-world, upon hand-over of the information. They did not hear from her again, but the cell agent who was her contact was captured shortly thereafter by Imperial Security, and committed suicide before they could be tortured.

Whether or not the Governor’s wife deliberately compromised the agent is impossible to know. If she did, the betrayal did her no good. If anything, her husband’s treatment of her became even less discreet.

The Governor was proving very effective at securing the planet, and getting the transport depot operational on-time and on-budget, but, for obvious reasons, his personal staff turn-over was high. Communications and Technical Staff began to be brought in directly out of the Regional Imperial Academies, since anyone with seniority or influence avoided the posting.

The Governor’s beautiful wife seemed to be increasingly confined to the opulent palace and her husband’s wedding gift of a now dry-docked antique Sorosub Luxury 4000 was one of her few refuges. She was also increasingly desperate. One evening, while her husband was away on a rare inspection trip, she stumbled across one of the new young staff officers, a pretty boy of eighteen or so, in a restricted part of the residential wing. He was not supposed to be there, but had broken into a social secretary’s terminal and was patching an information file onto an outgoing food service order. Her father had had a liaison job with a Bothan company in her youth and she recognized the maneuver immediately as that of a Bothan Intelligence mole. When she threatened to report him, the young man revealed that he had been recruited as a Bothan paid source, and she blackmailed him into acting as her go-between with the Bothans. For three weeks she passed him requested information and he gave her confirmation of the large payments being made into an untraceable numbered account on Kafrene.

The dark and empty ship was their meeting place. When the young man expressed concern about avoiding detection in coming and going, the Governors wife explained, with an ugly, bitter laugh, that so long as she remained “within the barbed wire” as she put it, her husband actively encouraged her to maintain such social conventions as parties, fine clothes and lovers. It was possible she was lying, of course, but the young man had been at the station long enough to have heard such whispers. “We’re in no danger doing the expected, my angel. Do exactly as I tell you and we’ll both get what we need out of this. I promise.”

The boy allowed himself to be persuaded. The messages and bank confirmations were passed on detachable film sheets pinned into their clothes. It was necessary to be very conscious of which cameras were activated when, as well as when a touch of repeater tape could make the music box in the powered-down ship cover up a whispered conversation, and when it couldn’t. He appeared to be an apt pupil.

It was an unsustainable situation in the long term, of course, as the young man could not help but be aware. Other officers had begun giving him wide berth, and he understood what was meant when he heard a drunken maintenance worker mutter to another about “asking directions to the pet cemetery” after passing him in a hallway.

He urged the Governor’s wife to make her escape with him to their now fat bank account, assuring her that he could get them out of the palace and arrange for a Bothan ship. She kissed him then and told him how long she had waited to meet someone so brave and loyal.  There was no question of simply leaving, she said. He had her watched at all times, had even had a tracer surgically implanted on her, she could never be safe. Quickly, in whispers, she revealed a plan she had clearly been working on for more than a year.

This ship was not as disabled as it appeared, or as her husband believed it to be, and neither was she. The Lux 4000 had it’s own Lothan crystal battery, undetectable by the Palace main power grid It could not fly far, but was enough power to get out of atmosphere and to a small light-speed craft she had hidden on a storage satellite in near orbit, back when her chains were looser. The only sticking point was getting the landing bay open. She could get the command data cylinder, with the executive code on it, but her husband kept it on him at all times.

She would arrange for him to be called to the residence that night. Sooner or later her husband always demanded to meet her lovers personally. He would would be searched going in, everyone was, but she already knew that the Bothans usually supplied their operatives with scan repellent envelopes. She would find a way to slip him a single-charge blaster, just small enough to slip inside one. He would smuggle it into the residence.

Her husband had security droids and cameras but kept the former outside his private quarters and the latter on internal feed, since he lately had reason to be concerned about some of his excesses winding up on his Imperial record file. She could disable him by drugging his evening wine, just enough for the boy to use the weapon and for her to grab the command code and use it to override the droids. They would have to run, but if they could make it to the ship they could be out and free before the alarm sounded. Then they would have a chance together.

 

Her suffering was obvious and her hatred of her husband absolutely beyond question.

 

The boy did indeed have such an envelope. He found a small blaster cap, barely the length of his index finger and with a single button firing mechanism, hidden in his boot when he dressed to go, an hour later, after she had slipped away from the ship through the darkened hanger.


That evening he was called to report to the Governor’s personal quarters. His unit commander and his fellow officers did not even raise eyes from their pads, and the Sport-Net holos they were watching, to see him follow the droid out. He suspected they had already drawn lots for who would get his bunk and locker. He walked very quickly, much faster than his normal gait.


The scans cleared him at the doorways to the private quarters wing, as did the droids outside the even more luxurious “personal” apartment, within.

He knew he would have seconds at best to assess the room when the gilded door clicked shut behind him.

The governor was dead on the floor, shot through the head with a single use blaster pac. The command cylinder, or a solid reproduction of one, was still in his sleeve and a woman’s body lay on the floor nearby. It was not the Governor’s wife, but another woman, no doubt the same age, size and weight.

That surprised him, it shouldn’t have, but he was still only a very young spy after all.

“I’m sorry” he said, as if the dead woman could hear him. Laid on her body was a timer charge and it had two seconds more to go.

He took a blue disc from the envelope in his shirt, it telescoped down quickly into a stick about a meter high and he dove to crouch against the doorframe, with it held in front of him. If the explosive had been anything other than a pulse-charge grenade, the small repellent field would have been useless and he would have died, as intended. It was though, and he didn’t.

The blast door sealed as programmed, although the fire-suppression droids mistakenly opened the several large air vents because of a unexplained malfunction that caused them to think an airborne toxin was present. A second blast then went off. The confusion delayed the Security troopers for a extra few moments, and when they finally got inside the room in protective gear, they found the mostly vaporized remains of three people. The Governor, the badly burned body of a woman tentatively identified as his wife. and a few handfuls of carbonized residue were all that remained of a third personwith only a single partial jawbone remaining for the DNA scan that identified it as Imperial Communications Technician Corporal Edro Morran. The forensics indicated that Morran must have been carrying a second incendiary, probably in his pocket, that went off too soon.

The Capitol was put on immediate lock-down, but local Resistance forces, in league with the terrorist Rebel Alliance, must have been fore-warned. They took advantage of the confusion to attack the airbase, the data storage and water filtration plants, the detention centers, and the physical plant of the Palace and Administrative headquarters. Fighting raged for three days until the Rebels were forced back and the construction of the transport station was delayed by almost two years.

 

 


“Devaron,” Jyn said.

Cassian lay on his back still looking up at the stars, and said nothing.

“You killed the Butcher of Devaron.”

“No,” he said, “I did not.”

“What happened to her? Did she get away?” Jyn had rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows. The fire had burned low now, but the circle of lizard-repellant coals around them still glowed, giving off enough light for her to see his face, as a shadowy profile.

“I have no idea,” he said.

She understood, of course, that the Bothan money and the account on Kafrene had never really existed


She had so many other questions.

How old were you? Did you feel sorry for her, somehow, at any point? Was it the first or only time you had to do something like that? Is this makes you hate yourself a little? Is it one of those things that make you feel like you swallowed poison? Like some choice that was supposed to be yours was taken away from you and you can’t have it back? Do you know how rare shame is where I’ve come from? How most people can’t even feel it and the few who can, die or get twisted by it?


There were many things she wanted to say.

There was an older girl and she crawled under my blanket and kissed me I think she tried to tell me she was dying inside, but I was too young and stupid to understand and a month later she was killed and I lost the gloves she gave me. A boy taught me how to swim and asked me to do more with him and I wanted to but I said not now because I was scared and later he said it was just a joke he didn’t even fancy me. He got sent on a mission a week after and got captured. I heard later that he killed himself. It was years and years before I realized that Saw knew, must have known because it was after that he dragged me out of camp to a medical station and ordered them to give me my first long-term contra implant. He probably even sent that boy on that mission that broke him. The first time I ever had full-on sex with anybody it was a smuggler who straight up told me if I didn’t have the money for transit off the planet where I was stranded,....definitely had no idea I was sixteen and had just been abandoned and left to die by my Partisan unit...that I could trade that and even get a hot meal thrown in. It was the Outer Rim, it was what passed for normal relations for the survivalist lot out there. No coercion beyond presenting the one-for-one.  Probably even saw it as a generous offer. Do you know what I thought? I thought “Fine. Who the fuck cares?” and I got dropped off on fucking Tatooine. Do you know how hard it is to find a shower in Mos Eisley? It took me three days picking pockets to get the credits for a pay-per-use sonic shower and I stood in it for an hour and cried because it turned out I cared, I cared a lot, and I couldn’t have my choices back.

She said none of those things.

“I want to tell you a story, too,” she said.

There was enough light to tell that Cassian’s eyes were closed now, and he seemed to shake his head. “No, Jyn. You really don’t….you…”

“I want to,” she said,”listen.”

“There was a woman who thought that everybody left, or failed or lied. She had no home and no name anymore and all that kept her alive was spite. When they came to beat even that out of her, all she could think was, how many can I take down with me before the light goes out? At the last second she was pulled off a prison transport and back to life. Then a man appears, who is playing with most of the same pieces but on a totally different game board. Even when he lies he keeps using crazy words like hope, and trust and home, and when he says her name….which is pretty much constantly, by the way….he says it like he says those words, as if it were something he BELIEVES and fuck all evidence to the contrary. He looks at her and sometimes she hates it, because she has been hiding for so long that being seen that clearly hurts. He keeps coming back for her, even when she yells and runs and it’s stupid and he shouldn’t, and he can’t, but he does. He is the most beautiful thing that she has ever seen. Nothing will change that, not blood or fire or the past or anything else will touch it. “Let go,” he tells her, “Leave it, it’s over.” He gives her everything he has left and they lay down to die and when they don’t, they start again." 

She laid back down beside him and looked up at the stars. "That is the only story I know now or need to know.”

They had talked about how they had to go back, they had to find a way to keep fighting, because while the Empire stood, there was no safety, no sitting out for anyone, but it was also true that neither of them were the people they had been before…..the fires on Scarif had burned them both clean. She believed that. They lay in silence for a while.

“I like your story better” he said.


The Taun returned around noon the next day, with bags of tart red berries. They were very excited about the wreck and listened to all of Cassian’s explanations, whether or not they understood them. They asked Jyn and Cassian to take out the bones of the Cereans, since they had taboos about such things but they quickly dug a large grave at the top of the bluff, and after the remains were covered, they filled it with dirt and laid leaves on it.

The profits from stripping of the beautiful ship was shared out among the Taun and Jyn and Cassian and helped them make a number of important contacts among the Scavengers and traders that they would need in the months to come.

Chapter Text


Somehow they managed to have most of their most awkward and painful conversations, in bed, usually in the dark.

 

 

The first on the subject of pregnancy had been after they made their way back from Endor..... or more accurately from a troop transport evacuating personnel off Endor.

 

Bodhi had carefully coded all the keys and info about the little shuttle onto a small hand pad and given it to Cassian.

Jyn had stolen many many things but she had never stolen a ship, largely because, as she freely admitted, she could not fly for shit.

They moved through the chaotic, pressing crowds of ground troops, flight techs and medical crews, all being dispatched to destination transports in the days after the battle. He had checked out as "Captian Arian" a Spec Ops sniper...which, at various points in his checkered career, he had almost been. She had checked out at another end of the vast queue as "Sargent Hallick”, munitions specialist…..which was just a bad joke. They had not, in fact, ever boarded their assigned crowded transports but had slipped sideways through the crowds to where the small nondescript shuttle was linked to a dozen others on a tow platform.

Bodhi loved that little ship and he had given her to them without hesitation. "Consider it a wedding present, sort of,” he'd said with as he'd hugged Cassian hard one last time in the crowd and before turning away. "Take care of her," he'd said.....although Cassian was fairly sure he hadn't meant the ship, "Te amo, hermano." At some point Bodhi must have looked that up and practiced, must have known there would be goodbye, one way or another. The pilot’s accent had been so terrible. “Yo también…” Cassian had managed to choke out…before remembering that Bodhi would not understand.

As he handed his false ID cylinder past the droid doing the personnel checks, Cassian looked up for the security camera. The nearest had been on a small drone hovering above the crowd. Someone was watching on the other side of it, he knew, probably Draven, maybe someone else. This would be approved or it wouldn't. They would let him go or they would stop him now.

"You are assigned to the U75 Transport Desert Wind, dock H135, Captain Arian," the droid had said.

He moved his eyes from the camera.

"Thank you," he said, and never looked back after. Moving through the crowds, steadily away from the H dock, he felt Jyn's shoulder against his a hundred meters before he dared to look down at her.

 

They'd gotten aboard the little A30, that Bodhi called “Gaurdian,” and started the engines when the tow platform was pulled clear. Among the vast choreography of shuttles and transports, no one noticed the one tiny ship that didn't go into hyperspace with the rest. They'd circled Endor's star in sub-light, never looking back at the debris field of the last Deathstar. When they were well and truly out of sight, Portia, in her tower on Ea, had guided them back.

 

After landing at night, in the snow, they stumbled to the little stone house that had been their home for two years. Both of them more than willing to sleep in their clothes on a stone floor, rather than in the ship, so eager had they been to be "home." There had been dry wood and blankets waiting for them. He had watched Jyn light a fire with hands shaking as much from emotion as cold and been able to think nothing but "Thank you."

 

It had been that morning, lying on the slightly flat mattress, both still half dressed, between the blankets, as the sun had begun to peek through the breaks in the shutters that she had said, “Oh, I got some news about my contraceptive implant."

Had they been other people, in another situation, or possibly another universe, it might have been funny.

 

There had been some sort of brief panicked discussion…well, panicked on his part at least, Jyn had been astonishingly matter-of-fact about the whole thing….a discussion that was cut short when a small high voice began to wail under the window. It was little Beri belting out that dreadful pop song that Bodhi had taught her. Company had arrived, in the form of their dear friends and rescuers. All three Sisters were there to greet them. Eldest Sister Tova had paused at the doorway to shake herself and stomp the muddy snow from her feet, but dear Bes, now Second Sister, had not waited but rushed in with a mist of icy dew on her fur to hug them both. Then after a fast and happy welcome home breakfast, he and Jyn had had to unload the shuttle and climb the icy steps to talk to Portia “personally.”

The War was not over, in many ways it was just beginning. They were manning an Intelligence Surveillance station.

 


She laid it out for him in greater detail, later, either that night or the next, what the doctor had explained, when unhooking her from the hema-system that had replaced most of the blood she lost from her wounds at Endor.

“Sargent, you are fit to return to whatever duty they assign you. Your levels are all normal and you have approximately 1,185 days left of fertility suppression.”

“So, I told them,” Jyn said,”I said ‘What the fuck? I paid for fourteen fucking years worth, four years ago!’….and yes, I realize full well that this probably tipped our hand to said field medic that I was not regular military, but since you and that doctor were already circling each other like a pair of notorious hired guns who just ran into each other in a Tatooine cantina, I figured that cat was out of the bag….. and they give me an arch look and say ‘Dear, you were robbed.”

She huffed, clearly still enraged at being cheated by some far off walk-in medical droid-clinician. Then she looked down at her bare feet, shuffling on the slightly moth-eaten wool rug they’d unrolled under the bed.

“I meant to get a full sterilization ….” she said quietly, ‘I always meant to…when I first got taken to a clinic….I told Saw that’s what I wanted, but he said…later.”

 

No questions was their rule.

Cassian broke it.

“How old were you?” he asked.

 

They had not gotten ready for bed yet, she was sitting, boots off, on the edge of their old bed and he was lying down on top of the blanket. They had just re-stuffed the mattress.

She looked over at him with her perfect green eyes, hiding nothing, “Fifteen,” she said.“Four years ago “Nari McVee” went to a clinic on Coyerti Prime….bastards….and I was all set to pay for one then but….it took longer and they had to do blood checks and…I just paid for the fourteen and left. I don’t know why. I could no more have imagined bringing one more child into that awful fucking life than I could imagine being Queen of Naboo. No, no, no. It was the worst thing I could imagine….but…..it was just one more choice the fucking universe was taking away from me. Stupid, but that’s the way my mind was working then.”

Jyn.

 

“I got a booster….it was all they had at a field unit….so it’s not like this is some huge thing. I just felt like it was the kind of thing…..married people told each other.”

“Ah…” he said, “I forgot, you married us at some point before you got to that field hospital.”

“Muérdeme,” she said, back to looking at her feet again, although he thought he could see a faint smile. “Am I saying that right?”

“Perfectamente,” he said.

He tried to imagine Jyn at fifteen….he’d seen pictures in her file, nothing at that age except possible tags in blurry security vids of Partisan attacks. He’d been, what then…nineteen? Twenty? Somewhere between Edro Morran and Joreth Sward. They were neither of them normal people, it would be wrong to pretend that they ever could be. All she knew of babies were the dolls she’d played with as a child in hiding. All he knew about babies was that his mother had died having one in a detention camp hospital.

 

The Emperor was dead, but the Empire wasn’t dead. Up to half the Imperial Fleet and a dozen vicious third and fourth tier mass murderers were running through a galaxy in turmoil. There were rumors that the semi-religious cult Palpatine had been stoking over the last few years might have been more than a madman’s vanity. That some disgruntled officers might have been planning a super-secret break for years, in the hopeful case of Palpatine’s death or assasination, which would now be put in action.

 

In the hallway Draven had slipped him a thin sheet of an outline. Intelligence Operations: Guillotine Scenario. 

He had not been stupid enough to lie to Draven, not directly anyway, in that make-shift “exit interview” on the troop transport.

“I broke,” he’d told him, and it was true. At Eadu…probably before. A field agent can die at any time, but once your nerve breaks no one lasts long.

The General had nodded, this was hardly news to him, after Scarif.

“I will die without her,” he had said…simplified for effect perhaps, but true. In every way that mattered, he surely would. That had surprised Draven. He had expected a tangle of war, betrayal or battle stress, and divided loyalties, but perhaps not a simple love story.

This was working exile…..the best he could offer them. That they could stay together, away from the torment of seeing their comrades sacrifice forgotten…Rue Melshi had a sister…her name was Jaquline, she was a flight commander….how could he ever have faced her?…Bodhi and Tonc would have to live with that…he found that he could not. Jyn would never have to hear her father called a war criminal, have to change the name she had just gotten back, never have to answer for Saw’s crimes. They would be a far-station, a voice in the dark. Until such time as the Alliance released them from service or they died.

Well, they had died together once already, everything that came after was a gift.

 

She knew what he was thinking…to a degree she always did.

“Hey,” she said, lying down on the bed upside down, so that her bare feet were next to his head,..rude…”We have almost four years….if the bloody war is still going on and we can’t leave, we’ll go down to the shore, either to HarborTown or one of the other human settlements down there. Med-droids or no med-droids you know the Sisters down there have some methodology. Until then we do our jobs, we watch the bastards like owls hunting wamp-rats, we fuck as often and as well as conditions permit and we don’t worry about this.”

Unable to think of what to say or do, he took one of her bare ankles in his hand and kissed it.

She laughed, although she was not even remotely ticklish, he knew.

“I know you’re afraid,” she said, from somewhere down by his feet,”I promise you I will not ask you to talk about babies or non-babies again for four years.”

She was right, he was afraid.

 

He was afraid again four years later, on the third year anniversary of the peace treaty. In fact, he was afraid pretty much without a break for the next nine months.

When Macha, the Second Sister of the humans of HarborTown, put his newborn daughter in his arms he was more than afraid, he was terrified.

Chapter Text

The first time they brought her to the nearest pond she was almost six months old. She was born in the fall and it had just been too cold until then.

He and Jyn learned quickly that when the company of well-meaning and curious neighbors became too much for them all, just saying that Kayly was “cold” was usually enough to earn them space. Full-term Memsa babies were born with a covering of downy fur, so a poor bare human infant seemed in dire danger of freezing almost all the time, at least in their neighbors minds. Of course she must whisked home to a quiet fireside.

She was the first non-Memsa baby most of the village had ever seen and so she was an object of intense, almost carnival-like, curiosity for a long time. Bes and Beri appointed themselves gatekeepers. On at least one or two occasions gentle Bes actually bared her teeth at a rambunctious grandmother who tried to pull the swaddling blankets down, convinced that such a huge child must have fur on it somewhere.

That first winter nursing a newborn was hard for Jyn for many reasons, some of which Cassian understood and some of which he knew he never would. She was so accustomed to forcing her mind and body through whatever task she had focused on. Escape in a firefight, survival on a desert planet, carrying a dying soldier across a bombed out landing strip…but this? This was a new kind of hard.

 

It was not until Spring came and Summer was in sight, that she began to feel, as she said…”not quite Jyn Erso but a reasonably passible alias, likely to become Jyn Erso again soon.”

 

 

 

The worst part for Cassian had been the last month of the pregnancy and the first few days.

They had gone down to the shore settlement, to HarborTown, at Eldest Sister Tova and Second Sister Bes’s urging, when Jyn got near the end of her seventh month.

“Dearest allies,” Tova said, “I have delivered more nurslings than I can count, but never a human one. Though our hearts are bound with the same thread, our bones are different. It is safer to go south to the Sisters there, where the pattern of this is more familiar.”

So they took Guardian, in what turned out to be her last flight for several years. Messages were sent ahead to warn their friends south, so that the mere sight of a ship coming in did not cause panic, and Cassian flew her in atmo, low and slow, to a landing place near their friend Tom Markey’s fishing shacks a short ways out from the town.

As they uncovered the small shuttle, and ran the engine checks, a crowd gathered in the field at the far end of their village to watch the take-off. It had been almost five years since Bohdi Rook had flown her out over town and the new generation of nurslings had never seen a ship in flight. Jyn and Cassian were always so very very careful. They kept Guardian hidden under a shell of brush and scan reflector panels and had really only flown her once since coming in from Endor. Now Portia had looked out from her tower, through all her satellites, and assured them that no eyes were watching, so they took the risk.

“Oh holy fucking hell, ” Jyn said, as she wrestled with the seat belt extenders, “How am I even supposed to get these restraints buckled? I am the size of a fucking GT75.”

“No you aren’t,” he said, “You look like a small snake that has swallowed a medium-sized rabbit.” She glared at him. She hadn’t thought that was funny when Beri said it and she didn’t think it was funny now.

As he engaged the lift on the controls, Cassian  thought of Bodhi, so far away.

He could not shake the sense that Kay was somehow in the co-pilot seat…as if his friend were a shadow-image burned onto Cassian’s peripheral vision….and could so clearly imagine the odds and percentages that would be being recited to him right now. It was all he could do not to take the ship straight up, to try to get into hyperspace and get…..somewhere,….somewhere safer for this child, safer for Jyn.

Her near hand reached over and touched his wrist on the controller. She must have seen, or sensed his panic.

“It’s alright," she said, “I’m just bitching and moaning. I’m fine, and the little spy is fine.”

One of Portia’s chosen voices came over the ship comm,…. thank heaven, he couldn’t have handled hearing her over the earpiece right now…. “Jyn and your undelivered fetal offspring were both in good condition as of five hours ago Cassian. The head was down but unengaged in the pelvic canal and Jyn was showing no troubles with blood pressure or premature cervical dilation. There is really no reason to expect any kind of complications at this point.”

“I love you Portia, shut up!” Jyn said.

They flew south through the sunset, and landed by the edge of the saltmarshes, making the days-long journey in only a few hours. All three of the human Sisters of HarborTown were waiting for them, ready to cover Guardian with a net of seaweed. The rickety little fish shack had been fitted out with a proper bed, thick blankets hung on the walls to keep out the wind, and a tiny wood stove (made from the cut up pressurized fuel tank of a Lambda Class 4 shuttle) was keeping things warm. It would have been a holiday if either of them had been able to sleep.

Second Sister Macha and Youngest Sister Olwen were mildly horrified when Cassian explained that he was intending to stay with Jyn all through the birth.

“Sweet breath of mercy, WHY?” young Olwen asked.

‘Because I want to be there,” Cassian had said, as gently and firmly as he could.

“Is this normal where you come from?” Macha inquired, with a raised eyebrow.

Was it? Cassian wondered. In all honesty he didn’t know.

A dim memory had come to him recently of a party of people, family, squeezed into a company housing unit on Fest..…while someone, a cousin..…he could retrieve some of the faces but the names were all lost to him, if it was Fest he really couldn’t have been more than four or five….was screaming in the small sleeping alcove off to the side. He had been frightened but no one had seemed concerned, in fact, he remembered his older uncles and aunts drinking and playing cards and giving him sweets. Somebody....Abuela?.... had come out with a baby wrapped in a white blanket…..that was what he remembered most clearly, nothing was ever white on Fest, even his memories of snow were tinged with purple from the Kyanite mines…...and everybody had cheered. Hell, he might have been confusing it with some other memory, but he was pretty sure his abuelo had given him a sip of pine brandy. “La familia es la vida.”

“We are all the family each other has,” he told Macha, and that part they seemed to understand.


When the chipped med-droid in the camp had brought him the too-small bundle of his sister, to hold, for just a minute, she had been wrapped in white too.

They stayed there for almost six weeks. It proved to a be a busy and useful time. They met with lots of people in HarborTown. Contacts were updated. Agreements negotiated.  Eldest Sister Perin looked Jyn over pretty carefully but pronounced everything normal.

“The child is not overly large,” the iron-haired Lady said, “But you are are small. It may take a little wrestling, but she should come to meet us with little trouble when she is ready.”

A girl. Tova had told them she thought it likely but….

 

 

 


He had finally told Jyn the story when she came to him more than a year ago, sitting on the stone wall outside Portia’s tower.

“Could we have a child?” she had asked him, miserable, unsure, “is that something that could happen?”

It was the way she said it that broke his heart. Doubt was not something Jyn Erso expressed. She said yes, and she committed herself utterly or she said no, and only hell could move her.

So he told her. He sat on the wall beside her, and held both her hands and told her about the camp and the hospital and his mother and the little baby girl who probably never even opened her eyes. It was a common story, a short story. Even if he had wanted to make it longer, he couldn’t, there were too many things he didn’t know, he’d barely been seven.

A few days later, he had got up early and left Jyn to sleep after she had taken the late shift in the tower. He went out to the little “garden” beside their house, still mostly filled with weeds. Years ago he had come home from a trip and Bes had shown him how Jyn had made a garden of stones, following a Memsa tradition. Carefully chosen stones, and one heavy metal bolt, one for each of their fallen comrades of Rogue One, were arranged along the back wall. At the corner were two more, her parents. A rough dark grey stone stood by itself, Saw. Bes had explained to him: You choose a stone for your remembered dead, and hold it sometimes, so they are never lost to you, but you can lay them aside when you must.

Too many rocks, he had thought at the time, I would need a quarry.

The smooth dark stone he had found by the pond, picking it up with no clear idea of what he meant to do with it. The small round white one had been slipped into his pocket on the ocean shore last spring. It must have fallen down into the lining, forgotten, only to be found yesterday by Tova, who had insisted on mending the lining of his old blue jacket when he visited. “Look what has found you again, Cassian-ally!” she had said, handing it to him.

He kissed one stone and then the other, and laid them in the grass near the house wall. Then he went to wake Jyn.

 

 

 

In that fish-shack on the shore, Jyn had never really screamed.

“Do not worry about sparing my ears, child,” Eldest Sister Perin had said, rubbing Jyn’s back as she paced the room between the contractions, fingering the kyber stone on the string around her neck, “around here we measure a woman’s strength by whether or not the Bequa can hear her at the bottom of the sea.”

“Fuck that,” Jyn said, between gritted teeth. The closest she ever came to outright screaming was yelling “What the FUCK, kid?!” She yelled that a lot. After what seemed like hours, Macha and Perin helped her stand up, kneel really, on a kind of padded half rocking stool and half-kneeler.

He thought improbably of the little prayer chapels in the Kyber Temple in Jedha City.

“You,” Perin said, to him, “If you must be here, do what her mother should be here to do and hold her,” Olwen showed him how to stand, shoved him really, so that he could be behind Jyn and she could lean back against him. “When it is time, she may need to stand and you must not let her fall.” She was pale, but not as pale as she had been in the field hospital at Endor.


“Portia’s right,” Jyn gasped, “This is fucking insane.”


“Jyn Blackbird,” Macha was kneeling at Jyn’s feet, “If you think you and this child are having a fight, it is time to let her win, keep breathing, lean forward and push.” Olwen got in front and let Jyn brace hands on her young shoulders.

“CASSIAN!” Jyn said as he slipped his arms under hers “PLEASE! damn it!” she said, “Tell me this is going to be alright. Lie if you have to. OH!!!”

He took her weight as best he could, “It’s going to be alright,” he said beside her ear.

Macha said, “One more time Jyn.”

“Say my name,” Jyn whispered, panting as if about to take a leap.

“Jyn,” he said, and she leaned against his arms and yelled, loud. Lots of things happened that he did not notice because an extremely pink, slippery looking, messy baby appeared in Macha’s hands and began to yell.

“A new pattern is cast and a new thread begins it,“ Eldest Sister Perin said, passing down some of the soft blue blankets they had been warming by the stove, in a black box made from the casing from a crashed Imperial mining rig.

“Welcome little bird,” Macha said.

 

“Give her to Cassian,” Jyn said, “Please…Cassian…you hold her..”

The Ladies did as she said. Perin took Cassian’s place holding Jyn, letting her lean back on the stool. He managed to kneel down on the floor and Macha put the wrapped damp bundle in his arms. “Stay here,” she said, as if she thought he was an idiot and might try to run out the door with the child, “Old cords and bindings must be tied off, stay out of the way.

The baby looked frightened, she had stopped yelling but her eyes were wide and she looked aggrieved. Whatever she had expected of the world, it had not been this. He could feel Jyn’s hand stroking his hair.

First word, first thoughts. That was what the Memsa said were important.

Perdónanos, he thought, Forgive us.

“Me despierto y veo la mañana,” he tried to sing to her, the old miner’s prayer. It was all he could think of to comfort her. She looked up at him curiously.

 

 

The Memsa had been swimming in the ponds since the ice melted, Cassian and Jyn had both taken their first swims a few weeks ago but they hadn’t had the nerve to try to bring Kaylyra in until the sun was warm to compensate for cold water.

“She’s probably going to cry,” Jyn said, untying the blue cloth sling that bound Kayly in front of her.

“Maybe, Cassian said, “We’ve spent all these months telling people it’s too cold for her and now we’re going to publicly dunk her in water. We’re going to lose all credibility.” He laid a blanket on the flattest spot on the pebbled shore and sat the baby up

“Will she swim?” Beri asked. Kayly crowed with laughter, she adored Beri.

“Not like a Memsa child,” Cassian said, “we’ll have to get her used to the water and then teach her.”

Beri was slack-jawed in amazement. “Teach her? Did someone have to teach you?”

“Yes,” Jyn said quietly, and stood to pull off her clothes and lay them, folded, on the blanket.

“Were you a baby, Cassian-ally? When you learned to swim? Who taught you? Your mother…..or someone else?”

Memsa children generally lived exclusively with their mothers, fathers were only involved day-to-day if children were orphaned and no nursing females of their mother’s family could be found to adopt them. His involvement in his baby’s life was an endless astonishment to them. They were not disapproving just bemused and curious.

“No,” he said, “I was fourteen.”

Jyn’s head turned, this was not a story she had heard.

“I was taught to swim by the Army of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, in something called Basic Training. They had to teach you to swim before they could give you zero-gravity training or you wouldn’t know how to move, was the theory. My teacher was a boy almost my same age, named Ruescott Melshi, shoved me in a pool on a Mon Calmari training ship and I damned near drowned. He felt bad about it for years.”

His daughters mother’s green eyes met his, over Beri’s head. Bright and strong and missing nothing. 100% Jyn Erso again.

“I’ll get in first, mi amor,” she said “then you pass her down to me.”

Kaylyra did not cry, although her eyes opened very wide as Jyn ducked down into the cool pond water with her. She began to laugh and splash as if she were born to it.

Chapter Text

Kaylyra Andor was seven the year her parents first took her down to the Three Years Market. They had not gone last time, because Mama had been too tired from having Galen.

There were Markets at the RiverTown in the Summer for fruit and fish, and Markets every Fall for apples and grain and goats. There were cloth Markets at HarborTown. They even had a small Market at Nexa in the Fall and sometimes in the Spring for pine chips and made-things. The biggest and best though, everyone knew, was the Three Years Market at the RiversMouth. It lasted for a whole week and people came from all over the South, and Islands and the Uplands to camp in tents or cabin-wagons.

There was a Hiring Fair, and games. You could buy anything from boats to beets to buns, at least that’s what Eldest Sister said. She also said that, even though humans always bragged that they could have babies anytime, most of the human babies in the world were born nine months after a Three Years Market.

“Was I?” Kayly asked, as they all walked up the River Road with the goat carts.

“No,” Eldest Sister said, “Because Jyn and Cassian would not wait three years. They were so eager to make you that they tried almost every day for a thousand days which makes you the most special human-child anywhere.” Eldest Tova laughed very hard then and so did Second Sister Bes and Youngest Sister Beri.

Mama laughed too, but Papa gave Eldest a stern look and said, “Tova.”

“How long did it take to make Galen?” she asked, looking doubtfully at her baby brother who was riding with the bags in the the back of the cart, licking pieces of straw and trying to stick them to his own legs.

“Nine hundred and Ninety-Nine days,” Sister Bes, said with a smile, and everybody laughed even harder, except Papa, but even he smiled, before he said “That’s enough of that conversation!”

They found a spot camping on the bluff above the town. It would be further to walk in the mornings, but less “soggy" for camping. Lots of families were up there because there was better "sanitation" as Mama called the privies. Even better, they had a new very big tent now that the Taun given them as a present. Kayly had asked for her own small tent so she didn’t have to sleep with Galen.

“He’ll stay on his own cot, if you don’t want him in with you, or he can come in with us,” Mama said.

“Un niño grande!” Galen said. Papa had taught him that and he was very proud of it, because he had just figured out that he was more like Papa. She supposed it was true, but she still wished he’d stop taking his pants off in public so much. He was embarrassing.

Clearly that extra day was important.

They came up with the idea of putting the small hand cart inside the tent with a blanket over it to be Kayly’s special cabin inside the big tent and Mama and Papa would have their mattress on the ground. Galen would sleep in his little cot by himself or with them.

They were camped right on the edge between the people from their village and a bunch of humans from the South. The Sisters of all the Circles all had their own camping place on another hill so they could have meetings. Everybody hugged and kissed and said they would find each other later. Sister Beri let Galen try on her sunglasses when he asked, which was not a good idea because he got them sticky. Beri didn’t care, she just licked them off. Which made Galen laugh and Papa wince.

Kayly knew very well that their family was different from all the other families in their village. They were the only humans who lived in Nexa all the time. Sometimes Kayly wished she was a Mem so that she could dive, and almost never get cold, and see at night, but that would have meant Papa didn’t live with them and she wouldn’t have swapped that for anything. Galen tried to stick things to himself for fur all the time.

 

 

 

“Why don’t we live by HarborTown with other humans?” she had asked Mama once.

Papa was usually the person it was best to ask questions, because he never said, “Not now, Kayly!” or ever get mad when you interrupted him, BUT he sometimes gave complicated answers, or didn’t really want to answer, so he told you about something else, or asked you why you were asking. When Mama DID answer she would always give you short real answers. If you were really lucky she would give you an “inappropriate” answer.

 

“Jyn!” “What?” “She doesn’t need to know that yet.” “She asked.” “That doesn’t mean you have to tell her….it’s impropio….” “Really? Really? Would you rather have her ask Portia? Because Portia will show her pictures.” “You have no filters sometimes, you know that?“

Once Papa had said, “Your mother was raised by wolves” but Mama only laughed and chased her all around the house growling until Papa smiled and joined in..

 

“Because this is where we fell,” Mama said, “Kaytoo brought us here, and Portia landed us, and Bes and Tova and Then-Eldest Sister Iola took care of us when we were hurt. Because we love this place and all our friends and this is our home now.”

They’d been weeding in the garden and Galen had been smaller and napping on a blanket. Mama liked pulling things and digging holes and she was in a good mood that day so Kayly decided to press her luck. She’d heard some of this before, of course,  but only in pieces.

“Why didn’t Kaytoo come?”

She knew why. She knew the names of the stones in the little garden, but she liked things repeated because answers changed and got added to sometimes.

“Because Kaytoo died. He stayed behind to guard the door so Papa and I could get safely into the tower to send Grandpapa’s message and they killed him.”

“The Empire soldiers and the stormtroopers.”

“Yes.”

“He was Papa’s best friend wasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

Kaytoo was a “droid,” that is, a machine-person. Which Kayly knew all about, although she had really only seen dead ones. Portia showed her pictures of live ones, but there weren’t any on Ea anymore. How he flew the ship even after he died was a mystery. Mama said they still didn’t know, which was what “mystery” meant, and also “misterio.” She was named after him and he was very brave and good at maths.

“If he didn’t die would he have come here?”

Mama, sat back on her heels, thinking. “Yes.”

“Would he and Portia have been friends?”

“Wow,” Mama said, “Maybe. That would be a hell of a show.”

“I wish they were all here.” Kayly said, meaning all of the stones, all of Rogue One. “We could have a whole village of humans and Mems and droids.”

Mama poked at the ground with her white metal shovel, even though there was nothing left in the hole.

“Me too,” she said.


Then Galen woke up and Mama had to feed him.

 

 


The Three Years Market was insanely crowded….more people than Harbortown, more people than she had thought were in the whole world. Papa let her ride on his shoulders, even though Mama said “Only for a little while, Cassian, and put her down if it hurts your back.” She carried Galen in the blue sling on her hip, even though he wasn’t a baby anymore, and he didn’t even fuss about it because he was a little scared of the press of crowds at the gates too and hid his face against her side.

 

There was a HUGE children’s area. Her favorite part was the thousand bird-shaped kites flying from the roofs of all the wooden houses, and all the booths, and a band, and the four flavors of honey cakes, and the jugglers. She went with her friend Niki and little Ava and saw two kids she knew from HarborTown, one named Young Dylan and one named Mab. They all had little red metal chips to trade for goat rides and snacks. Mama stayed until Galen threw up from eating too many cakes too fast, then she put him in the small hand-cart to sleep and went to meet Papa, who was doing “business” with some of the Scavengers in the big giant Wreck part of the Market. She made new friends with a big human boy named Dex and two very shy Taun kids named Doma and Dima. Dex taught her how to play dice, which was kind of like knucklebones except with numbered squares but then Ava swallowed one and a fight broke out.

It was, like Mama would say, “Good times.”

They came back early because of Galen being a fussy mess and sat on the bluff and to make a fire and eat with the other families in their camping spot. They sat and listened to the music coming up from the town below.

Kayly lay down in her wagon when it was time to sleep and pretended it was her own private house. She was super tired but the music kept waking her up. Once, she could hear her parents talking.

“…did they say where they found it?” that was Mama.

“They’re being cagey….defending their turf. They’re not used to falls there so they think they’ve hit some kind of jackpot. It can’t be from the North though, we’d have heard.” Papa said.

“Would we, though?”

I know what you think and you know I think you’re being paranoid.”

“Ooooo….says the spyboy who still sleeps with his boots pointing outwards in case he needs to jump into them in the dark….but somebody’s been getting gear to those Raiders.”

“Fair enough, knives-hidden-under-the-flagstones-woman, but trust me, this thing is the size of a full scout ship, almost intact from what I’ve heard, there’d be rumors if nothing else.”

“Talk to Markey, get him to pull us some strings, we need to see this fucker, up close, before the auction.”

“On it.”

“ This is off somehow, Cassian.”

“Shhhhhhh…..”

“te amo”

“Shhhhhhhh….yo también te amo.”


The Second Day was like the first, except that the Taun had races down on the beach, adult ones and some for the kids. So they all went down to see her new friends Doma and Dima race and they were super fast and one first and second place and got necklaces of flowers. She got stuck watching Galen for a while, which sucked because he was being a rat baby, but she took him to the Cloth part of the Market and found Second Sister Bes there getting colored thread balls, and she played with Galen and an old Mem Sister from another place taught Kayly how to juggle.

On the Third Day, she met her old and new friends at the childrens area again and they decided they would all be a “gang” and play “Raiders and Scavengers” in between all the booths. She and Dex argued about who should be the leader so they agreed to share it with her being leader before the noon bell rang and him after. A fish seller got mad at them, when Niki knocked a basket of sardines over, and bared her teeth and called them names. They had to make a run for it.

On the Fourth Day she went to the Fruit part with Mama and Papa. They wanted fancy dry fruit for Winter, because Papa loved that, and some nut oil and waxed cloth and a whole list of things. Papa said trades were better on the Fourth Day because there was still stock, but traders were starting to think of what they would need to carry back with them. Mama said Papa was too foxy for his own good. Kayly was glad to see them smiling because they had been up late talking again the night before, and when she woke up early in the morning , Papa was already up, sitting by the ashes of the fire and poking them with a stick, looking serious, although he smiled when her saw her and they got to eat breakfast together, just her and him, which was nice.

She and Galen were each carrying a basket, although hers was much bigger, when she saw her new friend Dex there with one of his moms…..the really tall one….she’d met them both yesterday when they’d come to find Dex after the “sardine” incident. They had a fruit booth and were trading beach plums and jam and Dex had told her he had to work sometimes.

She knew some human kids in Harbortown that had two mamas. Which puzzled the hell out of Niki, so Kayly had to explain about to her humans and "pair-bonding" again for the 500th time.

”Hi, Dex,” she said.

“Hi, Queen of Naboo" he said, snarky, because that was what she had been calling herself yesterday, after the heroine of one of Mama’s stories.

Dex’s tall mama was staring, but not at her, over her head at Mama and Papa

Dex’s other mama was there too, she was squeezing through the crowd at the back with another basket, “Tee,” she was saying, “this is the last one…I..” then she seemed to see where Dex’s mama Tee was looking and looked in the same direction. She stared too.

“Hey Mom,” Dex was saying, “It’s Kayly and her…” but his tall mama, the one he called Momma, as Kayli recalled, reached out and put a hand on Dex’s shoulder and pulled hm back toward her behind the counter.

It was scary when grown-ups were scared.

 She looked around. Nobody else was acting afraid, just Dex’s mothers.

“Momma?” Dex looked up at her confused. His other mom had put down the basket and was standing by him.

I want somebody to say something, Kayly thought.

“Hey, there,” Mama said, “How’s your end of the Rebellion going folks?”

“We don’t want any trouble,” Dex’s Momma Tee said.

“No reason there should be any,” Papa said, quietly “That I know of.”

“Jam!” Galen said, “Can we get some jam Mama?” He loved jam. Galen loved anything sweet and sticky.

“Kayly,” Papa said, “there are some chips in my bag. Take them out and go with your brother over to the cake booth and get him a jam biscuit.”

“Dex,” the shorter mama, the one named Ems, said,” Go back to the wagon and pack some more jars.”

“Mom, there aren’t any…” Dex said, nervously.

“Now!” both his moms said at the same time.

Wow. Two mamas at the same time must be murder, you probably never got away with anything.

She put down her basket, found the chips and did what he said. You did not argue with Papa when he used his quiet voice.

They sat on the ground by the side of the cake stall and Galen stuffed his mouth. Dex came and stood there too.

None of the parents got any closer to each other but they were all talking.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Fuck if I know,” the older boy said.

After a few minutes, Mama called her back. The got their stuff at the other booths, stopped at the fountain to rinse Galen off and went to meet up with Second Sister Bes and Youngest Sister Beri at the music tent. Papa and Mama went off on their own and later, sitting up on the hill to watch the kite contests with Nikki and Ava, she looked down and saw Papa and Mama walking toward the Wreck part with both of Dex’s mamas. They were talking together. Nobody was looking happy but nobody was looking angry-going-to-fight either, so that was good.

That night Mama and Papa stayed up late to talk again.

Kayly heard tapping on the side of her wagon bed.

“Kayly?”

“What is it Galen?”

“Can I come in with you?”

“No.”

“Please?” he sounded snuffly.

“Oooooo……damnit….Ok, but just for a minute.”

She lifted the blanket at the end and he climbed inside and got under her covers.

“Did you have a bad dream?” Kayly asked him.

“Yeah.”

“A Mama bad dream or a Papa bad dream?”

A Mama bad dream was the kind where you were trapped or somebody was trying to hurt you and a Papa bad dream was where you did something bad and you were sorry, or you were trying get somewhere and you couldn’t.

“A Mama one,” he said, “a monster was chasing me and I fell down and it was going to eat me.”

“Nobody’s going to hurt you Rat.”

He fell asleep so she let him stay.

They went down in the morning to fill the water bottles and say goodbyes to everybody.

She saw Dex with his mamas and he said, “Goodbye Queen.”
She gave him a dice she traded for to make up for the one of his that Ava swallowed.

That afternoon they packed for the long walk home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When they first told him, it seemed like the worst thing he could imagine.

 

 

The “assembly hall” had once, people said, actually been a sports gym. It was still one of the few buildings in Oeste camp that had been a real solid building before the temporary plas-and-metal-clip housing was set up behind shield wire fencing and stun barricades, all over what had been the grounds and playing fields of the University park.

“Temporary emergency housing for displaced persons” they had called it, four years ago, now it had grown into a makeshift city/prison camp.

The “Sala” as everybody called it now, was a sometimes a dining hall, sometimes a theatre, an indoor play space and day-care for little ones and the elderly, and sometimes a school. Ostensibly they were all supposed to be watching Imperial broadcast “education” sessions, for two hours five mornings a week…..attendance was mandatory, your family could be denied food credits if you didn’t show up…..fortunately somebody ...probably Tio Samuel and some other “somebodies”.... had tinkered with the feeds so, although the holo images were still of pretty teachers in grey suits and friendly stormtrooper puppets, the audio was from a rotating series of old Festan melodramas.

 

 

 

Many years later, pinned down for hours in a damp, darkened service tunnel, waiting/hoping for extraction on a job gone bad, he had seen a tattered poster of the wise and kindly “Emperor P.” from the show on a wall behind some pipes. It was peppered with holes from thrown darts, and he thought....At least I will die down here with fellow Rebels….He remembered the robed figure in the vids pointing at galactic maps ….some sort of stellar geography lesson no doubt……and the pair of fair-haired children who always played the students in all those things. The benign Emperor been smiling at a map of the Core Worlds, and as he moved his lips a gravelly male voice said, “¡Debo tenerte! Eres la única mujer que he amado!” As a small arrow pointed to Coruscant, a high-pitched voice squeaked in reply ¡No no! Realmente te amo, pero nunca puedo ser tu esposa!” Oh, how they’d all roared.

 

He had still been laughing when the team got to him and Kay had immediately slapped an oxygen mask on him, convinced that he was hypoxic from the bad air….which, looking back, he probably had been.

 

 


Real "school" was what happened in the late afternoons, and sometimes in the evenings. There were only a few hundred working data pads in the whole camp so the children wandered in in shifts. Half the professors from the University were in detention. In a way, it was his Separatist-sympathizing abuela’s dream come true: The children of the rich and the children of the poor, all together receiving the same educational opportunities. His first math teacher was the former Keane Technologies Chair of Higher Applied Mathematics and Stellar Imaging, of the Imperial University of Carrida.

The curriculum was very eccentric: History (wildly unsanctioned), Practical Astronomy, Universal Biology, Chemistry, Physics... all at odd times and in no particular order.

 

The summer he was nine, for no good reason anyone could explain to him, there was a class in ballroom dancing.

"No mames!" He had said when Tio Samuel had told him he had to attend.

His older cousin Isra had laughed hysterically. "Me vi obligado a sufrir. Debes ser forzado a sufrir."

There were always lots of little intermittent classes on Festan and Carridan History and Culture, which were very important to adults in the camp. Social dancing had been a standard line item in the former school curriculum, so apparently this was seen as some major rite of passage. Every term had ended with a dance "back home" the old people said, misty-eyed. For his part, Cassian remembered very little about Fest and most of what he did was so layered in with memories of cold feet, Papa and Abuelo arguing, and terrifying random searches by the Mining Company Security Forces, that nostalgia was hardly a selling point for him.

With a cheerful smile, Tio Samuel said, “Usted será feliz algún día que usted sabe hacer esto.”

He pushed his welding goggles back down onto his face and went back to work on the broken T-17 water reclamation unit he was trying to re-repair.

The matter was closed.

No mames! Cassian told himself….not if he lived to be a thousand.

The teacher was a kindly but firm  grey haired lady who clapped her hands a lot and took it all very serenely. A squat little blue droid played the music and they practiced when the tables were pushed back after the noon meals. It was hot and the cooling system seldom worked, but……not that any self-respecting nine-year old would admit it… it slowly became kind of....ok. There was a circle dance and something called a “wedding dance” where you had to walk up to someone else and do some steps and then they had to copy you and then you spun each other around and then you went over to somebody else and did the same thing. The older kids made it like a contest and it got pretty  wild.

Then came something called the “vals” and the “conjunto de dos danza” both of which were for two people only. You could pick who you wanted to dance with but one person had to be….leading...steering. You spun around and the leader had to hold the other person up by putting a hand on their back for them to lean against. The follower had to hang onto the leader's shoulder for balance and step sideways and between their feet. If you did it right you could turn like a slow top but balancing off each other was important. The “conjuncta” was the same only faster, with galloping, so you had to learn the “vals” first.

“It is about weight, and communication, and it is about trust,” the teacher said. “You can dance well by mastering the first two, but ah… niños,” she clasped her hands together, “when you have all three, that is beautiful dancing.”

The teacher would let you pick partners for some dances but other times Señora would clap hands and say “new partners!” then you had to switch. Everybody had to learn both parts.

This went on for a few weeks. They put on a demonstration dance at the end, and families could come and watch. Cassian was picked to be a leader and matched with a girl his age but slightly shorter than himself, which made it easier. He knew her, although he was better friends with her big sister.

The girl's name was Cora.

They had to wear clean shirts and some of the girls wore costume skirts, if they had them, and they wanted to. Tio Samuel made him comb his hair slicked back and Isra lent him a neck scarf. When the time came for the “vals” the leaders were supposed to go over to the line where their partners waited, bow and hold out a hand. Cora took his left hand, just like they had practiced. When she stepped forward, he put his right hand on her back. She had very long hair that she usually had in two braids pinned up, but this time she had put it in one braid down her back and it brushed the back of his hand.

Señora had told them that if looking in peoples eyes made you nervous, you should look at their nose, or at their left ear and then it could just seem like you were looking at their eyes.

He made himself look right in Cora’s eyes.

The music started, but it wasn’t the blue droid this time because lots of the grown-ups had brought instruments and they played all the music. He remembered what he was supposed to do, and so did Cora. She leaned back a little, he held her up and they moved around, balanced off each other, without crashing into anyone else. When the music stopped, everyone stopped. Cora stepped back and he bowed. The adults all clapped and some of them even wiped their eyes, like they were crying. He expected Isra to tease him when he got back to his seat, but his cousin hadn’t. There was lots more music afterwards and even the adults did some dancing.

When the curfew warning sounded, all the lights dimmed, and he ran to get his water bottle, where he had left it by the wall in the little hallway. Cora was there too, grabbing her coat. Everyone had to hurry. You were docked food credits, or worse, if you were out after curfew. Cora saw his bottle and handed it to him.

“You did a good job,” he said to her.

“Gracias, Cassian,” she said, then she smiled, “It was beautiful.”

He thought he meant to kiss her on the cheek, but she must have moved, because he found he had kissed her on the lips. He turned and ran back to Samuel and Isra and they all had to run to get back to their little unit on the far side of camp before the second and last warning.

He was stupidly happy that night. "I danced with a girl and I kissed her,” he thought, over and over, laying there in the dark, squeezed between Samuel and Isra and the 20 broken droids in their little ramshackle house.  It wasn't even really about Cora...not really. It was just the idea of it that made him happy. He still saw her sometimes around camp. She would smile and he would smile. They never really talked to each other much but they always smiled. They were just kids.

It was almost a year later that Samuel put a bag on his shoulder and told him he had to go. He climbed a fence while gunfire rang behind his back and he did not turn around. 

He did not think of Cora or the dance lessons again for a very long time. There seemed no point, it would hurt too much and have served no purpose. 

Samuel was right though, later he was very glad.

Many years later his son asked him a question and he was able to answer, truthfully, "When I was nine I danced with a girl named Cora and I kissed her. It was beautiful."

Chapter Text

Imperial officers were expected to attend all regimental social events unless officially excused by an authorized medical technician. 

"Frankly," Captain Lorem said, "I would think it better policy, aesthetically, to have the medical technicians authorizing who CAN attend. I want it medically verified that some of this lot have any feeling in their lower extremities at all."

"I believe the point is a display of authority and unit cohesion," Liaison Officer Joreth Sward demurred, sourly, "Not pleasing choreography."

"I hope so," Loren said. He looked around to see if any of the ranking commanders were anywhere in sight. "Dessert is served, Sward. It looks as if it's every soldier for himself for a little while, shall we go harvest in the fields of Industry?”

The Incom company executives and staff at the facility had been informed a few weeks before that they were now all considered military sub-contractors and, as such, were also expected to be at this function as "guests of the newly appointed Imperial Supervisor, at a reception in his honor." The smooth grey uniforms of the Imperial officers gave them all the look of sharks moving among the brightly colored formal wear of the civilians. Lorem was one of the ones who took his role as a top predator seriously.

“I’m not much of a dancer,” Sward said,”Besides, I think it best to wait until the Admiral is finished with dinner before I go looking for my own entertainment.”

Lorem gave him a sideways look of disgust. Clearly he was marking the new aide down as a brown-noser and a striver. “Suit yourself,” he said, and moved off toward a huddle of young administrative secretaries wobbling on their first high heels.

Sward surveyed the room again. Security was tight. Troopers were not visible within the ballroom, but every interior door was watched and the hallways outside were bristling with them. Small black security drones were highly mirrored so as not to distract from the decor, but they were all K45s, all fully armed.

Incom was the largest civillian ship manufacturing company not under direct Imperial control and they had bought the continued “independence" of the rest of their operation by designating this manufacturing plant as an Imperially “supervised” production facility dedicated to their defense production.

Fleet Admiral Grendreef was here to supervise, liaison and maintain security on the planet. These people were all hostages. They just didn’t know it yet.

The woman caught his eye at once. Young, tall, blonde, good-looking, wearing an expensive dress that didn’t quite fit and darting her eyes around far too quickly. She kept moving her hands to the side of her voluminous skirts then stopping...her palms were sweating.

 Not a gun, or a conventional explosive. The scanners here were far too good. He’d swept the room himself. No chance for poison or a biological, the droids were vapor testing.

A  garrote.....she didn't move right for that...insufficient upper body strength...a knife then. Something biologically derived that would have made it past the scan?

Oh hell, no,  Sward thought, No, no, no, no.

It was only his fourth week imbedded. They didn’t have anything set up yet. He had no communications rigged, no idea where the mothballed fighters were. He hadn’t been able to get to anyone in Incom corporate yet...

.....You won’t get anywhere near close enough to him you stupid fool and even if you could…..

Alliance info was that this was a “trial” project. Grendreef’s innovative plan of getting what they wanted out of Incom by making a sacrificial lamb of this planet, was considerably cheaper than seizing all 20 of Incom’s manufacturing planets/moons/stations in a high tech, version of Kashyyk,... slaughtering half the population and then having to convert them all to Imperial production. Imperial Command was within hairs breath of doing just that, but the Admiral had proposed this alternative and been given the trial. 

He could take the girl out publicly, now….halting an assassination attempt was usually a sure way for a new aide to win his Commander’s trust…..but the mere fact that this amateur had gotten this far would cause Grendreef to re-do all the security, at best, setting the Alliance’s intel here back months. At worst it would send the paranoid bastard scurrying back to Tarkin and triggering the full Incom takeover.

He could try to dispatch her quietly, but then…..Fuck! The hallways were crawling with troopers. How would he even get a body out?

He moved over to one of the server droids and initiated a command protocol. He asked if it were possible to for it to deliver a message and a drink to someone later.

“Of course sir,” the droid said, “may I ask to whom and at what time?

When he was finished with the droid, he returned his attention to the woman, who was now moving through the crowd that was milling toward the rear of the command dining suite. She was far too focused on the door to notice him. Moving up behind, he took her wrist lightly and kissed it. She whirled to face him.

“Dance with me,” he said.

The young woman’s eyes darted away, but she quickly caught them back and smiled at Sward.

“Oh, thank you,” she said “but I already have….”

“Please,” he said, “I am the Admiral’s aide and I will be summoned any minute to attend him. This is probably the only chance I’ll have to dance tonight. A few turns by the door is all I can offer, but you caught my eye at once.”

He slipped a hand behind her back, firm, forceful but not threatening,...not yet. If she was afraid she might panic….in which case he would have to go to plan b… if she was unsure she might hesitate long enough for this to work. He had to get her to think, for a moment at least, that dancing with him could be to her stupid plans advantage.

“I was afraid I might miss seeing the Admiral,” she said, laying a none-to-steady hand on his shoulder.

“Well dear,” he said…let her think he’d had one drink too many but not that he was drunk…”Then I am the only man in the room you ought to dance with….he won’t leave without me.”

She let him turn her a few awkward steps, stiffly, never quite leaning back into his hand. He had billed himself as a bad dancer and this would cement his reputation. She was managing to smile almost convincingly but he could feel her heart pounding through the boned silk of the back of the dress. Her pupils were noticeably dilated.

Bone stiletto,....real bone probably….stitched into the dress.

In better hands it might have been a clever moveDid you see it in a murder mystery vid, dear?

“”Excuse me,” the mirrored droid popped up, “I was asked to bring you this message and a glass of wine with the compliments of an admirer.”

Sward stopped, “Ah,” he said, “Perhaps, I made my move too late.”

The girl looked at the thin message film, clutched it in her hand and then looked around the room.

“Ah.” the comm tag on his cuff buzzed, and he glanced down at it, “My bad luck is compounded. It seems that I must go. There has been some change in the Admirals’ plans,” Sward said, disappointed, “Perhaps we able to finish our dance, another time.”

She looked like a deer caught in bright lights.

Fool.You would never have made it past the bio-sensors at the door to the executive dining room.

“I’m so sorry,…” she stammered., “Another time…”

He bowed and she fled.


My beautiful one,” the message had read, “if you came for another he has already left without you. I am with your friend but would be delighted if you joined us.”

She hadn’t gotten in here alone. Let her think her friends had been caught. Let her think that the Admiral had been warned and already removed. Once she was out of the ballroom she’d never be let back in, he could discretely suggest that security gently escort her out for “personal” reasons. If she made a scene, attacked a guard, it could still go wrong…but he had a plan c for that.... if she didn’t, he had saved one life, for one more day at least.

If the message were ever checked, the code used to instruct the droid was that of Captain Lorem, who would be too drunk within the hour to remember which women he had talked to and why.

Who she really was and how she and her friends thought they would ever get close enough to the Admiral to kill him, he never even tried to find out. He determined that she had gotten in as part of the legitimate facilities staff, and somehow passed clearance. She also must have had help from at least one person on the cleaning crew in order to have hidden the dress,….judging from the fear in her eyes, a family member or loved one. They were lone wolves with no connection to the Alliance or any known local Partisan group. Personal revenge? A burst of patriotism? Despair?

He quietly closed the loophole and encouraged the general staff to start rotating vendors.

Grendreef was determined to make this innovative “public /private partnership” work. He proved to be an economical, strategic and tireless man. Liaison Officer Joreth Sward saw his methods up close for the next year and a half. He saw many many faces go into rooms and never come out again, frequently he had to hold the door.

Never her face though, never the woman he danced with. That’s why he was able to forget hers afterwards.

 

Chapter Text


They had all laughed too hard the first time Cassian tried to get Jyn to dance with him, up in Portia’s tower, everybody in tears.

It had been in those last few days before the safe flight window opened for Bodhi and Guardian to set the satellites and fly out to get word to the Alliance about Endor.

 

When things lined up properly for Portia’s “eyes”, that is, all her sensor arrays, she could capture signal from across the galaxy, in great, thin “slices, as she called them. In those moments, and they sometimes lasted only fractions of a second, within those thin, intermittent "blinks" of her sight, almost nothing escaped her. At least that was how it seemed to Cassian. He and Jyn would comb through the data looking for clues and patterns, information on what the Empire was doing for the first year. After the Surrender it was for what the shattered bits of the Imperial Fleet were doing. When Draven's last message came, they "vanished," as ordered, but they never stopped watching, for Bodhi, for the missing chunks of the Fleet, for signs of what was happening in the Galaxy outside. Portia sifted through things for her own purposes too, “news” as she called it. They knew that perfectly well.

 


That was the first time though, in those tense days before Bodhi left them, that she played music. Apparently she could have done this at any time previously, it was just that they had never thought to ask her.

Sister Tova gave drumming lessons at their farm and so Bes and Beri often sought refuge in the tower….it was still undecided then, who would go and who would stay and what might happen, so they all spent as much time together as they could.

Bes and Bodhi had been talking about how he had had to take flute lessons as a child on Jedha, when suddenly in the fourth level of the tower music began to play. Cassian recognized the sound. He had only ever visited Jedha while it was under Occupation, of course, well after the destruction of the Temple had begun, but while the small shrines remained standing some “normal” life still went on. There had been music that drifted out of the shrine schools, and street musicians, still in the cafes and markets…at least for the first few years.

Bodhi’s face was caught between joyful astonishment and pain.

“Portia! What? …Where are you getting that?”

Portia had projected an image of a slim older woman with short grey curls. “Files of ethnographic audio, of the traditional music of the Old City of NiJedha” she said. “I made a random selection to assist in Bodhi illustrating his point. It’s a children’s flute orchestra playing what are described as ‘traditional tunes.” The image peered at them inquiringly,” Was I intruding? Bodhi seems to be distressed?”

After that it was music parties of one sort or another every day. Bes was obsessed with Mid-Rim pop, the more annoying the better. He blamed Bodhi for this. Jyn, to his surprise, asked for old Onderean jazz ballads and instrumental stuff.

When Bes had asked him, “What is your favorite kind of music Cassian-ally?” he found he had truly never thought about it.

 

 

It was not that he didn’t like music,….although that “Pavillion Flux” Sparkle-Bop shit that Bodhi had introduced Bes to was pretty damned annoying…..it was just that he had always listened to whatever was playing, never having been in much of a position, for most of his life, to be the person in charge of the playlist. He remembered General Merrick ordering Nabban classical symphonic played loudly in the fighter bays on transport missions. One of the Intelligence officers had complained that it was distracting, as they all sat in an alcove planning a surveillance drop. “Don’t let Merrick hear you,” General Cracken had said, not even looking up from his data pad. “Why?” the woman asked. Draven and Cracken's eyes met over the reports in their hands, “Light opera,” they both said, smiling slightly.

 

 

Then a memory came to him, as he sat there, watching Jyn tap her foot while Beri ran in circles and Bes and Bodhi tried to imitate a Max Debbo drum riff on the edge of the table.

“La Martiniana” he said.

‘Cassian,” Portia-as-the-woman said, “I shouldn’t need to point out that I can find…”

Something tinny that sounds like it’s coming out of a broken R1 unit and echoing in a converted gymnasium full of underfed children….

“Any simple instrumental version, Portia, anything at a slow waltz tempo.”

“Jyn,” he said, standing up, “dance with me.”

 

After she said “No!” about six times she said “Ok,” suspiciously.

She did not look less suspicious when he explained the steps. He laid his hand above the small of her back, and, as instructed, she put her left hand on his shoulder while he took her right in his left. She looked up into his eyes and smiled.

It was like a sunrise every damned time.

“Is this something we shouldn’t be doing in front of the “children?” she said, mischievously.

“Only if we do it right,” he said, bending close to her ear.

Bes and Bodhi literally put their hands over their eyes and shrieked with laughter. Jyn stepped on his feet and swore a lot for the first half hour, but eventually they got it right. It was beautiful dancing

 

 


When Kaylyra was about two and a half they went down to HarborTown for Tom Markey's wedding. She was big enough now to be carried short ways on a Taun’s back and to sit on someone’s lap on a slow speeder. She knew to sit down flat in the bottom of a boat…..for a few minutes at least. After a bad cold at the end of winter she had stopped asking to nurse, even at bedtime. Which made it easier for other people to take care of her.

 

Jyn actually seemed a little sad about that, which was surprising, considering how hard it had been for her at first.

“Oh, this is so weird,” she had plaintively said, as Perin and Macha coached her through the first few weeks. “It’s like finding out your earlobes dispense beer and then somebody makes you go open a bar.”

 

 

It was a terrifying thing to contemplate, but he actually knew more about babies than she did, and he knew nothing.

 In the end, Bes came to meet them and help bring her home. He had suspected at first that Perin had sent for her, convinced that he and Jyn were unsafe to leave alone with anything with needs more complicated than a turnip. It turned out though that Portia had told her to go.

He had put on the ear-clip so that Portia could see the baby shortly after she was born, and let everyone know they were well, although he had drawn a hard line against wearing it during the birth. Portia had a great deal of in depth information poached from the Holo-net about the biology of human childbirth and delivery and he had not wanted to hear any of it….especially in his mother’s voice.

Braced for a fair amount of editorializing about how messy and unappealing biological reproduction was, he was surprised when, instead, she said only “Muy similar. No ha cambiado mucho,” and thereafter kept her thoughts to herself.

He forgot sometimes that her “organics” had been…all? mostly?…human. She must have gone through this with them many times, long ago.

 

 

 

“So hey, little blackbird chick,” Conn said to Kayly, hoisting her high over his head when he came to meet them at the Green River Crossing, “Look at you, like a Far Islander queen coming back to visit the place of your birth.”

 

 

Markey was marrying a Fisher widow. A lovely woman with her own boat….that was the highest praise people on the coast gave each other….. “Oh, they are lovely people. They own their own boat”….she also had a half grown son and a house at the edge of the Long Pier. She was tall, soft-spoken for a HarborTowner and, it seemed, had carried a quiet torch for him for many years.

Cassian had seen a few weddings from the outside on his travels south but he had never been a guest.

Many couples “householded” without fully sharing a a dwelling. This seemed to involve a public declaration in the marketplace and giving each other the gift of a chair, also a small party.

“Marrying” was a rarer thing because it meant moving in together, declaring intent to share “goods and property, children and all of Ea’s gifts and trials from now until this pattern’s end." It usually meant both partners taking on the name of whoever's house or property the couple moved into, but not always.  Sisters might gift the new husband and wife with string bracelets to wear for their wedding day and night, or they might not. On the Coast these were thrown into the sea on the morning after the wedding to symbolize….casting your yourselves to fate or something.

There was also a large party, this was not optional.

All of this was for humans only of course. The Memsa did not marry or household and found the whole concept astonishing and generally a sign of some inborn need to embellish and complicate things.

You live in the house you choose. You keep what you earn. You share what you can. You are Active in your time. Females have babies if the Pattern brings it and everyone gets their own chair, was how Iola had described it to him years ago.

They did, however, really like the parties.

Markey and Thea Doonan’s party looked to be impressive. At least three dozen orphans and wayward youth Tom had helped over the years were grown and prosperous citizens now, eager to help their old friend. Half the traders and business people on the coast either owed him favors or knew they probably would someday. Additionally, both of them had big families eager to celebrate their happiness.

Given all the coordination that entailed, it surprised Cassian when he found Markey waiting, at what Conn told Kayly was “her” fish shack, standing up on the dunes when they arrived.

“Didn’t know if you folks would want to stay out here for old times sake or be more comfy in town?” the man said. “Ahhhh…look at that fair tiny babe!” he scooped Kayly up, just as Conn had done. Her feet were obviously not going to touch the ground until they got home. Cassian had a vague recollection that most babies were expected to be afraid of strangers, but Kayly seldom was, unless she was tired. She stared at Markey a moment then put her hands on his face, slapping his cheeks a little. “No? Papa?"

“Papa?” she looked around until she saw Cassian, then craned her head around the other way, “Conn?” she pointed her new favorite person, then put hands on Markey’s face again. “No Papa.” she said, firmly “Conn.”

Jyn laughed. “You both don’t have beards, she means….no scratchy face like Papa.”

“Well, well,” Conn said, “I DID shave close this morning. I was hoping some ladies might notice….but I must admit, I was also hoping they’d be a bit older.”

“Papa!” Kayly shouted and held out her arms to Cassian. She had just noticed the ocean and burrowed her head against his neck, hands over her ears. “Loud! Too loud!”

They put their bundles in the shack, and Jyn put Kayly in the sling. Markey seemed to be hanging back.

“He wants to talk to you,” Jyn said, as she trussed on the blue cloth sling and Cassian lifted Kayly in, holding her up, while she knotted the ends across her chest.

Cassian had noticed. “I wonder why?”

Jyn reached up to take the clip from his ear and put it on her own. “Probably has questions about how to make women happy in bed.”

“Cheerfully follow directions?” Cassian said.

“Good answer, soldier.” She kissed him, “Meet us in town. Say 'Bye-Bye Papa' Kayly!”

“Bye bye, Papa! Bye bye Markee! Bye bye Conn!”

“Oh no little chick! I’m going with you!” Conn said.

 

Cassian watched the three of them walk up the beach toward the Town, Kayly cheerfully shouting “Loud!” in an attempt to out-shout the ocean.

 

“She’s a fair strong girl and no mistake,” Markey said, watching with him. Then, turning to re-hang a fallen net on the outside walls, said, “It’s well with you and the Missus then?”

“Yes.” Cassian answered, there was a lot packed in the ‘yes’ but it was the truth.

“The war…” Markey said, “Any word from the ghost on where the last of your Raiders have gone?”

“They’re holed up,” Cassian found himself looking up, almost involuntarily, and Markey followed his gaze. The large moon was still faintly visible. “Scattered, most of their ships destroyed.”

“Most….?” Markey said, “but not all?”

“Not all,” Cassian said, “it seems.”

“Not to give you people advice,” Markey, kicked some sand, “but that sort of thing tends to come back and bite you in the ass, if you don’t keep an eye on it.”

Yeah, Cassian thought, I hope I made that clear.

“You and the Missus, and the little chick……” Markey said, looking out at the ocean “What will you do now? They gonna….I don’t know, call you home or something?”

Macha and her Sisters hadn’t told him…..the Circles knew that he and Jyn had made their decision years ago, but the Ladies tended to keep their own council about a lot of things. He realized now that they had never really told other people down in HarborTown.

To fight and oppose the Emperor and his forces, by any and all means;
To refuse any law contrary to the rights of free beings;
To bring about the destruction of the Galactic Empire;
To make forever free all beings in the galaxy.
To these ends, we pledge our property, our honor, and our lives.

The Emperor was dead, the Empire had surrendered.

Neither of them had hesitated.


“There’s nothing for either of us left out there, Tom,” he said. “Nexa’s home for us. We’ll shift here.”

Markey smiled and nodded. “Glad to hear it,”

Cassian laughed.

“That being the case,” Tom said, “I was wondering……….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“He wants you to do what….?” Jyn asked him when he caught up with her at the open-air pub down by the end of the Long Pier..

Conn had taken Kayly on his shoulders down to see the fishing boats, since, as Jyn said, she was clearly Conn’s boss now.

“Stand up with him” is what they call it,” Cassian said.

“You’re the best man.”

“What? Like at a fancy Capitol wedding? No… it’s not like that. It’s just that the husband has one or two male friends who walk over with him from his house and the wife has two female friends that walk over with her…..also, I think I have to carry a chair. Conn is going to be the other one.”

“Do you have to find strippers for the party?”

“Jyn! No! What….no….that is not what goes on down here.”

“Really?” she arched an eyebrow, “You need to go drinking with Macha and the Ladies more often.”

“Not for weddings anyway.”

“Hmmmmm…..” Jyn said, “Word is, these parties can get wild,” she sounded vaguely hopeful.

“Tom Markey isn’t a terribly wild person. Thea Doonan doesn’t seem like one either. I’m just surprised he asked me……if it was anyone else, I’d think it might be a strategic thing…but..”

Jyn refilled his beer…..She had gotten a pitcher. This combination of of no longer nursing, being away from home and constant and enthusiastic babysitting was clearly growing on her……and eyed him shrewdly.

“Stop looking at it through your “spy” glasses, mi amor….. He thinks of you as a friend. I don’t think he thinks he has that many.”

Markey had no brothers, it was true. He had a dozen cousins but they were mostly much younger.

He had had a younger sister, Cassian knew, Dora, of whom he seldom spoke, but who had died at sea long years ago. She must have been a remarkable person, for she was still remembered up and down the coast. “A fair light, snuffed out,” he had heard an old Fisher at RiverTown say of her once, looking at Markey’s boat.

Still, he’d fostered scores of youngsters over the years at that group home/warehouse/trading post he had out on the docks, the closest thing to a father or a brother most of them would ever know. He knew every business keeper and trader “from the Islands to the Ice” as people said around here. He was liked by many and well-liked by more than a few. Why chose a “fallen” stranger, who, even if an ally, was an infrequent and slightly notorious figure in HarborTown, to stand with him on his wedding day?

“You see him as he is, Cassian Blackbird,” came a voice over Jyn’s shoulder. It was Olwen, Youngest Sister of the Ladies of the Harbor, young, fair, and relentless. She put her arms around Jyn and kissed her. Cassian stood, a bit of “foreign” manners that always made her laugh. She sat beside Jyn and took a sip of her beer.

“Partly because that is the sort of man you are, but also because you never knew Bold Dora. You never pitied him, nor ever looked at him and thought….”he’s a good lad, but if only….” Cassian took his seat again. Youngest Olwen had clear grey eyes that always made you feel you should check to see if your shirt was mis-buttoned. Cassian made a point of always meeting them levelly. One professional to another.

“It doesn’t matter, you see, if he lives to be a hundred and ten. Dora will always be 23, full of strength and promise, forever. It’s the burden those who live carry for those who die.” Olwen looked up toward the peak of Markey’s warehouse, with its blue fish flag, far down at the other end of the Pier.

“He admires you, too” she continued, ”He sees you as a fellow who carries that same weight tripled and more, but has not been broken by it, done good, and found love deserved and returned. For all your sharp Blackbird ways, you give people hope, you know.”

She stood then and let out a shreik, “Look at that precious duck!” Conn was coming back with Kayly, and Olwen dashed to meet them


If Draven and Tano had had five like you the war would have ended ten years sooner, he thought.

 

 

The wedding party eventually proved wild enough to meet even Jyn’s expectations, not that they were still up when wedding guests started doffing their clothes and jumping off the end of the Pier.

The “cermony" had been fairly simple, he and Conn had gotten dressed in new clothes and met Markey at his house, his real house, the one he was never in and mostly used for storing sailcloth because he lived at the warehouse.

He had not known about the new clothes part. Markey had presented him with a new white high-collar shirt, blue slacks and dark blue wool jacket. Conn got a set much the same. He’d worn much finer clothes in his life, but never as himself. It had never really been him wearing them. A little embarrassed, he’d polished the many-times repaired old Imperial black boots.

Gifts of new clothes for guests were a Markey tradition.

“Be glad they’re taking his name,” Lissa, the owner of the pub, told them, “The Doonan’s give fish, which is lovely, but gets awkward if the party runs long on a sunny day.

Jyn got a gift of a fitted red blouse with ribbon ties and full skirt the same color, expensive, he knew, because red dye traded dear. Even Kayly got a little blue smock with puffy sleeves.

“Ohhhhhhh….” Jyn said unwrapping it, “Ohhhh, do I have to? I mean, it’s beautiful but…..”

“You have to,” he told her.

If anyone had asked him if he had opinions about what clothes Jyn Erso wore, he would have laughed and truthfully said he did not. Suddenly though, just for that one day, he found that he very very much wanted to see what she looked like in that red blouse and skirt.

 

 

“You nervous, old goat?” Conn asked, as they started out.

“No,” Markey said, “I probably should be, eh? Half of Thea’s uncles are already drunk and likely to fall right of the dock, but…no..” He stood tall, and buttoned up his new jacket, looking happier than Cassian had ever seen him. The couple of shots they’d fortified themselves with from Conn’s seal-tooth flask probably helped.

‘She fair cried when I asked her, you know,” he said, handing Cassian the painted folding chair he was supposed to carry, ”she said, she thought she’d never be happy again and now…” he choked up for a moment, then laughed, “I didn’t know…what it was like. You look at other folks together and you think, “That’s a beautiful thing, but never for the likes of me,’ and then….it is. I looked up at her, pulling up nets one day and she was looking at me….it wasn’t so simple as that, but it was like I saw a door I’d never even known was there before.”

He looked at Cassian, as they walked up the boardwalk toward where half of HarborTown was waiting. “I know it’s like a fish talking to a bird, it’s all been different for you, but she looks at you, that way, your missus, like you’re the world to her sometimes.”


She stole my own gun right in front of me, and said “Trust goes both ways.”

We were in an alley under fire in a city about to burn and I turned to cover her and saw a tiny woman take out four stormtroopers with a riot truncheon I had not even known she had, and I thought, Damn!

She stepped between Kay and a rifle and she HATED Kay then.

She shot out a window, jumped through it without hesitation and looked back at me to follow her.

She smiled on the edge of hell and told me it was all worth it.

She lived a life that taught her to trust nothing and no one and she trusts me absolutely ….even though she knows what I’ve done and what I’ve been.

She stood in the rain and cried from the nightmares and she let me carry her back inside.

 

As they came up toward the people gathered on the Pier, between moorings and warehouse sheds, he could see Jyn in red, next to Conn and Toma in the crowd, with her hair down. Kayly was in her arms, playing with the ribbons on her new dress. She saw him and pointed. He couldn’t hear her, but he could see that she was saying to Kayly, “Look, there’s Papa.”

“Hold onto it with both hands, my friend,” Cassian told him. It was the only thing he could think of to say.


After, there was music and dancing and truly outrageous amounts of drinking the whole length of the Pier.

The music of HarborTown was lively, with little bowed guitars, and flutes and small sets of bagpipes. Most of the dances were line dances, but they danced in couples here too. The Memsa down south played sideways drums and somehow that circle dance Bodhi had taught up north before he left had worked its way down here.

“Where is our daughter?” he asked Jyn when he found her leaning against a wall with Toma, after Perin dragged him through a line dance that nearly knocked the breath out of him.

The band started playing another tune, Thea’s sister sang a song to it

“Thea’s son and mother carried her away,” Jyn said. “She’s sleeping through all of this somehow. They’ve tucked her into bed there with Markey's little second cousins, and Femmie’s little ones. They took her bag and promised to bring her back to us in the morning.”

“Seriamente, woman! Did you just give away our baby?”

“Only for nine hours, soldier, let’s make the best of it,” she stepped into his arms and kissed him long and hard, ”Dance with me. Let's show people how it's done.”

Chapter Text

Cassian would never have asked it of her, she knew. Having a baby was the most terrifying and profound leap of faith she had ever taken.....well one of them.....top two, or three definitely....and the only one she had ever taken from a place of doubt, not because she believed it to be right or necessary but because she so desperately wanted it to be both.

 

 


Papa's words in that flickering holo, a tall, straight-backed, bone-thin, man saying "....if you left the Rebellion and Saw behind.......found a place....made a life….maybe a family…..happy....no less proud…enough…” they echoed in her head so often now.

 

At the time she hadn't even registered that part of his message. She'd been on her knees at Jedha. The black cave walls of her childhood prison had been closing on her mind, and only his instructions to Saw had burned like fire through that darkness, "...a flaw in the reactor ventilation system. A direct strike.." There had been steel in Papa's voice then, hate.

Oh how he must have hated them, to fight, to survive as he did so long alone.

It was that voice that cut through her childish terror. It wasn't the Papa she remembered, the gentle protector, or the imagined weakling she had bitterly taught herself to despise.....who had stood and watched Mama die, left her forgotten in the dark.....this was a Galen Erso she'd never known. Even so, it was the familiarity of that voice that reached her. She had always thought, without actually ever really letting herself think about it, that her anger, the rage that kept her moving forward all those years, was her mother's legacy but it wasn't. Mama's anger had burned hot but Papa's had burned longer. It was her own voice she heard on that holo.

Papa’s anger had echoed her own, it was what propelled her to the Alliance, to Scarif, to destroy the monster that had broken their family.

Now the Deathstar was gone.....a boy from Tatooine had found Papa's bomb and blown it up. The Man in White....he'd had a name, it seemed, though she refused to learn it....was dead.

Cassian had killed him. He'd climbed back from hell, shot the bastard in the back with a dead troopers pistol, and then forgotten all about him. "Leave it," he'd said, about the corpse of all her rage and suffering, "Let's go." He'd put himself in her arms to carry and they'd gone out to face what the fucking Force had left in store for them.

They healed and they kept fighting, Endor, another Deathstar, another battle.

 

Then came the day they had told them the war was over. That last honeycombed base at Jakku had fallen and apparently Star Destroyers had just rained out of the sky on the poor benighted place. Somebody in Couruscant had signed something and Organa and Mothma had signed it back.

Draven had wrapped one private message string around a coded set of orders about mapping the decaying Sanctuary Pipeline hyperspace corridor.

“…bird secure…

Anything to do with birds, or fish or things that flew was Bodhi. Bodhi was safe.

Cassian had looked for more, they asked Portia to re-check, but there was nothing else. He slid the pad over to her with one hand, and drew her head to his shoulder with the other, as much for his comfort as her own.

Always before there had been a coded reference to Bodhi Rook and a coded reference to Stordan Tonc…..usually something to do with football or baby animals….this time there wasn’t. There never would be again.

She did not cry until days later, when she found a stone, and laid it beside the others in the yard outside their house. Bodhi was alive but Tonc was not. It was just the three of them now, all that was left of Rogue One.

Bes and Beri, who noticed everything, saw the new stone at once when they brought fresh bread up the next day. Jyn looked out to see Beri standing by the wall, wiping tears from under her little glasses, and she had to run out to reassure them, it wasn’t for Bodhi, that he was well. They remembered and loved Bodhi. He was the one who had come here but Tonc never had.

“When we get this shit cleaned up, Sarge, I’m gonna make Rook bring me. Super Secret Spy Base or not. We’ll party with all those cute people. I am gonna drink rosebud beer out of those little tiny cups and crash on you and the Captain’s couch like an old army buddy should. I'm gonna be obnoxious.”

 

They never even knew Tonc, Bes and Beri and Tova, but they cried for him anyway. They had a name for it here. They called it being “Heart Companions." It meant people who were bound together by great trauma, or shared purpose. You were in a story together, woven in a Pattern of some greater event. It was a bond like family, only stronger. Down among the River, or on the Harbor, they called she and Cassian “married,” husband and wife. She did too sometimes, and Cassian teased her about it, but up here among their Memsa friends it was enough to say they were Heart Companions.

 

It was after that, as she walked into the village with Bes, bailed lavender with Eldest Sister Tova in their field, or finished cussing Dov out because the shifty asshole tried to take two bales of the wire they’d brought up from RiverTown rather than the one in trade they’d agreed on, or watched Cassian frying the bread he liked to make….that the rest of the words of her father’s message kept coming back to her.

 

 

“Portia,” she said, the next time she’d been back up in the tower, “You scan us when we’re in here, right?”

Portia walked around the table, projecting one of her familiar images, of a plump middle-aged woman with long silver braids.

“Why do you ask?” she sounded suspicious, tipping the woman’s head slightly.

“Portia, don’t play coy, we know you do, it’s fine. I need to ask about…..uh…..some hormone levels.”

“Yours or Cassians?”

The fuck?

“Mine.”

“Good, because it would be unethical to discuss his with you without his verbally expressed content.”

“Portia, I’ve been on fertility suppressants since I was a teenager and…”

“Your fertility is currently still under synthetic suppression.”

“Yes. Good, what I wanted to know is if there was any way for you to tell me…”

“Slightly over 173 standard days…..roughly six and half fertility cycles.”

Oh shit. She’d thought she had closer to a year left…..bastard store-front med-techs!

The woman in the grey braids seemed unconcerned.

“If your intention is to biologically reproduce, your health is otherwise good, so that would be possible any time after about 186 days. If not, you’re going to need to systematically restrict any behavior that involves the exchange of …”

“THANK YOU, Portia, I DO know how this works.”

“May I ask a question?”

“What?”

“Are you planning on using Cassian’s genetic material?”

“I’m not planning on anything right now Portia, I just need to know my situation. Thank you for the information.”

“You two must talk to each other. This really isn’t the sort of thing I should be acting as an intermediary for. The phrase “not my job” is appropriate.

Jyn stopped, as she had been walking to the stairs. “Has Cassian been asking you questions about this?”

“I mentioned my ethical constraints, Jyn.”

 


So she had given Portia her verbal authorization, and then gone down to sit and wait by the wall, miserable and unsure, and talk to Cassian when he came up to check the feeds. He had held her hands in his own and listened to her, just as miserable, unable it seemed to even speak, much less to answer her questions.

Is this even possible? Is this something we could ever do?

His face had had a look she barely even knew on him, that she had seen in his eyes only a few times. Fear. He was afraid. She’d seen it at Endor, hovering over her, wounded, and at Scarif when Kay said “Goodbye” as the data vault door began to close, and as the fire rolled toward them on the beach.

She loved him so much. She could never have asked it of him.

For two days they barely spoke until he came to her in their house, as she was taking dry clean clothes out of a basket, and made her sit beside him on the bench. Looking at his hands, not her face as he spoke, he told her the story of a small boy in a detention camp whose mother died in childbirth and the too-tiny girl infant that probably never took a breath. About how light she was when they gave her to the boy to lay on the cot beside his mothers body.

“What would her name have been?” Jyn asked, because their ‘no questions’ rule was already broken.

Cassian shook his head. “ I don’t know. No one ever told me.”

Oh hell, she could see him, six, he’d said, maybe seven. A beautiful boy with dark eyes and cowlicked dark hair. Quiet, quick, smart, a little on the sneaky side, but with a sweet smile, small for his age, maybe, until one day he wasn’t.

“Fuck them,” she said, quietly, turning his face toward her. “Fuck them all.”

Fuck the people who hurt that boy, who took all our choices away from us.

“Jyn…I do, if you want to, I just don’t know if I can,…if anything happened to you….”

She almost laughed then, which would have been horrible, so she didn’t.

I’m not going to die….don’t be afraid of that, mi amor…..Dying's not the part I'm afraid of, I’m afraid of the damn baby.

 

“Major Andor, I love you. Fuck the bastards, Let’s have babies.”

 

 

Then Draven sent the last message.
The New Republic was de-militarizing. The Outer Rim worlds were demanding cuts to the central Security and Intelligence. They were being decommissioned.

Jyn thought of Endor, of the angry little people there skewering Imperials on sticks, Let’s ask them, shall we?

Portia showed them a speech that Organa made on the floor of the Senate, protesting the bill. It was too soon. The Imperial Remnant was still unrepentant, they couldn’t be trusted to disarm. The last Princess of Alderaan.

“The last laser-rifle can and should be handed over,….immediately after it is fired into the chest of the last standing Stormtrooper.”

“I like her.” Portia said.

Draven’s last string was attached to the decommission order. They told him it was wrong. Cassian repeated it twice. Draven knew it was wrong too. You could tell.

new landlord….last round...porch light…question....snow."

There was really no question. “porch light” mean handing over all their records and data, revealing Portia, and Ea and everyone on it. They were too close to the Unknown Regions. The New Republic wasn't going to protect these people.

Jyn was six months pregnant.

Well, they had already died at Scarif. Draven and his merry band wouldn’t even need to lift a finger. They vanished like the snow.

Their only regret was Bodhi, but he had the ear clip, Portia’s last “mod”. Maybe he would find them someday.

 

First word, first thoughts, is what people around here always said.

Are you proud of me Papa? she had thought, as Cassian put the baby in her arms.

“I’m naming you after a cranky murderous droid,” she whispered in the small wide-eyed creature's wet pink ear, “later you may be mad about that, but trust me, he was awesome.”

Chapter Text


As with so much else in life, what ensured their safety also endangered them.

Isolation had protected them all. The Empire/Imperial Remnant/First Order or whatever the murderers were calling themselves these days, had for the most part avoided PL.3A/UDUR//SY1138 as their charts called this planet....the aboriginal sentients all called it Ea, which was very nice and Jyn and Cassian had taken to doing the same. Portia still simply called it "home.".....Navigation was risky, and she made sure to keep that old Imperial beacon that was wedged on her upper levels sending plausible danger signals, tricking ships away, and crashing a discreet number.

Those miserable curs from Jyn and Cassian's "Empire" had technology sufficient to create a small number of temporarily stable Streams to enable faster than light travel. "Pipelines" or "Corridors" they called them, as if they were building some kind of office park and not manipulating the transcendent foundation materials of the Galaxy. It was enough to make one weep.

She resolutely held to her own people's more descriptive and elegant terms for describing them.

There were also far better and less wasteful ways of doing it than their ugly "C Stabilizers" too but she certainly wasn't going to tell them that.

 

Near the end of Jyn and Cassian's war, the Empire had built a huge and particularly hideous one, heedless of the cost, to move their ships and equipment to the Endor system. In the years that passed it had quickly deteriorated, as badly-built things did.

The natural hyperspace Stream, the one she had been born to guide ships through long long ago had drifted a bit, rotationally speaking, making it hard for their simpler....be fair, dumb, she might as well say it. It wasn't as if they built capacity for hurt feelings into the poor things anymore......ships to navigate.

Well, that was alright, that's what she was here for, even diminished and myopic as she was now but the deteriorating of the artificial "Sanctuary Pipeline" made it even harder. Even if it would have been a good idea....debatable....to have consistent traffic with this "New Republic " it would have been difficult, and drawn too much attention to her and home. They all agreed that caution was the best way forward. 

 

 


Jyn and Cassian had cleverly left several portable connectors on Endor, so she could see through the remaining Imperial station cameras and satellites and at least watch that planet and the system beyond. No one really went there anymore, which was just fine. Those poor aboriginal sentients had been through enough. It also gave her perverse joy to see the shattered ring of debris from the ruined weapon station still circling the planet.

 

There were even tiny shards of crystal, "kyber" was the colloquial name, like the one Jyn carried, the ones the Knights had used to power their showy laser weapons. They were embedded in the debris and still gave off small distinctive energy signals. It was like music. She sometimes thought of telling Jyn this, but she suspected she would find no consolation in it.

She could still hear the rest of the Galaxy, and see it in long blinks, but she had to sort through gaps and echoes and sending messages became even trickier than it had been. The murderous beasts that Jyn and Cassian’s friends hadn’t had the good luck or the good sense to kill outright had fled, many to places she could see, but some, damn them, to places she still could not.

The “Empire” had fallen, but the Darkness that had fed off of some organics within it was still out there somewhere, wounded and hissing. Cassian and Jyn had fulfilled their oaths to their Alliance, and now they stood along with her, the sentients, and the descendants of her long-lost family, partners in a new/old endeavor. They watched and they protected their home first and foremost but they had a responsibility to the rest of the Galaxy too. They were all war veterans after all.

Bundles of information and carefully coded warnings were whispered out into the dark, although it was not clear who, if anyone, was listening.

 

 

 


Before Kaylyra and Galen were born Portia had passed the last messages between Cassian and his commanding officers. Jyn had been 180 days through her gestational cycle with Kaylyra, in fact.

"Portia," Cassian had said, between the second-to-the-last message received and the last one sent. ”We are staying here."

Good, she had thought. Because that so-homely-it-was-cute little patchwork ship of Bodhi Rook's that they had come here in was decently shielded….mostly…. but why take chances with a developing fetus?

She knew that was not what he meant though.


Biological reproduction was a melodramatic but time-honored way of staking a flag. They were going to stay here and make a home just as her people had, so long ago. It was very brave of them, as there were considerable risks, but they were brave people. They had that kind of bright flickering courage that the best organics had.

“Tell me what I can do to help,” Portia said. She had been imaging (Lila/Assistant Geological Engineer) on her second heart level to talk with them and made a point of sitting the image at the table in order to communicate rapport.

Jyn had laughed out loud and Cassian had smiled.

She was quite pleased with herself for successfully lowering their stress levels slightly at that point, especially Cassian’s. He was a wreck through the whole pregnancy.

 

 

 

She could keep track of their general medical health, while they were inside with her.

By the time they left to go South to secure the assistance of the human midwives at the coastal settlements, Jyn’s levels of chorionic gonadotropin were @6,100 mIU/mL, estriol 4460pg/mL and her progesterone @ 55-200 ng/ml. All seemed well within normal ranges for humans of her descent line, at this time. Her relaxin levels were a shade up…..which was why they had conversations on the second level rather than the fourth. Stairs hurt her back. 

This was not, as Tova like to say “her first trip to market” when it came to humanoid reproduction. She made a point of telling them such things as hormone levels only when they directly inquired. Cassian usually asked when Jyn was not around and Jyn had told her that it was fine to share medical data him.

“Whatever makes him feel better, Portia,” she’d said. “He worries.” She herself never asked.


Kaylyra proved to be a normally developing infant, as did Galen three years after her…well within normal ranges for humans of their descent line in this time…. and Jyn and Cassian both asked to be reassured about this quite often.

 

When they had first brought the infant up to the tower, it had been a bit of an occasion. Portia had “seen” her before, of course, since she could see whatever Jyn and Cassian saw when they wore the external mods….made for her beloved Jula so long ago…. but, as Bes said, “Now she will finally get to see you.”

Tova brought cakes and Beri carried the baby around singing while Jyn took a nap on the fourth level. Later they ate up in her tower. Several of the other Memsa from the village dropped by. It was a very pleasant visit.

 

 

When Cassian took a quiet moment to check the data pads, Portia imaged next to his bench.

“How did you choose the name?” she asked.

She had accessed a lot of data about naming traditions, which varied wildly among cultures. Cassian had been born on Fest, she knew, and there was a tradition there of naming a child after a deceased genetic relation, although Cassian had never seemed to much observe many Festan cultural traditions, despite his strong attachment to the dialect and some endemic musical styles. Jyn had been born, “in prison” by her own account and seemed to feel no connection to any but the most general cultural traditions of the “Core Worlds.”

“Jyn’s mother was named Lyra, so I thought that would be a good middle name.” Cassian said.

The one who had given Jyn the crystal. Very little data was retrievable about her.

“And K?”

Cassian seldom spoke of his dead friend. It was clearly a source of residual trauma for him. Most of what Portia knew of K2, as a specific person, quite aside from his engineering perimeters, she knew from Jyn.

Cassian looked at her image. He liked to know why people were asking questions before he answered them. It was his nature.

She expanded the question to provide him additional background to her inquiry, the poor thing was stressed enough, best to humor him.

“Was it for K2S0?”

 

He nodded, “Jyn wanted to, ” he glanced over at where she lay sleeping, her cake uneaten, “She felt that it was....honoring him….in a way.”

Ah...Jyn and her intuitive leaps.

 

Portia made sure her image (Sandar/Solar Mechanics Supervisor) nodded to indicate understanding. Cassian was choosing his words carefully. Something she knew he did either to initiate a tailored understanding of his message, or because he was still working out meaning as he spoke.

“Memorial rituals and gestures are important,” she said. “Are you comforted by this one?”

He looked at the image of Sandar very directly. “Does it comfort you, Portia? Is that why you use the images of your people when you talk to us?”

It could have been interpreted as an aggressive question, but she could see his face, and measure his heart rate. It was a genuine appeal.

Oh my. What a very, unCassian-like response. Fatherhood was changing him already, it seemed.

 

She made sure that the image smiled. It was important that he know she was not speaking from her loss, but from its opposite.

“I do it for several reasons,” she said, “Because it makes it easier for you to understand me, because sighted organics often react with anxiety to people they cannot visually access and since the organics in my family and I were all bound by modifications I can reproduce them very expressively.”

She made sure that Sandar’s head tilted to indicate that she was placing additional focus on the next point.

“Mostly,” she said, “I do it because I am the only one who remembers them now.“

She turned the image’s head, to indicate ‘looking around’, emblematic of encompassing all of this home/tower/world.

Cassian knew perfectly well, that she could see 82% of the planet’s surface at any given time under normal conditions, but she used the action as a metaphor to amplify her meaning.

”They are gone forever, but if you and the others see them….even as bits of their images, data divorced from its original source and re-interpreted as part of some other living person, in this case, me…. some tiny part of them still exists. They are ever so slightly less lost. It cannot diminish the pain, that is part of me now, for as long as I live, but it alters it. Gives it a new meaning. So, yes, it comforts me. Is that what you mean?”

She had surprised him, she could tell by his corneal dilation.
That was always gratifying. He wasn’t an easy person to surprise.

“Thank you, Portia,’ he said.

Beri brought him back the infant, Kaylyra. She was hungry and that required a lactating female, in this case, poor tired Jyn. Who at least got to finally eat her cake because Cassian fed her spoonfuls while the baby nursed.

 

K2S0 had clearly been a most remarkable person. She had retrieved every scrap of data possible, but there had just not been enough. Talking more about it would only cause Cassian additional pain, and serve no purpose, so she didn’t.

Kaylyra became the messenger and the pilot. She was the one who brought Bodhi Rook back to them, and became, in her way their gift back to the Galaxy.


It was a fitting honor for K2S0.

Chapter Text


"There comes a day in every child's life when they learn that their mother casts and is contained in her own pattern, of which they are a part but not the whole," Eldest Sister Tova said during Lessons once.

 

They had been working in the big garden, and a work lesson about dividing the comfrey plants had turned into talk about how a young last-born male in their village, Sen, had never even known that his mother had once been a basket maker, had travelled up and down the RiverLands and lived with the Taun in her youth and even had a grown child down in RiverTown, until one day at a market he was greeted by an elder brewer as his brother. “Usually the learning is not so dramatic and does not involve buying a stranger lunch in RiverTown, but one way or another, it comes to all.”

"What about Kayly?" asked Rocco, one of the young males who had a rude tendency to blurt things out.

Oh Ea defend those who cannot find the end of their own nose in the dark, the child had quick hands and a sharp eye but he was denser than a rock when it came to words.

Eldest Sister had given him a stare, because that was the sort of remark that could mean a lot of different things, about half of which could get you knocked over or bitten on the ear by your age mates out in the fields at play.

Most of the young ones knew already that you were way more likely to get knocked over if you made Kayly mad and you'd better be ready to do the same because her ears were flat on the side of her head and harder to get to quickly. Tova considered that Jyn-ally must have been like this when she was young and it often made her smile.

 

To his credit, Rocco realized that he had just stuck his full foot in his own mouth, because he stuttered to explain. "I..I...just meant because she and Galen have an extra male-parent to be a Father so...so...does she get two days?”

Kaylyra no doubt was displeased, she bristled self-righteously sometimes if she thought her “differences” or Galen’s were being pointed out to tease or quarrel, but she was eleven that summer and she and her age-mate female friends were full of a superior sense of their own maturity. She only huffed disgustedly and went about her work of carrying cuttings over to the new-dug section of the beds where the healing plants would be planted. Second Sister caught Tova's eye in smiling sympathy as she leaned on her hoe at the other side of the field by the wall. Children.

 

It warmed her heart later when she saw little Rocco go over to Kayly on his own, when the youngsters rested by the shade of the wall, and take her hand in Apology for Causing Unintended Distress. Kaylyra turned her fingers round and must have given Friendship Restored after Misunderstanding, because the little fellow smiled and after Kayly kissed the top of his head, ran back happily to nap under the apple tree with his friends.

Yes, it was a great and most worthwhile challenge, teaching the human youngsters of their village amongst all the others.

 

 

 

The day when Ancient Portia had shown one of her ghostly forms and shone a light in her window to tell them that Jyn-ally had safely delivered her long-worked-for firstborn they had hurried to go all three together to the tower for news.

On the way to they had met Dov and Mose at the end of the field, working together to cart a bundle of large stumps down to the bowl-cutters on a sledge made of smooth black metal though they had clearly just stopped and were arguing over who tied the best knots.

They stopped barking as soon as they saw them coming.

”Grandmothers!" Dov said, "we saw Ancient Portia in the field. What is the news?"

Bless them, they were both most fond of Cassian-ally, and Jyn-ally as well, not just for what they taught them about falls and wrecks, which was much but because, odd as they were, they modeled resourcefulness and courage.

Dov maybe especially, Tova considered, who from childhood had made a pattern in his own mind of himself as an unlucky person. Cassian-ally’s friendship had helped him re-weave that.

They had let sweet Youngest Sister share the news, her excitement bubbling too hard to keep a lid on, "Jyn-ally is well! The new child is a female and all signs are well!"

"Only one?" Mose had asked, twitching his nose a little as if concerned.

“Mose-child," patient Second Sister said, "There was only ever the one."

"So Cassian-ally told us," Mose agreed, "but, she looked so....even before they left she seemed so.....very...."

"Large," Dov said.

"Swollen," his friend amended.

Tova had sighed. Lastborns both of them and slighty stinted on imagination, clearly.

They had sent them on their way to carry stumps and news into the village, and climbed the steps up into Ancient Portia's tower.

 

"Will there be ghost-pictures?" Youngest Sister asked, taking her glasses off as they passed out of the bright sunlight.

"Likely there will be," Tova said, "So we must prepare ourselves."

"Remember," wise Second Sister said, for she had seen infant humans in her youth, "no matter what the baby looks like, all that matters is health and Jyn and Cassian-ally's great joy of her. We will love her no matter what." And so they had.

 

 


Kaylyra had many near-enough age mates when she began to come for Lessons because that spring before her birth year had brought about an Active time for many in the village. She and dear Second Sister had been so busy with deliveries that even brave Youngest Sister, although terrified and far younger than would have been usual to take on the task, had wound up delivering the unexpectedly-quick-arriving firstborn of a desperate young Scavenger female from Mose's crew. She did a splendid job. Tova had feared for a time that Jyn might stubbornly insist on trying to birth her child in her own home, but the Pattern they cast on the question and good sense all agreed that she should go to the human Circle at HarborTown for their aid and all had gone well there.

At Ancient Portia's wise-but-unexpected suggestion, Second Sister went down to help bring them home when the baby was deemed ready enough to travel.

It was a great adventure for her. Second Sister had not travelled so far South since she had first come to them, carried piggyback by old Mona, a Scavenger who had found her on the Coast in a half-stripped wreck, left behind by those who should have protected her.

No greater gift could Ea have brought their Circle.

"Are you afraid dear Second Sister?" sweet Youngest had asked, squeezing her two hands in Heartfelt Inquiry. The good-hearted child no doubt meant of the distance and the travel alone.

"No," their sister answered, with a calm smile, "Once I might have been, but now I am not.”

Weeks later when she returned, flying on the small ship with Jyn and Cassian-ally and the astonishingly odd-looking infant who would grow to be their dear Kaylyra, she brought tales for Youngest….of the sea and the Bequa, who had come calling to the water’s edge to wish Jyn and Cassian-ally farewell,…. all the many humans of HarborTown, the gossip from the wise and cagey Circle there and how Cassian-ally had promised that he was flying “slow” but had not even remotely been doing so.

“I will admit,” she said frankly, “I hid behind Jyn-ally’s chair and whimpered like a baby starling for most of the journey.”

She had also told of their dear allies.

“Their joy is great but they feel their lostness, now,” she said, “more than they ever expected to. You must remember how, since they had readied their hearts and minds to die in battle, they struggled so at first to even bind each other back into life. I am sure they never let themselves imagine a Pattern that would bring them to a casting like this. Even the humans of HarborTown cannot advise them, for a child makes them feel even more“Fallen-ness” I think.”

“They miss Bodhi Rook,” said Youngest.

“Most fiercely, as do we all,” Second Sister agreed. “But his brave and wise heart was needed elsewhere and Ea needed them here. We can only give our love and such help as we may, while they find their way in this new pattern.”

“Is the baby really supposed to look like that?” Youngest whispered again, nervously.

“I am assured that she is,” patient Second Sister had said.

 

 


It was two years or more after that, when Kayla walked and talked and was in the garden running up and down the rows, holding Youngest Sister’s hand and singing the names of the flowers, that Jyn first said.

“I am thinking of trying to….maybe have another baby….maybe.”

Tova and Second Sister had looked at each other astonished, behind her back, as Jyn-ally reached for a basket for the carrots she had been peeling with a knife.

Oh be serious, my dear, what else have the two of you been doing if not trying to have more babies again almost since Kaylyra learned to sleep for more than two hours span?

 

“I….just don’t want her to be alone,” their friend said, looking up then at Kaylyra, pulling puff flower seed pods, but seeing, Tova knew, some other chid in some other place far away. “I mean, when I was little I remember asking for a sibling. I made dolls and toys and called them my babies and my army and my sisters and brothers…..I realize know that I probably made my parents so sad doing that, I think I even made my mother cry once….and Cassian, he was supposed to have a sister, but she died. I watch him with Kayly and I think about how much it would have meant to him to not be alone.”

Ah…it is the patterns begun and cut before finished, she thought, those woven back into the whole perhaps but left unresolved in themselves, that brought the most pain.

 

“Besides,” Jyn-ally said with a laugh, “Top of the list for words I never thought I’d say, I’m not getting any younger.”

 

The not-bearing of children was one part of her calling to her Circle that Tova had never grieved for, much as she loved the little ones and great as the joy she took in seeing them enter the world. She had watched her mother suffer too much and had known even as a nursling before Then-Eldest Sister Solla had taken her hand, that it was not her path and felt nothing but relief at the knowledge. She had enjoyed Activity in her day but now that those days were done she was content that it be so.

Second Sister had found it hard though and shed tears, she knew. If her Pattern had been woven differently the dear one might have wished for babies, but that choice had been cut for her long ago by cruel ones who set a little child to crawl into dangerous falls that burned her, so Ea in her mercy had woven her bright thread into a new one and oh, how many lives had been saved thereby?

Cassian-ally suffered from his well-hidden fears just as greatly with Jyn’s second pregnancy as her first but Kayly distracted him from it a little. Jyn in some ways suffered less the second time, like a warrior fighting over ground now more familiar to her.

Sister had told her what the Second Sister of HarborTown, the bold human female with the striped reddish hair, had said of Jyn and her struggles giving birth. “Hers are the trials of one who fears the weakness more than the pain.”

 

Dear Galen came to be born the Spring after. A little male, which was very odd, oh my yes, but with thick dark hair and shining eyes that followed everything but most especially Kayly, until nine months….concerningly late for a normal child but actually early, Ancient Portia assured them, for a human one…..when he ran/walked after everything his eye caught. Keeping that one in possession of all his limbs had been a chore at first.

 

 

 

 

 

After the Garden was set and the Lessons of the day had been learned, well or less so but tomorrow was another day, the children all went to their own homes for their families and afternoon chores. Galen had walked home on his own but Kaylyra lingered moving stones helpfully, sweeping, as one-by-one her friends went.

She wanted to talk, Tova could see.

“Come tall Kayly,” she said, “help me put the drying baskets up in the loft and spare my old bones the ladder.’

Inside the house, she had set the girl at the table and had her start bundling the sage flower and laying it on the flat baskets.

It will take a minute for her to come to it, Tova knew, she is like her mother in this.

“Tova,” the child had her head bent over the work in her hands and clearly strove to keep her voice lighter than whatever it was that troubled her heart, for she was like Cassian-ally in this. “Do you know anything about K2?”

“No child,” Tova said, passing her more lengths of string for the tying, “Only that he was one of your parents Heart Companions, your Father's great friend, and was a machine-person like Ancient Portia but unlike her because he was not a ghost and had a body that walked.”

Kalyra nodded, stacking bundles….too many deep, but that could be fixed later….”Papa had one of his bad bad dreams the other night.”

Oh brave Cassian.

“You were surely concerned. Did he wake you Kayly-child?”

“I mean…” She stopped tying and turned a leaf over in her hands, “It’s been a long time, and Mama and Papa both talk in their sleep sometimes.” She shrugged, ”usually it’s no big deal and we just ignore it..everybody has dreams right? But….this time he got up…”

I remember child, I remember when the poison of it was still so fresh in his mind that we had to tie him down so he did not re-break his own bones.

 

“I heard him saying….I thought he was calling me…”Kay!’” he kept saying, “Where’s Kay?” and I came down the ladder from the loft. Mama was with him but he was standing by the hearth and his eyes were open but he didn’t see me. Mama was just sitting on the bench with her hands out like she was trying to keep him from stepping too close to the coals, but she didn’t touch him.”

“You must have been afraid, to see him so,” Tova said, laying a hand upon hers in sympathy and Acknowledgment of a Loved One’s Pain, making sure the pressure was light to impart Imperfect Understanding but Wish to Share.

“Mama came over and told me to go back to bed and keep Galen quiet, that Papa was OK and it was just a bad dream. Actually, first she said to ‘get my butt back in bed’ but then she said “sorry” and “please.”

She could think of many things to say to the child, but Kayly had a question in her heart and too many answers might block her from bringing them forth herself.

“I went back up but I could hear him still, “He said “No,’ and “No puedo…No puedo soportarlo” that means “I can’t…” or “I can’t bear it".. I think even…. “I can’t carry it..”

He can, he has, he will.

“Was he well in the morning?”

“Yes,” Kayly said, “He said it was just a bad dream and he was sorry he woke me, that he doesn’t have them much anymore and that it was just bad stuff from the War and how much he misses Kay…” she looked at Tova now with clear and worried green eyes, so much like her mother’s, “but he…it HURT him…he was crying, I think.”

“Dear child,” Tova said gently, turning Kayly's palms to lay her own on them, Imparting of Hard-won Wisdom,  “Poor little Rocco spoke true in a way. You will have two days, maybe even more than two.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

It had been a trying summer the year that Galen was six-just-turning-seven and Kayly was ten-soon-to-be-eleven. Almost out of the blue the two of them had truly started fighting like hill-cats. Not all the time, to be fair, but when they did, BOOM!

Jyn had no idea whether all this was something she should worry about, but in the meantime it really pissed her off.

Kayly was still remarkably kind to her little brother at times. Jyn had seen her helping him re-tie knots on the climbing rope just yesterday, and last week she had sat with him for an hour talking him through one of Portia’s crazy-ass math problems. She was still protective, in spurts, at least. Force help anybody who teased him or got rough with him when she was around.

 

He’d gotten in that fight with some Mem boys down at Green River at the Spring Scavenger Fair and Kayly had waded in and cold-cocked one of them. She was totally in the wrong, Jyn knew, and Galen had absolutely “started it.” Cassian had given them both a stern lecture, but it was a pretty nice punch for all that….good dodge to the side to deflect the return blow too. Galen hadn’t thanked her for it, oh no.. “I can handle myself!” he’d protested with a handkerchief to his bloody nose., “I’m not a baby!” “You’re welcome, Rat,” Kayla had snapped.

“There were two of them,” Jyn heard her telling Nikki and Ava later, “and he’s a stinky rat but he’s MY stinky rat.”

 

Some days that summer though, it was as if the village wasn’t big enough to hold them both. Force knew the stone house wasn’t. Cassian had finally gone up into the loft and built a small wall in the dormer under the roof they’d shared since Galen could be trusted not to fall off a ladder at four. It gave them each just enough room for a bed and a box and a tiny bit of floor space, but Kayly was most insistent that Galen’s continued survival depended on it. He’d started putting things in her bed….pinecones, peeled potatoes, even…..all time best…. a big moon moth inside a hollowed-out lizard egg shell. Honestly, he must have worked on that one for weeks. She found the egg in her pillow and when she’d pulled it out it split open and the moth flew out in her face. She’d cursed in Basic and Festan so loud that Beri claimed to have heard her in the village.

She didn’t learn those words from me, Cassian insisted, later. It must have been Portia.

 

“Why?” Jyn asked Galen, once she’d wrestled him out of Kayly’s clutches and Cassian had sent their raging, precious daughter out to split firewood and cool off. Her son had looked up at her with his father’s beautiful eyes and an almost bewildered expression. “Sometimes I’m mad at her Mama, but sometimes I’m not…I just have to….because she yells SO loud.”

Oh Force. Cassian is so much better at this part. He can keep a straight face no matter what.

 

 

She tried to take comfort in that Cassian, while not thrilled with the prospect of facing a winter cooped up with this new near-daily boxing match, was less disturbed by it than she was. “Kids quarrel,” he said. She couldn’t tell if he was echoing Tova or really speaking from experience, she suspected the latter but he put up a good front. He’d been around other children more than she had growing up, for a little while at least, so she had to trust him.

 

 

 

He’d told her quietly, over the years, bits and pieces about the camp on Carrida, about his mother’s death, about an uncle and cousin and a plas-sided shack full of droid parts and ration-packs of food, but most of what she knew about his childhood she knew from listening to him talk to Galen and Kayly. There had been a rough contraband school where they made him take dancing lessons…a story told as he let Kayly stand with her feet on top of his while they twirled around, her giggling. About a man named Oskar who taught him how to tell which turn was the most frequently travelled at any T intersection, from differences in the shine or dampness on a wooden walkway, edges of grass, wear patterns on stone or dry dirt. There were always clues, he told them, like it was a secret. Every time they travelled together, in the glider or on foot, in unfamiliar towns or on paths in rough country, he’d stop at any crossing and make them tell him, “Which way?” turning survival skills into a game.

 

 

“They actually get along really well about 69% of the time,”Cassian said, when she shared her worries as they re-stacked the wire back in the new shed, “and the other 39% of the time they are trying to murder each other.”

Percentages. Oh my love, she thought. It caught her heart the way it always did and always would.

You can’t even hear yourself when you do that, can you?

“That’s not true,” Jyn said, “Sometimes they sleep.”

 

 

 

They had promised each other at the very start that they would never lie to their children, never try to hide truths from them, but it was very hard sometimes. They had a way of blindsiding you from directions you’d never even thought about being blind from.

 

 

“What was your mama’s name?” Kayly had asked Cassian, when she was eight and she and Ava had tried to come up with names for the twenty pea-chicks they’d hatched as a project for Tova.

“Esperanza.,” he’d said after only the barest moment’s hesitation, picking up an escaping chick before it could dash off their table and helping Ava get it back in the lidded basket. “Esperanza Cameron.”


“That means ‘Hope’ right?” Kayly asked, “Like, ‘esperanza para el sol.”

“Si,” Cassian said, “That’s exactly what it means.”

For an instant she was back in the market at Jedha,…tense, defiant… hearing a man she hardly knew retort, “Rebellions are built on hope,” as if daring her to disagree with him. Where would she be now if he hadn’t? Where would so many people be?

 

 

 


When she was pregnant with Kayly she’d asked Portia, “What can you find out about my mother?” but even Portia’s searching gaze hadn’t been able to find much. It was just too late. After Endor, so many Imperial data depots were destroyed in the riots on Couruscant, and Dagga 3 and Hosnian Prime. Besides, someone had purged Imperial records of all traces of her parents long before.

Portia found one reference.

She looked through her collections of “slices,” those peeks through HoloNet and other data visible though her periodic sweeps, finding only a letter still on a University administrative file. It was sent by a human female named Nari Sable back to her advisor at the University of Rudrig, asking permission  to reschedule her thesis presentation so she could attend the wedding of her former roommate and best friend Lyra to a researcher named Galen Erso. They’d met while doing their geology internship on Espinar. The girl was chatty and informal but not above pleading. “Please Dr. Mayburn, I hope the committee can see clear to change my dates. I am sure that several of them have had Lyra in their classes and know that her mother is in poor health. My hope is that at least I can be there for her at the ceremony. Since I am not expected at my interviews back home on on Alderaan until 1.3.69BBY I would be available for any open slot.

Mama had a mother, and a friend named Nari, both of whom were probably dead.

 


Other than that there was only an old copied and recopied news vid of a young woman with a baby in her arms, liberated in a prisoner exchange from a Separatist prison camp. Lyra Erso, wife of an Imperial Scientist. A low-res in profile only. Pale. Dark eyes. Hair the same color as Jyn’s own.

Hello Mama.

I’m sorry. I was so angry at you for so long and now it’s too late.

 

Cassian came up while she was looking at it on the pad in Portia’s Tower. He hovered pretty much every minute after she started showing. Poor spyboy. It was pathetically obvious. Draven and company would have been ashamed of him.

She’d shut down the flickering image. It wasn’t that she was trying to conceal it from him, they were well past such things, but she felt guilty. The last thing she wanted to do then was remind him of his mother.

“Viallt,” he said, quietly, laying a hand on her shoulder and sitting on the bench beside her.

“You’ve seen this before?” Oh well fuck, of course he had. Those long-ago Intelligence files on her, the ones that had haunted her once and seemed so far away now.

He nodded and she had to ask. “Was there ever anything else. About her?”

“No. Very surprisingly little. The Empire erased your father but even so…. it was strange, almost as if someone else had gone back and re-erased her. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was Gerrera. We didn’t find even a family name. Aria Prime was listed as her birthplace, so she probably had one but she was using Erso on the only records we ever found…a rejected teaching application and a nursery school record for you.” He smiled gently, “You were adorable by the way.”


Saw’s voice in her memory, sitting beside her on a crash-seat in a dark rumbling shuttle bay,drying her tears with a scrap of cloth…it must have been the very first days, she would never have cried after…“Your mother was a brave soldier, child, all the braver because she fought to the very end and where no eyes could see. We must pick up her banner and go on.”

No eyes but mine, Saw.

 

Rather than face the memory of her mother with a blaster in her hand, falling face down on the dune-grass, she had turned away from everything. Only mismatched fragments floated up sometimes now.

Mama singing a silly song about a flea on a mouse, and a mouse on Tooka cat, and the Tooka on a dog and the dog on a bantha, and….what was it after that? One of those ones where you add on more and more impossible things. They sang it to time how long to run the water purifier.

Papa using the hand sprayer outside to wash the back sandy mud out of her hair and ears after she had decided to pretend she was a mole, and saying “She does NOT get this from me Lyra!” while Mama laughed and laughed in the doorway.

It was all she had and she would have to hold on to it and try to build from there.

Between them they had almost enough pieces to build one functional parent and for the rest of it….thank the Force for the village and their friends.

 

 

 

 

It was at the end of the small Market they had in Nexa in that late Summer, that her brilliant common-law husband and the father of her children came up with the accidental best idea ever.

Usually that local late-Summer fair was called the “Pine Market” because it was mostly wood and tree products. The hard-to-gather pine nuts, tree and ground nut harvest, fresh oil, lumber, bowls, furniture and things carved from wood were sold and it was where local carpenters hired out for the year’s jobs. Jyn loved that small Market because, unlike the Scavenger Fairs, she and Cassian didn’t have to work much during it. and they didn’t have to travel to get there.

Conn came up that year, a few days early, to bring some equipment, and go over Portia’s data to report to folks back at HarborTown. There had been some disturbing things coming up in falls North and past the Islands and Portia was detecting some worrisome funky activity that warranted conference with Markey’s people and the Circles. Unexpectedly he’d even brought one of the warehouse kids along, a boy named Bill who was halfway between Kayla and Galen in age. Kid seemed at loose ends, shy around Kayly and her tight circle of friends but a little aloof from Galen and his pals…maybe thinking himself too mature for their shenanigans. Poor boy had been so astonished at Portia’s image, a grey-haired woman with braids, as she visualized on the field the first day that he’d stood for several minutes actually putting his hand through the image and pulling it back out again, mouth agape. When Portia finally said, “It’s only light, child, there’s not going to be any tactile response.” He’d jumped back with a yelp and some of the local kids had laughed. He’d been mortified and after that he’d stuck to Conn no matter how much Jyn and Cassian tried to draw him out.

 

On the afternoon of the last day, the big field had already been clearer as most of the big timber lots had been dragged off already and the food booths had started to discount the cakes. Galen had been driving Kayly frothing crazy all day, following her and her friends around. He was tired and sugared-up and his friends Kemmi and Fox were no better. Cassian had had the bright idea of making him bring a kicking ball down from the stone house to kill time if he got antsy. Galen had forgotten all about it but when he saw Kayly and Nikki playing catch with it, he wanted it back. Voices began to rise.

Cassian’s eyes met hers. There was only one way this kind of thing ended these days and it usually involved each of them dragging a kid in a different direction. Damn.

 

Cassian took the ball from Kayly.

“Hey,” he said, “There’s enough flat space here. We could almost play proper football. Who’s up to learn?”

 

 

 


All Jyn really knew about “proper football” was that there was a ball and a field and teams. People from all Mid-Rim and a half dozen Core worlds were crazy for it. There had been about forty different planetary leagues, even not counting the old Imperial Federation teams, and at least half the Holo-Net kiosks in any given bar showed matches constantly. She’s seen hardened Partisans huddle over tiny data displays in dark caves watching pirated game footage when they thought Saw wouldn’t see them. The appeal escaped her. Any game that both required organized team play and didn’t allow you to directly take all of the loser’s money when you won just didn’t sound like fun.


The local Mem kids had a game like dodgeball that they played with a fiber-stuffed leather ball, “Whacker” they called it, and a game called “Auntie” where you threw a hard wood ball to knock a block off a post or a wall, but Cassian had taught Kayly and then Galen to kick and play “football catch” in the back garden. He’d stitched the ball together from shuttle-seat covering and a latex float liner brought home from the big Scavenger Fair at Green River. There was something about the look on his face when he’d finished it and rolled it to a toddling Kayly that had just about killed her.

 

 

 

 

“Sure. What’s that?” said Kemmi. Always a game kid, that one, small but up for anything, he and Galen were dangerous together.

 

Everything got out of hand from there. Cassian had probably thought he was just working something out for eight or nine kids in a dozen square meters of trampled grass but the project started growing. As soon as he explained the rules a crowd started to gather, of local and visiting Mems, the small handful of humans and a couple of the younger Taun. People started to move some of the booths and tables back and somebody dragged a bag of carpenters chalk out and drew wobbly lines on the grass while a couple of others set up a canvas frame at one end and a stack of baskets at the other end for goals.

 

Cassian tried to describe “the Rules” and was swamped with questions.


“What do you mean we can’t use our hands? EVER?”
Only if you’re the goal.
“In the goal?”
No, playing goal position.
What if you knock the goal over and steal their spot, can you be the goal then?”
No.
“Can I hit it with my head?”
Yes, maybe, but be careful.
“Can I hold it with my teeth?”
No.
“My teeth are part of my head.”
Still no.
“No fair, Cassian-ally, Dorla and Nirla have four feet.”
“Is my nose considered part of my head?”
“If I run on all fours the whole time can I…?”

There were rules and positions and it was decided that the Taun could use the knees/elbows only on their front legs but in the back their feet only.

Noses ok for Mems, NOT for humans. No teeth at all ever.

 

By this point they had at least twenty-five people of various shapes, ages and configurations lobbying to get involved so Cassian announced they would play eleven on eleven. He also announced that he would be Midfield for one side with Galen as a Forward because they knew the game, almost. Bes was their Goal.

“Jyn can be Midfield on the other side,” he said.

“No mames! Why me?”

He smiled that beautiful Cassian Andor half smile. “Because you are so good with rules.”

Oh, it is ON now Major.

 

They were doing something called a 4-4-2. Which, as Cassian explained it was four Midfielders, four Defenders, Two Forwards. Kemmi was their goal, Conn got drafted to be another Midfield. Beri and Ava’s Grandmother called Defense. Kayly was supposed to be one of her Forwards along with Dorla, and everybody else just sort of divvied up parts at whim.

 

Beri took off her glasses and handed them to Tova, who walked quickly back her house with them to keep them safe….or maybe to get bandages and salve because she clearly foresaw what was coming.


Jyn was very relieved to hear that Cassian was suspending the “Off-sides” rule because they were all beginners, especially since she had no idea what that even was.

They let Kemmi’s Grandmother toss a chip for who got the ball first and Cassian’s team won.

 

“What exactly do we do Jyn-ally?” Dov whispered, as they all set up. “I wasn’t exactly listening.”

“Simple. Get that ball away from them, kick it past Second Sister, no biting. Whomp all necessary ass to accomplish it. Repeat.”

 

Nikki kicked the ball toward Cassian and all hell broke loose.

Nobody bit anybody and most hand-like appendages stayed away from the ball, mostly, but pretty much every other rule went out the window. Everybody ran after that plas-leatherette ball like a screaming horde.


Kemmi tried to block one mighty kick by Dorla by wrapping himself completely around the ball so Dorla kicked him and it into the goal.

 

No score. Portia agreed to Referee.

 

Such concepts as ‘out-of-bounds” were abandoned early when the chalk lines were wiped by falling bodies and people started chasing the ball through the booths, behind the walls and at one point right through the Community Hall. Who was on which team got confused and at one point Kemmi’s Grandmother, who wasn’t even playing, got overexcited, ran out into the middle and chipped the ball over Cassian’s head straight to Kemmi because she thought he got the point if he caught the ball. Ava’s Grandmother body-checked Mose and sent him sprawling. Dorla threw herself down on the ball at one point and nearly popped it and Fox with it.

The absolute end came when Kayly got the ball when Dov got tripped by little Rissa who bolted out from under a nut cake booth and knocked him over, along with all the remaining nutcakes, Running toward Kemmi she yelled to Dorla who had been eating cake off the grass but now ran toward the goal. Desperate, Kemmi ran out to stop the ball but slipped on a piece of cake and crashed into Kayly, who crashed into Cassian, who had been trying to move up in case Dorla didn’t make it. Everybody crashed into each other in pile-up worthy of speeder traffic on an icy landing strip. Jyn stopped herself, but Nirla didn’t and knocked her right over, head free but legs pinned under a Taun.

Only Galen and Bill, managed to avoid the collision, skidding on the now shredded grass and cake to stop themselves.

They stood staring and, from under the pile of bodies, the ball suddenly popped out and rolled to Galen’s feet.

Kemmi, still Goal, was somewhere on the bottom of the pile.

 

“Hey! Hey!” Galen kicked the ball to Bill, maybe because the pile of the entire village of Nexa was between him and what was left of the goal. 'Take it! Take it!"

“Bloody hell!” Bill said, horrified, “What am I supposed to do?”

”Kick it at the baskets!” Galen yelled.


Bill nudged it with the toe of his shoe and it rolled sloooowly into the last standing ground-nut basket.

 

Score. Portia said, placidly, from beside the wall.

 

“That’s it!” Tova loudly said, walking onto the field “That’s quite enough proper football for today, I must say!”


Bill was a hero and he and Galen became best pals after. Tova made poor Kemmi get his eyes checked before she would even let his Grandmother take him home. The Grandmother was terribly proud, still convinced he “won.” Kayly was so excited that she stole the ball from Conn, on whom she had small crush, not once but twice that she didn’t even care that Nirla fell on her. Dov declared that this was the “BEST GAME EVER” and Ava’s grandmother wheeled three barrels of beer over from her booth, tapped them and everyone had crushed cake and beer, sitting on the wrecked field, while Tova and Bes patched everybody up.

 

Later, as the sun was setting they all limped back up to the stone house. Jyn limped a little more than everybody else. Kayly, Galen and Bill took the ball out to kick around the garden some more until it got too dark and Conn fell straight asleep, snoring, on the extra bed that had once been Bodhi’s.

Cassian sat by the fire and undid his shirt, peeling it back from one shoulder while Jyn wrapped bluemint leaves in a cold wet cloth and laid it to the massive bruise appearing below his right shoulder.

“Ouch. Rough one soldier,” she said, when he winced a little, “What did that?”

“Your elbow,” he said.

She kissed him and they laughed so hard it hurt. The children thought they were crazy.

 


The Post-Pine Market Proper Football Game became an annual Nexa tradition, despite all that came after, through good times and bad.