The U-Wing hatch door opens with that familiar soft hiss that Cassian’s heard a thousand times, first in war and now in peace. Or, what passes for peace according to the galaxy. Because… well, because sentient beings can never remain at peace for long, and the darkness of the Empire left too many lasting wounds on too many people for a simple treaty to heal them. He’s even more aware of that now. Not that he’ll tell Leia that. She knows, of course, as well as he does, how fragile, how needy, a thing peace is. She has her consulting work, and he has… work.
And the less said about that, the better. Instead, Cassian lets himself select that good memory, the one that crossed his mind while he’d been out on the task-that-was-not-allowed-to-be-called-a-mission, and he’d had to lock it away, to be thought of later, when he could afford to think pleasant thoughts. It’s enough to make him have, if not a smile, at least no lines of displeasure on his face by the time the hatch door is fully open.
Then, the delighted cry of “Papá! You’re hoooome,” is more than enough to make him truly smile. Esperanza collides with him at a dead run, and he’s glad he’s already left the blaster and holster in his workshop, glad that there’s no trace of any weapons on him when he picks her up, spins her around. She giggles, delightedly. “Again!” He obliges, though he’s glad she’s small, for a two-year-old, but given her mother’s size, well, that’s to be expected. “You’re fluffy!” she pats the old blue parka. “Why?”
“I was somewhere cold, cielito.” Cassian settles her on his shoulders, and heads the rest of the way into the ship. “Where’s your mamá?”
“Making you a cup of caf,” Leia calls back. “Boots off in the house.” She doesn’t say, those are your tactical boots. She doesn’t say you said you’d be back yesterday. She doesn’t ask where were you, really?
And so, he says, and means every word, “I love you.”
He sets Esperanza down so he can take off the boots, and then, his coat, hanging it on the metal coat hooks Leia talked him into making. They’re shaped like tiny fish, their tails curving up to hold the coats, a stupid little detail that made her so happy. Which, is all it takes to make him happy. His baseline for comfort is that the place is safe enough that he can take off his coat, leave his blaster outside, turn off his comm channels that beep out warnings and bounties and all the information he used to live by, She’s the reason for all the little domestic touches in the U-Wing, the floral tablecloth that covers the crate which holds supplies but functions as their table, the dark blue curtains which envelope their bed, the fact there’s so much color and texture in the holding bay that had once carried troops. Likewise, Kay is the reason for at least 80% of the security updates to the ship. Both of them, he thinks, protect their little family the best ways they know how.
Then, he heads to the table. That layout has changed a little. There’s a padded bench, more of a couch, perfect for reading with Esperanza, and a fold up from the floor table, now deployed. He sits, and Esperanza scrambles into his lap. “I color for you.”
She’s still learning past tense, and it makes him smile. “What did you color for me?”
She waves her data pad at him, showing him scene after seen of vaguely humanoid beings. He listens intently to her, compliments and asks questions of her drawings. She occasionally asks him questions like “were there banthas?” and “did you eat cookies?” and “did you miss me?”
It’s the nicest debriefing he’s ever had.
Leia sets down his mug and brushes a kiss to his temple. It still amazes him, to have someone touch him like that. To come home to love and affection and warmth. A minute later the hatch door opens again.
Esperanza perks up. “Kay? KAY!”
And she’s off again, sprinting through the room to fling herself at the former security droid. Esperanza has no idea that Kay had been outside, making repairs he insisted on doing himself, alone. Because he didn’t want to keep Esperanza waiting for Cassian, but he also didn’t want her to see him with scorch marks.
It’s enough of a memory to make his hand wrap a little tighter around the mug. Instead, he tries to focus on the sound of Esperanza chatting happily with Kay. Sometimes she beeps and chirps at him in what both of them insist is perfectly valid binary, even though Cassian is about 97% certain that Kay is just humoring her.
Kay steps into sight, the child in his arms just as natural a sight to Cassian as the blaster had been, only yesterday.
“Play dress up?” Esperanza asks.
“Absolutely,” Kay replies, which stuns him, until he adds, “I think Cassian would look very fine in a dress.”
He just sips his caf and prepares for the inevitable.
They do get him into a dress, one of Leia’s more billowy ones, and then there’s a tea party in which Esperanza spends most of her time dictating how they’re to drink their imaginary tea. Eventually, Leia brings over real sweet tea cakes and lukewarm tea, along with the promise, “Luke made them before he left.”
Ah, good. So she wasn’t alone the whole time.
Esperanza falls asleep in his arms, holding on to Kay’s metal thumb with her whole hand. Neither droid nor man feels much like moving, and Cassian wakes a little while later, his own head slumped against K-2SO’s chasis. It’s a comfortable spot, at least, for Cassian.
“You snored.” K-2SO says.
“Mm.” He yawns. Esperanza’s still sleeping, but she stirs at the sound of his voice.
“Papá?” she asks. “Where we going next?”
A good question. Leia’s spent three weeks here on Yavin IV, waiting for him to get back. He notices that she’s no where to be seen. When he listens for it, he hears the soft hiss of the shower in the ‘fresher. She’s probably enjoying having time to herself. “What, tired of playing with your cousin Poe already?”
She wrinkles her nose. “He is bad at dress-up. He never wears a dress. Never.”
That makes an almost-silent chuckle escape him. “I see.” He pauses, and then asks, “Esperanza, do you know what snow is?”
“Snow?” she tries out the word. Shakes her head hard enough her braid whips over her shoulder. “No. Is food?”
“Not food,” he replies.
“Some cultures eat snow,” K-2SO says.
“I wanna eat snow!”
The two of them discuss the viability of eating snow, while Cassian stretches, transferring back into a more fully awake state. Having a child means the days are long, long in a way that even most missions weren, because most missions didn’t involve taking care of a tiny agent of sheer chaos. Cassian says, “Go get the holobook about the lost little wampa, cielito.”
She trots over to her tiny shelf and rustles through her datachips, each one labeled with a word and a picture. Leia’s efforts, not his. “Dis one?”
“That’s a bantha. Try one that starts with a W.”
She scrunches up her expression and turns back to the basket. K-2SO states, “You make that face when you are concentrating. I map the two expressions at 76% similar.”
Cassian can’t help but smile at that. He normally sees Esperanza as resembling Leia far more than him, with blue eyes that are clearly from the same strand of DNA as Skywalker’s. There’s one holo he’s seen, of a Jedi in dark robes with blond hair and blue eyes, much like Luke’s, and yet, a coldness very unlike the friendly Jedi’s. Leia had deleted the holo, though she’d never told Luke that. Cassian can’t blame her. Neither of them want to think much of the man Vader had once been. The man who was Esperanza’s grandfather, and the source of her blue eyes. He hopes, though he’ll never tell Leia, that’s all she inherited from that side of the family. Though in his dreams, his daughter’s shadow turns long and dark, and in her hand, sometimes, is a lightsaber the color of blood.
“Found it!” She races back, both data chip and children’s datapad in hand and climbs into Kay’s lap this time, wrapping one of the droid’s long arms over her shoulder. “Story time! Kay read. Now.”
K-2SO’s motors whir a little louder, obviously proud at being selected to be the reader. Cassian sips his caf and listens to the droid’s familiar voice read the story of the wampa. It was amazing how many children’s holobooks featured quite bloodthirsty beasts depicted in soft fuzzy holograms. Given that she was being read the book by a former imperial security droid, maybe that was for the best.
“Dat snow!” she pokes at the holo.
“You’re right. And those are icicles.”
Cassian raises an eyebrow at K-2S0 who takes over the duties of explaining the various ways liquids freeze. “You like snow?” Esperanza says, her eyes narrowed.
“Cassian does,” K-2SO says.”It freezes my joints.”
“He not Cassi, he Papá.” she corrects, patting K-2SO’s arm. “It okay. You learn.”
There’s a pause as K-2SO tries so hard not to correct the corrector. Finally, he says, “Thank you, small Cassian. I will take that under advisement.”
Cassian returns to the earlier question. “I do like snow.” As much as he can be said to like anything, he supposes. Not that his daughter needs to know how few things in his life make him truly happy. It doesn’t matter, not when she, and the other two beings in this tiny U-Wing, are the ones who always do.
“I’m going to check on your mother.”
“Yes, you do that, okay, Papá?”
“As you wish, commander,” he teases, ruffling her dark hair. She grins up at him, which makes him smile. The gesture is starting to feel more familiar again. He wants to hope, even though he knows it’s a foolish hope, that he’ll never have a reason to forget how to smile again.
He sets his mug by the sink on his way over to the ‘fresher. Then, he presses the ‘fresher door open, and slides in. She’s wearing one of his shirts, and it’s long enough on her to brush over the tops of her thighs. There is nothing in the galaxy, he thinks, that will ever look sexier on her than that shirt. Leia moves to make room for him, her long waves of wet hair rippling. She looks at him, and every word he knows in every language simply melts away. So he kisses her.
Cassian treasures moments like this, where bliss burns away all his fears, all his worries. Where Leia reassures him, through touch, through that one way of communicating which has always made so much sense to him, that she’s here. That he’s safe with her.
“What are you thinking?” she finally whispers, her hand cupping his cheek.
For her, he tries to be honest. Rests his forehead against hers. Admits, “wondering if there were any fingerprint traces Kay’s scan missed.”
What no one warned him about being honest was how much more it could hurt when the one you’re honest with is pained by your words. Leia closes her eyes. “I see.”
She’s not surprised, of course. She’d seen what gear he’d packed. Her face had said, even then, aren’t you done with that type of mission?
He sets his jaw. There’s nothing else to say. He’s never asked for permission or forgiveness, and she’d never give either, anyway. Their work is their work, their love, something else entirely. She leans forward, her head resting on his shoulder, the same shoulder that had cradled a sniper rifle so many times, long before it had ever been a place of comfort for a lover.
“They needed Aach’s contacts. They’re still good on Nar Sh--”
“No,” Leia says, but she’s still not looking at him. “They needed you.”
“Leia, it’s not…”
She pulls away from him then. “It’s not Aach’s widow that will have to bury him.”
Cassian stares at her, the past few days whirling through his mind again. It had been a comfort to sink in to the role of someone else, to be someone else with his finger on the trigger. But Leia’s right. Damn it all, she’s right.
“Is that all you were thinking?” she asks, starting to braid her hair, still not looking at him. “Anything else you’d like to report, Operative?”
It’s a barb that’s more than a little unfair, he thinks, and he leans against the ‘fresher wall opposite her. “How beautiful you look? How smart our daughter is? Why the hell we have a holobook about a friendly little wampa when one almost killed your brother?”
She looks over her shoulder at him, a real smile once more on her face. “Ask Jyn. She bought it.”
“She would. Didn’t she also buy…”
“Twelve Dancing Rancors? Yes.” Leia turns and faces him, leans forward to press against him. “I know what you did was necessary,” she whispers. “I saw the reports. I heard about…”
“We’ll stop them before they rise,” he promises her. “We will.”
“Together,” she says. “We’re in this together.” When she tugs him down for a kiss, he realizes he was wrong. He doesn’t need to ask for forgiveness, because it’s already been given.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
“You… you weren’t mad.”
“Cassian, I was terrified.” She strokes his jaw with a thumb, shaking her head. “Any work we do against these so-called-second wave Imperials? It’s unsanctioned, it’s treason, it’s a thousand things that make this more dangerous than ever before. And we…” she trails off.
“We have more to lose, no?” he understands, in that moment. “You were thinking of…”
“Of you,” she replies. “Of what you had to go through. Of what you risked. I don’t want that to be the legacy you leave your child.”
It was so far from the answer he’d expected. He forgets, sometimes, that Leia cares as much for his own past as she does for hers. That she mourns a planet she’s never visited, as much as she mourns Alderaan. Fest is part of her heart, now, she’s said. Because he is.
That thought muddies and twists with his others, with teaching Esperanza the word snow, with a childhood memory of waiting for his own father to come home from a mission. Of mittened hands scooping up fresh-fallen snow, of learning to pack it into a ball, and of the rumbling laughter from Jeron Andor as Cassian pelted him with the snow-missiles.
When his thoughts turn to how a few years later, his hands had no mittens, just tattered gloves pulled out of the wreckage, how his snowballs had rocks and glass rolled into them, how they hit clone troopers with enough impact to stun… then he stops thinking. Instead, he kisses Leia again, clings to her, his hands sliding under her bathrobe. Seeking the warm skin that will chase away the chill of the past.
Later, he thinks, he’ll tell Leia what else he was thinking. That he is a child of frost and snow, and his own child only knows warmth.
But Leia’s kisses, then her touches, then warm intimacy of her body, melt him, make him sigh out her name, slump against her as pleasure spreads over him. His skin is flushed, and she kisses his panting lips softly. “Better?” she asks, shifting a little from where he’d propped her up on the sink for a better angle.
“Mm,” he mumbles against the curve of her neck.
“I should ask you to use your words.”
“Words are overrated.”
Leia laughs, and he thinks the sound is just as incredible as the noises she’d had to bite back moments ago. “Then I’ll use mine. I’m so glad you’re home. I missed you quite terribly. But I did manage to cook dinner. Twice, even.”
He lets out a breathless, nearly silent chuckle.
She continues, stroking her hand over his back. “And everything is fine here. No problems at all, and no work to do on the horizon. So, you,” she tilts his face up, her finger light against his jaw, and kisses his nose. “Get to pick where we head to next.”
“I have an idea.”
“Do tell me.”
“Well, I was--”
“Papá WHERE ARE YOUUUU?” Esperanza’s voice echoes throughout the whole ship. The two parents exchange a look, half knowing smile, half loving exasperation. “Mamá? Play? Play NOW?”
K-2SO calls, “Reinforcements may be necessary at this point, Cassian. Or Leia, if you are available.”
As Cassian is the one who's still dressed, he presses one final kiss to Leia’s forehead, and adds, “I’ll tell you more tonight.”
Then, he opens the ‘fresher door, and heads out into the room.
“Papá!” Esperanza yells with glee. “YOU A WAMPA! You hide.”
For having two soft-spoken parents, Esperanza manages to project her voice incredibly well. “All right, all right, I’ll hide.” He says, moving over to his bed and tugging a blanket up over himself. She then beeps and chirps her way through a one-sided binary-ish conversation as she presumably looks for him. He shifts the blanket just enough to keep an eye trained on her. It’s odd, realizing how much his parents must have done the same. How he’d never been as alone as he’d thought he had been.
Because he’d played at hide-and-seek and pretended to be a droid, too, when he’d been Esperanza’s age. He’d covered his papá in blankets and told him he had to pretend to be a bantha. He’d played so many silly little games, back then, ones that come back to him now, as Esperanza acts them out, following in footsteps he’d had no idea he’d left behind, following as if she can see the tracks left in the snow, long before they were covered by the battalions of clone trooper’s own tracks.
He’d left the games behind on Fest, along with so many other things, like the idea of family, like the language he even now struggles with. But maybe some things aren’t lost forever. After all, he has family again. He has a home. He has stories and traditions he wants his daughter to know, the same way his parents had passed on what they could to him, before they died. Leia had said she didn’t want his loss to be the legacy left to Esperanza. Neither did he. But what, then, what could he offer her? What memories could he share, when so much his past was drenched in pain and loss?
And he knows, then, what he needs to tell Leia, tonight.