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the sharp edge of survival

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They climb a lot, after.

It starts on some back-of-beyond planet. It’s 90% sheer rock faces and 10% murky creature-infested water, so their ship is perched on some narrow ledge near the clouds and Baze keeps leaning out over the side of the ramp and going green.

“If you didn’t look, you’d be fine,” reasons K-2SO, and Baze just keeps looking.

Fine isn’t really a Thing for any of them, post-imprisonment. Actually it wasn’t really a Thing for any of them before, if Jyn’s being honest with herself.

On the fourth day, there’s still no sign of the rumoured Empire loyalists hidden somewhere and everybody is itchy with waiting. Baze has taken his blaster apart and put it back together twenty seven times.

If Jyn hears Chirrut mutter, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me,” one more time, she’s going to fight the Force single-handedly and kick its ass.

She wakes up in the middle of the night, her throat closed around a silent scream. Her fingers tighten around the arms of her chair and she feels the absence of Cassian before she turns her head and sees it.

She slips out of the co-pilot’s seat and into her boots before she knows she’s moving.

The door hisses when she bangs it open. K2 lights up one beady eye, a narrow pinprick in the darkness.

A sigh. “He went up.”

She nods, picks her way around Bodhi’s sleeping form, and sneaks down the ramp.

They leave it open all the time. K2 keeps pointing out that it’s a safety disaster with a 95% chance of getting them killed, but Jyn has seen everybody’s faces any time it’s closed.

They kept them all in separate prisons, entire star systems apart, but Jyn can still hear their screams ringing in her head.

“It stays open,” Cassian had said that first night, and K2 had turned away with a huff.

She finds his boots tucked neatly against the rock face.

When she tilts her head back, the drifting clouds paint her lips and face with water. She can’t see him, but the same faint heat that tugged her first to Bodhi’s prison and then to Chirrut’s and then to Baze’s when the Rebellion got her out of hers is pulling her upwards now.  

Jyn shucks her boots, tightens her jacket, and sets a hand on the cliff.

A burn sets in around her shoulders, in her calves and toes as she climbs. It’s the sweetest thing she’s felt in weeks. She feels the phantom weight of Death Star plans dragging at her belt, plastic under her palms instead of granite.

She climbs.

She comes across Cassian halfway up, drooping on a tiny ledge, his head back against the rock face. He doesn’t look that surprised to see her. He lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug, unapologetic.

Jyn smiles, feral and familiar.

She hefts herself onto the ledge beside him. Their hips press together, their thighs and knees and shoulders. He’s damp from the cloud, cold to the touch, and Jyn leans in harder without realising.

His hand finds hers the way it does sometimes in the dark of the ship, the two of them shut away from the others lest the screaming nightmares wake them all too.

Jyn isn’t afraid of Cassian’s demons. They’re made of the same stuff as hers.

She feels clearer up here, somehow. Closer to a sky she can’t see.

When she drops her head onto his shoulder, the muscle there shifts like something independent.

There’s a long, light silence, and then his head comes down to rest against hers.

 

*

 

Jyn wakes up the next morning with aching shoulders and a clearer head than she’s had in weeks.

Cassian meets her eyes across the ship’s belly when she comes out of the cockpit. He gives her something that might be a smile, if you looked at it with your eyes half-closed.

She is picking rockdust out from under her fingernails all day, and the bottom of her foot starts bleeding again when she knocks it on a corner.

Baze grabs her as she hops around spitting and bandages it up, efficient and calm.

“Wrap your feet if you’re going to climb,” is all he says after, and presses a roll of gauze into her hands.

 

*

 

They find the cadre on the sixth day and take them out the seventh.

Bodhi and K2 pull them out of the canyon and into empty space, and Jyn watches the sky rush towards them with a hunger she doesn’t know what to do with.

Back on Yavin 4, they slink into their billets like feral cats.

Nobody’s said expressly that what they’re doing isn’t allowed, per se, but Mon Mothma gets this disappointed look when they show up bloody and Jyn reckons it’s only weeks before their requests to head out start getting more closely scrutinised.

“I think they’ll try to stop us,” Bodhi says the next evening, pale and anxious over his stew.

More of the Rebellion has been dismantled while they were away. The Command Centre’s all but stripped bare, the number of soldiers cut by half or more.

Jyn remembers how it had bustled when they first arrived. How the silence had crept in bit by bit, as relieved rebels made heroes’ returns to their families.

“Do you not have anywhere you’d like to go,” Leia Organa had said, looking at the six of them in turn, “a home you’re dying to see again? Spouses or siblings or families?”

Jyn had looked left, caught Cassian’s eye. Looked right, caught Bodhi’s and Chirrut’s and Baze’s.

“I have no home,” pointed out K2 from behind them, its voice almost amused. “I do not even have my original wiring.”

Beside Jyn, Cassian had snorted once before he caught himself.

“Well,” said Leia, in control as ever, “You are welcome anywhere. Anywhere in the galaxy.”

What she hadn’t said was that the welcome didn’t extend to the Rebel Base. That the Republic wanted to memorialise it, paint over the cracks, make it light and clean and airy. A place of Good and peace.

Rogue One are the cracks, that’s the thing. The galaxy wants burn-bright heroes—it wants Skywalkers and flashy pilots and handsome smugglers with velvet-soft trousers who are rogues, but the right type of rogues. The type people can love.

Rogue One are all sharp edges.

The galaxy doesn’t know what to do with heroes like that.

 

*

 

That night Cassian comes to Jyn before she’s even asleep.

There’s a banging on the door and then he’s there, his hair awry, his feet already bandaged up.

He sees her eyes go down.

“Baze,” he explains, a half-grin forming, “he thinks climbing is stupid.”

“It is stupid,” says Jyn, “it’ll get you killed,” and she sits down right there to wrap her own feet.

Cassian stands over her all the while, patient and looming. When she struggles to pull the wrapping quite as tight as she wants, he squats down and does it for her.

The feel of his fingers on the bottoms of her feet is a funny thing.

She watches him as he works, traces the furrow of his brow and the soft sweep of his dark hair.

He looks up at her when he’s finished, steady and unabashed.

“Ready?” he says, and stands up without waiting.

They climb to the very top of one of the pyramids nearby, one that lets them see the whole base and then the tops of trees.

The sky is so big up here. Jyn wants to live inside it.

“Bodhi’s right,” Cassian says at last, leaning into her. “They won’t let us keep doing what we’re doing for long.”

Jyn bares her teeth. “It’s for them.”

“Even so.”

The silence hangs between them. And then Jyn says, “There’s a planet in the Ileenium System. D’Qar. I went there once with Saw. There was a rebel outpost there, but the records say it’s abandoned now.”

Cassian absorbs this for a minute or two.

“Quiet, then. Out of the way.”

“Not much space traffic,” Jyn agrees, thinking over the report she pilfered this morning.

“Hm,” says Cassian.

After they climb back down, they walk back to their rooms. Cassian catches at her sleeve as she goes to duck inside hers, and she finds herself looking harder than she should at the place where he’s touching her.

 “Let’s put it to the others.” His voice is brighter than she’s heard in days. “Let’s ask them.”

Jyn doesn’t answer. She already knows what they’ll say.

 

*

 

They skip off Yavin 4 with a stolen ship and six months worth of rations and a commander’s shrieks of rage in the comms.

Bodhi’s laughing as he pulls them out of orbit and into hyperspace, and K2 keeps having to adjust controls to allow for his overenthusiasm.

“What if someone’s already commandeered the base?” asks Baze churlishly. He’s in the corner, Chirrut’s head in his lap.

“They haven’t,” says Chirrut, and that is the last protest any of them make.

 

*

 

D’Qar is perfect. Empty, quiet, with a sky so big Jyn sleeps outside any night it’s not raining.

After two nights, she finds a good rock to climb.

Cassian finds her at the top of it, hoists himself over the lip. His face does something complicated when he sees her sitting there, her arms around her knees and her throat tipped out to the stars.

“I love it here,” she dares to tell him later, when they’re sitting close and silent.

He doesn’t say anything for a while. And then, just when she thinks he’ll never say anything at all, she hears him confess, “I love it too.”

 

*

 

Cassian’s set up some chain of information somehow. Jyn doesn’t ask. They get the report the fifth day on D’Qar and they’re in action almost instantly.

“The First Order are less subtle than you’d expect,” comments Bodhi as he packs explosives into cases, “you’d think they’d try harder to pretend they’re not the ones stealing children.”

“Well, they’re not stealing these ones,” says Jyn, and shoves her blaster into her belt.

 

*

 

They deliver the twelve kidnapped children to their families and twenty five dead Stormtroopers to the First Order base two star systems over.

“I think you lost these,” Cassian hollers from beside Jyn as soldiers pour out of the base. Some of them are wearing mismatched uniform, some still limping from injuries sustained in the war.

Jyn feels alive, feels bright and burning. This is right. She can feel it humming through her. As they shriek out through the atmosphere and into the safety of space she feels the Force shivering against her skin, hungry and pleased.

That night they all sit around a fire, build it higher and higher until it’s too hot to stand near.

“Why d’you climb?” Bodhi asks later, when Chirrut and Baze have gone to bed and K2 has powered down. He’s looking over at where Jyn and Cassian are sitting several feet apart, both of them with feet already bandaged.

Jyn realises she doesn’t know.

“I climb in my sleep if I don’t do it for real,” Cassian explains, low and rough beside her, “I climb and I fall and I climb again. At least if I do it while I’m awake I sleep.”

Jyn tilts her head like it’s the same for her.

In truth, it could be anything. It could be the sense of reliving that desperate climb and the relief of surviving it, the triumph of pulling that switch. It could be to achieve complete exhaustion so that she can at last sleep without nightmares. It could be to get closer to the sky.

She thinks probably it’s mostly to do with Cassian, and the silent singing comfort of climbing above him. Of looking down and seeing his face turned up to her, his muscles bunching and shifting, his hands white-knuckled on the cliff-face.

It’s the only time she feels balanced inside, truth be told. The only time she feels peace.

 

*

 

Word spreads around the galaxy.

There’s this gang in the Outer Rim. They call themselves Rogue One, after the heroes of Scarif. They don’t have names or pasts or loyalties but if you’ve got a problem with anything related to the old Empire then they’ve got a way of dealing with it for you.

They don’t ask for payment. They don’t take prisoners. They go in and they go out, deadly and efficient, and they don’t say no if you’ve got rations or blankets or other supplies to give them but they don’t demand them ever.

Word spreads, and spreads further, until it reaches the ears of a Senator called Leia Organa, and she smiles into her notes.

 

*

 

Ten years after the Death Star they should be slowing down. They should be taking fewer risks, pulling fewer jobs. 

But the jobs are piling up, the kids are disappearing faster, and besides if they sit still they start screaming in their sleep again. They tried to have a serious talk with Chirrut about coming on fewer jobs, but he knocked Cassian out with his staff and they didn't have that talk again.

Cassian finds Jyn one night at the top of her favourite rock. She’s curled around her belly, tears leaking into the limestone.

“I’m sorry,” she groans, “I should have told you. But I can’t, Cassian. Babies are—we couldn’t do that to a child. Not here. Not with this life. I won’t leave them this legacy.”

Cassian sits down beside her and draws her into his lap. He curls his fingers into her hair, and of all the stupid things he starts to sing. All the songs his mother ever sang him as a child, laments and lullabies and drinking songs. He sings, low and deep, until Jyn falls asleep shivering, wretched and cold and hollow.

 

*

 

Nobody talks about Jyn’s pale silence for the month it lasts. They go and do a job without her, because when K2 tries to joke her into the ship she turns a Sith-worthy glare on him and he backs off with both hands raised.

That’s the first time they come home with refugees.

Jyn sees them coming from the top of her rock and she scrambles down it, races barefoot back through the jungle to their camp. It’s sturdier now, permanent—they’ve been farming here for years, now, and it still makes Jyn laugh to see K2 and Baze hoeing the fields like her parents used to.

“Their entire village was slaughtered,” says Cassian as he stands a dusty four-year-old back on her feet, “We couldn’t leave them. Not when there’s space here.”

Overnight, their family goes from six to twenty-five.

 

*

 

As the years roll by and the First Order gets stronger, their secret outpost at D’Qar becomes much bigger.

Bodhi and Cassian teach the most eager how to fly on any number of pilfered Fighters, and when old Rebellion comrades start turning up they join them, provide demonstrations, take children shrieking with laughter up into the sky.

One day Jyn and Cassian come down from the rock and find Leia Organa waiting for them, watching children run around underfoot.

“The Republic wasn’t doing anything for them,” says Jyn, wiry and defiant.

“I know,” replies Leia, her sadness written all over her, “I know.”

 

*

 

There’s a day where they all almost die. It happens every now and again, and Jyn is ashamed of what it does to them. The adrenaline should leave them riding high when they survive, overblown with nerves and shaky with relief.

Instead it leaves them sick and shivery, silent and wan and helpless.

The thing is that there’s nowhere to hide at home any more. Not with 374 people about, stripping the forest back further and putting up more huts and wanting to hear about what they’ve been doing, how they’re fighting back where the Republic won’t.

They get back and come down the ramp and instantly this kid bounds up to Cassian, all youth and wiry strength, and he’s saying, “Such an honour—I’m from Yavin 4 too, you know. I’m going to join the Republican fleet, right, try to make a difference like you guys are doing. My mother, she knew the Skywalkers, and—”

Jyn will remember that kid years later, when he turns up at the D’Qarian base with half a dozen stolen X Wings and their defecting pilots inside.

“Remember me?” Poe Dameron will say, and Cassian won’t bother hiding a grin.

 

*

 

That night they take the ship and hop half a world away, touch down in the thickest bit of jungle they can find. Cassian and Jyn take a rope and scale a cliff, then help the other four up.

Then they sit there and take in the silence and the sky.

“It’s happening again, isn’t it,” says Baze at last, calm and resigned.

Jyn looks out at the stars, at what’s hiding between them, and locks her fingers into Cassian’s.

 

*

 

They don’t get asked about the Resistance moving in. It’s like one day they’re this motley home for waifs and strays and the next there are barracks and a command centre and people “Sir” and “Ma’am”ing them.

Leia Organa apologises.

Jyn accepts the apology, because she can feel Leia’s grief like a living hollow thing inside the other woman, but she doesn’t like it.

“We don’t have to stay,” Cassian points out that night, his hands in her hair, “We could skip out again.”

Jyn turns her face into his chest and sighs.

“You want to be here, though.”

Cassian can’t argue with that.

So Jyn smiles, lifts a hand to pull at his shirt. “Besides, D’Qar was ours first.”

Jyn Erso has been called a lot of things over the course of her life, and she knows damn well that they’re right when they say she’s possessive. Anything she’s ever owned has got teeth marks in it, scratches where she’s dug her claws in holding on.

She never had a thing but she held too tight for fear of losing it.

 

*

 

Cassian is—maybe happy is wrong. Purposeful is better. The jobs, they gave him that well enough, but this? The Rebellion born all over again, disquieted Republicans pouring in until they’ve got too many, until General Organa turns to Cassian and says, “I think we need to send the civilians somewhere else, Colonel.”

This is what Cassian was bred for, born and raised and trained for. He’s been doing it since he was six years old and this is not something Jyn can take him from, not for all the selfishness in the galaxy.

Jyn realises a few weeks later that this is theirs, now. They are not on the fringe any more, they are in the thick of it. She hasn’t seen Bodhi in days; he’s ensconced with one of the tech teams working on some old Imperial droids. Chirrut has found an old comrade from Jedha and they practice their fighting together, silent, blind, stiff, Baze watching on with arms folded.

And Cassian—she can’t look for him but he’s in the midst of it, his arms folded next to the General or his brow furrowed as he looks over some stolen information.

She sits up and shakes him awake one night in bed and pleads, “Do we have to? After everything that happened last time?”

He catches her wrists and he looks up at her and he says, his voice so quiet, “They’re building a new base, Jyn.  A battle-station. They’re calling it Starkiller.”

Jyn’s breath feels like poison in her throat.

Cassian looks sorrier than she’s ever seen.

“Yeah,” he says, “we have to. We have to.”

 

*

 

 

They aren’t sent for plans this time. They’re sent to the other end of the galaxy, to follow rumours about a shadowy figure named Snoke.

“I want to go after Kylo Ren,” Jyn had said to Leia three days previously, cornering the general in the command centre, “I want to show him exactly what we’re made of. That we’re not scared of him.”

“That’s not why you want to do it,” Leia replied, and brushed past Jyn without blinking.

What sticks in Jyn’s throat is that Leia is right. That Jyn needs the galaxy to be empty of Kylo Ren because of what Darth Vader did to her and Cassian and the other three those wretched days in Imperial prisons. Because Kylo Ren is out there actively trying to be Darth Vader come again, and Jyn needs to kill him like she’s never needed anything in her life.

“We’ll get him,” Cassian promises her, curled in tight one night on some ice-bound planet. “He’s ours.”

Jyn bares her teeth and grins.

 

*

 

This time it’s cocky young Poe Dameron from Yavin 4 and a desert rat girl and a defected Stormtrooper that brings the planet killer down.

Rogue One hear about it from the other side of the galaxy, huddled around a comm, everybody’s knees pressed tight together.

“Well, it’s not my fault I was designed with metal joints,” complains K2 when Jyn swears at him for clonking her and giving her a bruise, and the others shush them both as they wait for Bodhi to get the transmission clear enough to hear.

When they hear, nobody cheers. There’s dead silence, everybody staring at everybody else, and then Bodhi says, “I wonder how long until the next one.”

There’s silence.

And then Cassian says, fierce and uncompromising, “However long, we fight it. We fight it, right? We fight it.”

Jyn reaches out. Her fingers find the Kyber crystal hanging round his neck, familiar and worn, and press it hard enough that it leaves indents in his chest.

“We fight it,” she agrees, and hears the other four concur.

 

*

 

They still climb, after Starkiller, despite the joints that ache more with every passing year.

They go back to D’Qar with precious little information about Snoke but a whole lot about Kylo Ren and Leia says, her voice thick and her eyes like the void, “Yes, fine, go after him. Just don’t come whining to me if you get yourselves killed.”

“Like we needed her permission,” Jyn and Cassian hear K2 mock as they slip out into the trees and head for their rock.

“Getting quite above himself, that droid,” comments Jyn as she reaches for the first handhold, the first step.

She looks down, sees Cassian looking up.

“Good,” he says, and smiles so wide it blinds her.

 

*

 

They sit on the top of the rock and look up at the sky and breathe. Just breathe.

“Are you sorry?” she dares ask only now, only here, all this time later, “are you sorry we never had a child?”

Cassian turns to look at her, lithe and lined and serious.

“No,” he says, and the truth of it is all over him, “That was never for us. We’re—you and me, we’re too much sharp edges. It might have been good for us to raise a child, but it would never have done the child any good. We couldn’t love it without being terrified we’d lose it.”

“Are you terrified you’ll lose me?”

Cassian grins suddenly, shifts inches closer.

“No,” he says, reaching for her hand, “Never. We are inextricable.”

Jyn watches as his fingers walk up her forearm, her bicep, her shoulder. They come to rest at the corner of her mouth, warm and calloused and familiar.

“Who would I climb with if not you?” he asks.

Jyn laughs, then, bright and true, and turns back to the great wide sky.

“Who indeed,” she murmurs, and leans into his side.