Feels like I’m on the edge right now
I wish that I could say I’m proud
I’m sorry that I let you down
Let you down
All these voices in my head get loud
I wish that I could shut them out
I’m sorry that I let you down
Let you down
- Let You Down, by NF
Jyn snaps Tallent’s right humerus with a sharp upward blow, and the little man bellows in pain and rage as she flips him neatly over her shoulder and to the dirt. Tallent is a poor fighter, raised soft in some city, and he thrashes wildly with no real grace or chance at catching Jyn in retaliation. But Saw has taught her to respect all threats, and quick as a thought his daughter slips away from the man’s reach and stands at the ready a few paces back, her eyes wary and her hands poised. The flickering lights of the old freighter outline her pale, sharp features into strange, wild shapes; the light gleams off her wide eyes and the thin sliver of teeth her snarl reveals.
(The rabid tannor-beast looked at him with blank, unseeing eyes, and Steela shot it through the heart without hesitating, and afterwards wrapped her chubby hands around his own and said, no tears, little brother, when a thing has gone wild like that, it is kinder to end the suffering. You see? We have saved it.)
She is a little wild, his Jyn. Wild and dangerous, but not nearly as undisciplined or savage as she seems. Magva called her Saw’s feral puppy once, and Saw had allowed Jyn to knock the older, stronger woman to the dirt to show that she would not be disrespected. She had been…twelve, at the time, he thinks. But the demonstration had been only that, a proper way to show both Magva and the listening soldiers that Saw’s child was no victim and no mindless beast. Jyn had knocked her into the dirt like a silent bolt fired from Saw’s side arm, but then she had pulled the woman back up and handed her back the knife she had stolen from Magva’s pocket in the few moments they had been in contact.
(Magva had laughed, and thereafter called her Veldheer. On Ghormand, the woman had said afterwards to Saw, with the vicious little smile she always wore when speaking of her slaughtered home, they would have named you a battle-king of old, and your little shadow would be veldheer, your warlord. Incidentally, she had added with no small relish, it also means ‘executioner.’)
(Saw does not need the ancient language of a massacred people to understand what Jyn is to him, but he accepts it as a sign of respect, all the same.)
Tallent has not yet learned such respect. Even now, with his arm dangling at an awkward angle and pain writ in all his features – and Jyn not even breathing hard, not a single hair on her head mussed – he stumbles towards her with anger in his eyes and vengeance in his heart. Saw looks upon him and sees his future: Reece Tallent, who rages at a galaxy that he believes owes him something, he will push and push and push at anyone and anything until he gets what he wants, upon which moment he will realize that he wants more. So he will push again, until at last he pushes someone stronger and angrier than he, and they crush him.
“Kriffing little bitch,” Tallent hisses, lurching closer to Jyn’s still, wary figure in the poor light. His anger clouds his eyes so thickly that he does not even fumble for his blaster, simply raises his unbroken arm as if to strike Jyn across the face with the back of his hand. She does not shift, but her eyes flick down to his ribcage and then his elbow, marking the weak spots, marking her next targets.
If Saw allows this to continue, Tallent will be crushed before Saw ever gets any use from the newest member of his cadre. All the effort of recruiting the man will be a resource sink, and Saw will be one soldier less on this mission to Tamsye Prime.
(People are not tools, Mothma had dared to admonish him once, we cannot value a soldier for what tasks can be wrung from him before he falls. Saw had not bothered to correct her misguided views – she confused soldiers for tools, and the galactic government as a project in need of repair. But soldiers were weapons, not tools, and the Empire was not some broken house or wounded beast to be fixed, if only she could find the right tools. Saw had done his best to explain this to her, to them all, but in the end, he had simply taken his armory and gone forth to kill what Mothma’s ilk would rather try and tame.)
(For the Empire was in truth the Republic grown wild and unseeing, was it not? It is kinder to end the suffering.)
“Enough,” he orders, and clumps between the limping fool and his death. The fool immediately opens his mouth to protest, but Saw’s old scars are beginning to pain him, and his limited patience is at an end. “Codo, ETA,” he snaps before Tallent can begin his whining tirade.
“Planet-fall in two hours, ten minutes,” the young soldier drawls, his tone taking on a satisfied edge that is surely for Jyn’s benefit. Codo knows that Tallent’s resentment of Jyn is mutual, and this display of her superior prowess is a good chance for Codo to back the winning side, for Jyn is more likely to survive, more likely to lead someday in this neverending war. There is more to it, of course, than mere inter-unit politics. Codo has been eyeing Jyn with greater appreciation these days, his admiration for her skill and leadership tinted now with a dawning awareness of her budding breasts and fading childhood softness. Jyn, of course, handles it with the stern indifference Saw expects of his best lieutenant. If Codo oversteps, he will learn respect as surely as Tallent is failing to learn it now.
Tallent is glaring around Saw’s armored sides – his blaster is still holstered, his boot-knife on the side of the broken arm and thus difficult to retrieve, and his hand-to-hand is abysmal, so for all his glower, he is no threat. Jyn could kill him in a minute. Of course, she would not; she is young yet and still has a faith in people, a shining hope that if she shows them her worth, they will respect and honor her.
Saw looks down at Tallent, and has no such hope. I see your future, he thinks, and knows that if the man tries to press the issue of Jyn’s authority on this upcoming mission, he will not survive even the minute Jyn would have given him. Saw’s hands are older now, but strong enough yet to snap a neck.
“Two hours,” Saw repeats, and waits to see if he must kill his recruit.
“More than enough time to get that arm set,” Magva calls from somewhere near the cockpit of the freighter, her voice ringing out over the heads of a dozen warriors, who watch as quietly and thoughtfully as Jyn herself.
Tallent sneers, turns, and walks toward the little medical bay in the back of the freighter. Saw grants him the chance to live a little longer.
“I wouldn’t have broken any more bones,” Jyn says quietly from behind him. “Not right before a mission.”
Saw looks down at his side where she has appeared like a silent wraith, her hair braided tightly to her skull, her hand resting lightly on her blaster as she watches Tallent’s back retreating. Her face is set in a wary scowl, her shoulders tight – she is angry with him, his Jyn, his wraith-child, angry that he interfered in her battle, angry in her belief that he has undercut her in front of the soldiers. He recalls suddenly that she is young yet, for all her battle experience and clever tactics on the field, and sensitive in her own adolescent way. She believes that he interfered because he does not trust her self control.
(Idryssa gave her a doll when she was nine years old, and Jyn had brought it to Saw with a bewildered expression on her small, round face. Her hands clutched the flimsy limbs of the old toy, but there was a desperation in her wide eyes that made his fingers flex on the faded flag of Onderon around his shoulders – the flag that once bore his sister’s casket to her early grave, the flag that he bore now as a reminder of the high cost of war, the high cost of putting down a rabid animal, the high cost of kindness – We carry only what we need, he had said at last, and they had spent an hour practicing one-handed blaster shots, with the doll as the target of opportunity. When they left that place, they left a pile of burned rags and broken glass doll eyes behind, and neither ever looked back.)
“We have no use for such displays,” he tells Jyn firmly. “If he survives today, he will learn respect on the field. If he dies on Tamsye Prime, then the lesson of this fight is wasted.”
“And we’d have to deal with the corpse,” her nose wrinkles as she sweeps a glance around the packed freighter, displaying a little more of her youth in her obvious disgust. He has never known her to be squeamish, but corpses are, he agrees, unpleasant companions in tight quarters such as these.
They lapse into silence; around them, others are murmuring as they talk through their part of the oncoming battle plan, or give one another reassurances that they will surely escape the shadow of death that hovers over them every time they draw weapons against the Empire. Saw does not insult Jyn by assuming that she needs to do either. They stand and watch their cadre prep blasters and blades, tuck little heirlooms and good luck charms into clothing, whisper prayers or quiet confidences, and they do none of these things. Jyn has been prepped for this mission since they stepped onto the freighter, and Saw…
It has been a long time since he was anything other than ready for the end.
(I’m sorry, the Togruta sobbed into her hands, I’m sorry, she fell, I tried but I couldn’t - it doesn’t bring her back but I am so, so sorry. To this day, Saw can still hear the exact timbre of the girl’s voice as it ricochets inside his skull with the whistle of the wind around a falling body. So, so sorry.)
(To this day, he is still not certain if he said it aloud, or merely thought it – it could just as easily have been me. It should have been.)
(Saw is still not sure of the truth of that. But he is trying to be kind, as Steela was. He will end the suffering.)
He feels it in his bones, suddenly, the long years of standing with violence at the tips of his fingers and his doom breathing down his neck. The weight of the blood, all of it, his own, his cadre’s, his enemies’ (his family’s), every drop taken or sacrificed, every thin trickle or thick gush running through his fingers or slipping into his eyes or mouth – the weight crushes down on his shoulders and spine, a great wave forcing him to bend. It compresses his lungs and forces all the air out.
He takes a deep breath, slow and steady and stubborn (it is not enough, it is never enough, he cannot force enough air into this chest anymore; the medical droid recommends a breathing apparatus, and on days like this he begins to consider it).
“Saw?” Jyn’s voice is pitched low, under the susurrus of the cadre’s battle prep, and her eyes are still straight ahead, watching the door of the medical bay. But he can hear the shadow of worry in her tone, the way it twists her voice into something fierce but still so…so young.
(We must be kind, little brother.)
“He’s resentful,” Jyn continues before he can summon the strength to speak around the crushing of his lungs. “It might make him dangerous on the field.” Saw’s scowl deepens, because she is not wrong in this. A man who is still unproven, new to the cadre and clearly still wrapped around his own interests, his own pride…such a man is more a liability to his own side than he is an asset. Saw would not have brought him along on this op at all, were he in better straits and under less pressure to act before this opportunity passes.
Jyn jerks her chin towards the medical bay, and then, in an even quieter voice, tentative as she has not been since she was nine years old and holding an old rag doll in her hands, she asks, “Should I…take care of it?”
And Saw considers it.
He is not so hard up for soldiers that he must resort to an angry fool, and on the field, a quiet knife or a stray blaster shot can end a world of troubles before they begin.
(We carry only what we need.)
Jyn does not shift her weight, or turn her eyes from the medical bay door, but somehow Saw is made aware of how small she seems next to him, her head barely at his shoulder, her old fatigues tucked in carefully but not quite well enough to hide how they hang off her slight frame. She has long ago forsaken those childish pigtails, but she has also refused to cut off her hair entirely, as would be most practical.
(On Aria Prime, my mothers used to braid it into these elaborate patterns, Lyra laughed as she poked at the wedding flowers he had brought for her, tucking them into her escaping locks. I can never hope to replicate them on myself, but someday, should I ever have a child… Afterwards, Saw had remembered only that she glowed that day, despite the simplicity of her clothing and the haphazard braiding of her long, dark hair. She had smiled and worn flowers and married a man that Saw had little use for, but the Lion of Onderon had at least understood then what the shining in her eyes had meant. It is harder to remember, now, what that had looked like.)
Jyn wears her hair in a long, tight braid, simple and functional, and Saw does not tell her to cut it.
(He should. It is a liability, easy to grab, easy to light afire, a vulnerability. Foolish. Sentimental.)
“No,” he says at last. “Leave him to the battle. Leave him to his own fate.”
Jyn’s shoulders relax almost imperceptibly, and the scowl softens on her face in a way only visible to someone who knows where to look. She is pleased not to be his veldheer today, pleased that he has taken this ugly responsibility from her.
Next time she asks, he knows with sudden clarity, he will not hesitate. He will not shield her. He cannot afford it. He needs a weapon, the Empire has gone rabid and he must be kind.
The weight of the blood crushes his lungs again, and he knows that if he asks it of her, Jyn will step willingly under that weight alongside him. Already she inches down that path, her sharp, boney shoulder brushing his armored one. Already she watches the medical bay door with her hand on her blaster and whispers the question of a warlord, of an executioner.
(If ever I had a child, Lyra smiles at him with cautious hope in her eyes and flowers in her braided hair.)
(A soldier is more than the tasks we can ring from him, Mothma shakes her head gravely with disappointment on her austere face.)
(I used to have dolls, Jyn whispers with her hands tight around the toy that Idryssa should never have given her.)
(We must be kind, little brother, Steela holds his hands and presses her forehead to his until the tears dry up and he begins to understand.)
Saw Gerrera looks down at his best lieutenant, his warlord, his child, and knows that he has almost no kindness left. There is a great cavity where once it might have dwelled inside him, and the relentless pressure of the blood is caving in even that.
Sensing the weight of his gaze, she turns and looks up at him, and in the dim light, he can see the hard lines already showing through the soft curves of her lingering youth. Lines around her eyes, faint but definite, pale scars against pale skin peeking out from the cuffs and neckline of her old, baggy clothes – the galaxy has not been kind to Jyn. Saw has been as kind as he was ever able.
For her sake, he thinks, he will dig deep, and give her what little kindness he can yet scrape before the Empire consumes the rest.
“Final checks,” he orders her, his voice soundings strange and rough in his own ears. She does not seem to hear it, though, and goes without comment to run through procedural checks with the landing team. Soon, they will be on Tamsye Prime. It is not so far from Yavin IV, not for someone as clever and adaptable as Jyn.
“The gek is out,” Magva grunts from a few steps away, where she is carefully smearing dark grease paint around her eyes, her favorite war paint. She jerks her head towards the medical bay, where Tallent reemerges with a bonesetter holding steady his arm and a fuming scowl warping his face. Magva rubs her warpaint close to her eyelid and gives Saw one of her harsh, toothy smiles, the one that means she is only seconds from brutal violence. She will never admit that she likes the little veldheer, not in so many words, and Jyn is still young enough not to understand Magva’s brand of painful loyalty. “Should I…take care of it?” Magva chuckles, eyeing Saw through her ink-stained fingers, but there is a menace under the joking tone that tells him she does not offer in jest.
“No,” he says again, and turns toward the cockpit. “Leave him to his fate.” The words push down on him this time, the phantom weight of yet more blood to be shed.
“She won’t thank you,” Magva calls after him, perceptive even as she descends into her customary battle madness. “Whatever you’re planning, she won’t thank you for it.” But her caustic voice is already fading under the creak of his bones, grinding down under the weight of the blood.
Saw takes another labored breath and briefly considers sending a message to Mothma, that the woman might rightly know what a gift she has received when Jyn comes to her door. A list of Jyn’s accomplishments, a holovid of her training regime, perhaps, or simply a few pointed words on the value of loyalty.
Ultimately, he decides against it. Mothma is soft and disconnected from the reality of the war, but she is not blind. And Jyn will be better off without Saw’s meddling.
Jyn will be better off.
Saw settles his torn cape and waits for the freighter to reach Tamsye Prime, waits for the battle that will surely come, waits for the moment that he will have to reach inside himself and tear out the last of his kindness, before he drags Lyra’s child further down into the blood. It is a sacrifice for more than personal reasons – she is a beautiful weapon, forged in fire hotter than the Alliance dares to strike – but he can do this. He can give that up. He has weapons enough, for the task he must yet do.
(No tears, little brother. We must be kind.)
Saw has never truly been kind, but for her, he will try.
Saw closes his eyes, and waits.