Jyn sinks to her knees in the near-dark; currents of magic shimmer around her, tumbling and scattering like breakers on a rock, shaking her bones and her soul. Her stomach turns at the thought of all that power running through her. Focussed, pure, killing strength. Not the flowing Force of All Things, the life pulse of connection, but a point like a sword. Made to pierce, made to kill.
It cut, it destroyed; and she was created to be a channel through which it could pour. The murdering fire of the Dark Side. Made to wield it for whoever won and trained her. I am a killer, I am a killer.
One hand still grips her mother’s necklace, as if the love she tries to remember can save her from the truth. She uncurls her fingers from the ridges of the crystal. Covers her face. She’s choking and for a moment she cannot comprehend why her breath feels so short and tight. Then a sob shudders out and she knows she’s crying.
The wolf noses at her again, whimpering, pushing his snout against her shoulder. Poor Cassian, how little good she’s done him in the end. Failed to save him, made him an exile once more.
All around her, familiar shapes and shadows in every corner of her home. Her home; and she has to leave it all behind. Everything she’s laboured to build, the ties of cautious friendship, the slow-grown trust of customers coming back for another herb, another charm; the house itself, her blankets and pans and clumsy pottery, her precious armful of books and the grimoire she’s copied so carefully. The garden, the well, the hen-house and its harmless cheerful occupants. Such mundane things to have laboured over, so much effort to make a home and a life, and now all those tender roots must be ripped out again.
There’ll never be a real home for me. What the Empire didn’t destroy years ago, I myself must burn.
Her face is wet, and this time she can’t pretend not to notice, the tears slide down her cheeks and pull down her mouth, a sob scratches in her throat and she catches her breath and whimpers like a small hurt animal.
The wolf is still there, and she buries her face in his pelt, wrenched by tears that punch their way out of her, so violent for a moment that the effort of voiding each sob feels like throwing up. She can’t draw breath fast enough between cries. Everything is ruined; ruined and lost. It’s only her hands clutching Cassian’s thick fur that stop her falling face down on the ground. She would sink right through into the earth if she could, be buried and cease altogether.
She’s lost everything except him, and she must send him away too, or risk harming him.
He’s shivering, his body quivers under her grip and the night’s pattern changes as ripples of moonlight flood down into the woods. She struggles to pull herself back into reason and calm, but it’s too late, the body beneath her hands transitions seamlessly from wolf to man. His back is lean and hard, smooth-skinned under her hands, and his arms come up and hold her tight.
“Shh, shh, Jyn, I’m here, shh…”
To be consoled and held as no-one has done for so long is a final shock, cold as a frost, and she bites back a howl at the memories it evokes. He doesn’t know; and he’s still here, when no-one else has ever stayed with her. She wants to push him away, save him and herself from the inevitable pain, and she wants to cling like a lost child coming home. She’s still crying so hard she feels sick with it. She hauls in a breath, chokes on it and forces out words. “I’ve destroyed everything, I’m a killer, I’m a, I’m a -”
“Shh, it’s alright, you did the right thing. I’m here, I’m with you. Please let me help you. You did the right thing, Jyn.”
You did the right thing. Does she dare believe it? Just to know he thinks it is enough to set her crying more than ever with relief. No-one ever stays with her, no-one ever holds her or comforts her; and no-one has ever told her that. She did the right thing.
Even if he’s wrong (he is surely wrong) the words are like balm.
“Shh,” Cassian soothes. He’s stroking her hair, rocking slightly as he holds her. His hands are gentle and she’s known so little gentleness. She can’t pull away. “Let me stay, let me help you,” he murmurs. “Shh, you brave, brave woman, you did the right thing, my brave friend, brave fighter.”
Jyn sobs. Brave? Friend? Fighter? No, she’s none of those things; but he is. He wants to stay, to help.
She whispers his name. Allows herself a last precious few seconds in the comfort of his warmth. Gentle strong arms cradling her, soft voice speaking, clean bare skin against her cheek…
Bare skin. “Oh God, I’m sorry!” He’s still naked, and she’s grappled onto him as though he belongs to her, shameless, her needy, greedy hands, her pathetic child’s heart. “I should - I should let you – your things, you want to – I didn’t think –“
“Shh,” Cassian starts to say again; and then stops and goes quite still, as if he’s only just realised he’s in human form now. Jyn draws back in embarrassment, struggling to slow her raw breath, blotting at her face. Her tears gleam, wet on his naked shoulder. A thin light comes in through the window and shows her his face, and his sad eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he says “I didn’t think. I’ll get my clothes. I didn’t mean to – Jyn, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to shame you.”
“It’s I who should –” she manages to say. “Forgive me, Cassian, I wasn’t thinking -”
He moves away, a slim man of moonlight, long bare limbs that gleam. Darkness framing his face. His beard has grown thicker, his hair is a mane now. She remembers the feel of it under her hands, long and thick, fine as silk and as soft.
Something aches inside her at the broken embrace, and the knowledge that it will not be renewed.
“Cassian. I’m sorry.”
He’s collecting up his clothes from the table where she’d laid them down last night. He shakes out the drawers and pulls them on, then the breeches, the loose shirt and jerkin. He looks at her under his brows, bending to fasten his waistband.
“It’s alright. Truly. I don’t understand the things I’ve seen but I’m with you, Jyn. All the way. I swear it.”
“Don’t say that just to atone for something.”
“I don’t. I say it because you’re my friend. If you’ll have me.”
“If I’ll - a creature like me? I don’t even know how to explain what I am. But you’ve seen – you’ve seen –“
“You don’t owe me an explanation.” He ties the neck of the shirt deftly; looks around the room.
“Ah, but I do. You told me your story, I owe you mine.” Frustration and grief, for all she’s lost and all she’s going to lose, it’s like a gale inside her and the tears threaten again. She rages them down. Clenches her fists, throws her head back.
Cassian has knelt by the hearth and begun to blow on the remnants of the fire; he coaxes a small flame, feeds it leaves and then bits of kindling. When he looks up, his face is half firelight, half moon shadow. He looks away again and carries on, silently, placing small twigs and pieces of wood in position with deliberation. At length he comes back to where she’s still crouching on the bare floor; he offers his hands courteously and helps her to her feet, and brings her to the log-seat by the hearth. Then goes to the table and comes back with a couple of apples from the bowl, and a beaker of water.
Jyn looks down at her hands when he offers her the water. How weak and dirty they look, drained of all energy. She has to gather her strength again from somewhere.
“You’ve had no food since yesterday,” Cassian says “and no sleep tonight. Every night you’re awake when I change, and you stay awake with me, no matter what hour of the night the moon rises. For weeks now. You must be exhausted. You need to rest, Jyn, you need to eat.”
“You should rest and eat too,” she retorts. He shouldn’t have to feel obligated to her when she’ll bring nothing but trouble and danger on him. “Don’t mind about me.”
“I can’t do that. I mind about you.”
“Well you shouldn’t.” He blinks at the defensive snarl in her voice and she snaps back in misery “You shouldn’t! You’ve seen what I am now. The monster I truly am.”
He sits turning the fruit in his hands slowly, eyes downcast. “Monster? I saw you shine like a sun and fight back against an enemy that terrorises the helpless. You saved the village, you saved me. You healed me. I don’t know what you are, I never heard of a witch with such strength, but I know you have a power that can do immense things, strike blows that are needed. I know you’re a good woman, and my friend. No matter what else you may be.”
There’s a hush while she waits and he says nothing more, only looks down at the apples and at last places one on the bench for her and takes a small bite from the other. The firelight flickers.
“I thought you would have a thousand questions,” she says. “I thought you would demand…”
“Jyn, I do have questions.” Cassian swallows his mouthful and for a moment there’s a faint smile on his lips. “I am devoured with questions! I’m only human after all.” The smile fades on the irony of those words. “But you don’t have to answer. Only if you wish to. I trust you.”
It’s almost enough to make her weep again. Kindness. Trust. Both so utterly unearned.
She takes a gulp of the water. It’s cold in her throat and she’s suddenly aware of how parched she is. Drinking gives her a few seconds to gather words. “You say kind things, call me good, say I saved the village, but you know that’s not the whole of it. You know now what happens when I - you know what I am.”
“You know what I am, too. Were-thing, un-man, false-wolf. Yet you helped me. You’ve given me your faith and your friendship, when I had nothing. I can’t bear to hear you speak of yourself like this. You did save those people, I was there, I watched it.”
How she longs to take heart from his hope. He sees the horror in her and somehow finds virtue in it, the possibility of goodness. There are hard truths she must tell and hard fears, for surely when he learns the whole story he’ll change his mind, he’ll retreat, he’ll be afraid like Yarrow, he’ll lash out like Yanis, like the other villagers…
Or he’ll suffer, like Beto, poor Beto, beaten and shot for refusing to tell the soldiers where she lived. Despair like Sania, who still called her a friend even after what she’d seen…
But he’s seen too, and he’s still here.
Is it possible I can tell the truth and still not be alone? He said I did the right thing. He said he’s with me. All the way, he said all the way.
A flood of fear and gratitude, self-loathing and self-rejection, terror that makes her guts shake, pain at the knowledge of the pain she has caused others and how much more she will cause. And yet within it, hope, in tiny sparks like starlight; hope and even joy, running through the fear like an underground stream, like the currents of the Force threading all life together. He said he was with me, he said he wants to stay. He said trust, he said friend.
“Then I have to tell you. I don’t know how to, but –“ Another swallow of water, and her beaker is empty. She pulls herself up off the seat and walks stiffly across to the table, to refill it and pick up the remains of the loaf as well. “Here, you’re right, we should eat. I’ll try to tell you what I can.”
She breaks the bread and passes the larger hunk to him, and settles back on the bench, chewing a dry mouthful. Thinking. Sighing. Remembering how she used to prattle at him when he first came, unused as she was to having company. Now, when she needs to speak, to tell him something important, the words are dust in her mouth.
Cassian doesn’t prompt or question her, just pulls off bits off bread and puts them one by one between his lips. She thinks of his self-control, the night he arrived. He wouldn’t permit himself to eat like a wolf even when starving, when the need was rolling off him in waves. There’s a kind of hunger coming from him now, and an undernote of tension, holding back the desire to know, letting her shape her own life. Stronger even than that, the warmth of concern.
She can feel it all; she can’t ignore it any longer. Strong threads run from his heart to hers, cords of the Force, stronger than iron, than diamond.
She hadn’t realised.
She can reach out and touch those threads with a flicker of thought, feel them like harp strings, let their vibrations pulse through her. She cannot bear the thought of ending this. Cannot send him away.
She blinks back more tears and lets go of the energy. Even untouched, the bond feels alive.
He’s staying, he wants to stay, he’s here with her. And she is here with him and she wants him to stay.
She has to tell him the truth.