Elevated pulse. Shortness of breath. Flexing and unflexing hands. Beads of sweat on his forehead. Even the wooden bench in the medical bay that he sat upon seemed harder now than ever as he felt pricks of pain as the muscles tensed in his lower back. These were all signs and symptoms of what Cassian Andor knew to be his flight or fight response – it had single-handedly saved his life earlier that week when he had gunned down the pair of stormtroopers in the alleyway on Kafrene. Normally, the adrenaline heightened his senses and pushed him towards swift and efficient decision-making, something that Cassian found both pleasing and gratifying.
But, today was different. In fact, most days had been different since Jyn Erso’s unexpected arrival in the War Room last week. Her presence perplexed him in a way nothing had before. People always came easy to Cassian. Not that he’d ever been one to make friends – he was always too busy reading his colleagues micro expressions, predicting their next word, next move. Yet Jyn was seemingly unreadable. Perhaps it was her past, her history as a child soldier that concealed her thoughts from him. To Cassian, she was a mission without a foreseeable outcome; a question without a definitive answer; two unfamiliar hands intertwined in Death’s wake. He could still feel her heart pounding against his chest. Had he really held her that clos–
“Captain Andor.” A gruff voice jolted Cassian back to reality. He looked up to find General Draven’s severe face: two dark bags hanging under piercing blue eyes, wispy hair combed to hide a receding hairline, and three hard lines that appeared to be engraved into the general’s forehead and were always visible even when, Cassian had found, the rest of Draven’s face lacked expression entirely.
“I was told I would find you here. Erso’s finally woken up. Thought you might want to know. Anyhow, she’s in room thirty, bay three. However, one of the droids told me to tell you that…”
Thought you might want to know. The voice inside Cassian’s head scoffed at Draven’s cluelessness. He had, without a doubt, been dying to know. Ever since their arrival on Yavin 4, Cassian had checked the status of Jyn Erso’s condition a “total of twenty-two times in three days,” a fact that an annoyed 2-1B droid used in attempt to shame the captain into leaving the waiting area. He had left, for dignity’s sake, but within minutes, shame and embarrassment melted into hot frustration as he reached his living quarters.
What had been taking them so long?
The fact that they had survived the Death Star’s initial blast had been a miracle, probably an act of one of the gods, none of which Cassian had ever bothered to learn about. Or maybe, it had been The Force. What a ridiculous conclusion. At any rate, he knew their situation had been dire; the urgency in Kes Dameron’s voice as he and Captain Bey had loaded him and Jyn onto the ship had told him that much.
“Punch it, Shara. We need to get there and stat or they’re not gonna mak–”
“I know, I know .”
The last thing Cassian remembered before losing all consciousness was the burning sensation of Jyn’s necklace (she had managed to tie it around his neck before the jump to hyperspace) against his skin. Oddly enough, her necklace, still around his neck, began to warm yet again, as if responding to the playback in his head.
“...that she is still coming off of a number of medications given to her at the start of the procedure, so she might not be all the way there.” Draven paused and took a deep breath, a something Cassian could only deduce to be a nervous tic – the general only did it when he was about to tell Cassian something he didn’t want to hear.
“While I understand you and Erso have spent some time together, you directly disobeyed orders by infiltrating the imperial base on Scarif. Admiral Raddus has been reported dead and Princess Leia, who was aboard Tantive IV, is now missing. We have not received schematics of this so-called “Death Star” you and Erso spoke about.”
Cassian felt his face grow hot as he quickly jumped up from the bench to defend himself.
“We transmitted them! I was there, I saw it happen with my own two eyes,” he insisted angrily.
“I don’t care if you saw it happen, Captain Andor,” Draven shot back. “Your actions have consequences ! You endangered the lives of dozens of useful Alliance operatives and now, that same Alliance is one step away from total dissolution. Do you know what that means?”
“Of course I know what that means!” Cassian seethed. It was always Draven’s empty rhetorical questions that made Cassian’s normally manageable temper escalate.
“Good. Then you’ll understand why I have proposed a hearing in regards to your suspension, and possibly your permanent termination as intelligence officer. Senator Mothma is reviewing my proposal as we speak.”
Cassian froze. Draven used this moment to deliver his final blow.
“Quite frankly, whatever relationship you have developed with the Erso girl has jeopardized your once sound rationale, Captain.”
Cassian felt his hands ball into fists at his sides. Low-blow, even for you, Draven. Pinche viejo estúpido. Nevertheless, he knew letting his anger take the bait would only support Draven’s accusations. He waited a few seconds before he spoke and let the years of interrogation and negotiation training take over.
“There is no relationship , General,” Cassian said cooly, eyes narrowed. “She had substantial evidence, and I believed that evidence. I did what was necessary and what you and the rest of the council were afraid to do.”
Draven was fuming now. Cassian felt the corners of his mouth twitch upward. Although Draven was a formidable verbal adversary, Cassian always managed to find the chip in the older man’s shoulder.
“This is NOT about bravery or honor, Captain Andor...” Before Draven could finish, the intercom above them chimed: “General Draven to landing pad 5. General Draven, landing pad 5. Draven sighed.
“This conversation isn’t over.. Hopefully it will continue with a much more official audience present.”
“ Hopefully ,” Cassian muttered as he watched Draven walk away. As his anger faded, it suddenly dawned on him: the Rebellion hadn’t received the plans so many of his comrades had died for. He felt the familiar pang of the hollowness inside his chest. Sights, sounds and smells flashed before him: the screams of a child caught under the wheel of an imperial tank, the burning of Tivik’s flesh, Kaytoo’s metal frame riddled with bullet holes, Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze reduced to ash by the battle station’s burning green light –
Before the hollowness could totally engulf him, Cassian began walking swiftly, his eyes fixed on the sign at the end of the hallway that read “Bay 3.” He needed to find Jyn. He needed to make sure that at least, she was okay.
“Oooh-bah,” hummed a medic droid as it changed the dressings on Jyn Erso’s left arm. She winced and thought about swatting it away, but the pain radiating throughout her body prevented even the slightest movement of turning her head to assess the damage. She had been badly burned, she knew that much. But what Jyn didn’t know was how she had managed to survive.
It had all happened so fast.
The green light had almost met the shoreline; she had felt its uncomfortable heat beginning to scald her cheek. She remembered pulling him closer and closer to her until she could smell the familiar smokiness of blaster residue on his neck and clothes. What should have been her last thought was of him:
Please let it be swift and painless. If not for me, then for him. May the Force be with him.
And it was.
It had been too bright for Jyn to tell where the white light erupted from, but she had felt something envelop her and Cassian. The roar of the water and debris crashing around them had been deafening, but still, Jyn was sure she had heard faint echoes, whispers even of what Chirrut, who was then only a stranger to her, had called out several days before: “The strongest stars have hearts of Kyber.”
The memory set into motion the same mental spiral she experienced just thirty minutes before, when the anesthesia had just begun to wear off.
Why hadn’t anyone come to see her? What was taking them so long?
Maybe there was, in fact, no one to see her. Had Cassian too managed to survive? Surely not. She hadn’t seen him since the flight. She remembered pleading with one of their rescuers (Shara, was it?) once they were aboard the ship. Had she not seen Cassian’s condition?
“We’re at max speed Erso,” Shara had explained, trying to remain patient. “This is no x-wing. I need you to sit down and calm down. Kes?”
“Can you talk to Erso here for me? We’re about to pull in half a parsec out and I need to focus so we don’t draw any unwanted attention to ourselves.”
Jyn was never one to make small talk, especially not with strangers. Kes, on the other hand, was what Jyn would describe with overt irritation as “chatty.” She had resigned herself to letting Kes ramble on while she listened to Cassian’s belabored breathing in the background. She had lost him once and he had found his way back to her. Was she prepared to lose him again?
The medic droid’s mechanical fingers clinking against the glass of the needle interrupted her train of thought. It gently took her right arm and pumped her hand into a fist several times before finding a vein suitable enough for an injection.
“This may sting a bit, Miss Erso, but it will help with the pain,” it said flatly in a superficial attempt to reassure her. Jyn groaned, not only out of pain, but also out of annoyance. The medication softened the acute awareness pain always gave her with a sweet, dense fog. Given the chance, Saw would have openly rebuked her for allowing such pampering after battle.
The liquid from the needle burned Jyn’s skin, but only for a moment. Soon, the droid’s quiet chant ceased to bother her as she sank into the bliss of nothingness.
“If you insist, Captain Andor, but I have just administered her medication. She’s not fully cognizant.” Although the droid’s face appeared blank, Cassian could tell it was annoyed. He had years of experience with K2-SO to thank for that.
“That’s fine. I just want to see her,” Cassian replied curtly. The droid seemed to pick up on his urgency.
“Suit yourself, Captain. Room thirty. Now if you would excuse me, I have other patients to attend to.” The droid turned sharply and rolled away down the long corridor.
Cassian turned to reach for the door’s handle and hesitated. He chuckled bitterly under his breath.
What are you doing? Your honor is at stake. More importantly the Rebellion is at stake! And what for? A girl you met only a week ago? What on earth could she possibly want from you? After all you’ve done? You tried to kill her father, for Kriff’s sake!! What happens when she finds out who you really are? She already knows you are a liar. But oh, you’re so much more than that. What about Cassian the thief? Cassian the saboteur? Cassian the murderer?
His hand, still gripping the doorknob, began to shake. He fought back the tears that threatened to fall down his face. He heard the blind warrior’s words in his head more clearly now than ever before.
There is more than one sort of prison, Captain. I sense you carry yours wherever you go.
He was indeed a prisoner, a victim of his own actions. He knew this all too well. It was one of the few facts he prefered not to dwell on, as it called into question his motives, his rationale, the framework upon which he based all thought. With no framework, there was no thought and with no thought no decision and with no decision, no action. To accept this fact would surely break him, or worse: burn a gaping hole of uncertainty in the vast forest of his mind.
And above all, Cassian Andor despised uncertainty —almost as much as he despised relying on other people. People were fickle, changeable, weak ... and, in Cassian’s mind, easily manipulated. To both Draven and Senator Mothma’s dismay, each individual prior to Kaytoo that had been assigned to Cassian either resigned or requested reassignment within the first two months for the same reason: it wasn’t a matter of disliking the Captain, they simply had realized that intelligence fieldwork just “wasn’t for them.”
Yet, Cassian had carried out his last mission with the most uncertain person he had ever met. Jyn Erso had been full of fire, a wildfire that given the opportunity, would have burnt him to the ground. This small, but powerful fire, Cassian had observed, was both her strongest weapon and greatest weakness. What puzzled him further was that Jyn did nothing to hide it, letting it leak out of her again and again, warming and even lighting those around her.
He had tasted her fire in the heat of the words “you might as well be a stormtrooper.” He’d seen the fire’s strength as it had propelled her small frame from the ledge onto the data tower. He had heard it in her voice, calling his name, as he had lost his grip and fell down, down, down for what had seemed like an eternity until the pain from the impact was too great to withstand; he had lost consciousness the second he hit the floor.
At that moment, it dawned on him: it had been that same fire that had shaken him awake and carried his broken body to her. The same fire that had been inside Jyn Erso all this time now burned in him – and, to Cassian’s surprise, there was no pain. The only pain he now felt was at the thought of the cold he would be left with if his own newborn fire, still unsteady and unreliable, went out.
And with a sharp exhale, Cassian Andor, a man once resigned to a prison of his own design, pushed open the door of room thirty, bay three, still unsure if the warmth he was feeling was his own or if it was from the crystal that was flesh against his skin. All this time, underneath his uniform, was the necklace of a woman Cassian barely knew and now with time to spare, he could maybe come to know.