A long time ago, an old man handed a little girl a weapon. She was very young, having just lost both parents and her home, and she was desperate not to leave or be denied this new life. So when the man presented her with a blaster that was too big for her eight year old hands, she clutched the weapon to her chest and learned how to use it. To hit the target every time and never, ever miss.
The little girl grew taller, if not tall enough to suit her, but she learned how to stand by the old man’s side, stare razors at his opponents, mark out strategies. She learned how to spot an enemy’s weakness, wire a bomb to go off exactly when they needed it to, to stretch a trip wire and lay snares. She learned how to fight, and if she got hurt, she was taught how slap a bandage on it, smear bacta if you can, but if you get hurt, hurt the other guy back. If you get killed, walk it off.
The little girl became a woman. A woman who knew pain, all too well. She knew how to inflict it, endure it, conceal it. Especially concealing it. Before, no one cared enough to notice.
Jyn remembers the hungry, hurting, angry child she used to be. She thinks of her child self with a kind of ache, a useless wish to reach out across the years and tell the little girl at Saw’s side, You are not a war. Lay down your weapon.
But if she did that, who would she even be?
So Jyn put such introspection out of her head. To focus on the here and now, this strange yet familiar new life she made for herself. In the Alliance. With Bodhi, Baze and Chirrut, Kay and… Cassian.
Sometimes a voice in her head reminds her she used to be fearsome. She used to be feared. Saw’s strong right hand, his best and most loyal lieutenant. The Lion Cub. Those were the names others had given her.
But that voice gets smaller and smaller the longer she spends with the Alliance. Training with Chirrut, getting recruits into shape, drinking tea with Baze, teasing or being teased by Bodhi. Bickering and sniping with Kay. Being with… Cassian.
Cassian is no stranger to concealing pain either. But unlike her, he’s had… well, fairly standard access to things like medics or doctors. Who actually know what they’re doing. Not back-alley sawbones or fellow partisans.
Jyn got a sprained wrist around Cassian once. Judging by his reaction, you would’ve thought she lost a limb.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded, fussing over her wrist and finding bandages for her.
“Because I was fine, ” Jyn retorted, resisting the urge to yank her arm back, only because it would hurt more. Not because she liked having Cassian’s hands on her, touching her so gently and assuredly.
“Yeah? Bend your wrist for me,” Cassian retorted and Jyn glared at him. “That’s what I thought,” he muttered, his own head bent over her wrist.
Jyn muttered some choice words about his fussing, but she didn’t stop him. How strange it was; not so long ago, someone touching her so casually would’ve gotten their head taken off. Trust no one, Saw’s voice grated at the back of her head. You can trust no one. But Saw’s voice had grown quieter and quieter over time, as she faced things he never had: shelter, supplies, regular food, allies and friends, and--
Cassian. Who was muttering about bandages and slings, like she needed one of those, honestly--
Trust no one! Saw’s voice thundered and Jyn simply held out her wrist to Cassian so he could bandage it better. Little rebellions.
Not that long ago, a man met a woman on the run. She had green eyes and a stare like a weapon, and she moved like one too. The man watched the woman go through the ranks of the enemy like they were made out of wet paper and became aware of danger like how he used to step on cracking ice as a child--the sudden realization of peril.
Cassian had thought then that Jyn was dangerous, by what and who she knew. He hadn’t considered how she was dangerous just by being herself.
In the time after, he had come to respect, even admire Jyn’s relentless competency and efficiency. In time after narrowly escaping (almost) certain death, he had even grown to love them--
Cassian Andor loved Jyn Erso, but he hadn’t the faintest idea what to do about it. He could admit that much to himself, but not to her. He wouldn’t know the first thing about it. Except to be there for her, to make sure she had shelter and food and adequate clothing, and find her as many knives as her heart desired. Give her a safe place to sleep and someone to watch her back. These things he could lay at her feet, if not his words. Cassian had a terrible suspicion Jyn could decide to march off to find a long-lost temple of the Jedi and he would follow her, every step of the way. It was exactly the kind of thing a spy was not supposed to do, but so many things he had already sacrificed on the altar of the Rebellion. Jyn would not be one of them.
In the here and now, Cassian did not like this mission. As a rule, he disliked any mission that had them leaning Jyn’s old Partisan connections. He told himself this was because he didn’t like the way how tired Jyn always looked after meeting with them, after keeping her face into hard, uncompromising lines, her teeth bared and jaw set. And that was true, for the most part.
In his most secret, selfish heart of hearts, he feared the day might come where Jyn would grow weary and disillusioned with the Rebellion, turn to these old allies and go with them, leaving him behind. Leaving him alone again. Such thoughts were beneath him and unworthy of Jyn, but sometimes he thought he feared Jyn leaving more than being burned, being caught, plans slipping free and into the Empire’s hands.
At least he didn’t have to worry about Jyn leaving him for this one.
Cooper Wynne was an old ally of the Partisans. A gun runner and smuggler, casually loyal to Saw and not open to joining the Rebellion at all. Jyn had been sent to speak with him, to broker a deal for arms. Cassian accompanied her, and kept a hand near his blaster at all times.
Wynne was an older human male, hard bitten and cynical, with a permanent half-sneer set to his mouth that had only deepened when Cassian and Jyn had entered the room.
“So,” he said, looking Jyn up and down slowly, insolently, “the Lion Cub returns.”
Jyn lifted her chin in response, returned the sneer fully. “That’s not my name anymore.”
Wynne grunted. “It was once. That’s all I knew you as. Saw never did tell me your real name.”
“Because you would’ve sold it to the highest bidder,” Jyn replied tersely, and Wynne had merely shrugged, not bothering to deny it.
“Just business, Lion Cub. It wouldn’t have been personal,” he said carelessly. He waved a hand at the table between them. “You gonna sit down? With your,” the sneer turned to Cassian now, “ Friend ?”
There was a nasty undertone to the word, one Cassian did not miss. But he had faced down worse things than some two-bit gun runner and drifter. He simply returned the look with his own granite-edged expression, the one that made Solo refer to him as “Old Stoneface.”
“Eh,” Wynne muttered, turning away first, “what kind of people are you running with these days, Lion Cub?”
“Better than I did before. And stop calling me that,” Jyn replied shortly, lowering herself into the chair across from him.
“What should I call you then?” Wynne asked disinterestedly. Not a good sign.
“Call me Mercury,” Jyn said, putting both hands on the table, where he could see them. Cassian followed her lead. “Let’s talk business.”
Jyn always changed, subtly, to make herself heard by those who knew when she was still with Saw. Her voice became harder, her posture straighter, more solider-like. She used the kind of rough slang Cassian only heard in the deepest of slums. But the effect was always the same. They listened to her, eyed her, as if trying to see if the soldier she’d been under Saw was still there. And it was, Cassian thought. If you weren’t stupid. If you knew how to recognize it.
But Wynne looked like a hard sell. Maybe it was the unimpressed, calculating way he kept eyeing Jyn while she talked. How he glanced at his chrono more than once. Cassian could sense Jyn’s impatience rising.
Finally, Wynne raised a hand. Jyn eyed him like she was thinking of driving one of her knives through his palm. “You know I don’t care who I sell to,” he said. “As long as they pay me, I don’t give a damn. But my crew though… they remember you when you still ran with the Partisans. I heard them talking about you.”
Jyn narrowed her eyes. “And what were they saying?”
“They were saying, ” Cooper drawled, “that you’ve gone soft. That you used to be a fearsome thing. Now you’re just fearful.”
Jyn’s lips peeled back from her teeth, a predator uncoiling. “You think I care what a bunch of useless gobshites think of me?”
“Now that sounds like the Lion Cub I remember,” Wynne said, an actual unpleasant smile spreading across his face. “Now, Mercury, my men need to know who they’re dealing with. They need to know you really were Saw Gerrera’s best weapon, or they’re gonna lose all respect for me, and I can’t have that. So you’re gonna do something for me, and I’ll deal with your… associates about getting some new hardware.”
“And what,” Jyn said slowly, “would I be doing?”
Walk away, Cassian warned her silently, letting a hand fall under the table, press down hard on her knee. Walk away before he makes you do something you can’t take back.
Jyn didn’t so much as glance in his direction, keeping her gaze on Wynne. But her free hand settled over his, returning the pressure just as hard. Let me handle this, was the silent reply.
“Hands where I can see ‘em, mister,” Wynne drawled out and Cassian slowly placed both his hands back on the table. He kept them flat and loose, and not twitching with the desire to wrap them around Wynne’s throat. “Well, Mercury, you can provide me and my men a bit of honest entertainment… and prove yourself to be who you say you are.”
It took Cassian a moment to understand, but Jyn put it together before he did. “Trial by combat,” Jyn said flatly. “That’s what you want? This isn’t the goddamn Republic.”
“It was good enough for Saw to prove someone was serious,” Wynne shot back. “You think that’s beneath you, Lion Cub? You think you’re better than the rest of us?”
Yes, Cassian wanted to shout. Her little finger is worth more than you and all your useless men combined. But he kept silent, watching Jyn, following her lead.
“Who would I be fighting?” Jyn asked finally. Her eyes were hard and watchful, and Cassian could see her muscles bunching in preparation for a fight.
“One of my knife-men,” Wynne replied casually. “I seem to recall you favorin’ knives as your method of combat.”
Jyn leaned back in her chair, her face expressionless as she thought through the terms. “It has to be one and done,” she said at last. “I’m not having you line up however many of your men want a go at me. One fight, and we talk. Deal?”
A vicious grin flickered over Wynne’s features, as dread solidified in Cassian’s stomach. “Deal.”
“You shouldn’t have agreed to this,” Cassian told her in a low voice. Wynne had escorted them to a ring not too far from the original meeting spot. His crew was already there; the air was thick with bloodthirsty anticipation. Mutterings and whispers ran through the crowd as Jyn ignored them all, already stripping off her scarf and outer jacket, leaving her in her mechanic’s vest. She’d already taken off her blaster and truncheon, giving them both to Cassian to hold.
“Do you have a better notion?” Jyn replied curtly, taking some of her best knives out of her pockets, sliding them into the knife braces on her forearms. The ones Cassian had made for her.
“This is a bad idea,” he repeated, watching the crowd of Wynne’s crew. It looked like some of them were exchanging credits. “If it goes wrong--”
“If it goes wrong, I’m counting on you to avenge me,” Jyn said, with almost forced lightness. She kept her eyes on the crowd, trying to pick out which one was Wynne’s knife guy.
Cassian’s hand tightened on her forearm, almost to the point of pain. Startled, Jyn looked up to face him.
He lowered his head close to hers, his mouth near her ear. “Jyn,” he hissed, too low to be heard by anyone around them, “this goes wrong, I will kill them all. ”
A shiver worked its way down Jyn’s spine, not one of fear. He was serious, she could tell. Cassian did not say any words like that lightly. He would do it, leave the place bloody and never regret it.
And Jyn could not allow that.
“It’s one fight,” she said, keeping her voice low. “One fight, and we’re done. Trust me.”
Cassian’s face was hard, his grip on her arm not lessening even as he nodded tersely. “One fight.”
Jyn nodded in reply as Wynne strolled up to them, his oily smile still firmly in place. “Ready to win me some money, Mercury?”
“Get kriffed,” Jyn replied flatly, shaking out of her hands, rolling her shoulders. “Which one of these assholes am I beating today?”
A wiry weasel of a man stalked into the ring. He was staring at Jyn with a terrible kind of hunger, the urge to do damage radiating off him.
“That’s the guy,” Wynne informed them with morbid cheerfulness. “You want to know what we call him?”
“I could care less,” Jyn said and without further ado, entered the ring, a knife appearing in her hand like a miracle.
Wynne eased himself next to Cassian, who was silently running through the odds of how quickly he could kill him, if it came to that. “We call him Thresher, ” he said to Cassian with the air of a confidante. “‘Cause of how he leaves his opponents.”
You, Cassian thought, For you it will be slow.
Jyn looked her opponent over, mentally running through what weaknesses she could readily exploit. Long reach, get in close or stay far away enough to wear him down. Too eager, outlast him. Too hungry, hurt him first.
There was no build up or preamble. She stepped into the ring and they circled each other, knives out and edges ready.
He was smart enough not to strike first; he was studying her much the same way she studied him. Mutters of impatience ran through the crowd, until someone in the back shouted, “ Get on with it already!” as the watchers roared sudden approval. Driven by the sound, the knife man lunged at her.
Jyn swung out of his way, her knife seeking flesh. She scored a first hit across his arm, making him recoil and hiss at her furiously as his crewmates roared.
Jyn bared her teeth in a smile and let him circle her again.
He was good. Not as good as her--too eager--but enough to keep her moving, circling him, letting him get tired, frustrated with his inability to land a hit on her. The watchers around them were starting to scream with frustration at the lack of blood. Let them roar, Saw’s voice said. You outlast him.
The knife-man’s swings were getting wilder and more furious, and Jyn blocked them all, keeping her own cuts light and stinging, enough to piss him off and slow him down, but not so heavily as to make him bleed out. The last thing she needed was for Wynne to renege on the deal for killing one of his--
Her caution failed her. The other knife found itself her side, making her lose her footing. The knife man let out a howl of triumph and he was on her in the next second, knife looking for her throat.
From somewhere, Jyn thought she heard Cassian scream her name over the screaming of the crowd.
But she wasn’t done yet. Jyn let gravity do the work and took him down, getting out her knife with the brass knuckle handle. She hammered it into the other guy’s face, distantly hearing the sound of bones shattering and feeling something hot and sticky land on her face. The noise around her seemed to come in and out with errant frequency; sometimes loud, sometimes quiet. She thought she heard someone yowl, “She’s killing him!” and thought back, That was the idea, asshole.
Someone yanked her away; Jyn snarled and spun, ready to gut whoever dared. In her red haze, she registered Wynne’s pale face, both furious and fearful. “Enough!” he bellowed at her, shaking her none too gently as he gripped her arm. “I wanted entertainment, not murder!”
Then you shouldn’t have pushed me into the ring, Jyn thought, wrenching her arm free from Wynne’s hand. The knife man on the ground let out a low, pained moan. He looked more like meat now, Jyn thought hazily, and wondered why her side hurt.
“Tomorrow,” she ground out, the ring suddenly dead silent around them. “We talk. Anyone else?” she snarled at the crowd, spinning to face them, as they all jerked away from her. “Who else wants to try?”
No one moved. None of them met her gaze. “Yeah,” Jyn got out, “That’s what I thought.” She staggered away from Wynne and his former knife man; the crowd parted for her like she was a harbinger.
Cassian was there before her, eyes blazing in the deadly pale set mask of his face. He didn’t touch her; but handed her blaster and truncheon, immediately coming beside her, just in case she needed him to take an unexpected blow to the side. Jyn struggled to fit her blaster back in her holster, her truncheon back on it’s hook. Her side kept burning; that was annoying. She needed to do something about that, and soon.
“Jyn,” Cassian whispered, his voice urgent, “you’re hurt--”
“It’s nothing,” Jyn muttered back. “Let’s get out of here, and we can deal with it later.” Later, when she didn’t feel like she was going to lose her footing; sink down into red-tinged pain.
They managed to get outside before she collapsed.
He was running. No spy runs unless he absolutely has to, the words of Cassian’s old mentors muttered in his head, you walk, you stride, but for Force’s sake, you do not run.
Running drew attention. Run made people notice you, remember you. Oh yeah, that guy sprinting through the market? He looked like he was carrying someone.
Because he was carrying someone. He was carrying Jyn.
Jyn, who at that very moment might be dying because she was so Force-damned stubborn, too stubborn to admit that she was hurt, that she needed to stop or be looked at--
He should’ve bodily dragged her out of the tavern the minute Wynne wanted to put it to trial by combat; he should’ve thrown her over his shoulder and gotten them both out of there. Let the guns and weapons go to hell; the Alliance could find some other way.
But Jyn asked him to trust her. And he had. And look what happened.
She was heavier than he’d previously imagined she’d be; all muscle and grit and teeth bared defiance. Strength and endurance. But all of that would do her no good if she bled out before they reached the ship. The ship, where they had bacta and bandages and a safe place to rest and recover--
Jyn stirred against him, let out a soft moan of pain. He covered her head with his hand, muttering instinctive, useless words of comfort. It’s alright, I got you, you’re safe. All of them lies.
He kept his fear and terror at bay by imagining how quickly and efficiently he could dismantle Wynne’s entire operation, leave him in the gutter bleeding out slow. Jyn’s breaths became more and more ragged.
Finally, by some miracle, they reached the ship without mishap or being apprehended. Cassian got them inside, uselessly wishing for Kay, who he had to leave behind this mission. But he got Jyn down on his bunk, going for bacta and gauze and bandages.
It had been a long time since he needed to patch someone up on a mission that wasn’t himself. But he forced his hands to remain steady as he peeled away Jyn’s vest and shirt, look at the blood on the sheets and not care. He’d throw them away later, or burn them.
The wound was deep, and worrying. Cassian knelt by her side and got on the rubber gloves that came with the kit, muttering reassurances to her. “Cassian,” she whispered faintly, “Cassian--”
“Don’t try to talk,” he replied more harshly than he meant to, “just save your strength.” He had no gift for comfort just then.
But since when had Jyn ever listened to him? “Don’t--” she tried to say, “don’t--”
“Be quiet,” Cassian snapped back, taking out the bacta. “Just be quiet, I can’t hear you tell me you don’t need it--”
“Don’t kill Wynne,” Jyn got out. “We need him.”
Cassian stared at her incredulously before bowing his head and pressing it the bed by Jyn’s side. “Jyn, please --let me do this first. Okay? Then we can talk about who needs killing or not.”
An actual laugh escaped her, weak but there. “Yeah, that takes up a lot of our time.”
“ No mames, ” Cassian said back, his throat and eyes burning. “You pick the worst possible times to joke, you know that?”
“Sorry,” Jyn whispered, as Cassian felt a spurt of fear as her eyes slid closed.
“Hey,” he said sharply, “ hey! Talk to me, Erso. Look at me.”
“But I’m tired, ” Jyn replied childishly. “I want to rest.”
“You can rest later,” Cassian said implacably. “Tell me about the fight. What did he do wrong?”
“He got overconfident,” Jyn said, her eyes coming back into focus as she talked. “And I got close enough.” She became a little more coherent as Cassian tended to her side, analyzing the fight. He kept his touch as light and as impersonal as possible, keeping his eyes solely on her wound. Not on the fact that a great deal of skin was on display, more so than Jyn had ever shown before. It wasn’t important, Cassian told himself. What mattered was that Jyn was okay.
“You can’t kneel on that leg for long,” Jyn said faintly when he was about done. “It’s bad for your spine.”
“You let me worry about my spine,” Cassian told her, checking the wound one last time. “Okay. How are you feeling?”
“Like I got stabbed,” Jyn grumbled. “It sucks Imperial balls. ”
“I know, I know,” Cassian murmured. Acting purely on instinct, he bent his head and pressed his lips to Jyn’s temple, as light as air. “Rest now, mi vida. ”
“I don’t know what that means,” Jyn breathed out, true sleep, not unconsciousness claiming her.
“I’ll tell you sometime,” Cassian promised. And as she slept, he eased himself on the bed besides her, watching every rise and fall of her chest, each flutter of her eyelashes. Counting each one jealously.
Jyn woke up with her side aching dully and Cassian’s face a few inches from her own.
One of these was very, very good, and the other was very, very bad, but she couldn’t quite decide which was which.
Good: Cassian’s warmth, his face so close to hers, and still tense even in sleep; she wanted to smooth out the furrows in his brow. Bad: her side still hurt. Why did it hurt?
… Oh yeah, she’d gotten stabbed. She was going to have to try harder not to have that happen and worry Cassian.
She let her eyes open and close with no real urgency, just enjoying the quiet around them for once. Probably her side needed to be checked. They needed to make another meeting with Wynne. They had to send a report back to base. But for now… she just wanted to lay here and count Cassian’s eyelashes.
Because Cassian seemed to have a sixth sense for when she was awake, he opened his eyes sooner than she would’ve liked. Now she was never going to be able to admire the way his eyelashes fluttered when he breathed out, or how soft his lips looked in sleep--
“Jyn,” he said, no louder than the steady beat of her heart, “are you okay? Do you need anything?”
You, Jyn thought, gazing back. I need you.
It took her a second to realize she had… oh hell. She’d said it out loud.
Cassian’s face softened, and she felt his hand rest along the side of her face, light as air.
“You have me,” he said quietly. “Jyn, you always have me.”
Jyn closed her eyes with relief, turning her head to nuzzle into his palm. Place her lips where his pulse beat. “All the way.”
His pulse quickened under her lips. “Yes,” he agreed quietly. “All the way.”
Jyn eased closer, letting him slide his arms around her with the utmost care, mindful of her wound. “Sorry I worried you,” she mumbled into his shirt.
“No more knife fights,” he replied, his voice a rumble she could feel through his chest. “I mean it.”
“I won though,” Jyn muttered and Cassian’s arms tightened around her.
“Not at that cost, Jyn,” he said quietly. “ Never at that cost.”
“Not even for the Rebellion?” Jyn dared ask.
Cassian’s hands moved into her hair, gently but inexorably pulling her head up to meet his completely serious expression. “Not even for the Rebellion.”
Jyn had to press her face into his shirt then, overwhelmed. Cassian muttered something reassuring, carefully and delicately fitting her against him. “We’ll get food in a minute,” he said. “And do whatever else we have to do. We’ll just… stay here for a second. Okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered into his heartbeat. “Stay here.”
Not that long ago, a man and a woman met on a battlefield, and found each other. And did not let go.