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By stardust and moonlight

Chapter Text

“I know you’re out there,” Jyn Erso says to the open door, and the wolf beyond it. 

The creature’s been hovering round her cottage all day, and so far has made no attempt either to hide itself, or to attack.  It’s no normal beast of the wild woods, this, though she’s not yet sure what it is.  But talking to it is certainly worth a try.

Her home stands on the edge of the forest, in a dell sheltered from the north-east wind by the embrace of the trees, and hidden from the eyes of soldiers, and worse, by the hunched spine of moorland and the broken land and marshes in the south.  Any company she needs, she goes to; no human soul comes here, not without her permission, and very precise directions.  Yet the place tends to attract strange creatures like this; the place, or she herself.  There’s probably a shine of magic on her like a full galaxy’s light, could she but see it.  But though the stardust of her power makes her fingertips tingle and the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, it’s invisible to human vision.

She looks out of the low door again.

“If you’re hungry, I can find you some scraps.  Or, maybe not scraps, but I’m sure I have something you can eat.  What d’you say?”

It paces carefully in the lee of the pines, a grey shadow amidst the deeper dark.  The sun has set and night’s coming on fast, pretty soon the gleam of her lamp won’t be enough to show her if the creature is still there; but she’ll feel its presence, its absence.  It has a strange energy, like tangled torn wool and bloody wire.  And something is telling her, a whisper in the air behind her ears, that she needs to bring this haunt or ghost or were-thing, whatever it is, into some kind of peace, at least for this one night.

Its movements are uneven, somehow it still manages to walk silent though it favours one hind leg.  She’s never seen such control in a wild animal.  Halting and tense, turning back along the darkness,  returning and turning again. 

“I ask you to trust me,” Jyn says “as I am trusting you.  Heh?” She holds up the lamp, and its light catches on the two eyes glinting in the shadow. “I have cheese,” she tells it. “Come now, you know you want to…”

It’s a very still night, the autumn air a creeping chill under her skirts and down her neck.  More than half her little vegetable garden is already dug over and turned-in for the winter, and the cleared ground is scattered with fallen leaves.  Twenty feet away, the watching eyes; brilliant overhead, the white road of stars.  The moon is rising, she can sense its tide at her back; soon it will crest over the roof-ridge of the house and flood the clearing with silver, but for now the glade is dark except for her lantern. 

Whether the creature comes or leaves, she cannot force its choice.  Jyn bows her head and turns to go indoors; and stops, as in the corner of her sight she sees it again, that cautious movement, halting, limping, but moving; coming out from the woods.  A slip of shadow detaches from the dark.  When she looks up, there it is.

It; no, he, a dog wolf, now she can see him more clearly.  Must once have been a handsome animal, with its thick pelt of grey, shading from sea-wash pale on the belly to a dark ruff and mask, and black ears.  But thin, so thin, and definitely limping. 

The wolf pauses, midway across the clearing, goes utterly still as he sees himself seen.  Regards her with eyes that are very dark, and sad, and very wise.

“Well, woods-brother, come in if you wish or stay out if you wish.  I’ll leave the door for you.”

She gives him a friendly nod and goes back indoors.  The herb-bundle she’s making for Yarrow’s house-framing is almost done, and it’s time to look out something to eat, whether or not she has company at the eating.  It’s a shame this spell-creature couldn’t have been something like a bird or a mouse, that she could feed on breadcrumbs and greens.  She has no meat to offer him save a dry end of salt pork, surely not fit to eat without soaking and cooking it first, and there was only one egg from the hens today; but there’s bread, albeit three days old and pretty dry, and she has a cheese, wrapped in damp muslin and set in the cold north window to keep it fresh.  And there’s cold beans from yesterday, stewed in oil and onions, but she cannot imagine a meat-eater will try that. 

She wipes her athame quickly on her sleeve and uses it to hack a piece of bread from the desiccated loaf.  Takes down the pottery dish from the windowsill and unwraps the round of white cheese; cuts two slices and puts one, with the bread and a couple of spoonfuls of beans, on her old plate.  She takes the other in her hand and goes back to the door with it.

The wolf is right at the threshold now, standing in the pool of light from the interior, looking guardedly at her. 

Jyn bends and holds out her hand, offering the slice of cheese. “Here you are, here, see?  I won’t harm you.  Here, you can take it, don’t be afraid.”

The wolf takes a single careful step forward, leans out, stretching his neck; he sniffs her and quickly licks her hand, snaffling up the crumbling cheese in one bite, then steps back with a whine of anxiety and a speaking look such as she’s never seen before, as if the creature would plead with her for something.  Mercy?  Help?  More food?  The moon must just be coming up, as suddenly there are both golden lamplight and silver moonlight falling on the beast’s fur, blending like another magic in his brilliant dark eyes. 

He’s shuddering with cold or fear, ripples running through his coat in the moonlight.

“Come inside, shh, come – let me get a look at that back leg of yours, eh?  I won’t harm you, come –“ and she reaches out, to lay her hand on the shivering head, on the dark silky fur –

- which is not fur at all; nor is the wolf a wolf.  Naked and shaking at her door, a young man on his knees, with outstretched hands and eyes that despair and hope as they stare up at her.

“Well,” Jyn says, and for a time cannot think of anything else to say.  “Well.  So.  There you are, then.”

So there he is.  Whatever, whoever, he is.

She straightens up and moves forward, out into the moonlight, holding up both hands so he can see she has no weapon.  The man rears back and struggles to his feet.  For a moment he stays hunched over, panting as if in pain, before he forces himself to stand straight.  His eyes are wild with alarm; he whimpers, tries to cover himself with one hand.  He’s swaying; and he’s so thin she can see every rib, and the hollow of his belly, the crests of his hips.  Long ragged dark hair, a sparse dark beard and dark hair on his body; and bare skin, shivering, marked with scars.  Bare feet in the dew-damp grass. 

“Easy there, shh,” she says. “All’s well, don’t be afraid.  I’ll not hurt you.  Would you like to come inside?  There’s a fire, you could get warm…”

She touches him and feels him shudder at the heat of her hand; but he doesn’t pull away, only stares. 

Slowly, half holding him up, she coaxes him to move, and he shuffles forward, stumbles over the threshold.  When at last he’s in the kitchen, standing unsteady in the light of lamp and hearth-fire, he looks around and gives a little moan.  Puts his free hand over his eyes.  Fingers shaking.

Jyn guides him to her seat and pushes him down gently.  How brutal a thing magic can be, to break a man and leave him like this.  True, she’s set some hard spells in motion in her time, but only ever for protection or to banish wrongdoers, and there’s nothing in the feel of this creature that speaks of evil in him, only evil done to him.  Shame, yes, that too, she can feel it pouring off him in cold waves of energy, and with it guilt, and a self-hatred like the tearing of claws; but inside all his unhappiness there is a good heart.  There’s loneliness there and a wistful kindness, deep-buried; a pale, brave hope that clings on, and hides itself.

“I won’t hurt you,” she says again when at length the stranger uncovers his face.

He’s blinking in the light and shivering convulsively.  He doesn’t respond to her, only slowly raises his right hand and turns it about, looking at the torn and bruised skin of his knuckles, and the dirty nails.  He lays it on the table-top and presses his fingertips down, rubbing back and forth at the grain of the wood as if testing whether he can feel anything.

“Well,” Jyn says again, her own hands weak with sorrow for him “You’re in shock, I - I’ve seen it before.  Shall I find you something to cover yourself, and some food, maybe?”  Still no reply; and it seems childishly cruel to ask Do you understand this language?  For all she knows, he’s been wolf-bound since childhood.  Language itself may seem as alien as flying or breathing the moonlight.  She pushes her plate an inch towards him.  Surely that at least will need no words. “Here, please, take it.  Eat.”

His eyes go to the food; hunger comes off him like a flame and he snatches at it, and then freezes, reining himself in, clenching his outstretched hand into a fist.  Amid the tangle of his beard, thin tired lips work, and bite the air; and with a gasp he chokes out words. “Thank you.”

“Please, eat, you’re welcome,” Jyn says. “The bread isn’t fresh.  Sorry about that.” She slides her beaker of well water his way too and sees how his hand clutches at it.  Jyn turns away, ashamed of the uselessness of her pity. “You’re safe here,” she tells him.

He doesn’t answer.  He must be eating.  She pictures him tearing  into the food with desperate fangs.  Poor creature, how much of the man can come back from such a fate?

She goes over to her bedding box and takes out the largest of the woollen squares to offer him; and turning, sees that in truth he has taken only a small piece off the bread.  He’s eating very carefully, pulling away small shreds to place in his mouth, chewing slowly, almost reluctantly.  A desperate hunger rolls off him, cold as winter fog, but he will not give in to it.  She’s never seen such self-control. 

“Please, there’s no need,” she says helplessly “I have enough.  Eat.  I promise you, you’re safe here.”

The young man shakes his head.  He moistens his lips and says small and hoarse “There is no refuge for me.”

“Whoever told you that was a liar.” It angers her in some deep inward way she cannot bring into the light, to hear him say such a thing. “There is no curse without a counter-spell.”

She watches him chew slowly on another scrap of bread and swallow it down dry. “Maybe.  But I think not.  The one who did this, he knew the strength of his own magic.”

“I know a little of magic myself,” Jyn retorts.  It was meant to sound soothing, but his despair galls her so; and already he’s shaking his head again.

“You cannot find a way out of this.  Don’t bother to try.” The dark eyes go back to the plate of food and he selects a crumble of cheese to eat.  His fingers shake, squeezing it.

Well, no point in pushing him when he’s clearly under such strain.  Jyn gives him a couple of minutes before she moves again, holding up the blanket. “Will you let me put this round you?  It’s a cold night.”

He freezes, staring up at her, eyes hardening in defensive alarm.  For a moment he seems half wolf again and she thinks he will refuse her help, even run from the house.  Jyn steadies her own limbs into stillness, to echo his.  He was a wild beast not half an hour ago, she doesn’t want to panic him back into that.

“It’s just a bit of wool.  I’ve no men’s clothing in the house.  Don’t think my dresses would fit, do you, heh?”

The stranger’s expression softens suddenly, into a weary puzzlement. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I want to help?” It doesn’t sound much, now she hears the words.  Just the kind of thing someone might say, who wants to lure a spell-bound being into a trap.  Jyn takes a breath and goes on quickly “I know what it is to be an outcast.  I may be a witch but I haven’t forgotten simple charity.  Do unto others?” She holds up the blanket again, moving forward slowly, not invading his space but offering the comfort of warmth.  His eyes, and the magic streaming off him, both shiver with need again before he nods.  When the fabric touches his shoulders he puts up both hands, to catch hold of it and pull it close.  Sits for a moment curling in on himself, with faint sounds that are almost growls coming rough in his throat.

Jyn backs away and settles on the log-bench by the fireplace, where he can keep her in sight.

She can feel the curse coming off him, it flows in ripples and thunder.  It’s strong and it reeks of cold hatred, and it’s been on him a long time, runs right into him, muscle and bone and desperate heart.  The pulse of hope is weakening in him, hedged about with angry fears.

But there is no spell in the universe that cannot be broken.  And his poor soul may be battered, but it has not been defeated.

He feels - familiar.  Perhaps all such wounded creatures are like her in some way.

“My name is Jyn,” she says. “You can stay here, if you wish.”

The man is still poking out one hand from the blanket mechanically at intervals, to pick another scrap of bread and feed himself.  The lamplight flickers on his face, in his eyes.  At times he’s still shaking, little spasms running through him as his body accepts the reality of warmth.

Finally he says simply “Thank you.”

“Welcome.” She’s beginning to find the weave of the magic shrouding him, the bright threads of the Force twisted back on their own nature, bound to darkness instead of light. 

She ventures a question. “Will you be wolf again, come morning?”

His eyes meet hers and he says intently “I am not a wolf!  But I – I will have the body of one again, when the moon sets.”

So that’s the way of it.  Jyn nods.  It’s good to know.  The body of a wolf, but not the nature of one. “Well and good.  You can sleep by the fire.”

“Thank you,” he murmurs, a soft breathing-out of words.  Such exhaustion in his voice, in his face, every precisely measured movement; and weary and shaking and somehow still strong he says “My name is Cassian.”

Chapter Text

Safety; it’s like a spell creeping into him, insistent and inescapable.  Food and water, warmth, a pair of eyes that look at him with guarded trust instead of hate.  Soothing as a lullaby to his instinct of fear and pain.

Cassian knows he can’t return that trust, he can never put faith in human eyes again; but the lure of hope is so strong, still, that he could weep for longing.

“Will you tell me your story?” the young woman says from the shadows.

She’s given him another blanket, and cleared the space by the hearth; even folded a bundle of ragged cloth for him to pillow his head.  It’s a comfort such as he hasn’t known in three years.  Speaking is less comfortable.  But since she’s given him her food, her time, her bedding to sleep on and her trust to stay, he feels shamefacedly bound to answer her questions.

He fumbles hoarsely through a brief account.  Words come more easily once he starts to talk, though his throat feels dry, sore as though from screaming though his screams are years gone.  The war; the fall of Yavine.  The memory is itself a scream in his mind, even now.  The siege of the Temple, the terrible bloodshed.  The Princess yelling, fighting, struggling; the Queen fallen, lying in her own blood, her husband sinking down at her side, stuck through with arrows, trying to defend her to the last with his body.  One by one the faithful generals fell slaughtered around them, or were beaten down and dragged into captivity with the princess.  The last of the Royal Guard pushed back until he knew there was only one choice for them, and he, a mere Captain, was the last officer alive.

“I ordered them to stand down.  I sued for mercy.  All our leaders were dead or captive, what was the point in taking a last stand and fighting to the death?  We laid down our arms.  Their general called me a coward.  He would have preferred us to fight, so that he could drench the ground in yet more blood.  So he – placed this upon me.” He gestures wearily at his scarred body. “Wolf by day, man at night, but only so long as the moon shines.  No man or woman will give a were-thing home, and no wolf pack will tolerate me.  I’m a monster to all.”

“What happens on the New Moon?” she asks quietly.

“I stay wolf.  Likewise on clouded nights, and when it rains, or snows.  Now the winter is coming and I will be wolf for many weeks without rest.  A monster…”

“You’re not a monster,” the woman says.  “No more than me.  Nor a coward.”

When last he looked her way, she was pulling the remainder of her bedclothes together, letting down her hair for the night.  He’d closed his eyes, lain talking hoarsely while the sounds of her undressing and lying down whispered at the edge of his hearing.  The memory of her body scent is warm in his nostrils, and he wonders if she’ll still be there by morning, if his wolf nose will get that smell once more.  The scent of a human unafraid.  Or will she see the unwisdom of her pity, and run?

He cracks an eye open and sees she’s lying down now, bundled up snugly in the covers.  Watching him, a soldier assessing the terrain, or a beast the prey before it.  Fair enough, he’s probably doing the same, after so long it’s hard to keep man and beast fully separate, the instinct and the reasoning mind that has to rule it.

God knows, he cannot blame a witch for keeping herself always on guard.  There was a time, in Yavine, in the old days, he might have been the one sent to take her into custody.

Yet though she must know that, still in her quiet, blunt-spoken way she’s kind.  He knows that once he would have thought her beautiful.  Jyn.  The witch Jyn.  If he still had any prayers to speak, he would pray God Almighty to reward her for this.  A meal, a warm place to sleep, safety for a night.

But – neither monster nor coward?  She doesn’t know him and she never will. “My Queen would disagree with you,” he says huskily. “But what matter?  This is my fate.  This life will kill me soon.”

He closes his eyes again against the flicker of empathy in hers.  He wants to sleep, only to sleep.  If only this could be the night he might fall asleep forever.  It would be more than a dream, to end in warmth and with kind company. 

Very soft, Jyn says “Kill you?  Not if the curse be broken first.”

Impossible, undreamed-of, but hope still rebels in him at the thought. “No – no, that will never happen.   It can’t be broken.”

“There is no curse on earth that cannot be broken.” Her voice is small and tender-sounding, and resolute.  He watches her face in the shadows, very pale, and the fire casting highlights on her forehead and the bridge of her nose.  He’s too tired to argue.  

If he could bring himself to tell her the whole of it, she might understand.  A magic-worker; surely she would.  But what would she do then?  All Cassian wants is to have his one night of peace, at rest in a place where he can sleep safe from the world’s fear.  He shakes his head mutely and closes his eyes again.  The blessed hand of sleep catches his heart and he goes willingly with it, into the dark and the drowning silence.

**

When he wakes, the bright gold of sunlight is dappled across the floor, and over his paws.  The blankets are still wrapped warmly around him.  On the floor by his snout is a shallow dish, and an achingly good smell.   Bread and milk, and more.  He blinks and starts to drool.  Bread and milk with crumbled cheese and chopped meat.

For him?  It has to be.  He’s dazed with sleep and warmth; but why else would it be down there?  She doesn’t eat on the floor.  The woman.  Jyn.

Cassian hauls himself stiffly up, claws clicking on her tiles, and stands over the bowl.  Heavenly, heavenly scent, there’s pepper and thyme in the pork and it’s been grilled crisp.  The cheese smells creamy-tart and the milk is sweet.  Food, set ready for him.  The unobtrusive kindness would make him weep, if he had tears.

He gulps the food down, whining involuntarily at the tastes, the textures, the freshness and savour.  He’s eaten carrion many times; but bakers’ bread, properly cooked meat, in these last three years, never once.

He can feel it surging into him like a tide, and the warmth of the day grows.

He can smell the cinders and wood ash in the fire, and the smell of the woman, the musk of her, pleasant in the air where she has slept, where she has passed by.  Her herbs, spread on the table and hanging in bunches overhead.  Outside, leaf mould and bracken, mushrooms in the woods; the dew drying on sunlit grass.  No danger, not even vermin.  The whole cottage has a clean sweetness about it, for all it’s so simple and homely.

Footsteps, deft and soft outside, and Jyn’s scent comes back, stronger, hot from movement; he turns and she’s at the door.  Cassian lifts his head, pricking his ears, sniffing the air.  He smells curiosity in her, and a certain frank determination; smells caution, and a strange fearlessness behind it.  Deep under it all, sweet as a fallen plum, the faint smell of hope.

He’s wished himself a full beast countless times, to be free of the thinking mind trapped in this world.  Now suddenly he’s grateful beyond measure to be spared the wolf-instinct, that would scent only prey in this grave woman who names herself witch.  Meat and blood and a pulse to be rent open and drunk dry. 

He can smell meat, but not human flesh.  She’s standing on the threshold with a basket in each hand; she’s looking down at him, and she says “You’re still here,” and then “I’m glad.”

She swings past him and puts the two baskets on the table.  As she lifts the cloth covering one of them he smells a great rush of the perfume of blood, of liver and offal and beef-flesh.  Jyn looks round at him and grins.

It’s a smile with teeth, a savage note to it.  Yes, God have mercy on them both, for they are not unalike.

“I went into the village,” the witch says. “Traded in some garlic ropes, got you something better to eat than that rag-end of salt pork I left for you.”

Despite himself Cassian’s drooling again.  He swallows.  He’s giddy at the thought of the food.  The coppery flesh-scent is sweet, sweet – for him?  She does all this, for him?

What does she want from him?

“Shh, shh, I’ll not harm you,” she says, and her eyes have gone very calm.  That assessing look again, a soldier measuring the distance for a shot.  He hears his own breathing, how each inhalation edges along the borders of a snarl.  His hackles are up.  He lowers his head, panting through the beast-instinct muddied into his own.  Stilling the growl and the fear-hate-fight urge that has set his blood pounding.  He must trust her; she trusts him, a wolf in her home, he must find the same courage, he too must trust, both her and himself.

Jyn sighs. “I suppose it was too much to hope for, that you might be a talking wolf.  For sure, you’d not be in this plight if you were anything so noteworthy.  Circus beast, you’d be then, wouldn’t you?  Not that that isn’t a kind of torture too I daresay, for all they’d see you fed…  Well now then.  Would you like this meat cooked?  Or is it better for you raw?”

How am I supposed to answer that?  He can feel his jaw grinning.  Kind young one, you’re not so very wise, for a wise woman.

Next moment she catches her own mistake, and there’s that toothy smile again as she laughs at herself.  “Sorry!  A question with or in the middle isn’t good for you, is it!  Would you like your food raw?"

His belly and his aching senses scream yes, yes; but his mind says No, broken and reasoning and expecting to be beaten down.  No, I’ve just eaten, if I eat more so soon, after so long hungry, I’ll vomit it back up and it will be wasted.  And if I can hold on and eat cooked food then so much the better, to still live as a man.

It’s an ungainly movement but he finds it’s one he can make, so he shakes his head cautiously.

“Cooked, then?”

Cassian looks up, wagging his tail, and meets her smile with his own, with fangs and lolling tongue.

“Well and good.  I got some lights, I’ll boil those, they won’t keep.” She marches past him to the hearth and kneels, feeding kindling into the embers.

Lights; lungs, tender juicy organ meat.  He finds himself sidling nearer, his head swinging between the table, with the basket and the smells of food, and on the other side her, by the hearth; crouching down, the movement of her hands, her lips blowing on the fire, her competence, the smell of her skin.  She gives him a half-glance over her shoulder as his nails click towards her, and goes back to stirring up the fire.  More even than he wants the food, he wants this trust. 

He watches as she prepares the offal and sets it to cook in an iron pot hung over the flames.  Hunger and the longing to be close to her bring him ever nearer, scenting her as she moves, until he’s almost under her feet when she turns and he has to skitter away in sharp discomfort.  She startles too, then shows him her empty hands. “Sorry.  Made you jump.  Well, I’ll leave the door open so you can come and go.  Good?”

It’s strange to be wagging his tail.  Three years of mistrust and betrayal, and then this.  Jyn smiles cautiously.  “Good then.  The meat will take a while to cook.  So.  Well.  Ah, I’m not used to speaking so much.  I’m talking nonsense.  Well now…”

She casts about her, like someone trying to catch a scent trail, then crosses to the log she used as a seat last evening and sinks down on it.  Her eyes meet his; she feels tense, smells of expectation and a kind of nervous confidence; looks away again and then back at him, hands fidgeting as she rubs blood and ash from her fingers.  “Well, bear with me, eh?  I want to help, but – well.”

Cassian sits, stilling himself, waiting.  The thought of someone wishing to help stunning him like a rock to the head.  The tension in her a mirror to his.  Does she want something from him? – even if it is just the knowledge that she could do someone a good service?  The redemption in that?

“So,” says Jyn again.  She moistens her lips. “I was thinking.  Walking to the village.  Your problem.  Your curse – you said it will never be broken.” She holds his eyes for a long moment.  Wets her lips again. “But, see, it’s not possible for an enchantment to be unbreakable.  It’s not – not possible.  I’ve laid a curse or two in my time.  They have to be bound, else they won’t take.” The smell of stress coming off her is stronger as she puts words together; it isn’t what she’s saying that makes her uncertain, or who she’s saying it to, but the fact of having to speak at such length, having to explain herself and her reasons. He lets his tail thump quietly on the tiles.

“A curse must be bound,” Jyn repeats. “To something that makes it finite.  Something that ends it.  So I was thinking.  When he says it can’t be broken, he means, he has to mean – it’s bound to something he believes won’t happen.  Won’t or can’t, one or the other.  To a person he’ll never see again, maybe?  Or a place he cannot reach?”

She pauses as if waiting for a response.  He whines.  Why would she try herself so much, to find the root of his trouble?  How frustrating it is to be unable to tell her again Do not bother to try.

Well, he was taciturn as a man; it’s fitting that he should be a dumb beast now.

Jyn sighs. “Or maybe, I thought, maybe it isn’t a thing he believes impossible but something he believes wrong.  Something he won’t countenance.  So that was what I was thinking.  Hmm?”

She’s close enough to the truth that he shuts his eyes.  He doesn’t know how to look at her when she can see him so clearly.  Another thin whine escapes him.  He hangs his head.

“So.” He can smell the absence of ill-will in her; and the moment she realises her guess is right. “So.  Cassian.  Listen.  People like me – who can do magic – we don’t think like other folk.  Our minds are – ugly, sometimes.  Subtle.  Oblique.  So it’s possible I can find a way through this problem, because of that.  A way that – that isn’t impossible and that won’t tear your conscience.  So, what I’m meaning to say is – when you can speak again, tonight, when the moon – I’m asking you to trust me enough, to tell me what the curse is bound on.  I may see something that you haven’t, because I’m cunning.  Because I’m a witch, and that makes me a – a thing more like the person who cursed you.”

Cassian suddenly smells the battlefield smell again, and the icy dark smell of the enemy; hears the hoarse breath, and sees the upraised hand.  Hate and rage poured into the air as the general spoke, and in a half-breath he was changed and fell howling into this nightmare.  A stench like every worse horror in the world.  He cannot allow himself to think he truly knows her, but of this much he’s sure; she is nothing like that. 

But how can anyone, even a kind and cunning witch, find a way to undo the words that bind him?  You will never be free till someone sacrifice their true love for your sake.

He sinks to the floor with a groan of weariness. 

No-one will ever do that, and he will never be able to ask it; it’s impossible.  Even she will have to see it.  This beautiful woman who smells of hope.

Chapter Text

He can’t help his silence, Jyn knows that; not now, while he’s a wolf.  His wordlessness is forced on him by the enchantment.  Yet it has the same effect as a deliberate ploy.  She wants to tell him more.  She wants to talk.

Jyn seldom talks much as a rule.  On the days she must go over the moors and down to the village, she’ll say as much as is needful, to purchase what she cannot grow or make for herself, and sort out the business of who she’ll make a charm for and what they can pay her.  But no more than that.  She never chatters, never gossips; never shares her story.  And she never speaks just to comfort the afflicted, or to fill a sad sudden hush, however awkward.  Yet now, with him…

The wolf looks up at her, mutely accepting and unhappy.  With a sigh he settles his head on his forepaws.  And it is a sad hush; the sorrow in his eyes is palpable as an embrace.  She knows, as sure as if he’d cried out Yes, yes! to her, that she’s come near to the core of his grief.  The only thing that can save him is something his conscience will not permit him to contemplate.  Some act of cruelty, some betrayal. 

But he can’t say it.  He cannot speak.  And alien though it is to her, she does want to speak.  Both to comfort him, and reassure.  She wants to battle her way through more clumsy painful words, and share her own story, in recompense and recognition of his.  Suffering shared, because she understands suffering.

I know these men, she could say.  These enemies of yours are mine also, this Empire, I know them, I know their evil.  They killed my father and took my mother captive, they tried to take me or kill me also.  I know how they think, and the poison of their ways.

But if she tells him, a man with the strength of will to battle through three years of this torment when most would have taken their own lives within a month – if she tells this loyal soldier, will he ask her to fight with him?  To rise beside him and avenge both of their losses?  She cannot – cannot – will not do that.

I am only safe, so long as I stay here, and hidden.  So long as I use my magic only for small things, for inconsequential charms of protection and fertility, seeking lost pets and blessing new roofs.  I haven’t spoken a curse or a strong binding in years, no matter how righteous the cause; not since I was parted from Saw.  He was ever quick to ill-wish his enemies.  Too quick, and careless with it.  Perhaps I’m too shy of it now, the opposite and just as unwise as his extremes maybe, but – I must stay hidden.  I must stay safe, or share my parents’ fate.

And yet, and yet…  The urge is like fire in her belly; like the threads of the Force, silk-soft and silky-strong under her hands, pulling her towards him.  She needs.  She has taught herself to need nothing and no-one, for five long years she’s fought to keep that lesson close to her heart; and now in the light reflecting from a pair of sad eyes, suddenly Jyn needs absolution again, and the chance to have brave deeds in the world, and see wrongs set right. 

She turns away and busies herself with stirring the pot.  The sheep’s lungs are coming to the boil and scum is rising in the water.  There’s a meaty stink as well, and the hissing of air being forced out.  A grisly dish in the preparation, but her companion seems glad of it.  He seems glad to be here.

She’s glad he is here.  The years have been empty, and lonely, locked in her safety in this secret place.  She might as well have stayed hidden in the cave when she was a girl. 

She would be angry, if it didn’t terrify her so much; scared, if it didn’t make her so angry.

She cannot – cannot – will not need him.   Will not need his good opinion, will not need to fight.  Jyn doesn’t need anyone.   She doesn’t need to be near him, to see him near her; she doesn’t, it makes no sense to.  But his story, his agony, and the wrongs done him.  The fight she’s fled from.  She needs to help, and to fight beside him, fight back, escape this prison of fear.  She could tell him.  He would understand.

Fight beside him?  This is madness.  I don’t want to fight, I want to stay alive.

And yet, I need to see my conscience clear.  To be free from this guilt. 

When she looks back at the wolf, he’s rolled onto his side, and appears to be asleep, with his belly towards the fire.  He’s exhausted.  She needs to put this self-indulgent misery aside, stop chewing at her own shame and remember how much this poor creature has borne.  Feed him up a bit, heal that bad leg of his, get him something more than a blanket to wear.  Then let him go again when he chooses to leave.  Not work herself into this pitch of emotion over whether she can tell him her truth.  What would he care? 

He’s hungry and alone, he needs practical things, meat and bread, warmth and a place to sleep.  Survival in safety, like me.  And then - sympathy and comfort and company in his loneliness.  He needs to know he’s not a monster -

God’s blood!  I need all that, too!

I could tell him, I could – fumble – words – I could

She cannot.  No-one must know who she is.

It doesn’t matter that the sleeping wolf is an innocent man, that he’s fought while she was hiding, that he’s just as wounded in his heart as she is; none of it matters.  Her wretched conscience is a lure to be resisted.  She can never tell him the truth.

**

She leaves the wolf sleeping.  The wolf who-is-not; the man.  Honour him with that, at least.  He isn’t a wolf, and he has a name.  Cassian. 

She leaves the door ajar, too.  He can go or stay, as he wishes.

She hopes he’ll stay.  She knows he’ll go.  He should go.  For both of their sakes.  But she leaves him to sleep just the same.

Every few minutes she skims brown scum from the top of the boiling pot and throws it in the edge of the fire.  A hiss of steam rises each time, and an acrid smell, and she sees his nostrils twitch and flare.  A reasoning mind, and the senses of the beast; yet he doesn’t wake.  He must know, deep in his aching bones, that he’s safe here.

He trusts her.

At last the meat is done.  Jyn hacks herself another chunk of stale bread and tears it in pieces, in a bowl; ladles broth over it for herself, leaves it to soak while she cuts up one of the cooked lungs and heaps the pieces into the dish she’s designated as his.  The wolf sleeps on, while she eats, while she goes out to pull a late lettuce from her vegetable plot, and rinse it, and rip off some fresh leaves to finish her meal.

He wakes about an hour later; eats the cold meat, stares at her with those silent speaking eyes; and then lies down again to sleep, like a sick child.

After a time, she sits on the floor beside him.  His fur is coarse and the odour of wolf is musky and punchy, and he shivers under her hand.  But he trusts her.  He sleeps.

By the time the moon rises once more, Cassian has woken twice to eat a little more offal and broth, and each time has then lain down and fallen asleep again by the hearth.  Sometimes while he sleeps she sews, since there’s mending to be done and today is as good a day as any for that, and with a little quick cutting and hemming of linen she can make something for him besides.  Sometimes she works on her herb-craft.  Sometimes she reads.  There are several Great Spells in her old grimoire, for the breaking of curses and the unravelling of what has been ill-woven in the Force.  She checks and lists the ingredients she’ll need for each of them.  A time or two she sounds out the incantations, her lips moving silently.  It may be pointless, but she’ll try them even so.

A time or two also, as the day slides over, as the afternoon passes to dusk and then to evening, she stops by his side and crouches down.  Lays her hand on him, strokes gently down his body.  Feels the ribs, too close under the skin, and the ridges of spine and hipbones. 

A time or two, as she watches over him, as she sews and murmurs, as she strokes his sleeping form, a tear slides down her cheek.  She ignores tears when they come.  They go again soon enough, and she dries her face once more, and carries on with her work.  Jyn has cried too many days away in her life.  She knows that weeping helps nothing and no-one. 

This strange meeting can never go anywhere, beyond a deed of kindness for a broken creature.  But she’ll repay his unsought faith; she’ll try her arts on the spells binding him, and give him some nourishment, and such healing as she can, until her skill is exhausted.

Shortly before the hour of the moon, she rises from her work and prepares a human meal for two; gathers some cold wet salad from her garden and cooks a couple of eggs and some slices of spiced sausage, makes a dressing by pounding the last of the old bread with oil and garlic.  She lays out the roughly-sewn linen drawers she’s made, on the floor beside him, and unfolds a blanket ready for him to wrap round his shoulders.  The fire whispers quietly, glowing wood crumbling to ash with little puffs and pops in the heat, and his breath runs steady beside it, a deep slow counterpoint to the voice of the burning.  Jyn pulls up two seats to her table, sets out two plates of food, and two beakers beside a jug of well-water. 

She opens the window-shutters and leaves them ajar, so she can see when the quality of the light outside changes and brightens as the first moonbeams come over the edge of the woods.

And when she turns back -

The man sleeps by her fire, naked and still, curled in on himself with his hands slack and helpless. 

Jyn pulls out her chair.  For a time she sits, does nothing, says nothing.  He’s her guest.  She has never had a guest, in this house.

She could get up, put the blanket over him, leave him to go on sleeping.  But the food will get cold, the fresh-cooked sausage, the fresh-poached egg; and he’s slept most of the day. 

“Cassian?” He sighs at the sound of his name. “Wake up,” she says, as gently as she can. “You’ve slept enough, Cassian.  It’s time to wake now.”

And he wakes.

It isn’t as bad as last night; he seems dazed at first, but not fearful, and she’s pretty sure he knows who she is, though as before he doesn’t speak at first.  But when she shows him the bit of clothing she’s sewn for him, and the food waiting, he rises and dresses modestly, ties the drawstring at his waist, and cloaks himself in the woollen blanket.  Moving cautiously, like someone stiff from old wounds, he joins her at the table, sinks into the second chair.  When she offers him a knife and a spoon, he takes them, and uses them; and his hands are unpractised on them but it’s clear the motions of eating like a man are not beyond memory.  

He devours everything she’s given him and scrapes the plate clean.

“Thank you,” he says afterwards.  He hesitates, as though steeling himself to say something hard; then “I thank God for you, for sending you.  I pray He will bless you for this.”

It isn’t a sentiment she would have expected, trust in a higher power, from a being under a curse. “Do you think the God of your people still has any mind for you, or for me?  I’d say He’s forsaken us both, wouldn’t you?”

“I have to hope He has not.  All I have left to me now is hope.”

“Not quite all,” Jyn tells him.  He doesn’t answer, and after a moment she goes on quietly. “Do you remember what I said to you, this morning, while you were – while you were under the change?  I’ve been reading as you slept.  I’ve found a couple of incantations for the breaking of curses.  I should like to try one tonight, if you’ll permit it.” She gestures at the other side of the table, where she’s laid out tools and herbs and candles, ready for use. “And there are others.  One of them may work.”

Cassian pushes his plate away, staring at it blindly.  At length he says “There’s no use.”

“I don’t agree.  It’s worth a try.”

“I remember what you spoke of, this morning.  When you came back from the market.  That you want me to tell you everything I know of the curse, for you to try your mind against it.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And did you mean that?”

“I did.”

“Then if I tell you why there’s no point, will you leave off this hope, that some spell or other of yours can break the magic of the Sith lords, the power of the enemy?  I’m grateful for your kindness and your generosity.  Grateful beyond words.  I would not see you press yourself to struggle with this.  It’s darkness beyond my knowledge, it’s corruption and poison, it – it can destroy everything.” His voice is deeper and husky with feeling, but he seems more at ease with speech tonight.

“Tell me why,” Jyn asks. “Let me understand.  Why do you say this?  You say you only have hope left but then you reject hope.  I don’t understand you.” The words taste odd in her mouth.  Liar.  She understands all too well; but his story cannot be like hers...

He draws a deep breath; it sounds harsh in the quiet room, as the wolf’s breathing never was.

“Very well.  You must understand.  You must let me go, Jyn.  You must.  This curse can only be broken if – if someone will sacrifice their love.  For me.  Do you understand?  Somebody must be willing to sacrifice their own true love for my sake.  Who would do that?  No-one.  Even if there were any creature on earth that might dream of such a thing, I could never, ever allow it.”

His eyes are intent on hers, and dark, sad as a starless night.  Then he hangs his head and an animal whimper escapes him.

She rebels at the sound, the helplessness and the words and memories it conjures.  Her own childish voice screaming  I won’t leave you, mama!  I’ll come back for you!  Let me stay with you, I can protect you! 

So that is what the curse hinges on.  The cruelty, to make torture out of love.  Someone must love him enough to give up a person they love even more, for his sake.  Someone must carry out that betrayal, for him.

Everyone she’s ever cared for, she has been forced to leave.  Every kindness, every love she has ever received, she’s been forced to betray, as they have been forced to betray her. 

Everyone dies, or lies, or leaves.  Everyone.

There is no true love in this world.  He thinks he would not countenance its sacrifice; but I know, there’s no such thing to give.  Everyone leaves, everyone dies.

“You don’t believe me,” he whispers. “I see it in your face.  You think me gone mad with suffering.”

Jyn’s heart revolts, against memory, against the enemy’s cruelty; against everything she’s heard, his words and his despair.  If he can say All I have left is hope then who is she to deny it?  Hope remains, still, through all the wreckage and the endless night.

But it damns every defence she’s ever had, to hold this door open, and admit her own hope again.

Very well.

She tells him quickly “No, I believe you.  And I still believe I can help you.”

Very well then, she thinks, it’s on this road to death that I’ll stake my last chance.  Maybe they’ll go into damnation together, wolf and witch; but they’ll go down hoping to the last. “Stay here a while,” she says. “Stay with me a week or two, a moon or two.  I’m cunning and - not without strength in magic.  Let me try,” she says. “Please, Cassian, let me try to help you.”

Chapter Text

It should have been impossible, allowing her to hold out this hope.  Impossible to stay with her.  Once, it would have been. 

But it’s appallingly easy. 

He has comfort here, there’s food every day, and warmth both day and night.  The few visitors who ever come to the cottage stare at him for a second where he sits by the hearth; but then each one of them passes a hand over their eyes as if in surprise, and afterwards, treats him just as they would any humble farm dog. 

Days, when he isn’t sleeping he keeps guard over her, as that faithful dog would do.  Nights, he sits and keeps her company, and talks with her.  He has had no-one to talk to for so very long.

They don’t talk of much in those evenings.  The cooling of the autumn air, the waning of the moon. 

She never calls him wolf or speaks of him as a beast, not even in the daytime.  Only ever addresses him by name.

She treats the old arrow wound in his leg.  Each day she rubs the scarred muscle with a balm made of fat steeped with herbs, taking care to keep his fur clean and to get none on the sores.  Each night, she bathes it and puts honey on the raw places.  She sings over it, a little husky voice, made small by caution but tune-true and to his ears sweet beyond reckoning. 

The oozing skin dries and scabs over at last, and the ulcerated wound knits up.

She sews him more clothes, a shirt, a pair of woollen breeches, a simple vest with thongs to tie across the front.  By the time the new moon comes around, he’s used to rising from her hearth in the evenings and dressing himself as a man again.  Now he must be a wolf all night once more.  For a day and night he cannot touch another human hand, and it enrages him, and hurts, as it has not done for a long time.   

He would scream if he could.  He goes out into the clearing and howls at the stars.

Next nightfall the distant scimitar of the new moon rises, and the change comes again.  Jyn takes his hand and helps him to rise.  He puts on the clothing she made for him.

It’s harder every day to think of her as the witch Jyn.

There’s food for him daily, and she reminds him daily that he’s safe with her.  That he doesn’t need to be her guard.  He tries to sleep through more of the day, so as to be awake, come night-time and moonrise and the unfathomable blessing of a human voice in his throat, a human hand with which to clasp hers. 

Every few days she tries out another spell on him.  The first one failed, the first night; as he’d been sure it would.  They all fail; but Jyn goes on reading and studying, looking for more things to try.  Word spells, incantations, songs, herb charms, a candle-charm that has to burn all night with the two of them watching over it in silence.  A whole night wasted when they could have talked.  Although so often they talk of nothing consequential.  Just to have someone to talk to.

Sometimes, she even warns him gently before trying a new spell; “I don’t have too much hope of this one, but it’s worth a go.”  Sometimes she doesn’t, and her face is intent and certain as she guides him to lie down, as she lays her hands on him, sings her magic.

Still none of it works.  But there are times he can feel the magic spliced onto his bones pulling and tearing at him, as if her strength has caught it off-guard and it must sink its fangs in and hang on tight.  He whimpers and shivers and holds still, hearing Jyn’s voice rise, feeling her touch and something more, an energy rippling around them both.  Her hands are shaking, but she doesn’t break contact till the incantation is finished.

“I’m getting a better feel for how it’s made and bound-off,” she tells him, one night.  She’s chanted herself to exhaustion, he needs to fetch her drinking water before she can even speak.  Himself so weary he can barely crawl to the well-head.  He helps her hold the beaker.  Her fingers are painfully stiff from hours sitting motionless, gripping a taper in each fist.  The muscles of her arms quiver and jerk, he can see spasms pulsing under the skin where her sleeves were pushed back. 

When she’s drunk enough, gratefully he drains the rest of the water.  He kneels panting at her feet.

“One of these days I’m going to make some headway.” She fixes him with a fierce stare. “I kept getting a grasp on it tonight but it twisted away.  I won’t let it beat me.”

Cassian wonders often why she’s so determined to save him.  He means nothing to her; but something, somewhere in her life, has so much meaning, that she will strive with all her power to do this thing. 

The migrating birds gather like ghosts whispering in the treetops.  One day he sees them flying, and the air smells of feathers and excitement and a long journey ahead.  The trees are almost bare when they are gone.

The next night, there’s no spell to try, just a meal and a quiet few hours sitting together, watching the flames in the hearth.  Jyn had been into the village, buying stores for the winter and delivering a charm to a barn-raising.

“I saw ships today,” she says quietly, without looking round from the fire.  Its red light paints her profile and sets a tiny bonfire in her eye. “Across the marshes, where the great river channel runs.  They were going upriver.”

“What sort of - can you describe them?”

“Oh yes.  They were the enemy’s ships.  Grey hulls, grey sails.  Carrying troops in white and black armour.  Off to war.” Her voice is flat with bitterness. “There’s always somewhere they feel they haven’t crushed enough.”

The next night she tries another long spell.  Weaves a great twined mass of plaited grasses and herbs, of scarlet leaves and small late flowers.  Throws it over him while he’s still wolf, lying breathing hard on the beaten earth floor.  She chants over him for hours with a furious energy; her voice doubles and redoubles on itself till the sound is like a wall of light, shining around him.  Finally she stops; silence falls and the echoes die away, into the dark, and then Jyn sobs.  Her hands go slack, resting on him.  He can tell without asking that the magic still has its bite in him.  He’ll be wolf once again at moonset.

Jyn has slumped forward.  Her forehead is almost resting on his ribcage.  For a moment he imagines laying his hand on her hair, cradling her against his body. 

He speaks quietly.

“Jyn, why are you doing this?”

She pulls herself back and straightens, slowly, stiffly.  Her face is working; she’s breathing hard and her hands quiver. 

The covering of grass and dead flowers falls to the floor as Cassian sits up.  All her work and it’s just dry grasses.  “Why are you wearing yourself out like this for a stranger?” He wants to be simply rational, a man pointing out folly, but the words come out sharp, with fear, and the anger that comes from fear.

Jyn ignores the question. “You’re not a stranger.  Not anymore.”

She looks at him in the firelight.  They both know it’s an obfuscation, that she doesn’t want to answer him and she doesn’t mean to. 

The lines round her mouth are sad.

Cassian picks himself up off the floor. He’s aching from keeping still, but otherwise unhurt.  He pulls on his drawers and breeches.  Goes to kick the torn web of grass into the fire.  Jyn stops him with an outstretched hand.

“Don’t – it’s – it caught some of the shape of – I can maybe learn something new from the bits.  For the next time.”

There shouldn’t be a next time.  You’re hurting yourself with this.  I should go.

He can’t bear to say it.  To leave this implacable, taciturn woman who listened and understood when he said hope.  To leave this place where he is safe, and healed, and can give something in return.  Once a captain of the Queen’s guard, now the loyal dog who protects a single home. 

He leaves the remnants, and she gathers them up; he watches her the next day, studying them, crumbling each dry strand carefully.  Smells her frustration, her desolation when at last she does consign the last pieces to the flames.

“I would have been your enemy once,” he tells her one evening.  The next new moon is only a few days off, the waning one a shard lying low in the sky. “I would have come with soldiers, thrown you into prison.  The law has not dealt generously with magic.”

“That’s past.  There’s only one enemy now,” Jyn says. “They are mine quite as much as yours.”

She casts her eyes down and purses her lips.  Says nothing more.  He misses her words when she turns pensive like this.  Wonders if she will ever trusts him with her story.  If he will ever trust himself to ask.

He picks up on tiny things.  It’s like learning to see a landscape from only the reflections in a broken mirror.  A shard of light here, a name or a strange bit of history there.  Jyn can both read and write, and in at least two languages more than him.  She uses the word friend very rarely, and only for one person, that Yarrow for whose barn-raising the herb-spell was made; newly married and building a first homestead, Yarrow and her spouse are the village sausage makers.  But when they visit the cottage, he notices that the spell she’s scattered over him works for them also, friends though they are.  They blink and see a dog, not the wolf he is.  Still they are kind to Jyn, bring her tea-herbs and a carved dish as a thank-you for her work.  He would protect them too if he could. 

Jyn makes another charm for them; for “fertility, good health and no leaks.”

“No leaks?”

“Not in the roof or the floor, not in the shutters or the porch, nor in the shoes and boots and coats.  And I added hellebore, for a warning against idle tongues, so it should protect against gossip as well.  But they can still eat leeks.”

It’s rare to see her smile, that sweet confiding savageness.  He’s never heard her laugh.

He’s no longer limping.  There’s a scar now, uneven and red, puckered down his human calf, his wolf leg; and a bald place in his fur, around the place.  The muscle feels corded and tight to the touch, yet beneath the marks, where the flesh had festered and brought him constant pain, now all is sound.  He can run better than ever.  When he thanks her she nods slowly and says “I’m getting to be a fair healer.  My mother’s – my mother was better.” Quiet eyes, as green as the conifers along the edge of the clearing. “The Force was in her.  From her fingertips to the soles of her feet.  I can touch it.  She was filled with it.”

He doesn’t ask more.  He wants to, but – her mother?  This is too close and private, it isn’t something for him to demand but for her to share, if she chooses; and she looks thoughtfully at him, and does not.

Jyn is quiet by nature and so is he; he can’t condemn her for preferring to take care of her trust.  She speaks quickly and awkward when she has to, accuses herself of babbling if she must utter more than three sentences at a go.  Even then, she doesn’t speak thoughtlessly.  He learns only what she is prepared to tell him.

He suspects that if it had been daytime when she spoke of her mother, he would have smelled the grief on her like a fog.

Cassian knows grief, and shame, and hurt.  In atonement for the times he has tricked prisoners to make them speak, he accepts her silence now.   

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

She’s outside when he wakes; he can hear her footsteps in the grass across the clearing.  Looking out of the open door he sees that she’s at the edge of the forest, bending to gather something from the ground into a basket.  Late mushrooms, perhaps, or fallen nuts.  It’s a dull morning, the sky overcast, the air misty and raw like doubt.  Cassian watches her going deeper into the woods, into the shadows.  Admires her deft hands, the strength of her back as she moves.  She’s slim and straight as a beech tree, her hair down, the grey shawl round her shoulders.

She has secrets, and will not tell them; and he’s told her his truths.  He cannot think of another way to invite her trust.  She chooses to keep silent.  Jyn, Jyn the witch, Jyn the wise woman; the closed one, the one who stays hidden away.  A humble hedge-witch, and the only friend he has.  Picking mushrooms on a quiet day, late in autumn.

She moves out of sight among the trees, her grey and green clothes a perfect camouflage.

He wants to follow and protect her; but she’s left him to guard the house.  Cassian hesitates, pacing in front of the doorway.  Remembering how he crawled to this spot, weeks ago, hungry and in pain, drawn to the little cottage with the flaking limewash and worn thatch, and to the brightness within it.  Terrified, but drawn ineluctably for all that.

As if he’d known…

How can he repay her kindness?  Protect her and fight for her (but he’s a coward who didn’t fight for his princess and his duty)? – or leave, and spare her (but only cowards run, only cowards leave the place where they have given their loyalty)?  He’s damned man either way.  But then he already was.

He wheels and trots back, quartering the clearing in front of the house.  Dew soaking his paws, damp on his flanks, the cold air sharp in his nostrils.  The wind has swung around; it carries a faint trace of Jyn, her smell that is sweet and clean, and so alive, that is the scent of home.

There’s a smell of wet leaves too, and wet bracken, and autumnal rottenness; and a faint taint, as though distant woodsmoke has been soured by something, made ugly.

Ugly.  Men.  It’s the smell of men, downwind of him; but for all their scent is being blown away, they are coming closer.  Cassian tosses his head, sniffing, casting about for their scent, trying to trace their direction, their nearness.  The soft breeze and the veils of mist shifting in its current are blurring everything together.  But they’re there, somewhere near.  Men who smell of burning, and of blood.  A squash of leaves on the forest floor, a tiny clink of metal shifting on metal; men, armed men and the smell of murder.

He whines in anger, a pulse of panic under it.  Feels his nostrils crease and flare, and his hackles go up, muscles tense, lips curl back from his long teeth.  They’re coming for Jyn, they’ll find her and hurt her, witchcraft is outlawed, the strongest kinds punishable by death. 

He needs to find them first.  But the smell wafts and steals away again.  He runs out, to the spot just beyond the edge of the trees, where he last saw Jyn.  There’s no sign of her.  But the man-scent grows suddenly and violently stronger, sharp as a blow.  His head flies up, sniffing wildly; he whirls, in mid-stride, jumping like a cat with all four paws coming off the ground.  They’re behind him, behind him!

They are behind him.  Three figures, coming out of the trees.  Armour, he sees breastplates, arm-guards, greaves; one man has plate over his right shoulder, two of them are helmeted.  There are swords in their hands and one carries a crossbow slung over his back, a sheaf of quarrels at his hip.  They walk forward like the masters of the clearing, heading towards Jyn’s cottage, booted feet scrunching out of the underbrush and into the wet grass. 

Cassian drops to his belly in the grass.  A thin high snarl springing unbidden in his throat.  Armour of Imperial white, and grey helms, grey swords from grey sheaths.  The stench of a slaughterhouse, and the eyes of killers.

The men are gesturing to one another; for a moment it seems as though there’s a confusion of command, before one of them nods and circles round the house, so they can flank the door.  The enemy; the enemy, and they have found Jyn’s safe haven.  They’re exchanging nods now, and one lifts up his sword, ready to strike.  He sidles to the door, pauses, then ducks under the lintel and slips inside. 

The wet grass around Cassian is like ice.  He’s frozen to the spot.  What if Jyn comes back and finds a trap?  What if she already came back, while he was fretting and pacing, focussed on chasing down that nightmarish smell of fire and hate? – what if she’d thought he was just idling in the grass, if she’d ignored him, gone inside?

How many of them can he take, if he attacks?  There are only three of them.  Were he a man, and armed, he wouldn’t hesitate.

The ice goes out of him in a rush as he names and condemns his paralysis.  Hesitation; but a true soldier never hesitates.  Cassian crouches and springs.  He’s across the clearing and on the men in a few bounds, snarling as he hurls himself onto the nearer figure.  Dodges a wild defensive swing of the sword and leaps in, close quarters, planting his forepaws on the man’s chest and biting for his head. 

He’s hunted animals often, but never till now a man.  Has no idea how to kill an armed human being, when he has neither weapons nor hands to hold them.  Only teeth and claws.

Yelling, and a hard jolt as they strike the ground together; a body that struggles under him, hands trying to thrust him away, screams of terror.  He lashes out savagely, trying to get at the throat.

He misses the jugular, rakes a cheekbone, gets a mouthful of hair, then his teeth catch in flesh, the cartilage of an ear, and he bites down hard.  Worries and tears, and hears the man shriek.  Every minute expecting to feel a blade biting into his ribs; and he senses something, the air parting before a descending blow, and leaps away, dodging as the next man lashes out with his sword.  He rolls and is back on his four paws again, spitting gobs of blood and a chunk of ear.

Scrambles to the side, bracing himself to launch into the attack again, fangs bared, every muscle taut.  The man he just savaged is screaming on the ground, clutching his skull.  Wild eyes full of blood.  The second soldier pulling to get his blade up, hauling the point out of the ground where he’d plunged it when his swing missed.  His arm goes back to strike again.  Anger and fear, anger and fear.  Get under his arm, don’t give him time to shorten his stroke –

Cassian springs -

- he’s in mid-air, and a blow comes.  Not the sword this time.  From the side, an upswing, something blunt; a cudgel or the handle of a spear maybe, it catches him under the ribs.  He yelps with the suddenness of the pain.  The force of the blow lifts him, flings him sideways away from his target and he hits the ground with a howl. 

There was an audible crack when the blow landed, and now as he scrambles up his breath has a knife in it.  He gets back on his feet, gasping and panting. 

It was the third soldier, the one who’d gone inside.  A long stick in his hand.  Cassian recognises Jyn’s besom broom as is sweeps down.  He ducks away, yelping as the movement jolts through him and his ribcage stabs.

The wounded man crawls away, groaning, bleeding, and the second soldier slashes with his sword; and is stopped by the man with the broom. “No, ‘e’s mine.  I’m having that pelt.  Don’t want it damaged.”

He strikes again, and Cassian dodges.  Tries to spring back into the attack.  Pain pulls on him, his leap is weak, he lands short of his target and the broom handle cracks across his lower back and knocks him to the ground. 

For a nightmare moment he can’t feel his hind legs, and he howls and scrabbles, kicking up tussocks of grass and clawing at the wet dirt below.  The soldier laughs and smashes another hit down on him.  Catches the back of the neck, a blow that leaves him yipping high and breathless like a beaten puppy.  The smell of fear in his nostrils, the taste of blood in his mouth, are no longer just human. 

He rolls out of reach, just in time as another swing comes down just passing his skull.  Drags himself away, baring his teeth, bracing for the killing blow.

A voice shouts, furious, from across the clearing. “Stop!  Leave him be, you animals!”

Jyn.  Cassian whimpers at the sound of her voice.  She’s here, she’s safe; but about to throw her safety away.  Not for him, she mustn’t, she mustn’t

He howls, trying to warn her off.  Uselessly.  Jyn and the three men stare at one another. 

He drags his feet under him.  The whole world is swinging like a storm and the mist blinds him, and there’s definitely something broken in his hindquarters but he pushes into the pain, snarling on each breath.

“Let ‘im be, little lady?  E’s a wolf.  What you want the likes o’ that for?” The man with the stick sneers, mocking her. “E ent no good doggie’ll guard your pretty face!”

“Let him go!” She marches forward, and he sees the moment the three register that she is indeed alone, and is small, and unarmed.  Their swords come up, even the one still streaming blood from Cassian’s bite.  They share a glance and the one with the crossbow laughs.

“You gonna make us?”

Cassian hauls himself to his feet.  He’s staggering, jabs of pain all over his body, unable to bear weight on his left hind leg, every breath biting up inside him.  All he can see is the white fury of Jyn’s face.  He yelps and snarls, trying to shout to her.  She mustn’t, she mustn’t, there are three armed men and she mustn’t –

He lurches, lunges for the nearest man with the last of his strength.  Teeth snapping.  Manages to get a grip on the meat of his calf and bites as hard as he can.  The man topples with a yell; but the other two advance on Jyn, with their faces confident and their swords stretched out in threat.  It’s all he can do to keep his grip on one, and from the corner of his eye he sees the movement as the man shortens his grip and swings back to stab at him.

There’s a strange bright light in the clearing, as if a star has fallen to earth in the mist; and Jyn screams.

The twisting flesh between his teeth goes slack.  Cold.  Slumps.

Cassian worries at the inert leg for a moment, giddy with pain and rage.  The man doesn’t move.  Panting, he lets go.  Sees the sword, fallen on the grass, the nerveless fingers unflexed beside it.  Sees his enemy’s eyes and mouth, gaping, wide and silent.  The other two men spread-eagled on the ground.  Motionless.  Dead, all of them dead.

Jyn sinks to her knees, staring at them, and at him.  She’s gone very white, so white that her faces pales into the mist, and there’s a glow around her as though the sun were rising.  He blinks, and sees she’s holding out one hand.  She’s shaking. 

He drags himself to her side and collapses. 

“What have I done?” Her voice shudders like something naked in a gale. “Cassian, Cassian, oh my dear, what have I done…”

He can’t answer; doesn’t know the answer, even if he could speak.

There’s light burning out of her, spilling from the collar of her dress and through the fibres of her shawl.  Her hands are so hot he can feel them through his coat, through the numb chill that sucks at his wounds.  There’s a comfort in their heat.  The pain bleeds away as she touches him.

They huddle together, Jyn on her knees, bent to embrace him as he lies on the ground.  Her face buried in his ruff, hands stroking his back, resting on his injuries.  She sobs slowly, clinging to him, and slowly grows still again.  The heat flows out of her and in to him. 

Heat and light, the strength of her arms.  He could almost fall asleep, lying here among the dead men, but safe with her.  But there’s no time; there may be other soldiers, somehow the bodies need to be hidden, somehow Jyn needs to hide and he needs to help her –

He springs up; and he’s no longer in pain, and Jyn is no longer on fire.

Chapter Text

Nothing makes sense.  He stands staring at the clearing and the dead men, then down at his paws, steady and strong on the ground.  Then at Jyn.  She’s still crouched in the grass, with her clear eyes fixed on his.  Nothing makes sense and he cannot tell what she is thinking.  What has she done? - or what has been done to her? – for powers like these belong to no normal witch of the hedgerows. 

He sees the moment she gathers herself together; arms withdrawing, face closing down.  Even her scent grows thinner, as though she is shielding herself, from his gaze, and his judgement.

“This was no ordinary patrol,” she says to him.  Her voice is unnaturally calm.  Very quietly she sits up, straightens, looks around her. “Only three men?  They never patrol with fewer than six.  And no officer?”

It’s simpler to think about than the nightmare of what he’s just seen.  The Empire is a clear-cut, easy subject; they are always the enemy, always known.  He growls agreement. 

The soldiers weren’t in full armour, only one of them had a crossbow and none carried the usual javelins.  One didn’t even have a helmet.  None of it fits with his knowledge of the Empire. 

And Jyn just killed them, with her magic.  A single blast of some power unglimpsed, unimaginable, till now.

He remembers how she shone.  Burning like a sun in the mist.  All three soldiers had dropped to the ground on the instant.  Dead, and cold as stone.

Enough power still in her even after that, to pour out healing, energy flooding into him as the sun gives out light.  He sniffs at the man who’d wielded the broom against him.  This slack tumble of flesh had been trying to beat him to death for his skin, just seconds ago; he’s pretty sure he had several cracked ribs and a fractured pelvis, and he was dizzy and half-blinded from the blow to his head.  Death had seemed only moments away.  He’d meant to go down biting and fighting to his last breath.  To save Jyn. 

But she was a woman made of fire, and she had saved him too.

He can’t allow himself to think about it.  There won’t be any answers until Jyn tells him what she did.  If she does.  If she even can.  And meanwhile, they must protect themselves.

He grabs at one of the bodies, sinking his fangs between the rim of the arm-guard and the breastplate straps.   Begins to drag it towards the woods.  The limbs sprawl out, awkward and splayed and catching on the long grass.  He grunts and snarls with effort.  The dead man’s blood is sour in his mouth.

“Ah, you’re right,” Jyn says.  She pulls herself to her feet.  She’s moving cautiously, as if stiff or in pain, or not trusting her own body. “We need to do that, yes, hide them.  Yes.”

She sounds calm still, but he sees how her hands hesitate fractionally, almost shying away, before she touches the second corpse.  “Hold on a moment, let me get their gear off first.  They’ll be easier to move without.  Lighter.”

He wants only to get their filthy cadavers out of here and hide them; hide them where they’ll never be found.  But Jyn is right, and he schools himself to let go again and step back.  To watch as with shaking fingers she unfastens clasps and undoes buckles, and hauls off armour, weapons, clothing. 

There isn’t a mark on any of them.

He’s pretty sure there’s not a mark on him, either.  Not a bruise, not a graze.  The mystery of that churrs and whines at him, an insect buzzing in his brain.

“I’ll sink this stuff in the marsh, come nightfall,” Jyn tells him. “I suppose I should keep the weapons though.  I need a new knife, and it wouldn’t hurt for you to have something too, for when you’re – you know.  When you’re human.  I’ll hide the crossbow in the thatch.  Never know when that might come in handy.” She prods at the pile of discarded gear. “That one’s boots might fit you.  You should try them.”

She’s beginning to sound more like herself, and to smell right as well.  The sour sweat of shock waning from her skin.  

He sniffs at the pair of boots she indicated and wrinkles his nose in disgust; looks up to see her give him a small smile.

“I’ll air them, give them a clean.  They won’t stink forever.”

**

It takes hours for the nausea to pass, and the pounding of her heart to quieten.  Her head roars as though a storm is blowing all around her; even her blood feels hotter than usual, racing through her veins.  The Force no longer tingling in her like a ghost, but burning so that her skin winces at every touch, and all through the afternoon her guts roil inside her at the memory.  She finds herself stopping dead, swallowing and staring at nothing.  As though the power will come bursting out of her hands again unbidden.

God, have mercy on me, Lord have mercy on me.  They were right about me.

All the while, she’s aware of Cassian, hovering nearby, breathing hard, watching her.  How much has he guessed?  How much will he ask her?

Will he even want to know?

He’s still here, and that is more than she would have dared to hope.  He knows now what she is, and he stayed.

He helped her drag the bodies away.  One of them had worn an old silver amulet around his neck on a thong.  A scrawny neck, now she saw it naked; she looked into the dead eyes and remembered the man advancing on her.  Sword drawn, no hesitation or doubt in him, only the certainty of his own power, and her helplessness.  Remembered him standing and laughing as his companion tried to beat Cassian to death with her broom.  His face is empty now.  She’ll never know what the luck-charm was meant to protect him from.

Cassian had dug the rough ground with his claws, snarling, and she’d dug too, barehanded, raking away the loose soil as he tore it up.  They’d heaped the earth back over the three dead men and left them, to rot or to be eaten, she neither knew nor cared which.  She wishes she’d had the strength to sink them all, corpses and gear and everything, deep in the marsh.  But it will be all she can manage just to haul their armour that far.

The new moon is only a night away.  Tonight, by the time the waning crescent rises, there’ll be only a couple of hours before dawn.  No help from Cassian then except in wolf form.  But there’s nothing for it, she can’t risk anyone seeing this stuff. “I want to ditch their things tonight,” she tells him. “I’m setting off as soon as it’s dark.”

She gathers up the bits of steel plate, the pair of bucket helms, the greaves and arm guards.  Wraps them in last year’s potato sack and ties it tightly round.  She hauls the bundle onto her back; it’s heavy, metal edges dig into her shoulder blades and the sackcloth scratches. 

Cassian is at the door when she turns round.  He stands across the threshold, head on one side, ears pricked up.

“Well?” she asks him. “You coming, or not?” He gives a little wuff of frustration and then bobs his head at her.  It’s still startling-strange, seeing a wolf nod agreement as no dog ever did.  The dark eyes holding her gaze are very human.   Despite the blood on her hands and the fear still pushing her heart faster, despite the lingering nausea of self-knowledge, it’s comforting to smile at him.  It has become very easy to feel safe in his presence. 

“Let’s go, then.  I’m not waiting till moonrise.”

She pulls down a glamor on the building as soon as the door is locked behind them, hiding her home, her garden, the well and the path to the door, the basket of mushrooms lying spilled where she dropped them; and the scuffed and bloody earth that marks where the soldiers fell.  It’s taken all day to bury them.  The sun is sinking low down the sky.

Cassian bounds ahead and back to her, sniffing the air keenly.  He’s moving normally, unhurt and full of strength.  What in the name of light did I do to him?  He was wounded, and then, not.  I am a weapon, a thing of death.  Not life.  What healed him?

Can it have been me?

But how can I be a healer when I don’t know how?  That is not what my parents made me to be.  Not what Saw wanted to train me for.  I am a weapon.  I am a monster.

He’s lucky I didn’t kill him along with them.  How can I keep him here with me now, when I know nothing near me can ever be safe again?  God, have mercy, Lord have mercy on me.  I would not kill a friend, someone who trusts me.  Who I trust.

But I couldn’t leave him for those brutes to kill.

“Come on then,” she says roughly, speaking to her own fear and need as much as to him.  Cassian looks up at her, quizzical and sad, and nods again.

It’s the first time she’s taken him anywhere away from the cottage.  She walks over the moors with his silent patience for company.  The last remains of sunset are still colouring the sky as they come over the crest of the escarpment, and Jyn finds the long grey rock that marks the route down.  The world is fading, into blue and shadows, dusk, night.

The switchback path down from the bluff is slow going.  She walks placing her feet carefully in the gathering dark, feeling for lose stones that could trip or skid or turn her ankle.  Cassian is surefooted beside her.  The wintry veil of stardust above, a bright pathway right across the sky, as though the Almighty had flung it there like a rich man scattering coin for beggars.

She can see the lights of the village to the south, where the ground begins to rise again, and the starlight reflecting on the great river channel beyond the marshes.  But there’s no time to check on friends and neighbours, her business lies in the marsh itself tonight.  At the bottom of the slope she turns away from her usual route, towards the whispering of the reed beds. 

The safe path runs along a narrow berm, curving about to join tiny islands of dry ground.  By daylight she’s seen the layers of woven hazel twigs, the wattle and clay trampled into the ground, the handiwork of centuries threading in a hidden track among the bogs and pools.  Dense stands of rushes and reeds tall as a man enclose her as she walks, and their solid blackness stirs in every faint movement of air.  Jyn shifts the bundle from one shoulder to the other and braces it again.  Reaches out with her free hand, fingertips brushing against packed canes and leathery leaves.  The reeds whisper like spies in the night, and the whispering follows her, and murmurs ahead, and patters under her hand. 

Cassian has been silent at her heels all the way over the moor and down the escarpment.  He brushes past her now and she hears him moving ahead, sniffing.  How can he smell anything enough to track it, in this cold, damp air that stinks of stagnant water and rotting green things?  But his nose guides him when her nerves and her fumbling hand are starting to fail her, through the swishing, hissing darkness, along the ancient trackway.  There’s a warmth coming off him in the Force, a sense of pleasure at being able to do something useful for them both. 

Overhead, above the reed tops, the stars turn on.

It’s good to feel Cassian in the Force; his alert caution, his awareness of the marsh at night, of scents and sounds undetectable to her, the ripple of fish and breathing of otters, and the wind baulking at the ridge of the moors behind them.  And his hope, his confidence that this is the right path, that she’s making the right choice, that she’ll let him lead and trusts him to find the path.  Despite everything, he has faith in her, and in himself.  She could cry with relief.

How much pain she’d felt in him, the night he came to her; pain, and a hunger for so much more than food.  He’d been near-broken with desperation.  Now when she feels her own despair sucking at her feet, he carries hope like a treasure, he treads lightly ahead and guides her faithfully.

Thank you.  Thank you.  I have not known this for so long, that someone would know what I am and still stay true to me, and have a trust in me.

She’s nowhere nearer breaking the curse.  He’ll realise soon that her story of another spell to try was no more than a prayer whistled in the wind.  Unless she can learn to harness this thing inside her for good ends, she’s at the end of her abilities now.  And who can train her in that, when she fled the only teacher she’s ever known?

If I could learn that skill, learn to make healing and light from the darkness I was bred to, surely with that I could free him?  Surely that could unbind this poison web.  If only I could.  If only I were a blessing on this world and not a weapon.  A weapon half-formed and fearful, and dark as this night.

Suddenly the starlight opens out above them, from a narrow channel seen only where the reeds part, into a great ocean of space.  The winter veil scatters stardust down in milky brilliance to the horizon, and the water reflects it back, shimmering and quivering in a faint cold breeze.  The whispering banks of reeds are behind her suddenly, and only the open marsh before.  The air is salty, the water tidal and quick.

The track goes on, she knows, open and exposed it continues right to the far shore of the delta and the rise of the Moel hills.  But this is the spot she needed to reach tonight.  Jyn stops, listening in the dark, watching the sky and the long sheen of the horizon.

She can hear a frog, some distance off, and the sleepy cackle of a moorhen.  Nothing else but Cassian’s huffing breath, and her own.  She remembers how Cassian’s intense hearing had caught so many inaudible sounds; feels for him in the Force again, and again finds the comfort of his certainty.

He doesn’t know what she is or how she was made, but he doesn’t fear her, and he stays.

She shuffles carefully to the edge of the raised trackway, feeing for the lip with her feet, and crouches down, slipping the heavy burden from her back with relief.  Quickly she unwraps the ropes and sacking and tugs the unravelling bundle down the slope, towards the bright mere before her.  One by one she lowers the pieces of armour into the dark.  They slide into the black and the rippled starlight, and she presses them down, beyond the tide line, down until the darkest layers of silt close over them.  Her hands and arms are bitter cold and soaked when at last she’s done.  She sits back on her heels, breathing hard.  Scrubs water and mud from her skin with the piece of sacking, rolls it up, ties it again, a small ball this time, that she can hang over one arm.  All evidence that the three dead men were Imperials is gone, sucked into the saltmarsh.

Will it be enough?  They’re safe, for now at least.  Safe for now is as much safety as she’s ever had.

Cassian noses at her, standing above her on the track, and she feels a waft of air from his waving tail.  Satisfaction coming off him like a wave.  No doubt he can smell her relief likewise.  She turns and scrambles back up the muddy slope to his side. 

Impulsively she loops an arm round his neck for a moment, hugging him gratefully.  He gives a snuffle of surprise and then surges closer, pushing his head clumsily against her shoulder.  Rough wolf hair under her palms; and she wonders what the man’s hair would feel like, if it would be soft or harsh, long and unkempt as it is.  They crouch together, tired muddy woman and panting wolf, alone in the moonless starlit night.

“All done,” Jyn says in a whisper.  “Thank you.” The hissing reeds hush their assent along the path back. “Let’s go home,” she says.

Chapter Text

Whenever there’s room Cassian walks at her side as they make their way back across the marsh.  He doesn’t want to move away from her. 

He can feel the springy layers of withies below his pads, slowly sinking into the wet.  Can hear the whole night world, soft and squelching and calling and asleep.  He smells mud and mud and more mud, a hundred kinds of mud, and still water from rank to sweet and salt, and old timber, tangled roots, green things and dead.  And Jyn, moving lightly, footsteps and breath both soft and easy.  She smells alert, and so hopeful now, he would smile at it if he could.  He smells the gathering cold, the first hint that the next dawn might bring frost on its shoulders instead of dew.

And smoke.  He smells smoke.

His hackles rise as the taint drifts on the night air.  Smoke, the smell of death, just like this morning.  No, no, no!

He slips ahead of Jyn in two springs and stops, blocking her path.  A growl in his throat.  Looks back and up at her, trying to speak with his eyes, to say wait, stop, smell that? - can you see them, can you hear anything? 

He’s afraid she’ll protest, or shove past him without even noticing.  But she’s Jyn; she halts and he sees her cock her head on one side in the starlight.  Can almost hear her listening; certainly can smell her sudden doubt, and the realisation that follows it.

Far off, but coming nearer.  The tramp of boots.  Closer and closer, on the track that runs to the village.

Jyn drops to a crouch beside him, murmurs close to his ear “I can see torches through the reed tops.” She presses on his shoulders, pulling him hard against her. “Don’t move.  We’ll wait them out.  See who it is, where they’re going.”

A shiver passes through her and into him, and he feels the rippling of her magic in the taut air.  It tugs and draws on him.  Not on the curse in his bones this time, though; the spell catches on the tips of his ears, on tufts of fur, on his whiskers and tail.  It’s like a moving halo, a tiny isolated circle of wind blowing round them both.  The sounds on the track draw nearer, and are unmistakably those of marching men.  Harness and weapons clinking, boots tramping in rhythm; and there’s the steady smell of blood-rust and the smells of leather and rank sweat, bad feet and resinous torches.  The junction with the path is a few feet away; if anyone looks this way as they pass, surely they’ll see the two of them, crouched in plain sight, with only the little breeze of magic shimmering round them.  He can see the lights flickering now, closer and closer through the reeds.

Every muscle tenses to fight.  Jyn beside him is breathing light and fast like someone gathering themselves to run.  Her hands are steady against his flanks.

One by one the torches march by.  He counts seven ranks of men, going four abreast, officers to fore and aft of the party.  Surely at any moment someone will glance their way…

But when the officer at the end of the group does look around, it’s without interest, and without vision.  They don’t see him, or Jyn, though they’re cowering in plain sight, right on the marsh trackway.  The man’s eyes slide past as though he saw nothing but the endless crowd of reeds; and the column of men marches on till they pass out of sight round the foot of the bluff.

“They’re going towards the village,” Jyn whispers in his ear. “Oh God.  Yarrow, Sania, all the people I know are there.  All my friends save you.  Oh, dear God.” She’s swaying slightly, and she smells strongly and simply of fear.

Around them the night-time sounds of the march gradually resume as the tramping of booted feet fades.

He presses his nose against Jyn’s hand, willing her to understand his support. 

“God have mercy on me,” she says, and abruptly she strides forward, onto the main path, and begins to run.  He bounds after her.

Jyn runs in short bursts, tailing the soldiers, avoiding getting too close.  He stays with her.  If things come to a fight, he can at least bite and tear at a man or two.  He knows the taste of human blood now.  It still seems to linger in his teeth, and he remembers the pain of his bones breaking, and the unreality of healing again.  He wasn’t much of a fighter, wolf-bound.  Perhaps he’ll acquit himself better than he did this morning, but even so, he has no idea what the two of them can do, against so many.  Has no idea what it was that Jyn did in the morning, how she did it, whether she can do it again.  And even if she can, will she? – should she? 

This is no trio of stragglers but a full troop, marching armed and purposeful.  Descending on the village at dead of night.  There’s nothing good can come of this.

The torches are spreading out, ahead, the soldiers taking up position.  In front of them, the light illuminates roofs and walls, thatch and cob, wooden shutters closed against the chill of the night.  A line of washing left out.  A row of herb pots flanking a door.  The whole village must be sleeping, midnight long gone by. 

At a word from one of the officers, a dozen troopers move forward.  They are frighteningly quiet as they slip into position, flanking doors and windows, waiting, watching.  Eight others, still in line, raise their crossbows and stand ready. 

The officer raises his hand.

Jyn skids to a halt and Cassian stops beside her; they stand panting, twenty yards away on the track.  Her hand is clutching at the front of her dress.  He can see her breath in the backwash of light from the torches; tiny puffs of mist, fast and thin.  Her smell changes and he can almost taste the tension rising in her, amid the silence and the cold. 

Somewhere among the houses a dog barks; a small sound, no more than a whuff? of curiosity, but it’s enough for the officer to drop his hand.  Mailed fists beat on shutters, pound doors and fling them open, and the troopers begin to yell.

Screaming, panicked, bundled in night clothes and clutching wailing children, the villagers run out from their homes and are pushed and shoved, herded into the open space in front of the crossbowmen. 

Cassian whines despairingly, his body rocking with stress.  He wants to attack though he knows it’s insane to.  How can he stand here and watch this?  Yarrow’s entire village rounded up in the middle of the night, threatened and terrorised by invaders.  The leading officer is haranguing them, waving angry gestures in the air.  His words are inaudible but the threat in their tone carries.  The frightened people mill about, crying children struggle and defiant voices try to answer and are shouted down.  Its everything he swore once to prevent and protect people from.  The Empire at its arrogant, cruel worst.

It’s hard to follow what’s happening.  The officer shouts again, people shout back, a soldier knocks someone to their knees.  It’s a youth, no more than adolescent; a defiant face upraised in the uneven light, a shake of the head, and the boy spits at the feet of the soldier standing over him.  Someone shrieks in the crowd and has to be restrained by those around them as the soldier kicks the young man in the midriff, and kicks him again as he doubles over in pain.

The stink of the burning torches and the hot smell of terror and rage are swirling around Cassian.  A howl is gathered in his throat; he can’t let it out, it would only make things worse and be no help at all to the villagers, but how can he stand here, how can he do nothing?  Jyn is whimpering beside him and he doesn’t need to piece apart the subtleties of her smell to know she feels the same, desperate fear and anger and appalled horror, and helplessness.

The soldier goes on kicking at the fallen youth, in the body, in the face.  Then steps away.  The officer gives an order, and a crossbow bolt slams into the prone body.

Jyn screams aloud; but the other bowmen have begun to fire, and her cry is lost amid the din of shrieks and screams from the villagers.  The torchbearers move forward, lifting flame to roofs and walls and livestock byres.  Fire licks and spreads.  The light grows.  People are trying to run, falling, crawling.  A baby bawls and someone is yelling in pain; he smells blood everywhere.  The soldiers are beating back anyone who breaks free from the crowd, the fire has taken hold, the bowmen are still shooting indiscriminately.

There’s another light beside him, sudden starfire waking in the dark.  He looks up at Jyn, and flinches.

The core of the fire is at her right hand, where she clutches the front of her dress.  Incandescent brightness spills out, as though the air itself is aflame.  For a moment he can still make out her shocked face.  Then the light intensifies, and becomes blinding.   

The air is full of screaming and the roar of flames.  Beside him in a silent blaze of her own, Jyn raises her hand.  She’s a pillar of stars, a noonday sun; a flash comes from her, soundless, brilliant, and for a moment everything is lit as though by a pure white sunrise.  Long shadows lance back onto the marsh and the moors for a split second. 

The soldiers fall as one.

No-one else.

Jyn is still like a thing on fire, blazing white light pouring off her like water, but he can see her once again, she’s solid flesh inside the fire.  He moves near and presses against her in the hope his weight can bring her some aid.  Her weight shifts against his flank; she’s almost staggering, and she falls to her knees, arms dropping wearily.  Her hands bunch in his coat and she hangs onto him for support.  The light is all around them both like a veil.

Thirty dead soldiers sprawl on the ground where she struck, but there are a dozen dead and injured villagers among them too, shot before she could stop the assault.  Voices shriek and wail, groan with pain, howl in terror.  He can see people rushing about, too scared to marshal themselves, overwhelmed with panic.  The fire is spreading unchecked now, and there are flames from the dropped torches catching at the damp grass. 

Jyn catches her breath with a moan and lifts both arms again.  A huge wet voice breathes out of the marshes behind them, hissing in the dark, and as she flings her hands forward, the sound and the wetness hurl themselves forward too, blotting everything out.  Black and salty, a bog’s-worth of tidal water crashes down on the burning buildings, soaking the dead, and the shocked living.

In the silence, steam rises.  Dowsed fires whispering.  Water pours from burned thatch, the ground is saturated, the drenched figures stagger back in disbelief. 

The baby starts to wail again, a thin voice, insistent and helpless. 

Cassian’s eyes are adjusting again; and not just his.  They’ve been seen.  Someone shouts, desperate anger bellowing in the chaos. 

“You!  You, witch!  Is this your doing?”

He wants to shout back; She just saved you!  His voice comes out snarling and he barks in frustration.  The moon will rise soon, but not yet, its shivering current is still below the horizon and he’s trapped as the wolf.

Jyn gasps “No!  What do you mean?  Yanis, you know me!”

But there’s still a faint glow coming off her, she’s the one lit thing beneath the stars in this terrible night.  The man who shouted strides forward.  Weeping shell-shocked people are gathering behind him.  He gestures contemptuously at Jyn. “Know you?  I know a hedge witch who sells dried herbs.  I don’t know you!”

“Yanis, that is me, it’s still me.  Don’t look at me like that!”

Cassian cannot stop the growl rising again in his throat.  The sound presses between his teeth, hard as steel.  She lays a hand on his back, and it grounds and stills him, though he can feel her shaking.  He holds his breath and releases it slowly.  Stay calm, stay calm, Captain, this fight is not begun yet, much less lost.

Another voice, then two, and more figures stumble forward; Yarrow and Sania, arms around one another.  He’s grateful to see they’re both unhurt.

“Jyn,” Yarrow says “Those men – they said they were looking for three deserters. They said their general knew they’d come this way and been killed by our witch.  That’s what they said.  Our witch.”

Deserters.  The three who attacked them were deserters?

But if this general knows what happened to them, does mean it’s the sorcerer?  The one who cursed him…  His hackles come up and the growl rises in his throat again, uncontrollable.  He’ll protect her, he’ll protect her or die trying and yes he probably will die this time but protecting, protecting, the duty he failed returning to demand his blood at last –

“I’m no-one’s witch, I’m nobody’s but my own, never have been,” says Jyn beside him.  She sounds cool, smells angry, an anger that’s icy with fear and tightly controlled. “I’m sorry for what’s happened here.  I know you didn’t bring it on yourselves but nor did I.  Cassian and I did not call these soldiers down on you.”

“But they were looking for you.” The angry man, Yanis. “Beto there wouldn’t give you up and he’s dead for it.  And you say you’re sorry?  What about these deserters, then?  Are you a killer, Witch Jyn?” 

“You’re not the woman we thought we knew,” says Yarrow, bleak-voiced.

“I didn’t do this!” Jyn shouts back. “I just saved you!”

“You call this saving us?” An out-flung arm encompasses the smouldering roofs, the dead and wounded villagers, the scattered corpses of soldiers. “You’ve doomed us.  The Empire won’t rest now until they find who did this.  They’ll destroy us all.  And it’s your doing.”

Jyn looks at the hostile, frightened faces in front of her. “You’re right,” she tells Yarrow.  Her voice is desolate. “They’ll come back.  Give them the bodies of their dead when they come, tell them what happened.  Tell them I attacked and you were powerless to stop me.  Tell them I’m a monster, a plague on your village, that you’ve all longed for years to be free of me.  Tell them whatever you need to, to get them off your backs.”

“But they’ll come after you!” Sania is weeping with shock. “No, I don’t care what happens, why would we betray a friend?”

Her tears smell slightly different to Yarrow’s; different again from Jyn’s.

“Doing what’s needed to save yourselves isn’t betrayal, its’s pragmatism,” Jyn says, resolute. “Stay alive.”

“What will you do?” Yarrow asks. “What if they find you?”

Jyn meets her eyes.  For all her air of certainty he can feel her trembling beside him, but she doesn’t let her voice waver. “They won’t find me.  I’ll go.” Cassian turns his head, thrusts his nose into her palm, begging inwardly Don’t go without me and as if knowing his thoughts she corrects herself: “Cassian and I will go.”

She raises her left hand, an awkward farewell that no-one returns; and touches the bosom of her dress where the soft light is waxing brighter again.  There’s a tiny flash, barely more than the spark from a flint and steel, and the village vanishes, with its frightened people and its dreadful stink of fire and dead flesh and cold, cold night.

They’re standing in the cottage, between the oak table and the faintly glowing embers of the hearth.  Home, safe; but it can never be safe again.  The Empire is hunting them.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

“My parents.” she says, careful and awkward, still finding her words. “Well.  So.  I thought that –that my parents loved me.  That they had me because they wanted to.  Like other parents.  Wanted to have me to love.  But – the Empire came for us.  Killed my father, took my mother away.  I don’t know for certain, probably they killed her too.  I mean, both of them were witches, so…  Well.  When they came, my mother gave me this –“ she touches her necklace through the fabric covering it – “and she left me with her friend and gave herself up to the soldiers.”

Cassian is looking at her, a calm listening face without judgement, but his eyes drop to her fingertips and back, and down again, and it strikes her suddenly that he’s never seen the crystal.  It’s one of the central facts of her but she never shows it to anyone.  She fumbles at the neck of her dress and pulls it out on its cord before she can think better of the decision. “This, she gave me this.  It’s a focussing-stone.”

“It’s diamond?  Quartz?”  The firelight refracts in the crystal; tiny specks of light flick across his cheeks and into his dark eyes.

She shakes her head. “Kyber.  It’s an heirloom.  Passed from mother to daughter.  I’m the last of her line, so.  Well.  The friend she gave me to, Saw – maybe once he was just another witch too, but he changed.  He was always fighting.  Looking for fights.  He used his magic for war.”

“Saw?  Gerrera, the sorcerer?” There’s sharp comprehension in Cassian’s voice. “Dear God…  I’ve known that name since I was a boy.   He fought against us, too.  Ferociously.  I think he fought the whole world.  But I haven’t heard him spoken of in years.  I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

“He’s alive,” Jyn says without hesitation. “I would feel it if he died.  He took me in, he was my teacher.  And he was the one who told me what I really am.” Despite her determination to tell him everything, she’s struggling to find the words.  She twists the kyber crystal in her fingers. “I’m – I was born to be a weapon.  My parents knew what a child of theirs would be.  They bred me.”

The sparkles of firelight make a glimmering dance, they move about the room as she plays with the stone.  It’s hypnotic, she could let herself fall into it, become one more fairy-spark like the rest, go right into a trance, let herself dream away into embers and ash and nothing. 

She drags her eyes away, back to the kind face watching her.

He’s no longer impassive.  A tiny line comes and goes between his brows and he bites his lip. 

“Do you understand what that means?” Jyn asks him. “They bred me, like a hunting dog.   I was conceived to make death.  Not a child of love.  A killing thing.”

She cannot let herself touch the bond between them; wanting it too much, and too afraid, too sure it will shatter at any moment. 

“Gerrera told you this?” Cassian asks. “That’s a hard thing to be told, Jyn.”

Jyn nods numbly.  She lets go of the necklace.  Fiddles with the piece of bread in her lap, feels crumbs break off, picks at them clumsily.

“How old were you?” Cassian says gently.

“Eight.  It was just after he took me in.  That was when he – began to train me.” She tears off a bit of bread and shoves it into her mouth; so brittle and desiccated it’s like eating dust, and she lets her mind focus on that for a moment.  Chew, swallow, choke it down.  Here are more words. “He said I – I would be the greatest weapon he’s ever possessed.  As great as the mightiest sorcerers of the Empire.  He said, when my powers came into their full strength, I’d be – unleashed.”

It’s hard to speak, her mouth is so dry.  More words; she forces them out. “He taught me to fight every way.  Knife, spear, quarterstaff.  Hand to hand.  To shoot a bow.  And to hex and bind and place a curse.  Throw fire, throw rock with magic, or snow, or sand.  A myriad ways to turn weapons against the one wielding them.  And then he told me – how to use the Force.  To destroy, to break things.  To kill.” Her memory flinches away from the thought of Saw’s lessons. “I ran away from him then.  I didn’t want to be – that.  I’ve tried to hide.  From him.  From everyone, from myself, what I am.  But now, now I’ve seen; oh God, have mercy on me!  Saw was right.  I was bred to kill.”

She closes her eyes, because even the light of the fire seems too kind for her darkness.  Exhales, wets her dry lips, feels a shaking deep inside herself that does not end.

A hand brushes against hers, its touch cautious and very light.  She fumbles, trying to respond, reaching blindly for him; and he catches her groping hand and presses it between his own. “You didn’t just kill,” he says. “You healed me, too.”

Jyn shakes her head. “I don’t know how I did that.  Saw only trained me to destroy.”

“But you did it, nonetheless.  You healed me, Jyn.  If you weren’t taught to do it, if it came to you naturally, doesn’t that tell you something?”

“That I’m ignorant, as well as dangerous, maybe?” She looks at him.  There’s still so much kindness in his face. “I – I don’t understand what I did, how I did it.  It felt as though my mind was – grabbing for something.  I had to help you somehow but it was like something clawing.  Like a scream inside me.  Out of control.”

“And when you killed those men?” He squeezes her hand again.  A very gentle interrogator.  She owes him the truth. “It looks like a blaze of light, it just pours out of you.  Do you know how you do that?” 

“Oh yes.” Her voice sounds harsh.  She knows what she’s echoing.  What, and who. “That’s what I was taught.  ’Reach into the star veil, draw down the threads of the Force.  Focus through the crystal and strike.’  I’ve become stronger than I was when I was with Saw.  I’m what he wanted now.  I ought to go back to him, now I’m ready to be unleashed!”

“Jyn, no.” No?  Her spirit clings to the sound of his voice, to his hands anchoring her. “Jyn, listen to me.  Saw didn’t teach you to heal, yet you do it, instantly, spontaneously.  When you were with him, when you learned to do this – reaching for the Force - did that just blaze out of you too, when you learned to fight?”

“No!” She meets his eyes, needing him to understand; she didn’t want this to be her nature, never wanted that, it’s suddenly desperately important that he should understand. “I had to work so hard to make myself - he taught me to curse, to hex, to ill-wish, horrible things.  I forced myself to do it.  It’s wrong.  It twists the Force into darkness, the wrong kind of darkness, the sort with no movement in it, no life.  And I didn’t want to be a thing like that, a weapon.  His weapon.  I never wanted to be anything but myself!”

The worried line appears and then fades slowly and for a moment he almost seems to smile. “You had to force yourself to learn how to kill.  Yet you heal with no training at all. It seems to me you’re not a weapon at all.  Saw was just using your strength.  No, not even using.  Abusing it.”

“He told me that’s what I was made to do.  Bred to do.”

“But if he was wrong?”

Jyn pulls her hand away from his. “Cassian, I killed thirty-three men today.  Not a weapon?  You can’t be that naïf.  Saw knew exactly what he was doing.  Exactly what I’d become.”

“Yet he never thought to tell you that you’d also have the power of healing?  He didn’t tell you you’d be able to douse a dozen fires with a flick of your hand?  That you would carry the two of us across miles of moorland in a moment?  No, I don’t accept he foresaw this.  Jyn, he didn’t tell you what you are, he told you what he wanted you to be!”

How does he know it’s the hope she’s suppressed for so long?  Five years since she ran, hating the man who’d raised and cared for her and told her the bitter truth of herself.  Five years of hiding here, refusing to look beyond these woods and moors, this precious home she made herself, refusing to look up or ever to cast her gaze further abroad than her neighbours in the village, their ordinary work and unremarked cares. 

She wants so much to believe him; for him to be right.  Because if he’s right –

“All I wanted was to stay alive.” How pathetic it sounds, and despicable, that single selfish goal. “I thought I could do humble things, not draw attention.  Just be left alone.  I promised myself, if I was just left alone, I’d help where I could.” Her voice is shaking now, not powerful at all. “I’ve kept my head down, I’ve studied, read, done my best.  Learned the things I should have known, things that would be useful; herbs, bindings, protection charms, how to cure warts and bellyache.  Because I couldn’t let the real me ever be seen.  I know it wasn’t brave, it was cowardly, because I should have been the blade of vengeance but – I just want to survive and not be a monster.” There it is.  The truth, ugly and untrimmed.  She was made to be a star of death and an avenging light, and she’s chosen to be a coward instead.  What a pathetic waste of everyone’s care she is.  Saw’s words in her memory are as harsh as her own.

But Cassian speaks warmly, and the same warmth pulses into her heart as well, an energy flowing from him to her. “You’ve stayed hidden and done magic, made charms for people.  You’ve healed and helped.  You’ve done all that even though you knew you risked your freedom every time you used magic?  That was not the work of a coward, Jyn.”

Half her heart cries for it to be true and half of her runs from it.  She’s known and accepted what she is for so long and it hurts to look in the mirror of his hope and see another truth. “It’s all I know how to do.  Not brave then, to keep doing it.  Just practical.”

He shakes his head. “Courageous too.  Jyn, please listen to me.  I know you’re exhausted and in shock.  After this day and night, dear God, how can you be otherwise?  I’m worn out, too.  But believe me.  I see you.  I know what you are.  You are brave.  Not a coward, nor a monster, no matter what those frightened people said today, no matter what Saw may have called you in the past.  You are brave and good.”

She shakes off the unearned praise, because she must, or be wounded with the pain of hoping again. “I would have called you that.  But not me.”

They’re nearer to one another than usual, knees almost touching, and their hands brush together and almost clasp again. 

It has been good to have a friend, these past weeks.  To have someone to share with; to trust, and be trusted. 

“This power,” Cassian says slowly.  His fingers graze the back of her knuckles. “This – focussing from the stars – Jyn, if it can kill and heal and carry us here through the air like that – could you use it on me?”

“On you?”

“On the curse, I mean.” His face is coming alight, there’s so much hope in him it’s like a torch. “I’ve never seen power like this.  You say Saw taught you to break things.  Could it be strong enough to break the curse?”

“I don’t know.  No!” She doesn’t want to know.  Pull down that blast and fire it into him?  The thought is terrifying. “The spell is wrapped round every bone in your body.  What if it hurt you?”

“But what if it freed me?”

“Please don’t ask me to do this.  I don’t want to lose you.  I don’t know how to control it!  I never practised any of this, I don’t know how to channel it, how to heal, how to do anything that isn’t harm!” She feels tears prickling again, and her heart pounds, overwhelmed at the thought of what she might kill if she tried to do this.  Her only friend, the only person who stayed with her... “I don’t know how to do good!”

“You do.  What have you studied, since you left him?  Only to do good.  It’s in you.  And when you touched me, it just flowed into me –“

“Instinct!  I don’t know how – Cassian, don’t look at me like that! –“ His smile of encouragement is luminous.  She wants to run.

“I know you can do it,” he says. “I believe in you.”

“And I don’t!  Cassian, curse-breaking is dangerous, it requires care, knowledge, precision.  It isn’t like smashing a stone with a hammer!”

“But you’ve studied this curse.  You’ve worked at it – I felt it bend when you pushed, I’ve felt it shake and shift inside me.  You’ve tested its bonds and its nature.  You’re so nearly there, I’m sure of it!”

“Please, don’t do this.” She’s shaking her head at him.  He’s still smiling.  God help them both, has he gone mad? 

“I want you to try.  Please, Jyn.  You have the power, you know that you do!”

“I don’t know that!  Why are you convincing yourself I can control this?  You’ve seen with your own eyes that I can’t!  I just – I was desperate, I thought Get us out of here! and it happened.  But when I saw the wounded and wanted to help them, nothing happened, they weren’t healed.  I don’t control it, I can’t direct it, I have no idea how to make it happen!”

Everything she says to convince him just seems to make him more certain.  His hopeful smile will break her heart.  “Jyn, I realise you’re frightened, you’re confused, but truly, I know you can do this.”

Jyn shakes her head. “Please don’t ask it of me.” And, knowing it’s special pleading and is only postponing the argument “Not now, not tonight.  Please.  I just want to sleep.”

She can see the moment he shuts his hope away, all the light in him withdrawing and locking itself away.  The cord of energy between their hearts fades out, like the moon’s light blocked by a cloud; already she can barely sense it anymore.  It hurts to see his eagerness held back, it’s a dulling and an extinguishing of light.  But dear God, if she were to try this madness, and hurt him!  She cannot risk it.

“I promise you, if I ever learn how to use this power safely, how to guide it, I promise you, I will try.  But not now.”

She can feel the air move as he sighs, though he holds back the sound, and the wave of his disappointment washes over her, but he masks it all, nothing on his face but a kindly acceptance.  “So,” he says “what do we do now?”

We.  He’s staying, he wants to stay.  Even now when she’s refused him, he’s still staying with her…

Jyn masters her voice and her face as he has done and says with all the calm she can find “I need to pack up and leave.  If you want to come with me I will be grateful for your company.  I know you can’t carry anything.  I’ll bring what I can, I don’t need much and I have to be – I’ll have to leave a lot.  I’ll need to – we’ll need to move quickly.”

“You’ve had no sleep,” he reminds her.

“Nor have you.”

“And we need to sleep.  This has been a long day and a dark one.”

A dark day, and all the darkness  was of my bringing.  I am sorry, my dear, my friend.

“No-one will come tonight, they haven’t had time,” Cassian says. “We should rest while we can.  Empty your heart of all this shock, let yourself sleep.”

“A few hours, then,” she concedes. “Just until sunrise.”

The last night she’ll sleep here, perhaps forever.  She can place a glamour over the cottage, close the woods in around it, make it seem a ruin to the casual eye.  But if this witch-general of the enemy’s should come, he’ll see through her workings as a heron sees through the gleam on a lake.  She has to chance it, since there’s no other protection she can make.  Unless I learn how to use my powers to the full, I am helpless now except to run before the current while my enemies search.  And must drag poor Cassian too, to whatever fate awaits me? 

But what else can I do?  Only go back to Saw, and be taught to kill. 

Was I wrong, to vow I’d never see him again?  He may be the only one who can help me.  If he’s even still sane.

The last night here.  Another home lost, and another place of safety taken from her.  Jyn lies rolled in her blankets, watching him as he lies in the firelight, and somehow the sight of him sleeping is enough to give her rest.  Tomorrow’s dawn will be on them all too soon, and with it the road of exile. 

Chapter Text

It’s day, and it’s the day of the new moon.  He’ll be wolf from now till the next moonrise tomorrow night, and he’ll be wolf for every day they are journeying.  He cannot bear a weapon, can’t carry so much as a water bottle or a spare shirt to help.

Jyn is sitting at the table when he wakes, dressed and booted for travel.  She’s staring down at her hands, and for a moment he thinks she’s wringing them in distress; but she is only holding one of the little clay drinking beakers and turning it about, as if she wants to examine every inch of it minutely. 

There are two bags on the table, already packed and closed; a knapsack, and a leather satchel such as he’d seen pilgrims use long ago.  The pair of boots he’d forgotten to try on were tied to the knapsack by their laces.  She even has to carry his gear for him.  He determines to make the boots fit no matter what.

He tries to say her name.  His ears go down at the formless huff of sound he makes, and Jyn looks up, and smiles.

“I’ll get us something to eat.”

She sets the copper-based fry-pan over the fire and quickly cooks up a mixture of eggs with stale bread, chopped sausage, vegetables and cheese.  The last fresh foods in the house, he identifies sadly, though she doesn’t draw his attention to it.  She rinses the bowls and the pan when they’ve eaten and dries them carefully, and puts them away on their shelf.

Then takes the jug of well water and quickly, like someone lancing a wound, throws it on the hearth. 

He’s never known the house without a fire burning; merry evening flames warming the room, or glowing embers waiting to be woken at morning.  Now suddenly there’s only wet ash, and steam, and sudden cold.

“We should go,” Jyn says.  She’s already hefted the two bags onto her back.

When Cassian turns to look back at the edge of the clearing, the open space is full of morning light and the cottage looks peaceful.  It’s a homely precious sight.  The vegetable garden is half-bare now, but still with a line of cabbages, a few lettuces running to seed and a bean row dropping leaves.  There’s a bare space where he remembers the hen-house had stood.  He has a moment to puzzle at that, before abruptly both house and garden shimmer and fade from view.  Through a thick screen of trees he can just make out overgrown walls and the gape of a broken door.  Thick scrubby understorey growth packs close around the ruin and mature trees rise from the path he trod a few seconds ago.  A startled wuff slips out of him and he looks up at Jyn in surprise.   But there’s no sign of any glowing light, and her hands rest on the straps of the knapsack as she murmurs the last words of an incantation.

“It’s called a glamour,” she says, catching his glance. “Best I can do to protect it all.  For a time at least.” She hoiks down on the nearside strap, settling the pack better.  “Don’t know how long I can hold it but, well, we’ll see, eh?  Let’s get going, eh, woods-brother?”

He’ll ask about the hens tomorrow night.  He doubts that any harm has come to them.  Jyn calls them my sweet girls and my ladies, and presses kisses on their clucking heads when she holds them.  They’ll be safe somewhere.

He hasn’t been more than a few yards out into the forest since he arrived here.  Hearing her voice call him woods-brother as she did that night brings it back; the raw cold of night, the throbbing pain in his infected leg.  He’d been limping through the forest for days, tense as a bow-string with hunger and fear, alert to every crackling leaf or scuttle of an insect, every warning bird call from above.  Drawn to something that called him, that made the air taste of home and safety.  The clearing, the little house.  The woman he found there.

Jyn is shamefully hung about with burdens now, carrying the two bags, the trooper’s heavy boots, a big water bottle and the crossbow hung over her free shoulder.  Round her waist are not one but two belts, each with a long knife in a sheath; on one she’s also carrying a pouch and a short club, on the other, the sheaf of crossbow quarrels.  Weapons for both of them, and clothing, and no doubt in the bags she’ll have some kind of supplies as well. 

The only contribution he can make to each day’s travel is with his hunting skills.  Such as they are.  From the first his wolf instincts had told him that hunting is done in a pack, that a lone wolf cannot bring down large prey, and he’s struggled to prove them wrong; lived on carrion, caught rats or squirrels, sometimes a pheasant, often nothing for days.  It was no wonder he was half starved by the time he found her.  It’s only by grace of Jyn’s charity that he’s got some muscle tone back, and a bit of weight on him now.  His prickly, unhappy, generous friend, who has so much reason to hide yet for some reason has showed herself to him entire.  He’ll run himself thin as a thread if it means he can catch her a rabbit or a bird.

They move steadily all morning, keeping pace with one another.  The morning light slants yellowish and oblique through the bare trees and catches in the dry undergrowth, making hard-edged patterns of sun and shadow that scramble his eyes.  Overhead in the leafless branches there’s a calling of finches sometimes and the chack-chack-chack of daws, and pheasant and crow, further off, distant and without alarm.  There’s a dappled soft sky beyond the treetops, fresh pale clouds and milky blue rippled together.  When Cassian inhales he smells over-ripe crab apples rotting themselves to sourness somewhere; also fungus and bracken and pine duff; and badger, fox, rat.  A few green plants and unobtrusive flowers here and there underfoot, rosettes of wood-sorrel, ivy trails and thick beds of moss, crowns of bears-breeches.  A small holly tree with berries like bloody eyes.  A tangle of sere grasses round a fallen tree that’s collapsing back into the earth, speckled with yellow mushrooms.

Jyn walks very quietly; he notices by how little he notices.  She steers a course to avoid the snagging of brambles, places her feet briskly and steadily, yet without a rustle or the snap of a twig.  At home here, far more of a woods’ creature than him who was raised in a town and grew up a soldier; and he smiles as he trots at her side, admiring her confident gait, her tirelessness. 

She’s purposeful, too, heading north by north-west, the sun steady on her right flank all morning. 

He didn’t think to ask, last night, if she had a destination in mind.  It seems she does.

You didn’t think of much, did you?  Too shaken by the day and its sights, too swept up in your hopes and fears of freedom.  Poor Captain.  Not such a hardened soldier now.

When they reach a stream it’s almost midday, and they stop to drink and for Jyn to refill the water bottle.  He wonders if she’ll change course now but she strikes off again on the same line with no hesitation.  Yes, for certain then, she has some goal for them to reach.  Somewhere to hide, maybe, or somewhere to find help?  Their path threads about sometimes and Jyn avoids having to wade through the stream or pass through thickets that can be bypassed; but every time, she angles back to the same course.

He follows.  She doesn’t speak.  Nor does he.

He’s noticed that the water bottle is a soldier’s leather canteen.  Round and flat, with a pewter mouthpiece and cap and reinforced seams, it looks to have done many years’ service somewhere.  He’s never seen it before.  It wasn’t among the gear she took from the three men in the clearing a day ago.

Only a day ago. 

The sun is beginning to get lower, westering through the trees and casting hard golden bars of light, and cold shadows.  Their route has been going uphill for some time, the footing getting rocky, growing more steep.  There’s no proper path, there never has been one, for all Jyn walks with such certainty and a sight-line only she can see.  But as the ground rises there’s less underbrush, and here and there among the pin-oaks and chestnuts there are tall aspens with pools of shed leaves beneath them, and larches the colour of sulphur roses, and black-trunked conifers.  The temperature is dropping as the daylight creeps away.  He’s less tired than he would have expected.  He remembers again how much fitter he is than the last time he spent a night in the woods.

He hasn’t smelled rabbit once, but there’s a sudden whiff of grouse.  No, even better, snow-grouse; and the birds will be fat for the winter and slow, with feathers half-moulted.   Cassian sniffs again, tasting the direction of the flock; tries to nod a signal to Jyn.  Asking her to wait is beyond him, and he needs to move fast if there’s any chance of catching a bird for their supper.  He’ll have to find her again.  She’ll be making camp soon anyway.  Her scent is so familiar to him now, it won’t be hard to track her. 

The hunt takes longer than he would like, stalking and chasing through the open trees, losing his first target, sniffing out and waiting for another and finding a place to pounce from.  But at last he turns to retrace his steps in the near-dark, with a still-warm grouse hanging limp in his jaws.  And it’s easy to pick up Jyn’s scent trail.  Less than a mile further on from where he left her, the odour of woodsmoke mingles with her presence, and Cassian’s nostrils flare.  The smell of home.  He speeds up, trotting towards the sweet smoke.  Sharply aware of how different a campfire smells on a cold night, compared to the poisonous stink of a burned village.  There’s a glimmer of light ahead now, it’s the promise of warmth and a friend at his back.  Their day started with a fire put out and the extinguishing of a home; it’s cheering beyond measure to see flames again, the safety of a fire-lit camp.

Jyn has found a clearing in a patch of level ground, in the lee of a stand of cedars.  A granite outcrop falls away below them, protecting their camp on one side.  When he comes up, she’s using one of her knives as an improvised wood-chopper, cutting evergreen boughs and piling them alongside the fire for bedding.  She looks up as he comes into the open space and smiles at him.

“I was hoping you might have gone hunting when you scooted off like that,” she says. “Told myself you wouldn’t leave me.  Glad I was right about that.  What’s this you’ve brought, then?”

Snow-grouse, he tries to say without thinking, proud of having caught the fat bird.  “Huff-wuff,” his voice mumbles, thick with feathers.  He drops the grouse at Jyn’s feet, sneezing as he tries to laugh with her.

She bends and lays a hand on the dead creature, stroking it.  Cassian remembers the vanished hens with a sudden pang; but after a moment, Jyn says simply “Thank you for this life” as if it were a prayer.  And then to him “And thank you.  I’ve gathered some sorrel and mushrooms but this will make a far better meal with them.”

Beside the fire, a dozen stout ceps lie cleaned and threaded on a peeled stick.  There’s a blanket spread out over the rough bed of cedar branches.  The crossbow and the second knife and belt, and his clothes and boots, all laid out ready for him.

Oh, Jyn…  He trots over and sniffs at them, and shakes his head.

“What?  What’s wrong – oh.  Of course.  It’s the dark of the moon tonight.  I’m sorry, my dear.  I forgot.  I’ve been thinking of – other things.  I’ll put them away.”

My dear…  Cassian stares, feeling heat like a blush burning up under his fur.  Oh, my dear…  He lies down, hangs his head, covers his nose with his forepaws.  In the firelight it’s hard to tell, but he thinks Jyn’s face has flushed a darker colour too.

She plucks the dead bird and guts it, and soon has it grilling, neatly jointed, on a spit beside the fire.  The smell of cooking meat is a perfume, it sets Cassian’s stomach growling and she grins at him. “Yes, me too.”

Holding her green eyes with his own, here in the heat of the fire and the golden-red light, brings back the warmth inside his skin.  Somehow here, just the two of them lost in the hills, he feels more alone with her than in all the days and nights they passed in the cottage.  He looks up instead, into the gap between the treetops and the space of open sky above.  The winter veil of stars is brilliant, a shining dust scattered across the heavens.  Jyn looks upwards too, following his gaze. 

“Could be a cold night,” she says.

Cassian nods slowly.  Lies looking up, from firelight to starlight.  His belly rumbles again and he ignores it determinedly.  He’s become used to regular meals, albeit oddly spread out across day and night; he’s got soft, these weeks of safety and friendship. 

It pains him, to have to dismiss the blessing of his time with her as something that softened him.  Things as natural and normal as safety, company, enough to eat, should never have to be called weaknesses. 

Well, a few nights in the open with frost on his pelt will soon toughen him up again.

The meat smells better with each passing minute, and the brown skin is starting to crisp and catch.  Jyn moves the little stick of mushrooms up onto the spit beside it.

“I’m not used to skipping meals,” she says softly “or hiking all day.  I used to be tough as gristle and now I’ve got blisters and my knees hurt!” She’s laughing at herself, and she cannot know how her thoughts are twins with his.  Cassian tosses his head and waggles his ears at her, blows out a snort of agreement. 

They eat the grouse and the mushrooms, and Jyn munches a handful of sorrel leaves, pulling a face at the sourness.  And that’s the meal done. “I’m turning in.  Another long day tomorrow.”

She rakes the fire back, leaves just a heavy chunk of wood that will burn slowly all night.  Rolls herself in her blanket and stretches out on her bed of cedar.  The green branches look black in the firelight, and her hair and her eyes are black too, her face a pattern of red-gold light, black shadow.  This is the way his human sight has always seen her, fire-lit and shadowed.  Only his wolf eyes have ever told him she has green eyes, brown hair, pale skin.

He curls up, puts his tail over his nose and closes his wolf eyes on the sight of her.

It’s still dark when he’s woken abruptly.  Two things are wrong; his fur is wet and cold, with more than dew, and Jyn is muttering angrily beside him.  Swearwords and complaints; “Damn it, damn it, why in the seven-screwed hell did it have to? –“

It’s raining.  The fire is almost out already and Jyn is struggling to pull her bed of branches up and prop its constituent parts against the trunk of one of the trees in an improvised lean-to.  Spitting with frustration the while.  “Devil’s arse!  Devil-screwing arse on a donkey, damn it – ow!” A branch has fallen on her foot. “Shit! Shit, shit, shit-sucking bricks of shit!”

He’s never heard her curse beyond an occasional whispered damn.  It would be comical if it weren't for the cloudburst, if they weren’t both getting so cold, so wet, so fast.  He hauls himself up stiffly and shakes.

“Cassian, you must be soaked.  Damn it!” Her hasty battle in the dark seems to be won; she’s on her knees, crawling under a rough heap of boughs, her face a pale blur staring back at him. “Come inside here with me.  It’s more a nest than a tent but – come inside.  It’s drier than out there.  Please?”

The rain isn’t heavy but it’s penetrating, and the night is cold.  He can see his breath, a mist among raindrops.  The fire is sputtering out.  Jyn holds out a hand. “There’s room,” she says. “I think…  If I squeeze over a bit – yes –“

There have been so many, so very many, cold and wet and lonely nights, when it seemed his death was creeping behind in his shadow.  He had thought once he must simply endure that life till the end.  Now he can’t bear the thought of that solitude.  To have someone care that he be comfortable and able to sleep…  He shakes himself again, as fast and hard as possible from nose to tail tip to get as much of the rain off as possible, and quickly sidles forward to crawl in under the mess of leaning branches with her.  A warm arm comes up in the resinous darkness and hugs him.

“Funny how you can get used to a smell, eh?  Damp wolf, not a thing I ever thought I’d be familiar with.” He can hear her smile, and she rubs his shoulders till he settles and stretches out beside her.  Then wraps her arm right over his ribcage.

“So much for my weather forecasting skills.  Hope it’s better tomorrow.”

Cassian sighs.  Blissful warmth.  Her body heat and his own, pressed together in this tiny space; her body against his spine, her hand on his breastbone.  He shifts his paws till that thin hand is between them.  Feels his whole body heave with a doglike sigh of sudden contentment.

Sleeps.

Chapter Text

Its’s raining again when Jyn wakes, a light drizzle pattering on the outside of her rudimentary shelter.  The drips are starting to come through; there’s a wet patch on her cheek, the beginnings of another seeping into the blanket.  At some point in the last few hours she’s pulled the thick wool over Cassian as well.  He’s still on his side, absolutely out cold, not giving so much as a twitch of a paw.  Slow, shallow breathing under her arm.  The warm smell of wolf in her nostrils, musky and oily and dusty, and strangely homelike. 

She doesn’t want to wake him.  Let him rest, let him be warm, just a little longer.

She studies the shape of his ears.  Behind their outline she can see a faint rainy daylight filtering through the branches.  Cassian as a man has rather large ears; their counterparts in this form are large too, and dark grey, with shapely tufts at their tips. 

The fur on his ribcage is silken-soft under her hand, and his heartbeat is strong.

She hasn’t slept with another person since she shared a cot with that grumpy child at Red Crag, ten years ago.  What was her name?  Mata, Maila?  Maia, that was it.  Always envying someone for something.  The wanting and the dreams not yet knocked out of her.

I wonder if she’s still alive?

Well, I’ll find out soon enough. 

I wish I could see some other choice besides this.  But I’ve got to get to grips with this power, before it tears me apart.

How much better it would be, to be able to stay here.  Just me and Cassian.  We could stay in the forest; build a better shelter, protect one another, keep one another from the cold.  Two wounded creatures together.

They’re good together, after all, God knows they’ve found the truth of that.  They work well together, they think alike, have the same fears and angers, the same enemies.  Perhaps some of the same hopes too.

It wouldn’t be so bad.  We’d work things out.  Could be pretty comfortable.

Hell’s teeth, woman, and so you were; very comfortable, in the cottage.  You had a nice cosy home you could have shared with your wolf friend for the rest of your lives.  Until you started blasting men’s souls out of their bodies, letting the Force fire its crossbow bolts through you.

I want it all not to have happened.  Not to have lost everything, not to have had to run.  But it can’t be undone.  And in the end, it was inevitable.  I am what I am, and that cannot be undone.

She closes her eyes for a moment, curling in close to the warm body beside her.  It’s so good not to be alone.

I’ve lived too long alone.  Too long hiding, denying, refusing.  No wonder everything seemed to break apart inside me when I let it out, no wonder it felt as though my heart went to fire and chaos for a time.  Shock and fear and letting go of everything I’ve fought to keep hidden from myself, for so long. 

And when my friends saw what I really am, they looked at me with horror.  As if I needed further confirmation of the truth.

God be thanked that Cassian was with me.  He hasn’t wavered once.  God be thanked.  I can go forward and face what must be faced and not be alone

Just the same, right now she doesn’t want to have to move.  I’m comfortable, I’m cosy here, too.  Cosy if I ignore the drips, and the damp seeping up from the ground, the pine-needles sticking me in the back of the neck, tickling my ears, spiking my arm.  Cosy if I could just lie with my nose in Cassian’s neck and forget about everything else, and never have rain or frost fall upon us ever again.  Yes, that kind of cosy, just a dream of home.  Fool that I am.

Time to get up.  Face the day, and the rain and the challenges thereof.  At least she’s more calm now, with a night’s sleep and a good distance between her and the fragments of her broken life.

Another drip hits her cheek.  She remembers scrabbling about at dead of night, furious in the suddenly torrential dark, trying to lug out what had been under her and get herself under it instead.  Remembers Cassian’s mild, surprised eyes as he woke to the sound of her swearing like a trooper. 

It was funny, really, now she can look back on it.  And all things considered, this isn’t such a bad shelter.  But it’s served its purpose now.

Another drip. 

Come on, woman, stir yourself.

As if he knows what she’s thinking, Cassian gives a sudden huff of breath and starts awake.  He lifts his head, ears pricking up and twitching, he’s listening to the rain and the hundred other sounds he’ll be able to hear behind it. 

Jyn lets her soul reach out and touch the cord between them.  For a moment she shares his sense of sound and stillness, his vast world of scent.  Her hand rests on his sternum, feeling his breathing, and the heartbeat strong and steady under his dense coat.

She pushes her mind back from the intimacy, and her body up on one elbow.  Cedar needles snag in her hair and drop down the back of her neck.  Ugh, cold, damp, spiky.  Cosy, indeed…

She strokes the thick hair of Cassian’s ruff. “Rain again, I’m afraid, yes.  Not our luck.  Sorry about the strong language last night, by the way.”

He twists round to roll his eyes at her, a look so wryly amused that she laughs out loud.

And there it is, very sudden.  They are homeless and damp and alone, they are under pursuit by an implacable enemy, they’ve slept the night wormed into a pile of branches like two grubs.  Yet the self-tormenting questions and the doubts and fears all fall away, to leave just this simple, glad fact, of a friendship she will not turn back from.  No matter what. 

Yes, we are good together.  I cannot bear to lose this now.  I cannot, I will not, allow it.

I am his and he is mine, and we are all we have, now.

There’s no more room for a space between them.

Cassian rolls onto his tummy and creeps backwards out of the shelter, grinning back at her with his tongue lolling.  Jyn bundles up the damp blanket and wriggles out after him, into the day.  She hauls her bags after her, roots in the larger one for an apple while Cassian crunches up the last of the bones from their evening meal.

Mother used to say Don’t give chicken bones to the puss-cat, they’ll splinter in her tummy and hurt her. 

Like all her memories, the image of Lyra comes with a gleam of sadness overlaying the sound of her voice and the smile of her face.  She was so kind, so full of love for all God’s creatures.

I guess wolves must be tougher inside than cats.

She chews the apple down to the core and eats that too, spits out just the flat brown pips onto the ground.  Stuffs the blanket in the top of the satchel.  Settles the two sword belts round her hips, the knapsack on her back, slings the satchel onto her right shoulder, the crossbow on her left.  Shakes her bedraggled hair and screws it into a knot at the nape of her neck.  No point in any further toilette, there’s no-one here but the two of them, dirty and half-wild as they both are.

“Let’s get going.”

Their path today climbs steadily, heading into the foothills of the Cadera range.  The trees begin to thin out more, with fewer broadleaf and more conifers, and rough open spaces alternating with pine woods so dark they seem to have the ghost of winter walking in their shadow.  The bedrock is near the surface here, granite cheekbones of the land jutting out from a face that’s handsome and stark and queenly. 

There are real peaks ahead, their rocky shapes grey and clean in the drizzle.

Sometimes they can follow the track of a deer path for a while, meandering trails with branches bent aside and beaten earth underfoot.  Sometimes they trudge in the midday darkness beneath the pines.  Sometimes in a clearing there’s a view out, a ridge lifting them up, and they can look out over miles of treetops below, and far off, the moors and the river, and the ghostly blue line of the Moel hills in the west.

The drizzly rain slackens and stops by late morning; with luck they can get dry now, walking in the free air, high up and getting higher.

It’s startling to realise just how far they’ve come, and how high, already.  Another day walking at this pace and they’ll be through the pass.  The day after that should bring them to Red Crag.

The old monastery.  Where I will find my teacher, and my destiny.  Or my ruin.

Yet another reason to wish she could stay here, camping in the mountains with Cassian, and pretend the winter will not come and the enemy won’t even try to track them down.

She refuses the dream.  Winter and destiny and the Empire are all ineluctable as the wind.  No point in defying them.  Only in fighting.

There are no more fallen leaves underfoot, here on the higher ground where the scattered trees are mainly pine and cedar, and fewer little creatures scuttling away, just a few birds calling out among the branches.  As their path rises, the sound of the wind is like a sea-voice on the slopes below; it comes and goes in the pine-needles like soft waves breaking, and hushes and breathes in the distance.

From time to time Jyn reaches out again, tentative, aware of her own shyness, to touch the thread between her and the wolf.  To feel him in the Force, his calm steadiness, soldierly and focussed.  The sounds of the breeze and the voices of crows far off are sharper to him, and he can smell the damp, and the lancing cold.  He keeps going, staying with her, and she can’t sense any danger or anything untoward, any sound or scent out of place.  There’s just Cassian marching doggedly on; his panting breath and the weary tenderness of his paws.

She winces and breaks off the connection.  She doesn’t even know if he can tell she is reaching for him, but the act of sensing his discomfort feels intrusive, uncomfortably intimate; and besides, it brings the soreness of her own feet into focus.

I ought to tell him where we’re going.  That it’s not far to go now, and we can rest when we get there.  God willing.  Though Heaven knows what else we may have to do.  What I may have to.

Damn Saw for making me afraid of myself and of him, when in the end I have no choice but to face both him and myself.

But after everything Cassian’s heard me say,  all my fear and bitterness against Saw and his lessons, how can he not think me a hypocrite when I admit I’m going back to Red Crag?  How can he not be disgusted with me?  Turn away and leave me to my fight?

No.  He will stay with me, he said he would stay.  I believe this.  I have to believe this.  He won’t leave.

We just have to stick together and keep going.  We are good together, we are good with one another, I believe this.

Twice during the day’s walking Cassian lopes away from her side, nostrils flaring.  Each time he’s gone for a good spell.  The first time, he re-joins her with nothing but an ugly scratch down his nose.  The second time, he’s soaking wet about the face and forepaws, tongue lolling in a toothy grin of excitement.  She exclaims at the sight of him. “What in the stars?  What happened? – are you alright?”

“Wuff.” Cassian’s tail swings slowly and happily. “Wuff!”

Jyn listens; and there it is, under the sound of her breathing and his and the breath of the wind; there’s a stream somewhere nearby, quick noisy water rushing downslope over rocks.  The sound eddies and bounces among the stands of trees, but it can’t be far off, he hasn’t been gone long and he’s still dripping.

He found a stream and jumped in.  Which can only mean one thing, surely? – that there’s not only clean water for drinking but also – “Fish?  You found fish?”

“Wuff!”

Jyn has neither hook nor line; but surely between them they can manage to catch something. “Well, so, you champion!  Lead the way, let’s get ourselves some supper.”

Chapter Text

There are red-gold sparks flying up, into the blue dark, the deep luminosity of the early night sky.  Tonight’s campfire is all pinewood, it smells of resin and smokehouses and the oily bark spits and hisses in the blistering heat.  They’re on high ground with an open view, out across the miles of forested hills and the moors beyond, and the silver sickle of the moon rises above the horizon and casts its light across the whole empty land.  The change passes through Cassian in a shivering moment, moonlight cold right down to his bones.  Goose-pimples spring on bare flesh and he grabs for his clothes, shuddering. 

He’s still damp from their impromptu fishing trip, hands and feet frozen, icy drips running from his hair.  But it was worth it.  Two fat salmon hang skewered beside the fire, when Jyn has just put them to cook; one low down, already sizzling and oozing fat, and one higher up, suspended in the swirling of resinous smoke.

He hauls on the breeches, pulls the shirt over his head.  As he emerges Jyn offers him a piece of grey cloth.  He stares at it, it isn’t part of his usual clothing, and she smiles, warm as the fire herself, and rocks forward onto her hands and knees. “Here, let me.”  Suddenly she’s crawling over, crouching right beside him; reaching up with the fabric, rubbing at his hair.  When he raises his hands to take over the task their fingers tangle for a moment.  He looks across and sees that her grin has gone shy at their touch, and his own grows wide before he can stifle it, and then tries to hide itself, ashamed of his pleasure in her nearness. 

Jyn shuffles back, still on her knees, and turns to check the fish.  Cassian goes on rubbing his hair dry.  Over her shoulder she says “We’ve made good progress.  Should get there tomorrow evening.  Just this one night to spend out of doors.”

That has to mean Red Crag, then.  It’s as good as an admission of where they’re going.  He doesn’t want to remark on the fact she hasn’t said it out loud.  She has the right to her own motives, both for facing Gerrera and for being reluctant to.  

Instead, he gestures at the shelter she’s set up against the rock; a couple of fallen branches propped in a crevice, armfuls of green boughs flung over them.  More than they had last night, and constructed with a little more care. “Not really out of doors,” he says. “That’s almost a proper roof.”

“I’m not chancing getting rained on again,” Jyn retorts good humouredly.

The sparks dance up and the cooking salmon spits into the hissing fire, and for a moment they smile at one another as though none of this is in any way out of the ordinary.

It still isn’t fair that she should have to do all the work; prepare the fish, build the fire, fix up a shelter.  But it’s well after nightfall and the moon is only just up.  It would be impractical for her to wait for him, to wait until moonrise just so he can do his share.  And Jyn has clearly done these things before.  Must have done, when she left the Lion of Red Crag and ran this way, alone.   

Even in pitch darkness and rain, last night, she managed to drag together a shelter solid enough to shield them from the worst of the cloudburst.  She is nothing if not practical.

A shiver jolts through Cassian at the recollection.  Last night.  He slept, and woke, in her arms.  Her breath and her voice  behind him, her body pressed to his back.  They kept one another warm.

But I can’t ask that of you tonight.

The new shelter looks strong and neatly made.  It also looks rather small.  Will they both fit inside?  They won’t, surely.  Can she have forgotten that he would be a man again tonight?  He can’t ask her to sleep beside him again, not now…

He takes refuge from the thoughts that snag at his heart, from their awkward shapes and hurts, and the tenderness he can’t put anywhere or even acknowledge he feels.  Bends his head away from Jyn’s friendly glance and concentrates on towelling roughly through his hair again. 

It’s only when he hands the cloth back to her at last and she spreads it out carefully by the fire to dry that he realises it’s her scarf.  He stumbles and gropes in his mind for something to say; something, anything, to drive away the sudden image of laying his head against her throat where the soft grey fabric usually lies.

“I’m sorry I have to travel in wolf form, I hope I don’t slow you down.”

“No,” says Jyn after a second. “No, not at all, truly.  It’s all I can do to keep up sometimes.  Four legs move fast!”

“You’re carrying everything,” dammit, all the guilt is coming out now, rushing like that stream – “even these damned boots when I’ll only ever wear them in camp.” He’s pulling them on as he speaks and blessing the fact that they do indeed fit.  But he ought to be marching beside her, not sitting here comfortable in the heat of a fire she lit and gathered fuel for, waiting for food she’s cooked…

“You found the stream and caught the fish,” Jyn reminds him. “We’re quits.”

Once again, as if she can read his thoughts.  How did they grow to know one another so minutely?

What if she really does read his thoughts?  She would see some shameful things if she can.  Cassian retreats again from the memory of her touch and fixes his mind on the memory of cold water, the shock of it snapping over his head as he dived in headlong, snapping and snatching, scrabbling out on the far bank.  A steel-blue fish struggling in his jaws, blood dripping hot down the icy wet fur of his face.  Jyn laughing and cheering, her gleeful face as he turned to show her his catch. 

He’d swum back, across the pool below the white water, deposited the salmon in front of her and done it all again.  This at least I can do, this at least I can hunt successfully.

This at least I can do for you.

“The boots aren’t a problem.  They’ll keep your feet warm.  And if we have to break camp at night for any reason you can’t run barefoot in this terrain.  It’s practical to keep them.”

Practical, yes, just as he was thinking earlier.  She doesn’t let her mind get hooked up in dreams, the way he does; or, if she does, she hides it better.

“It’s going to be another cold night,” she adds.  He follows her upward glance.  Above the dancing of sparks the sky is very clear again, every star dazzling like the jewels of a royal dress. “And, maybe –“ she hesitates, looks down, bites her lip, and he can see the moment she resolves herself to say it – “maybe when we get to Red Crag, you’ll find you can use them more.  I mean, maybe we can break the curse, when – maybe Saw can do it.”

He doubts that; every bone of his body cries out that the freeing of him lies with her.  He turns his mind instead to the fact she’s just told him what he’d been shying away from asking.  Saw.  Red Crag.  “I’d guessed we must be going there.  It will be – interesting, meeting him.  I only know his reputation and that is –“ He scratches his neck, unwilling to say it.

“I can imagine,” Jyn finishes for him. “He is – he’s a strange man.  He was becoming – more strange, when I left him.  Cassian, I don’t know what we’ll find there, I can’t promise you his help.  He’s always been paranoid.  He will be angry with me.” Her expression is hard and vulnerable. “But I have nowhere else to go.  And he may be able to help.  It’s worth a try.”

She sounds so forcedly calm he sniffs instinctively for her emotions before remembering he’ll smell nothing but fish and woodsmoke right now.  But it isn’t so difficult to guess that she knows this choice is better than the worst, but still a bad one for all that.  Between the battle in Saw Gerrera’s mind and the enemy troops looking for her, what real choice is there?

And the only choice I can see is to go with you.  We are stronger together; and so alone, so very alone, without one another. 

They can face everything that must be faced, danger and madness included, if they can just do it together.

Even sleeping arrangements, Captain?

Damn it, should he just ask, or wait for her to lead?  Damn it, damn it, he can’t keep passively expecting her to say all the difficult words. “Jyn, I – I don’t expect you to – to share your bed again.  By the way.” He clears his throat, smoke going the wrong way perhaps, or doubt. “Last night was – the moon was dark, I didn’t – it’s not the same, I do understand that it’s not –“

Jyn turns to him, reaching out to take the fish down off its forked sticks as she does so.  Her face is flushed in the uneven light and she says “I won’t hear of it” and sounds almost angry. “There’ll be a frost, you know that there will.  We should share body heat.  It’s nothing more than that.” She thumps the salmon down on a fanned-out pine branch on the ground. “No plates, sorry.  Eat with your fingers.”

“Jyn, I –“

“Eat,” she orders.  Passes him one of the knives.  The long one; he hadn’t realised quite how long, it’s almost a sword. “For God’s sake, Cassian.  Trust me.”

He gapes. “I do!  But I wanted you to know you can trust me too.”

“I just gave you a knife, didn’t I?  Cassian, I – “ she’s slicing deftly at the fish, sliding the skin away and flaking off fillets of hot flesh, even when she hesitates and breaks off her hands go on working neatly.  Practical, so practical.  Her voice is softer, almost shy. “Cassian.  I’ve always known I could trust you.  I can’t tell you how, I just have.  Since the first – you just feel right.”

He remembers her scent in his nostrils, fearless and kind and tetchy, and the deep note of hope she guards within that mask of blunt practicality; the grief and horror of her story, and the realisation, dawning in him just a day ago, of how much more she may in truth be than she has ever been taught, or been able to accept.  A weapon, yes but a weapon of hope and healing.  The feel of her.  The instinct that lead him to her door, the same instinct that made her call out to him instead of hurling stones and curses as anyone else would have done. 

Two monsters alike, both wounded and seeking safety.

“You too, to me,” he says. “Feel right.  You always have.”

She glances up, silent, eyes full of quietness; and then suddenly smiles. “Eat,” she says again, and blows on a piece of fish before popping it in her mouth.

Chapter Text

The question of the sleeping arrangements is only set aside for the time it takes to fill their bellies.  Too much to hope, that she’d forget it altogether.  They’ve moved closer to the fire, and one another, as they ate, and finally Jyn wipes her fingers on her skirt and says firmly “Well.  Our best chance of a proper rest is if we share warmth.” She looks up abruptly into his eyes.  A forthright stare, but no anger in it, just the determination to say what she must.

Cassian sighs.  He can’t deny the truth of that simple need for sleep, however much his mind is crumbling at the thought of her proximity; of that physicality, and that trust. “So how can I best make room for you?” That came out all sorts of odd, but they’ve enough of a way of understanding one another now that he lets himself hope she’ll grasp the impulse behind the clumsy words. “It’s cramped, I don’t want to crowd you.”

“There’s room.” Jyn’s voice is firm, and oddly relieved; it touches him to the quick to realise she must have been bracing herself for an argument. “You get in first and I’ll fit round you.  It’ll work, you’ll see.”

“It’ll be crowded,” he flounders.  The thought of being close to her again shames and delights him, makes him shake inwardly and lose the track of his thought.

“Sharing warmth, remember?  Crowded is the whole idea.” Her smile is shy, unsure if humour fits this moment, but it reaches her eyes. “We have done it before, after all.”

“I was a wolf.”

“And yet you didn’t bite me.”

Deliriously good and awful, the visions that phrase conjures, visions that he must dismiss at once because Oh God, does she even realise the edge her words have, the thoughts they conjure?  Her quiet voice, so matter-of-fact.  Cassian clears his throat, meets her eyes again, is horribly aware of blushing; and sees there’s a colour to her cheeks also, and a twitch of a smile on her lips.  Oh Jyn, oh my dear, are you actually teasing me?

A sudden rush of affection makes him daring, and he says quickly “I’ll try to not bite you again tonight then.”

A long gaze; the firelit eyes he knows are sea-green, holding his unwavering.  Eyes deep as that green sea’s wildest currents.  But the quirk of a smile comes and goes again before she looks down, and she says in a murmur “I’m sure you’ll behave impeccably.”

And now on that thought, he must get down and crawl into the little shelter, and wait for her to join him.  He forces himself to breathe steadily, and to focus on the hard ground under his hands and knees, the cold scattering of boughs she’s flung down for a bed.  Cold, prickly, rustling.  Practical.  Not a bed for love.

Don’t, don’t, don’t think like that, Captain, don’t be such a fool as to ever think she would want you like that.  Even if she did, you are not fit to be anyone’s lover, half-creature as you are.  And how could what we have between us, all built on need and fear, be the beginning for love?  Don’t think like that, fool, let it go.

There’s more space than last night, he can see that now he’s inside.  The benefit of a shelter she had enough time to build, and daylight to work by.  He presses himself against the rock face to give her as much room as he can, leaving her the outer side, nearer to the fire, and the whole of the blanket.

He can just make out the glow of the fire through the rough wall of pine, and the blur of movement as Jyn rakes back the hot ashes with a stick and lifts the second fish down from where it’s been smoking gently all evening.

Ah, the fish was good; he can be pleased with himself for that at least.  He licks his lips, savouring the rich taste and the residue of oil lingering on them.  Good hot food makes so many things easier to bear; and they’ll make their next day’s walk on full bellies too, with leftovers from tonight and a whole second fish besides.     

There’s a crackling and rustling by his feet and he shifts, trying to press further back into the cliff face as Jyn crawls in beside him.  She pulls the two bags in after her, and then a bundle wrapped in pine, that gives off lingering heat and a strong smell of hot-smoked salmon, that she wedges between their feet. 

“Here.” She’s passing him the knapsack, he recognises the shape and the feel of hessian in the darkness. “Pillow for you.”

“Thank you.” His voice is barely a whisper.  She’s so close that his human nostrils can pick out the salty musk of her perspiration, even over the odour of fish.  Every movement she makes sends a current through him.

She rests her own head on the leather satchel and hauls the blanket up over them both. 

He pushes it off, tries to tuck it round her without putting his hands anywhere he shouldn’t. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Her hand comes back, batting his aside, dragging the fabric over him again.

“Jyn, please –“

“Don’t be stupid,” she repeats.  They’re fumbling at one another, fingers tangling and pulling away, almost fighting over the blanket for a moment, and “Cassian, stop it!  Don’t be stupid.  We’re sharing warmth, it doesn’t work if we don’t share.”

Her voice is almost in his chest now; her arms are bunched up over her bosom, he can feel the back of her hands against his.  The brush of cold skin that smells of woodsmoke.

“Cassian, please.  We need to be warm so we can both get some sleep.”

“I know.  It’s just –“

“I’m not used to this either.” He can feel her breath as she lets out a sharp sigh of frustration. “None of it.  Not this, not – trusting you, having someone to trust.  Talking to someone, sharing anything.  It’s been a long time.  And not – not used to this.  Closeness.  But –“ The hesitant words jam outright and he feels her fidget, almost touching him but still holding her body rigidly apart. 

Well, just about as rigid as he is.  Because if I ever dare to touch you, I won’t know how to stop.

“It’s practical,” he finishes for her.

“Yes.  Practical, yes.  And it helps me.  Knowing you trust me this close.”

His heart rips open, bleeds, cries.  Knowing he trusts her?

“The last few days have been hard,” Jyn says, pushing on with words in the darkness. “I’ve lost everything.  I’m trying to – accept this.  What I’ve done, what I’ve become.  Trying to stop fighting it.  I was terrified.  Now I’m – numb?  Baffled?  I don’t know what to say, how to describe this feeling.  But I’m doing things I swore I would never do.  Going back to a man I swore I’d never speak to again, a place I swore I’d never see again.  All my world has – fallen.  It’s – nothing is in my control anymore.  Nothing is safe.  So - knowing you’re here, you’re still with me –“

The intimacy of darkness seems to have freed her speech, it comes in little runs and starts, like the water rushing down in the rapids, where he dived, this afternoon.

“I don’t know what will happen when we reach Red Crag.  I’m sure that Saw is there, the nearer we get the more clear that feels.  But he – he may be angry.  Probably will be.  I don’t want to be more afraid of him than the enemy but I know him.  I know what he can do.”

Cassian wishes for a moment that he was a real wolf, to look at this man she so dreads meeting again and be able to snarl with all the power of a heart entirely savage. 

“You won’t be alone,” he promises her hoarsely.

“I know.  And it means so much, to know that.”

And to know that my presence will help you means so much to me.  Thanks to you I am a soldier again, and can guard someone who deserves my protection.  I would shed blood for every hurt done to you if I could.

It’s been a long time since there was anyone in Cassian’s life who even knew his name, much less cared that he was with them.  “We’ll be able to watch one another’s backs,” he promises.  It isn’t much, but it’s the one help he can give, both as wolf and man.

Jyn shifts in the dark, moving awkwardly as she tries to get comfortable.  Her knee bumps one of his and pulls away, and she mutters “Sorry…” and the whole lean-to shakes for a second as her retreating heel strikes one of the branches of the roof.

For all her confidence, there really isn’t enough room for them, unless they permit themselves to touch one another.  No-one can sleep well if they have to be motionless as a lump of rock all night.  And for all Jyn’s determined insistence that not to share the bed is stupid, she’s as shy as him now that it’s real, and they are lying here in such close proximity. 

Cassian fumbles into the narrow space between their bodies and touches a hand.  Cold fingers, curled on the bed of pine.  “It’s alright.  You’re right, it’s practical.  We need to sleep.” And because there really is no other choice and he must be as certain as she is if he is to reassure her enough to let herself rest, “May I warm your hands?”

“If you’ll let me do the same.” 

Her face is hidden in the shadows but he can hear her smile.  Equal or nothing, as always.  She sounds almost mischievous.  Her voice is inexpressibly comforting, and he’s smiling too as he says “You may.  It’s a fair bargain.”

They squirm and shift themselves, adjusting and wriggling; fingers tangling, and arms, then legs.  It is warm under the fabric, and warmer still, rapidly, when at last they are pressed close together.  He has one of his arms around her shoulders, holding her close, and their free hands lie interlocked, resting on his bosom.  Jyn sighs and relaxes into him, all the tension easing from her, her cheek against his shoulder.  Her ribs move, breathing in, soft and fragile, indomitable.  Warmth on his skin as she exhales.  The hands he’s dreamed of enfolding, the body he’s wanted to touch for so many weeks.  Inescapable now.

Inescapable; but for all that he mustn’t let himself think about it.  Have you no shame, Captain?  She’s lying in your arms, in absolute trust.  Think about something, anything, but not this.

There’s been very little time, the last few days, to think about anything at all but the immediate, the now and its shocks, and how to survive it.  All the rest, the curse, and the mystery of her promise to help, the past and all his great burden of guilt, oath-breaker that he is; all that has been driven clear from his mind by the plain need to stay alive right now, and to protect Jyn who is his survival.  The shame of a post abandoned three years ago is nothing in comparison.

If he were to leave her now, to fulfil that old oath or die in attempting it, as he used to dream of doing and hate himself for lacking the nerve to try; if he were to do that it would be another promise broken, the one that has saved him.  It may have been given in silence, unacknowledged, but it’s a pledge just as sacred as the first, and would be broken as unjustly, if he leaves her.

Best not to think too much about that either, then.  There’ll be nothing left of you save the things you’re ashamed of, at this rate.

Jyn wriggles again in their cocoon of warmth; she sniffs and sighs, and a current of air flutters over his left hand wrapped around hers.

“Are you awake, Jyn?”

“Yes…”

“May I ask you something?”

“…yes?”

“What happened to the chickens?”

The faint soft breath breaks up into a happy jolt of laughter, and she says “You noticed that?”

“I did.”

“My sweet ladies.  I couldn’t leave them to the foxes.  I sent them to Yarrow and Sania.”

“Did you use –“ he isn’t sure what to call it – “use the power in your crystal?”

“No.  Heavens, no.  Just a little moving charm.” Jyn is shaking her head and there’s a pause before she goes on in a low voice. “I did wonder if I could.  But in the end I didn’t try.  It scares me, Cassian.  And it tempts me.  It’s like a wound, one that hasn’t scarred yet, and I’m fighting myself not to pick at the scab.  I don’t want to but I do, because I want to know…”

“And that’s why you’re going to Saw.”

Her head brushes the side of his hand as she nods. “I don’t want to but – he’s my only chance of learning anything about this.  So I hate it, but - yes, I’m going back to him.”

“You’re certain he’s there?” It seems strange, even for her, to be so aware of someone she hasn’t spoken to in years.  But she’s nodding again.

“I’m more and more sure he is.  It was always his main base.  The old monastery makes a good headquarters, just the kind of place to hunker down for the winter.” Breath on his skin again, making him shiver as Jyn sighs. “It’s going to be strange. When I listen for him, in the Force, he feels – frayed, somehow.  Raw.  He was always a cold man, but - he’s changed.”

“How long is it since you left him?”

“Five years.  Almost six, now.  And he can probably feel me reaching for him, feel me coming.  He’ll wonder why.  Wonder who the hell I think I am, to return now.” Her voice is growing tight, momentarily bitter.  It’s all he can do not to reach up and stroke her hair, to soothe her like a child.  Like as not she’d kick him if he tried.  Which would at least distract her from fretting over her memories of the war-mage.  But his undercarriage is worryingly close to her knees already and he’d prefer not to provoke her.

“I’m sorry he was so harsh,” he says. “You were just a kid.”

There’s a silence, and Jyn sighs again and suddenly turns her face in, against their linked hands.  For a moment her cheek rests right on his fingers; there’s a dampness on her skin and a catch in her voice as she says “Oh no, it’s not that.  He loved me like a father.  He always said so.  That was what made it so hard.”

Cassian can hear the hiss of breath escaping him; if he were wolf right now, it would be a snarl.  All words are completely out of his reach for a moment, and in that moment he feels her shake, and gasp in air, and master herself.  Her breathing steadies once more and her grip on his hand relaxes.

“I’m sorry,” he manages to get out.  Wishing he had something more soothing to say, a kindly murmur, words of support instead of this anger.

“Not your fault.” Jyn’s voice is soft again and he marvels at the strength of will with which she contains her feelings time after time.  Already it’s hard to believe that only two days ago he saw her weeping and broken.  She’s packed it away, with all her other memories of pain.

“I know it’s not,” he says “but just the same.  I’m sorry you had to live like that.  I – I know what it’s like to lose everything.  My family were – they all died.  I was six years old.” Her sharp inhalation is silent, but unmistakable.  He goes on quickly. “But when I was adopted, after, the things I was told were – were completely coherent, after that.  No-one told me they loved me, and then hurt me.”

No-one told me they loved me at all.  But I mustn’t say that.  This isn’t about me.

He hopes she can grasp the undernotes, that he won’t have to go into much more detail.  The memories are sharp knives in his mind even now, and he doubts his own self-control is the equal of hers. 

A sudden thought, and he adds quickly “Jyn, when we get there – it would be a good idea if it was daylight.”

“How so?  He won’t know you’re – ah.”

“Exactly.  From everything you’ve told me, everything I’ve ever heard about him – it might be useful to have an edge.  An ally he can’t see.”

There’s a shadow of a smile back in Jyn’s voice as she says “He’ll think I’ve tamed a wolf.  He’ll respect that.”

“Good.  He should.  Respect you.”

“But it will mean we have to spend the nights together.” Once again she can’t have imagined the effect her words will have.  Cassian closes his eyes for a moment, words vanishing from his mind.  Just – just – breathe, Captain, just breathe...

He fights back the urge to hug her more tightly when she goes on. “It’s a good idea.  You’re pretty scary when you snarl.”  That smile-tone again, carefully controlled as though she’s trying not to chuckle out loud.  He squeezes her hand, shoves down the urge to wrap himself round her.

“It’s all noise, you know that.  I’m not much of a fighter when I’m a wolf.  I’m not much of a wolf altogether.”

“Don’t rate yourself so lightly.  How you’ve managed to survive and not go insane from this life I cannot begin to imagine.” There’s an abrupt shift in her weight and she’s lifting herself up.  If there were enough light to see, she’d be looking down at him now. “May I ask you something now?”

“Ask me? – yes, of course.” 

“Your nose – is it alright?”

The cut.  The cock-pheasant he tried to pounce on, that rounded on him shrieking and pecking and with spurs lashing, refusing to die, fighting him off.  Not much of a wolf, truly. “I’m fine.  It’s just a scratch.”

“Ah, yes, I’ve said that myself before now.  Right before getting an infection that took weeks to heal.” Once again there’s that unmistakable quiver of amusement in the body pressed against his, and this time he has to chuckle too.  Oh, they are too alike sometimes.

But “Truly, Jyn, I’m fine.  It did sting at first but I think the stream washed it clean.”

“Let me take a look in the morning?”

“Of course.” Perhaps she has some of that herbal ointment in her pack.

“Or –“ Jyn fidgets, and he feels her breath moving as she wriggles closer, peering in the dark. “I could use a charm on it.  Just to help it heal, you know.  Though then I’d need to touch it, so – you might not want –“

“We’re touching one another already.” And what a shameful delight that is.  So close, her breath on his face now, her hands flat on his breast.

“So?  May I?”

“So, yes…”

Jyn’s fingers brush the side of his jaw and hesitantly move, passing the corner of his lips, the flare of one nostril, to come to rest where the scratch throbs, hot and sore under her touch.  She begins to murmur, a string of barely-formed words, musical and ghostly; words in a language he knows only from her spellcasting, broken and sweet.

There’s a tingling, an ache with a sharp edge, under her touch.  He can almost feel the bloody little scrape beginning to scab over.  It’s a pin-prickling, a scintillating of nerves.

Not just there, but all over.  Jyn is touching his face, leaning in close to him, one thigh falling between his as she braces her body weight.  He could howl with the sudden wild shock of it, with the pleasure of his vulnerability, the thrill of her tenderness.  He jerks uncomfortably, pulling his hips away before she can notice (please, God, please let it be before she notices) his growing arousal.  Gives an awkward grunt and says “I can feel it working, that’s good, thank you, you’re helping a lot.”

“Glad to.” But she shifts away quickly, squirms back into her former position.  Cassian disciplines his breathing, focusses on the cold night air outside the blanket, the chill beneath their shared heat.  Anything but the dear weight of Jyn’s head settling back on his shoulder, the warmth of her hand wrapping round his again.

How can it be so happy, to be caught like this, here, alone with her?  They’re homeless and on the run, sleeping on a bare hillside, on a cold night in late autumn, pretending they aren’t sharing one blanket like lovers.  Because it’s practical.  No other reason but that.  He’ll be a wolf again in a couple of hours.  She’ll have to go on doing all the work he should be sharing with her.  They are in real danger, together only because some twist of fate brought them both to the same clearing in the forest two months ago.  There’s nothing adventurous or exciting, or romantic, about any of this, it’s ridiculous to find anything remotely like happiness in such straits. 

Yet steady behind all his thoughts and fears is a current of joy, fast and bright as the stream he dived into today.  Neither of them is alone anymore, and they will not be again.  He will not leave her now; and she has stuck with him.

“Get some sleep, Jyn,” he tells her gently.

“You too, eh?  Another long day ahead.”

“Yes.” And then because he can’t resist trying to get one more word from her, one more sound with a grin in it “And you were right.  About the bedding – the sleeping arrangements.”

“Course I was.” She wriggles, and is just a fraction closer.  Comfortable with him, friendly, unselfconscious.  Her voice almost laughing again, so that he smiles in the dark as he holds her.

There’s a long silence before he hears her whisper “Goodnight, Cassian.”

“Goodnight, Jyn.”

Chapter Text

The journey next day starts slow and gets slower.  The hard frost overnight stays on the ground, with patches of black ice in hollows to make the going more tricky.  There isn’t enough sunlight to melt any of it, and as their path climbs over ridges and through gullies, towards the notch of the pass, the sky clouds over and seems to descend towards them, grey-white and heavy.  The wind is starting to get up, sudden gusts that swirl the bottom of the cloud mass to rags. 

There’s a strong smell of cold blowing down from the heights.  It prickles in Jyn’s nostrils, each gust an immense presence, barging and buffeting.  The air currents drag on her like an icy tide whose waves threaten to pull her under. 

She keeps walking, Cassian moving steadily at her side with his nose down.  A lot of the time now they are climbing more than walking.  Breath is just another cloud, lustring the air for a few seconds each time as they both pant and pause and then slog on uphill.  She wraps the grey scarf tightly round her head, turns up the collar of her coat.  Hauls in another lungful of hard frost-scented air.  Wishes yet again that she had gloves.  She’d forgotten how much colder it would be at this altitude.  The autumnal mildness of her forest seems years away already.

If the smell of the cold is strong to her, it must be overpowering to Cassian.  She fights a greedy longing to feel inside his sensations, taste and touch the world through his senses for a moment.  I mustn’t, I mustn’t, he has a right to the privacy of his own mind; have you no respect, girl?

He trots along, exhalations in snarling curls of white at his nostrils.  His soft pads light on the frozen ground.  He looks unbothered by the cold and the steep path.  But when the first flakes of snow start to drift down on them he stops, and looks round at her anxiously.

Jyn curses again. “It’s closing in.  Damn this shit.  If this goes on we won’t make it to Red Crag by nightfall.” She swipes an angry hand at the snowflakes.  They’re still melting when they land on her sleeve, and on the few dark trees that flank their route; but on the rocks, and the bare ground, they are already settling. “We might not even get through the pass.  Damn it.”

The whole world around them seems to be sharpening into monochrome.  Black trees and rocks, grey path, bleached white sky.  Grey wolf, grey woman, caught in the midst, no colour anywhere in her field of vision, save her own cold-reddened hands gripping the straps of her knapsack.

At least they had a good meal before setting off.  Leftover salmon from last night, cold but savoury and filling; and she’s carrying the second fish in its bundled wrapping of cedar, stuffed in the top of the satchel.  They could be grateful for that, too, it’s unlikely there’ll be much hunting to be had in this weather, the first snowfall of the winter.  Damn it, why couldn’t it have held off for just one more day?

She’s stopped, puffing, at the top of a steep incline.

There’s snow all around her, sometimes sparse in the air, then gusting in sudden flurries.  Thick, fluffy flakes that drift down silently, settling on the bare rock.  Broken fragments of sky falling, or the random tufts of feathers dropping in the wake of a hunting fox.  Watching it is disorienting, the ground seems to be flying up into a curtain of stationary snow, and the horizon dances away out of sight and comes dizzyingly back.  It’s beautiful, dangerous, hypnotic.

“Damn it to hell,” Jyn says.  She unlatches her hands, rubs them together, blows on them.  Sore, stinging, movement uncomfortable; she stuffs them into her armpits to heat them up, but it feels as though she’s slammed two blocks of ice against her ribs. “Damn, damn, damn…”  It’s a far cry from the cradle of comfort she’d woken in a few hours ago, with Cassian’s warm-furred body cuddled against her.  Thank God this didn’t start even earlier, thank God it didn’t snow during the night.  The previous time she woke it had been because he was sliding out of the shelter, just before moonset.  She’d listened, half-asleep and wholly unhappy, as he stripped in the icy darkness and crouched outside, waiting, huffing sharp breaths and rubbing himself to keep warm; and then after too many minutes, at last the wolf had crept back in, with a cloud of frost on his coat.  She’d lifted the blanket sleepily and pulled him down at her side, and listened as his breathing slowly evened out again.  Poor, poor Cassian. 

His clothes and boots are rolled up together and pushed into her bag as usual.

He’s climbed on, moving ahead while she was standing staring, fretting at her cold hands and colder memories.  He sidles back down the slope, looking up at her, and whines questioningly as she meets his eye.

Does he think she’s dawdling? “Damn it all to shit-sucking hell,” Jyn says, amusing herself for a childish moment at his expression.  If he thinks this is barrack room language, he’ll find some of Saw’s gang a real shock. “We need to keep moving.  Keep warm.”

I didn’t bring the right gear for this weather, damn it.  If the snow gets heavy I’m in trouble.  But it’s unfair to grumble to Cassian about that when he can do nothing to help.

She stuffs her throbbing, half-thawed hands into the pockets of her coat and gives him a nod.  Sets off uphill again, keeping her head high and her glance purposeful.  Red Crag lies on the far side of the pass, across the valley; once they clear the ridge she’s slogging towards, they should be able to see it in the distance, at least if the snow lets up enough for visibility.

The snow doesn’t let up.

She’s climbing fairly steadily again, pushing legs muscles that ache with effort and cold, steadying herself against trees, wayside rocks, the walls of a gully.  Puffing for air, coughing when she inhales a snowflake.  Once or twice she has to boost Cassian from behind when an ascent is too high for him, and then scramble up after, hauling herself up, gripping the rocks with clumsy fingers.  A cut bleeds sluggishly on the side of one thumb, but the sting of the cold is far worse.  Whenever she can she keeps her hands covered, thrust as deep as they’ll go into her pockets.  But icy air licks around her wrists even then, and the backpack slides down slowly, unbraced, until it’s chafing against her hips with each step.  Snow is starting to settle on her shoulders, on the top of her bags, on the scarf covering her head.  At first her body heat thaws it, and the fabric is soon soaked through, but more snow lands and stays, though she brushes it off clumsily.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck…”

Saw is up ahead, she can feel the star-shine of power on him now, hard and bright like a glancing light through the snowstorm.  If she can feel him, there’s a good chance he can sense her too. 

Not likely he’ll send anyone out to guide them home, though.

Well, I’ve made my choice, for good or ill I’m taking this path, and bringing Cassian with me.  To whatever end it leads us.  Nothing for it but to slog on.

Breath starting to heave in her throat, ratcheting in and out, sore with cold.  Legs starting to hurt, a deep burning pain like hot irons in the long bones of the thigh and jumping hammers in each knee.  Cold muscles straining with the constant climbing, boots getting clogged with a mantle of trampled snow wedged around the heels and into the arches.  Slog, slog, slog on.  Slog is the only word for it, ugh, fuck it to damnation.  The snowfall isn’t heavy yet, she’s seen real blizzards before now and this is nothing of that sort, but it’s steady.  White thick flakes drifting across the grey world, clotting on the rocky ground, masking its surface and smoothing out the uneven ground.

“Watch your footing,” she mutters, to herself as much as Cassian. “Could be deceptive.”

He nods, white smoke wreathing his muzzle.  Sniffs the air and lopes off uphill again.  He seems to know the right direction.  Maybe he can sense the pass ahead.  Some change in the smell of the air, or the way it moves, perhaps.  Jyn bangs her boots against the nearest rock face to get a modicum of the snow off them, and turns to follow him.  His trail is a clear line of crisp footprints, dark and neat; then as she tramps on, they are blurry footprints, beginning to fill up; finally just hollows like smudges, cold blue on the smooth white path.  Her skirts drag in the snow, and she never seems to be any nearer to the crest of the slope. 

The light is getting thicker, more grey by the minute.  If she didn’t know better she would think it was evening; but it can barely be midday.  It isn’t a blizzard.  Use your head, keep moving, keep warm.  Worry is a waste of energy.  Keep going, it isn’t a bloody blizzard…

Just steady, relentless, silent snow.  Blanketing the world, closing her off in a haze of white.  Visibility down to a few hundred yards now.  Ground getting more treacherous, the risk of sprained ankles or broken legs hiding under the soft white surface.

And the unnerving, whispering silence of winter, all around.  Only her moving, in all this monochrome grey.

Only me and the snow.

Jyn tilts her head back.  White flakes falling from a white sky, out of a depthless infinity.  She’s rising through an endless cascade of stars, a vast white world is collapsing to ashes around her.  Tufts of snow land on her face and she notices without surprise that her lips and cheeks are slightly numb.

I am in trouble.  Not going to be.  Am.

Keep moving.  Got to keep moving.  Only me and the snowflakes moving, me and the snowflakes and Cassian –

“Cassian?” She peers around, blinking.  The snow confusing her eyes, makes distances and shapes uncertain. “Cassian!”

The cold air punches her in the guts when she inhales to call again.  She coughs on more snow, shouts his name, twice, three times.  Let me hear a wuff, or a howl; or see him trotting towards me.  Big and grey and shaggy and reassuring, let me see him coming back, let him come back, don’t let me have lost Cassian.  Please…

The crunch of her boots, the susurrus of snowfall; the raw flag of her voice beating in the air, gasping, shouting again. “Cassian!” Please, please…

She can’t stay and wait for him, she has to keep moving.

Let him find me, let him look back, let him track me.  Let him come back.

Cold.  Cold, and colder.  My feet are bricks of ice, my hands are claws, oh God, I’m so cold.  I have miscalculated this day so badly, so very badly. 

Keep walking.  Keep walking and don’t panic.

It’s getting harder to feel the lie of the ground, through the thick snow and the clogged soles of her boots.  She stumbles and lurches as often as she places a foot well.  And the very feeling of the world is breaking; the whirling snowflakes scatter the patterns of the Force, like sea-waves intersecting, bouncing back from a ragged coast so that her sense of direction and her sense of Saw are both fragmenting, forming again and then shattering.  His energy recedes and shifts, it’s a blur, he might be north or to the east now, or she might have turned wrong and be on the verge of walking off into a chasm.  The chill sucks at her bones.

There’s a shape up ahead, a grey bulk sitting patiently amid the snowflakes.  God be thanked, it’s Cassian, he’s waiting for me.  She trudges uphill towards him, saying his name in a half-frozen mixture of relief and grave irritation. “Where were you?  I was starting to –“

The shape doesn’t move, doesn’t respond at all; is a rock.

She panics.  Sudden and sick, the realisation.  She’s lost, and he’s vanished, and the snow is getting heavier.

“Cassian?  Cassian!”

An ugly hitch of fear in her voice now.  The grey and white world swirls around her, dizzying, disorienting, and cold, so cold.  They have lost one another.  I had only you in the world and I lost you, I let myself lose my way, lost you, let you down – “Cassian!

It would be so easy just to sit herself down on the rock she’d thought was him, stupid, stupid frozen snow-blind woman, so easy just to sit and cry and let the snow settle on her.  Just to stop for a minute…

Jyn digs her heels in their ice-block boots into the slippery surface and makes herself stand steady.  Breathes.  Do not panic.  Do not let yourself fall. “Cassian!”  Reach out.  Through the snow-blinding, the swirling refracted patterns of the Force, through this nightmare, you can do this.  You know the feeling of him, the unwavering heart, the courage.  The observing mind.  Reach out, find him sensing the world, he’s out there.  He’ll come back to you.

He’s out there – there!  The cord between them flickers and rings bright through the fragmenting world.  He’s there, he’s nearby, sniffing for her, yes – “Cassian!  I’m here, over here!” – and she feels his emotions pulse in a leap of joy, an echo of her own.

The relief hits her like a breaking wave and she feels almost nauseous for a moment, giddy with shock.  She’s standing next to a rock face, one hand outstretched serves to steady her though the cold stone is painful to touch.  Snowflakes dance before her eyes, whirl in front of her reddened fingers where they rest on the granite.  She sees that a few yards further on the next section of stone is stained dark.  It looks almost like a shadow, like darkness bleeding out into the grey air.  Jyn reaches to touch it in confusion and a little fear; and there’s nothing there.  The shadow resolves itself inward, it’s a hollow in the rock face, vanishing inward.  A cleft.  Perhaps a cave.  Shelter.

Cassian.  Come to me.

She’s never tried to do this, call out into another mind like this.  But her sense of him was so strong, the instant she reached out to him; and he was aware too, he can sense her, maybe he will feel her calling - Cassian, I’m here, come to me.

She stumbles forward, into the opening shadow, and it’s wider with every step, it’s a cave, darkness and walls, a roof above her, out of the snow.  Broadcasting her need, her call, her hope that he’ll find her.  Come to me, come!  Her eyes adjust to the dimness and her skin tingles as the shelter blocks the icy lick of the wind.  Shelter and safety.  Shelter, Cassian, I found shelter, please find me!

Cold, aching, mind scrabbling to work out what to do first.  She’s so much more tired than she had realised, and disorientated, and shaken, and numb.  The simple tasks of survival are dizzyingly ungraspable.   Panting and unsteady she lurches into the dim interior, stumbles, braces both hands on the grey rock of the cave wall.  A cave – a cave, I’m in the cave, no, no! - and panic and sick horror surface in her for a moment but she cannot admit them because no, it’s shelter, shelter

Each outbreath is a grunt of effort as she unlatches her aching hands from the wall, makes her way  into the darkness.  Her eyes begin to adjust as her breath steadies; and there’s a neat stack of firewood on the right of the entrance.  The illogicality of that floats into her mind and she sends it out again unremarked.  Who cares, it’s wood, wood, yes, this is good, make a fire, make fire, drag a log from the woodpile.  Cassian!  Cassian, please come to me!

She sinks to her knees, wet and cold, panting for breath, her nose running, eyes watering.  Hands hurt, legs hurt.  Head aching.  Face aching.  Feet are ice blocks, boots wet through, fuck, fuck, shoulders wet, coat soaked through as well, scarf the same, she rakes it back from her hair, one icy hand pulling the fabric, the other gripping the piece of firewood, tingles and lances of pain stabbing in every fingertip.  Ugh, fuck, fuck.  Thighs aching from the long uphill tramp, muscles throbbing and stinging.  The impossible footing in snow, the constant tension, bracing not to fall when every step could have felled her like a dead tree, but she’s out of it at last, under cover, in shelter.  “Ugh, ahh, shit, fuck, ah…”

It’s so hard to do anything with her fingers half-numb and half-screaming with pain.  She drops the log clumsily into the open space before her; levers the satchel off her shoulder, lets the crossbow fall, fumbles to unfasten the straps of the knapsack.  There’s a sound behind her and she turns with her right hand clawing for one of the swords at her belt.  Muscles that shriek their weariness are forced into a fighting stance, and though her whole arm is shaking she raises the blade and readies herself to lunge.  I will not die today, fuck it I will not!...

But the shape silhouetted in the cave mouth is on four legs, with tufted ears pricked up and tail swinging, and as he sees her he gives a little yelp of gladness.  His relief floods into her, blinding as sunlight; or maybe it’s her own emotion echoing back from him.

“Cassian!”

She throws the sword aside and stumbles two paces towards him, falls to her knees with arms outstretched as he stumbles and runs to her.  She can feel his heart thumping.  He pushes close, all snow-caked icy fur and hot breath, whining helplessly and arching his neck to press his head against hers.  She clings to him. “Thank God, thank God, I thought I’d lost you, I thought we’d lost one another.”

She’d thought the snow had taken him, or he had run, at last.  She was wrong, and he’s here.  She finds herself gasping his name as she hangs onto him, and his breath is on her neck, panting with relief.  He found her.  He came back.

Chapter Text

Over his back she can see the snow is still tumbling thickly past the cave mouth.  The dead-white sky seems to have wrapped itself round the whole mountain and the world it enfolds is shaking itself apart into falling swans-down.  It’s beautiful and hypnotic, she could let go of all her struggle now and just stare at it.  Just stop, just sleep.

No; there’s so much to be done, before she can stop, before she can let her weariness claim her.  She can’t just sink down in a heap and fold herself up, can’t rest with Cassian .  Not with wet clothes, wet hair, frozen feet.  This is how to die from your own thoughtlessness, Jyn.  This is how you lead a friend into unthought-of danger.  God strengthen me, I nearly let things go too far.

I cannot rest yet.

She pushes herself up, onto her numb feet again, and grabs up the bags once more.  “Come on, we need to get a fire built.  Would you be able to bring another bit of that wood?”

He stands for a moment, staring up at her as though she were the sun; then nods, and suddenly shakes himself all over, snow-melt flying off him from nose-tip to tail-tip so that despite her exhaustion Jyn laughs.  So here they are again, God be thanked, together, her and her dear wolf.

He grabs a second log from the stack and drags it over to her.  She wonders once again whose wood it is and why they store it here; and sets the question aside, more rationally this time.  Whoever’s it is, they aren’t here to make issue with her.  She’ll debate the ethics of taking someone else’s firewood another time if she has to, but for now the only important thing is to summon up a spark in her fingers and light a fire.  Or try to.  Her fingers still hurt, snapping them is fruitless and she whimpers and winces in discomfort.  She curses again, blowing on her fingertips, rubbing her palms together. 

Cassian brings a third small log and then a thinner branch that tapers into twigs and a few desiccated leaves.  Broadleaf wood, Jyn thinks; carried up here from the woods a day’s travel below.  Better kindling.  She thanks him with her eyes, and starts to crumble the dry stuff roughly for tinder.  Takes a deep breath, and a second one, and snaps her fingers again.  “Come on.  Spark, fuck it.  Spark!”

Spark.  Spark and flame.  Tiny, fragile, but it takes, it clings on, it refuses to die.

Thank God, thank God, thank God.

The wood’s dry, properly cured; it won’t smoke too much, a blessing in this confined space.  She ignores how the rock walls close in, the rising of the floor and downward curve of the ceiling, the way they meet and enclose her, just a few feet away.  Shelter, it’s just shelter, and she had to get to shelter before exposure left her any more muddled and numb; think of it that way and never mind the memories it evokes.  She can go on ignoring nightmares just fine, so long as she’s alive to dream in the first place.

Her hands are no longer deadened with the cold now but flaring and burning, as though the spark she called with magic has taken root in her flesh.  The clinging snow-crust is melting fast, leaving her hair, her coat, her shirt, all even wetter and colder than before.  She’s shivering. “I have to get these wet things off now, Cassian, I’m going to need some of your clothes.  I’m sorry.”

It’s a slow, clumsy struggle, fumbling with buttons and laces and toggles, wrestling off clothes that are soaked through with meltwater.  Half-naked, she shudders with cold, hauling on the dry things from her bag; her own spare shirt, and Cassian’s bigger one over it, and his jerkin.  Finally the blanket, wrapped round her like a shawl.  Then a new battle, to get off her boots; they might as well be locked onto her feet, their laces are so saturated she can’t budge the knots no matter how hard she prises at them.  She gives up finally and yanks them off by main force.  Peels off her sodden stockings.  Her feet sting with the return of circulation as she stretches them out towards the fire. 

Careful there or you’ll get chill-blisters.

Cassian’s clean dry socks; she wriggles her feet into them, revelling in the thick wool.  His boots, too large by a huge measure but also dry.   

She’s still shivering, but though all the new clothing is ice-cold, straight out of her bag, none of it is wet, and gradually heat begins to build up against her skin.  Her hands and feet sting, fingertips tingling, coming back to life.  Slowly the torture of cold recedes, and with it the snow-numbed stupidity.  She looks around her, consciously refusing to see the nightmare.  This time, a cave means the safety of a sheltered space and a fire.  Nothing more.  Safety for them both.

Cassian is standing by the wall with his head averted, waiting decorously for her to finish changing; and he’s shivering too.  She picks up her dropped shirt, sees there are some areas of fabric that aren’t completely soaked. “Let me give you a rub-down?”

How thoughtful the dark eyes meeting hers; how careful he is as he wags his tail, gives that unpractised nod of his head.

“We have to hole up and wait this out.  Hope we don’t get snowed-in.  Might as well get as comfortable as we can, eh?” 

She stumbles over to him, clumsy in the outsized boots, and drops to her knees again to towel over his back and head with the shirt.  They’re both grunting a little with effort as the tiredness suddenly bites.  Dear God, it will be good to be able to stop soon.  Soon, very soon, yes, we can rest soon…

She loosens the blanket bundled around herself; opens her arms and wraps them around Cassian as he sits down unsteadily.  For a few minutes he keeps his head down, concentrating on one paw after another, worrying at his pads till he’s chewed out the lumps of ice caked between his toes and spat them into the edge of the fire.  Then with a long groaning sigh he relaxes and settles against her side.  She lays her head on his shoulder, digs her hands into the thick warmth of his pelt. 

And then everything stops.  Silence, peace.  Darkness, and the firelight in the darkness.

The fire flickers and murmurs, individual flames dance and fall, like lanky men, laughing girls; carefree fire-people waving their hands against the dark.  For a brief moment, or maybe it’s a long one, time drawn out into a now that is nothingness.  And for that moment, for this now, at last, they can rest.  There’s nothing more they can do.

The snowfall continues, steady and unceasing.  The afternoon winds on, gathering onto its spindle, growing thicker, dimmer, darker. 

Stray words glow in Jyn’s mind, and fade again, just like the flames.  Thoughts that are embers, that flare and then burn out.  She could say these things to Cassian, but he cannot answer; and in the sleepy daze of warmth after cold and safety after fear, her thoughts seem inconsequential and childish.  I’m glad you’re here with me.  Thank you for coming back for me.  Look at that log, the one shaped like an eel, it’s going to break in half soon.  If we had some chestnuts I could’ve roasted them, we used to do that when I was a child…

She’s losing track of the time; she jolts a little with the realisation, sees how the daylight is fading.  Cassian sits leaning into her, staring into the flames, as lost as she is.  Sparks float up out of the twisting fire and die against the roof of the cave.  Her coat, her scarf and boots and socks, all steam quietly as they begin to dry where she threw them down.  It’s empty time, in empty space, caught between their journey and its destination; between the freedom of an adventure, and a future of knowledge without freedom.  And there is still nothing more they can do, the snow sheeting down steadily outside the cave, no sign of it stopping.

She settles her head on his shoulder again.

Sleep veils and unveils her mind slowly as she stares into the fire.  Sometimes she comes almost apart from herself, anchored only by the living warmth under her arm, the scratch of her fingers in his fur.  She’s drifting in the firelight, drugged on the warmth and the comfort of flickering light and a friend at her side.  She speaks in a daze and a moment later wonders if she dreamed it.

“I’m sorry you can’t talk.”

The fire whispers and glimmers in the dark.  Cassian sighs.

“It isn’t fair, you have to listen to me and can’t reply.  Must be boring.  I’m not good with words.”

They both blink at the flames.

“Thank you for coming back for me.”  There, she’d wanted to say that; and she must have done, since he turns his head and looks at her suddenly with musing eyes.  He bends his head and rubs his muzzle against the side of her throat.  For a moment she thinks he’s going to lick her.  The idea makes her smile, and the smile lingers a long time, peacefully half-awake.  No-one to see it but the two of them.

It might as well be night already, she thinks a while later, looking at the dark day beyond the cave mouth, and the still-falling snow.  Very unlikely Cassian will turn tonight, this thick storm will cover the moon as surely as an eclipse.  She gives him more scritches, half-asleep, murmuring nonsense sounds of comfort for them both.  At least if he doesn’t change he’ll be spared this morning’s misery.  When she’d felt him stir and lift himself free of her in the shelter, she’d almost told him to stay.  But for all she takes a certain childish pleasure in teasing him, she couldn’t let herself put him to real shame.  That time she had to undress him, she could tell even without touching his mind how bad he felt.  She won’t do that again; neither probe into his thoughts uninvited, nor cause him such embarrassment.  “I won’t do that to you again.” Did she say that aloud?  Cassian doesn’t stir, so maybe she didn’t.  Perhaps she just thought it loudly.  She yawns.

The sparks dance, the flames dance, the snow dances, whirling outside in the dusk, and Jyn’s mind dances and glides through the haze of peace.  She’s dozed away a blank hour, many hours; it’s dusk, then night.  The outer edge of the circle of firelight catches a steady waterfall of snow, and the impenetrable black beyond.

The familiar smell of wet wolf, drying.  Her thumb runs a track deep into his ruff, up and down in the woolly undercoat that is dense and warm as a dream of summer clouds.  Her eyes slide half-shut, and half-open again, dreaming and waking.  She thinks he is nuzzling against her, but that must have been a dream too. 

The bones that stood so sharply under his skin when he first came to her are barely palpable now.  She smiles at the thought.  At least knowing her has given him the chance to eat properly, to rest and talk like a man again.  I haven’t kept my promises, haven’t shifted the curse so much as an inch from his poor heart.  What hubris it was, to think I could help him, I’ve done nothing but bring him into more danger.

Yet I felt it so strong.  A call like the fire of heaven, like starlight on my skin at the equinox, summoning me to magic.  I can help, I know I can, somehow I know it; the unweaving of this work lies to my hands and I know.  But I do not know how.

Not now, not yet.  But who can say where this path may lead us?  We’ll take the next chance and the next, it’s all we can do.

A huge yawn catches her into wakefulness again and she lifts her head and shakes sleep from her eyes. “Hey, Cassian, are you awake?  Are you hungry?”

He starts and gives a little huffle of assent, though she suspects like her he was half-asleep, half in a trance.  Long wolf lashes blink over dark human eyes and he nods and gives a slow tail wag.

They eat the crudely-smoked fish.  Take turns to creep to the cave entrance and piss just inside the shelter of the overhang; hurry back before the snow and wind can chill them numb again.  Settle once more to contemplating the flames sleepily.  It’s night.  The snow still falls.  Jyn gets up once more to drag another log over and slide it into the fire.  When she turns back to Cassian she finds he has lain down with his nose on his forepaws.  She sits beside him again.  He sighs and rolls those speaking eyes at her.

“Yes, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.  We should get some sleep now, maybe?”

It warms her inside, in ways she cannot, dare not, explore or explain, to know he wants her presence.  She reaches for him without thinking and stops herself.  She’s been petting him like a giant dog.  But he’s a free man and her equal, a man of courage and a good heart.  Not some charming outsized puppy, for all his fluffy coat and toothy smile, and his smell of wet lanolin and spicy wolfskin.  Her hand hovers, outstretched between them.

Cassian looks from it to her face and back, and the tufts above his eyes twitch together enquiringly.

“May I?” Jyn asks.

For answer he shuffles forward on his belly, to butt his head up against her palm.

“I take it that’s a yes.”

A yes.  He wants – he requires – her scritches, her hands-touch, her company. 

She rubs behind his ears, in the deep silky hair on the back of his skull.  His eyes slide closed, he sighs, lays his head softly on her leg.  Solid, heavy wolf-head, holding her down; next moment he opens one eye and rolls it at her, checking, concerned; then closes it as she smiles.

The fire flickers, the shadows flicker, the snow flickers down outside.  The wind has dropped with nightfall, and their fire illuminates a steady curtain of white tinged with gold, falling, falling.

Cassian heaves another sigh, and slowly subsides onto his flank, stretching his paws out.  Gradually his breathing slows into the quiet depth of sleep.

Well, if we are snowed in and cannot get out, I could have worse companionship.  They’ll find our skeletons twined together one day, next spring, a hundred springs from now, maybe.

Morbid woman, why are you thinking of such things?

“I’m glad you’re here with me, Cassian.”

No response.  Soft, soft breath, just tickling her calf where the bare skin above the boot is warm again finally.  Her skirt is almost dry.

“I’m sorry I was teasing you last night.  It isn’t fair to make myself smile at your expense.”

He sighs once more, and she stills her hand, but he doesn’t stir or wake.

The fire is burning safely low, and the embers are full of pictures.  She sees her little home, and all her vain attempts to charm the curse out of him.  With herbs and singsong word-spells, by firelight.  How patient he was while she tested out her minor magics.

He’s probably right about using the power to break it.  But I daren’t, I daren’t, oh God what would I do if I tried and it went wrong?

She remembers Saw, as he was when they last spoke, angry and commanding; remembers the red columns and narrow passages of the monastery, his ruined eyrie in the heights and his wrathful face staring at her in disbelief.  Remembers her mother running down the grassy slope above the farm, throwing all hope to the wind to try and save her husband; running with the lightning gathered in her hands for one wild strike.

Remembers her tears.  The cave where Saw hid her, in the damp darkness; her silent tears, his rough kindness.  A cave of pain, a life broken and left hidden there.  So different from this haven, all aglow in the night.

Remembers all her homes.  All of them dear, once; all of them lost.

Perhaps one day she and Cassian will go back to the cottage.  They were happy there.  We could be happy there again...  A life contained and peaceful.  Hens, vegetables, the herb garden replanted.  In the embers there’s a picture now of them working together, and it’s so happy she wants to cry again, tears of relief this time; and there’s a little child, happy as she once was, playing as she once played; but in the cottage, not the farm on the moors.  She could play with them, in their home, that little one, and live a life of peace there, if such a thing could ever be.

She’s nodding forward, so heavy she almost overbalances.  No, no, you goose, lie down properly, get some sleep. 

She lifts Cassian’s head gently, softly, laying him back on the ground, stretching herself out behind him, with her face in his ruff.  Pulls the blanket carefully over them both.  Wraps her arm around him, buries her hand in his fur.  There’s a heartbeat deep in the thick fluff, steady, unerring, a soldiers unfaltering heart.  My brave friend, my Cassian, if only I could give you what you deserve, you stalwart, honourable man...

The fire pops and the snow murmurs, and he breathes, and she sleeps.

A long time later she wakes, and it is still night, and bitter cold.  The fire has burned right down to a red field of embers.  Looking past it she realises its glow no longer illuminates any falling snow.  Instead, silent and fitful, flickers of moonlight come and go, broken clouds chasing across the moon.  And beneath her outstretched arm, Cassian shifts from wolf to man to wolf again, the back pressed against her sometimes hairy, sometimes smooth and lean and muscular.  His bare skin goosepimples in long moments of being human, but he doesn’t wake.

She thinks of how it would horrify him if he knew; how he would blush dark with shame, and cringe away from her touch.  Holds herself unmoving, to do nothing to disturb him.  She’d shield him from the cruelty of the moonlight if she could.  She holds him and makes no sound, until the moon sets and he is wolf alone once more.

Poor Cassian…

It’s a long time before Jyn sleeps again.  Wolf and man, she holds him close, and the night goes on.

My poor Cassian, my dear friend.  One day I will save you from this, somehow.  I swear it.

Chapter Text

He wakes before her, feeling as soon as he’s conscious how her warmth is all around him, her arm embracing him.  There’s a thin hand tucked between his forepaws, a thin body curled against his back, there’s the warmth of friendship in her touch and he can almost imagine that this, this is love.  For a few fleeting seconds he allows himself the luxury of simply lying there, eyes shut, letting the dream last one moment more.

The air is ice-cold against his muzzle.  It smells of frost and frozen snow, and stillness, and cooling ash. 

When he opens his eyes he sees that their campfire has gone out.  Pearl-white ashes and fragments of charcoal, a few dark stains on the roof of the cave; nothing more remains.  All the heat and the light are gone.  But beyond the burned-out cinders, a bar of wintry daylight slides along the rocky wall, and in the curve of the entrance there’s a corner of sky, high and pale, veined with blue.  The snow has crusted around the cave mouth and there are icicles hanging from the arch.  As he watches, a single drip falls from one.  It glints like a crystal for a second, crossing the beam of sunlight, and hits the frozen ground with a hiss like fine glass breaking.

He rolls carefully onto his belly and looks round at Jyn.  She’s deep asleep, her head tucked down, nose under the blanket.  When her hand slips off his back she draws it in against her body and her eyelids quiver, but she goes on dreaming. 

He can see dust in her lashes and a smudge of charcoal on her temple; there’s a delicate line of scalp visible, pale and naked, in the parting of her untidy hair.

He leans in and sniffs for a moment, the familiar smell of her, peaceful and warm and healthy, sleeping, trusting.  Closes his eyes as the thought of placing a kiss on her hair rises and must be dismissed.  The best he could do would be a wet-nosed snuffle, guaranteed to wake her, and rudely, too.  He forbids himself any such luxury.  Wriggles out from under the blanket instead and gets up with a creaking north-and-south stretch and a shake of his head that makes his ears flap. 

When he looks back, Jyn has burrowed deeper into the blanket. 

He wanders over to the cave mouth.  Fallen snow has drifted in, piling up to one side, but the entranceway is clear and he steps out into pristine whiteness.

It’s the first time he’s seen their refuge clearly; by the time he’d tracked back to Jyn yesterday, the visibility was poor and his senses entirely focussed on finding her and taking shelter.  Even the mysterious pile of firewood had barely caught his attention.  He inspects it now, noting how precisely the logs had been stacked, criss-crossed for stability, with thinner branches interspersed through the pile in layers.  A strong smell of men lingers about the wood; but though the difference is so subtle he can’t pinpoint it, still he’s sure there’s nothing of the Empire here.  Someone else, many someones, dedicated and sweating at their labours, gathered this woodpile before winter came and left it here in the shelter of the cave. 

He moves out, crunching through snow that is sometimes ankle deep, sometimes right to his hocks.  The day is bright and cold, with a hard clear sky and no sign of more snow to come. 

The cave is set into a low rock face, the flank of a slanting ridge that runs up toward a peak a few hundred yards further on.  Bulky drifts of snow are piled up against the foot of the rock, but just beyond the snow-capped peak the ground falls away.  There’s a clear notch against the skyline as the path cuts through.  They’re at the top of the pass.

To the side of the pass, a low mound enveloped in snow has suspiciously squared-off corners.  It‘s too low to be a structure; foundations, perhaps, or some sort of platform.  Cassian picks his way up towards it and noses around.  Ashes and ancient smoke, buried beneath the snow.  A beacon-point.  So that’s what the firewood is for.  But no scent of man more fresh than three or four days ago.

Looking back, the way they climbed yesterday, he can see how they’ve come above the treeline; and the descent is dizzying, a snaking path masked in white velvet.  The fallen snow distorts every shape and covers their tracks irretrievably, fills up the gullies and trails they struggled up through.  All around him, the world is blinding white, full of hollow blue shadows, of perspectives and outlines transformed, surfaces hidden, everything familiar now draped and blurred and rounded-off.  There’s a white haze along the horizon but the sky overhead is wild, frozen blue and the air smells strongly of snow, with overtones made strange and strong by the cold.  He smells snow-grouse, sheltering some way off to the north, downslope, and big-horn deer in the woods beyond them; the muted dark notes of the old smoke and fire, and fresher ones from the new wood-ash in the cave; human urine and wolf, well-covered now by the blizzard, and the lingering smell of fish; and Jyn’s warm breath.

A crisp breeze blows down from the pass, air that has travelled hard distances.  He’s tempted to trot right to the ridge, sound out their route for the day ahead.  But another part of him wants to stay close by Jyn’s side; it was going on ahead that nearly made him lose her yesterday.  He turns away from the snowscape and heads back down to the cleft in the rock, and the shelter beyond.

She hasn’t stirred.  He sniffs at the blanket, unsure if he should wake her yet.  Those minutes of thinking he’d lost her had been sickening, the memory catches at his breath like an echo of the snowstorm.  If they had not found one another again – if he hadn’t felt that voice inside, the strange familiar touch of her in his mind – what more might have gone amiss?  They might neither one of them have been here to wake and smell the morning.

All the separate scents of her meld, delicate and fleshly, in his nostrils.  He dimly remembers having changed in and out of his human form, sometime in the small hours of the night, and is deeply glad she slept through it.  He would not give her the awkwardness of that, they have to be shameless enough about one another as it is, he’s naked in front of her almost daily and they’ve had to lie down to sleep under one cover, bodies pressed together.  He’d spare her more shame if he can.

He’s leaning in close, his nose a bare finger’s breadth from her hairline.  Inhaling the scent of her life and her living energy, and loving them.  She smells of everything that is alive and precious, everything that’s strong, that holds faith and keeps it, that remembers hope, that doesn’t give up.  He draws in one last sweet breath and then exhales, deliberately hard, huffing out warm damp air onto her forehead.  Jyn stirs, sighs, mutters “Whh…”.  And suddenly rolls and sits upright, her right hand fumbling at her hip, panic and anger in her face for the fraction of a second before she sees him.

“Wuff,” says Cassian, thinking, Only me, it’s only me, and hoping she will sense his thoughts.  It’s an admirable reflex, to reach for a knife when she’s barely awake.  If he could speak he’d commend her speed. “Wuff!”

Jyn is smiling already, rubbing grubby hands down her face, blinking sleep from her eyes.  “Only you,” she says, and he grins and wags his tail. “Is it day?   It is day, isn’t it?...  And I can see the storm’s passed.  Thank fucking God.”

She hoists herself to her feet and stretches, groaning for a moment. “Ugh, so stiff.  Well.  So.  Good morning.  Leftovers for breakfast?”

Half an hour later they move out, with bellies full of cold fish, and Jyn wrapped once more in all her layers of clothing, though still wearing his boots as hers have frozen solid overnight and are swinging from her knapsack like two leaden weights.  They move slowly, out from the safety of shadows into the blinding morning.  The sun has come over the peak and everything glitters and stares, hard white, soft white, sharp lines and billows, dazzle and beauty and danger.  Treading very carefully in the overlarge boots Jyn ventures up the slope, following his tracks from earlier, towards the crest of the mountain.  She stops at the top, shielding her eyes from the brilliance.  Her stance is poised and tense, but as Cassian comes up alongside her he can see that she’s grinning, taut and triumphant.

“There it is,” she says. “Red Crag.”

Below them the ground drops away in snowy tiers towards a valley and the thin line of a river snaking among trees.  On their left, a col joins their ridge of the mountains to the next range, and he can clearly make out the level ground below, and a track that runs beneath the sharp-angled slope of an old rock fall.  His eyes follow it round to the chasm of the river, where an arched stone bridge rears above faint plumes of spray from the whitewater below.  The path goes down into the treeline and then climbs again to where an outthrust spur of rock stands proud of the next range. 

He sees rust-red stone, like old blood spilled on the whiteness; a spine of rock sharp as a knife, broad at the base and rising to a weathered pinnacle crowned with snowy walls.  Here and there in the rock face, the dark gape of openings.  Windows, maybe?  Or passageways, large enough for a troop of horse to enter, or a beast of winged legend.

“The whole crag is a honeycomb of tunnels,” Jyn remarks. “Quite the labyrinth as I recall.  Plenty of room for a far larger gang than we ever were.”

A gang.  Gang of witches.  He hasn’t heard the collective noun used since he was a child. A gang of witches, a blade of mages.  Now there are only single hedge-witches hiding out, like her, and exiles like Gerrera; and the Empire’s sorcerers.  The Empire, who first sought to ban magic.

We gave up our ability to fight, to mollify them, and then they turned on us with the very weapons they had forbidden.  What gullible fools we were.  Gullible and fearful.  They led us like calves to the slaughterman, and told us was for our own safety, and the saving of our souls.

“Saw is there,” Jyn adds. “And others with him.  Some I know.  Others not.  Well, so.  We’ll see what we’re heading for soon.” Her voice  brightens as she glances round at him. “A hot meal and a real bed, if nothing else, I hope.”

There’s a silence and then abruptly she drops to a crouch, her skirts belling out in the snow around her.  She holds out her hands to him, uncertainty deep in the gesture till he steps forward into her touch.  As if he might have turned away.  As if I could ever turn away from you.

Jyn’s face is flushed from the cold and her eyes are very bright, lips bitten red, white breath cascading like the rising spray above the river.  She rubs the fur on his shoulders, working her bare hands into its warmth and drawing him close.  Then she takes his head between her hands, very gently.  “Thank you.  Thank you for coming with me, Cassian.  I don’t deserve all your loyalty.  I’m afraid of what’s to come, but having you here gives me hope.  Thank you.”

She’s speaking with a solemnity that shakes and unnerves him.  He whines anxiously.

“I have to ask you this,” Jyn says. “Are you sure about us arriving today?  In daylight?  If we hold back, and come after moonrise – you’d meet him as yourself.  Your true self, your true form.  You don’t have to give that up for me.”

Oh, to be able to speak.  He butts forward, pushing his brows against her forehead.  To be able to say I am glad to give you what I can.  What little I have to give.

To be able to take those cold hands in his, press them in friendship, kiss them in gratitude.  I am yours, I am your friend and your ally as you are mine, and I am with you all the way.

His white breath is mingling with hers; he closes his eyes, fighting the upsurge of wolf instinct that wants to lick her face.  Suddenly it’s so easy to let that image become one even more impossible, the thought of kissing her on the lips, kissing her mouth; touching her with every want and tenderness in him.  Feelings he had forgotten he even had, just a few months ago. 

How their cold lips would meet, so shyly, so quickly, but with such tenderness. 

He breathes through the fantasy and releases it.  Impossible, impossible, don’t waste your mind on regretting the impossible.

He draws back, opens his eyes.  Kind, defensive, teasing, determined Jyn, who is so lonely and who gives so generously and wisely, who fights and heals even through her fear.  She’s looking him in the eye and her face is soft and grave.

She says “I wish we could stay here.  I do know we can’t.  We can’t hide away and live up here.  Just like we couldn’t have stayed at the cottage.  Too dangerous.  We have death following us and that takes away all the other choices.  But I would have stayed, if I could.  I would have stayed here, with you.”

His heart is too full, and a tiny wuff of emotion claws out of his throat.  He twists his head and gives in to his animal self, licks her bare wrist for a moment, a feeble attempt to approximate kissing her brave hands.  Then looks past her fixedly.  Clears his throat and nods towards Red Crag, and the path downhill.

“Yes,” Jyn says softly. “Yes, let’s get moving.”

Chapter Text

It’s a long morning’s walk, descending steadily on a zigzag track across the side of the mountain.  The constant downhill movement has Jyn’s legs aching before long, the muscles of her thighs twitching with every stride.  But there’s no choice but to go on.

Midday is long gone and the shadows are creeping out across the valley when at last the path begins to level off, and curves round, snaking along the side of the slope.  With Cassian trotting at her side she trudges in the direction of the river.  The waterfall roars, getting louder as they pick their way towards it.

There’s still heavy snow on the ground, though the wind here has swept much of it into drifts.  But there are trees around them again as they reach the level ground, and the air is full of birds calling, and the sound of running water. 

She can see the bridge up ahead, a sharp line of stone, springing out over the ravine.  Red Crag Bridge, the one high crossing on the whole of the False Larch River.  A name, a place, a sight she’d once prayed never to see again.  Yet it feels almost like a homecoming. 

Let it be so indeed, let us not be walking into disaster and the hands of a madman.

“Once we’ve crossed the bridge we’re on Saw’s ground, for better or worse.” She looks down at Cassian and is calmed and reassured by the confidence in his eyes.  “The firewood must have been his too.  Good spot for a signal beacon, up there.  Least we didn’t use up too much of it, eh?”

She shifts the straps of her pack, adjusts the crossbow on its sling.  All this way long way to be hauling the damned heavy thing, and she hasn’t used it once; but better to have had it and not needed it than the reverse.  She looks up and back, as a sudden memory prompts  in the margins of her mind; and yes, there already is an overhang of snow on the ridge. 

“I learned to shoot here, trying to hit one of those and set it off. ” She points out the white rim above them. “Hit a cornice like that at the right spot and you can trigger an avalanche.  Arrow or bolt or sling-stone, or spell.  Never know when you’ll need to block the way here.”

Cassian sniffs the air, considering, and gives her a nod.  As she watches, he casts an eye over the silent woods flanking their path.  She trusts his senses of smell and hearing; if there were anyone there, he’d soon notice.  None of Saw’s siege tactics in play yet, then. 

There are tracks on the bridge, though; the marks of many feet tramping up and over, and heading on towards the foot of the rock.  So there have been people about, coming out this far since last night, and then drawn back into the stronghold.

Though Red Crag is lower than the mountains, it towers above them now.  It strikes Jyn as they march on, how long it is since she last passed this way, and how unnerving it is that nothing has changed.  The red-brown stone is a pillar of rust against the snowy ridge beyond and the white drifts at its foot.  There’s no sign of anyone in the beast-hole entries above, yet she feels herself watched intently, as though the very stone itself has eyes.  She keeps her right hand on the pommel of one of her swords, a light firm touch, seeking the comfort of weaponry in uncertainty.  Hoping not to have to use the blade, or the crossbow.  But better those, than to wake the power she’s come here to learn about, and lash out again with it, uncontrolled and unbridled.

There are animal tracks, and the prints of bird-claws, running in and out of the forest fringe.  She identifies fox and hare and the scuffling, fuzzed marks of snow-grouse, and tiny lace-like skeins of prints from the feeding of finches and buntings.  But most of the marks go straight on, over the arch of the bridge, above the roaring and the spray; a dozen or more sets of human footprints. The path they mark goes round and down, slanting through a belt of saplings, circling as it brings them inexorably nearer to the foot of the Crag.

The path is flanked by trees to the left, coming up close under the arrow-slits and rock-chutes on the rock, till it reaches the gates.  A huge set of bronze doors, facing the sheer mountainside; and carrying the path out to them is another bridge, an archway hacked from the naked rock, with a wooden drawbridge halfway along above a deep chasm. 

A spur of rock, seamed and veined and folded strata of grey slate and blood-rust granite, runs out from the base of the crag, half-enclosing the path as it runs up to the gateway.  Their way is overlooked on every side now, and if entry were barred, the only way forward is through a narrow defile that could easily be blocked or over-run. 

A perfect defensive entry.  She remembers studying how to man it.  Station spearmen there among the trees, harrying the attackers, place archers here, picking them off from above; have two of the gang throwing fireballs from that hole there.  Any attacking force would soon be pinned, unable to protect both their shield-side and sword-side.  Could be kept in disarray, picked off at leisure before they even reached the ramp up to that drawbridge and the gateway beyond it.

Well, so.  Things could be worse.  No-one’s shooting at us or throwing thunderbolts.

Well, she always knew she’d be walking into this place and trusting that no-one would look out of a beast-hole and spear her.  And though she can still feel the unseen eyes on her, there’s no sign of anyone, neither manning the gate nor spying from above. 

She marches up the final slope and onto the bridge.  The wooden section rings hollowly under her boots.  Cassian treading silently at her side.  She reaches out, rests her left hand on his shoulder; and there it is, untamed and alive, pulsing between them like a thread of silver heat.  She doesn’t fear the bond between them now.  It’s a consoling certainty to feel the air around him full of his quiet alertness.  It sparks a defiant tension in Jyn.  She strides the last few yards beside him, up to the doors of what was once her home, and raising her fist she bangs on it. 

Icy cold metal, ringing hard under her fist, and the dull sound of the wood under it.  Echoes, muffled within. 

She waits, but there’s no reply.  Only silence and stillness. 

It seems as though no-one’s listening, no-one’s watching; yet still the whole castle, every force of life within these walls, is.  She can feel it with every pore, every sense prickling with awareness.  Red Crag is watching intently.  Waiting to see what she’ll do.

“Come on,” Jyn says conversationally to the towering doorway and the silence. “Open up, old man.”

She could unsling the crossbow now, plant a bolt in the bronze plating; she could yell curses, throw a few fireballs of her own if she can remember the incantation (oh yes, she can remember it, God have mercy on her).  But what if someone were about to open the door?  At this range a crossbow shot would spit them through the ribs like a spatchcocked chicken.  A fire-bolt would cook them before she had time to deflect it.  Not worth risking that as her greeting; and as she looks around at the drifted snow piled up against the doorposts another spell comes to mind.  Well, if Saw’s going to play games then so can she…

“Bastard.  Teaching me my place, eh?”

She looks around her and murmurs under her breath, a singsong of rhythmic words, familiar suddenly as the rhymes of childhood play.  Cassian steps back with a snort as on either side of him snow rises from the ground, a floating cloud of white that slowly gathers itself into a dozen miniature swirling storms.  Each nimbus of snow tightens, compacting together until they are surrounded by a set of fat, firm balls of snow, suspended in mid-air. 

With a word and a smart gesture, Jyn send the first one thudding against the shut doors of Red Crag.

“Open up!” she shouts, and with a swing of her hand she slams the next snowball home after the first.  “Come on! – open the fucking doors, you shit-suckers!”

Bang, bang, two more snowballs.  Cassian is grinning up at her and for a moment his perception runs alongside hers, so that she smells the snow as he does, and the warmth of her own sweat under her clothes, and feels his amusement and the flicker of his admiration, his pride in her.  It feels good.  Warmth blooms inside her.  She cannot remember when anyone last appreciated her in this way, without expectation, without possessiveness or greed.

There are still half a dozen snowballs left to use.  “Shall I give them another?”  He nods, wagging his tail.  She’s so ridiculously fond of his toothy smile, the set of his ears and the light of his eyes.  How much he can say without words.  Dear Cassian, her friend. “Very well then...”

She slings a fifth shot towards the gates.

Just as they are hauled open.  

The first figure to emerge takes a ball of snow the size of his head full in the face; he yelps, staggers, falls to his knees.  Someone behind him shouts “Fuck!” and half a dozen fighters emerge, pushing the doors wide as if about to sortie.  They stop, staring in bewilderment as they take in just two figures outside. 

The man she hit is a thickset fellow with a pale face, a shadow of beard; he lurches to his feet again, swiping snow from his eyes and cursing.  Around him the others heft their weapons, but they hang back, trying to keep out of range.  She can’t make out any familiar faces.  Doesn’t recognise the man she hit. 

Jyn holds out her hands, palm up, calmly showing that she’s unarmed, and with a soft word she lets the remaining snowballs fall to the ground.

At least the doors are open. 

**

The cavernous walls of the entrance chamber loom overhead, with pillars and arches cut out of the raw stone, and the floor stretching away in a series of rough bays.  Freezing air and a few rays of weakening daylight come in through the arrow-slits in the outer wall.  At the far side of the unfurnished space, a series of worn steps rises to an opening, a single passageway leading into the dark.

She’d forgotten how friendless the place could feel, with its unhomely chill and unglazed windows, and the bleak stone walls, their rust-red veined with black slate and narrow twisted threads of quartz. 

The line of hostile faces watching her doesn’t help.  Blades of swords and knives glint in the wintry light, and there are bows held half-drawn, with arrows nocked, in the hands of hard-eyed men.  The man she hit with a snowball stands glaring at the front, facing off against her.  There’s a sizeable bruise purpling on his jaw already.

If need be, she know she could hold them off; wooden arrows will burn easily at the sending of a spark, and in this familiar space she could defend herself against a dozen fighters with ease.  Her training from Saw ran deep, she hasn’t forgotten how to strike blows, by hand, by blade, and by spell. 

But there can be no striking with magic, not until she understands this; not one of the group facing her has so much as a breath of magic about them.  It’s unnerving.  She cannot bring herself to fight them, they are blind as mice beside her.  There’s none of the shine and ripple that she feels when she reaches for Cassian, as the spells binding him shimmer in the currents of the Force; and not so much as a wingbeat of power, not even the ability to use it.

Are all Saw’s people now just ordinary soldiers?  It’s a thought that had never occurred to her, that he might no longer have apprentices, might no longer wish to command a gang of witches.  No longer be the master-mage of an army. 

“Take me to Saw Gerrera,” she says.

She knows he’s here, she can feel him.  His presence pulses in the rock, an earthquake’s heartbeat.  But no-one else has that cloud of magic round them, that she had expected and braced herself to encounter.  Just their angry eyes and frightened minds, their fists clenched on ordinary blades as they watch her.

Cassian is watching too; and he’s watching the snowball man in particular.  He’d stood up straight, with his head held high and teeth bared, and he whined when the man came towards them out on the drawbridge.  She’d felt his energy go taut as a bow-string; yet not with anger.  There’s something there she can’t place, a tension that’s poised and ready, but doesn’t spring from fear.  Just an intent focus.  He quivers with it, watching the stranger.

“You expect to me to call the Commander for you, just like that?” The man’s accent is distinctive, it rings of the north.  He has the stance of a soldier.  Short-sword at his belt, an archer’s shoulders.  He wears winter-colours, grey and greenish-white to throw the eye out in a snowy landscape.  The front of his coat and his close-cropped hair are wet with meltwater from her attack. A mage would have dried himself with a single word.  “You think you can just summon him, do you?”

“I do,” Jyn says simply. “He’ll see me.”

“Why shouldn’t I just clap you in a cell, you and your ugly mutt both?”

Cassian’s ears twitch and a sudden flutter of amusement comes off him, a ripple in the Force so strong she reaches out and lays a hand on his fur.  Steady, steady, she says in her mind.  Hoping, and somehow knowing, that he can hear her.  Aloud she says “Oh, he knows I’m here.  He’ll want to see me.”

“You think that trick of yours with the snow is enough to get his attention?  The Commander’s not such an easy man to please.  If I were you I’d turn back now, hurry along home.  There’s no playing at war here, lassie, just real fighting.”

“Saw knows I’m here, just as he knew I was coming.  He knows I wouldn’t have come at all if it wasn’t for the fight.  He knows a sight more than you, I’ll warrant, and he won’t thank you for turning me away.”

“And why’s that then?”

“Because I’m the daughter of Lyra Erso.”

Chapter Text

There’s a sound from the dark passageway.  Slow, dragging footsteps, as of someone limping heavily.  For a moment she wonders who it can be that moves with such difficulty, such obvious pain in every step; who, and why is it that Saw has not healed them.  Even as the figure becomes visible she thinks surely it cannot be him, who was so vastly, terribly strong, so certain in his strength?

But there’s no mistaking him.  Jyn has never forgotten the bulk and height, the aura of being feared, that hangs round Saw Gerrera.  They are unchanged even now, in the man who shuffles into view.  Her heart’s pounding like a rock in an avalanche, battering to break out of her ribs.  He’s a bulk, a silhouette, a night-terror bearing down on her.

But he’s a wreck. 

Her sudden terror turns as suddenly to pity, and disbelief.  Dear God, dear God, what has happened to him? 

He’s a wreck, a ruin, a horror.  She ran to his arms for protection once.  Fought to be free of him once.  Loved and respected, hated and feared and honoured.  Now stares in shock.  Incredulous.  Can this really be Saw, who saved her? - the one safe refuge she had, the man she used to love and rebelled against, railed at and longed to make proud?

There’s something deeply wrong with his left foot; she can’t seem to fix her eyes on it at first, her gaze slides off the heavy boot as though deflected by the unpolished leather.  She recognises the sheen of a magic shield, and pushes through with a flicker of thought.  It’s a basic illusion spell.  Behind it, horror.  His foot is a suppurating mass of sores that eat into withered flesh, staring bones; a wound like something from nightmares, a wreckage on which somehow he is still limping on.  And he’s covering it with an illusion, magic spun round his own wounds to hide them from the soldiers.

Why does he need to hide that he’s wounded?  Can he no longer count on the loyalty even of those closest to him?

Counting on someone is no guarantee they will stay loyal to you.  Not even loving them can give you that.  He counted on me, and I ran. 

But why is he wounded, and why does he hide it and not heal it? 

He lurches down the first of the shallow steps and pauses, staring at her.  Lame, barely stable, breathing harshly as a dying man.  Holding himself upright with a staff; and his knuckles are pale where he grips the wood. 

“Jyn?” he says hoarsely. “Is it really you?”

A voice like the winter wind.  Oh Saw, Saw, once you were a father to me, once I truly did want to make you think of me with pride and love.  Then I was terrified; then, angry.

Now you are pitiful, and my heart cannot hold so much anger and fear and still have so much grief for you. 

She swallows.  A wreck, a shadow of the man she’d known.  No, don’t give in to this, how do you know it isn’t some manipulation?  He was always paranoid.  This could easily be another of his tricks.  His siege tactics.  He was always proud to be the wiliest battle mage of them all.  Is it really her? – what is he talking about?  Can’t he see her face?

 Jyn lets acid seep into her voice.  It’s easier to hold on to the anger, feels safer, than allowing herself to feel all this pain. “Who else would it be?”

“Why have you come back?”

At her side, a soft warmth leans in, and there’s fur against her fingertips; Cassian, standing steady, pressing his shoulder to her hand.  She inhales, and draws certainty from his faith.

“Don’t you want me back, then?  You told me once I must return to you one day, or I’d be destroyed.  Changed your mind about that, have you?”

“You left me!” His voice cracks sharply in accusation, and there’s brightness in the old eyes that glare down at her.  Dark, piercing, full of pathetic rage.

“You were trying to turn me into something I’m not!  I had to be free of you.”

“I was trying to guide you!  You were a child still.  Just sixteen, Jyn.  You didn’t know your own strength.”

“Well.  So.  Now I do.  And I’ve come back to you.” She draws herself up. “So teach me.  You promised once that you would.”

She expects him to respond to that; after all, however harshly she phrases it, it’s tantamount to an admission, that he was right and she was wrong.  She needs his help.  She’s humbling herself; he should be crowing.

But “I feared for you,” Saw says.

It’s impossible to ignore how much more pain than anger is in his voice.  The soldiers fidget, sending uncertain glances his way. 

Jyn hardens herself.  Show no pity; it’s probably a trap anyway. “I bet you did,” she snaps. “You’d lost your best weapon.  Must’ve been frustrating.”

“I feared for you,” the old man repeats. “Out in the wilds, so young and so untried.  A prey to wild beasts.  At the mercy of the Empire.”

He’s maundering.  It makes no sense.  She wants to prod him, provoke him, see him fire up with wrath so they can fight as they must. “Wouldn’t have done for them to get their hands on me, right?  Poor little Jynnie, getting herself captured after all that fuss?”

“You were the strongest one in the gang – they would have used you, broken you, if they’d caught you –“

“But they didn’t.  They don’t notice you if you keep your head down.   Not that you’d know anything about that.”

She can’t stand the look in his eyes.  There’s a bitter vulnerability there, where she’d looked to find a wall of rage.  There’s no power beyond the illusion-spell and the tightly-gripped magics that keep him upright.  Everything else about him is either hidden, or gone altogether.

She wants to hit him, often and hard.  To wake the old Saw.

“Aren’t you pleased to see me now?” she taunts. “I’ve had to come back, just as you said I would.  Aren’t you going to remind me? - tell me you’ve won?  You’ve got your weapon back.  My mother’s greatest creation.”

Saw’s face goes cold. “Is this a trap?”

Can’t he read it on her?  Can’t he sense the truth that fuels her resentment?  Jyn snorts. “No.” Clearly even this broken Saw is as paranoid as ever.  She can feel the tension seething off Cassian, and no doubt he can smell it on her just as much. “What are you talking about?  A trap?  I’ve come back, Saw.  Come to get my training.” She prods again, incredulous that he hasn’t yet said the words - “You told me so.”

Saw’s expression is increasingly strange; bitter, but blank, holding back when she expected him to lash out.  “I’ve dreamed of this,” he says. “Hoped against hope.  But now?  How can I trust you, when – and it was just two days ago – no, it’s can’t be true…”

“You dreamed? - you knew I was coming!  You can sense me, I know you can.  Here –“ she spreads her arms wide, a sad echo of the welcoming embrace they have not exchanged and maybe never will – “here, sense me now, go on.  Read me.”

“No!” Saw barks. “Open my mind to you?  Let you in?   Is that your plan, is that how it’s to end?  Have you plotted with her to kill me?  I never did you harm, Jyn!”

Really?”

“No harm, I say!  I taught you, as she bade me do!  Yet now she sends this messenger and his trap, the signs I cannot – and now this, now this?” He breaks off suddenly and his eyes turn calculating. “Do you still have it?  The stone she gave you?”

Who is he - “Wait – what?  Are you raving about my mother?” He’s speaking of an enemy, someone conspiring against him, and then he asks her that?  It can’t be.  He’s gone insane at last.  Her mother, setting a trap for him - she would never have done such a thing, Mama trusted him – “You need to start making sense, Saw.”

He wheezes, sucking in a rattling breath.  The soldiers watch, and Cassian stands steady, unflinching, his muzzle pointed straight at Saw and the edge of his teeth bared. 

Slowly and reluctantly the old man lifts one hand off the staff and beckons. “Come with me.  I have something to show you, child.”

Child?  She’d like to tell him to go to hell for that.  But as he turns and drags himself back into the passageway she’s painfully aware of the soldiers behind, closing round to come between her and the way out.  She could probably fight through them if she put her mind to it, the Force ripples with awkwardness and diffidence around most of them, hardly the committed warriors she’d expected; and then there’s her curiosity, too, drawing her on, and irritation and hope pushing her uncertainty aside; and a compassion she’d never anticipated, a helpless pity for the ruined man before her.  She lets him lead the way into the maze of dark passages, with Cassian treading silently at her side.

They wind about, through a few turns of the way, and come to another door.  A light burns within and there’s the sound of someone panting, a weak jagged breath.  The whole room reeks with fear, the very air seeming to shake, so much terror here that Jyn can hardly bring herself to step over the threshold.  Beside her, Cassian has gone tense; no doubt he too can smell the terrified creature within.  She watches as Saw shuffles through the doorway and turns to look down at something, or someone, out of sight; grits her teeth against the waves of misery that crash around her, feigns resolution though her belly is sickening within her, and walks forward.

It’s a prisoner, as she’d feared and guessed.  A man barely older than she is, thin and huddled, crouching on the floor, with dark hair unbound around his face, and large eyes that blink and stare.  His wrists and ankles are chained and there’s blood on his forehead, and he is dressed in a ragged coat of white cloth, such as heralds wear by ancient tradition.

Such as heralds wear; but heralds are sacrosanct, respected as neutral under all flags, no matter whose words they bear.  Yet this man has been beaten and imprisoned. 

“Who are you?” Saw wheezes out. “Tell this lady who you are, you Imperial scum!”

The young man shudders, cowers back against the wall as though he would burrow into its rocky surface if he could. “I’m, I’m, a messenger, I’m the messenger,” he stammers. “From her, yes, from the lady, I’m the messenger.”

He’s a messenger. “You tortured a herald?  Have you gone mad?”  There can be no allies left to him at all, not one of his old friends and cohorts will have stayed loyal if he’s become a man who would do this. 

“Herald?  He’s an Imperial servant.”

“I don’t care if he was carrying messages from the Queen of Hell, you don’t torture heralds!  Bloody fucking hell, Saw!”

“Hah!” Saw takes a lurching step forward and the whimpering herald shrinks back even harder. “Tell her what your message was, you drip of dirt!”

“I didn’t see it, I swear I didn’t see it, I’m just the messenger, I was told to, told to, to find you, with the stone.  She put the message in the stone.  I brought it, brought it, please don’t!”

He stinks of sweat and his voice is half-shaking, half-numb with dread.  The chains have left red rings on his forearms, the marks of bruises upon bruises and sores unhealed.  He stares up at her and his eyes are despairing and so, so alone.  She remembers suddenly how a broken, limping wolf looked into her eyes, long weeks past, out of the darkness before moonrise. 

Even as she’s thinking of it, Cassian moves forward into the chamber, and stands between Saw and the wounded herald.  Hackles up and teeth bared, and silent.

She has no idea what the poor broken man can be babbling about; a lady, a stone, a message in a stone?  The nonsense of a mind dislodged from its own axis by pain and fear.  Well, no more.  No matter what the hell is going on in Saw’s mind, she won’t stand by and be party to an innocent man being tortured.

She passes Cassian and crouches down to face the messenger.  “Don’t be afraid.  What’s your name?  You can tell me your message.  I won’t let them hurt you again.”

“I’m Bodhi.  Bodhi Rook.  I’m the messenger.” The wide wild eyes fix on her and grow round with shock.  A strange glow reflects from the dark pupils. “You’re glowing.  Just like, just like her.  I did my best, I brought the message, I swear!  He doesn’t believe me but I’m the messenger, I am, I am!”

“I’m glowing?” Jyn looks down at herself and realises where the reflected light comes from.  Her crystal is gleaming, softly, but with enough light to cast brightness up through the front of her clothes.  Anger and fear and horror at what she’s seen here rising in her, emotions that she must learn to focus, and Damn it, Saw, this is what I came to you for, to learn to control this, learn how not to have it come burning out of nowhere because you’ve gone so crazy you put a messenger in chains in a cell, you paranoid fucking fool!

“Unbind him,” she tells Saw. “Unbind him, or I will.”

“Don’t you want to know about this message of his?”

“How can I believe there even is a message, when you’ve clearly lost all sense of reason and the only other person who knows anything about it is a herald half-mad with pain?  Any talk of that belongs in a civilised house where the master still has some honour!  Now unbind him, you old bastard!  Or I promise you, I will.”

They are only metal chains, after all.  Not so much as a word of magic in the binding.  She can break them with the smallest chant, even without the magic of the stars that is sliding silently into her now, cold as the winter wind and as inescapable.

The glow from her crystal grows, her anger and disgust mounting.  Hold it, Jyn, hold it steady, don’t let fly, hold fast…

“If you think you can,” Saw rasps ”then do it.  Rescue him if you think he’s worth it.”

All of us are worth it; but you never have seen things that way, have you? 

Before she can think again, she raises her hand, and the light flashes out.  Controlled, please let it be controlled, let it not kill, please, please…

The injured man gives a little yelp of shock at the blaze of light flaring around him.  He throws up his bruised arms to shield his eyes, and the shackles split and fall to the ground.  He huddles away from the shattered metal as if it could bite.  Jyn gasps with the effort of keeping her hand steady.  There’s still light in her, and she can feel the thread of it now, running from her heart, through the crystal, into her and out again, straight from the unseen stars above. 

I have drawn down the fire of the stars again (I am a weapon I am a weapon God have mercy on me).  I have the starfire in my hands and Saw has seen this now.

No.  I am not just a weapon.  I can heal.  I healed Cassian.  I must not let my fear rule me, or I’ll be no better than Saw has become, and go mad with it just as he has.

She reaches out and touches the wounded man, and the fire passes out from her hands and fades as it comes into him, and is gone.  He stares at his unbound wrists, where moments before there were bruises and bloody welts; then raises his eyes to hers in astonishment.

Jyn’s hand is on his shoulder; it shakes minutely, and she breathes hard, and wills it to steadiness again.  Tell him all is well, tell him he’s safe now.  Not that I am shivering with confusion and fear, and anger against everything I see around me.  Tell him I’m in control and will keep him safe. 

There’s blood still on Bodhi Rook’s face, but no sign of a wound beneath it, just old red-brown stains on healed skin.  He stammers “You – you did this?”

“Yes,” she says.  I am not just a weapon.  Cassian was right.  I can heal.

She helps him to his feet and they turn together to look Saw Gerrera in the eye.

He’s weeping. “Jyn.  My child.  It really is you.  So you’re the one who’s come for me.  You’re the one.”

“I don’t know what the bloody hell you’re raving about.  And I don’t much care.  Let me by.”

There’s a second of resistance in his face before he falls back clumsily, with more of his weight than ever resting on the stick. She can feel him watching, his old eyes half-calculating and half-mad, as she and Cassian escort the herald Bodhi out of the cell.

Chapter Text

It’s insanely dangerous to turn one’s back on someone so dangerous, and so obviously borderline crazy.  The fur on Cassian’s neck stands up as they walk away.  His skin stings with tension.  He strains to keep listening, to smell and touch, feel  the sway of the air, all his senses reaching back behind him as the passageway extends. 

They walk on, down one winding side passage after another, deep into the labyrinth.  His hackles are still up, whiskers prickling for any sound behind them.  But there’s nothing, only the pacing of their own feet in the dust.  So much dust.  How many years since this place was lived-in to fullness?  The wind breathes in every stone now, and whines in corners like another wolf.

So - that was Saw Gerrera.  He’s just met the last of the great Battle Mages of old, dear God, Saw Gerrera himself! 

And Jyn after all her doubts and fears had simply swept the old man aside and dismissed him. 

He’ll have to wait till he can speak to her, to have any hope of disentangling the spiders-web of past angers and pains between those two. 

There’s too much that is uncanny about Gerrera, about the way he speaks, the way he moves; the mad words, the lameness, the huge staff that bears his weight but has the scent of a weapon.  An ugliness, and a smell that is disguised somehow, like rotting flesh doused in sweet vinegar.  Perhaps Jyn can explain that too.

“I suppose we’ll just have to find ourselves quarters,” Jyn is saying wryly, almost good-humouredly, to the stranger.  Rook, Bodhi Rook.  A name from the south.  Cassian can see that she’s no longer holding the young man upright; she still has a hand on his arm, but steering rather than supporting him now.  His gait has become more steady as he walks and he’s keeping his head up, looking around him with curiosity.  He still smells of hunger and dirt but the stench of terror is fading from his skin. “Well, so,” Jyn says. “Let’s see if I can remember the layout of this place, eh?  I’d send you home today, herald, but the winter weather’s come on and you might do better for a night’s rest first.  Something to eat, too, maybe?”

“Who are you?” Rook asks in a wondering voice.

“I’m Jyn Erso.  I used to live here.”

“Erso?” He stops dead in the passage, staring at her.  Everything in him gone still, expressionless, as though he’s in a fugue state for a moment.  Cassian braces himself to fight though he has no idea what.  Every wolf instinct telling him this is danger.  But then the young man shakes himself and his face relaxes again, with that same stunned sad look as he says “You stopped him, you stopped the madman.  You must be someone very special.”

“I’m no-one,” Jyn says with a snort of amusement that sounds almost natural. “Just a common hedge-witch.  Come on, this way.  Up these stairs.”

Upstairs; yes, good, the old mage could barely manage one shallow step in the entrance hall, so climbing a full staircase instantly puts them at a safer remove from him.  Cassian relaxes his spine, slows his breathing again.  Follows the two of them.  No; follows her.

Jyn sounds tired, and smells of it too; tired and dispirited.  Under this careful show of kindliness and strength for Rook he can feel how much strain it’s putting on her; being in this place, meeting her old mentor, finding him as he is, mad and cruel; finding this prisoner he apparently was happy to torture, yet has made to attempt to stop her from setting free. 

Nothing makes sense, none of it, not one thing, not to him, not to her.

He trots up the red granite stairway.  His claws click on the cold stone.  The herald is climbing just in front of him, moving like a man in a dream.  Up ahead, Jyn’s feet do not drag and she holds her head up, but even though she seems to know her way about, he can still scent her discouragement and confusion.  She leads them down a series of passageways and at last chooses a door, and brings then into a large chamber.  It’s empty, but there’s a fireplace, with two stone platforms flanking it, and a small glazed window in a recess. 

Bodhi Rook sinks down on one of the stone beds with a gasp and looks around him blankly.  He seems just as stunned by Jyn, ordinary though she looks with her scruffy clothes and cold-reddened hands, as he is by the presence of a wolf at her side.

At some point he’ll probably come out of his daze and run shrieking from me.  Especially after what he’s been through.  No-one wants to share their life with a wild beast.

No-one but Jyn, at least.  But she is unlike most mortals.

Cassian crosses to the window and rears up on his hind legs to look out at the valley.  The daylight is dimming already and dense banks of cloud stream by up above in a gathering wind.  Little chance of anyone else coming to the fortress tonight, or leaving it, and the valley below is bleak and empty in the snow.

He lets himself drop back down to the floor.  Looks around the room.  It’s spartan in the extreme, no sign of any occupants, not so much as a cushion or a cover on the bed platforms.  But Jyn has clearly decided this is where they’re staying.  She offloads her burdens onto the floor in a heap; crossbow, satchel, knapsack, the pair of boots thumping down; and with a sigh of relief she sinks onto the second stone platform.

Last time she used her star-fire magic, when she held the fire in her crystal focussed and it came burning out from her hands, she broke down afterwards, a sobbing, shaking mess.  He’s awed and proud at how well she’s keeping herself under control now.  His strong brave Jyn.  What an officer she would have made, what a commander!

She stretches for a moment, knotting both hands behind her neck, easing out the kinks in her spine after hours of walking with heavy baggage.  Gives him a quick smile and turns to their new companion.  Bodhi is staring at her with undisguised admiration. 

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Tired.  I’m tired.  They wouldn’t let me sleep.  Always a bright light in the chamber, and a blow if I, if I – yawned, blinked too much.  I’m tired, yes.”

Jyn nods reassuringly. “You can rest here.  Cassian and I will keep watch.”

The man’s dark eyes swing round.  “This is – this is Cassian?”

“Yes.  He’s my friend.”

“He’s a wolf.”

“Well…” She catches his eye.

Cassian weighs up the young man.  To mistrust him, keep this secret, and risk him having hysterics come moonrise?  Or show him the ordinary faith due a man and an equal, and tell the truth? 

Jyn trusts him.  She trusts them both, and he knows she doesn’t give that trust lightly.  It pleases him that they are that much less alone; pleasing too, to feel so little doubt about his answer.  He gives her a nod of assent.

She smiles. “So.  Cassian is more than that.  He’s a man, just like you.  A curse was placed on him.  I haven’t found out yet how to break it but I’m – we are - working on it.”

“You’re a man?  Trapped like this?” There’s unforced sympathy in the dark eyes.  Cassian nods his answer.  Yes, he can see why she trusts this herald, there’s a guileless goodness about him, even after terror and torment he’s looking out at the world without hate.

“You may have the chance to talk with him tonight, if the sky clears,” Jyn says.  She glances at the window. “Not promising at the moment.  But the clouds may break.  Well, so.  Now we all know one another.  I’ll find you a blanket in a minute, see if any of those thugs we met at the door can be persuaded to give us some food.  Eventually I’ll have to talk to Saw again but I’ll give him time to calm down first, I think.” A rueful grin at Cassian. “And myself, eh?  I won’t pretend that little scene didn’t shake me up.” She leans over, turning back to Bodhi. “But I need to ask you something first.  No – no, don’t be afraid, I’m not Saw, I’m not minded to hurt you.  But I need you to tell me about this lady you kept speaking of.” Her voice goes soft for a moment. “I – I need to know.  Anything you can tell me.”

Bodhi has gone pale, eyes blinking wide again, as though the daze of fear is sliding back onto his mind. “The lady in the tower?  She sent, sent me.  I’m the messenger.”

“Yes, that’s right.  The lady in the tower.” He can hear the frustration in her voice, kept masked out of kindness but unmistakable nonetheless.  She wants to know more, but she knows she’s asking a man who has just been interrogated and tortured over this same story, and her compassion is at war with her need for answers. “Where is this tower, then?”

“Ea’dhu.  Oversea, in the Black Isles.”

The hairs on Cassian’s back prickle up at the name.  The Black Isles are in the heart of Imperial territory.  Jyn takes a deep breath.  There’s a faint shaking in it but she hides her distress well.  He silences the snarl building inside him and breathes with her.  Calm, stay calm, hold fast.  We have trust to offer and he has trust to give, and we are all of us in need of friends.  Calm, my Jyn, my dear, stay calm and strong as only you can.

“The Black Isles, eh?  I’ve heard of them. “ Yes, that’s the tone.  She makes it sound like a harmless bit of chat. “Is that your home, then?”

“Me?  No, no, I’m from the south.  From Jedha.  The Holy City.”

“I’ve heard of Jedha too.  Under Imperial occupation, isn’t it?”

“These five years, yes.”

“People used to talk of the Jewel of Jedha.  The Great Moon Temple, isn’t that right?”

“Hush, oh hush, we don’t speak of that.” Bodhi looks utterly terrified again; but not of her, or of Cassian.  Not of anything here.  His eyes are looking into a far distance. “A warning, a warning, let this be a warning to you.  They said.  They said it was a warning but they burned everything.  A warning to us, oh hush, hush, we don’t speak of them, of what’s lost, what’s lost.  Lost and can never be restored.”  He closes his eyes, panting.  When he opens them again, they focus, and see the room around him; and in a very small voice he says “It was so beautiful.”

He sounds desolate.  Cassian remembers his own home burning.  The stench of smoke and death, the screams of the dying, the Queen lying in a pool of blood.  The Princess dragged away, struggling till they bound her with chains of steel.  Yavine too was beautiful once.  The Empire does not leave beauty when it comes to take your home.

He trots to Bodhi’s side; carefully touches one paw to his arm for a second.  Bodhi hesitates and then cautiously reaches out, to brush his hand against Cassian’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” he says. “Thank you, yes, I – thank you.” He draws himself up, visibly swallowing back his grief. “An hour ago I thought I’d never see my home again, or my family.  That man - that madman – he told me I was lying but I swear to you, I only gave him the message I was bidden to give, nothing more.  I promised her I wouldn’t let her down.”

“The lady in the tower?” Jyn prompts again.  He recognises the tone of her voice now; she used to sound this way sometimes when she’d spent an hour or more working on some curse-breaking spell, leaning over his prone body chanting and working the air with her hands, only to see it go nowhere.  See her words drop down in dust and a shaggy wolf still lying at her feet.  She’s tired and ground down with patience, and even so, she won’t give up.

“Yes.  Yes, the lady.  I have to bring back word that I’ve delivered her message.  She gave it to me, she put her faith in me.  She said –“ his voice drops near to a whisper, as though in fear of eavesdroppers even here – “she said if I was brave enough I could make it right.  Get right with myself.”

“Did you see this message?  What did it say?”

“It’s a stone.  Like yours.  I gave it to him, to Saw Gerrera, I swore I’d place it in his hands alone and I did but he didn’t trust me –“

“Not your fault.  He trusts no-one.  Never has.” Jyn tries again. “Did you read the message?”

“No.” He shakes his head. “No, it’s in the stone.  I told you.  It’s a stone like yours.  It glows.  Just like yours.  She said he needed to hold it, it had to be in his hands, he needed to listen to it.  That’s what she said.  To listen to it.” Bodhi points shakily at the collar of Jyn’s coat, where the chain of her necklace shows. “Can you listen to yours?”

Jyn draws the crystal out, holding it up in the light. “I’ve heard it, sometimes.  When I’ve worked magic with it, it sings with energy.  Energy from the stars.  Is that what you mean?”

Bodhi shakes his head. “I don’t know, I don’t think so.  How is that a message?  But it does, it does look just like yours, yes –“ and then abruptly he adds “She looks like you, too.  Do all witches look alike, then?”

If he didn’t know Jyn well he might have missed her reaction.  Stillness, a stillness like that of the wall behind her.  She doesn’t breathe or blink.  Then does both, very slowly, and so consideredly he knows she is consciously making herself move.  She lowers her head, and her shoulders stiffen as though she’s braced for a blow.  There’s the tiniest quiver in her voice when she says “I don’t believe so, no” - and although her face is downturned now, he sees her nostrils constrict, her lips tighten, and knows she is holding herself back from something more.  An explosion, though whether of rage or tears he cannot say. 

“You must be related then.” Bodhi sounds almost pleased. “She has the same name as you too, I remember, Erso, she said that too!”

Dear God, dear God, what is this? The same name – dear God, whatever? -

Jyn is still almost motionless, only her rapid breathing giving anything away; then one hand reaches out towards him blindly, and he runs to her, pushing his nose under her palm, pressing in to her side to tell her he’s there, he’ll always be there, because If this is true, dear God, this can only mean one thing

“Do you know who she is?” Bodhi asks, curiosity shading into anxiety.

Jyn inhales and exhales, once and then again, before at last she raises her head to look him in the eye.  “I’m very much afraid that I may.  I’m very much afraid that she – she may be my mother.”

Chapter Text

There’s a long silence.  Cassian is nuzzling her side, warm breath on her ice-cold wrist.  Bodhi Rook stares at her in astonishment.  She would stare at herself with just as much shock could she but take a single step outside of this moment.  If only that were possible; anything to get away from this, it’s like a rock on my breast, dear God, dear God.

My mother?  My mother is alive?

“She spoke of her daughter once.” Almighty God, then it’s true, it’s true. “But she said her little girl, so I thought, I thought –“

“I was a child when I saw her last,” Jyn says hollowly. 

In her mind there’s a picture of a green hillside, and soldiers walking.  There’s an officer who yells orders, and the bubble of magic that chokes her down, holding her voice in a box as Saw holds her hands, while he begs her to hold fast, keep still, let her mama and papa fight.  A desperate woman runs towards the troops, shouting, throwing lightning, and a man with brown hair lies dying.  It’s been a long time since she could remember their faces, except in the briefest of flashes like nightmares.  She only sees her mother’s dark head turning away, her father’s long shape sprawled in the grass. “I was just a child.  I thought she must be long dead.  I hoped she was.  God forgive me.”

There are no tears.  She would have expected to have so many tears.  Her hands clutch at Cassian’s fur, gripping convulsively.  If only he were human, already human tonight.  She needs his advice, his steadiness.  Needs him to hold her until she can stop shaking.

My mother is alive, alive and on Ea’dhu, in the Black Isles, in the heart of the Empire. 

“Is she – what is she – how is she?  Is she a prisoner there? – how does she –“

The words trip and tangle in her mouth, because how in the name of light do you ask such a thing? 

If she’s a prisoner, she would never have been permitted to speak to a herald.  But if she’s still there willingly, what does that make her?  What can she have become, not to be broken beyond all possible hope, living among the enemy?

Does my mother serve the Empire now?  

Bodhi says “She was – she was kind to me.  She’s a good woman.”

Jyn swallows and fits words together.  Like bricks; set word upon word, mortar them down with sound. “Good?” Her voice is rough, grief and anger fused together, shock hurting the very fibres of her throat.  “I don’t see how she can be a good woman if she’s living with the enemy.”

His eyes go over-wide again and he shrinks back from the fury in her. “No, no, please!  She - she was kind to me.  She sent the message, she sent me with the message.  For the madman, Saw Gerrera.  I’m the messenger.  She said I could make it right.  If I was brave enough.”

The light from the window is fading fast now.  She ought to snap her fingers and summon a spark; but there’s no fuel to keep it alive. She ought to go and find some food, get one of those bullies from the entrance to bring them bread and cheese, hot water to wash in, pillows and blankets, give this poor exhausted young man a chance to rest.  But what would be the point? 

The message for the madman.  Saw Gerrera.  He knows - he knows already.  No wonder he greeted me like a traitor.

“Oh Cassian.  I have to know the truth of this.” She meets the wolf’s bright eyes and there’s nothing but understanding there.  He nods his head and his ruff brushes against her hand.  Oh, Cassian, oh my dear.  I wish you could hold me in your arms right now; but you can’t, and I must stand on my own two feet as always. “Well, so.  Saw, eh.  It seems I must go back and face the old bastard in whatever lair he uses these days.  I’d hoped for a few hours’ sleep before I had to deal with him again, or he with me.  But this cannot be left waiting.”

He nods.  No longer such an unaccustomed movement, already.  The first time he did it, back in the cottage, she’d thought he was trying to shake something out of his ears.  She nods back at him now, acknowledgment and accord.

It strikes her this is as good a time as any to take off his over-large boots, get hers on again.  And the moon will be up within the hour and Cassian may need his clothes.  She reaches out and hauls her pack over, undoing the buckles, meaning to dig out their blanket, forage for his shirt and breeches and underclothes.  Muttering “Come on, come on” to herself, sotto voce, half encouraging half berating.  Every movement is fumbling, trailing into incompleteness.  She changes back into her own boots and knots the laces firmly; and she finds herself still sitting, fiddling with them.  Finding anything to put off this second confrontation, because she dreads it so much.  Coward, idiot, you’ve faced him once already, how can it be harder the second time?  Stand up, woman, stop faffing and fumbling and get on with it.  Saw isn’t strong enough to hurt you now.

And that is part of the problem.  Facing that fact, facing that the world I remembered has changed, from oppressive but safe to - this.  A crippled lion, glaring and growling, hiding in the mountains.  Saw stood over me for so long, teacher and hero, bully and champion, I never thought there’d come a day I’d see him grown weak.  Unable to dominate, unable to be a father or a commander to me any longer.  When did the giant I remembered fall, and this ruin take his place?  And how?

Bodhi is drooping, every limb beginning to slump though she can tell he’s trying to fight it.  The exhaustion that overtakes one in the aftermath of fear.  Very familiar; and she taps his arm and hands him the blanket.  It probably stinks of woodsmoke and fish and grubby sweaty Jyn, and wolf.  But it’s better than nothing and the least she can do for him.  He fumbles it open and hauls it round his shoulders.  Her own hands are hardly less clumsy, she’s bone-tired, aching in every joint.  It would be good to curl up and sleep now, but she cannot, not now, not yet.

Beside her Cassian stiffens suddenly.  He moves a step towards the doorway.  Not growling but silent as a hunter, all his attention on the passageway outside.  Wearily Jyn stretches her awareness out, feeling for the attacker, for a presence and a malevolence approaching, bitter magic twisting the air currents.  But there’s only the dull sound of an ordinary set of footsteps, the dull sense of an ordinary mind, entirely devoid of the Force.  Someone is coming, yes, but they aren’t much of a threat.

A voice in the passage, muttering what sounds like a couple of swear words; a light flickers on the walls and whoever it is calls out “Hey, are you there, damn you?  Jyn?”

A voice.  A voice she – hell, what?

She scrambles to her feet, flailing on instinct for the crossbow, the pouch of iron quarrels at her belt.  Staring at the door.  It can’t be…  The footsteps outside stop at the sound of movement, their path shifts and they come back, almost hurrying; and It can’t be, it can’t be, not dull and empty like this, flayed of all magic it’s not possible it can’t be -

A dark-haired woman a year or two her senior stands in the door, staring at Cassian and at Jyn standing armed and ready to shoot.  She makes a truncated, angry movement, it might have been a shrug of contempt, but for the pile of blankets, the old brass lantern, that encumber her hands.

“No call for that,” she says after a moment. “And you can call your bloody pet off too if you please, Erso.”

“Maia?!?”  It can’t be, she was a witch like me, she was a witch - “It can’t be you!”

“Oh, I promise you, it is.” Maia bridles at her shocked expression. “We didn’t all walk away from him when things went bad, you know.”

So much hurt in her voice.  Easy to guess why.  Here Jyn stands, stronger than ever with her growing powers, and here is Maia with no longer so much as a sniff of magic in her.  A mere handful of threads of the Force curl round her, as indifferent as if they entwined a tree or scurrying beetle.  She was a witch once, but now she’s just one more living creature among the many. 

It makes no sense.  People don’t just lose their abilities; and no-one who could sense the Force and guide it into the weavings of magic would give it up voluntarily.  Least of all a pupil of Saw’s, urged on by him, moulded into a fighter.  Maia had been strong, and now she’s just an ordinary woman, no more connected to the deep power of the universe than a tuft of moss.  

How do you become closed to the Force?

Closed to the Force, and still here, when every other witch and mage under Saw’s tutelage has gone.  Because whatever she says, it’s clear that everyone else did walk away, at some point in the past five years.  Walked away, or were driven off.

“It’s good to see you,” Jyn murmurs, looking for something more than platitudes and hitting a stone wall in her mind. “I didn’t know if any of the old gang were still alive.” She lowers the crossbow and releases the catch to take out the quarrel.  Maia purses her lips, watching. “Are you well?” Jyn asks.  Shameful, ridiculous, to have nothing more to say for herself than that; but how, how, is she to talk to this angry woman, who’s brought her a lamp and enough bedding for three, and can no longer use the powers that burn so bright still in Jyn?

“I’m well enough,” says Maia, sharp and sad. “I’m as you see me.” She pushes the stack of blankets forward. “Rue asked me to find you and bring you these.  He thought you’d head for the upper levels.  So.  Here, take them.”

“Thanks.  Who’s Rue?”

Cassian has relaxed his fighting stance but she notices his ears pricking up suddenly. 

“My husband.”

Maia was always the one who wanted, fierce and greedy for experiences, spells, chances, possessions, and she used to joke about wanting all the lovers in the world; but a husband, never.  Well, she’s lost what she once was and become this, instead.  It’s just one more jolt after so many in succession and Jyn says “Right” and takes the blankets.  Does nothing more for a moment.  She simply hasn’t the strength to spare for navigating this relationship and its bitter nuances right now.

But she can’t let it go either, since the world will not idle by and let her be.  She sighs.  Allows herself a few more seconds of this tiny indulgence, to ignore everything she doesn’t want to face.  Seconds only, and so soon gone.  Come on, you don’t have a choice about any of this, you’re here, you must live with what being here brings, now.

She dumps the bedding in a heap next to Bodhi.  He’s watching the pair of them, eyes sliding from one to the other, sleepy but curious.  “Here,” Jyn tells him “Make yourself comfortable.” And with a determined deep breath she turns back to Maia.  Makes herself gather the energy to ask outright. “What happened here?”

“God Almighty, what didn’t…” Maia sets the lantern down on the bed platform as well.

“Maia.  Please.  The place is half empty, I didn’t see a single familiar face at the gates, and – Saw.  I knew he would have changed but he’s – he’s so broken.  What happened?”

Her hands freed, Maia straightens and stands with arms akimbo. “A lot, that’s what.  You left us, fucked off and left the Commander when he – when we all – damn it, he needed you.  We went on fighting.  Recruiting new people, trying to push back each time those shit-eaters shoved us.  It didn’t work out.  Now we’re all broken and no more than a fucking remnant.  And we’re so weak and fucked that chances are we’re going to have to let you stay and act like we’re all glad to make you welcome here, when if you’d never gone flitting off in the first place none of us would be what we are today, maybe.  That’s what happened.”

It makes some sense.  Not very much, but some.  God, she’s too tired for this; and it’s hard to imagine anything she could say will comfort Maia anyway. 

“And here you are coming back all smiles and charming animal companions and needing someplace to stay.”

That hurts, quite unreasonably hard, hearing herself described like some pretty folk-tale princess on a quest.  After the things she’s gone through, everything she’s lost, everything she’s fought, in the last week. 

How the hells was I supposed to know what might happen if I left?  And why the hells was I supposed always to put everyone else before myself, even when I was being forced into things that were breaking me?

In a twinge of spiteful mischief she says “Only one animal companion.  He is pretty charming though.”

She can feel Cassian looking at her in disbelief.  I’m sorry, my dear, but I’m tired and I can’t face fighting through all this nonsense, these undercurrents and resentments.  I left this place behind so long ago. 

The lantern gutters and brightens again and she realises the room would be almost dark without its light; and next moment realises something else. “Cassian – Cassian!  The moon’s rising!”

“Huh?” says Maia, visibly nonplussed; and Bodhi blinks and asks “The moon?”

“The moon, yes – pass him one of those blankets?”

Bodhi’s expression is transparent, he must think she’s losing her mind too, but he obediently shakes out the top blanket from the pile and holds it out to Cassian.  Who manages three steps towards it, and changes.

He shivers, grey fur turning to smooth skin, the moonlight running into him and rippling through the Force like silver oil on golden water, and he reaches out a naked arm to take the offered blanket and says courteously “Thank you.”

“The hells?” Maia has taken a step back, her hand flying to the knife hilt on her hip. “It’s a fucking were-thing?”

“He’s under a curse.”

“Long story,” Cassian adds.  He’s wrapping the fabric round himself like a counsellor’s robe; he looks up at Maia with a hopeful small smile for a moment. “There’s a lot of cloud tonight, I don’t know how long I’ll stay human and I need to speak to Melshi –“ and with another shudder of light, he’s a wolf again, the blanket settling in folds over him.  He sniffs at it sadly.

“Shit,” Maia says.   She sounds almost impressed.

“Who?” Jyn asks.

“My husband.” Maia moves towards Cassian, holding out her hands cautiously. “How do you know Rue?”

The interruption has at least shunted their mutual anger to one side.  Jyn bends to rummage among the clothes from her bag.  The moonlight at the window flutters back and his human voice says “The fellow you hit in the face, Jyn.”

“Oh.  Yes.” The snowball man. “Sorry about that.”

She’s found his shirt; when she turns, he’s slinging the woollen blanket round himself again, crossing to the window to look out at the sky.

“The clouds are quite broken at the moment but there’s more coming.  I don’t know if it’s worth dressing myself.”

“Ah, this is some strong damn-fuck of a curse.” Maia smiles, sudden and grim. “So, how do you know Rue, wolf-man?”

“He served with me at Yavine.  He was a sergeant in the Royal Guard, under my command.  That’s where –“ an expressive gesture, down at himself, out towards the heavens –“this happened.”

“Shit… I didn’t know, he - he doesn’t talk about it much.”

“Jyn.” Cassian comes over, crouches down.  He doesn’t take the shirt.  The bare skin of his shoulder is smooth in the lamplight, a small scar puckering just below the collar bone.  She’s never asked him where he got it.  She too has tried to avoid talking of his past life; of the war and Yavine, and his oath.  She hopes he doesn’t blame her for it. 

She starts to reach out for him, with her hand and her mind, and hesitates.  Cassian touches her hand gently as if in answer to her thought.

“Jyn, Melshi will know what happened after I was cursed.  If anyone else survived.  If our Princess did.  I have to ask him.  But I’ll come with you first, if you want me there.  When you speak to Gerrera again?”

“No.” She shakes her head.  It’s fair, he has a right to find these things out; and he’ll come back.  She believes that.  Besides “It’s better if I go alone.  There are – things we both need to say.  It may go less hard without an audience.”

“Please don’t leave me here alone.” The herald’s worried voice.  For the first time Maia looks at him.

“Ahh, shit!  You got him out.  How’d you get the Commander to let him go?”

Jyn shrugs. “Just took him.”

“So – so, well.” She’s staring at the anxious Bodhi; he swallows audibly but holds his head high and stares back.  A hint of  warmth widens Maia’s eyes and she says quietly “Well.  I’ll admit, I’m glad.  None of us liked it that he’d put a herald in the cells.” Her voice is markedly less grudging than before. “We’re no better than the Empire if we do that, Rue says.”

“Yet you didn’t try to stop him?”

“He’s the Commander!  And he still – you know.” A bitter sadness suddenly. “He still has magic.  And I have none.”

“Magic, and he’s a madman.” Cassian’s voice is sharp.

“Would you have us all desert him too, like your friend Erso here?  He sends away anyone he suspects of disloyalty, but we’re only strong if we stay together, stand together.  You know that, Jyn!  Else why have you come back?”

“To ask him to teach me again!” Jyn says defiantly; and watches her old friend’s face go pale, her anger deflate.

“You still – you still have it?  You can still? –“

“Yes.  Which is why I have to talk to him.  He has to help me, I’ve nowhere else to turn.”

“The world is very unjust,” Maia says to none of them in particular. “Very unjust indeed.  Well.  Damn it, listen, alright.  I’ll bring Rue here.  Show you the way.  What else can I do?  You’re the last of us.  I’d be a mad one too if I don’t face that.  You stay put, Master Herald, eh?  Wolf-man here can keep watch over you.”

She bends for the lantern; stops as Jyn says “Leave the light for them,” and snaps her fingers.  Spark – to flame, to glow, and with a whispered word, it’s a floating ball of light like the ones they both used to conjure in play. 

Maia looks at it.  Bites her lip.  Looks away.

“Yeah, right.  Come on then, Erso.”

Chapter Text

The stone floor is painfully cold.  Gritty icy granite under his bare feet.  Cassian picks up the rest of his clothes, sits down on the blanket; finds his socks and starts to put them on.  He’s got only one pulled up when a shiver hits him and the moon’s magic fades through his bones again, and leaves him staring sadly at his hind leg with the homespun knitwear wrinkled round it.

“Uff,” he says in frustration.

Bodhi is watching, his eyes half-horrified and half-fascinated. “That must – must be terribly inconvenient.”

All he can give by way of answer is a twitch of his eyebrows, and a snort that drops into a sigh.  When he looks up, the herald is nodding sadly.

“I can guess, kind of guess, a little – I mean, I can’t, but – the whole world upended, yes?  And all you can do is try to live through it while it rips, it rips up everything you thought was certain and fixed – and –“ Bodhi’s voice tails off again.  For a moment he seems to stare through the walls, at some nightmare memory; hauls himself back with a visible effort, to the quiet room and the lamplight, the visible safety they offer.  He blinks at Cassian and hesitates into a frail smile. “I’m so tired right now but my head, my head’s whirling like a blizzard. I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again.”

Cassian can remember that state.  Fear chasing through every moment.  His body a new-wrought horror, limbs that move wrong, a spine wrenched ground-wards, sharp jaws and a voice than can only snarl.  He’d known himself and his place, duty and courage and service; and then suddenly none of it, just an alien in an alien world.  Knowledge of what he was now, like a torturer’s strap tightening round him, the loss irreparable.  Hostility in every eye that beheld him.  And the dreadful hunger, and the hunger for death. 

He’d like to be able to say It gets better.  But it would be a lie, if he could even say it at all.  The best it gets is familiar.  An everyday kind of nightmare, easier to live with once the shock is gone, but still a nightmare for that.  There are always more layers to discover, in the pain of a ruined life.  He counts his friendship with Jyn as something that has saved him, but it’s given him needs and wants now that he’d never imagined, and there’s no possibility they can ever been satisfied.  No more than his longing to atone for the fall of Yavine, and his part in it.

He could at least say with honestly that sleep will come back.  It may take a few days, but the human body has to give in finally, if only in broken snatches of rest.

But saying even that is beyond him, stuck in his wolf body again.  He bends his head to the sock he’s only just got on, sets his teeth in it and worries it carefully off his foot again.  Drops it on the floor with another sigh.

“So, so, do you have to carry some clothes around with you all the time, or what?” Bodhi yawns and talks on. “How’d you manage that?  Have you got a little harness to carry things, or something?  What were you wearing when this first – you know, when you were first? –“ he tails off at Cassian’s snort of frustration. “Oh.  Sorry, sorry, yes.  Too many questions, stupid, stupid…”

Poor man.  They’re not unreasonable questions, and he would answer if he could, for all the memories are so bitter.  Dear God, the terror of those first minutes, first hours, first days!  Hysterical fear, struggling and frantic, trying to free himself from clothing that dragged and hampered, rubbing his sides raw getting free of the dragging chainmail and siege-tightened belt, and boots lashed with thongs that had to be chewed off.  He had huddled to the ground weeping tears of relief when he changed back for a few brief hours that night. 

He remembers how long it took, to dare to seek clothes again.  Clothes he had to steal and hide; a shirt, a cloak.  He was driven to it at last by the autumn chill, the fear of being seen.  Then forced himself into the habit of stripping-off, concealing what little he had before daybreak.  Prayed it would still be there at nightfall.  And when his things were found and taken, forcing himself to thieve again, and start anew; and again, and again…

The hunger and the cold, and the fear.  It was all he deserved, traitor and thief.  The eternal, clawed and fanged and heart-sucking fear.

He’s staring at the wall, caught up in horrors; he shivers and shakes his head.  There’s nothing shameful in Bodhi having questions.  If only he could tell him so.  The only shame is his, that his answers are so poor.

I ran.  I ran away, left the men I’d sworn fellowship with, the soldiers who’d looked to me for guidance, who’d served loyally to the last.  I felt my body break, my whole world wrenched from me; and I didn’t stand firm with them, for all the oaths I’d taken.  I ran.

The last time he saw Ruescott Melshi, the sergeant had been crouched beside him, hunched over the pain of a wound.  Laying down his sword on the beaten earth, in the blood, on Cassian’s orders.  Wide grey eyes looking on in horror as his captain fell howling – howling –

Cassian shudders.  Every eye that saw him fall that day had recoiled.  His soul shattered, his body broken and remade by the enemy general’s hate; and his comrades shrank away from a wild beast.

As everyone has done, as my own heart has done, ever since.  Everyone, until now.  Until Jyn; and this innocent little man, the herald.  Even Melshi’s wife laid a hand to her blade at first.

Will Melshi recoil again?  Will he still remember a decade’s friendship, or the violence of its end?

Too much to hope, that he can give any kind of absolution, to a man who is an animal, for a choice that was made in fear and haste, trying to save the last hope of those still living.  A choice he’s blamed himself for, these three long years.  But Melshi has survived, so maybe others have done, too.  Maybe there is still hope, even now.

He’ll know soon.  He shivers in the cold room, in the lamplight.

Footsteps outside, two pairs of feet, keeping pace with one another, coming closer.  It smells like the woman; and Rue Melshi.  Rue, who Jyn hit in the face.  There’s no whiff of hostility in the bank of human scent approaching, but he still breathes fast.  His spine goes tight, bracing for flight, though he cannot and will not run from this.  Another light comes flickering around the door and two figures with it, and there they are.  The woman Maia, and Rue. 

Rue.  Carrying more bedding, pillows, a wicker basket.  Looking well.  Looking around calmly.  Gently, at Bodhi Rook, and cautiously at him, Cassian, the panting hesitating snarling wolf.

Cassian takes two paces, away from the puzzled kindness in his face, and backs up against the wall.  Stares at the man who once he counted as a friend.

He seems well, bar the bruise at least.  He’s filled out a little and there’s a healthy colour to his cheeks.  His clothes are clean and warm-looking and well-mended.  He glances at the woman with obvious affection.  Gives Cassian another, short, measuring look as he sets down the basket.

Then turns to Bodhi. “So, Master Herald, Mai said you wanted to speak to me?”

Bodhi shakes his head. “N-no.  Not I.”

“Not him,” Maia echoes, amusement shadowing her voice.  Her husband raises an eyebrow at her and grins.

“Heh?  Who, then?”

He’s well, and healthy, and happy, and married, and has a place in the world and a life with reasons to smile in it.  I am so very glad for you, Sergeant.  Why did I think it would be good, for me to break into the life you have here, bring everything back that you’ve escaped?

Maia gestures at Cassian good-humouredly and her husband chuckles. “So, it’s the wolf, then, eh, sweetheart?  Yeah, he looks a chatty one, for sure.”

He opens the basket and starts to unpack it, and he’s turning back to Bodhi.  Still smiling; he says “Here, Master Herald, something for you to eat.  I’m glad the Commander’s seen sense at last.” A loaf, a bottle, a link of blood sausage wrapped in linen.  Beakers and a paring knife.  Apples.  Bodhi is smiling uncertainly, his hands loaded with unasked-for food.  A gift of guilt perhaps? – these people didn’t get him out of that cell, after all.  Yet he doesn’t look angry at them, not even bitter, just tired and confused.  Is he a saint, or just fear-shocked still?

Cassian can smell the food, plain and fresh and good, and his belly grumbles.  He wants to eat, to speak, to ask what he must and hear the answers he must.  He wants to see Jyn come back unhurt from her encounter with Gerrera.  To sleep, perhaps, after.  All of it will be possible, everything can move on from this caught moment, if the damned clouds will just shift.  He paces to the window and rears up again, forepaws on the sill, impatient to get this next few minutes over with.

There’s a cloud bank up above, moonlight already slivering its edges.  He wills it to move faster.  The sky to the west is starry-clear.

He hears the sound of a bottle uncorking and Bodhi saying “Thank you” quietly as something is poured out for him. “But truly, it’s the wolf you need to talk to, not me.”

“Ah, you two are fooling with me.” Melshi sounds amused still. 

“You’ll see,” his wife tells him, her voice equally smiling.  The sound of his chuckle, the splashing as another beaker is poured out, the crackle of bread as the crust is torn.

The clouds part, and Cassian draws in a deep breath and says “Hello, Sergeant.”

“Oh my sweet fucking life!”

A thump and a clatter.  He looks round; Melshi is sitting back on his heels, gaping.  Holding a hunk of the loaf in one hand, with a beaker rolling beside his knee in a splash of spilled wine.  He doesn’t reach for a weapon, only gapes and says “Dear Lord above.  What the fuck, the fuck, what?”

It’s Bodhi who stands up first, unsteady and careful on his feet, and shuffles over to hand Cassian the blanket again. “He’s, he’s, under a curse, you see.”

“There’s a good gap in the clouds just now,” Cassian tells him. “I should be clear for a while now.” Hurriedly wrapping himself up again so one shoulder is bare and his hands are free.  This wasn’t what he’d imagined. “Melshi – I’m sorry for this, please forgive me for the shock.”

“I – I didn’t recognise you.” Melshi bites his lip. “I was there when that fucking brute made you – and - Dear God.  Captain.  You’re alive.” He hoists himself to his feet, clumsily trying not to drop the loaf. “You’re alive.  You’re not dead.”

Maia touches his arm, a reassuring pat after her teasing of before, and he gives her an astonished smile. “My old Captain, Mai.  My CO, from Yavine.” She takes the bread from his unresisting hand and holds it out to Bodhi.

Two steps forward and then a third, careful and almost wobbly, and Cassian allows himself to move forward as well. 

They meet in the middle, hesitant, and then Melshi grips him hard by the upper arms, shakes him, and begins to laugh; and embraces him. 

“My God, Captain Andor, my God!”

Words burst out of Cassian, no longer apology but joy, because no matter how much there is that cannot be answered or solved this night, still he had never expected to see this man ever, ever again and instead, here he is, warm and breathing, and - “Melshi, thank God you’re alive, it’s so good to see you!”

A living, breathing man, hugging him as hard as he can, muscular arms locking tight and broad hands slapping his shoulder blades.  Still laughing a little, the hilarity of shock perhaps but a sound of so much delight nonetheless.  And maybe there is hope, for so much more than just a scrap of news.  Maybe there has always been hope, even when he thought it lost.  Two of them lived.  Maybe more.  Maybe the Kassikians, maybe wise kindly Kay with his deadpan manner and strong hands.  Maybe the General, even the Princess.  Maybe -

“Have you been a wolf, all this time?” Melshi holds him off for a moment to beam up at him as though he was some long-lost hero. “Sweet fucking life!  How the hell did you survive?”

“I didn’t think I would, but – I have.  How? – that’s a long, long story and –“ and he’s being hugged again, even harder than before; gasps “Melshi, I have to ask you so many things –“

“God’s light, you’re so fucking skinny!” The grey eyes look him up and down critically. “Mai, there’s nothing of him.  He had some weight on him once, this one.”

“So did we all, once.  Here, sit down, the pair of you.  Give him somewhat to eat, if he’s so thin, your Captain Wolf-man.”

“Andor, Captain Andor” says Melshi, at the same time as Cassian says “Cassian, my name’s Cassian, Mistress Maia” and Bodhi laughs huskily, clutching his wine cup.

“Well, whoever.  Here, look, will you fucking sit?”  She’s thrusting another hunk of bread at him, and a couple of slices of the cold sausage. “It’s plain commons here, but there’s enough to go round.  When did you last eat?  And you, Herald?”

Bread, proper bakers’ bread such as Jyn used to bring back from the village, and good sausage, flecked crimson with spices and juicy meaty bits.  She presses a beaker of red wine on him,  His hands shake when he tastes it; he hasn’t had wine since Yavine, before the siege.  Inside, he’s aware of something like a silent earth tremor, quaking on and on through every muscle, every joint, deep into his belly and clenching around his guts and his heart in ripples. 

Slowly, deliberately, Cassian masters the boiling and juddering of his thoughts, the sweating palms, twitching nerves.  He’s still in the house of the madman, and Jyn has gone to Gerrera and will need him when she returns (as she must return, she must and surely will) and he’ll change back all too soon and be unable to say the things he must, to her or any of them. “Melshi, I need to know everything you can tell me.  Did anyone else make it?”

“What? - Yes, yes indeed.”

“Tell me everything.  If I turn wolf again just ignore it, it looks like it may be one of those nights – I’ll explain later.  Tell me what happened.”   

“He’s not your sergeant anymore,” Maia points out. “The odd please now and then goes a long way, you know.  No wonder you teamed up with Jyn, she was just the same when she was here.” She pushes another piece of bread at him. “And for the love of light, eat more.  It’s fresh today.  Criminal shit to waste it.  And wrap those bare legs up, you must be fucking freezing.”

Bodhi shuffles up on the platform to make room and passes him another of the pile of blankets.

They’re all sitting together, picnicking like a bunch of children in a tree. 

It’s all rude and rough, the haven of a moment amid chaos, and he has a quick memory of recruits stealing puffs of southernweed behind the barracks before parade, sharing a single roll-up amongst half a dozen of them.  This gift of food and bedclothes given under Gerrera’s very roof, by his own people; a kindness unlooked-for, and a compassion, offered from within the cage of what can be done by them, and what cannot.  It reminds him a little of Jyn and her blunt words, the crumbled cheese in her palm, the scent of dew.

Maia is one of the people she grew up with, after all.  There must have been more to this place once than a fortress of the fearful and a commander who smells of rotting meat and insanity.

Melshi has settled on the floor, cross-legged.  He accepts a piece of bread from his wife, and talks, in between chewing it down steadily.

“Everything, eh?  That’s – I try not to think about those days, you know?  It was – things were bad.” A long, long sigh. “When that Imperial bastard struck you down I thought we were finished.  We’d laid down our arms and he -!  Filthy whoreson masked bastard.  They dragged us all out, bound our hands, I thought we’d all have our throats slit.  But then they carted us off to prison instead.  Seems they have plenty and to spare of uses for prisoners.”

He breaks off for a moment.  Makes to take another bite and doesn’t.  Sits staring at the good bread in his hand for a time before he resumes.  There are quiet tears in his eyes, though it takes some time before one trickles down.  His voice is thin and precise, he describes the past like a man reading a casualty despatch.  Maia listens attentively; so it’s true then, he cannot have spoken of any of this. 

They were twenty-three, he says; then twenty, nineteen, seventeen. “No medics and never enough to eat’ll do that.” And working, always working, because the Empire did not care to house prisoners and get no return from the investment.  Working on the battlefield, to clear and bury the dead.  Marched into the city ruins to haul rubble, break up stone for hard-core, flatten every house still standing.  Behind them, other teams of slave labour like theirs building barracks and a governor’s mansion, and finally streets of rough new housing in a strict grid, covering where once the plazas and temples of Yavine had shone, and her markets, her winding lanes.

Then a forced march, to another ruined town, and all to be done again.

Sleeping in tents, or on the bare earth in summer.  Each soul chained to his neighbours.  Fed on bad bread, lentil porridge.  And there were sixteen of them, fifteen, twelve.  New men from other teams drafted in to bring up the numbers.  Guards, always, and whips.

“And there was news, sometimes.  Official stories.  Making sure we knew that grateful civilians were welcoming their Imperial liberators.  How the reconstruction was restoring communities.  Shit like that.  Full of grand words.  Peace dividend, rule of law, order after chaos.  But locals’d talk, or a sympathetic guard.  So we learned; rebellions, annexations, how the war goes on.  There’s no peace, no freedom, no matter the palaver they spin.”

The moon goes behind another cloud.  Cassian shudders involuntarily inside his nest of blankets and heaves a wolfish sigh.  Melshi’s eyes widen again but he only hesitates a moment before going on.

“Right, so, yes.  Fuck.  You said that might happen.  So, right.  There were no end of escapes planned.  Some of ‘em worked.  We heard there was an uprising in Kassika and that was enough to get the Kassikians going.  You remember Private Barca, the one everyone called Chewie because he garbled half his words like he was eating them?  He was the first to get away, him and that Corelian he was so thick with, the one who was always saying he wasn’t in love with Her Royal Highness - oh, right, you’re back, eh?”

“It comes and goes,” Cassian says, pulling the covers round himself again. “Go on.  Chewie and Solo escaped; who else?”

“No, wait, I need to know what this is about, how come you come and go like this, it’s fucking horrible.”

“It’s the moon, he’s, he’s bound to the moon,” says Bodhi sleepily. “Watch the light, you’ll see.  But he isn’t a werewolf.  That’s right, isn’t it?”

“I’m not a werewolf, no.  Please, Rue, just tell me if anyone else escaped besides you?”

“Kay and I, we ran for it together.  He broke a guard’s neck one night.  Picked one of the worst ones and just snapped him like a twig.  Stole his keys and his clothes.  He just had time to unlock one more set of chains before the alarm was raised.  Mine.  So it was just him and me, running.”

“Kay is here?” Kay had been a good friend, one of the best for all his eccentricities, though it’s hard to imagine him acquiescing to someone like Gerrera.

“No.  We split up pretty soon.  He had some crazy-headed plan of infiltrating the Imperial army, going to Sant Corou to find Her Royal Highness, and I wasn’t going to throw away my shot at freedom on that.  I’d heard there was a bunch of partisans up here in the mountains so I came looking for them and – I found them.” He looks up at his wife and smiles slowly. “God be thanked, I found them.”

“Did he make it?  Kay?”

“I don’t know.  But if anyone had the shiny steel balls to work out the odds and plan something like that, and carry it out, it’s him.”

“And the Princess?”

“Official story is she’s living a peaceful civilian life as the Emperor’s guest on Sant Corou, grateful for the peace he brought her people after her parents’ ill-advised rebellion.”

“Has to be bullshit,” Maia snorts. 

He nods. “The Princess I remember would never have accepted that.  So, she is a hostage for her people’s good behaviour, then?  And they for hers, presumably.  I wonder if Kay was able to reach her?”

The world is very different from the shape it seemed when he arrived here, a few hours ago.  The Princess is alive, and Kay, and Melshi; and at last a handful of others from the Royal Guard may still be living.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem quite such breathless folly, to hold on to hope, and dream of oaths fulfilled.

The bubbling confusion inside him has died down, leaving his mind placing new thoughts carefully and examining them.  Possibilities, chances, hope.

He looks round at the herald, but Bodhi has curled in on himself and fallen asleep, pressed into the corner.  He’s wondering whether there’s any chance he can convince Melshi and Maia to leave with him and Jyn; and footsteps are approaching, up the staircase, along the passageway.  Footsteps that drag wearily.  A weary breath, that seems to quake with every inhalation.  A smell of Jyn, the musk of her body, her dirty clothes, and a smell of salt and wet, and heart-cracked sorrow.  There are tears in the shadows out there.

The moonlight fades again.

Cassian leaps off the platform and runs to the door whining; and Jyn falls to her knees and lays a hand on his head, and sinks against him with a sob. 

Chapter Text

Maia had left her at the foot of the stairway, with a curt nod in the direction she must take.  It wasn’t a problem, she’d been dreading their silent progress all the way to Saw’s door.  She’d nodded back and made her way down the passageway alone.

She lets her senses open out now, feels ahead into the network of caverns and chambers; and there he is, not too far off.  This entire situation is so insane, Saw still the feared leader giving orders, yet confined to one floor of the monastery, and with things he seemingly can’t stop or even see going on all around, in the upper storeys.  All anyone had to do, to rescue that poor sod of a herald, was bring him upstairs.  But they’re all too scared of the old man to do it.

Liar.  As if you’re not just as bad, still scared as a child of his rage, his power, for all it seems to have faded like a stain in running water.

Ripples of sick curiosity run through her.  How was Saw injured, how did Maia lose her abilities?  What became of the others – dead, or fled?  She can feel no trace of their presence in the walls, the air.  Long gone, whatever their reason.

Did Saw drive them off? – has he turned against the use of magic altogether, or those who wield it?

She’s at a doorway.  Darkness beyond, but she knows he’s in there.

I’ve faced you once already and walked away fine.  Unhurt, some would say even victorious, since I took your toy from you, told you out of my way.  Why am I more afraid now than I was then?

My mother is alive, and serves the enemy, and you knew this.  You said nothing.  I have to know why.  I have to know.

A whispered word serves to brighten the globe of light above her hand; she straightens her back, holds her head up, come on, yes, this is how you do it.  Take a step, pass under that archway.

Into the dark of Saw’s chamber.  She shapes the air with a flick of her hands and the shutters creak open on a wide window, a panorama of mountains under the moon.

I do not meet you as a challenger, nor a supplicant, but a survivor.  An equal, asking advice of an equal.  Advice, and truth.  Not to be moulded, nor ruled, but to learn what I need, the better to rule myself.

He moves out of the darkness.  Slow.  Clumsy in his pain.  His breathing is harsh.  Pity fills her as once again he says wonderingly “Jyn, is it really you?”

The same words as an hour ago. “You know it is.  You just spoke with me!”

“Are you the one she sent?  Have you come back, to kill me?” The hand not gripping his staff flaps weakly, indicating his diseased foot, his exhausted body. “There’s not much of me left.”

“Saw, you know mama didn’t send me!  I thought she was dead – you told me she was!”

“Yet today you come?  Only two days after that false messenger with his handful of empty words?  No, it’s too much coincidence.  And who would you betray me for, if not the Empire?  Just like all the others.”

He looks so broken and old.  The bubble of magic round his wound has a shiver to it, like water barely held in a shaking hand. 

She grabs at the one thing he’s said that made any real sense.

“I don’t believe the herald was false.  I’ve spoken to him.  He gave you a message from my mother!”

Saw gestures dismissively. “Traitors, all of them.”

“No-one here has betrayed you.” She can say that much with absolute certainty.  There’s not a soul in this place but looks to him with devotion and fear, and the deep loyalty those bind. 

You did!”

A flicker of poison in his voice.  Her temper flares in response. “You were trying to make me into something I cannot be!  I was sixteen – I was a child, Saw!”

“You were already the strongest witch in my gang.  You had the potential to be great, to be the champion we needed against the Empire, the leader who is a weapon, but you ran away!”

“No!” Maybe it’s true.  She denies it anyway.  Not a weapon not a weapon I am not I am not -

“You ran away from your abilities!”

“I ran away from you.  From being made into a killer, a monster.”

His eyes go calculating inside their hurt. “Yet you come back to me, now you’ve become exactly that.”

It’s an uncomfortably perceptive comment, coming from a man who seems rambling and semi-insane half the time.  

Jyn flinches.  Makes herself hold steady again, breathe out calm.  Unclenches tightening fists, relaxes her shoulders and all the little knots in her face.  Give him some ground, let him feel he’s the one in charge of you and your fate.

After all, in so many ways he still is. He moulded me and taught me, built my fears, my dreams, and every wall I sought to climb.  He shaped my childhood.  But I’m not that child anymore.

“I need someone to help me learn.  I’ve come into my power, as you told me I would.  But I don’t know how to control it yet.”

“Control it?” Saw’s voice is ferocious even in a whisper. “I saw you blast through a set of steel chains and rise up unharmed from the Force itself running through you, and you say you can’t control it?  Don’t mock me, girl.  You are far beyond merely controlling it now.”

“But – I need to study, to understand, how to use it, how to – not be afraid of it –“ Damn it, she’s saying far more than she’d meant to.  He sounds angry, mystifyingly angry when she’s giving him the control he always demanded; giving control and showing fear, to Saw who had always been ruthlessly unafraid.  She struggles on, since there’s no turning back from the ascent. “I’ve felt the – the power – it comes through me, but I don’t understand how.  How it works.  How to shape it, guide it.  More than just how to strike a blow.  I need to learn how to heal, how to make things anew.” Swallow, draw breath, climb on; let him see his magic doesn’t blind you anymore. “You need that.  I can see.  You need me just as much as I need you.  You’re alone and weak and the last of your gang are gone.  Dead, or deserted you.  But if you teach me, maybe I can heal you.”

“Alone?” Saw shuffles forward a pace. “Weak?  You are presumptuous.”

“You hide that wound, pretend it isn’t there, though you know it will kill you without a healer’s hand.  You require blind loyalty of people you can no longer protect with the magic you once had.  You refuse even to let me see my mother’s message!  I’m not the only one who presumes upon others!”

He’s wheezing and she knows it comes from anger.  She longs to spit out a spell and conjure the good air back into his lungs.  Force him to face his own frailty, and cure him in the same instant. 

No.  Be calm, be calm.  Don’t force him to anything.  You’ve resented being forced for so long, why do it to another now you have the power?

Saw is forcing himself, anyway.  Slowly he raises his right hand; his lips move, forming familiar words, and a glowing sphere almost the twin of hers blooms above his palm. “The magic I’ve lost?” he rasps.

The ball of light is brilliant silver, bright as the moon over the valley.  Every cell in his body is shaking with the effort of keeping it so, but he battles through implacably.  There’s still the heart of a war-mage in him, and the anger of one too.  But so weak.  So old.  Staking his strength on a pointless game of power with her, when he should be saving it, and sparing himself from these fantasies of enemies all around him.

Outside the window, a bank of cloud slips over the moon and the room darkens.  Jyn blows a thread of air over her own light; it expands, splits, becomes a dozen small circling globes.  A planetary system, dancing round her upraised hand.  The dim chamber fills with glimmerings and shadows.  She says nothing, only watches Saw as he takes it in, the complexity and beauty of the spell, and the lack of effort it costs her to spin and hold it. 

Abruptly he turns away. “Follow me.  Or leave, like all the others.”

“My mother’s message, Saw.  You owe me that much.”

“There was no message.”

“Bodhi Rook says otherwise!”

“The herald lies!” Saw half-turns back, wheezing with pain at the movement. “There was no message.  Only a stone.  An empty stone.”

“Let me see it.  Saw, listen to me.  I am not your enemy!  Maybe we can still find a way.  Maybe I can learn to heal you, if you’ll let me.” He turns his back again with a grunt.  She snaps. “Or maybe I will leave, since you keep telling me to!  Go back to the woods and keep my magic to myself!”

It’s risky to offer a threat, but trying to follow the erratic jumps of his mind is exhausting and she’s angry and frustrated, and so, so tired now; and he can’t just walk away from her now without even letting her see her mother’s words -

But Saw is only crossing the room.  Slow, his wounded foot dragging.  Every step must be painful.  He thumps his hand to the wall above a rock-cut niche, and the sphere of light he’s conjured wobbles and sticks there, innocently bright; and he reaches into the hollow, and draws out a crystal like her own.

“The messenger said I should listen to it.  But it’s silent.  Thirteen years a servant of the enemy, and this is the only message she sends!  I raised you!  I loved her child and raised you as my own and she mocks me with an empty stone!”

The crystal has been drilled and mounted on a silver chain.  It swings from his hand.  The links shimmer in the magic light.  It’s a thing far more beautifully made than her own pendant; a necklace fit for a princess.

Jyn’s hand goes to the bosom of her shirt, the hard lump of her own shard of kyber.  Slowly she draws it out.  Is it imagination that makes the stone seem warm to the touch? 

My mother sent him that.  She lives, her hands touched this thing and she sent it to him as a message.  I do not believe she would do such a thing simply to jeer at an old man. 

“Give it to me.”

He draws back, pulling the necklace in against his body. “Why?  She sent it to me, it’s meant for me!  You’re just trying to take everything from me, betray me just like the others.”

“Saw.  Saw!  What happened to the others?  Who betrayed you?” She edges nearer, keeping her hand outstretched, the globes of light drifting to the side so that all she’s holding out is a plea, to be given her mother’s last gift, the stone Lyra sent him.  Why would she send something so precious, for no reason, and at so much risk?

“Three of them died,” Saw says “and three deserted me.  That’s how I knew.  No loyalty!  Only that poor broken girl Mai had the courage to stay for the cause.  When the enemy attacked in the river valley, on the banks of the Onderon.  Three of them died and three of them left, and only one came back to the fortress of my heart.”

It’s no good, he makes too little sense; and the necklace dances just out of reach, tantalising her, so near. “Give me the crystal.  Please, Saw.”

The heat from her pendant is unmistakable now and the room brightens in the growing light.  Saw jolts at the sight, thrusts his hand out at her abruptly.  “Go on, then, if you must.  Take it.” He sighs. “Do what you’ve come to do.”

“All I came to do was to try and get your help,” Jyn whispers.  But her hand reaches for the stone and closes round it, and the light wells up like tears.  It floods out of the crystal, and her own stone, and out of her. 

“I tried,” Saw says faintly. “I tried, but there was no light in it for me.” He sounds heartbroken.

It’s hard to breathe, hard to stop herself from shaking; sunlight and moonlight and starlight all thrumming through her bones, and a deep dark-light like the fire within the earth, burning, and there’s burning in the waters and in the very air.  Jyn clutches her mother’s message and brings it to her breast, to rest against the worn stone she’s carried so long.  The light is almost blinding. 

She drops to her knees, holding the unimaginable.

A voice speaks, in the darkness within the light, and it is not Saw’s, nor her own.

“Saw, if you’re listening to this, then perhaps there’s still a chance.”

Chapter Text

Fifteen years since she heard this voice, its cadences, its faint trace of an accent.  It’s husky kindness, softness, sweetness.  A loving voice, once.  Now lonely and hollow with sadness.  “Perhaps there’s still a chance.  A chance to save the future we once worked to build.  A chance for Jyn, if she’s still alive, as God knows I pray she is.  A chance to explain myself, and to let her know how much I’ve missed her.  How my love for her has never died. 

“If anyone else save one of you two touches this, it will seem just a pretty thing.  Valuable, of course, but inert.  It’s the only security I could give, when this miracle presented itself, the chance to send you word at last.  I am desperate, Saw, and desperate people will try desperate tricks.  Forgive me for this subterfuge.  Forgive me for everything.”

Mama, mama, that’s mama!  An inward voice of desperation, chanting to the rhythm of her heart; my mama, that’s my mama.  Alive alive alive -

“Do you remember that day?  That day when the Empire came for us?  I thought they were looking for Jyn.  I was wrong.   They wanted me.

“You remember I had a kind of gift.  A curse, rather.  To find out those whose abilities lie hidden and are unsuspected.  I thought it a silly knack, fool that I was.  But it has cursed me and everyone it touches.  The Empire wanted me to hunt people down.  Subjects.  For Orson Krennic and his training programme.”

It’s a name she’s never heard before, but Saw has; through the vast glowing that surrounds her, Jyn sees him blink and his jaw go tight. 

“This is so far beyond anything we ever imagined; Galen and I with our hopes, you and your sister with your faith in the future, in the better world to be built.  In the days when we talked of how witches and mages should have children, and bring that future into the light with us. 

“Saw, the Empire is farming us.  That vile man is running an organised system of selective breeding, and its goal is an army.”

Lyra’s voice is soft, almost gentle, saying terrible things.  Lyra, Lyra alive.  My mother, my mama, mama come back to me you’re alive I can save you from this – this -

“I realised quickly that I had a choice.  I could refuse to work with them, and die with my conscience clear.  But someone else would undertake the work, sooner or later.  Or else, I could take part; accept my fate and do what I could to mitigate this evil.  And so I do.  I conceal the best subjects if I can, but some, I must bring in, to allay suspicion.  I’ve corrupted my soul with these choices but I must go on, for the sake of those I can save, and the help I can give to the rest.  I tell them there is still hope in the world; I tell them that, as they are held captive, and forced to breed like animals, as they are taught that they must serve the Empire and give up their lives to the greater good.  I supervise and teach them, and lie to them.  They and their offspring are slaves, and this is my doing.”

Jyn couldn’t feel her knees anymore.  Her body was locked to the cold stone floor.  She knew distantly that she was swaying as the waves of light poured out, and the voice she had forgotten she knew murmured on.

“The eldest of the children are twelve years old now.  Three of them, ready to be sent to Sant Corou, for the last stage of their training.  By Lord Vader.  They’re powerful, terrifyingly so.  We call them our little stars of death.  There is no better name, nor more cruelly apt.  Stella, Mara and Noke.

“I cannot ask you to kill them.  They never asked to be born, or to have these terrible gifts.  They’re children!  They’re still so young, I have to believe their minds could still be guided away from the path they’ve been chained to.  But once Vader makes them his apprentices, all hope is lost.  Somehow, I beg you, you have to stop them from reaching Sant Corou.  Take them away from here before it’s too late!

“I send this message by the last vessel that will leave here before the winter.  They are due to take ship in the first month of spring.  Take them!  Take everyone.  Burn every stone of this cursed place to glass.  As for me, kill me if you can’t get me out.  Anything to delay Krennic restarting the programme.

“Take them and train them yourself, as once you took my dearest Jyn.”

Her name.  It slices into her shaking consciousness like a knife.  The sound of her name, in her mother’s voice.  Mama, mama, mama!… 

“Oh God, my Jyn.  My little pipkin of stardust!  I try never to think of her, only when I’m strongest, otherwise I can’t bear it.  When I remember her face, her voice, then death can’t take me fast enough.  I thought Galen and I were sacrificing our lives to buy her freedom.  But I gave myself into slavery.”

The air in the chamber feels like fire, and the tears sliding down Jyn’s face, the cries lodged in her throat, all burn.  The crystals burn her hands, her breast, their light is consuming her even as the darkest memories of her life swallow her down.   Yet there’s only numbness inside her.  My pipkin of stardust, the forgotten sweet name of childhood.   They left me there with him, they left me and he hid me in the cave.  Mama, papa, why did you do it?   

“I can only hope she is as free as I am crushed,” Lyra’s sad voice says.  So quiet, so affectless.  The voice of someone long broken by the past. “Wherever she is, whether she’s fighting at your side for the world’s healing, or living a life of peace, in safety, hidden somewhere, perhaps with a home, even a family.  I pray she is well and thriving, and happy; and that she never knows from what a black depth of wrongdoing her mother prays for her.  Keep her safe, if it costs you your last breath!  She is our greatest hope.”

A hesitation.  Then she goes on.

“There is one more thing.  A chance so strange and rare, I hardly know how to explain it.  You must know how the kingdom of Yavine fell, and the heir to the throne was taken captive.  The Empire says she’s an honoured guest, but - I’ve met her, Saw, and she is no loyal vassal.  She guards herself and bides her time, until the day she can be free to lead her people in rebellion.  How can I know this? – because she trusted me.  She who has no-one trustworthy about her save a single guardsman, trusted me.  Because she could tell what I am.  She could read me, as I read others.  Leia of Yavine has magic in her veins. 

“She’s kept herself secret for all this time.  But - if she should be found out – a princess who’s also a witch?  I dread to think what might be done to her.  She’s as brave as fire, but she’s barely nineteen, little more than a child. 

“I don’t know if any of this can be done; I don’t know how you will achieve it.  But I have such faith in you, Saw; in the temper of your spirit, in the powers of your heart.  I believe the man who rescued my daughter can do this also.  You were the wisest and best of us all, and the only one with the strength of will to fight what must be fought.  I have no faith in myself any longer, but I have a faith unshakeable in you.

“Somehow, you must reach the Princess, and save her as once you saved my Jyn.  Somehow you must rescue the children before they go to Vader.  Save them all, and our old dream with them!”

For a moment there’s the sound of her breathing.  Then the soft lonely voice falls silent at last. 

Jyn’s throat and her eyes and her chest hurt, when she draws breath it’s with the jerking, gulping shudder of one near-drowned.  Her face is sore, and sticky with the acid of tears.

The stone floor wavers in front of her as the light slowly contracts back, into the two gems she still holds clasped in a bloodless grip.

She chokes on another breath.  Mama – mama, mama, come back!  The last time she heard that voice; her child self, crying out, and Saw’s great hands grasping hers, his magic holding her fast.  Carrying her away from the fight, concealing them both, sealed and safe, in the cave above her burning home. 

The room is full of light, but it doesn’t warm her.

The floor, the stony blurry floor, dusty granite, swaying into focus, out of focus, into darkness and back.  The sound of air passing, jagged, raw with effort, her own breath panting.  The stony cold floor of the cave, and the cold, cold light.  Saw’s hand on her shoulder, no longer mighty.  No longer reassuring.  But he’s there, still there, when no-one else was.  She can smell the sour-sick odour of his wound, hear the scrape of his breath. 

Her own breath sounds like the crack of breaking stone.  Oh God, oh God, what have I heard?

My mother’s voice.  My mother is alive.

Jyn raises her head.  The little glow-light Saw made is still stuck jauntily above the niche.  There are shadows in the corner, shadows everywhere.

Mama is alive.  Begging for our help.  Trapped in the heart of the Empire, living a poisoned life; but alive, mama, my mama, alive!

“Jyn.  Jyn, my child!”

Not her mother’s voice, this time; Saw’s.  Hoarse with alarm.  She blinks and sees him come into focus.  Hard as a stone himself, but at least there’s some fellow-feeling in his eyes at last, and real grief.  And he knows her, at last.

“I tried to listen to it,” he says. “I tried!  But it was silent to me.”

So much pain.  The light catches his trembling, picks out the tear tracks on his cheeks.

“She has faith in me,” he whispers. “Oh God, my God, why now, why must she ask this now?  I tried.  I tried!  But I cannot!”

Jyn fumbles to lift the chain over her neck, leaves the new crystal on her breast, beside her own.  Her hands are still full of the cold, clear light, even after she lets both stones go.  She gets a grip on his arm to haul herself up.  Feels the withered strength that is all that’s left to him, frail and scrawny beneath the thick coat.  No longer mighty.  No longer the great battle mage, who men feared and called sorcerer, commander, Lion of the Valley.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. 

She’s giddy, lurching, but she pulls herself to her feet again.  Each inhalation seems to drag the darkness back around her but she breathes on even so, holding the light against it.

Saw touches her hair, her cheek; weakly and with tenderness. “My poor child.  I failed you.”

A faint sound escapes Jyn, that might have been a howl if she had the strength.  He’s broken and beaten but for the first time since she got here, he seems a man rational; sensible of his position and aware of her.  Perhaps his mind isn’t completely crushed.  Some shred of the old Saw still there.

Her voice is thick and choked but it comes, it keeps coming. “You haven’t failed.  We can still stop this.  We can fight.  Where there’s life, there’s the fight.  You taught me that.” His eyes go wide, then frown in confusion, searching ruined memories for the adage.

“Your mother,” he says instead.  One finger pats at the twin crystals on her bosom. “That was your mother!  My poor Lyra.  I didn’t know.  I swear, I didn’t know.” There are more tears springing, trickling into his beard unremarked.

“I believe you,” she tells him; and does.  This breakdown is no more calculated than her own. “Saw, we haven’t lost!  We can do what she asks – we can still do this!  Teach me, teach me how to use this –“ the glowing light that flickers through her, the focussing stones side by side – “and we’ll go together to find her.”

And somehow he’s embracing her, and she’s sinking into his embrace, hugging him back.  They are both in tears.

“Jyn.  You came back.  You came to find me.  Here in this prison.  Shall we sing in our cells, before we make an end?  Jyn, my child.  It’s really you.”

“We’ll sing and we’ll fight,” Jyn promises, and her breath is hurting her but she will keep breathing, though this grief should kill her dead she will keep breathing just the same. “Fight the bastards who did this.  Oh, Saw...  We’ll fight and we won’t give up.  Just like you’ve always taught me.”

Chapter Text

She means it.  She does.  But Saw’s grip on reality wavers constantly from rational to disoriented and back again.  He asks her forgiveness and then glowers and mutters under his breath; tries to hold on to her and then thrusts her away.  Announces he will find the spells she needs for her training, then suddenly asks “Is it really you?” once more.  He watches Jyn cry again at that, and dry her eyes again, and his words flare between guilt and rage, between the endless insistence he’s been betrayed, and moments of anguished lucidity.

She aches, body and mind, she’s shaking with weariness by the time she finally leaves him, hunched over a book, murmuring sadly to himself.  She toils back, up the stone helix of the stairway, through the maze of passages, to the room with the window and the stone beds, and her friends.  Her people, still there, awaiting her return.  Cassian, most of all Cassian, please God.

And he’s there.  She sinks to her knees for a second time tonight and lays her arms round his neck, and leans gratefully on him.  On his strength.  Heavy heart and heavy head both finding rest at last.  She’s cried so much in the last hour, she’s entirely dazed with it.  Of all the pains she’s known in her life, known and learned how to bear, this is the worse, and it’s a thing she could never have foreseen.  

Her mother is alive, and held by the enemy, trapped and dying of self-hate. 

And Saw, who was a second father to her, is driving himself half-senile with the effort to keep enough magic flowing through his veins just to stay alive.

His moods had always been mercurial but now they are nightmarish in their speed and lack of reason.  She cannot keep up with it any longer, cannot bear even to think about it.  She just wants to sleep.  Sleep, pillowed on Cassian’s warm side.

But here’s Maia, here’s her husband, and the little Bodhi blinking and stirring awake; all of them worried, curious, perplexed, demanding.  Wanting to know what news, and why her tears, and what will the madman do now?

“Don’t call him a madman,” Maia says testily when Bodhi asks that. “He’s had a hard fate this last two years.”

Two years, since the attack on the Onderon River camp.  Saw’s explanation had been hazy at best.  A surprise assault, masked by magic from everyone’s perception, and the focus of the attack had been Saw himself.  Three of the gang falling in his defence and a fourth breaking her powers outright, exerting herself almost to death to hold off the enemy.  Somehow their forces had still won through;  someone had counter-attacked, but he won’t say who, and how the escape was managed at all is unclear as a snowy sky.  She can’t trust a narration as mangled and paranoid as this. 

She’ll ask the others for a better account, some time.  Some time, not now.  It’s all she can do to stumble through the simplest recounting of the last hour.  Her mother’s message, the new danger from the Empire.  The confirmation that Leia Organa of Yavine is alive. 

She sees the others exchange looks; but she’s too tired.  Let them look.

Cassian has slid in and out of being human several times while she’s speaking.  Maia’s man, Master Snowball, whose name turns out to be Melshi, insists each time on pulling a blanket over him. “You’ll freeze your cods off, Captain.”  Cassian grins and accepts it, only to shrug it off a few minutes later as his bare skin becomes a thick coat of fur once again. 

Perhaps Master Snowball doesn’t want his wife looking at other men.  Cassian naked is a fair sight, after all. 

And it’s Master Melshi.  Not Master Snowball.  She must remember.  Mistress Maia Melshi .  It’s a mellifluous married name for her old gut-slugger of a comrade.

Cassian had drawn her over to the unoccupied bench in a moment between transformations; she’s sitting, but slowly slanting into his side again, and she finishes her narration with warm bedding wrapped around her.  There’s even a pillow waiting.  Where did all this stuff come from?  Across the room, Bodhi has fallen asleep after a few dazed questions.

She can understand how that happens.  Her own eyelids are sliding shut every time she forces them open.  Beside her Cassian yawns echoingly.  A human yawn, for now.  She leans on his shoulder.

Melshi is talking about the Princess.  They were both downright excited by that bit of the story.  “Just one guard she can trust, eh?” he’s saying. “I wonder…”

Let him wonder.  Let the whole roomful of them wonder about anything they like.  Just please to put the lamp out sometime soon.

“Rue, give it a rest.” Maia’s voice, snippy as ever. “Captain, we’ll leave you in peace now.  For sure, you must all need it.” Oh, but that was almost kind.  Perhaps we can find a way to be friends again.  It’s all too much…

“It’s all too much,” Jyn mutters.  Too much to take in, to evaluate, plan for, comprehend.  The room feels strangely quiet, strangely empty; and she realises it’s just her and Cassian now, and the sleeping herald.  She’s slumped against Cassian, breathing through her mouth.  Her voice is a tiny thing, all hoarse and muddled like her.

She struggles to surface, pull herself out of sleep one more time.  Her face is still salt-sticky, her hands filthy.  She fumbles at the boots still laced tight on her aching feet. 

Cassian takes hold of her arms very gently and stops her. “You need to lie down.”

“Yes…  yes, I know.” She’s sinking, no help for it, too much going on, too many tears, too many shocks.  My mother is alive.  Saw is an old man.  The Empire’s little stars of death are coming.  My mother is alive.  She said I’m their last hope, I need to learn, to learn before it’s too late…

He pulls off her boots while she sits swaying and steadies her down, wrapping the folds of another blanket around her.  What a blessing a warm bed is, and a kindly hand, a friend beside you.  “Hold me?”

“Shh, go to sleep, Jyn.”

She loses a bit of time there, another wave of night washing over her, and when she gets a hold of consciousness again she feels him stroking the hair off her brow.  No-one has done that in so long.  So very long…

“You should – get some sleep too.”

“Yes.  You’re right.” There’s a deep yawn between the words.

“Course I’m right.”

The lamp is out.  “Yes,” he murmurs in the darkness.  Not lying down.  No longer touching her.

“Cassian…” Her voice is floating out of her now like the last bubbles of air. “Lie down too.  You too.  Please?”

No answer.  But a blurred moment later, the bedding shifts and his warmth settles into the space behind her.  Between her and the wall.  He’s got her back, given her the clear line of escape, and his arm comes over her, lean, strong, protective, the one arm she trusts to protect her because I’m safe, I’m safe with you.  We’re safe together.

For now, for tonight, safe.

**

Jyn wakes in a dim grey daylight, with Cassian’s wolf smell all around her and a dusty paw clasped between her hands.  The shutters have been opened and outside the thick window panes she can see a hell-blizzard of snow whirling down, soundless and endless.  Bodhi Rook stands at the glass, watching it.  His face is as rapt and silent as the snow itself.

His long hair is raven-black, she can see now, and when she says his name and he turns, his eyes are beautiful and dark.  It’s a good face, and a thinking one.  And he looks a sight more awake and more solid-grounded in himself than he did last night.

This is the man my mother sent.  The one she trusted.  Perhaps he is a friend to her as Cassian is to me, a safe place in the chaos, a trusted heart.

But looking at Bodhi reminds her again that she’s never seen Cassian’s human face by daylight.  Not even poor pale snow-light like this.  Firelight, candlelight, lamplight, starlight.  Moonlight.  Never the sweet light of day. 

She thinks his eyes are brown, and his hair must be as dark as the herald’s. 

He’s breathing on the back of her neck now, a little snuffling exhalation and the touch of a cool nose when she shifts her weight.  Then with a grunt and a muffled sigh he heaves himself awake too, and they both sit up, together.  She smiles as he shakes his head and his ears flap.

So.  Morning, and everything to be faced.  Time to begin.

But time though it may be, yet nothing can begin, yet.  Everything stalls in the face of the weather.  The snow falls steadily, day after day. 

A drawn-out, haunted time where no goal can be pursued, no hope holds firm.  Nothing is as it once was, but what it may yet become is unclear and out of reach.  A time between time.

Jyn knows it should be the season of planning, realigning, retrenching.  Her mind worries away at the torn pieces, puzzling how they might fit.  But so much is broken, that she had once thought whole.  Saw, the gang, her own life.  And the white-out goes on, preventing patrols and hunting expeditions, keeping even the beacon-post unmanned, where she and Cassian slept that first snowy night.  What may lie beyond the blizzard now, they cannot know, whether danger approaches or has already built its camp in their valley, or the time for action is passing on a ship braving the winter seas, carrying their chances away to Sant Corou and the heart of the Empire.

She longs to talk to Cassian; but so long as the storm blows, the only option is to talk at him, when he can show at most a mute agreement or disapproval.  This isn’t the friendship they have now.  She shies away from anything so one-sided.  Brave mistress, faithful beast, this isn’t who they are anymore.

Though he is faithful, to her as to his long-past oath. 

The more reason then, to keep faith likewise with him.

Chapter Text

She’s taken to joining the other soldiers daily as they exercise and train in the wide rock-cut cavern she remembers, the place they call the Under-hall.  It’s a space that had grown huge in memory, full of echoes and black corners of night where no torchlight could come.  It’s strange now, to find it so much smaller and so much less of a nightmare than she’d thought.  There’s room in the chamber for more men than Red Crag houses now, but not by many hundreds; perhaps twice their number could fit in here comfortably. 

But that is far fewer of them than there used to be, when they crowded Red Crag till it echoed like a starlings’ roost.

There’s a broken shrine in the east wall.  She’d forgotten that.  It’s too damaged to tell what god’s image it once housed.  Theirs isn’t the first conflict to have crashed over the old monastery.  The people who carved these halls are long gone, not even their name remembered, no clue to what prayers were said here, no more than there is any sign as to why they cut the great hollow caves in the upper storeys,  that she was taught to call the Beast-holes. 

The view from those gaping entryways, across the sheer drop and the whole wide valley, is hidden now for the seventh day on end by the long curtain of snow.

Whoever they were, they were people of this land.  Maybe their blood lives on in some of us.  Maybe there’s still a chance that their hope, their prayers, will find renewal in us. Though I hope their giant beasts were just a myth…

Cassian watches her training with alert eyes and ears pricked up brightly.  She has the impression from somewhere that he takes pleasure in her performance.  Is maybe even proud of her.  The idea gives her pleasure too, and she cracks a few more baton blows, wrestles her way out of a few more head-locks, borne up on the confidence his presence wakes in her.  The troops laugh and call her Lion-cub, Stronghands, Two-clubs.  Cassian gives a wolfish smile, all fangs and crinkled eyes.

He watches over her too at her studies.  Sometimes he’s right at her side, looking over her shoulder, and she wonders if he can read the crabbed writing.  Sometimes he stands outside, to keep the door, while she wrestles with skills she’s practised too little in the last years; reading, writing, trying to fair-copy the text. 

A day after their meeting Saw had come limping to the top of the stairs of the Under-hall and called to her.  Had presented her, when she climbed up to him, with two ancient books.  Thick leather bindings, tooled and edged with metal fitments, printed in crabbed letters she squints to make out; they are spell-books, older than him, older than anything she’s ever held.

She reads slowly, copying the spells into her grimoire, trying to make the letters as clear as possible in case Saw asks to see.  It’s a hard task of concentration, and a far cry from the active training she’d expected and dreamed of and dreaded.  But at least it’s information.  New skills to practice, new charms to try. 

Many are far more elaborate than the magics he taught her at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.  Ways of fighting with magic, but also ways of healing, distance-viewing and distance-speaking, divining for hidden things, for hints of the future.  All of them new to her, and she absorbs them eagerly, pushes herself to master each one.

Saw too watches her, sometimes, though less confidingly than Cassian.  He watches everyone.  At any moment one can glance up and find him peering down from a window or out of a doorway, or down corridors and staircases.  Their training in the Under-hall, their communal meals in the cellar they jokingly call a Mess.  He shuffles around the one storey he’s confined to, he watches with bitter eyes and says nothing.   Jyn can feel it every time when his gaze is on her.

She’s explained Cassian’s presence to him, that the wolf shadowing her days is a man accursed, seeking his freedom.  She senses his disbelief even as he commiserates. 

She no longer believes for one moment that Saw’s magic can save Cassian.  But her hand and her heart still jerk away in terror from the possibility of trying her own strength again.  She knows, with the pain of growing acceptance, that somewhere out in the world, out beyond the driving snow, there is someone who will love truly, and give up their love, for his sake; and the spell will be broken when he finds that person.  She’ll have to lose him, to see him ever go free.

The knowledge is an ugly place in her heart, like a bruise, a scabbed old wound, and she refuses to look at it, lest it infect her.

Cassian seems to have adopted the young herald with her.  Bodhi is a quiet man, forever slightly anxious, but the essential goodness she’d felt that first morning endures, and she doesn’t resent his presence.  This is the man who gave her mother a chance to reach out, and the hope her message could be heard.  She’s glad to share a chamber with him.  Knows, as the storm continues, that if the food stocks run low she’ll cut her own ration a little smaller to make sure he still gets a share.

The days shade past a week and still the blizzard blows.  Jyn lies down to sleep each night cuddled up against the wolf.  Wishing she could wake with the man; but the clouds do not break, the storm never abates.  Day after day, monotonous and cold, the air forever whirling outside every window. 

There’s food every day and clean drinking water thawed and cooled in huge vats in the kitchens; heated water to wash in most mornings, hot tea to drink in the evenings.  There are new clothes offered, and rags and whetstones to clean and polish her weapons.  Day after day it feels more like a place she can live in, less like a mere sheltering roof under which she and Cassian and Bodhi Rook are hiding till escape is possible. 

There are friends.  Maia is prickly, then grudging, then grudgingly friendly.  Cautiously, awkwardly Jyn reaches out in response.

Rue seems to have forgiven her the snowball .  Perhaps that’s part of why his wife has eased her standoffishness.  He’s courteous and good-humoured, still a little baffled by the silent wolf stalking at Jyn’s side.  Tells her one day that he’s wondering if his meeting with human Cassian was all a dream.

Cassian throws back his head with a grunt of exasperation and lies down, wrapping his paws over his nose.

“I’m guessing that’s a no, then?   It was real?”

“I promise you it was.  But he won’t be back himself again till the weather breaks.”

“Fuck it, that could be weeks!  I want to talk to him!”

“So do I.” She’s trying not to look at him.  There’s so  much to talk about and their fate turns this burden upon them, blocking every chance with drifted snow.

“Damn it, Captain!” says Melshi, as cheerfully up-front as Jyn is trying to avoid being. “How’re we going to get you back, out of this shit, then?”

Jyn does look at Cassian then, wondering if she can tell the remainder of his story; a sadness pulls, sharp as an arrow in her side, when he nods his consent.  She tells Rue Melshi the whole of the curse, the terms of breaking it, that he hadn’t mentioned before.  Tries to accept how the sergeant looks askance at her, after. 

So he too sees it, that she should let Cassian go, or risk her own magic on him.

But she cannot, cannot bear to.

She begins really to worry about supplies as the second week wears on. The one time her cottage was snowed-in, she’d had little in the way of stores, and was down to oatmeal and melted snow by the time the ways opened again.  Anxiety gnaws at her now as hunger did then.  But when she asks the boss-eyed old warrior Edrio who acts as self-appointed quartermaster for the fortress it sends him into a paroxysm of mocking laughter.  He leads her down a silent passageway where the air is still and gelid, and dry as death; shows her a series of vaults, filled with supplies.  There are grain sacks and bins of dried pulses, there are amphorae of oil and barrels of apples, salted meat, pickled eggs, fermented greens.  A faint smell of spices tickles the air, coming from fat ceramic jars ranged on a high shelf.  “No shortages here.  You’d do well to doubt the Commander a little less, girl.”

Girl rankles, coming from him, as it no longer does from Saw, but with a tight mouth she accepts the reprimand, and is glad at least that some of the troops still respect her mentor as a leader, instead of fearing him as a ruin that may topple upon them.  Saw has been running this headquarters a long time, and his plans weren’t always filtered through a blurring glass of old age and sickness.  Once, he was a tactician, one who calculated and struck with icy accuracy.  He had no heart, she’d thought then; but he taught her that you fight on your stomach.  The residues of his foresight are with them still, in provisions and stores, both the grain sacks and the chests of bronze arrowheads she’s seen in the armoury.

The next time Saw calls to her, she reminds herself of the stores, the years of fighting that have shaped him, and goes to him gratefully to receive what he can still teach.  Through the wreckage of his mind he’s doing what he can to reach her.  She owes him at least to do as much in return. 

He asks her to show him what she’s learned.  Makes simple comments that illuminate her errors and guide her tries.  No longer tells her she must be a weapon, or that she was bred to be one.  Each visit, she finds herself tense-shouldered as she goes to the stairs, awaiting the moment of his wrath and dreading some unfillable demand; holding her breath back a little, only letting it out when she returns to her chamber and once again her visit with him has been amicable and reasonable. 

It’s as though the respected teacher of her childhood is resurfacing in the weary old man, and “I can almost believe he’ll stay himself, when he’s like this,” she tells Cassian. “If only it can be so.”

Things are the same, the next day and the next, and she cherishes the hope a little more.  Perhaps she can heal Saw.  Heal Maia.  Maybe, even, free Cassian.  When she’s ready.   

Become part of a larger purpose, standing beside them as a fighter once again. 

So much is familiar here that it’s easy to slip sometimes into thinking that.  She’s one of the troops, as she was for so long, she’s stepped back into life in a cadre, life in this old base, almost without seeing herself do it.  Walls of red and grey rock instead of the flaking limewash and cob of her cottage.  The familiar draughts, the stink from the privies; the shared training, shared meals, shared hope and fear and anger.  It feels natural; and at the same time she misses the cottage and the village and the people there, who she had once thought friends.  Perhaps the people here will turn from her too, one day.  She had learned to live alone, to do small goods for others and not to train for war.  And that too, in its time, had felt natural.

She reads and re-reads a spell to heal deep wounds of the spirit.  Wonders if it would help Maia, whose connection to her magic has been broken like a shattered spine.  If it would help Saw, even, with his own powers endlessly tangled around the suppurating foot and drained away in resisting it.

Reads a spell to make of the certain heart a spear of stars, to wield against all enemies.  Shivers, and turns the page.

One day she watches as Rue Melshi tries to persuade Bodhi Rook to join in the training with the rest of the soldiers.  “Learn to shoot a bow at least, Master Rook.  Handle a knife.  How to defend yourself.”  But Bodhi shakes his head.

“I swore an oath of peace when I put on herald’s white.  Perhaps if I was in danger again I would break my vow, defend myself.  It’s hard to know.  I never, I never expected to be put to that trial.  But I can’t feel peaceful in myself if I study for it.  I’d rather keep my, my, clean conscience, at least for now.”

Put to that trial; when Saw ordered him chained and beaten.  Her mentor, who she is trying to love again.  He’s still the man who ordered an innocent messenger tortured, because he could no longer touch enough of the Force to hear Lyra’s words.

Her mother’s crystal hangs around her neck, beside her own.  They strike together with a faint sound sometimes as she moves.  She hasn’t dared try to listen to the message again, much less find out if anyone else can hear the words.  Her mother’s voice haunts her, and a childish terror at the thought of discovering it’s inaudible to her friends.  She dreams of it, nightly, Lyra saying her name, calling out to her, crying and fading away; she dreams, and fights the dreams.  Wakes sweating and bunched up, her hands pulled in to her body, clutching the two crystals. 

Cassian sleeps on her bed, a shaggy bulk in the dawn light.  A guard-wolf ready to spring into action.  Sometimes her nightmares wake him and he noses gently at her, whining.  Even if he lies sound asleep, the sight of him always there helps her breathe her way back, through into calm, and the thread of bright Force between them flows with steady strength.  She sleeps again, and day comes round. 

Jyn has spent too much of her life hiding.  Just staying alive, making her existence as inconsequential as possible, as unnoticeable as she could while still doing some good to someone.  Avoiding being a fighter, accepting that it meant she could never reach up and draw down the stars again.  All that has to change now.  There is a whole new stratagem to plan, for when the winter ends.  And fearful though she finds the thought, she is beginning to discover who she was truly born to be. 

Chapter Text

At last there’s a day when the sky dawns brittle-clear, blue from horizon to horizon.  The bright dagger-like air ringing with cold.  The blizzard is over.

Under that hard sky the world is all soft, every hard edge whitened, velveted over.  Sculpted snow overhangs, puffs of silken ice and cushions of snow, high peaks and tiny trees alike all buried and smoothed like much-stroked fur.  Only the shadows are diamond-sharp, slashes of sky-blue cutting into the vast whiteness of mountain and valley.

Drifts taller than a rider on horseback surround the Crag.  Some of the men draw lots and winch four of their number down from the lowest of the beast-holes, with shovels and jokes.  Their encouragement is worded with humour but there’s an unspoken joy in the chance of freedom after almost a fortnight shut up in the fortress.  It takes all morning but they clear the main gateway before the midday meal is served, and there are cheers from both sides as the doors are hauled open at last to let them back in.  Even Saw comes limping into the entrance hall, to make his way carefully, staff in hand, as far as the daylight.  He grins savagely, looking up at the blank white sea-crests of the mountains.  The road is impassable, and there are a hundred avalanches-in-waiting, up there.

“We’re safe now till spring, no army on earth can come upon us through this.”

Just the same, he gives the order for daytime and evening patrols.  The soldiers strap on snowshoes eagerly and quarter the valley floor and the frozen riverbanks.  They report no sign of people, but the spoor of winter deer in the lowlands, and scores of snow-grouse.

Cassian huffs happily at mention of the grouse, and Jyn grins as she remembers.  The smell, the taste, that one small grouse fresh grilled on an open fire; the glow of warm flames in the cold, and stars above like a vast cloak of dust fallen across heaven. 

No-one would call that journey enjoyable.  Rationally speaking it was nothing of the kind; she was cold and hungry and tired, and bitterly sad at the loss of her home and her life.  Yet the memory now is sweet.  It was a time between times, just the two of them alone and safe with one another in the world.  No confusion, no choices or doubts.  Just her and Cassian and the mountains.  There was a kind of joy, in their solitude, in the nights by flickering firelight, the moment’s she realised she was teasing him and he, God bless him, he was teasing back, finding the same breath of gladness in these days stripped back to the barest essentials of survival.  Joy even in the hard slog of climbing, the aching of muscles and the chill of snow.  Good times.  Together.

She smiles when Saw instructs the next patrol to take hunting bows “and take the wolf if he’ll go with you.  He may be handy as a tracker.”

Cassian’s already standing beside Melshi, looking out alertly at the valley, snuffing the breeze.

Swift as the near-midwinter sun the sapphire and white day draws on, from morning brilliance round into shadows once again. Jyn waits.  Trying to tell herself she is busily occupied, not hanging on to time by her clenched nails, until he comes back and is human, tonight, please God, please God, give him his own human voice tonight, give him his own true form and let him stand up free, he’s had to walk as a beast for so long.  Telling herself she isn’t impatient, isn’t anxious, isn’t waiting for Cassian, no, not at all.

She’s working on the second of the great old spell-books now, copying, her grimoire filling up though she writes as small as she can; and as she reads the spells, she’s testing a few hand movements to feel the shape of the Force under them, and slowly, cautiously, mouthing some of the words over.  These are charms of a potency that both daunts and entices her.  At the midday meal she watches Maia and wonders when she’ll feel ready to say I found something that might help you.  If that healing spell helps Maia, it might help Saw also.  She wonders, and shies away once again from the spike of alarm in her mind. 

Wonders then what she would see, if she completed the spell to read signs of the future.  The very idea is unnerving; she’d never known such a thing was possible till now.  The spell-book promises no more than hints, indications of what might be, and the truth might yet follow any of a dozen branching roads.  But it’s still a new kind of fear, to imagine knowing what might be

Supposing she spoke the incantation and wove the enchantment, lifted and shaped the threads of the Force to open the veil of fixed time; and saw their failure, their deaths.  How then to escape that awareness? - knowing that one of the choices ahead might lead to that.  Merely imaging it is paralysing.

Better not to know.  Better not to try.

But, oh God, my God, all these possibilities are overwhelming and I am becoming afraid to try anything.  I don’t know how to break free of it.  Somehow I have to endure this until I can make a path through.

She spends the afternoon practising small magics; lifting and moving snippets of fabric from Bodhi’s sewing, reaching out with her senses to touch the little anxious minds of mice in the cellars, insects in the rafters.  Resisting the longing to stretch out further, and call to Cassian; because tonight, tonight please God, she will not need to reach him with her mind.  Tonight he’ll be here.

The sky is still clear, cold lemon yellow in the west, inky-soft overhead.  A moon a few days off the full rises into the late afternoon blue.  Soon, soon, the day will be gone.  Clear sky of twilight, fat apple of a waxing moon, and the bitter cold is biting again as the daylight weakens.  She hears the patrol coming back and their voices bouncing cheerfully in the bitter-cold air, and her heart is running fast as a girl’s, her feet running also, because the sun has set.  Moonlight pure and silver comes through every window, and the garrison are lighting lamps.  Jyn races up the passageway.  There’s a delight bubbling in her like the rushing of a thawed river.  She bursts into the chamber they still share with the herald, and Bodhi is not there, but Cassian, yes, yes, Cassian is.

He’s barefoot still, but he’s pulled on breeches and a shirt and is tying his old jerkin.  Still the same rough clothes I made him, we must get him something warmer now

- and beyond that she is not thinking more, she’s just moving, the impulse of joy carrying her feet forward; she goes to him with her arms open, and he smiles, standing, astonishingly real and human, and catches her gladly in his embrace.

Jyn remembers blinking with scrunched eyes, just a few hours ago in the morning sun, remembers seeing rainbows in her lashes, feeling the brightness on her skin like hope.  The same fearful joy as she feels now.  He’ll go again, he’ll be wolf again so soon; but he won’t leave.  There’s a strong heartbeat under her cheek.  The goodness at the seat of the soul, much bruised but alive and undeniable.  Wolf or man, Cassian has a pulse strong as the beat of an eagle’s wings.  Constant, steady, as he is.

“I’ve missed talking to you so much,” she says, muffled in his shirt.

His arms tighten around her and he bends in, burying his face in her neck.  There’s something both vulnerable and protective in the movement, and she holds tighter to him in response.  The bare chill of his skin gives her goosebumps.  Yet his voice is as warm as joy. “I’ve missed you too, Jyn.”

He’s still smiling.  She can hear it.  It feels so good, to hold him, to be held.  Too good.  They break apart.  She cannot tell who initiates it.  Doesn’t want to know.  They held one another, and they let go, and she wishes they had not.

She’s momentarily breathless, and Cassian says in a gasp “There’s so much we need to talk about.”

“Yes, yes, there is…” and it’s best they should get on with that conversation, discuss plans, share ideas; the lost princess, the little stars of death, her mother.  Melshi has told her of his suspicions about the one trustworthy guard, Cassian was there then, he will have heard all his old friend’s theories, he must have so much to say.  He wants to fulfil his oath to the royal house he served once, to restore freedom to Yavine with a true queen, one with the power to defend her people.  She wants to find her mother, find her and save her, and help her undo the wrongs she’s been forced into.  All this, this is what they should be discussing now.

Not standing and smiling at one another, and not moving.  She’s caught like a fish on a lure, fixed, looking up at his dear face while her heart dances.  He is so kind and so glad in his humanity, and he’s strong as so few people she’s known have been strong, with a strength that doesn’t need to overcome anyone else, that simply is and does not try to prove itself. 

She shouldn’t be feeling herself come alight with hope at last, just because of the hope and the strength that come off him. 

His beard has grown, and his hair is getting untidily long once again.  Without thinking she brushes at it with a fingertip.  Pulls her hand back in astonishment at herself.  Oh, what am I doing?

Then helplessly, happily, reaches up again. 

And very gently, as if expecting her to strike him away, he raises his own right hand, and touches her cheekbone, and a lock of her hair.  His eyes are steady on hers, shy, glad.  The same shy gladness wraps her with the warmth in their tiger-stone brown; and his smile slowly widens in the stillness. 

One day, one day, please God, I’ll see his eyes in sunlight.  Please let it be so.  One day, when the curse is broken.

Oh.   Oh, Cassian, my heart.

Oh, if she could dive into those eyes and rest there, and be at peace.  She catches at his hand and clasps it for a moment.

I must not burden him with this.  In the face of everything he must bear, my affections are so small.  Trivial, unimportant, when there’s a whole world to be fought for.  And if he were only free of this curse he could be out there, standing up and fighting beside his princess and his people.  

A breath, a last squeeze of his hand.  Such a lean, strong hand, such a hand as I could wish to have near me always. 

But I’ve no right to want that. Somewhere out in the world there is someone who can free you, who can do what I cannot.  What I dare not

She takes a deep breath and drives everything away. “Cassian, you’ve had to listen to all of us these ten days while we talked.  It must have driven you mad.” She’ll tell herself she’s only going to focus on the strategy, that nothing really matters now save the plans they must make.  Tell herself whatever she must, to hold back the dream of it all being different.  Look at the world you’re living in, the real one, not the one of wishes that cannot come true.  Look at it and be honest with yourself; you’ll do nothing but harm if you try to break his curse, and you’ll keep him from his true path, besides.

But he chuckles at her comment and his laugh is rusty and musical.  The sound sends joy through her, sharp as a lance.  No, no, think about the future, the stratagems we must set in place, the war we must fight.  Else I must face the fact that sooner or later I will have to let you go. “Are we mad to make plans like these?” she asks him breathlessly.  The idea of losing him locks inside her, trapping hope behind her ribs, shaking it till it’s almost pain. “What are your thoughts?”

Chapter Text

“What are your thoughts?” she asks him. 

His thoughts.  It seems beyond belief that she doesn’t know already, and know how her presence flavours every one of them.  How everything he is has been reshaped, all his most desperate hopes  restored to life, since their first meeting.  How he’s hunted gladly with the others today and looked forward to seeing her and speaking to her, tonight.

The day had been joyful, bright, busy, after these long, long weeks of imprisonment, and now as it draws into dusk here she is with a light in her like the sun.  He’d stood up and reached for her, held her as he might hold on to life itself, as soon as she moved towards him.  More glad than his rational mind knew how to say, or to remember ever being before.  But the heart remembers what the mind has disciplined itself to forget.

My thoughts?  How glad I am that we are alongside one another still.  With so much joy, more than I’d ever known.  How the future has opened again, all the shut roads possible once more.  And how I hope to tread that path with you, wherever it leads.  I am beyond words glad of the light we’ve brought one another.  Though there are shadows too, we have found much of hope together.

Jyn’s hands are warm, holding his, and he’s still fumbling for an answer to her first question while she hurries on with others.

Are the plans they’ve talked about in front of him insane, she’s asking – have they asked too much of themselves, of one another? Of Maia, Saw, Melshi, Bodhi?  Is he with her still?

Is he with her?  “All the way,” he assures her; and she blushes suddenly as though she’d been out in the sun for long hours.

“I know I – don’t deserve that – but thank you – thank you!  Well.  So.  Ah, listen to me, why am I asking you such questions when I haven’t even let you get your boots on, I don’t even know if you’ve eaten –“ She’s almost relinquished her grip on his hand, but not quite, and for no reason at all his fingers don’t let go of her either.  No reason, none whatsoever.

“We shared some rations during the hunt, I’m good,” he tells her. “Hey, we caught a buck today.  Venison for the evening meal, eh?”

“It went well, then?  Hunting with the others?”

He nods, feeling his smile crack into an outright grin. “It’s a new thing for me, hunting with a group.  Not quite a wolf-pack but it worked.  I spooked the herd and cut one out to drive towards the archers, and they shot it.” 

For a second Jyn beams at him, as delighted as he is.  Then she closes her eyes, and her lips move, praying in a murmur as she did over the grouse and the salmon, two weeks ago.  The hunters all did the same, out in the snow after the kill.  It must be the custom of the cadre, and he wonders what faint thread of religion or spiritual feeling underlie it.  And then Jyn says “Venison will be good, we’ve all had our fill of salt beef lately!” and she’s smiling up at him again.

Cassian takes a breath and says “I should like the men I hunted with today to know who I am.  That I’m more than a wolf.” He’d asked Melshi and Maia not to tell anyone, that first night, and it still feels risky even now, to show himself and say This is what I am.  But he wants everyone here to understand the truth; to see not just the wolf but the man who hopes for their friendship.  He wants to show the same faith in them, that they have all done, accepting a wild beast into their home. “I’ll come into the mess with you tonight.”

They’re all exiles from the Empire here, after all; all of their purposes run side by side and he’ll fight with them if an attack does come, just as he’s hunted beside them today.  Melshi, Maia, Jyn herself will vouch for him.  It seems as good a time as any to let his true self show, and hope there’ll be a comradeship here that can welcome him.

And maybe Saw will finally believe what he is.  He’s seen the doubt in the old mage’s eyes. 

Jyn bites her lip for a moment before nodding.  She understands the implications, but she doesn’t question him. “Of course.  Do you want to go down straight away, see if anyone’s around?”

He shakes his head. “When we go to eat.”

“Well.  So.” Her fingers are still touching his, neither of them quite able to let go yet. “Let’s talk plans, then.  The princess.  Melshi’s idea –“

“Your mother.  Your mother first.”

Jyn blinks. “Are you sure?”

Does she think he would say something as near and sharp to her heart as that, and not truly mean it? “Of course.  Dear God, Jyn, of course!” But he has to give her something more solid than mere protestation.  And it’s the strategically sound choice, though he wonders how much he should tell Jyn of that.  No, tell her everything, trust her as she trusts you, trust goes both ways. “Princess Leia is useful to the Emperor.  She’s a political pawn and I can only imagine how much she must hate that, but she’s secure for now because of it.  But - the moment they know your mother has betrayed them –“ Jyn flinches minutely –“I’m sorry, but you know this is true – the moment they suspect her, her life is in danger.  Forfeit, most likely.  She’s taken an enormous risk to do this thing.  There are so many people I can’t save now, but I can help you save her.  We have to find a way to stop these stars of death.  She’s our best hope of reaching them, persuading them to come with us.  And besides, God knows what secrets of the enemy’s she may have learned; she’s lived among them for fifteen years.  Every other plan and hope we have could be shaped by the things she can tell us.  So surely, Ea’dhu first, for your mother and these children.  Then after, somehow, Sant Corou, and the princess.  Though I do not know how.”

“Nor do I.” But she’s smiling again faintly even as she shakes her head. “Even if Saw’s men will fight with us, how can we launch an open attack?  It’s the most fortified stronghold in the Black Isles.  But perhaps, if there are just a few of us – if Bodhi will help – maybe we can get there secretly.”

“Well, we’ll be here at Red Crag a good while,” Cassian says. “Many months yet till the thaw.  We can plan everything.  Every detail.  We have time.”

“The one luxury of winter,” she agrees.  Her grin roughens, goes sidelong with real humour. “At least we won’t be bored, eh?  Only frozen.  Which reminds me, Captain, you should put your boots on before you get cold-blisters.” She gives him a friendly push on the arm and he sits with a huff of laughter, to pull on his socks and boots.

Jyn sits down beside him.  The bedding and the lumpy mattress Maia found them are half lit, a broad shaft of moonlight falling across the room, shadows all around it.  Shadows that wrap round Jyn like scarves and shawls.  She shivers for a moment and he has to resist the desire to put his arms around her, to hold and keep her against the dark and the cold.

“How are you feeling, Jyn?  I haven’t had a chance to ask you.  This cannot be easy for you...  The things you’ve learned.  Being here again, being around Saw.  Any of it.”

“I never thought it would be easy.” Which doesn’t answer his question at all.  But she takes a quick breath and her eyes flick to his, and she goes on. “It’s strange.  Everything’s familiar but it feels all wrong as well.  I wish I could get more comfortable with that.  It isn’t likely to change, after all.” She snaps her fingers to make a light, and smiles ruefully. “I’m practising my magic harder than I’ve done in years.  Harder than any time since I was last living with Saw.  That’s a challenge too, to get that straight in my mind.  I’m living with Saw again, and he isn’t threatening me.  I keep fearing him reflexively and having to remind myself that he’s changed.  I don’t understand why.  But he’s letting me be.  So all my world has changed shape.”

“Well, I know that feeling.”

“Yes, you do, don’t you?” She sends the little globe of light drifting out into the centre of the room.  Sighs.  Touches the front of her coat, where the two crystals hang. “Nothing is what I thought.  I was so sure my mother was dead.  I mean, she had to be, surely.  And then – the sound of her voice.  Speaking to me.  Telling me she loved me.  I keep trying to remind myself it could be a trap; but I don’t believe it.  And now I just have to wait.  Dear God, to wait and wait.”

“Wait and plan,” he says, sharing the frustration, trying to remind her that it isn’t without hope.  There’s another month to midwinter’s day, easily as long again before they have any chance of getting to the nearest sea port at the mouth of the Alder, much less sailing to Ea’dhu.  It is a long wait, indeed.

“Oh, I’ll plan a hundred plans, and pick them all in shreds, and plan a hundred more.” She laughs mirthlessly. “I can’t seem to be at peace in myself since I heard mama’s voice.  I want to fly to her!  Just grab up my weapons and go to her, fight for her.”

“Well.  There are benefits to a surprise attack, you know that.” He thinks.  No harm in asking. “You’ve carried me with you between places before.  How many more could you lift?”

Jyn shakes her head. “I daren’t try that.  What if it went wrong?  How would I visualise it, to find myself there?  I’ve only ever done it that once and it was travelling home.  The place I knew best in the world.  Somewhere I’ve never been?  I cannot see it.  Who would teach me how to find a place I only know as a word on a map?”

He wonders when it was she learned to fear trying anything she had not been taught, anything she might do amiss.  When, and from whom.  From everything he’s seen since they met, his faith in her goes far beyond what she has in herself.   Yet when they first met, she was unafraid to try a string of spells on him, not excluding the ones she knew would likely fail.  What is it that has thrown her now into believing she must take no risks? - only do what she can do perfectly? 

Is it unjust to suspect the old man?  Was that Saw’s teaching, when he first had little Jyn in his keeping?  That she must be a weapon, and be perfect, or she was nothing?  Is it still fear of him that stays her hand with caution?

When the crystal flares and the starfire blazes out from her, when these outbursts of power strike, they have no caution in them.  They fling her up hard against the sea-wall of her own defences.  No wonder she dreads them.

If she would only try, without fear, God knows what she might do, might be, in her own natural self.  In a way she is as cut-off from her nature as he is.  And all she asks is some kind of certainty, and to learn how to do things right. 

I have no inkling what it’s like to have this power.  To find such a thing waking in me.  I am a pariah because of what’s been done to me, not from something so intrinsic to who I am.  I will not judge Jyn, who is dear to me, and burdened by harsh choices.  I know what it is to live with fear.  I will not judge. 

“How is the studying going?  You’ve copied half a book, it seems like.”

“Healing spells, yes.  Probably a whole book by now!  I don’t know whose text it is but the directions are good.  I’ve found a couple I’d like to try, sometime.” But she bites a fingernail even as she says it.  Oh, Jyn, my Jyn, what is it that’s taking your courage from you? “I don’t know if he’ll let me.”

The old man.  The damned old man! “It isn’t his right to give you permission.”

“But I have to ask his permission!  If these charms are good, one of them could mend that wound of his.  It takes all the magic left in him to hold back the poison in his blood.  It’s draining him, breaking him.  If I could find a spell to heal the festering he might recover.  But I can’t force healing on him unless he permits it; and how can he permit it when he knows I’m not ready?”

“Then when will you be ready?”

“I don’t know!  How can I know that? – how can I know if no-one can tell me?  And if I try when I’m not ready then I’ll fail.”

There it is again, this nagging fear holding her back.  “Sometimes you have to fail.  I expected the enemy to treat honourably with prisoners of war and I was so wrong.  But when you fail, you learn.”

“No.  Not with healing – that’s people’s lives, Cassian.  I can’t treat that as simply a chance to try something and learn from it, I don’t have that luxury.”

“It’s still their lives if they are unhealed.  Still their lives when they’ll surely die.  Some of us might find the risk acceptable.” She once did, or so he’d thought.

“It’s never acceptable for me to fail,” Jyn says. “I – I wasn’t brought up that way.” An ancient pain in her voice. 

He wants to shake the old mage till his festering foot drops right off, for doing this to her.  “Talk to Saw.  Ask him.  He might be more willing than you think.”

It’s clear his hold goes deep; Saw is still the person she looks up to like a parent.  And Cassian can only imagine what it’s like to have such a father figure restored.  Much less to learn the mother you thought dead is yet living, and crying out for help.  Not with his own parents dead these twenty years.

Mama - Papá…  If I had found you again, after all this time – if I had received a message from you, and the General stood over me saying Trust no messengers, take no risks…  Jerón Andor had a kind face, he remembers that, though the exact lineaments are a little blurry now.  A kind face, that smiled a lot; dark eyes, dark hair, a beard that looked warm, a fine beak of a nose.  Mariana Andor had warm arms and a strong back, and hands that seemed to hold all the tenderness of the world in their touch; black hair in windswept waves, a colourful shawl.  So long lost, both of them.  God alone knows what griefs, and what defences, it would waken in me.  I think it would break my heart into fragments.  I will not judge Jyn for the struggle this is costing her.

She’s still just sitting beside him, her face silent and shut.  Finally she says “I’ll think about it” in a voice that carries please don’t ask me again under the words.  “One day I’ll have to be ready, I know that.  I want to be able to help.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted!  But I’m not ready yet, I know I’m not.”

Her sphere of light quivers, emotion rocking it in its cradle of air.

He cannot ease the problem for her or speed it forward.  He will not allow himself to judge her.  A friend so much beloved as Jyn, who has the right to find and understand her own path.  He touches her arm cautiously and she leans into the contact, without looking at him.

The band of moonlight has edged across to silver the whole bed, and their clothes and hair.  She’s a statue of light and shadows and sighs.

“We have time,” he says again. “We can plan.  And for tonight – come, smell the meal cooking?  Something is stewing, smells good, no?  We can talk again tomorrow.  Let’s go and see what Bodhi and the others have been doing today.”

If they’re lucky, they’ll speak tomorrow.  Or this may be the last night for another month that they can talk at all.  They both know that.  They’re no nearer having a solid plan of any sort, and the bond of heart between them feels frayed suddenly, and uncertain.  He’s angry and worried, pushing doubts away; and it’s a frustration, and it’s all he can do. 

But “Thank you,” Jyn says, and he knows she understands.

Chapter Text

The bright weather continues three days and three nights.  The whole world is still and ice-cold, with skies of rich blue by day, and at night a field full of stars.  The full moon blooms like a flower and begins to fade.  Three nights of standing human, speaking with his own voice and touching with his own hands.  Seeing his friends grin when he enters the room at dusk.

There’s a joy he’d never thought to know again, in being greeted as a friend, smiled at, known by his name.  For three nights he can talk or spar with the others, or study with Jyn, until the evening meal is served. He can walk into the mess hall beside Jyn and the still-nervous Bodhi, and the cook serving out food will give him an extra spoonful of lentils and meat, an extra piece of sourdough.  Maia Melshi will nudge a neighbour to move up till there’s room for all three of them at her table.  One of the archers asks him a question about crossbow quarrels and the weaponry they used in Yavine, and he’s soon deep in a discussion with the man.  And no-one here is repulsed or frightened, no-one sees a monster, only the man who has to change by day.

He lies down, each night for those precious three, late, late into the deep of the dark, long after the others have gone to sleep.  Stripping by the last of the moonlight, rolling himself in a cocoon of bedclothes, in the space Jyn leaves for him; yawning once, twice, as he looks at her face in the faint light.  Feeling his bones change as he drifts off.

It’s a blessing to be known for a man at last, for these few hours, but it isn’t enough.  He is still cursed, his time as much beast as man.  And welcome or not, this isn’t his community.  There are accents here from across the whole of the coast lands, even the far south, the deep north; there are some that have the ring of Yavine, even one that is almost the accent of childhood.  But this is not the barracks where he was Captain; and nor is it his lost home. 

Sometimes he sees the Great Temple of Yavine in his dreams, and the people flocking to the Spring Moon market beneath it. 

Sometimes he sees the canyon and the Copper Mountains, and the red walls and cheerful flags of Feste.  There’s a scent of cooking seasoned with southern spices.  Distant figures in a street where all the houses stand tall over him.

Sometimes it’s just a clearing in an old forest.  A vegetable garden, a lime-washed cottage. 

All lost now.  He wakes whimpering. 

The friendship here is balm to his heart, and the chance to discuss their hopes and tactics comforts his mind.  But the knowledge of those old losses still aches, under the relief of conversations and weapons training and sitting beside Jyn, of having the chance to laugh and smile with a human face, speak and be heard with a human voice, for a few hours.  Feste, lost, Yavine, lost; the cottage in the forest, lost.

He’s been so long accursed, maybe he’ll never be at home in himself again. 

After the third night, the storms come back.

Wolf-bound once more, he can hunt and patrol, and sit by Jyn as she studies her books.  She holds the tip of her tongue pinched between her teeth. When he stands close to her, he can read over her shoulder.  He’s a faster reader than she is.

Saw has met him now (has met him, and stared, and frowned, and finally touched palms with him; but carefully, as though he senses the wolf-teeth behind the courtesy).  He no longer feels he should stay back, when she goes to the old man’s quarters to report to him, and discuss the spells she’s working on.  After all, if the madman doesn’t trust him, what harm in letting him see it’s mutual?

Perhaps madman isn’t entirely fair.  Certainly Maia Melshi would thump the table if she could hear him.  The old mage rambles and loses the thread of his own words sometimes, becomes sentimental or blustering for no reason, practically twitches with paranoia.  But in his damaged way he seems truly to care for Jyn, and to be trying to help her.  

He remembers what she said, that the struggle to keep the poison in his wound at bay is sapping Saw’s mind.  And it makes sense; for all his wanderings there’s a potency in the mage still, masked by exhaustion and the stink of gangrene.  It’s a power worn thin, but deep as bone. 

Maybe it comes of having spent so much time around Jyn, with the strange bond that has grown between them; Cassian feels the presence of others, as he did not before.   It isn’t an entirely comforting sensation.  Saw and Maia especially are present in this intense way.  He can’t quantify it, can’t explain it even to himself.  He’d like to ask Jyn what causes it.  But the overcast days and nights stretch on once again, winter setting in, holding the world close-carried against its death-white flank.  And he is mute, and wolf, for day after day again; days into weeks, and onward.

It’s clear that book-learning isn’t Jyn’s preferred method of study, but she’s quick and retentive even so.  He watches and listens as Saw tests her memory and sets her puzzles to do, tasks to complete with magic and her wits.  Grins with pleasure as she completes each challenge.  His tail wagging spontaneously every time.

Even the old man seems proud of her.  And at least in Cassian’s hearing, he doesn’t pressure her to study how to kill.  Doesn’t try to shame her into perfection. 

Perhaps in his old age and his frailty he has indeed found wisdom enough to let people be as they are.

Bodhi has settled into the rhythm of life cooped up here.  It’s normal, he tells them; if you’re caught by the coming of winter in a place like this, you take it as furlough and enjoy the rest.  Anywhere the herald’s white is respected, you will be fed and housed till you can be on your way again.  He laughs a little, nervous snatches of breath, saying anywhere you’re respected.  

But there’s been no further trouble for him; it’s almost as if Saw has forgotten the herald is here.  And he’s attached himself to old Beeza, who assists Edrio with the food and the stores, and has taken it upon himself to look after mending clothes for the cadre.  Often when Jyn is hunched over her books, the young man will be there on the other platform, working his careful way along a piece of hemming or a complex darn.  Sometimes he chatters, a stream of random cheerfulness as he works.  But there are days when he falls upon silence, near catatonic and cold with stillness.  The forgotten needle quivering as he rocks slowly on the spot.  Cassian and Jyn sit with him and wait the numbness out; they haven’t discussed it, the custom arose unprompted between them, to give the young man the reassurance of a guard when he’s beyond any possibility of guarding himself. 

In time, he’ll twitch, and shake, and say in a small voice “Oh, where was I?”.  And resume sewing, patient and careful as ever.

This is their life.  Their normalcy.  Cassian sleeps on Jyn’s bed; they rise at dawn, she washes and dresses while he stands at the door, they wake Bodhi and go together to break their fast.  She trains or cleans weapons, he goes out with the huntsmen on patrol.  The midday meal is bread and goat cheese, sometimes a slice of dried fruit.  At first Jyn asks if she should save a piece of fruit for him; but the sky is uniform grey and thick with snow, and he shakes his head.  In the afternoons, she studies, and Bodhi picks at another piece of needlework, and talks, or slides into withered silence again.  And then it’s evening and time for whatever variation of Good Plain Food may be served up, time for Jyn to talk with Maia and Melshi , time for Bodhi to tell stories to the company, while he lies at their feet and enjoys the warmth of the main hearth.  And then sleep.

Almost midwinter.  How can Bodhi blithely talk of these empty weeks as a rest and a blessing?  He feels half-mad with the monotony. 

Just three nights as a human, in a whole month.  It’s as bad as any winter he’s known since he was first cursed.

The whole garrison seems at times to be catching fastness-fever, cabined up together like this for week upon week.  One can sharpen every blade, polish every cuirass and oil every crossbow; but there’s no call to do it daily.  Only boots need to be cleaned every day, cleaned and rubbed with a thick fatty dubbin. 

Every time he goes out with the hunters, he has to lie worrying the ice out of his pads afterwards. 

Then snowdrifts reach past the top of the old gateway, and digging a way clear would be the work, not of hours but days.  They begin to use a ladder of ropes from the first beast-hole instead.  And Cassian cannot climb a rope. 

He paces the passageways.  Shoves his nose out of any opened window, just to breathe the cold fresh air and the smell of winter. 

There are footsteps beside him, and Jyn is there.  Her face quiet, and quietly grim.  She says “We will leave this place, one day.  I know it.  And we will strike out against the Empire.  I will be ready.  I believe it.  It will happen.”

She’s watching him, and she touches one of his paws, pressed on the stone of the sill.  “I promise you,” she says, with all the emphasis of a sacred oath. “I promise you this.”

They watch the valley together, and the pale grey world slipping into dusk.

The next night, suddenly, he finds himself human again.  There’s the moon, halfway to full once more, bright as a gemstone swinging overhead.  There’s Bodhi grinning at him, offering something to Jyn, who takes it, shakes it out, holds it up.  A woollen over-shirt.  It’s bulky, and huge, it’ll reach to mid-thigh on him; and when he pulls it on over his own shirt and jerkin, it smells like an ancient shadow of Saw.  He wonders if they borrowed it from the old man, or stole it.  It’s been darned carefully, under the arms and on both elbows.  Whatever its origins, its thick felted knit is near as warm as his own pelt, and he revels in the comfort.

The tension of his conversation with Jyn about her struggles has left him, pushed aside by the faith her few words of yesterday inspired, and the relief of being human again.

There are wry cheers and slaps on the back when he walks into the mess.  Melshi waves him over, and there’s a rough, real smile on Maia’s face.  His humanity is a joy to him now, that once had seemed a life lost forever, and he can sit down among friends, at a lamp-lit table where every face welcomes him.  For this one night at least. 

Chapter Text

“So, I was thinking, thinking about – the lady in the tower.  My last message.” Bodhi at the dinner table, his hands very tight around his mug so that the contents ripple and slosh. “You – you want to reach her, is that right?”

“I do.” Jyn nods tersely. 

“And – bring her away?  Out of that place?”

“If I can.” She’s gone very still, her spoon poised.  Steam rises from the beef and bean stew. 

“If we can,” Cassian says.

He watches Jyn as she blinks and registers that, and as she slowly recollects her uneaten spoonful.  A faint pink blush comes and goes on her cheeks and she ducks her head and eats quickly. 

“And then head to Sant Corou, is that right?”

“Once again, if we can,” Melshi confirms.  He reaches across the table, squeezes his wife’s hand. “No point in attacking the capital if it’s a suicide mission and all we do is put the princess in danger.  We may need to withdraw, hide, after Ea’dhu.  Hopefully not lick our wounds, though it does no harm to plan for eventualities.  But Ea’dhu, this business there - that’s pretty urgent.”

“So then.” Bodhi starts gesturing eagerly, putting down the mug to pick up his utensils and lay out a rough plan of the coast with them.  He adds a salt cellar for Sant Corou, some broken crusts for the archipelago of the Black Isles. “You’ll need to get there as soon as the seaways open.  Main spring trade starts in March in a good year.  The nearest port is Alderhaven but that route can be slow to get going.  The sea ice shuts it for a good three months some winters.  I’ve never known the Alderi to stint on their hospitality but as a rule they’re cautious seamen and there are no ice-barges going to the mouth of the Alder anymore.  Quite possible nothing much will sail from there before the equinox.  Even when they’re not ice-bound the northern seas are unchancy.  Storms even till May sometimes .” He pats one of the knives cheerfully. “There used to be a few vessels sailing from the settlements in the Yavi delta, Flat Mountain Port and Wetyin especially, but they’re very controlled these days.  The Empire’s trying to stamp out the privateers.  Calling them pirates and smugglers, you’d think they were Corelians, not honest fishermen.” Now he’s pushing crumbs into a track across the table top, from one knife handle to the next. “It’s four, maybe five days journey on foot to Flat Mountain from here, less on horseback of course, once the valley roads are clear.  But I don’t hold out much hope you’ll be able to take ship from there either unless you wait till the next Imperial convoy leaves.”

He chatters on, almost relaxed for once, about ships and seaways, cargoes and tolls and journey times.  It strikes Cassian that having a man among the party who travels the world for his living will have unanticipated benefits.  Bodhi seems to know every route and every chart, the likelihood of good or bad welcomes and good or bad weather at every roadstead.

“Next major port south from there is my home.  Jedha.  The days of winter free trade are over to my sorrow like the days of ice-barges, but you’ll likely find a few captains there willing to make a winter crossing of the Hypa Narrows under sail even so, for the right price.” His eyes have dreams in them, looking out past the walls of the mess, and he says softly “I’m sorry you won’t see an ice barge ever.  On a fine midwinter’s day like this, running before the wind.  They were a fine sight.  A joy, truly.”

“So from Jedha we can get across the Narrows before the spring runs?  Sail for Ea’dhu in the winter?” Jyn sets down the spoon.  Her plate is scraped clean now but it’s clear she’s been listening to every word while she ate. “You’re sure a Jedhan crew will take a chance on that?”

“Jedhan crews will do more than take a chance.  They’re the best winter sailors left anywhere now, mainland or Isles.  The Empire’s taken much from us but they cannot take our seamanship.” He grins, nervous again as though his own enthusiasm spooks him. “Come to Jedha with me.”

It sounds - promising.  Unspecific, perhaps, but hopeful, and at least a starting point for a plan.  How and when they can get to the Black Isles will shape much of how they proceed once there.  Cassian asks “You mentioned ice barges – I’ve heard of those – is there no possibility we might find one somewhere, find a Mon Cala captain willing to take us?”

“No, n-no, no.  We’ve no trade now with the Mon Cala, no-one has.  They come no more, I cannot tell why.  We don’t speak of it.”

Melshi grunts, and to Cassian’s gratitude he speaks up, and says the unpleasant truth they also need to consider. “’Course, Jedha may be a shorter earlier trip but it’s not the safest.  Crossing from Alderhaven, at least we’d be sailing from a free port.  Jedha’s been under occupation for, what, five years, is it now?”

Bodhi’s face falls for a moment.  “It has, yes.  It’s been a hard strange time for us all.  Much we’ve had to accustom ourselves to.”

There’s an ocean of unspoken thought in those words, but he knows already that it’s best not to press the young man.  Bodhi has seen things, in his home city and in his work, that would sear the heart of any soul.  Has seen, and gone on, stalwart as a herald must be, to serve the bearing of the word, through siege and occupation, across battlefields and ruins and the wrath of enemies uncountable.

It’s not a role Cassian could ever have borne.  A herald must be impartial to all, may never take sides or take up arms, nor oppose any enemy, not even the conqueror of his own home.

But this – Alderhaven and a spring sailing, or Jedha and with luck a winter ship from there - this is real as none of their hopeful planning has been until now.  Both those plans are concrete, even workable.  He allows himself a quick glance at Jyn, and she’s smiling.  Her eyes slide to his, she smiles more.  Yes, this is real.  Her blush flutters back, just the tips of her ears colouring.

And then she looks away; inhales, exhales slowly, and says in a very small voice “Mai.”

“Huh?  Yes?”

“I’ve found a spell.  That might help you.  So.  Well.  It might help mend what’s broken in you, help you find the Force again.  It might.  I don’t know.”

Maia is gaping, her eyes wide; half frightened, half-angry at her fear. “Mend it?  You think?”

“I – I think.  I don’t know.” Jyn sounds desperate, but she gulps in another breath and goes on. “I’ll try it, if you’ll let me.  I won’t do it unless you permit it.”

“Oh God.  Oh God, fuck.  The Commander said it couldn’t be done.  Fuck, screwing fuck on horseback, fuck!  Are you sure?” She raises both hands to her temples, touching her skull as though it’s spinning, or pains her. “Yeah, yeah, you said you don’t know, but…  Fuck.  Oh God, Rue, what? –“

Melshi is breathing fast, hanging on her every curse-word, and he grabs her hands and lifts them away from her brow.  Presses them between his own. “Mai, sweetness, if this is what you want – I know it is what you want –“

“Fuck.  Yes, yes it is.”

“I can try it,” Jyn says again, resolute and small. “If you’ll permit it.  I wish I could promise more than that.  But all I can do is try, and beg your forgiveness if I fail.”

“Listen, you know I trust you about as far as I can throw you, right?  Which is to say, nine times out of ten not so much as a foot of ground, since your hand-to-hand is so much better than mine.  But this – dear fucking God, Erso.  Yes.  For this, I’d risk anything.  Rue, tell me I’m not mad?”

“You’re not mad.  You’re the least crazy person I ever knew.  And this is what you want.”

“Yes.  Yes.  It is.  Ball-blasting boils, fuck yes.  When?”

Jyn swallows. “Whenever you wish.”

“ I wish. I wish it yesterday!  Na, na, tomorrow night maybe?  Gives us time to prepare.  And don’t kill me outright, eh?  I’ve got a man to live for, these days!”

“Tomorrow night,” Jyn says, nodding, very pale in the lamplight.

Bodhi is still happily explaining about the different classes of ships and the routes they tend to follow, coasters and deep-sea vessels, caiques and galleys and the big-bellied long-traders, when they make their way up the staircase at last, back to their shared chamber.  Jyn has gone silent.  He’s knows how ill-at-ease she is with her powers even now.  It warms him inwardly just the same, to see her taking this chance and making this offer, showing her hand and her hope to Maia.  He doesn’t know how to tell her this; doesn’t want to patronise, or to betray how much he’s read of her tension, her distress about acting and choosing and taking a risk.

She has chosen, and chosen to act, and that is all that matters.

They lie down to sleep together, and when she turns over in her sleep to lie facing him, he lays his hand over hers, and wills his faith to her, as she’s lent him hers in the past.

**

It’s evening again, another bitter bright day has run swiftly on to sunset and moonlight.  Cassian is just fastening his boots when Maia and Rue come in carrying a jug of water and a second lantern.  Jyn is sitting beside him on the bed, nursing one of the books, her lips moving soundlessly as she runs over the words of an incantation.  Bodhi has tucked himself away in the corner of the second platform, where he sits watching, wide-eyed and mute.

“Ready?” Jyn’s voice is hard with nervousness.

“No.  No,” Maia says, brusque and then rueful “Never ready for this, but ready to trust it’ll work.  And that’s enough.  I hope.”

“Well.  Good.  So, here, take this blanket, spread it out there.  You’ll need to lie down on the floor for this and the stone’s cold.  I’ve got the other things I need.” Jyn gestures to the items lined up along the edge of her platform.

The jug of water, and two beakers; a dish with a handful of golden-brown powder that smells faintly sweet, a scent of festival cakes and cold remedies and some long-remembered perfume; five stubs of candle, and a short-bladed knife he’s seen her use often before.  It’s the one she always keeps on her, or under her pillow; though it’s hardly the best weapon she owns it has some further power for her, and he’s seen her use it often in her spellwork.

She’s wearing a clean shirt under her woollen jacket.  The two crystals hang, shimmering, side-by-side at her breast.

“If this all goes tits-up and I don’t make it, Erso, you can have my gloves.  I noticed you still haven’t got any, you idiot.” Maia grins weakly as she sits down. “Hey, can Rue stay with me?”

“God’s life, yes.  Listen, Maia, I’m not going to lie to you and say Everything will be smooth and easy.  I haven’t done this before.  I’ve been letting myself get frightened by that, but in the end we all have to act, don’t we?  I wouldn’t offer to try if I didn’t have a -a strong hope of it.  Will you take the chance with me?”

“Bah, fuck it.” Maia, shakes her head, not in denial but as though she’s trying to shake leaves from her hair, or fears. “Fuck it, very well, come on.  Let’s do this thing.  Hold my hand when I go under, eh, Rue?”

She lies down on the square of wool, and Melshi settles at her side, cross-legged, and clasps her left hand between both his.  A slight tightness at the jaw is the only thing betraying his tension; he squeezes her hand and smiles at her, keeping his smile solid and unafraid in reassurance.  Maia smiles back, quick and tight. 

Jyn rises.  For a moment she touches Cassian’s shoulder, as she might have done if he were wolf-bound, and he reaches up quickly, presses one hand to hers in answer.  Willing her his faith again.  I know you can do this.  I believe you.  I believe in you.

She inhales, exhales, is still.  Together they step forward and Cassian kneels facing Melshi.  Jyn stays on her feet, and begins.

Chapter Text

It’s a spell more elaborate than any he remembers her trying in the cottage.  She casts a series of circles around the four of them; of water, then of the sweet spice powder, finally with the point of her knife, a circle of faint light traced on the floor.  She lays the five candle stubs at equal points around the circle and lights them all, not with a finger snap this time but motionless and in silence, her eyes closed and hands raised as she calls the light.  Finally she kneels down at his side, with her hands outstretched over Maia.  The knife held in her right, one of her crystals in the other, she begins to chant.  Her voice is soft almost to vanishing; and she seems never to pause to take breath, though somehow she must be doing so.  Her words are the strange ones of the old magic speech, meaningless to him though he knows there must be meaning in every syllable.    

The lamp and the candles all burn silently.  Light glints off the blade of Jyn’s knife.  There’s not a hint of a draught from the windows and all the flames are steady and straight in the smokeless air.  Maia’s free hand flexes and bunches in her skirts, and he sees how she makes herself open and relax it again as her husband squeezes her fingers again.  Jyn carries on singing, a seamless tuneless string of sound.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, light rises from the circle, and ribbons of light float out, connecting the candles.  Maia is lying at the centre of a five-pointed star that gleams like something painted on air.  The dusty spice rises too, borne up on faint puffs of smoke.  Jyn moves her hands through the air as she chants; the bands of light dance, and gradually the entire star begins to revolve, still rising until the light encloses them.  The scent of cinnamon is like incense. 

Maia is gripping Melshi’s hand tightly.  Her lips are quivering and as the airborne star of light brightens she makes a faint whimpering sound and gasps for her next breath.

“Are you alright?” Meshi whispers. “Sweetheart?  Speak to me?”

Maia nods her head quickly, the movement small and terse. 

Jyn sings on.  Very carefully she brings her right hand back across Maia’s form and raises it, till the point of her knife blade is directed at the apex of the star of energy.  Her voice strengthens, repeating and repeating until once again he has the illusion he remembers from before, that her song is echoing back upon itself, that the whole chamber is ringing with sound. 

He cannot take his eyes off her.  The two gems, in her hand and round her neck, are starting to glow faintly.  She moves the knife again, drawing a spiral in the air, her gestures synchronised with the rhythm of the spell-chant.  Maia gives another little grunt of alarm as more lines of light appear, following where Jyn slices through the air.  There’s a web of starlight now, slowly growing, wrapping itself around her within the circle of smoke and flame.  The beams of light are stronger and more brilliant as the light within Jyn brightens, and the room itself grows ever brighter too, the moonlight coming in from the window, its coolness and the warmth of the candles and lamps making a maze of gold and silver and fine darkness, light and shadow.

Back in those shadows, Bodhi Rook sits wide eyed, observing, saying nothing.

Jyn sways and straightens herself; her voice wavers and then strengthens again.  With her left hand she seems to gather up all the bands of light, the web of dark.  Abruptly she breaks off, and he can see how her hands are quivering with effort.  He swallows hard and fights down the urge to catch hold of her and support her, because What if I do, and it breaks her concentration, if it interferes somehow, I dare not, I dare not!

The understanding is visceral, sudden, why Jyn has hesitated for so long, why she has to fight between the desire to help and the fear of doing harm.  Cassian can see how Melshi’s worried eyes flicker between his wife and Jyn, questioning and alarmed.  He’s no longer attempting to hide his emotions.  Maia lies breathing hard and with her own eyes shut tight; on each exhalation a tiny inarticulate sound comes from her though she’s keeping her lips clamped shut too. 

The cloud of spice roils slowly in the air, a dust storm in miniature, and the strands of light lancing through it spark like tiny shafts of lightning.  Jyn is panting, beginning to sway again, she clenches her fist tighter, gripping a fistful of light. 

Should I do something?  I must do something!  Oh God, my God, what should I do?

Maia whimpers and Melshi hunches up closer to her, a panicked frown knotting his brows; whispers “Love, love, are you alright?  Should I tell her to stop?” There’s no answer, but next moment Maia makes a small moan of discomfort, biting it back but unable to suppress all sound.  Melshi goes white under his tan. “Mai, please, speak to me!  God’s life, Jyn, stop, you’re hurting her!”

A great gasp of pain comes from Jyn and her hands spasm as she tries to hold on, gripping a fistful of lighting and storm-clouds.  There’s no sound save her desperate panting, Maia’s stifled moans, Melshi’s panic.  Cassian bites his lip.  Sweat pours off Jyn’s face and then suddenly the light from her crystals blooms out, brilliant white.  It’s the light he saw in the clearing and the village, like a fallen star bursting alight in the chamber.  A flash of a few seconds, then as abruptly as it came it’s sucked down into Jyn and out, through her left hand, and it lances like a bolt of lightning from her into Maia. 

A scream; both women’s voices together, high and breathless in shock and release.  A blast like a gale sends all the floating spice dust out and down, back into the circle where it was first scattered, but dissipated now, no longer a neat line but spread wide and uneven.  But the circle holds. 

Maia sits upright with a huge gasp; her eyes fly open, she bends double over her husband’s hand and clings to him, gasping for breath like a runner.  He grabs hold of her, hissing her name in panic.  On her other side, Jyn sinks forward, also breathless, and shaking.  The ritual knife drops from her grip with a clatter and she leans on both hands.  For a long moment, nothing more.  Cassian’s hands are clenched so tight with willing her on that it feels like he is pushing through the weight of an ocean, just to unlatch his fingers and reach out to touch Jyn’s arm. 

She straightens with a shuddering breath and looks round at him.  On the front of her shirt, her mother’s crystal lies dimming slowly, and the stone she clasps likewise is fading back to its usual state.  Little glimmers of green and blue and white dance within them as they fade back to their normal daylight clarity.

“Mai?  Mai!  Speak to me!  Maia, pet, sweetheart!”

“I’m here,” Maia croaks.

“Jyn,” Cassian says quietly “Are you alright?”

Jyn looks about her; meets Maia’s eye for a silent moment.  Slowly she straightens again.  Very quietly she answers him, without answering his question “I need to finish the incantation before the candles burn out.”

“Oh no, you’re done here,” says Melshi. “No more, no more of this shit, I’m telling you.”

“Shut up, love.  It’s almost done.  I’m still here.” Maia’s voice is stronger, but she leans into his embrace as she speaks.

Jyn stretches out a shaking hand for the knife, fumbles at it clumsily.  Quickly Cassian picks it up and places it in her hand, folding her fingers round the haft.  Holds her hand for a moment, steadying, strengthening, if he can.

“I have to close the spell, clear the circle,” Jyn says.

She places the crystal over her head, to hang beside its twin.  Her hands are steady again.  She raises the knife, to her forehead, then her lips, and behind the blade she begins once more to murmur.  Just a few lines, like a verse, repeated twice and then a third time, and she lifts the knife and swings it sunwise out over all their heads, then strikes down as though cutting through the margin of the circle itself.  There’s a little puff of dusty smoke at the point where the blade hits the floor; as one, the candles flicker as though a wind has passed, gutter, and then burn straight once more.  

Jyn sets the knife down.

Awkwardly, lurching as though her limbs pain her, she staggers to her feet. 

Cassian springs up, holding out his arm, steadying her as she grips him.  Leaning on him she moves to the spot where the spice blew out, and steps through as one might through a doorway; she crosses out of the circle and he follows, and supports her as she moves round the circle once more, blowing out each candle in turn until just the lanterns and the moonlight illuminate the room. 

There’s silence bar the sound of frightened breathing, everyone panting and slowly gathering themselves again.

Jyn is shaking hard now, he can feel the muscles quivering in her arm where she holds on to him.  But she turns to the couple in the middle of the broken circle and says huskily “It’s done.  It’s all done, you can get up now.”

“All done?  Fuck yes, it’s all done.  Sweet life!” Melshi has his arms wrapped round Maia. “Mai, tell me you’re alright, for God’s sake, girl!”

“I’m alright.  Rue, I’m alright, shut up with your panicking.”

“Am not fucking panicking.  Oh God, Mai.” He’s smiling anxiously down at her and she pats his arm with shaky fingers.

“Course you’re not.  My mistake.  Oh God.  Rue, fuck, it’s – it’s done.  I can feel –“ Maia breaks off, staring around her with an expression of wonderment.  “I can feel –“

“Can you feel it?” Jyn asks. “Is it? – did you feel when – no, just tell me if you’re well?  Did it work?”

Maia pulls her right arm free from her husband’s embrace.  She takes a deep breath and flexes her fingers, and snaps them, clumsy, unpractised and stiff. 

A tiny spark of light winks into being, suspended above her hand.  She stares, wide-eyed, and finally laughs. “Fuck, will you look at that?  There it is.  It worked.  It fucking worked.”

“Oh, Maia,” Jyn says.  Her voice is thickening with tears.

“It worked.  I ache as if you’d just thrashed me black and blue.  But it worked.”

“That’s my bold girl,” says Melshi, sounding close to tears himself.  With awkward care he and Maia get to their feet.  She’s still holding the fluttering little flame of light in the air, and he avoids putting his arm near it, but keeps her close just the same.  Holding one another upright they pick their way out of the opened circle.

It worked.  She worked a spell like nothing he’s ever seen, and healed the rift in Maia’s soul.  It worked.  And she drew on the power in her crystal to do it.  She controlled the thing she most fears, again, and held it to serve her.

It might work for the old man.  It might work for him.

The four of them have fallen into a clumsy group hug, all gasping with relief, saying one another’s names, laughing and crying.  Jyn is still shaking slightly.  From behind them, a voice thrilling with delight says “That was amazing, you did it, you did it!” and Bodhi wraps his arms around them all and pulls them into his embrace. “I never saw anything so astonishing.  The whole room came alive, there was, there was, magic flying through the air, literally flying, there was lightning and moon-beams and starfire flying, Jyn, you’re amazing!”

“It worked,” Jyn says once again, beginning to sob at last, and Cassian pulls her close and holds her steady as the shock of success sinks into her.  He fights his own tears and loses, and lets them flow.  They are only joy.   Because it worked, and she did it, and she is strong and justified and brave as the sun itself, his friend, his witch, his Jyn. 

Chapter Text

When Cassian wakes, the first thing he knows is Jyn.  She’s curled on her side with her arm thrown over him and her nose burrowed deep into his fur.  He stills his breathing as much as possible, so as not to disturb her.  His friend, his witch, his Jyn.  His dear one who can draw down the stars and heal the wounded soul.  Sound asleep with her face blunted by tiredness, her lips soft and eyelids creased.   Breath from her nostrils tickling faintly against his throat as she noses in, closer to him, holding him near. 

He has one paw resting on her arm, and is afraid to move it at all, lest his claws rake her, or the harsh hair between his pads scratch her skin.

My Jyn, my Jyn, my dear.

So they’d fallen asleep practically cuddling one another, so overcome with elation and effort that it seemed unnatural not to stay close and hold this joy tight between them.  Well, he cannot grieve at that.

Jyn had almost cried when they made their way down the staircase and into the training room, and Maia showed the rest of the cadre how she could conjure flame again, and how (cautious and unpractised and quivering with joy) she could pick up spoons and bowls into the air and make cold tea warm again in the bowl.  When Saw had appeared at the stairway, watching, drawn by the commotion of voices and excitement, and Maia climbed up to meet him, to show him what she could do now. 

The old man cried too; everyone was crying, at some point or other, last evening.  The more so still when Saw scrabbled in the pocket of his robe, and pulled out a handful of kyber chips strung on cord, and hung one of them around Maia’s neck.  “Yours once again, as it always should have been, my child,” he said thickly. “I am so proud of you.”

“Be proud of Jyn, she did it.  She broke through the chains.” Maia stood touching her restored crystal reverently. “Thank you for keeping this for me, Commander.  Thank you for not throwing it away.”

“All those other stones – whose were they?” Cassian asked her when she re-joined them.

“The other crystals he’s kept?  They belonged to the ones we’ve lost.  Like the three who died at Onderon, defending him.  Defending us all.  Nahdar, Barriss, Aayla.  And Sors, poor little sod, he used to wear one even though he was far too young to use it.  Then the big violet one was Windu’s.  The golden one was Steela’s.  All of them gone now.” Her face had turned sombre, all her joy fading at the names she listed.  Meaningless to him; but Jyn had closed her eyes as though they caused her pain.

“Steela’s dead, then?  I didn’t dare to ask him.”

Maia nodded. “Died the year after you went, along with poor Lux and a dozen others.  We’ve been hard-pressed, these past years.”

But for all that remembered sorrow, there had been so much rejoicing in the room.  Old Beeza had tapped a cask of beer and distributed mugs of it to anyone who asked, until the atmosphere was bordering on rowdy and even Jyn was laughing.  And he’d laughed with her, laughed for joy, while her smiling eyes rested on his.

She curls into his ribs now and mumbles under her breath.  Across the room, Bodhi grunts in his sleep and turns over with a thrashing of bedclothes.  Cassian lies still and lets himself rest in the warmth for a few minutes more, grateful that at least his wolf-head doesn’t get a human beer-headache.

There’s a faint smell of woodsmoke already.  Edrio gets up at dawn to bake for the day.  It’s a comfortable odour, that speaks of safety, of security and ample supplies and the leisure to prepare them.  He won’t ever forget the stench of burned thatch, burned fields and homes.  He shudders.  Hearing Bodhi talk last night about the towns of the delta had brought back Yarrow and Sania and their village vividly.  Will he ever know what became of them?  It’s just one handful of people, less than a hundred lives.  But for years they were Jyn’s only friends.

The Empire will be consolidating their hold on the delta-lands now; sending in governors and occupation troops, constructing their straight roads and stone bridges to replace ancient pathways they ploughed-out and ferries they torched.  Flattening towns and rebuilding in stark grids.

It preys on his mind, just as it must tear at Jyn’s.  Any place that resists them faces the same.  No reason the village would be spared.

Let her sleep now, while she can, in the remnants of joy.  She gained a double victory yesterday; regained Maia’s power and defied her own fears.

As they lay down, late and cold and full of beer and happiness, she’d whispered “I could try the same thing on you, maybe.  Soon.  That healing spell.  Something like it.  Maybe” and he’d said “If you’re sure” feeling breathless suddenly.  That she was even thinking such a thing thrilled his blood, and shook inside him.  She was no longer afraid. 

There were only the blankets between them where they lay facing one another.  She’d touched his hand. “I’m not sure, never sure – but – I can feel how it might shape – I can feel it.  The shape of how to do it.  I think.  If you’ll permit it.”

“Oh Jyn, yes.  Soon.”

Soon.  Maybe.  Maybe soon, he’ll feel the white star fire burning through him, and the curse will be wrenched from his bones at last, and crumble in the dawn light.

Jyn is shifting in the bed now, drawing back a little into herself, and sniffing as if the tickle of fur and smell of wolf-hair are filtering into her awareness.  He lifts his paw off her arm as gently as he can.  Watches, as she blinks, stirs, as her lips part in a formless murmur and close, and part again, as she breathes and opens her eyes. 

“Good morning.”

Cassian presses his nose to her hair in greeting.  He pulls both his forepaws under him quickly and gets up, and leaps down from the bed to stretch and yawn and pace with his claws clicking on the stone.  When he looks back at Jyn she’s sitting up, smiling at him sleepily.  Bodhi groans again ad she puts a finger to her lips.

The scent of smoke is stronger, now he’s on his feet.  It’s still the odour of cook-fires; but when he moves towards the doorway, expecting it to grow stronger still, it dissipates.  Cassian stops, casting to left and right, sniffing, because that isn’t right, and Jyn comes up beside him barefoot.  He looks up to see her nostrils flaring in the half-light.  Like him she’s smelled something; or, caught the echo of it from him, from her touch on his mind somehow.

It doesn’t smell quite right.  Edrio never burns their food.  Nor does he cook on green timber.  This is the smell of campfires and scorched bannock-bread.  Of cooking on campaign.

Jyn turns sharply back, and pulls open the shutters, then the window.  A blast of ice-cold air as she leans out.  The smell is suddenly powerful, gusting in from the valley below.  Cassian rears up beside her, forepaws on the stone sill, and looks out.

Side by side, they both stiffen, staring down.

There is grey smoke, rising in a hundred thin columns, blurring into a high pall in the thin mountain air away to the south-east.  A spur of the range hides the fires themselves from sight.  But the source of the smoke is at most two days’ march away. 

Maybe less.

Not a forest fire, not with those myriad origin points.  Not any natural thing.  He’s done enough soldiering in his time to recognise the campfires of an army.

**

They gather in the Under-hall, the whole cadre is there within a half hour.  Three dozen anxious angry faces, unwashed and unfed and waiting.  Finally Saw appears at the top of the staircase.  He’s leaning hard on his staff yet he lurches as he moves to the topmost step; one shoulder crashes against the rock wall on his left, as though he were moving unsupported.  The buzz of voices stills into silence, expectant and anxious, hungry for orders.  Their leader, whose words will guide them.  Looking more than ever like a dead man reanimated.

Jyn and Cassian have been waiting at the foot of the stairs, with Edrio and Melshi.  Bodhi hangs back.  Though he’s been coming to the mess for weeks now, it was all they could do to persuade him to go one step further and enter the training room with all the rest.  He fidgets, glancing around him uncertainly, looking down and away as Saw draws himself up to speak.

The old man is breathing hard.  His face is greyish with strain.  And the faint smell of corrupted flesh that always hangs around him is far stronger today.  Cassian sniffs, and winces.  Where once Saw’s left foot was masked by the semblance of a heavy boot, which Jyn’s sight told him was made of a dark shining magic, now there’s nothing hiding it.  No spells to blind the watchers’ eyes.  Instead, thick bandages, bound one over another, mould themselves tightly round a swollen, deformed shape, and the skin is discoloured where it shows above the cloth.  The leg of his breeches has been hacked off above the knee and his robe is hitched back so the dragging foot cannot catch in it.  There are stains of blood and pus on the fabric, and a smell of something like death hangs around him. 

Yet the mage seems more alive than Cassian has ever known him.  His eyes are alert and full of power as he drives himself forward another step, and he stares down at his assembled followers grimly, alone above them.  He raises one hand for silence, though there’s no need; the whole room has fallen into a hush, waiting intent on his word.

When Cassian looks quickly up at Jyn there are tears on her cheeks.  She’s seen at Saw’s injury; she holds her head up, resolutely. 

Saw draws in a deep breath and releases it, and takes another.  Surveying his audience, and the whole chamber, right back to Bodhi staying back in the shadows near the old prayer niche.  He lowers his hand at last. 

“So.” The familiar bone-weary voice has changed.  He sounds potent and dangerous, commander in deed as well as by name. “So.  The enemy has come, as we all knew they would.  A winter campaign, with all that will cost them.”

There’s a silence.  Feet fidget, sharp short breaths are held and let go anxiously.  Cassian can smell the fear and stress in the room.  But it seems no-one even thinks to say You told us we were safe till spring, just a few weeks ago when the first snows came you said we were safe.

Perhaps the custom of trusting their leader; perhaps the knowledge that now is not the time to press against him; fear, or their respect, precludes it.  Even in his sickness Saw has never seemed a man who would treat lightly with doubters.

“There is little chance they will pass us by,” Saw says gravely. “Do not waste your hopes on that.  No commander would bring troops here, deep into the Cadera Range at midwinter, without some strong purpose.  We must prepare for a siege.” His eyes sweep the room again, calculating and full of command. “Each one of you knows their part.  This fortress has never fallen to an enemy assault.”

How in the stars can he claim to know that?  But it makes a fine rallying call.  Cassian growls in frustration nonetheless.  Rallying calls are not enough, when the force approaching is so many times larger than your own.  A force that may be led by the Sith himself.

Saw raises his staff and slams it down to the floor, a crash of defiance. “Bar the gates, and sharpen all weapons!  We will not be dislodged from this place, for our cause is right and our hearts stand firm.  To your posts, and prepare for war!”

His words may be half-hollow, but they’ve served their purpose, to reassure his people and set them to work.  The odour of sweaty dread in the crowd is fading already. 

Cassian looks up at Jyn, and there’s no sign of comfort in her face.  Like him, she knows better than to seek a shield in mere exhortations.

She glances down and nods to him.  Low, under the bustle of soldiers moving around her, she says “I’ll speak to Bodhi.  We will need to make new plans.  And he cannot be caught here.  The Empire must never know about his message.”

Cassian nods acknowledgement.  She threads her way through the gathering as it fragments, back towards the far wall and the lonely figure in white.

He’s about to follow her when Melshi’s hand comes to rest on his shoulder. “Hey, Captain.”  His old sergeant tilts his head, flicks his eyes up towards Saw still waiting on the stairs.  Edrio has climbed up to stand beside his commander, to confer or take further orders from him; as they watch, Saw lays his hand for a moment on the wall-eyed man’s arm.  Edrio looks stunned, his expression turning bitter almost to howling.  But he draws himself up and nods, in obedience, or acceptance.  Saw turns from him at once and looks out again, searching the chamber.  Cassian sees his eyes alight and hold for a moment, two moments, on particular figures among the moving crowd.  Then he looks down, directly at Melshi.

“So, well.  Rue Melshi.  Come, come here, come on.  And you too, I suppose, Master Wolf – Captain.”

He beckons with a bony hand. 

Cassian spares Jyn a quick glance, but she’s still with the herald; they’re standing quite casually at the far side of the chamber, apparently talking about the ruined carvings by the prayer niche. 

He pads up the stairs softly to join Saw.

“Lieutenant Edrio here will command the troops when I’m gone.”  When he’s gone?  No wonder Edrio had looked sick for a moment. “But I need you two to do my bidding also.  To take one especial order to heart.  This cadre was once a gang of witches and a blade of mages such as has not been known since the time of tales.  Now all I have left is Jyn and Maia.  Sergeant Melshi, I look to you to protect them.  Your wife, and my Jyn.  My witch-daughters.  Captain Wolf-man, there’s a bond of mind between you and Jyn, I’ve noticed how brightly it burns so don’t deny it –“ as if I could, even if my mouth had words to speak – “I look to you, also, then.  Protect her.  My sister and I once dreamed of the restoration of magic in all these lands, and the justice it could bring, to stand against the Empire’s greed.  All that we hoped for is lost now, save for those two.  No matter what befalls us here, you must see Jyn and Maia safe from this place.  Do you understand me?  Save them and get them away from here, no matter what.  This order goes above all others.”

“What will you do, sir?” Melshi asks.

“Me?  I’ll do what I’ve always done.  What I should have done at the Onderon.  Fight to the last, till I burn or break or fall in dust.  Why do you think I’ve done this, taken off the spells that shielded me?” Saw gestures down at his foot.  There’s a new stain welling up through the bandages, and the stink of corruption is thicker. “The poison in me festers hard now.  It’ll kill me soon enough, without any help from the enemy.  But I need all my wits for the fight to come, and such power as remains to me must be untrammelled.  I will run no more.”

And is this it?  All the tactics we have, are that Saw will let his own blood poison him, so as to have his magic and his mind clear, and the rest of us must take up bows and broadhead arrows and shoot as many men as we can before we are starved out, or burned, or worse?

For sure, worse, if the enemy general is the one who burned Yavine.   Cassian shudders at the memory.  The Sith, Vader.  The sightless eyes of a mask, and dark-gloved hands shaping the air, bending a cruel cold magic into the fire that blasted Cassian’s soul.

But if it’s him, then why doesn’t he make a secret attack?  Why allow us to see his approach, when he was able to come on them at the Onderon from nowhere?  Why give us time to dig in? 

Maybe this means we can hope, and it’s another of their generals.  Ozzel, the blunderer; even Veers would be better than the Devastator. 

God, to be able to speak!  There’s so much I want to say; and ask; and demand.  So much I need to know! 

Damn this old man and his stubbornness.  Damn this curse that makes a useless beast of me still!

But Melshi doesn’t question his orders, and all Cassian can do is whine in frustration.  He follows his friend back down the steps, and Saw turns away, and shuffles into the dark.

Chapter Text

Jyn crosses the wide hall towards Bodhi , expecting to find him wracked with fear.  He’s pale, yet he seems composed despite the prospect of being trapped here under Imperial siege.  She wonders again at the kind of man who can become a herald, and at the effects his life and his missions have had on him.  He is a strange creature, never quite what she would have anticipated.  Brave and calm now, yet another day something as small as a strand of red wool in the mending basket would set him off into a state of numb dread for an hour or more.

She touches his sleeve. “How are you feeling?”

“Scared.  Scared, of course, how not?” Good; he has the common-sense to know things may go hard for him. “Scared and sorry.  If this place were still what it once was –“

How do you know anything of that? “What do you mean?”  He’s surely too young to have been here as a herald in the days when these passages were filled with magic, and bold souls armed with crystals and incantations stood shoulder to shoulder with troops carrying crossbows and swords of iron.

It must have been quite a sight, Red Crag in its prime.

And why should that thought make him sorry?

“When it was a shrine, I mean,” Bodhi says. “With Guardians to protect it.  We could have used a few of them now, hmm?” He reaches out thoughtfully to the wall beside the old prayer niche, the spots where some kind of carving has been hacked away, long years past. “I’ve counted the open chambers here, this place had many monks and Guardians once.  When the Moon still stood bright, here, when it was shining and full of crystal.”

“Full of crystal?” There are pock-marks in the carving, and suddenly she can see that perhaps there were once patterns of stones set into the rock wall here.  Was the image in the niche a moon, then? - was this a temple of his own southern faith once, long before the cadre came, when its walls all gleamed with kyber and captured moonlight? 

She leans closer, reaching out to touch the stone, trace the ruined form carved there.  An elegant curve, that might have been the line of an arching neck; it finishes in a smashed-out hollow, but from the other side of that a small, clear shape emerges, undamaged, like a pair of crescent moons, hooked downward.  Claws? Or a bird’s bill? “Was this an animal, do you think?”

“Oh yes.  A Guardian, I’m sure of it.  Look at the shape of the wings.” Bodhi strokes the wall further along. “It’s the same style as the Great Temple, must have been from the same era.  Beautiful carving work, look how shallow the relief is yet such a sense of form.”

The more Jyn studies the rock, the more the remnants of carving leap out at her from the hacked and battered stone around them.  The whole wall around the niche was once carved with the forms of great beasts with wings.  So are these the creatures that lived in the beast-holes? – was that crazy old name in fact a literal truth? “You call them Guardians.  Are there Guardians at the Great Temple still, in Jedha?”

Bodhi shivers. “We – we do not speak of that.  Oh, God, my God.  Let this be a warning to you, they said.  Ah, God, there was so much blood that day.  Now only the last Guardian remains, blinded, frail, alone, ah God, my God, how can you let such things happen?”

“The Empire killed them?”

He nods, swallows hard, closes his eyes for a moment. “The Guardians and the brother monks refused to surrender the temple.  The Emperor wanted the crystal from it, the true great treasure of Jedha.  So the commander of the garrison had the father abbot blinded and nailed to the doors with his Guardian at his side.  When the rest did not back down, he – he did the same to them, one by one.  One Guardian alone had no brother monk to stand with him that day; they blinded him still, and caged him, as a warning to us.  A warning to us.” His voice has shrunk to a ghost and he looks as though he may be sick.

As well he might. 

Around them the wide hall is almost empty of bustling figures now, everyone who has a task has gone to it, the cadre efficient as ever once the first moments of panic had passed.  Melshi and Cassian are still talking with Saw on the steps by the entryway, and Maia loiters, waiting for her husband.  And she, Jyn, is chatting to the herald about ruined religious art and the tragedy of Jedha, as though there were nothing more important going on today. 

“We’ll turn this fight round, hit back against them somehow,” she promises him helplessly, and he blinks at her and says “Maybe, maybe, if the moon wills it” in a strange, numb voice.

She touches his right hand, that lies shaking now on the broken stone carving. 

“Somehow, Bodhi.  I swear it.”

After a moment he nods solemnly, and then turns and hurries away.

Jyn looks round for Cassian.  Still waiting while Saw explains, or speechifies, or whatever he’s up to now.  Melshi and Edrio with him, both listening, looking shocked and ill.  Cassian’s ears are back.  Not good news then, whatever the old man’s saying. 

Jyn moves towards Maia with a nod.

“Hey.  How are you feeling today?”

“Ha.  I still ache all over, if that’s what you mean.  That was a fuck-ton of a spell you slung out at me last night,” Maia grins, a hard mirth to counteract her words. “Good thing I don’t have my bloods right now, all that shit plus cramps on top would’ve been a bit tough, eh?” She’s almost laughing at herself. “No matter.  Tired or no I can still make a spark, though, and suchlike other stuff.  But I’d wanted to get some good solid practice done, damn it.  Before the fucking war came to us again.  I haven’t worked a word of fucking magic in anger or play for these two years past, and now I’m going to need to just remember it all.  Fucking shit.”

“We could go and practice now if you like?  The enemy won’t be here for hours yet.  Want to practice some hexes, throw fire, that sort of thing?”

“You want me to hex you, eh?  See if you’re quick enough to slap it back?”

“No, idiot, hex a rock or something.” It’s odd, but it’s good, to be spell-mates again, to think of standing side by side throwing magical attacks out at the oncoming assault.

It makes it easier to hide from the possibility that none of them will live past the waning of this moon.  The Empire does not deal kindly with fortresses taken after siege.  Yavine was only one of dozens left in ruins, every surviving defender enslaved or worse.  Somehow, if the gates are breached, they will need to get out of here…

“Listen, Mai, there’s one spell I really want to teach you.  I don’t know if there’s time to practice it, I don’t even know if it’s something that can be taught.  It isn’t like an incantation or anything, there’s no ritual to it at all.  But if you can do it…”

“What’s that, then?”

“You remember the reaching into the stars?”

“Remember it, yes, as a theory at least.  Force knows if I still remember how.”

“If you can reach into the stars, you can move things.  People, even.  I’ve done it.  You reach out into the star veil, draw down the Force and then – it sounds childish but you have to see somewhere else in your mind and you can move them to it, with the starfire power.”

Maia stares and says “Fuck” slowly.  Just as Melshi and Cassian appear.  Melshi’s expression is grim.  Cassian’s eyes are narrowed and his nostrils flare as he holds back a tiny snarl.  Tension and frustration roll off him in the Force, she doesn’t even need to reach out to feel it. 

When Jyn looks back past them to the stairs, Saw has already vanished.

God’s blood, what in hell is the old man planning?  They both look as heartsick as though he’s ordered them to swallow poison. 

“Well,” Maia says, reaching out for her husband’s hand “If you’re going to show me how to do strong damn-fuck spells like that, we’d best get started then, eh?”

Chapter Text

By sunset, the campfires of the approaching army are plain to see, lining the lower end of the valley.  They’ll be at the foot of the Crag before noon of the next day. 

There’s something horrifying about how openly they come.  These are troops from an army that has Sith magic leading it.  They could have marched in under cover of masking spells, bring their attack from nowhere; but they don’t.  Their commander must know the value of demoralising your opponent. 

Must know what it feels like, watching this great expanse of little flickering fires, seeing how far it stretches, how many thousand dark tents lie out there, and thinking of the forty or so defenders holed up here, awaiting the siege and fearing that something worse will come even than that, worse than the long slow death of thirst and starvation. 

They’ve all heard stories of the cities and fortresses the Empire has sacked.  A knowledge makes the heart weaken, the mind race in a maze of fear.

The summoning bell for the evening meal is slow and sombre, as though Edrio hasn’t the heart to ring it fast.  But when they gather in the mess the food is plentiful.  There’s enough fresh bread for several days piled in the wooden rack by the servery.

No-one takes extra.  It may be days before there’s another chance to fire up the bake-ovens, and they all know this has to last until then.

There’s no sign of Saw, as usual, and the passage of the moon has shifted round enough against the cycle of daylight that it won’t rise until well after dark tonight.  Jyn sees Cassian settled with a venison marrowbone and a plate of liver and lights.  There’s something hugely reassuring in the grim crack his teeth make, shattering bone, hungry and business-like.  He hasn’t left her side all day, watching and grinning toothily as she and Maia worked on their training.

She catches his eyes when he looks up and tells him “I’ll head upstairs, make sure the old man eats.”

There’s a steady energy around Cassian, the poised edge of calm, waiting for tomorrow.  It’s a relief to touch him and feel that, after the taut rage that hung on him this morning.  Elsewhere, there are ripples and flurries in the Force, and a new bright nexus wells out around Maia like a mountain spring.  Some fear she senses, and much tension, but there’s not a breath of anything like hysteria in the room.  They ought by rights to be in despair, these people, they have to know this is likely one of their last nights on earth.  Yet their determination is almost glad, after this day of planning and waiting.  For better or worse, now, the end is almost here.

She takes her own food bowl and a second one, and leaves friends and comrades eating.  Soup and bread.  Since his speech before breakfast Saw has kept himself away in his rooms, and Jyn has been entirely busy since then with Maia and their chaotic mess of lessons. 

Her day was a frenzy of trying and trying again, re-reading spell-books, hitting one another with fire and light and blocking the other’s blows from dawn to dusk.  She aches all over with tiredness.  It would be comforting to stay in the mess and eat with Cassian.  But she wants to know what Saw is planning.  Since of a certainty, he must be planning something.  He’d undone the spell on his wound, to get back the full strength of whatever power is left to him.  He must have some larger aim for that.  He was never one to leave matters of war unattended.

She pads upstairs and down the long passage, carrying two full bowls of soup carefully, and a broken loaf tucked under one arm.

The air in Saw’s chamber is sickly with a smell of rot, stale as death and as rancid.  Jyn stands at the doorway for a moment, composing herself and suppressing the urge to cover her nose.  Not possible with a bowl in each hand anyway.   Pull yourself together.  He knows he stinks, don’t rub his nose in it.  She knocks her boot against the door jamb to signal her presence and then marches in, head up.  “Hello?  I brought you food.”

It takes a moment to spot him, hunched up in his chair in the near dark.  The shutters are drawn and he hasn’t lit a single lantern, not even a candle.  But she can hear his breathing, it’s grown so hoarse, and when he shifts she sees the movement. 

“Soup,” Jyn says. “I brought you soup.  You need to eat.”

She sets down one of the bowls on the floor and calls up a spark of light with her free hand.

“You need to eat,” she repeats. “Soup and bread, look…” The light gleams in his watching eyes until he blinks but he makes no other response and she adds briskly “I’m not going to spoon-feed you so don’t get that idea.” 

Silence.  Exasperating man. “Please,” Jyn repeats. “You need to eat.”

The smell from his festering leg is even worse now she’s close to it.  It’s a wonder he’s still alive, with so much poison inside him; no wonder holding the infection back had left him barely rational.

Damn it, if she’d taken the risk to begin with she might have been able to fix this before they ran out of time.  But now, with the enemy approaching, and Maia desperate to train and practice, would he even contemplate letting her work on him? 

And would it be too late anyway?  Twelve hours or more now since he let go the spells that were keeping him safe.

She sends the little glow-ball up into the middle of the room with a whisk of her fingers.  Straightens, and sets a bowl of soup and a spoon, and a hunk of bread, in Saw’s lap. 

Takes her own place on his unused footstool, and picks up her own spoon. 

He isn’t eating.  Fine, go hungry then.  

She digs in.  The soup’s good, a thick mess of pork and beans in salty, savoury broth.  There are big juicy chunks of onion and turnip, and nubs of garlic melting on her tongue.  She smacks her lips and licks gravy noisily, and when she next looks up, he’s holding the spoon she gave him.  He looks at it, at the bowl, down at her; sighs at her and takes a mouthful.

Oh, you bloody-minded old man.  No wondering where I got it from, I guess…

“You see?  It’s good, isn’t it?”

Saw nods, chewing and swallowing.  He lifts another spoonful and says over it, the steam rising across his gaze “You realise the enemy will be on us soon?”

“Yeah.”

“And are you ready for them?”

Jyn shrugs.  At least he’s talking, and eating. Eating quickly, now he’s started. “I’ll do,” she says.

“And Maia?”

“Ready as she can be, in a single day.” 

“And what have you readied yourselves for?” he asks. “To fight, or to flee?”

“Hell, Saw, to fight!  I still don’t believe this kind of power was ever really meant to be used as a weapon.  But what choice do we have?  So yes, we’ve practised what we can, and we’ll do our best.  Have a little faith, eh?”

“Do you wonder at all, that they come now?” He’s frowning at his spoon again. “How did they know to send their forces to this old ruin, against this handful of fighters, now of all times?”

“If you’re back to implying that poor bloody Bodhi is a spy, for God’s sakes, give it up!  He’s risked everything he has to come here.”

“I’m not speaking of the herald.” Saw takes a last mouthful.  Pulls off a chunk of bread to wipe the inside of his bowl. “If he had been the traitor, they would have come a month ago.  Why now?  What has changed?”

An uncomfortable thought.  What’s changed?  Very little. “You let go of your – whatever spell it was, to hold back the blood poisoning,” Jyn says slowly. “And I healed Mai.  But - I had to try, you know that.”

“I’m not questioning that.  You did the right thing.  I wish there had been more time, for you to study more, for you to learn and research and rise into the fullness of your powers.  But there is none.  We must make do with the few hours we have.  Think, Jyn; could anyone have sensed you, as you worked?”

“I shielded everything with a circle.  But –“ painful though the idea is, she cannot ignore it now he’s put it in her mind – “there was a moment – right at the peak of the energy – it felt as though something was trying to break off my bond with the veil of stars, stop me from drawing down the fire.  Just for a moment.  Was that? – could it have been? –“

“I’ve long feared that this was what brought them to us at the Onderon.  A traitor was the most likely; but my magic work had been jarred, in just the way you describe, for many days, before that.  And if there’s no traitor here, then…”

“Shit,” Jyn says.  Why he couldn’t have trusted her with that knowledge earlier? “So you think they’ve got someone with them who can sense us?  Sense when someone works with a focussing-stone?”

“It’s possible.  Think of your mother’s gift, to sense those who could touch the Force; maybe there are others like her, and similar gifts.” 

“Or maybe the Sith train to smell us out.” A bad choice of words, as he shifts his stinking leg and winces at the movement. 

He breathes hard.  His face is kinder and sadder than she’s seen it since she came back. “My child, I am sorry.  I’m leaving you with a hard mission, and a dangerous road.”

My child…  It still hurts.  There were so many years she would have cried with joy to have him call her that.  Jyn’s voice comes out seven kinds of rough when she manages to speak again. “You were never a one to give anyone the easy way.  You and Aunt Steela neither.”

“I’m sorry.” There’s an old pain in his eyes. “You were my best student.  I was just trying to teach you what you needed to know.”

“I know.” There isn’t much she can give him but she can say this much. “I know you did your best.”

“I never expected to find myself raising a child.  Trying to be a father to you.  I didn’t know how to - the others – Maia, Sors, Tano - they were never mine the way you were.  I’m sorry I didn’t do more kindly by you.  Listen to you.”

Her heart is aching.  There can be only one reason he’s speaking like this now. “You did your best,” she repeats. “I lost my mama and my papa and you knew my potential and you didn’t ask to be landed with a little scrap of a thing like me all crying and ignorant.  You did your best.” She rattles her spoon down in the bowl and faces him with her shoulders squared. “Come now, let’s not dig our graves with regret, before the enemy comes to dig them for us.”

“You sound,” Saw’s smile is fragile and dark and proud “like Steela.”

“Saw.” God knows that makes her proud too; but “listen to me.  The spell I did for Maia, the healing, it might work for you, I don’t know if it will but – do you want me to try?”

“No,” he says, a heart-breaking certainty against her uncertain hope. “It’s too late now for that.  You will need all your strength for those who can be saved.  Jyn, I want you to promise me you won’t allow yourself to be captured.”

“I’ll go down burning them sooner,” she promises.

“Better not to go down at all.  Live, and take the way out that is offered you, and fight another day.”

This is Saw, who never turned from a fight in all the time she knew him.  Who used to spit when anyone mentioned regrouping and say Only the defeated retreat in tones of ice.  Who’d called her a coward when she left him, five years ago.

Should she say “This is new” and mock him for getting soft? – should she push, dominate, require him to explain this change of heart?

She looks into the weary eyes watching her.  Remembers again how he was almost a new father to her, for a time, when she longed to hear those words he now says so easily; My child, my child...  When she was the one who’d been there longest, the one who could welcome new kids to the ragged madhouse of magic that was Saw’s gang of witches. 

All those years spent in the desperate need to prove and prove again that she was worthy of him, and the desperate hidden resentment of all he required of her.

His eyes are very bright now, and very, very tired.  And he wants her to live.  It’s probably as near as he’ll ever get to an admission of love.

She’s spent half the afternoon teaching Maia to translocate, in the hopes of saving her.  Maybe one or two more.  They’ll fight, of course, that’s a given; but if the Crag falls, there is a way out, and she knows it.  For some of them at least.  Perhaps for him too, if he’s got the strength.

It’s all too much to wrestle with.  It hurts.  And if she pushes, she’ll hurt him too.

Not worth the effort, just to cause them both pain.

“Maia’s been picking things up again really fast,” she tells him, brisk and business-like again. “I’d forgotten how bright she is.  We’ve marked a few walls, broken a brick or two, throwing fire about.  Made a bit of a mess.  Sorry about that.” Saw is nodding, with the faint smile of a teacher hearing acceptable reports, and Jyn goes on, listing what they’ve been up to, ignoring the ache inside. “Fire throwing, yeah, and rock throwing and air blasts; the turn-swords spell and the turn-arrows one; smoke, we did that too, smoke and mist spells.  She remembered the trip-you-up spell without even needing a reminder.” Please let him smile more, let him find satisfaction in this. “Gave me a scabbed knee, look.  And we’re - working on the big stuff, star-fire stuff.  She’s going to be okay.  Promise.”

“Good.  Good.” He leans forward, sudden urgency animating his voice. ”Jyn, promise me one more thing –“

Always the same, then; requiring more and yet more of her.  She holds back a sigh as she leans towards him.  This is his nature, I cannot ask him to change now… 

It’s still a kind of peace between them, and more of a bond than she’d dared to hope for when she set out into the mountains to find him.

He’s digging in the front of his robe, and he pulls out the same handful of kyber stones that had moved her so much yesterday. “Parents and children,” he mutters. “I did my best, yes,  God forgive me.  How poor my best was, eh?” The golden-yellow stone gleams, swinging free, and the others are shining too in his knotted old fist. “You must understand, Jyn, what we planned and dreamed of, Steela and I, your parents – you were the first who could have been –“

“I know,” Jyn says with resignation. “You told me often.  I was bred for it.”

Saw’s eyes are suddenly wild, tears and anger blooming together. “No!  I never said that!  You were a child of love.  But you could have been so much.  You could have been the first of a new kind and – I wanted so much to see your potential realised - realised to the full!” He thrusts the crystals at her, all of them tangled together by their cords. “I was wrong!  I confess it, I admit it.  But was it wrong to hope?  All of our hopes and just the one of you, just one child –“

“I don’t want these.” Jyn pushes his hand back.  Talking over him because her mind is screaming at the lie of I never said that when he did, he did, and I was wrong coming from him on top of that is almost overwhelming. “Why are you giving me these, Saw, stop –“

“Parents and children!  We do what we can and I was never meant to be a father.  You’ll understand when it’s your turn.”

“What? – no, no, stop –“ when it’s her turn?  Had she really thought him no longer mad just a few minutes ago?  He’s surely raving now, because what could be more insane than implying she’ll be a mother?  If I had a child I’d carry them away to the ends of the earth, I’d give them to Cassian and tell him Run, run! and I would hack myself in two to defend their path, I’d break myself in a thousand fragments, sooner than let them live the life I’ve had - “I don’t have children, students, I don’t need these –“

There’s a bell ringing somewhere behind their crossing and tangling voices, and in her mind another muted voice pulls and tugs like a frightened hand trying to signal.  There’s a noise like a wind rising.  Shouting, under it.  The hairs on the back of her neck rise.  Her finger-tips tingle.

Cassian, Cassian, where are you?  What’s happening?

Saw dumps the crystals in her lap and she fumbles to gather them up, saying “No,” again desperately. “What are you doing, I don’t have anyone to give these to –“

“You will.” The stones are warm from the heat of his hand. “There will be others.  You will need them one day.  You’ll save the hope we dreamed of, you’ll be the one!” He pushes back, folds her fingers around the tangle of crystals and cords. “Swear it to me!”

“Saw, I can’t!”

The bell is louder, so that he’s forcing his voice over it, and inside her now there’s a sound like a rising scream, pitched and breathless with fear, shock, haste.  Then Cassian’s mind-voice, cutting through the frantic din to say her name, calm and tense, calm controlling tension, Jyn, Jyn, Jyn! and there are footsteps outside, pounding up the passageway. 

The bell clatters on, urgent and ugly.  Shouting downstairs.  Smoke.

“Please, no,” she says, to Saw and to everything else, with no hope of any of it stopping.

Cassian appears in the doorway, dragging a sword belt round his hips as he halts.  He’s dishevelled, half-dressed in his shirt and breeches, another belt carried slung over one shoulder and boots shoved onto unstockinged feet.  “Jyn.  Commander.” His voice is breathless but unhesitating. “They’re here.”

Chapter Text

They stare at him as though he’s holding out the sword over their heads and crying Murder upon you!

“But - the camp in the valley –“ Gerrera stumbles on the words. “My God, what? –“

“It was a feint,” Cassian tells him. “They moved up as soon as it was dark.  Had some kind of magic to cover them.  They’re almost on us.”

He holds out the second sword belt to Jyn, with the two blades she brought with her to Red Crag.  She’s pale, and for a moment even her mind’s touch feels shocked, felled as though by an avalanche.  Then she scrambles to her feet and reaches to steady the old man as he hauls himself up from his seat.

He’s panting for breath but he takes hold of his staff and grips it, driving down hard on it to keep upright.  The iron ferrule scrapes on the floor.  He waves her off. “Go with him, child.”

She doesn’t move. “Come with us,” she says softly.

“No.” There’s a fire in the old eyes, the certainty of command undimmed by age and illness. “You know what you must do.  My swift sure girl.  My blessing on you, Jyn, Captain.  Go now!”

“But I can save you!”

Saw shakes his head. “Save the rebellion.  Save the dream!” And he repeats the words he’d spoken to Cassian and Meshi that morning. “I will run no more.” Soft and kind, and utterly resolute. “Go!”

She reaches out blindly to Cassian, and he takes her hand.

There’s a growing din rising from below and the sound of marching feet is coming nearer.  Nothing for it but to run.  He takes a last glance back and sees the old man is standing in the centre of the wide empty room.  Jyn’s little ball of light shines down and Saw straightens and reaches for it, and sets it at the tip of his walking staff.  He holds his head high as he watches them go.

God have mercy on him.  Have mercy on us all.

There’s broken glass on the stairway down, windows shattered, round sling-stones the size of children’s fists scattered across the steps.  Torchlight flickers from without and as they dash past another stone whistles in, missing him by a finger-breadth.

In the shadows on the next landing he allows himself to look round at Jyn again.  She’s still ghost-white and there are tears on her cheeks, but she meets his eye calmly.  The crystal necklace has been pulled out from the front of her clothing and he sees with surprise that there are half a dozen other stones hanging beside it now.  She’s putting the last one on its cord over her neck and she shrugs at him. “Don’t ask.  Saw just shoved them at me.  Couldn’t stop him.  He’s planning something, isn’t he?”

Good; at least she knows.  She’s too wise not to have spotted the signs, but he nods anyway.

They hurry down the long first-floor corridor, past the stairs to their own chamber.  He wonders briefly where Bodhi Rook went, but there’s no time to look and they run on towards the entrance hall. 

They’re almost there when Jyn staggers suddenly and fetches up against the wall with a gasp.  “Cassian!” Sharp pain in her voice. “There’s something out there!”

“Yes.  An army.” He starts down; but she isn’t following.  She’s holding onto the stonework with both hands as if bracing against a high wind. “Jyn?”

“Something – someone - out there.  Something – prying at me – fuck!  Get off me!”

Nothing is touching her, but she ducks and throws up both arms as though for a moment it’s all she can do to shield her head from a rain of blows.

Blank utter fear washes over him at the sight. “Jyn!” Please god, no, not Jyn too -

But next moment she straightens and grabs for his hand.  She’s panting, but herself again, and she says breathlessly “We need to hurry.  They have someone with them who’s very, very strong.”

He doesn’t need to ask Strong in what?  The burning of Yavine is rising in his mind, a pall of smoke and screams, and a robed figure in a black mask, a memory as dark as any since the day his childhood ended. 

He catches hold of her hand once more and they run down the last few yards of passage into the broad hall, and the mass of bodies there.

Edrio has had benches hauled from the mess and stacked under the high clerestory windows, so that archers can shoot on the attackers and others can pass buckets of arrows and crossbow bolts up to them quickly.  The great main door is barred and nailed shut, braced with upended tables.  It quakes nonetheless under the impact of blows.  Something over half the cadre is in the centre of the chamber, men and women huddled shoulder to shoulder before the door, with swords up and expressions dazed or raging, or naked with fear.

Maia is up on one of the bench platforms.  As his eyes find her, she’s swinging back an arm as if to throw; a mess of rough fire bursts from her opening hand and sluices out of the broken window into the darkness.  A scream rips up from below and is cut off sharply.  Maia snarls and looses another bolt of flame after the first.  Archers around her shooting, and a tall fellow he’s hunted with many times is hurling stones.  Yells from outside, a smell of fire, the thump of something battering on the walls.

Melshi appears beside them. “The Commander?”

Cassian shakes his head. “Lieutenant Edrio?”

“In back, in the Under-hall.  Twelve men with him.  Up to us to hold the main door.”

There are more than twenty fighters here, maybe twenty-five all told.  He counts the heads hurriedly; spots Bodhi, bright in his herald’s white but helping carry arrows just the same.  That makes it twenty-six including him and Jyn, plus one non-combatant risking his neck to help them anyway.  And a thousand or more at the gates.

Led by a general with magic.  Which can only mean one thing.  Not Veers or Ozzel, but the man with the voice of ice, the one who haunted his nightmares for so long…

To stand and fight is suicide, but they have no choice.  A quick death at a sword’s end, or be captured, when God alone knows what nightmare Vader may bring down on those he takes prisoner.  And if Vader takes Jyn -  

He has to get her out.  Should have done it weeks ago.  God forgive him.  All the time he’s wasted here, when he could have been doing something, anything else.  Could have been running, urging Jyn to run with him, to find a place to hide, somehow he knows she would have run with him and they could have found a hiding place for a time at least but now it’s too late –

They’ll never find that scrap of peace, and they’ll never get to Ea’dhu either, never turn back the Little Stars of Death, or rescue Jyn’s poor mother from her servitude.  He’ll never fulfil any more of his oaths, the spoken and the unspoken alike all will go unmet now.  He’s failed; honour lost, duty undone, love unspoken, he’s never fought enough to save a single one of the things he values most.

Rage and terror and a surge of bile rise in his belly. 

The fight stops here.  If this is death then let it be a good one.

There’s a shuddering crash from the doors as the oak timbers begin to crack under the relentless pounding of – what?  A battering ram, a war-spell, a battalion of mailed fists?  The waiting soldiers shuffle and stand firm again.  Blades upraised, and short stabbing spears, and a few pikes.  No-one has a shield.

Off to the left there’s a piercing cry and an archer falls, spitted through the gut by an arrow.   Someone nearby moans in fear and swallows the sound.  Feet shuffling, metal scraping.  The pounding of marching feet and hammering blows, rattle of sling-stones.  A groan from the dying man, faint amid the turmoil.

Jyn touches his back for a moment, and he feels her hand’s warmth as intensely as if it were a lover’s caress; there’s a strange sensory memory that calls back times she has touched him in his wolf-form and he wonders if the contact is reassurance or comfort to her also.  But he isn’t a wolf now, and there’s no time for wondering about anything between them anymore.

Another massive crunch of timber from the gate.  Missiles start to rain through as a gap opens up, the oak splintering apart, the light of a hundred torches glaring on the other side.

At least with a night attack, he can lend one more sword arm to the fight.  It will be good to die with a blade in his grip.  He’ll go down, but it will be in flames, and taking blood for blood. 

“Rue,” he says, hearing his own voice and surprised by how hoarse he is. “Get Maia down from there.  Jyn, use your star-fire, you two should get yourselves out of here.  The rest of us will hold them off.”

“No fucking way,” Jyn says before Melshi can get a word out.

“Go!  You know it’s the right thing to do.”

“Not without you!” she snaps. “You think I’m going to whisk off and leave you?  Leave everyone to fucking die?”

“Get out?  How the hell should she -?” Melshi is snarling, glaring in the anger of confusion.  “There’s no back door here.  Even if there were, we’re surrounded.  You got enough magic to lift the whole fucking crew out of here?”

Jyn’s smile is sudden and savage, and joyful, and he knows suddenly that no matter what, he’ll love this woman till his last breath.  She never, ever gives up.

“Well, so.  It so happens, that’s exactly what I plan to do,” she says. “Now get Mai down before she gets disembowelled, for God’s sakes.”

She looks round, muttering under her breath, singsong words of her spell-speech.  He knows what that means, and as he watches she lifts both hands smartly.  A fallen bench floats up and jams itself into the gap in the battered door.  Jyn shoves at air and the bench crushes itself firmly into place. “Well, so.” Another wild half-smile at Cassian. “We need to hold them off, yes, but no sacrifice plays, d’you hear me?  Please, no.  I’ve lost enough people.”

She raises her voice and yells. “Mai!  Get your arse down here!  Get everyone down!  Block the windows and pull back!”

Soldiers milling, voices of fear and confusion, shouting, cursing.

“Go get Edrio and his men,” Jyn hisses to Melshi. “We’re getting out of here.”

“None of us is getting out of here, lady,” snarls one of the fighters.  A grim-faced man no taller than Jyn, filed teeth in a wide-lipped mouth. “Where’s the fucking Commander?”

“I’m in command now!” Jyn snaps back.  She whirls away next moment and begins throwing benches up against the windows with soft words and quick hands.  Two windows are already clear of archers; she blocks them entirely, wood mashed into stone and bonded with magic for a mortar.  She’s barricading them in.

Pale light streams from her hands to the task, and back to the crystals hanging clustered on her breast.  It’s brightening by the moment.

Maia appears beside them, scrambling down, her vantage point blocked.  Her own crystal has a glow of light in it and “Got a plan?” she shouts at Jyn.

“Yeah.”

“Saw?”

Jyn shakes her head.  For a moment she stutters for words before saying simply “He wants us to live.”

They stare at one another. “Fuck,” Maia breathes. “D’you think he’ll –?“

“Yes.”

Behind them a lance tipped with fired pitch wings through the last small gap in the doors and smashes onto the wall, spattering flames.  Cassian darts forward with two more men to stamp it out. 

Melshi reappears from the other chamber, panting. “He won’t come.”

“Damn it!” Jyn is throwing her own fire now, sharp blades of it striking out through tiny cracks in the windows, the doors.  She looks ready to spit flame. “Then we’ll go to him, the fucker.  Fall back!  Fall back to the Under-hall!” She raises both hands and with a word and a sweeping movement hurls a rain of sparks out the way the lance came in. “Everyone fall back, come on!”

Milling and shouting greet her words.

“You fuckers!” yells Maia. “You heard her, fall back!”

She spins and throws fire beside Jyn as more arrows and lances whizz through.  The gate timbers are shaking and creaking now as the enemy beats against them.

Cassian and Melshi exchange a second’s desperate glance, and start to herd the baffled defenders back towards the shallow stairs that descend to the lower level.  He’s never seen Jyn like this.  He has no idea what she’s planning, because surely she cannot move more than thirty people; and under an assault like this Red Crag cannot stand unbreached for long.

Never fallen to siege?  Well, you were wrong about that, old man.

Yet there’s no fear in her; he senses nothing from her but a terrible brightness, cool and calm even as she bellows orders and flips the enemy spears about in the air, to send them winging back.  He has the distinct sense that she’d smell of pure excitement to his wolf-senses.

She’s battle-high.  Jyn, of all people, Jyn who wanted only to hide and live in peace, is battle-high, a berserker. 

And God! - he loves her, loves her as he’s never loved a living soul before.

The battle-fever carries her voice, puts a fire in her eyes that is born of far more than just the reflections of flame at the door.  She’s flushed and glowing, hands dancing in the air and a rainbow of hazy light around her.

With a clattering of boots the last of the fighters descend.  He gets a final glimpse of the abandoned entryway as they fall back.  The crushed benches are catching fire, hammered flat by magic against burning shutters, and the great oak doors are burning too and being ripped apart by mailed hands.  Discarded in the middle of the floor a chest of arrowheads has tipped over, spilled and useless. 

Then a second inner door closes as the troops beside him heave it to.  They bar it and blockade it with tables and barrels.  That’s the stairway closed, and they’re blocked in, Edrio’s men and Melshi’s together. 

So the last stand will be here, in the old prayer hall with its broken carvings. 

He’s trained with these men, has laughed and hunted with them, broken bread with them.  He’s found a fellowship at least, at this last ending of days.

He grips the sword tight.  No more need for the coat he never had time to put on, nor the socks.  A shield would have been useful.  But God disposes as He wills.

Another quick head-count; there are thirty-four of them left.

Edrio and Melshi have their heads together, he can hear them hissing at one another in fury, and Jyn and Maia too are conferring.  He spots the herald nearby, grey-faced but steady, holding up an injured fighter.  There are several dead men too, silent bodies sprawled amid blood and rubble, and the spent and scattered arrows of their defence.

Like the upper hall, the windows here are shuttered and barred.  Like the upper hall, they are being battered and broken from without.  The assault is an ocean, storming, relentless.  Waves of blows, and the crash of stones striking wood, smashing onto granite.  Heavier stones now than the slingshots of before, and he thinks, At least one ballista at work out there.

With siege engines we’re finished.  God have mercy.

The glow around Jyn is brighter, it seems to lend fire and light and brightness upon Maia too, the two of them, witch-sisters, all agleam in the chaos. 

The arguing voices rise in anger and “Trust the girl, fuck you!” Melshi says sharply.  Edrio is almost spitting, desperation coming out as rage with no other outlet.

There’s a low roar from outside, of troops chanting a battle song; it’s all nightmarishly familiar, because this is the last hour of Yavine all over again.  A smell of smoke and sweat, his hands tight as a locked prayer on the sword hilt, Melshi’s sobbing breath at his side once again; and here on his other side is Jyn, like the Princess, a charge who must be protected at all costs.  Lay my life down, but save hers, and keep her from falling into their hands.  But how?  How? 

Only she can do it.  If it can be done at all.

I believe in her.  I know what she’s capable of.  It will have to be enough.

Jyn looks up at him and there’s a moment he cannot explain; a silence in the tumult, and a calm between them.  I believe in you, I believe you.  She knows.  He knows that she knows. 

Then she turns back, whispering, and Maia listens and is grinning and then giggling, breathless, hysterical, saying “That’ll show ‘em.  Fuck their greasy arses!”

“Buy us some time,” Jyn agrees.

He watches with his fists clenched round the haft of his sword, ready to hold the line in their last defence, while they stand straight and shoulder to shoulder, and murmur in unison, drawing out lines of light on the air.  The light lifts away like a giant gleaming spider-web and flies to the walls; passes through as though the stone were mere cloud.

Sudden silence outside, and Jyn’s berserker grin is savage.

“Rip ‘em up, sister!” Maia laughs.

“Freeze ‘em up, you mean.  Well, so.  That’s bought us a few minutes.”

He has no idea what they’ve done, but his blood runs like glacier water under his skin and the abrupt quiet leaves his thoughts strange and sick to himself.  But out there, something – someone – Something bitter and dark is coming.  Biting the cold night air.  An evil like wild murder, a darkness like night’s own cloak.  The few torches in the Under-hall burn hectic and weak.

“A few moments, maybe,” Jyn corrects herself.  She looks heartsick and green and he knows she senses it too. “Dear God.  Well.  We must get this done.  Mai, to me.” She reaches out to Maia and they clasp hands. “Brace yourselves, everyone!” Jyn shouts. “We’re going to move!”

“Have you done this often, love?” Melshi asks his wife.  He sounds almost conversational.

Maia shakes her head. “Nope.  Did it with a chair this afternoon.  Never with a person.”

“Shit a brick,” her husband says. “Well, fine.  We’re fucked anyway.  Let rip.”

“Nothing to lose,” Jyn tells him. “No time to waste.” She raises her voice hard and high, pitched to carry. “The Commander wants us to live, so we fucking live, got that?  Everyone, take hold of one another.  Hold on!  Now visualise!  See – see the Onderon camp.  Most of you’ve been there.  Remember it.  See it in your mind.  The way it looked in winter, bare trees, rain, mud.  Visualise!”

The bewildered fighters huddle closer, grabbing one another by arm and shoulder with their free hands.  Bodhi is still keeping one of the wounded upright but he grabs onto Melshi’s coat with his other hand, and Melshi is holding tight to Maia, and Jyn has her friend’s arm gripped tight.  Someone is praying in an undertone as they all cling together.

The bright light around Jyn and Maia is growing, full of flickering living colour even as the torches gutter and the noise outside rises again, and he feels the darkness drawing nearer.

“Visualise it,” Jyn says again, her voice very steady, and Maia echoes her “Fucking visualise!”

His left hand is clutched tight in Jyn’s  as he stands half-turned from her, with his sword up, his face to the entrance.  There’s a vast, muffled crash from the upper chamber, and an icy wind blasts in round the blocked doors.  Someone mutters “Shit” and Jyn says again “Visualise!”

The rainbow light goes to white, goes to a blaze like a falling star, every rafter and column lit sharp, black shadows snapping and a bright reflected glare everywhere.  Jyn yells “Come on!”

The doors blast open and there’s nothing beyond but flame.  Red and gold and tawny, as though a fire-mountain were spilling itself into the chamber.  In the midst of the blaze a figure in long robes strides forward.   The general who took Yavine, the man who cursed him.  Here.  Every worse terror of his life, here, now, right now.  The wind hisses in the words of a curse, from a mouth unseen beneath that carapace of a helm.  Mailed boots smash onto the floor and gloved hands wield a long-sword and lift it dripping with fire. 

They need so little time, a moment, a few seconds more.  But someone must win them that time.

Cassian lets go of Jyn’s hand. 

Places himself between her and the enemy.  Raises his own sword.  Humble steel against the blade of lava. 

The figure stops as if in disbelief and then strides forward again.

Well, this is it.

The blast of white light peaks and flashes, an explosion of magic, and there’s a high-pitched shriek in the air; and behind him the room is abruptly empty.  They did it.

The wind whistles through where the defenders were standing, and blows his hair like a caress. 

The enemy general lifts his dreadful sword and swings back, and it doesn’t matter.  Cassian is ready to die.  One duty at least, done, and done well.

Something slams into him from the side and hurls him out of the figure’s path.  He sees another fire, one that moves and dances and throws out burning flares from which light refracts as though through a million crystals, it’s a fire-angel, a daemon, a spirit of some race from the beyond; then he sees.  It’s Jyn.  His heart stops altogether for a moment, for she is the fire, she’s ablaze and the power in her eyes and her hands is raw and terrifying.  A sun made of burning kyber, facing off against the crimson destruction approaching. 

She screams, and even the sound is glittering. 

The Sith raises one black-gloved hand and clenches a fist.  Red fire everywhere, and the stench of sulphur.  Destruction rises around her, a wave of death.

Cassian grabs at Jyn and his hands catch her round the waist just as the white fire blasts out once again, not from her but smashing down from above; and in his mind suddenly he sees peace.  The view from the old signal platform, the brilliant morning light on the cave-mouth, the cave where they’d slept the night, when the first snows came.  They were almost happy there.  So long ago.

The vast whiteness swamps him and for a moment there’s no breath in his lungs, no ground under him, he’s falling and flailing, clutching at Jyn as the universe turns to fragments around them.  The white light coalesces with a strange sound that seems to slam inwardly and swallow itself, crump; and he crashes to the ground on his knees, thigh-deep in thick snow, with Jyn beside him, hunched over and choking as she hauls in desperate breaths. 

There’s a huge thunder rolling in the air, all around them, high above and deep below, as though the earth itself were a living storm-tremor.  Danger, danger, o terror and danger o help, get Jyn to safety, the quake, the storm…

Cassian staggers to his feet, drags her up, hauling her arm over his shoulder.  Then stops.

There is no storm, no earthquake.  The night is utterly still, and the sky clear and bright with stars, the half-moon still rising.  They are on the heights, above Red Crag, looking down at the fortress.

At where the fortress was.

A vast cloud rises, of smoke or steam, and golden flames shot through with grey in the starlight; and rising within them, more slowly but as inexorable as the sea, a whiteness like a monstrous dust-storm.  The white dust roils back, curling up in whirls and billows, all the way to the crest of the highest peak.

Of Red Crag itself, there’s no sign.  The old monastery, the very rock itself, has fallen, obliterated by an explosion of magic, and an avalanche like the wrath of the god of winter is roaring out, down into the valley, sweeping the Empire’s army away.

Saw Gerrera has bided his time, and seen his people safe, and made his last stand.

Chapter Text

Jyn is sagging against his side, sobbing for breath.  His own voice is little more than a desperate gasp of shock.  There’s nothing they can do, the play is made, and made well.  There may be survivors among the enemy troops down there, but it’s hard to imagine many.  Perhaps even the Sith will be dead, swept aside in the destruction, the single devastating blow of Saw’s endgame.

The white snow-cloud and the glowing cloud of steam rise into the night, mingling under the stars.  There are no more flames in Red Crag, and no battle cries, only death as the thunder of the avalanche fades, moving far off and farther yet, and settling; and then silence.

Shock.  Cold.  The air is very still, up here, and the stars seem to hang around him, eyes in the icy sky.  Heaven is watching, and as helpless as they.

Shock and cold, staring, biting cold.

They stand on the open mountainside, knee deep in snow.

Jyn whimpers.  For a moment she tries to pull away from him, but she lurches and almost falls; he holds her back weakly and somehow she grabs onto his shirt and stays upright. “Come on,” he whispers “leave it.  Leave it.  Let’s go.”

It’s near midnight, and midwinter, and neither of them is clad for the outdoors.  They have to get to shelter, before shock and exhaustion devour their remaining strength.  The cold eats fast, fast as any wolf, and now as the energy of fighting and terror wears off it is an enemy far more immediate than whatever snow-swept Imperial remnants might survive down in the valley.

They stagger back from the edge, stumbling and holding one another up. 

The path along the mountainside is deeply-buried in drifts and every step plunges them into the piled snow.  The veil of stars pricks with light overhead and the snow is firm-packed, its surface dense with weeks of hard frost.   With each stride his boots rest for a second and then crunch through again, down to the uncertain surface below.  And apart from their sobbing breath and the broken rhythm of their feet, there’s not a sound.  Only the deep, deep silence of night and winter.

It takes a long time to get themselves all the way to the cave.  Jyn is staggering, he has to guide her through.  When they finally stop, right at the back where the roof curves down, she straightens and looks around, and says “No,” in a voice that is thin with panic “No, not here, there’s no time, we have to keep going –“

She clutches at the front of her open jacket, at the rainbow of crystals tangled there.  A faint flicker of light wells up between her fingers.  He thinks of blood, sluggish in the cold; but the gleam is weak and sputters out and Jyn says “No,” again weakly and clearly.

Then slumps down, falling like the dead.

He’s still holding her and her sudden weight drags him down too, back to his knees on the stone floor.

“Jyn!  Jyn, no, no –“ He clutches her to him, fumbles at her face with cold hands.

She’s breathing but her arms drop limply and her head lolls as he cradles her.  Cassian sits back on his heels, stupid with fear, holding her inert body.  He’s shaking with the cold, trying to impart his own body heat into her when he’s no longer sure he has any to begin with.

He knows he has to find some fire in himself; he’s the one whimpering now, wordless with shock, and rocking back and forth, hunching over her.  The moonlight gilds the snow around the cave entrance, the dead-still air weighs down on him, Jyn lies fainted in his arms.  His skin is sweaty goose-pimpled ice under the thin shirt. 

He lowers her to the floor of the cave as gently as his shaking muscles will let him.  Doesn’t want to let go, doesn’t want to risk her lying still in the cold; but he has to move, before neither of them can.  He hauls himself across to the store of firewood, to find and drag a log back to where Jyn lies.  And another.  Each time, each movement, the effort burns and dull chilled muscles cry out with pain.  But they have to have a fire, to have any hope of surviving a night on the mountain. 

Build a fire, somehow raise a spark, God alone knows how without Jyn’s magic, but I have steel, there must be something I can use for a flint, we must have fire, we must have fire -

There’s no small stuff, no split wood or kindling.  Slowly and clumsily he shaves shreds and splinters off a pine log with the edge of his sword. 

Each time he looks up at Jyn she’s still lying there, sprawled on her side against the blank end wall.  Her face is equally blank; lips pale, eyes closed, she looks ill, she looks like a dead woman or a dying one, and panic tugs at him whispering Jyn, Jyn...  But she’s still breathing and so is he, and it is up to him to keep them so.

He scrapes the splintery kindling together with his bare hands and lurches to his feet again, driving himself to go back for a third log.  The cold is making him steadily clumsier and long shivers run through him; even with the exertion of work, he’s chilling fast. 

When he turns back with the third and last piece of wood, he knows already that he won’t be able to fetch another.  What strength he has left as the bitter night sinks its fangs into him must be spent on finding something to strike a spark with.

The kyber stones around Jyn’s neck are still gleaming faintly with their own internal light. 

The crystals, maybe  –

Cassian crawls the painful two feet to her side and touches her still face; whispers her name.  She doesn’t move.  He bites his lip as he fumbles to raise her head and slip one of the cords off from around her neck.  It’s entirely possible he may be about to set off a blast like the one Saw just threw down, he may be about to blow them both to ash; but he can see no other option.  Without a proper fire they will both freeze to death.  His shivering is decreasing now and he recalls suddenly that that’s a bad sign; a memory from some long-ago lesson, his mother in the Copper Mountains, the golden colour of her shawl, a teaching song, her hands clapping the rhythm…  En un día frio, ¡baila!/¡Calentarte mi cariño!/ Otra día muy helado/ Descansarte, puerta cerrada/No dejes que el calor se vaya -

The singsong voice echoes at the back of his mind, round and round, the language of childhood, so long unused as to have been almost forgotten.  Doesn’t bode well, for such memories to come back now.  Only the dying look back with such clarity as this. 

His hands are clumsy, fingers half asleep now, and the music distracts as much as it urges him on.  He has to work very carefully, getting the sword-blade set just so, wedged between his knees, and the big violet-coloured shard of crystal in his other hand, angled just right, and please God, don’t let me stab myself now, please, God, please God…

He strikes kyber on steel, with as much force as he dares.  And there are sparks.

It takes a good time to gather up the embers that fall on his bits of kindling, to blow on them, so, so carefully, and coax at last a single thread of flame.  Holding his hands steady somehow, and his heart strong against the fear of losing this fire, having to start again, maybe failing this time, all while Jyn lies and fades on the cold stone floor, and his own strength fades too.  He could freeze without even realising it, slowly battling on while the world goes dark.  But he will not give up till the end wraps its hands round him finally.

He feeds more wood to the flames, muttering an old prayer, words he hasn’t thought of for so long but in such despair they come back just as Mama’s song did, and it doesn’t seem strange to be praying as his forebears once prayed, Diosa madre, luna de lunas, luz de luces, escúchame, diosa madre escúchame…  And if this means death is approaching, so be it, he’ll die with Festian words on his tongue, and the knowledge that at the last the hopes of childhood are still alive in him.

His hands are screaming with cold now and breathing is painful, the air seems to be pouring cold inside him.  But the tiny fire is growing.  Its heat is perceptible.  A shudder goes through Cassian’s body as the sensation of warmth stings and sings on his skin, and relief breaks inside him.  He pulls the first of the logs up against his fire and watches till the flames have caught and taken.  He’s overwhelmed and almost numb, but he knows they are safe, safe, we’re safe, we’re safe. 

He tugs the other two logs to where he can easily reach them.  Every tensed and aching muscle shakes, suddenly weak at the effort, and he sinks back, staring at the campfire.  How much can it harm him just to rest a moment? 

The floor of the cave is free from snow, but the rock is ice-cold nonetheless, and the cold still catches on the film of sweat on his skin, sucks on him, sinks its teeth in.  Oh God, my God, o diosa madre, so cold, so, so cold and so tired.

He knows he ought to get nearer to the fire, but it seems unimaginably hard.  He wraps his arms around himself, hunching and rocking slowly back and forth on the spot.  Closes his eyes.  Just to rest, just for a moment.

The flames are visible even through his eyelids, they’re yellow, they twist and hiss and he remembers dragons in childhood stories, and forge-fires in Feste, the flames always golden like this, with a hundred strong brave men like his Papa smelting copper, shouting instructions and encouragements to one another across the canyon from kiln to mill to homestead, and the mountains were shining around him and the road home was bright in the white snow –

It would be so easy to let go, to rest.  Sleep.

But no, no, no, he can’t stop.  No sleep, not yet, not now. 

With a last driven effort he crawls back to Jyn.  Lifts her a little, clumsily, under the arms, and pulls her as close to the fire as he can.  Sinks down, drawing her to him and folding her arms in, tugging her legs round close, cradling her. 

She doesn’t move but her breathing is steady.  Is it just the firelight that makes her cheeks seem less pale?      

He can’t allow himself to consider what it will mean if something in her is broken now.  It has to be the shock.  The cold.  Has to be.

It’s no more than childishness to bend his head over hers and press a kiss to her brow.  Her skin is chilled, cold to his lips, but there’s warmth under the chill.  He heaves her up, holds her as close as he can.  There’s a ghost of human breath on his skin.  He sits hunched over it, that faint treasure of life, rocking her gently, letting the heat of the fire slowly seep in, closing his weary eyes again.  Nothing he can do now but wait, pray, endure.

Finally Jyn stirs.  Her breathing strengthens and suddenly she coughs and speaks, small as the first flames, a mere flicker of sound. “Cassian?”

Her eyes are very wide when he opens his and looks down at her; wide and staring up at him, bright with unshed tears. 

She’s still here, still with him.  It’s miracle enough and to spare for now, a blessing greater than any curse-breaking.

“Shh, shh, I’m here.  You fainted.  I’ve got you.” His lips don’t feel quite normal but he mumbles out more words. “We need to stay close to the fire.”

“Yes,” she whispers.

The golden firelight (home, home, the colour of home) is reflected on her face, shining in her eyes.  Beyond her, the night, and the war that’s still out there, the war and the enemy, and death escaped by a hair and a flash of starfire.

Jyn huddles in close to his side and puts her arms round his waist; he keeps his own arms tight round her.  She tucks her head under his chin.  He leans down to press his cheek to her hair.  They hold onto one another, as close as they can get, every possible place touching. 

Time drifts, consciousness a wind-blown snowflake.  If after everything they’ve been through they’re going to black out and die up here, at least it will be free, and together.  Cassian sees the fires of home burning, homes that were and homes that might have been, Feste and Yavine, the cottage, Red Crag; now here and this hidden place, and home is just the two of them, hidden in the dark beneath the rock and snow.

The faint moonlight etches the outline of the cave-mouth, and beyond he can see stars high above.  The moonlight is shifting.  A thick-furred wolf can lie beside Jyn and help her keep warm, when a man in a thin shirt can only cling on and try not to move, try to preserve the body heat pressed between them.  They just have to hang on till he transforms…

“I’m sorry,” Jyn murmurs into his chest “I can’t think of a spell to warm things up.”

“We’ve got a fire, we’ll be alright.  Just rest, you’ve exhausted yourself.” But his mind goes back to the blinding flash and the wild whiteness bursting around them as the Crag was torn asunder.  The view from outside, the veil of stars hanging over valley and the powder snow rising in a cloud like smoke.  The power of magic, writ large on the landscape itself, in broken stone, fallen snow, and the blood of a thousand of the enemy.

Gerrera left it late, but he made a thorough job of things when he struck.  It’s hard to imagine so much as a stone of Red Crag was left standing.

“Did you know what Saw was going to do?” Jyn asks sleepily. 

He shakes his head. “Just knew he was planning something.”

“I thought maybe – when he spoke to you two –“

“He asked us to look after you and Maia.  As if you need looking after…”

“God –“ Jyn says, and breaks off, her voice shaking; then more firmly “God grant him rest and light.”

There’s comfort in hearing the blessing of the dead; the first time he’s heard those traditional words since he knows-not how long past.  Since Mama spoke them.  Why is his childhood lighting every moment, why is the gold of life suddenly so strong in his memories now?  La paz y la luz, y que la Fuerza le acompañe… “And may the Force be with him,” he responds.

“So.  Well.  I’m glad he was able to be himself again.  Before the end.”

The fire whispers and flickers.  So much like all the other fires.  Like their last night here, a place and a time out of time, just like this night.

“Did the others get away?” Cassian asks. “I didn’t see what was happening behind me –“

“Yeah, what in the hells were you playing at?” she interrupts.  “You let go of my hand!” She’s stiffened and she lifts her head, glaring at him in the firelight.  One hand clutches his shirt again as though she means to shake him.  Her voice strengthens with frustration. “You were almost left behind!”

Oh, my Jyn, my indomitable one…

He’s too tired to quarrel. “Don’t be angry with me.” Not asking but telling her plainly.

He eyes snap in the firelight, and soften again in sudden grief.

“I don’t want to lose you,” she says. “I told you that.”

“But someone had to buy us time.  That man – the –“ his words go dry as the bones of the long-dead – “That - I thought, better me than you.  He was the one who –“

It chokes him still, the lasting fear, long after the shock.  Vader, again, Vader before him, the mask and the sword of fire, and the cold voice.

“The one who cursed you,” she finishes for him.  Her eyes seeking something in his, questioning, unhappy.  Their colour is hidden but the tiny flecks shine in the firelight, and fascinate him.  They are bright like stars but held so close that he could touch them, he could breathe them in…

“Did he recognise you?” Jyn asks.

Did the enemy know him again, after this time?  How is one to read such a being, someone who goes with their entire face invisible, not even an inch of skin showing under the helm and robe and the long mailed gloves that cover their arms? “I don’t know.  He – he startled, a moment.  I thought it was disbelief.  Someone thinking themselves enough to stand up to him.  But maybe he did.”

All the general had done was raise that terrifying blade; if he’d known Cassian at all, it was only to feel contempt.

“Ah, burn him, hellfire upon him, ugh…” Jyn shudders again in his arms. “He’ll’ve seen what Mai and I were doing, damn him.  Wish I could be sure he’d died back there.”

So she isn’t sure either.  From simple caution, or by sensing something?  Either way her instinct chimes with his.

“Do you think Maia and the others got away?” he asks again.  He wants so much to hope so; and

“Yes,” she says with a quiet certainty. “They made it out.  The Onderon Valley’s miserable in winter but they’ll be alright.”

“And, God willing, it could be weeks before the Empire knows we weren’t all smashed to jelly in the avalanche.  What Saw did was –“ he cannot even think of the right words. “It was a kind of victory, wasn’t it?”

“Was it?” Jyn’s voice is raw. “Even if it was, I - I don’t want to lose anyone else.” Her eyes are shining again and she tucks her head down, breathing raggedly, he feels her tears dampening his shirt. “God forgive my selfishness,” she adds in a whisper “but I cannot bear another death, I can’t bear it.”

“But - going like this - it’s what he would have wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  Force knows it is.”

But for all that, nothing will undo this loss and no words will heal it. “We’ll find the others,” Cassian says instead “Or they’ll find us.  Somehow.” Focus on the future, look for the hopes we have. “We’ll start again.  Start the fight anew.  It isn’t over, Jyn.  There’s still hope.”

“Is there?” Her voice is wan now, muffled in his shirt.

“You know that there is.” Only words, but he has to say them.  Has to say something, to give her strength. “Think of your mother, everything she’s risked – she’s counting on us.”

“She’s counting on me…”

“On us.” 

“The whole world could be counting on us,” Jyn murmurs “and we could still fail them, Cassian.  This isn’t a folktale where the good people are bound to win.” She raises her head.  Firelight gleams on the wet tracks running down her cheeks. 

He has no reassurance to offer but the truth. “No.  It’s a war.  It always has been.  It’s a rebellion.” 

They look at one another, while the fire crackles, and the moon and the stars move above them.

“I know what I have to do,” Jyn says softly. 

She turns her face into his shirt again.  The tears go on for a few moments more, before she chokes them to silence angrily.

Chapter Text

Jyn wakes with the wolf curled around her, a protective paw resting on her arm and the sweet smell of his fur in her nostrils, and for a moment feels only the peace of his presence, and the safety.  Then she remembers.

The life-saving fire is still alight; burning low now but still putting out a precious warmth into the cave.  Between that and Cassian’s body-heat she isn’t completely chilled.  But there are icicles a foot long hanging in the entrance, and the sombre glint in them is clearly daylight.

This will be a hard day.

Saw in his icy grave in the valley, Maia and Rue and Bodhi and the rest far away, flung into exile and God knows if I’ll ever see any of them again.  Only days at most before the Empire sends men to discover what happened here.  Oh God, my God, all that happened here

And we two holed up like rats in a hurricane.

Too risky to stay hidden, when the smoke of their fire must already be rising up from the cave mouth into the sky.  Clear as a signal or a banner raised on the mountainside; it shouts There’s someone here, look, look!

If they leave on foot, Cassian might make it down to the lowlands in a day’s hard running, but she cannot deceive herself that she’d get very far.  Not in this snow, in just her shirtsleeves.  No coat, no gloves, no hat or hood; no weapons save two useless swords she hadn’t even drawn, no magic tools save the athame stuck in her belt.  All the years she’d spent copying things diligently into her grimoire and now it’s buried under half a mountain.  Every spell she’d ever done or hoped to do, gone.  Along with the rest of her life.  She has boots on her feet and a bit of soft cotton round her neck like a joke of a scarf.  And half a dozen crystals round her neck.  Nothing else.

All that is left to me, is what I am.  And if Saw was right and the enemy can sense my workings, then I can never be safe again, no matter where I go; and no-one with me can be, either.  There is no hiding place.  God have mercy, so be it then.  I know my enemies and they will know me.  

But I have no right to bring that on people who love me.  No right to bring it on innocents. 

The world deserves better than to have people like me in it.

But since I am here, I must find a way to live; and I must act.  I cannot bow my head any longer.  Not now, not after this.

Cassian gives a huff of breath and she stills against his side.  Acutely conscious of her heart beating, and the musky sweetness of his scent. 

As she watches, his paw shifts and curls inwards reflexively, then relaxes.

Jyn lifts one hand to cradle it for a moment.  Rough warm pads and coarse pelt, nails like short blunt spear-butts under her palm.

My dear, oh my dear, I never had a friend like you…

The paw flexes and stays flexed, and twitches, and his breath stutters again, warm on her face.  He’s waking. 

Time to face what must be done.

I never thought to care for anyone like this.  But I have no right to you.  No right to keep you from your chance of freedom.  Somewhere out there, someone will break the curse on you.  But it can’t be me.  I have no more time to learn; and I must go into the dark.  And if need be, die there.  I would not have you die by my side, when you might have lived, and had hope.

So this is the last time we’ll lie down side by side, and the last time I’ll touch your paw, the last time we’ll rest together.

It has to be goodbye.

**

It takes only a few minutes to be ready to leave.  Jyn douses the fire with snow and they both piss in the far corner of the cave.  She’s wearing his shirt over her own, under her jacket, and his breeches under her skirt; it feels odd but it’s another layer against the air.  She buckles their two sword belts on; ties his boots together by their laces and hangs them over one shoulder. 

It ought to be easy to go.  No point in pretending there’s anything to stay for; nothing will change or be undone if they linger.  But they can’t walk out of here, so she must translocate.  She has to draw down the star-fire again, even if it knocks her out once more. 

She marches to the mouth of the cave and heads out, stamping into the snow and the grey daylight. 

Their tracks are still clear, leading back to the ridge above.  No snowfall last night.

Cassian follows after a moment.  They pick their way slowly up to the place where the path crests and the view opens out. 

We stood here and looked down at Red Crag, just a few weeks ago, and tried to reassure one another.  And now –

The avalanche has settled; the air is crystal clear and very still.  All around them, the very profile of the mountains has changed.  The col between the ranges is rent completely in two, and instead of the bright line of the gorge, the river struggles and twists now, wending its way through tangles of fallen rock and torn tree trunks.  Red earth and broken granite spill down, ripping through the snowy landscape like a death wound.  Below, nothing; where Red Crag once reared its ragged, rocky head, there’s only blank land and blank snow, featureless and bare where the avalanche came to rest, smothering everything.  Only, far away, tiny threads of smoke are rising from a handful of campfires, and figures the size of ants move about, prospecting cautiously onto the fallen snow. 

So there were survivors, then; men far enough from the fortress when it fell that they escaped the destruction.  And someone is with them who has authority enough to hold them steady and set them to searching in the wreckage.

She doesn’t dare to feel out with her mind, try to see more.  A dark aura hangs over the valley and the bleakness of the void opening out before her is like the void inside; all gone, everything gone, everyone, and I brought this on you all.  I did this.  Destruction and death, on friends, on strangers.  On Saw who was like a father to me. 

Certainly he made a father’s death.  Both my papas, now, dead to protect me.  It is not good to care to keep me alive.

If she hadn’t come, Red Crag would still be standing, Saw would still be living.  Maia and Rue and the others, still happy enough, still safe, thinking of life and of the future. 

But Mama’s message would never have been heard, and Bodhi Rook would have died in the cells.  Poor Bodhi, he has endured so much for his duty.  For him at least, our coming was a blessing of sorts.  Even if now it’s left him among strangers once again and in an unknown land.

The valley is unnatural now, alien to her memory and disfigured past bearing; a friend’s face with the eyes ripped out, a song cut-off in mid-verse as the voice is smothered dead.  Jyn turns away again quickly and pushes her way back downslope till she’s below the horizon.  The track they climbed together when they came winds away below her now, bleakly tempting.  Maybe she should just start walking, and keep going until she drops.  

But Cassian stops in front of her, blocking her path, he stands looking up at her patiently and doesn’t budge, and the traitorous thought of death slips away in the face of his steady loyalty. 

She refuses to let herself reach out to him, though the look in his eyes slices into her cold heart. “Don’t worry,” she tells him instead. “I know I can’t just walk out of here.   But we do have to get out somehow, agreed?  I’m going to move us again.”

He puts his head on one side, considering.  Sniffs at her.  She makes herself breathe calmly, relax her frozen hands. 

“If I can take us back to the cottage –“ Cassian’s ears go back and he shakes his head – “no, no listen, if I can get us back there, we can get clothes, get supplies.  We can plan.  There’s less snow in the lowlands, much easier to travel.  I don’t have a proper coat, Cassian.  You don’t even have socks, and there’s another month of winter at least.  What choice do we have?”

Her voice sounds hard in her own ears, and insistent, and hostile.  Cassian’s ears have drooped, and he dips his muzzle and looks at the ground. 

“I can do this,” she tells him, and he huffs out breath in a sharp white sigh.

If only he were human right now, and could talk!  The chances are they would argue; but at least he’d be a free man and not subject to silence.  It’s wrong, just wrong, for him to have to be like this.  He is a free man; he has the right to live so.

The right to live and find the things of life, to hope and not die like Saw and her father.

She touches the crystals and her fingers find the familiar shape of her own stone.  All she has left.

I have to be ready for this now.

“Let’s go,” she says, and kneels beside him in the snow. 

If she touches him, it will be even harder to hold herself apart and keep from reaching out through their bond.  But if they aren’t touching – no, it’s too risky.  She lays one hand cautiously on the thick fur at his shoulders, trying to shut her mind from the wash of emotions welling out from him in the Force; yes, he knows she can do this, his faith in her is bright but so, so unhappy because she’s hurting herself with - no, don’t listen, don’t cling to something you have to let go…

She hauls in a raw breath and a flash of star-fire with it.  Sees, with a pain like a knife blow, the cottage, standing empty and shut amid the late autumn light; and reaches for it, exhausted already but knowing, this is the only way, home, home – home that can never be so again

The Force rises like a tide and sweeps over her, and recedes, brilliant airless light fading back to black.  Jyn gasps in pain; and she’s still kneeling, eyes closed, hands bunched into fists; one clutching her kyber stone and the other a tangle of fur.  But the ground under her is dry and clear of snow.  She kneels in long dead grass, breathes air that smells of mist and dead wood.  She’s swaying, but the world is stable, and the wind in the trees is a sense-memory so intense that for a moment she wants only to huddle down in a heap on the bare ground and cry.

All this, and we’ve just come back to where we started.  Leaving ruins behind us.  What was the point?  I’m so tired. Let me sleep, let me die.

No, no time for self-pity.  No time for any of that.

She picks herself up and pushes her eyes open, and looks around. 

There’s a faint blurring around the edge of the clearing, the remnants of her concealment spell still holding there.  But here within its confines, the cottage and the remains of her garden look much as ever.  The thatch sagging a little more, the whitewash flaking, the timber door and the shutters all closed.  There are brown leaves mouldering in a drift against the doorpost, and the vegetable plot is empty and undug, with a few yellowed onions and bolting cabbages left in the ground.  No snow at all, but there are traces of frost in the shade, and the air is raw cold.

Home.  It’s still home no matter what.  It hurts so much, to look around at this familiarity and know she can’t embrace it.  Can’t run inside, lock that door, wrap her heart round her home and the safety it once represented and never, ever leave here again.

And she aches all over, weary in every joint, as though she’s just run a mile in armour. 

That translocating trick is going to be a problem, if it leaves me like this.  I’ve had a night’s sleep since the big one, yet I’m barely standing.  God’s merciful blood, I need food and rest and something warm on my back.  I’ve overstretched myself.  If Cassian hadn’t made that fire last night, would I even have lasted till morning?

He’s watching her closely.  She stands over him, feeling her weary mind reach for him instinctively; she reins herself back once again.  No, don’t, it will only make this worse for you both.

“So,” she says, and swallows the husky pain in her throat. “So, well.  Here we are.”

Chapter Text

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.

“Yes.”

“To Ea’dhu?  Or Onderon?”

“Ea’dhu.”

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.

Chapter Text

Cassian walks for an hour or more, moving steadily and barely aware of doing so. 

He comes through the last of the trees, out into the edge of the forest, and there’s moonlight falling all around him, pale on the bare twigs and brambles, and the frosted grass at his feet.  The bank of woodland behind him is all silver and shadow, meaninglessly beautiful, like fine lace made of light, spun across the desperate world.  His gaze slides off it.  He keeps moving. 

The path meanders, skirting the border of the woods, sometimes slipping back into the shade, sometimes coming right out onto open ground.  Eventually it swings away from the edge of the trees altogether.  The air smells different, there’s a harder frost here, and it has a tang that perhaps his wolf senses will identify.  There’s a distant sound, steady, like someone breathing, but vast and rough; it’s familiar but he can’t place a name to it.  His hurt mind slides away from the task and he goes on walking.  Walks towards the sound, the giant breathing. 

The path climbs, becomes rough underfoot.  He doesn’t miss his footing.  Walks, climbs, onwards, hopeless.

He finds himself on the ridge of moorland, above the great marsh.

The estuary stretches out beneath him, glittering with flecks of moonlight as it catches on water, on ice, on the distant river channel and the countless webbed pools and trickles of the delta.  Far above, the stars and the waning crescent moon are brilliant in a freezing sky.  The air is clear up here, and motionless, no hint of a breeze, and the frost is thick on the high ground, reflecting back the light.  The grass feels hard as broken glass under his boots.

Away to the south there are lights, few and faint, hugging the foot of the escarpment. 

Cassian is faintly conscious that he should be glad of that sight.  The village has rebuilt, at least partially; its people aren’t tramping homeless through the winter but sitting under some kind of cover, with lamps at some kind of windows, once again.  Yarrow and Sania, even angry Yanis maybe, are safe.

But he can’t go down that way; too risky, to throw himself on their hospitality, and risk being known, come morning. 

In the opposite direction, northwards, the open grassy land rises and levels off, and is cut, sharp as a knife-wound, against the sky.  Only a narrow band of silver lies caught between heaven and earth; the sea, moonlit, empty.

Empty as his entire world.

He has to keep moving.  He turns north mindlessly and walks towards the sea.

The one time Cassian saw the ocean as a child was at the Spring Festival, at the great fair in Chiluc, the year before his father died.  The Copper Mountains Mining Guild always brought a big group, to trade and set up deals for the coming year; bartering ore and ingots and worked metal, for undyed wool and salt and foods of the coast and lowlands.  Families would bring their children, make a celebration of it.  His six-year-old self, thrilling at every new sight and smell and sound.

Mama in her best shawl took him down to the harbour to see the big Trader ships unloading, and the little smugglers, and the fishing boats.  And out away there, across the seamless blue, he’d seen islands like ridges of amethyst against the sky.

He remembers asking their names and hearing her tell him, pointing as she spoke, a name to each little distant gemstone. “Chandrilha, Scarife, Ead’hu, Sant Corou.”

That southern sea had breathed too, a vast gentle giant lying asleep against the quay.  Sighing, whispering, little waves in the sun.

He sits down when he gets to the edge of the cliff.  Wonders if any of the Black Isles are visible from here, by daylight.  If he’ll ever see them again.  It seems unlikely, as unlikely as ever returning to Chiluc or Feste.  Home is long gone, all possible homes, gone.

The moon’s path over the waves is long and hard and alone, and the ground is frozen. 

Should he have seen this coming?  It’s hard to believe that anything will ever be the same again, or that anything will ever be well.  The world is a place made strange again.  All his trust had been built on a single rock and it has crumbled, as surely and as wholly as the rocks of Red Crag.

I had no inkling that she would leave me.  Ask me to leave her.  She has been left so many times and I would have stayed with her to the end.  I had no wish ever to leave. 

I do have things to strive for still.  I do.  I have to think of them, have to look to the future now.  Find Melshi, find Kay, find my Princess.  And save them, or die beside them.

But I had thought to find them, and save them, beside Jyn.

How could she insist on this right to decide for him?  He’s not without skill; he could have worked with her, fought by her, could have been her hidden weapon.  One wolf could feel as terrifying as ten, attacking from nowhere.  But no, Jyn would have none of it, had to go off and face this fight on her own.  Because she doesn’t want to be responsible for him.

She’s pushed him away, turned him out.  Left him.  And if he goes back, she’ll turn him away once again.  Will say Go, find your freedom, find your curse-breaker.  Because somehow she’s convinced herself there is someone out there selfless enough to give up their true love for his sake.

I cannot bear to lose you too.  Her voice had been cold as the night air, and as hard.  I will not lead you to your death. 

She doesn’t expect to survive.

The sea is very calm, under the vast unveiled sky.  As the heat of walking fades he’s becoming steadily more conscious of the cold; sapping, withering cold, curling in under the wool of the poncho, seeping into the backs of his thighs and the palms of his hands on the bare ground.  Biting cold, yes; wolf-cold. 

It will be a long time yet before the moon sets.  Cassian realises it with no great care and no great surprise at that.  He can sit here and work out innumerable plans and choices, but in the end, this dark night is a pain he has to suffer.  Alone again, cast off again, a monster again.  I know I am not; but I have been cast out as surely as if I were one; and so, I am. 

He huddles in on himself inside the poncho, pulling its folds close around, tucking his hands into his armpits.  Slowly curls up into a foetal ball, bowing his head into darkness.  The only warmth now is the heat of his own breath , funnelled inward by the open necked garment, coming and going against his breast.

Somewhere out there, across that wide mirror sea, are the people I must try to reach now, and the hopes I must try to believe in.  Somewhere behind, Rue and the rest.  

God help us, we are more scattered than ever.

And Jyn.  Who I must not think on at all, ever again. 

It is wrong, that this has happened, it’s a wrong and a torment and a tearing-out of his heart on every breath; and it will go on being so.  But what else, what more, he could have done, he doesn’t know.

He’s starting to shiver hard now.  Earlier his eyes were hot too, but now there are slow claws of ice trickling down his cheeks, the tracks of tears close to freezing.  He’d barely noticed shedding them.

Only one night ago, he’d fought to stay awake and alive; now it hardly seems worth the bother.  He knows he should head back into the forest, seek shelter; hide in a hollow tree or find some nook among the roots.  But out here on the cliffs, sitting in silence as the moon passes along its course, for a painful hopeless time, he doesn’t want to.  It will be so much effort, to gather himself up and go on living once again. 

And yet I must.  Rue is yet living, who was my friend once and now is again.  Kay, somewhere out there.  The Princess.  My honour with her.

This is war, this is rebellion, this is the one hope all the conquered peoples have, to stay alive long enough to defeat this enemy, and win our freedom again.  I am a soldier, I have a duty still, even if my heart is torn out I must carry on.

He raises his head to take one last look at the moon’s track over the sea.  The cold way that leads across the void.  It looks like something seen in dreams; he imagines it will come back to him that way, maybe for years to come, and in those dreams it will be the road home.  But it’s a path he cannot take.  Cassian hauls himself wearily to his feet once more.

I have a duty.  I must go on. 

**

Daylight comes.  It hurts even more than usual.  Every toe, every hair, feels stiff with frost, and waking is as slow as the night hours had been, passing under the moon, lighting him back to this rough scrape among the bracken, watching with him as he stripped and shivered and finally dropped into unconsciousness. 

He pulls his front paws slowly up to his nose, trying to breathe warmth onto them.  It must have snowed in the night, he is never this cold on waking, not even after a blizzard, but it’s as if his coat has been shaved from him and nothing left but bare, goose-pimpled, desperate skin.

Nothing left but skin.

He opens his eyes.

There are rainbows in his lashes, the winter sunlight catching and shivering, gleaming, sparkling, freezing.  Up against his face, twisted round strangely so he feels they must have been wrenched, sprained, surely they should be in agony, are they completely numb with the cold? – are his front feet.  Bare, pink, reddish from cold and hairless and –

These are hands. 

Cassian sits upright in a single jerk of shock and stares.  The poncho and shirt fall from where he’d wrapped them around himself, and the day’s chill air slaps its cold hands on his; and on his arms, his shoulders, his back and chest.  His heart is pounding so hard he feels nauseous for a moment.  Hands, arms, shoulders.  He pushes the blanket back, kicks free of it. Naked.  Man.  Not wolf, man, he’s a man again and it’s daylight

 A little shriek comes out of his mouth, of something almost like fear, and he clamps his jaw on it wildly.  Human again, human again, human by day, how did this happen?  The curse, broken, gone, is it possible?  It cannot be possible!  He raises a shaking hand to his face.  Hair, yes, but no muzzle under it, and his fingers find human lips, it isn’t the wolf’s hair at all but his own ordinary moustache and the scruffy uneven beard he’d been meaning to shave off. 

Human.  By daylight.  Human human human it cannot be possible it cannot be –

God’s mercy it’s cold.  Surely a dream would not be so cold.

But how?  How, how, how can this be possible? –

Fumbling clumsy hands drag the shirt over his head again, haul on the drawers and tie them, and the breeches, the lumpy socks.  Hs stomach growls with hunger.  He finds himself muttering swear words as he struggles to get the boots on. 

At last he staggers upright.  A man, standing upright, by daylight, a man again, a man.  Pulling the poncho over his head he stumbles towards the light. 

There are birds calling around him; seagulls in the distance, and nearer, daws in the trees squawking chack-chack-chack at one another.  Dry leaves and dead branches crack underfoot, he pushes through a tangle of dead foliage, sees the frost glittering ahead, the open ground as he comes out through the edge of the wood and there is sun

Sun.  Sun and bitter-cold wintry air, on his face and his human eyes, sun on his skin.  He raises his hands up and looks at them, and they are still human. 

He used to be tanned; three years without a touch of sunlight have left him ghost pale under the reddening of cold.  He turns the red and white hands about in the daylight; palms, backs, palms again.  These are my hands.

The curse is broken.  What happened last night?  The curse, the curse is broken!

I cannot bear to lose you too , she said.  You know I want you with me. 

Oh Jyn.

A huge shudder runs through him.

What a fool I’ve been, not to hear what you were saying.  You know I want you with me.

I heard you say that and still walked away when you bade me go. 

Jyn, Jyn, am I the greater fool or are you?  You bade me go.  You did that.

And when you did that, you did this.

He’s panting for air; he stares at the sky, the grass, the brightness, dazzling his human eyes.  The day still seems unreal, but it is as solid and concrete as the ground beneath his boots.  A day with the colours of human sight. 

There’s hardly even a whiff of the smells which must surely still be here, of the woods, the moors, the frost, the salt-scent sea away over that ridge.  He knows that cold makes smells carry, but this is a human world again and almost without scent.

The sun is well above the horizon.  He can at least still orientate himself by that, even if he can’t smell his way home any longer.

Cassian starts to run.

When he crashes through the trees, back into the clearing at last, there’s one smell at least in the air.  Woodsmoke.  He raises his eyes, praying, and God be thanked, yes, there’s smoke still rising from the chimney.  She hasn’t left yet.

He’s swaying with tiredness after that run, blood thumping and breath tearing in his throat.  His own panting sounds like the roar of a storm.  He flings out one arm, to grab the nearest tree trunk and hold on to it.  He’s here.  This is where he crouched, right here on the edge of the forest, when Jyn opened that door to him for the first time.  She stood just there, silhouetted against the lamplight, and said I know you’re out there.

Does she know now?  His wolf-senses are gone, he can’t smell her at all, neither the ever-present sweet musk of her skin nor the soft scent of her emotions.  Anger and hope, concern and courage, everything that makes Jyn, Jyn, all alike hidden from him. 

Jyn, please, sense me.  Come to the window, look out.  I am here. 

I am here, because you sent me away.

The paradox would make him laugh aloud if he weren’t so out of breath.  What a pair of fools they have been.

All through yesterday, when she was holding her spirit back from him, he could still smell her; and she had smelled of hurt, of fear, of regret and determination.  She’d smelled of lost hope and the knowledge of last chances let go.  But not the smallest note of cunning or planning or deception.  She can truly never have guessed this could happen. 

“Jyn,” he says.  It comes out a whisper.  He’s still panting from the long run through the woods.  He draws another raw breath, to shout her name. 

The door opens, and she’s there.  She stands frozen, staring, one hand resting on the doorframe while the other hesitates towards him and draws back, and then reaches out again, plucking at the air between them like a harp-string.  Her lips part and close, and slowly part again.  Her whole face is wide open, absolute shock and then an overwhelming desperate hope.

He allows himself to smile; feels as uncertain as a child, as if he did not now know.  But he does know, because surely, surely, the curse is broken and this can only mean one thing –

Jyn’s mouth is working.  He hears her gasp and it’s the sound of someone struggling not to cry.  She lets go of the door jamb and takes two clumsy steps towards him, and he pulls himself out of the shadow of the trees and runs to her.

Chapter Text

“You came back.” Stupid obvious words, and unbelievable truth.  He came back.

He came back, and he’s human.

“Yes.  Yes, of course I did.”  

Cassian lifts one hand shyly, and she reaches for him and touches his fingertips.  Her hand brushes along his skin, human skin, and she watches incredulously; his knuckles, the back of his hand, the wrist bones and the bare arm where his poncho falls back.  Solid human flesh and bone, here with her in the sunlight. “I don’t understand.  How – how is -?”

“You,” he says.

“Me?” How me, what me, what did I do, what do you? – oh! 

Oh…

Jyn whimpers; shock, delight, disbelief, it’s like hearing her own child-voice coming out, ugly with fear.  She smothers the sound quickly with her free hand but it gargles out anyway.  But child-Jyn was left behind, was always left behind; and he’s come back.  

Her hand drops to his chest.  Her fingers grip his shirt.

“You were trying to protect me,” Cassian says.  He’s smiling.  He looks shocked and thrilled and happy.  He isn’t angry.  She nods weakly. “You love me,” he tells her.

“I –“ yes, I do, I do and you weren’t supposed to know but – but – “Yes.  I love you.  I know.”

“And I - I love you, Jyn.” He’s slightly breathless.  She wonders if he’s been running or if like her he’s left gasping by the sound of those words.

“Oh God,” she says.  Stupid, stupid stunned and -

There’s a sensation inside her like something seething on the hearth, bubbling and boiling and a pot-lid rattling, about to fly off.   I love him.  He loves me.  And that means – Ah, God, how could I have been so stupid as not to see?

“I gave you up.”

He’s still smiling.  Such a hopeful smile, a boy’s smile, a smile she loves to breaking. “You love me, you gave me up, you broke the curse, yes, yes!”

She thinks the feeling in her chest may be hysteria.  Or a heart attack.  But ridiculously, inexplicably joyful.  Death couldn’t feel this much like happiness, surely.  Or this much like embarrassment.

“Yes, yes, I see that now, oh God, I’ve been a fool, haven’t I?”

“I have too, Jyn.  I never saw this.” 

“So if you’d - insisted on staying, if you hadn’t let me –“

“Yes.” His precious sweet human smile.  More than a smile, now, an outright grin. “You did what you thought was best for me and I did what you wanted because I will not deny you your choice, and – here we are – Jyn –“

“Oh, my dear.  And you came back.” He came back, he came back to me –“But - weren’t you angry?”

“Last night?  Angry, hurt, despairing, God’s mercy, yes.  You don’t want to know the darkness I sat through…“ And Cassian laughs, actually laughs out loud.  She’s never heard him laugh before.  It’s a beautiful sound, as beautiful as his face in sunlight, his beautiful brown eyes.

“Me too.” Remembering how she sat by the waning fire and howled like an animal in the dark. “Oh Cassian, oh my dear.  I thought I’d done the right thing but – it hurt so much.  I thought I’d never see you again…”

“Shh.” He touches her cheek and she realises she’s crying again, and she starts to laugh through the tears because his hand is warm, warm and real and touching her. “I’m here.  Just – don’t send me away again, eh?”

“I ought to,” Jyn says pettishly, laughing and crying and laughing, helpless. “You know how dangerous this is going to be…” Her voice is bobbing about like a row-boat. “Oh, it really is so funny.  I only wanted to protect you.” She leans her wet face into his hand.  His dear, human hand.

“I can make that decision, you know,” Cassian says gently.

She nods. “I should have trusted you.  But you went, when you didn’t want to.  For me.”

Cassian nods too, and that grin blinks onto his lips again, sheepish and mischievous and making his eyes crinkle.  Oh there are layers of you I had never thought to see, who is this beaming laughing man standing before me?  My love, he is my love… “For you, yes,” he says.

“Please,” Jyn tells him in a rush, before the ability to say it deserts her altogether “Please stick around now.  Please.  Don’t leave me.”

Her throat closes on the enormity of that.  Don’t leave me. 

She trusts him not to, so she could say it.

“I promise, I won’t leave.  I’m home.  Jyn –“ Her name has always sounded beautiful in his voice.  Different, intense; as though he were touching the sound with some power she’s never known.  His hope, maybe, that was always there inside him through everything.  That she can feel now, rising like a sunflower, hugely bright, and so strong. “Jyn, may I hold you now?”

“Yes – yes, please, yes…”

Even now with her express permission – permission indeed, that was practically a plea and you know it, Jyn – even now he hesitates for a moment; one hand soft on her cheek while the other touches her sleeve, her shoulder, and he smiles at her and bites his lip.  Then folds his arms around her as she sinks forward against him with a sigh.

They stand in the middle of the clearing, in the weak, bright winter sunlight, holding one another.

**

It would be good to be able to stay here, forever in this moment; just to stand like two more trees in the free air, and hold one another close.  Jyn has her arms round his neck and is pressed in tightly, almost on tip-toe, her chin in the crook of his collar-bone.  If she opened her eyes she’d be looking over Cassian’s shoulder.  But she doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want to do anything to break the spell of being here with him; she is forgiven, come-back-for, she’s safe with him and holding him safe.  He’s bent his head down to her and his breath caresses her neck, hot like the touch of fire.  Strong soldier’s arms, holding her close, shielding her and holding her strength.

But the brisk chill of the day is pricking, nipping at her bare skin, and then a  growl from Cassian’s stomach pulls her the rest of the way back to reality. 

He chuckles at the sound. “Yes, that was me.  Is there anything for breakfast?”

“Cold lentils.  I could reheat them.”

“Sounds good.”

He’s so warm, and the smile in his voice wraps itself round her heart even when she draws back from his arms.  She wants to be the warmth in the world for him, too; to be everything he deserves.  Wants never to let go; and never to go against his choice or his freedom, ever again.   How did she manage to turn away from him, to tell him to go, last night?  What kind of madness was that?  It’s impossible, already, she cannot contemplate it. 

I was in shock.  You said I was and you were right.  But I thought I was doing the right thing. 

And as it turns out, I was.

It still seems funny, and she’s still on the verge of laughing, with joy and shock.  She smiles up at him and the whole world is hopeful at last. “Come inside, come and get warm.”

As they move towards the door, arms around one another’s waists and eyes constantly turning back to one another, he says “The first time you asked me to come into your home – do you remember?”

“Oh, God.  You were so thin.  So desperate.  Pain coming off you like a flood.  I had no idea what you – no idea what would happen.”

“I don’t know if I ever told you.  Something had drawn me here, it felt like being called and I had no idea what it was but it was an instinct and I was so far gone, I didn’t resist.  I was terrified when I saw the house, when I saw you at the door.  I’d been hiding from humans for so long.  I thought maybe it was my death that had called me.”

They pass under the lintel, into the cottage. 

“And instead, it was life,” Cassian says.

“I asked you to trust me.” The memory is intense; heart-breaking but also joyful.  It brought them here. “And you did.  Not such a common thing to do, trust a witch, you know?  We were each as damaged as the other, I think.” She ought to move away but can’t bring herself to let go his hand entirely.  They move over to the hearth, still side by side, and with her free hand she swings the trivet round and hangs last night’s cooking pot back over the flames. “Afraid I’ve no cheese to offer you this time.”

“The lentils will be fine.”

There’s sunlight streaming through the unshuttered window and each time she looks round at him, there he is, human in the daylight.  Looking at her fondly.  Dark eyes, brown hair, both brighter than she’d imagined, and that pale familiar bony face, and a gentle smile.  A smile with dimples.  How has she never noticed he dimpled before?

“Oh Cassian.  Oh my love.  You’re so beautiful.”

Cassian’s eyes widen and he blushes brightly with a little splutter of breath. “Me?  You think?  No.”

“You are the most beautiful man in the world.”  Perhaps she’s overstating things slightly; perhaps it would be possible for someone to be objectively more perfectly-featured, and certainly he could be better-groomed and look less – less battered by life.  But when she looks at him she sees not just his face and body, handsome as they are, but his goodness, his friendship, his resolve and selflessness, his courage.  Everything that makes up the man she has come to love so much. 

He’s laughing at her again. “I’m what?”

“You were a handsome wolf, too, you know.”

“Oh, now you’ve just fooling with me!” But he draws her back and looks down into her eyes, and his awkwardness softens into a gentle amusement. “So does this mean I get to tell you how beautiful you are as well?  Which you are, by the way.”

She has to hold back the urge to refuse his words.  Turning the tables on her like that, the gall of the man!  But, does that mean, he sees too someone worth knowing, worth loving, when he looks down at her?  At her scruffy, belligerent, messy-hearted self? 

Jyn takes a step nearer, within the curve of his arm, and they are circling one another, turning in the sunlight.  How very brown his eyes are, smiling down at her.  Such a rich colour, full of light as they are now and sparkling with affection.  She tries to name the colour to herself and her words fall clumsily, she can’t say such things.  Caramel apples, chestnuts, gemstones.

He bends towards her.  A smile dancing on his lips.  She puts her hands on his waist and holds him close.  Her gaze hangs on his mouth, so fine, so shapely, so smiling.  He’s looking at her lips, too. 

I am being a giddy fool and I don’t care, he came back, he came back to me and – “Please…”

“Please?”

“Please.  Kiss me.  Please.”

And perhaps this isn’t the right way to ask that, perhaps this isn’t the right way to kiss (she has never done it before, after all, only watched her parents when she was small and occasionally others, though never closely, because that would be too embarrassing but – but -) but his lips are warm and their touch is dry, and tender, and just the softest pressure, meeting hers, and the tickle of his moustache is at once peculiar and entirely delightful.  Their nostrils are almost touching as well and Jyn can feel his breath, sweet excited puffs of heat, fast for a moment and then calming, slowing; he kisses her mouth again and she presses back more confidently and lets herself hold on to him, leaning back in his arms.  Maybe this isn’t the right way but it feels good.  It feels as though she’s melting inside.  Her own breath is getting faster.  Through the thick woollen poncho his back feels lean under her hands, and his ribcage is moving, he’s panting again, arms tight around her, his hands spread out across her body, one around her shoulders, one just below her waist, a grip that’s somehow also a caress, pressing her against him.  Everything feels urgent and hot, she wants to pull herself closer and closer, for there to be no space at all between them.  She almost whimpers when their mouths part, but they are both gasping for air and she’s dizzy, if they don’t break off she might sway and fall.  Her face and throat are red-hot.  Cassian is red-hot, too, panting against her. 

Oh, this feels too good for it to be the wrong way…

He puts one hand on her cheek, looking down at her.  His pupils are huge.  She suspects hers are too.  She is expanding and the whole world feels aglow.

“I’ve never done this,” she tells him.  “Expect you can tell.”

“I – I have, but – not for a long, long time.  Was thinking I expect you can tell, too.”

“All I can tell is that I don’t want you to stop.”

“Well, then, let’s not,” Cassian says, with that quiver of mischief she’s falling ever more in love with by the minute “Promise you’ll say if you change your mind?”

“I’m not changing my mind.  Kiss me again.  Kiss me and stay with me.  Please.”

**

Of course the day cannot be entirely spent in kissing, no matter how enjoyable, whether standing by the hearth while the reheating lentils bubble and start to stick to the pot, or sitting on the log-bench, leaning into one another, or curled up side by side on the bed she has never before shared with anyone.  Hand exploring, lips ever more practised.  Tongues tasting and quickening breath hot and joyful.  It just gets better, the more practice she has.  How can anything feel this good?

Somehow amid the kissing and embracing they have also succeeded in eating their now slightly-burned food, and getting a bucket of ice-cold water from the well, and putting it a pan with some herbs, and setting it to warm over the fire. 

Perhaps it’s ridiculous of her (but she must try to stop feeling ridiculous, how can she be self-conscious in front of Cassian who has seen her in her underclothes, has seen her bleeding and complaining and soaking wet and swearing, has seen her crying, killing, afraid?  She has nothing to hide from him now, he knows her utter self).  Perhaps it is ridiculous even so, but Jyn wants to be clean.  If she’s going to take a lover (and she is going to take a lover, has taken already, has laid her heart in his breast and felt his heart beat against hers, as she had never, ever thought to be able to do, and she will never regret it), she wants her body and his to be clean for one another.  It feels – holy, somehow. 

She’ll wash clothes tomorrow.  Will sew him another shirt and set of underthings tomorrow.  Will re-start her planning and packing for a journey that will now be entirely different to the walk of despair she’d imagined only last night.  Everything, tomorrow, or the next day.  When they prepare to set off, together.  Because of course, now, Cassian is coming too. 

I wanted so much to spare him from coming with me.  It’s still very likely a suicide mission.  But I cannot be parted from him, I cannot bear it.  Not now.  Not ever.  Please, God, let it be not ever.

They’ll need more supplies.  Her heart gives a little leap at the thought of the village still alive, the lights he says he saw in windows, just last night.  Her friends have survived.  And if Cassian goes down to the village in the morning, no-one will know him; they only ever knew the wolf, who they saw as a dog.  So perhaps he can buy a new satchel or another backpack, to replace the ones they’ve lost.  And bread and salt, and a sack of oatmeal, if such can be had.  There’s coin, hidden in the thatch, enough for proper supplies for a journey.  Some salt meat or dry sausage, nuts if anyone has them, dried fruit.

Hell, there’s enough coin to buy a horse if anyone will sell.  Which would certainly make the journey easier.

They’ll talk about all of that, tomorrow.  They have tomorrow, and time beyond that, time they’d never dreamed of, that is all theirs.  For now, they have this day, and this night. 

The water has warmed to the point it’s steaming, and the scent of thyme and lavender fills the cottage.  She wraps her hand in a cloth and lifts the pan down. 

She’s shaking and shy, and gentle, and very glad, and she trusts him.  They strip in front of the fire and wash one another with the warmed water, and the shyness and the shaking ease with the reality of his scars and hers, with the sweaty bits and the grimy feet, and Cassian blushing scarlet again as he says “Let me do that – that bit, please, I don’t think if you –“ and then laughing.

I would never have guessed you to be a blusher.  Sweet and red as a berry.  My love.

At last they are both clean, and his hand traces her breast very softly through the old flannel bedsheet she’s found for them to towel one another dry.  His eyes are warm and awed on hers.  It’s almost lamp-lighting time, and she takes a spill and gets a flame from the hearth, lights her old lantern, and sets it on the shelf above the bed.  The cottage is very warm now, warm as home will always be. 

Jyn turns back the bedcovers, and holds out her hand to him.

**

A long time later, curled on her side, unable to sleep for the depth of her contentment, she watches him sleeping. 

She’s lain close to him before, but in near-total darkness, out in the mountains or in their bare little chamber in Red Crag, with the candle extinguished and the wind blowing hard outside, and Bodhi snoring quietly across the room.  Never like this, watching his dear face in the lamplight. 

Cassian’s breathing is almost silent; if it wasn’t for the faint movement of his chest she’d be unaware when he inhales.  His wolf-self used to snuffle gently and his paws would twitch.  He’d smell of excitement and she remembers wondering if he was hunting in his dreams.  But the man lies at her side, deeply asleep, and if he has any dreams, they give off nothing except the peace of profound rest.

The light gleams on his profile, a line of gold.  It catches in a tiny highlight on the curve of an eyelid, and feathers in his lashes.  She’s holding him, her hand on his side, feeling the lean muscles that run round from his back to his ribcage.  When she presses nearer, he turns towards her in his sleep, and his embrace tightens unconsciously, tugging her in against his chest. 

The gold reflection is along his cheekbone now, and round the notch of his eye-socket and the delicate bones of the temple.  Jyn works her hand carefully out from under the tumble of bedclothes, and traces the lamplight with a fingertip.  She can feel the moment his breath quickens, the tiny silent puff of amusement as he wakens to her touch. 

“Mmm,” he says.  Smiling in the shadows.

“Ah-hmmm, mm-mm.” She nuzzles into his shoulder.  There’s a soft sound as he yawns.

“Oh, really?  Well.  Hmm–mmm, indeed.”

 He rolls back, bringing her up so she’s lying half on top of him.  His eyes open.  There are flicks of shadow in the creases as his smile deepens, and the light catches in his irises, oblique and bright.  The warmth of their colour is captivating.

“Well, so,” Jyn says.  Staring, captivated.  She could look into his eyes forever.  Could listen to him saying teasing, lover-like things, or laughing, or just yawning; could watch his lips moving and his eyelids creasing, his smile widening, forever.  It can’t happen, she knows forever is just a dream for them; but if it could, she could. 

Well, so, this is what it is to be in love, then.  And all my soul is in your arms, and on your lips, and in your heart; and all my strength is the better for being with you.  Love, love, my love.

“I could look at you forever,” Cassian says.

“Reading my mind again.”

He shakes his head. “No.  I don’t think so, anyway.  I can’t smell your feelings anymore.  It’s strange to lose that, after so long; might have been handy to have kept it.  But my God, it’s a small price to pay, for this!”

“If you like, I could look into finding a way to put it back?  Give you a wolf’s sense of smell, for good?”

He grins. “Make me Captain Wolf-nose?” And the name is so daft she chuckles in the night and leans in to kiss his nose.

“I love you, Captain Wolf-nose.”

“And I love you, my dear.”

She kisses him again.  So beautiful in the lamplight. “Your eyes are the colour of caramel-apples.”

Quick simple kisses, that become longer, slower, that soften into the gentlest tendernesses, the closeness and intimacy and the trust she’s never known till now. 

The lamp burns on.  They lie pressed together once again, arms and legs entwined.  The first faint grey daylight is hinting at the window, outlining the shutters, telling them another day will come.  Soon, so soon.

“When you came towards me this morning I was afraid it was a dream,” Jyn says. “I thought, this can’t be true.  You’d revert to wolf as you reached me, you couldn’t have come back, not to me.  Not for me.  You sounded so hurt, so bitter, when I told you to go.  I wanted to die for hurting you so.”

“Shh, don’t say such things.  Neither one of us is going to die.  Not now.  Not yet.  We have too much to live for.  And too much to do.”

Jyn sighs.  It’s the truth, she knows that; when they leave here again, as they’ll surely have to, whether it be today or tomorrow or many days from now, there are tasks to be faced and chances to be taken, and friends to be found.  Mama.  I know you’re still waiting.  Praying someone comes before the thaw. 

We will come and save you.

But - it’s a lot.

She says it, after a moment. “It’s a lot.” Curling herself down and tucking into the curve of his neck, into the strength there.  “It terrifies me.  But I know it will all still happen, whether I act or run away.  And I must act.  I know that now.  I have my part to play.”

Cassian’s eyes are immeasurably sad as he looks at her.  In the daylight, the rising soft daylight.  “There’s going to be a war, whatever else happens that is surely coming.  The Empire will launch another campaign, come spring.  The world will have to gather itself and oppose them.”

There’s a small scar on his bare shoulder, white and sharp as though someone had scribed a line quickly down to the collarbone and the stain had bleached-out and never come clean.  Jyn kisses it gently. “I’ve been afraid of standing up for so long.  And I’ve seen what it did to Saw.  I know it’s what I have to do.” Another kiss.  She has to be truthful, with him. “I wish I didn’t know,” she says. “The odds don’t look hopeful.” 

“Rebellions are built on hope,” he tells her, and she knows it’s nothing but the simple truth.

She holds him in the light, and loves him, and hopes.