It’s my face, Jyn thought miserably, tucking her chin into her collar even more than it already was. It almost always was. Ducked low, like a caged animal. That’s why he avoids me.
She gripped her dinner tray with white knuckles, forcing herself not to turn around at the retreating back of Cassian Andor.
It had been four months since Scarif. Chirrut and Baze have recovered and taken their leave from their brief stint as rebellion soldiers. Bodhi had been vetted for his involvement in the Empire and approved for missions. Jyn reluctantly took a mercenary approach to whatever scraps of assignments the rebellion threw her way, she wasn’t wild about rules. She had not recruited herself officially. That meant a single room and to only have to be somewhere when she was summoned. Exactly how she liked it. Cassian returned to his role of Captain with renewed fervor. That was as much as she really knew.
It had been four months since they were plucked off that beach, just in time. Jyn’s life was spared. The skin exposed to the blast was not.
Jyn looked in the mirror every night and saw a jawline and cheek marred with burns, her right eye white as Chirrut’s and as forever unseeing. At first she covered it with her hair, so it got in the way constantly. Eventually it was back in a barely tamed knot, and her face a mask of bitterness to keep people as far away as possible.
She couldn’t separate the damage itself from how bad it looked, and longed for someone to ask. Bodhi made a point of kissing her brow, squeezing her hands, trying to impart love and acceptance. Chirrut obviously found no difference, Baze thought it made her look like a warrior. Cassian wouldn’t look at her at all.
Wouldn’t speak to her.
They were picked up off that beach in Scarif and resumed themselves. He was curt with her, professional. K2 constantly at his side. The droid once offered her a scrolling list of possible ways to repair the skin of her face, all of which she had been aware of, but even she knew they were expensive and required having an identity recognized by the empire. She nodded along, numb, glancing desperately at Cassian for him to look at her and tell her what he saw was fine.
“Enough, K2,” Jyn said finally, “tell me the probability of any of these things even happening.”
Cassian hissed between his teeth as K2 told her nearly impossible, marching off with the droid following behind him like a pet.
His iciness made it clear; two people alone in the face of death wasn’t love, it was desperation, and what happened was not to be applied to their lives, now that they had them back.
Still, at meals when he passed right by her, like she wasn’t even there, it hurt just as badly as it had the first time.
She didn’t turn around to see if he looked back. He did.
Every night, Jyn stripped off her dirty clothes and documented the damage. She wasn’t a vain person, but she didn’t want to attract anyone, even before. She wanted not to be stared at. Wanted to blend in. Be invisible.
Careful fingers prodded the skin, puckered and angry and raw, blistering from brow to chin. Her nose had a sickle-shaped arch splitting it right under her eyes. She was halved by the face she knew and the new face. Halved every time Cassian’s eyes slid over her, her image slick and untouchable.
She was invisible to him, which was probably for the best. She took low-risk assignments, hazing assignments, boring ones. She was partnered with strangers and treated them as such. There was no big production, no trusted partner in a shoot-out where risks would pay off. It was incredibly boring. Mon Mothma looked at her with a resigned kind of frustration, as though wasting a valuable asset. Jyn wanted to ask her about her expression, because it was through no desire of her own she was all but grounded on base.
The answer was obvious.
She was rarely brought into the war room. It was where she’d seen him again, the first time after realizing she’d survived.
She had assumed he was still in the medbay. She was lightheaded to be seeing him again. There was a moment, flickering and alive, where she realized that she wanted to hold him again. She wanted her life to be a series of moments connecting the span between when she was holding him again.
She’d never felt that way before. It was so massive, a hole through the entire planet she danced on the edge of.
She approached him, a tentative smile on her face. She tried to catch his eye from the other side of one of the blue illuminated maps, blinking at him behind glass. She was right on the other side, a hand reaching out to touch the divide between them.
He didn’t look at her. At most his eyes fell lazily on her hand.
“Clearly we should reprimand you for your rogue mission,” Draven cleared his throat, “But the results were a success. All that loss has at least been for something.”
Cassian looked like the life had left his body. All those soldiers. His friends, Jyn realized. How could that be worth it.
Mon Mothma cut in; “So I’ll direct the question to you first, Captain, would you like to continue onward with the team you’ve assembled?”
This had to be the plan. They worked so well together. Not just her and him, but Bodhi and Chirrut and Baze. Even K2. Her heart fluttered, because the idea was not just exciting, but almost cozy. For someone who had not had a family in a long time, the idea of a dependable group was incredibly attractive to her.
Cassian answered, the only words he would utter the entire meeting:
“No, I don’t think that’s best.”
She stared at him the whole meeting, not once did his eyes lift from his superior officers. Jyn agreed to the tentative plan to keep her around, he made no indication that it pleased him. She was dry-mouthed and numb, nodding along because she hadn’t felt that stunned in a long time. Cassian wouldn’t even look at her. He was grim and stoic, the man he was when she met him. Hadn’t changed a bit. All the loyalty he had proven to her was cast at his feet, stepped on by his hard boots.
When Jyn first saw the burns, she was flippant. She survived. That was enough. She was sure she could even joke about it someday. Tested a few with Bodhi, who kept a loyal vigil at her bedside. He smiled weakly, more for her benefit than his. She already swore to get better at it. Baze laughed. Chirrut as well. They all seemed to know this was how she’d handle this. It was funny. They almost died, was she really going to get upset about half of a face? It would be fine. She still had an eye that worked. She still had a pulse. That was more than she could have asked for.
She still had Cassian. She assumed he was in bad shape because he never came to her in the medbay. Never checked her progress, sat beside her, tried to cheer her up from the obvious impairment that would always be there. She had worried herself thin over his recovery.
“He’s fine,” Bodhi would tell her with thin lips, and the rest of Rogue One exchanged conspiratorial glances. She thought he was dying. That they were keeping that from her. It made her sick with worry, worry she couldn’t admit, because what if she pronounced her feelings to a man who was a corpse?
Seeing him in person, in a briefing, not in private, stunned her. Made her agree to things she should have thought through. If he hadn’t come to her, why would she even stay.
If he couldn’t look at her...
She decided it was her face.
Jyn wore a black patch over the blind eye. Bodhi told her it made her look like a mighty foe, as slinky and hard to catch as Jyn Erso ever was. Baze said it suited her. Chirrut joked that he couldn’t tell the difference, had she done something with her hair? And they all laughed. She was learning to joke, Chirrut had years of practice.
She sort of liked it, how the patch blended into her messy dark hair, cutting diagonal lines across her face, made her look angular, crooked, bad.
Cassian looked at her. Across the mess hall.
She paused, waiting. Maybe it was less repulsive when it was covered. She couldn’t do much about the rest of her face, but this was a start. Maybe something he could meet her halfway on.
His jaw tightened. He looked, somehow it seemed impossible until it happened before her eyes, even angrier.
They were drunk. Separately, they became so. It made their edges runny and loose, so across the bar, they bled into each other. She could feel it, him radiating out, reaching for her, even slouched in his seat. Cautious eyes met hers. He managed a small smile.
Jyn wasn’t sure what to do with that. He’d been adamant on returning to his old life, the way he knew how to live, and did not have room for bent rules and her shirked sense of duty. She figured if he had anything to say, he’d come to her. He didn’t come.
She finished her drink first. She let her eyes wander. Someone at the bar was looking at her. Babyfaced and arrogant. The war hadn’t made him thin yet. She wanted to bite into his flesh. Cassian was lean, hungry looking. She didn’t have what he needed to feed him. She understood his needs, as well as he managed to fail to see hers. She wondered when thinking about him would stop being the constantly running parallel to all of her thoughts, lying underneath, creating the footing for her perspective.
A triangle formed; a standoff. Cassian glaring at him, looking back at her. Imploring her to drop her gaze from the third party. She flickered her gaze between them ambivalently.
She wondered what he would give her for choosing him. She did it anyway.
She stood from the bar, taking a few steps towards the exit just to see what Cassian would do.
He approached. He looked at her. Right at her. They both swayed on their feet. They could each blame the alcohol. She hadn’t seen her eyes reflected in his since that beach on Scarif. They hadn’t been this close since then. He stood so close she could feel him breathe, like on the elevator. His eyes on hers, just like then. The resignation she saw there. How she just wished he would lower his lips to hers. Just like then.
She remembered his hand bunched in the back of her shirt, trying to bring them closer for their last moments.
He took her chin in his hand. Stared at her face. She smelled the liquor on him. He was breathing heavily out of his nose, face molded into something dimly resembling stoicism.
She could feel the anger coil around his bones. She wanted to dissolve into nothing as he closely examined her face.
She still wanted him. She resumed to be the person that died with him.
She realized how long it had been since she’d been touched the second his hand withdrew.
He let her go, as if waking up, and slipped out the door like a shadow.
Jyn didn’t see him flex his hand like the nerves were singing. Jyn wasn’t there when he shut himself back in his quarters, placed his brow against the closed door, and struggled to breathe.
His dreams were all about that beach on Scarif, and one body tucking around the other, and if he had just rested his chin on her other shoulder when she held him. It all would have been different.
Bodhi found her hidden behind some of the crates of the cargo bay. Well, he had been directed to her. Some kind-hearted nurse found her there and tastefully let her be, instead asking around about who was particularly close to Jyn Erso, without giving specifics. Until her inquiries reached Bodhi, who went to find Jyn immediately.
What he saw he wasn’t even sure was her; Jyn, very drunk and bleary-eyed, with her face buried in her knees.
She was used to the leaving. To being left. She was used to it she was used to it she was used to it.
This was nothing new. She had worn the ache to dull edges with years of practice. Why was it so sharp now?
Her pilot took a knee by her side, no questions asked. She was bitter that the problems were so obvious he didn’t even have to.
“Everything was already taken from me,” she said, very quietly. She sounded like a child. When Bodhi looked at her, he saw her as Galen Erso described her, a child tangled in a mess she had to fix, even though she had no power in creating it. “I know it’s so small, compared to everything else, but why did this have to happen?”
Bodhi had her hands in his, rubbing soothing circles with his thumbs.
“Jyn,” he asked very gravely, “Did someone say something?”
She shook her head, wincing because there was a loaded measure to his tone which meant people were talking about it.
“It’s how they look at me. With pity. Or how they don’t even look at me. Avoid me. Like it’s contagious.”
“Jyn, we’re all at war, everyone understands. It makes you look brave.”
“Whenever I see it, I see them. What I lost. I have to wear that on my face. I hate what it’s done to me.”
There was a footstep, too close to even signal to hide because it was right there. Jyn couldn’t do anything about the tears on her face.
“Perhaps you should escort Agent Erso to her bunk for some rest, Sergeant Rook.”
Jyn’s voice was lost.
He’d heard her. And that was all he had to say.
Anger invaded pain, like flood storms were opening up inside her.
Bodhi stood quickly, drawing to the edge of the crate that kept Cassian hidden from them.
“It’s a little too late for the concern, Captain.”
If she saw him, it would be so much worse. Jyn slipped backwards, silently, like the child hiding at the end of the tunnel. There were some things that would never leave her.
She could hear them argue, broken up by the faintest noise of them noticing she was gone. By then she was out of the bay, soundlessly moving back to her room.
She didn’t see Cassian push past Bodhi to look for her. She didn’t know that when the same nurse who fetched Bodhi arrived at his door an hour after they parted ways, he’d sprinted there to find her.
“There’s something wrong with Agent Erso, she’s in the cargo bay. I’d heard you were with her on the Scarif Mission, when she got injured. Maybe you should go check on her?”
Jyn didn’t know he hadn’t asked a single question before running off to find her.
She didn’t know after she was gone, he went back to his quarters and the dreams were even worse.
She wasn’t there.
Someone did say something, weeks later. In the training room. Whispered intently in her ear as she was pinned to the mat. Cassian was leading her training session, wouldn’t look at her. Commented on poor footing and her obvious distraction in a detached tone. With other recruits, he would round closer, guide them side by side. Usually touched arms, spines, or legs to place and support. He was a good teacher, offering proper guidance.
He never went near her. She felt loathing simmer through him every time she was near.
She didn’t care. She didn’t have to try. Her attitude and bitterness rotted inside her and her expression was perpetually sour. Cassian almost seemed sensible to be unable to look.
She was terrible the days he was leading sessions. She learned a lot, infuriatingly, but practicing it was a nightmare. Didn’t he already find enough things that were wrong with her?
Face-first in the mat, burning with shame, the voice of a too-young-for-war boy echoed in her ear, “I heard you were pretty before.”
Jyn went limp, like her neck had been snapped. It felt like that. She couldn’t move, couldn’t fight the hold anymore. It was agony, and there was no physical pain to distract from how every sense of strength vacated her body in that moment.
“Get off of her.”
She heard boots across the mat, sprinting towards her. Everyone had been paired off and Cassian made the usual rounds. His back had been turned. There was no way of knowing about her internal surrender. He only saw her body drop.
The body above hers seemed to tear away with a rough jerk. She saw the boy land, shell-shocked, next to her, Cassian’s hand landed on her lower back, then the back of her head. Smoothing the hair matted there, like it was the only place she could feel.
“Did you hurt her?”
She saw that stupid little boy scoot away, distancing himself from what could have been a corpse. Cassian’s hands ran over her, checking for damage. She was too numb to even flinch.
“It was a joke, it was just a joke.”
“What did you do?”
Jyn closed her eyes. He thought her neck was broken. He wasn’t trying to move her because he thought she was injured. He thought some dumb recruit had wasted a perfectly good soldier.
He was angry because she was wasted of her final purpose to him.
She pushed up off the mat, shaking out her hands when she settled back on her knees. Cassian’s body lost its tension for only a second before wiring back up again. He grabbed her wrist. His eyes told her she needed to explain herself. She stood up, he followed. Didn’t let go.
She extracted her wrist, covering her eyes with her hair. She rubbed her shoulder under the line of her shirt, which had been twisted severely under Lisbon’s pin. She didn’t even know that when it was happening.
“It was nothing, Captain. I left my sense of humor in my room, apparently. Lisbon, let’s just keep going.”
The boy, Lisbon, stared up at her. He was so young. This was so much for everyone. It was war. She couldn’t even fault him trying to twist a knife. The rebellion had made sadists of much better men.
“What did he say to you?”
She could feel his anger, but she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. It’s alright,” she added, not to Cassian though. It was to the petrified child in front of her. Instead she reached out a hand to Lisbon, still cowed on the mat. He really did look terrified.
“I’m vainer than I realized,” she said with a weak smile, clapping him on the arm when he pulled himself up with her help. Lisbon’s eyes stayed on the mat. Great, now no one could look at her.
She would prove she would be okay. This was her one slip up, and it could never happen again.
She tried to glance confidently at Cassian, to prove it. His face was a ruptured mask, unleashed rage like an oil spill filling the room.
He figured it out. It didn’t take a genius. Her face. The wedge between them.
What she couldn’t understand is why he was so angry about it.
“Since when hasn’t there been some dirty talk between sparring partners?” she joked, but it was hollow. The slip in meanings made Cassian’s nostrils flare. Lisbon flushed.
The captain straightened his shoulders. His back was ramrod straight. He was being very professional about an incredibly unprofessional lapse in judgement.
“I want to know what he said.”
A dismissive hand waved between them. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need repeating,” she felt Cassian’s breath hiss out of his lungs, like he was deflating. It was soundless, but she felt it. “You’re right, I get too distracted by unimportant details,” she hedged, trying to get Cassian to step back.
“I think you should sit this session out, Jyn.”
“I want to stay,” her voice came out sharp and severe, “I want to work.”
“Jyn, I would feel best about this whole situation if you sat this one out. I’ll reassign partners next session.”
“Well this isn’t about how you feel.”
The implications of this statement were not lost on a single person in the room, no matter how oblivious. Cassian’s expression was stricken, probably for being associated with the likes of her and her emotions.
Cassian looked at her, and it didn’t fix a thing. She thought she would live again with those eyes on her. But they were on her with the tight, tense anger of the man who barely knew her.
“You’re dismissed, Agent.”
“Don’t punish me for this. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. I’m learning. It’s a violation of power to send me away for making a mistake.”
“I shouldn’t have said it,” Lisbon blurted out, “I’ll go.”
“You are staying right here,” Cassian snapped at him. His hand curled around Jyn’s elbow. He half-dragged her towards the door.
“I’m handling it,” he mumbled. He didn’t sound confident in that statement at all. Jyn wrenched herself free, manipulating the pull of his body to keep walking away when he tried to keep her close. He stumbled back. Her feet moved on without him.
“That’s reassuring,” she spat back at him.
She knew he was going to punish her for letting some words get to her. She knew he was angry, and her face was the problem, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Jyn thought she knew a lot of things. She didn’t know Cassian kept Lisbon in the training gym after everyone else left and made him run laps until he vomited. She didn’t know Cassian asked him what he had said to her.
Between retching, Lisbon admitted the words that made Jyn drop like dead weight.
Once the recruit’s stomach emptied, Cassian put a hand on his shoulder, helping him stand upright. His fist drove into Lisbon’s gut. He left him there to cough and gasp with nothing more than an order to clean up his own mess, and to stay far away from Jyn Erso.
Jyn was assigned a new schedule of practice times, where she would see neither Lisbon or Cassian. She knew for whose benefit that really was.
She declined being apart of daily training, testing out with a separate instructor. She hadn’t officially recruited, so there wasn’t much they could make her do. Mon Mothma took the request with thin lips, withholding a loaded opinion. Jyn didn’t feel like asking what was on her mind. She never was the type for that.
Jyn had taken to wearing her headscarf as a daily practice. With that and the patch over her eye, the scars were more mysterious. It made it easier for others to be around her. It made her life easier to feel like she was being covered.
It was that or waste away in her room like everyone expected. So Cassian didn’t want her now that she was disfigured. Maybe he’d never even wanted her in the first place, if this was who he was.
Still, rage coiled through her at her reassignment. Bodhi had always insisted to her that anyone who cared about the disfigurements wasn’t worth it. She loved him for his tolerance and his calm, but she’d had enough. She was tired of not standing up for herself.
The day she found out about her new practice schedule, she chased down Cassian. She followed him halfway across base to an empty hallway. He was so focused on avoiding her he didn’t notice she was specifically following him.
The minute they were alone enough to buy her some time, she shoved him up against the wall.
He flinched, but made no move to defend himself. She respected him less for not fighting. He was a better soldier than that.
Her forearm banded across his throat.
“Why,” she grit out, “did you think you needed to interfere?”
He swallowed, his adam’s apple shifting under her skin. He kept staring at the scarf draped around her face.
“Because I didn’t want to put you in that position again.”
She had a look that said she was close to spitting in his face. “Such a martyr. Do you think he’s the first, or last, person to say something about how I look? That Imperial allies are going to take the high road when they see me? People on the streets who have no consequences throwing comments at a tiny thing like me? Do you think this is something I can be shielded from? That I even need to be?”
He stuttered for the right thing to say. “I-I...” He shut his mouth, lifting a defiant jaw. “I was trying to do my job. And clearly, you aren’t as fine with it as you say, if an idiot like Lisbon can make you drop like that.”
She gritted her teeth in a snarl she hadn’t had to use in a long time.
“I know how you feel about my face, it’s beginning to rub off on me when you’re around. Good thing you keep yourself scarce.”
He looked stricken. “You shrink from me every time you see me.”
“You always look so angry at me, I’m waiting for you to bite.”
He closed his eyes. She wished she could stop always knowing what he was trying, or pointedly not trying, to see when it came to her.
“I deserve it. If I could go back Jyn, I would, I should have protected you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You shielded me. If you hadn’t, it would have been me. It should have been.”
She blanched at him, her one uncovered eye wild with a crazed shock. If she thought she was angry at him before, she was ready to murder him the minute he started explaining himself.
“I was as good as dead anyway,” she sputtered, “Do you think I’m going to hold you to that?”
“That’s not the point, I should have had hope. I could have shielded you.”
He looked like he was talking to a ghost. Like she wasn’t even there. Like she died on that beach. He was already defeated. He already resigned himself to losing her.
“If you’re the one with regrets, why are you punishing me?”
He shook his head, tilting his face down as close as possible to hers.
“I’m not going to be selfish with you anymore, Jyn. You deserve better.”
“Selfish? That’s all you’ve got? That’s all you’ve done wrong?”
“I was trying…”
To fix it. To make it better. To deprive himself of the guilt. To pretend it never happened.
“The only thing you did was leave,” she spat at him.
“I didn’t want to leave you, I just-”
He grabbed her face in his hands, his breath coming out as a shudder. Maybe a sob. His brow pressed tenderly to hers. They were so close. He was a blur before her. Maybe that’s why he chose to hold her like this.
“Jyn,” he sounded so mournful, “I ruined your life.”
He thought she was ruined. It was like the second blast of the explosion.
She shoved him back, and she was even angrier that he had the nerve to look shocked and hurt to be pushed away.
“I never felt that way until you treated me like I was nothing.”
He jolted forward, she pushed him back again.
“That’s not what I-”
Another rough shove.
“You clearly need to work on forgiving yourself.”
“I know it’s too much to ask for your forgiveness, Jyn, but I’m so sorry I couldn’t-”
“You don’t need my forgiveness for that. You have it. You never had a grudge from me to begin with. But how you have acted these past few months…”
She looked ready to hit him. He looked like he wanted her to.
“You don’t deserve my time. You aren’t the person I thought you were anymore. Maybe if you forgive yourself, and get over whatever’s holding you back, he’ll come back. Maybe he never existed. I don’t care. Don’t make it my problem.”
She left, and for once, did not feel so small.
She didn’t see him in the hallway, standing against the wall for a long time after she left. She never saw how he didn't speak to anyone he sat next to at meals, watching her laugh with Bodhi. She didn't know he spent every day wishing he could ease her pain into himself, causing each of them twice as much in the process.
He vowed when he started breathing normally, he would resume his day. It took longer than expected.