Echo Base had always been quiet at night.
It’s even quieter now that he’s gone.
She makes her way through the halls, sidestepping on-duty soldiers and measuring her progress by the doors she passes. Mess Hall. Hangar Bay. North Med Bay. Officer’s Quarters. The soldiers never pay her much attention and in turn, she slips past them, aching for solitude.
(It’s not a state she’s particularly familiar with, but these days, her fingers scrabble at its edges like a hungry dog.)
Technically, she knows she shouldn’t be walking the halls at night. Technically, she knows her duty lies in rest and recovery, safely asleep in her quarters.
Technically, she doesn’t give a fuck.
Years on the run with Saw left her sharp with the ability to filter her surroundings while staying focused, and those years never left her. Even now, the base isn’t totally asleep. Soldiers come home and soldiers leave, and everything in between – but there’s a space of three hours where overlapping shifts fall to skeleton crews. The white noise of the base fades off and she startles awake, heart pounding.
It’s quiet enough that she can sense him.
(And when she can sense him, she cannot rest.)
So she walks.
North Med Bay. Officer’s Quarters. Storage Bay 3. Briefing Room 1. Storage Bay 7. East Med Bay. General Quarters.
She doesn’t even remember waking from restless sleep, and dimly she knows she’s pushing the limits of her exhaustion. She’d escaped their empty quarters as quickly as she could – as quickly as she ever did – pulling on her boots as she stumbled out the door and tugging Cassian’s blue coat tighter around her. He’d left it behind on their last mission and she’d saved it from the disbursement bins, glaring at the smuggler who’d tried to grab it.
It was starting to lose his scent, but if she tried, if she really tried –
She hasn’t told anyone what she’s seen, either. Even if Saw hadn’t taught her better than that, she’s already grounded for mandatory leave. As much as being on base hurts, leaving is unfathomable. If Draven knew she was hallucinating her dead husband, he’d probably have her discharged on the spot.
She’s not going anywhere.
Tonight, instead of trailing behind her, she can sense Cassian ahead of her. He’s just out of sight, and she holds herself back from breaking into a run, turning the corner, and – what? She’s never experienced anything like this before. She doesn’t know any of the rules.
(Besides – she knows, somewhere deeper than her bones, that he won’t leave her behind.)
Her mother had been the only person she ever knew who talked about the Force or the Jedi. It had been taboo in the refugee camp, and treasonous on Coruscant, but on Lah’mu her mother had spun bedtime stories out of Jedi Knights and the Republic. She’d insisted the Force bound everyone together, and Jyn had thought that meant that her mother would never leave her.
(She had left, and Jyn had never felt her presence again.)
Her father had left too, and she’d grown up with Saw’s partisans, a scrabbled mix of starved children rescued from occupations and rundown soldiers. By the time she could count her age on both hands, she’d lost more friends than that and understood more would follow. She learned to let go before she ever learned to hold on, and her friends in battle became wisps of memory.
She didn’t like to think of it but – her mother, her father, and Saw – they were all wisps of memory to her now, and little more. Their memories were feather light, admonitions and gentle advice mixed together with their deaths, and she had learned her lessons well.
But she’d made a mistake.
She’d held on to Cassian.
(He curls alive in her memory even now, the crinkle of his eyes when he thought she wasn’t looking, the press of his lips as he adjusted his rifle, the scent of his soap after a morning shower, the press of his back against hers in battle, the salt of his skin and the heat of his mouth – )
She shakes herself, stomach twisting with nerves, and re-holsters her blaster as she follows him around another corner. Hangar Bay. North Med Bay. Officer’s Quarters. Storage Bay 3. Briefing Room 1.
(Her memories of Cassian, it turned out, weighed more than everyone else put together.)
He bleeds in at the edges of her world the way he had bled out on the ship. She almost spots him as a door slides closed, slipping into an Intelligence meeting in defiance of his permanent discharge, and fights the urge to lecture him.
(It’s only a dream, a mirage, her eyes blurry from too many unspent tears.)
Or so she insists.
Once, she almost makes it to the Wall of the Dead to convince herself that he was in fact gone, as if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. Two hundred paces away, her steps falter and she cannot go any further.
A stupid, desperate voice inside her is whispering –
Maybe he’s not dead.
Instead, she walks the halls of Echo Base, torn between demanding a mission off base from Draven or drinking the mess hall dry with Bodhi.
(His steps track hers – one, two, three, pause.)
Slowly, they fall into sync.
As the nights drag together, she realizes something her sense had already put together. Somehow – impossibly – Cassian seems more real.
Not alive, not here, but –
For a spy, she could always pick out the cadence of his steps, the rhythm of his breaths in the dark, the scent of the supposedly scentless soap he used. He was visible to her even when he had faded into shadows for everyone else, and in part she’d thought maybe she wasn’t just going crazy.
Maybe he was actually here.
She can feel something powerful and unfamiliar tugging at her consciousness and wonders blindly if the Force is trying to tell her something. Maybe Chirrut is reaching out from beyond the veil; maybe her mother is here after all. Maybe that would explain the presence crowding at the corner of her eyes, the steps that fall in time with her own, something which lurks in the background, still and insistent.
The weight of his presence catches in her lungs and she breaks – turns – runs.
(For all her rationalizations – she’d know him anywhere, in this life or another.)
She seeks out Skywalker, the kid who’d blown up the Death Star while she and Cassian were still in the medbay. It’s more instinct than purpose that takes her there, sitting next to him on top of a freighter that’s seen better days as he tinkers with unfamiliar tech. He’d looked at her in surprise when she’d sat next to him, knees tucked up to her chest, but smiled in a friendly manner. She can’t think of ten words they’d exchanged before now, but she’d heard the rumors.
“You know about the Jedi, don’t you?” she asks, unable to focus on his features. They’re too bright somehow, too sharp. The blue of his eyes is too intense, the rustle of his clothes too loud. Exhaustion, she acknowledges, may have won this round.
“I only know a little,” he admits, meeting her gaze, and she feels herself calm in spite of everything. “There isn’t much in the Archives. Why do you ask?”
She feels stupid, stupid, so stupid. She wishes she could ask Chirrut, or even Baze, who would probably pretend not to have heard her question but –
“I think I’m going crazy,” she breathes and then looks at him, counting down from one hundred by sevens. “I think I’m seeing Cassian. Captain Andor,” she amends. “He died about a month back.”
(33 days, 19 hours, 7 minutes.)
Skywalker frowns, as if something is troubling him as he looks at her, and shakes his head. He doesn’t reach for her hand and she wonders if Jedi can tell when people will shoot you if you touch them.
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” he offers, and then offers a rueful grin. “Or if you’re crazy, you’re not alone. I’ve heard some weird stuff, and the Force is the only way I can explain it.” He pauses, considering. “Are you Force sensitive?”
It should have made her feel better, but instead, she’s skittering towards the ladder off the freighter.
“Thanks,” she mumbles, her voice lost in the hangar.
(She doesn’t tell anyone after that.)
She’s started looking for him.
So far tonight, he’s remained out of sight. She’d first caught the cadence of his footfalls by the hangar bay as if he was coming home from a mission, his fingers entwining with hers in uncharacteristic display, and her heart had twisted at the thought, half-hope and half-sorrow.
(She’s learning to be halfway in between.)
He’d followed her south through the base, almost as if he wanted to be known, and she drops her pace to close the distance between them, shifting on her feet. In turn, he stills behind her, his echo falling silent.
“North Med Bay.” “Officer’s Quarters.” “Storage Bay 3.” “Briefing Room 1.” “General Quarters.” She announces each marker as they pass it and waiting for breaks in the infrequent foot traffic to ask him questions, as if she can coax him back to life through broken protocol codes and news of rebel victories. She doesn’t think she ever talked this much when he was alive. Now, the words spill out of her for both of them, and before she can think to stop herself, as if this is all real, the question spills out of like bitter tea.
“Do you blame me?”
She whirls on her heel, hoping to catch him behind her. When she turns back around, grief pooling within her, a frozen shiver doubles her over and she chokes, gasping for air. Her fingers scrape at the ice walls of the base and she stumbles forward, spots behind her eyes, before an instinct within her pushes back and she falls flat on her ass, but breathing.
(“Do you blame me?”)
She walks on, hollow.
Their last mission together had been meant as a short supply run; nothing that Captain Andor and Sergeant Erso couldn’t handle. K2-SO was undergoing repairs and despite Cassian’s insistence they would be fine on their own, she could taste the frustration in his voice.
Maybe it would be good for them all, she reasoned. It wasn’t good to rely too much on a single droid for missions, and K2 was far from the only droid who could assist them. Cassian’s mood had settled once they were in flight, an unease that caught at the edges of his mouth, and something of it edged its way into her as well.
“It’s a supply run,” she told him, pulling on her gloves while the engines died down. “It’s a busy port, and B8-K1 is on call for any surprises.” Cassian had shot her an unconvinced look and she grinned, forging exuberance for the mission as she tugged at the front of his jacket. “Besides,” she’d said, “we could use a break from K2 looking over our shoulders all the time.”
He’d smiled then, a rare open look, and she tugged him down into a kiss, standing taller on her toes to reach him. His grip on her waist tightened and she could feel their grins breaking the kiss.
“It would be nice,” he admitted, brushing his thumb along the side of her waist in a way that made her stomach swoop and she leaned up, stealing one last kiss.
“And we’ll be home in time for the next briefing,” she’d intoned, imitating K2 as Cassian suppressed a laugh. It might take a miracle, she thought, but they might actually enjoy this trip.
The thought had soured in her unexpectedly, a guilty premonition, and she had masked it as best she could.
(It would have been better, she thinks now, if she had listened.)
The mandatory leave is killing her. She burns out from sitting in their quarters, refusing to change the label on the door and changing it back when some clueless ensign had switched it out. With a ban on work and Cassian on her heels, she walks the base at all hours, picking up intelligence and monopolizing the gym.
As long as people are giving her space – too much space – she’ll make the most of it.
She feels him behind her, ahead of her, all around her and her senses buzz with the static of his missing presence, only made stronger by his whatever-was-stalking her. She’d heard old wives’ tales of ghosts and unfinished business and she laughs to herself, a mad sound that fills the hall, as she traces her steps from earlier that day.
“Officer’s Quarters.” “Storage Bay 3.” “Briefing Room 1.” “General Quarters.” “Loading Dock.”
She doesn’t modulate her voice now, and he’s almost moved into step next to her. If she doesn’t try to turn her head and only look from the very corner of her eye, she can see him – taller than he has a right to be, the shadow of his beard, the curve of his lips and the smoke over his eyes.
(Lower, she assumes there is a blaster wound right over his heart, a stain that spreads across his chest.
She doesn’t look.)
She can still taste the fear on her tongue as he’d gone down, stumbling back into the ship. His fingers had bloomed red as she fell next to him, yelling at B8-K1 for the medkit and ignoring the sharp burn in her side, terror fueling her as Cassian’s head had fallen back, hands going limp, and eyes sliding shut as they made the jump to hyperspace.
By the time they’d made it home, he was gone, bleeding out over the deck of the ship. She doesn’t remember the rest, frozen in place and unable to answer any of the panicked questions thrown her way.
Maybe, if she saw Bodhi – maybe if Draven took her off this kriffing leave – maybe maybe maybe.
It lingers like a false promise in her ears, and she chooses to believe it.
His kiss burns her, leaves a mark as he pulls her closer, the quiet of their quarters interrupted only by the pant of her breath.
“Cassian,” she murmurs, half in dreamland and longing to stay there, repeating his name like a spell that could keep him there. She feels him nuzzle into the soft hair at the back of her neck and a stone turns in her belly.
“Will you stay?” she asks, her fingers catching at the sheets. They’re warm with his memory, and she turns to look at him. Half-dream, half-hallucination, he doesn’t disappear.
“Please stay,” she says, her voice barely audible, and feels the brush of his lips on her forehead. Half-dream, half-hallucination, she hears the echo of his voice from far away.
“We can’t,” he says, and she feels him tugging at her. “We’re late, Jyn.”
She shakes her head, drinking him in and unwilling to let him slip away this time.
“I’m sorry,” she says, grasping at her one chance. Perhaps the unfinished business bunk is not all bunk; perhaps he can find some rest; perhaps they all can –
His arms are wrapped around her, his face tucked into the crook of her neck, and with a start she realizes he’s shaking, sobbing, as she tries to hold on to her, but as soon as she realizes it the instinct that had saved her in the hall pushes him back once more and she wakes, gasping and choking and crying without tears.
She tugs his coat around her and she shivers, shutting her eyes but refusing to sleep as she tries to think, tries to survive, weighted down by ghosts.
She is determined to make it to the Wall of the Dead this time.
Every day, she’s inching closer, Cassian by her side, and every day, she makes it a little closer. Never all the way, and she knows this probably won’t fix her, not if she’s seeing him all the time, but – it’s the only idea she trusts.
It somehow feels like Cassian trusts it too.
There have been no more incidents since the last in their quarters; no terrifying turns that upend her world and make her dizzy; no near-death experiences. She doesn’t know what he was trying to tell her, or what he is trying to do, but he doesn’t feel malevolent. He is hers, if nothing else, and if he’s all she’ll take with her when they kick her out of here, she’ll keep him safe.
(It’s nonsense, but it’s nonsense that gets her closer and closer every day.)
Briefing Room 1. General Quarters. Loading Dock. Mess Hall.
Today, they’ve finally made it to the last corridor before the Wall. She hesitates, and then edges around the corner like she’s avoiding Imperial sniper fire.
The hallway is a jumble of holovids and banners, images snapped at mess halls and celebrations, images of pilots and soldiers and family members lost to the Empire. The images jump around, giving off a static energy that the dampeners don’t quite eliminate. Her fingers brush out at the far end of the wall over some nameless soldier, and trepidation mixes with determination in her heart.
She shouldn’t be here.
(She has to be here.)
He could be anywhere on the Wall, and she’s refused to come before, but her feet lead her forward, overcoming whatever instinct is holding her back. Suddenly, she is not so sure that her instincts were right – that whatever gut feeling she has been following has been leading her wrong, and she shouldn’t be here.
Slowly, her eyes catch on his, and she freezes.
It’s a holovid of the two of them at Yavin IV, and she wants to bet that Bodhi is the one who put it there. They’re both in their cups and she’s positive it’s the only picture in the whole galaxy of Cassian smiling but she can’t speak, words lost in her throat.
Right there, in the cramped writing that fills the list of the dead, is her own name right next to Cassian’s.
The world shivers – the world breaks –
“It wasn’t your fault,” he says at her ear, his voice a painful echo of who they were. “Come home.”
(The world slips away.)
She doesn’t know how long it has been. It’s irrelevant.
(It’s a battle long since over.)
She shifts back awake in their quarters and finds Cassian next to her, hand curled with hers, his eyes steady and sharp, just like she’d first seen them.
“How long have you been waiting?” she asks, blinking her eyes. It is growing vividly bright and she locks her gaze with his, a lifeline even now.
“As long as I had to,” he says, and the sound of his true voice after all these weeks – months – years – is a shock of comfort and longing all at once. His mouth quirks defiantly, a mix of tender frustration and amusement. “You make everything so difficult.”
“You came back for me,” she says before it’s too late, before she misses the chance to tell him once more, terrified she’ll lose him on the other side. “You came back.”
“Welcome home,” he murmurs, and she curls against him, measuring the moments they left.
(His arms, holding her safe and warm, once more, are the last thing she feels in this life.)
– and the first thing in the next.