Cassian sits on the floor of the cottage, wagging his tail, while Jyn moves about, touching things, trying not to cry. Everything where she’d left it, all her stupid precious things safe, her plates and cups, pans, storage crocks still sealed for winter. Dry kindling and firewood stacked ready beside the hearth.
Home. Home. Her mind howls at the way she can’t stop that word repeating over and over.
The false hope in his eyes is heart-breaking. She grips hold of it, cleaves her heart with it, draws strength from the certainty of that pain.
Look, look what you are doing to Cassian, by coming back here. Look what you’ve done already. giving him new hope. You have to let go before this gets any worse.
We are back here where we started, but with nothing. Nothing.
And there’s nothing I can do but leave. Home can never be home again.
If I call him to go with me, he will. He’ll come with me and he’ll lose his hope, and his one chance of escaping this life, to die with me in the Black Isles. What kind of a brute would I be, to do that? I betray every chance he has, I keep him cursed, I keep him wolf, if I keep him with me.
She’s lit a fire and found something fit to eat, a bag of dried lentils that doesn’t seem to be weevilled; set some of them to boil, drawn water from the well, gathered up some fresh clothes for herself, and a few things she can sew roughly for him. She has to have something to do, keep her hands busy. A poncho, easy to make from a blanket with a hole slashed and hemmed; that will keep him a little warmer. And she can cobble two pairs of socks together, the toe and foot of one pair and the heel and foot of another, to make longer socks for his big bare feet.
A gift of farewell, before she does him the last kindness of freeing him to seek hope and home elsewhere.
Each time the urge to reach out crawls up again in her mind, she crushes it down, and silences it with grim chatter. “Look at this nice blanket, that’ll do the job, eh? Well, so. What d’you think? Be a while still before our soup’s ready.” This is a nightmare; she’s prattling to hold him off, as though he were no longer a friend. But she’s let the bond grow up, so selfishly, and he deserves so much better than this. Hold him off, keep myself back from him. What else can I do?
The litany runs on in her mind, what else can I do, what else can I do? and Cassian watches with ears down and eyes mournful with tension.
I cannot bring another soul who loves me into their death. I cannot do that to him.
It will be easier to face my own end, if I know I’ve saved Cassian from sharing it. I never had a friend like him, I will not bring harm upon him.
Bitter thoughts rushing in her head, crashing together, a whirlpool, a torrent.
When I need someone, they end up dead. If anyone cares for me, the same. Dead or destroyed. I am my mother’s first little star of death.
I have to break this cycle.
Her hands sewing, sewing, sewing. Trying to be mindless when her mind is full to overflowing. A stitch, a thought, another stitch. Busy hands or no, she’s drowning in the inescapable.
He can still have his rebellion, and his princess, his hopes for a world remade. I have no hopes for anything but to meet death trying to do the right thing.
Please, God, give me the strength to do the right thing in this also.
He knows. God, how he knows! He watches her constantly and even when she hauls her spirit back from his and binds it down, she can still feel the frustration seething off him. He knows something is wrong.
He can probably smell it on me, the unhappiness, the fight against myself.
She imagines it, thick like dew on her hair, her clothes. The image pulls bile into her throat, sore and sour, but she carries on stitching, big heavy blanket stitches, keeping her head down. Keeping her voice bright and firm when she speaks; hating the sound, hating herself. Smiling and talking, keeping a mask over everything below that inconsequential surface. Over her desperate prayers, and desperate knowledge of how pointless they are.
Let him go, and know he will live, that one day he can be free and happy? Or have him stay and know I’ve condemned him to captivity and death?
How can I even hesitate?
She trims off her final sewing thread, and prattles as she serves the stewed dried lentils, as she washes the bowls, as she lays Cassian’s things out for him, and waits, waits, waits for dusk, waits for moonrise, waits for the end. Her words have dried in her throat at last and she can only swallow down misery, and wait.
It is time to make an end to this.
Oh God, my God, if I were to plead with you, would you even listen? If I bargain, is there anything I could offer that you would accept?
If I refuse your will, would you change it?
I think – I know - you would not. And so I have no choice.
The day passes, painfully slowly.
The day passes. The light is changing and turning and Cassian holds his impatience tight within himself, willing it be still. He can smell Jyn’s grief and misery, but every time he tries to open his mind and hear her from within, underneath the constant strange chatter there’s silence like another wall of snow.
She’s watching the flames now. He wonders whether she sees memories there too.
How crushing it must be for her, to return here, to what was once her home, with everything she’s worked for undone. Saw dead, her friends lost, her powers immense but unmastered and shatteringly hard to bear. Behind the shut door in her mind, he feels her quivering with sadness.
He’s longed for this place too sometimes. Remembered the warm spot by the hearth; Jyn’s hands massaging his scarred leg; the chickens pottering in the vegetable patch, their little voices clucking to one another. The peaceful autumn smell of the woods. It had been more of a home than he’d known in years. And if he’d dreamed of coming back, how much more must she have done? How much more it must hurt, to come back, not to her safe life but as a mere refuge and a chance to recoup, before the fight begins again.
Pick up clean clothes, snatch a single hot meal. Is that all that home can be now, for them?
There’s her bed, where he’s watched her sleeping so many times. Light and shadows flickering, on her clothes chest, her table and seats, her crocks and pots on the shelf. There’s the brown glazed beaker she held and turned in her hand like a treasure, the day they left here.
She hasn’t spoken since the moment she stopped chattering. But she smells of grief and fear, and something like the cold, something that makes her shiver inside and breathe fast. When he looks at her hands, they are fists, clenching in the folds of her skirt as if she would rend her own clothes.
He’s starting to shiver too, despite the fire. The night is changing, the first ripples of silver at the woods’-edge. He looks up at Jyn and she looks down at him suddenly. Her face is empty. He’s never seen her so unreadable.
The change comes over him like the falling of light, and he rises to his feet and takes a step towards her, reaching out, remembering how she held out her hand to him the night they met. How he’d cowered away, helpless in his desperation, feeling his mind half-gone, soul half-buried. He’d come to her and she had not sent him away.
But she turns aside now, and averts her eyes from his body. He pulls himself back from her reluctance. Goes to the table instead, and the bundle of clothes new and old, laid out for him there.
The cobbled-together socks feel new and strange, are ill-matched and lumpy in the arch of the foot; and the blanket-poncho smells of Jyn. So does the shirt now, although only faintly. Cassian shivers again at the thought of this same fabric against her skin, his skin. He smoothes the clothing down; wraps his arms round himself for warmth.
Next to his things on the table she’s laid a big square of sacking. There’s mud in the weave and a smell of damp clings to it; he recognises the cloth she used to wrap round the dead men’s armour. Now beside it is a small stack of her own things. Some clothes, a bag of dried fruit, a piece of rope.
A log breaks in the hearth with a whisper of sound.
“You’re packing to leave again,” he says.
“To Ea’dhu? Or Onderon?”
Cassian nods slowly, considering. “You’ll await the others there?”
“I – I don’t know. Cassian, I –“ Jyn breaks off as if the words have dried up in her throat. He waits for her to finish. She doesn’t. Only looks away again after a moment.
His breath is tight, dread locked around him like a band of thorns, a sense of something terrible, something that will hurt and break and end things; something that Jyn will say to him. He swallows and says frozenly “When do we leave?”
“I don’t know when I’ll go. Tomorrow, maybe. Soon.”
It’s the second time she’s made that change, not we but I. It cannot be an error; but it has to be.
“We,” he protests. “I will be with you, Jyn.”
She’s looking at the fire, fixedly. Not at him. “I don’t know how. How… how to tell you this.”
The world turns hollow.
“Tell me what?” Cassian says.
At last Jyn looks up at him again. “I have to go to Ea’dhu. For my mother. But I can’t – I can’t take you.”
“What? – no! Jyn, no –“
“I can infiltrate the Imperial citadel there. Perhaps. I have a chance at least.” Her face is cold. “But you? A wolf? I can’t take you with me.”
“I’ll wait. Outside the city. I’ll wait.” It sounds pathetic, a child’s plea, but he can’t help it. The flat logic of her words is like a blow in the face. It can’t be this – surely she isn’t – “I’ll wait for you. Cover your escape. I could make a distraction.”
“You’d be caught and killed. I won’t do it, Cassian. I won’t lead you to your death.”
“It isn’t your decision.” Anger and shock fuse inside him, black as obsidian. “I choose to come. I said I’m with you all the way!”
Jyn is shaking her head and she says “No” again. Flat calm. “I won’t take you. I won’t let you die a wolf.”
“Then break the curse! You told me you’d found a spell that might –“
“That might – or it might not. And now – now I know that every magic I do can be sensed by that – that monster, that general – I would be placing a banner in the Force higher than the sky above, for him to find you by.” She looks down, back at the fire. Why won’t she even hold his gaze? Is she so ashamed to have kept company with him? “And besides, it’s no use anyway. I lost my grimoire. I lost the spell.”
“I believe you can do it,” he says helplessly. She can’t fall back now into this hopelessness, she’s come so far –
“And I don’t.” Oh God, such hard plain words, like stones falling to the ground. “You have things to hope for. To live for. Your cause, your war. Your rebellion. Find the others, free your princess. Lead the free peoples and the ones who want to fight.”
“No. Not without you.”
“But it has to be. Don’t you see? Our paths split here.”
“No. No – Jyn,, this is your cause too. Your rebellion. You know that, it always has been. Yours and Maia’s and Rue’s, Bodhi’s, mine. Your mother’s. Saw’s. The cause is the same, the enemy is the same. Why are you sending me away when you know we need one another? We can fight this war together, you know we can!”
“No, Cassian. That isn’t enough. You know I want you with me. But somewhere out there is a person who can break the curse on you. Let you live free. You need to go, find that person.”
“No…” It’s all he can say, his voice getting thinner, taut with anger and pain. “No, Jyn, you’re wrong. You’re exhausted, in shock. Don’t make a decision like this now. We agreed – your mother first, free her and her students, then the Princess and the rest. We agreed!”
“I’m not in shock. I’m so far beyond shock. And exhaustion? Damn it, Cassian, we’re both exhausted and you know it. But I see clearly. I’m near to breaking with it, I see so clearly. I told you, I cannot bear to lose you too. You need to live and I will not lead you to your death.”
“You expect me just to let you go to yours? Alone? I’m not some faceless ‘trooper obeying orders. You can’t ask this of me. I’m coming with you.”
“You need to forget me. Forgive me, if you can. Live and be free.”
“I won’t be free, and you know it.” It’s as near as he can bear to come to the heart of the pain, the truth he can’t confess.
Jyn shakes her head again stubbornly. “Find the one who can break the curse.”
“No, Jyn no –“
Jyn stands, faces him, spreads out her arms in a gesture like a ritual. His soul lurches in his mouth as he sees she’s holding her knife.
She sweeps it across the air between them, as though cutting through an invisible line.
And turns away.
With her back to him and her head bowed, she says quietly “By stardust and moonlight, I bid you go free.”
There’s something like a fire rising in Cassian and he takes two steps forward, raising his hands to grab her, shake her, pull her back. And stops, the violence of his own anger repulsing him. Grab Jyn, shake her and rage at her? Diosa madre. I can’t.
He can feel grief crashing off her like a storm-front, grief and pain just like his own, and howling loss, mirrored, spiralling between them. But also, her furious determination, hard as ice. She won’t give in. He knows she won’t. Whatever else that sweeping knife-movement may have done, it did not sever the bond between them.
It didn’t need to. She’s told him to go, she’d turned her back. She could not be more clear. He’s tried to reason with her and tried to plead, to no avail. She no longer wants him here with her.
Cassian turns and stumbles to the door. He closes it behind him quietly, because he will not sink to a slam.
Walks away out of the clearing, into the night and the forest.