That evening, sitting on the fireside log with a courteous arms-length space between them, she says to him “I saw the enemy ships on the river again. Heading back out to sea. They had captives on board.”
Cassian’s dark eyes close for a moment. She imagines him shutting out the fire, and the image, the memory. Her own memories were bitter and near to the surface today. The crying of the prisoners had echoed in the wind over the saltmarsh, and the sound called to her, called her back...
The smoke rising from a hill farm; and her father fell, and her mother cried out, and was struck, was taken, bound in chains of iron. Refusing even to look at her and Saw on the hillside, lest she give them away. The officer snarled. There is a child. Find it! But the soldiers had not been able to see through the enchantment around them. They’d swerved round Saw’s mute bulk and his rage, like skiffs rounding a rock in the sea. They’d seen nothing as they climbed on up the slope.
Had passed within a few feet, tramping boots and searching eyes, while she hid like a leveret in the wet grass.
How she had cried and begged, first in a whisper and then silently in her mind. Don’t go, Mama, stay here. But her mother got up to go after Papa. Let me go with you!
And Lyra said You must stay with Saw, he’ll take you away from here and protect you.
I won’t leave you - I’ll come back for you! Let me stay with you, Mama!
Trust the Force.
I can protect you!
The thoughts had run on, helpless voices screaming in her mind. Don’t go, let me go with you. Both pleas equally useless. Her mother had said quietly You will be stronger than me, one day. You cannot be found. I will do anything to save you from them. And she had put her necklace over Jyn’s head to bind her and lay its glamor over her, and risen up from the meadow, and left her.
A smell of burning had come off those ships today, even from so far off. It’s strange how she can always tell the difference between the wholesome smoke of a hearth and the smoke of murder and pillage. The smell of burning had come from the farm, cutting right through the shield of magic round her; and Saw had marched unseen, down through the soldiers, and swept her up, and carried her to hide in the cave until nightfall.
We’ll stay here till they’re gone, my child, and then we must leave. We have a long journey ahead of us.
A long journey and a dark one, to become his apprentice and learn things no child should know.
She should have fought through the charm, should have run from him, have chased after Lyra and defended her. Should have drawn on the raw power she knew already was in her, the power that Saw had come to take, that he would train so eagerly. She should have blasted every one of them, have burned them like the burning farmhouse. She should have fought. Should have, should have, and she did nothing and they killed her father, took her mother, she should have saved them…
One day, she will have to give up this hiding place, face the enemy her parents protected her from, and Saw sought to use her against. Become the thing they created her to be.
Beside her, Cassian stirs and looks her way. She wonders if his human senses can smell her shame and loss, as she feels his, in the Force. He’s still thinking of her words, of the ships heading out to sea, their cargo of prisoners. She can tell.
He says “I have to go back. One day. I have to try.”
Her heart jumps as though it’s trying to kick her in the ribs. “Go back?” He cannot know how he echoes her thoughts. She tries to speak coolly, to sound unmoved. “To try what?”
“To stop them. My princess – I don’t know what became of her, whether she lived or died. It’s likely I never will know. But for her sake I must try to stop them. Save someone, at least. I have a duty.”
“No! –“ He’ll be killed. He’s insane to think of it – “No, Cassian, please don’t.”
“I tried to do right by my men. Put their lives ahead of my honour. But I swore an oath to the royal house. I made a promise, Jyn.”
“A promise no-one would hold you to, now. If you were free of the curse, and had an army, then, maybe; but you’re not and you don’t.” I made a promise too, but I was a child crying in terror and I didn’t know what I was saying. I cried I’ll come back for you! I can protect you! but the truth was I could do neither and I knew it. “You don’t even know if there’s anything left to go back for. Cassian, stay here with me.” She’d never thought of such a thing but the moment the words pass her lips it makes perfect sense, as right as the sun rising. She couldn’t protect her parents, nor save herself from becoming what they made her. But she can save him, if he’ll just stay here with her, in her safe haven.
He’s shaking his head. Jyn blushes and struggles on, fumbling for the right words to sway him. “Please. You’re safe here. One day I’ll break that damned curse. You’ll see.”
“I fear you will harm yourself with trying.”
She scoffs. “I’m tough. I know what I’m doing. You don’t need to shield me.” But all she can feel coming from him is kindness; he doesn’t mean to hurt her, only to protect her from hurt. Her hands clench in her lap till the knuckles ache. “Please don’t go. Don’t risk it.”
“What’s to risk? I’ll never be anything but a burden on you if I stay. I have no right to ask that of you when I already owe you a debt I can never repay. You’ve healed me, given me shelter –“
“I helped a lost fellow creature, what of it? You were starving, wounded. You’re no burden! Your enemy is mine too, how could I turn you away?”
“Jyn.” His hands shift awkwardly, as though starting to reach out and then stilling again. “You’ve said that before. That you know the Empire, that they are your enemy too. If that’s true, then you know why they must be fought.”
Fear shapes her voice, and grows into rage. “If it’s true?” Does he doubt her then? – does he think she doesn’t understand the way of the world? He’s going to leave and die, just like everyone. What does she care what he thinks? “Oh, I promise you it’s true. I know them well. They are monsters. Killers.” Does it matter that he thinks she might be spinning some tall tale? But she can’t just let him go – “Please, Cassian, don’t throw your life away on them.”
“I have to,” he says. “I don’t understand how you cannot see that.”
He’ll fall with a spear through him. Just like her father. He’ll leave and die.
If I could only trust myself to use the skills Saw taught me. To act without fear or shame, like Mama. Trust the brutal strength in me, use it instead of keeping it hidden.
She draws in breath, trying to still herself, to let go of this panic that surges in her belly. Trying to reason with him, her own words so clumsy and alien in her mouth that she can’t be sure if they are really meant to talk him round or just to mock him for what can only be a death-wish. “What good can you do? Just one man?”
“Not even that, really..” He’s looking down at his hands, and again she has the impression he’s stilling himself consciously. “One single, lone wolf. As I’ve always been.”
He might as well tell her to her face I will not stay with you. He won’t stay where she can protect him. She doesn’t want to plead (no-one ever listens when she pleads, no-one has ever listened so why would he?). Just the same she says angrily “Promise me you won’t go off and do something so insane. Not until the curse is broken. Please!”
Please, let me do this much at least for you, please hear what I can’t say, please…
Cassian is turning towards her, looking into her eyes. His gaze is dark and beautiful and the voices of despair inside her say I can save him! and He mustn’t leave me!
She sees his lips part. Feels the deep current of hope run clear in him again. She cannot believe he’ll do something so suicidal when – when they could – together they could -
But together they have sat talking too long into the night, and the moon is setting. She feels the energy change, as the Force shifts to the night-currents; and he changes with it. The beautiful eyes looking up at her are those of the wolf, and he cannot answer her, neither her anger nor her plea, nor her unspoken desperation.
Cassian has made it a custom always to remove his clothes before the change comes on him, to await it calmly, like a man. He knows his fate, doesn’t want to grace it with drama. But tonight in the unhappy heat of their discussion he had forgotten till it was too late. He stands whining at Jyn’s feet with the shirt and breeches stretched awkwardly about his fore and hind-quarters. He sees her face change, smells sorrow on her and kindness, as she sets to work, as she undoes buttons and laces and works the clothing carefully off his limbs.
Just a few nights ago he had woken in a startle of rapid breath, from a dream of being naked before Jyn, of her hands’ touch undoing him utterly, both of them neither afraid nor shy but pressing together and clinging.
The reality of being undressed by her is so different, it’s ironic. She’s very gentle. As she finishes, he pushes his head into her hand, pointing his snout to the ground in submission. Her touch is so strong and kind, and given so freely, he wants to stay near, if he can.
She stands up, and he butts against her knee, seeking not to be left. For a moment she caresses him, rubbing his ears, stroking the heavy ruff of fur around his neck.
“You’re getting a bit more flesh on you at last,” she says eventually. “That’s good.” He looks up at her and she’s smiling; but without joy. He can smell regret on her skin; for their argument, or something more? There’s a cold note to the scent, as of something very ancient, deep hidden. Yet all Jyn says is “Good,” again. “I’m glad.”
She turns away, folding his clothes roughly, and starts to clear the remains of their meal.
Cassian lies down on the floor. He did nothing all day yet suddenly he’s weary to the point of aching. He’s hurt her, and he doesn’t know how or why. He would not willingly have caused her pain. She’s done nothing but be kind. Without her help, he could be dead by now, poisoned by the festering of his blood, or starving as his lameness made it impossible to hunt.
He lies still, nose on paws, listening and regretting. He should never have told her he wants to go back. His guilt isn’t her problem, nor is his idiot dream of assuaging it.
It’s late. He watches Jyn and her movements are blurry and slow. The waning moon rode high in the sky through the afternoon and was already sinking when the sun set and allowed its light to show. He’s had his few brief hours of humanity for this night, and they’ve gone, with the moonlight. And it seems he’s not the only one tired.
Jyn begins to undress by candlelight.
He closes his eyes. Hears her yawn and then sigh. No sound of bedding being drawn up. A hush falls.
Cassian scents the air, as delicately and quietly as he can, trying to detect where she is, what mood is on her, in this silence.
“Cassian.” Her voice is cool, demanding his attention, reminding him she is as aware as he; he starts up, eyes wide open again.
She’s sitting on her bed, hunched and with her knees drawn up, a shawl pulled around her. “There’s another spell I could try,” she says. “A big one. I want to – start collecting the things I would need for it. Tomorrow. I want your word that you won’t run away till I’ve tried this one. Please, Cassian. Promise me.”
He can’t promise. He whines and closes his eyes once more.
Frustration comes off Jyn like a storm front, but she sighs again and says nothing. There’s a sharp huff as she blows out her candle; he hears her moving in her bed, rolling over, pulling the covers tight. The smell of burned wick and cinders on hot wax comes to him, and the scent of her breath, the musk of her body and her bedding. The sounds slowing and ceasing, then coming again with an irritable huff and whoomph of blankets; relaxing once more, and finally her breath is steady, in peace.
It’s a cold night and he moves closer to the fire and curls up in its glow. Warmth on one side, chill on the other. Doubt and grief in his mind. Sleep is a long time coming.