Each breath stuck to his aching ribs like a blade, whistling through clenched teeth; he couldn’t get enough air, and his vision swam as he pulled himself upward. Every few moments the rumble of an explosion outside would make the durasteel shiver beneath his raw fingers.
The hatch was so far above him. He feared that each grapple was his last; he would lose his footing and fall, and there would be no getting up from that one. It would be easier, less effort to let go. It would hurt less.
Jyn, he thought. Jyn is up there.
And the man in white had been in pursuit. Maybe she’d already dispatched the Imperials and completed their mission, and wouldn’t need his help anymore. But he couldn’t let himself rest until he knew they had succeeded. More than that, he’d made a promise to someone who’d been left behind her whole life and he wouldn’t break it now, not while he had strength left.
So, he climbed. His arms strained in their sockets, shoulders tight, ribs aching so badly that his head spun. He had nearly sobbed when he found the maintenance lift defunct, but by now he had put the despair behind him, and focused only on the immediate goal: he had to climb. Don’t fall, he urged himself, don’t fall don’t fall don’t –
A nearby explosion shook the tower, and his fingers slipped from their precarious hold. He flailed for purchase, nerves snapping as the floor shimmered below, undulating like water. His heart surged up his throat. She might already be dead, the cold voice whispered, the Captain and spy. Control your expectations. His breath stilled, thoughts flattened, and he reached for the next ledge.
If another group of Imperials found him, he’d be dead. He couldn’t hold himself up with one arm anymore, or see well enough to shoot, so they’d make quick work of him before moving onto Jyn. If she’s alive.
Staring at the ledge above him, he sorted through his potential injuries; a concussion, almost certainly, and broken ribs. There was something wrong with his hip too; when he put any weight on his left leg, the agony was so shattering that he nearly swooned. The last time he’d been hurt this bad, he’d needed K to exfiltrate, which the droid had done with customary frank assessment and commentary. There never was a pushier worrywart, person or droid. Don’t think about him, he lectured himself, eyes burning. You still have work to do.
The hatch was closer now, just an armspan away. He could reach if he was reckless. A bead of icy sweat trickled down the side of his face, tickling his neck before soaking the filthy collar of his shirt. His fingers shook, slipped. He was not reckless, not when so much counted on accuracy; groaning in pain, he hauled himself up another ledge before balancing precariously atop, gripping the sides of the wall.
He had to jump.
A reel of facts arrayed themselves in Cassian’s mind; he would die if he fell again, and Jyn would carry on the mission alone, more likely to fail than if she’d had someone watching her back – she might already be dead, for all he knew. He hadn’t heard an explosion in a long time – a lull: in their favor, or the Empire’s? A stupid question. They’d come here with so few forces, death was all but certain.
But they could still complete their mission.
Sucking in a hard breath, he steadied himself, shifting his weight to his right leg. The hatch shimmered above, and a wave of vertigo nearly pitched him over the side. The plans, he thought, steeling his nerve. Jyn.
He sprang upward, fingers scrabbling, and cried out when his hip slammed against the wall. But he was too close to give up now; though his vision dimmed and arms shook, he dragged himself up by pure force of will alone.
A gust of wind whistled through the durasteel beams. It was colder up here; his damp shirt clung to his back, making him shiver. At first, he couldn’t see Jyn, or anyone – no ships, no blasterfire, no sound; it was as if the moon had completely evacuated while he desperately clawed his way up the archive. A thrill of foreboding twisted his gut.
Voices; he spun, bracing against a console. It was Jyn and the man in white; he had a gun trained on her, but she squared off against him like a brawler, shoulders hiked and head down, like she was a second away from bum-rushing him. Her eyes seared with feral hatred; a woman aflame.
His heart lurched. He drew his blaster before he was consciously aware of moving, or even deciding. His hands rattled, too badly to take the shot. He grit his teeth, stilling himself, pushing away the panic and pain. Quickly … easy. He thought of Jedha and the fight in the Holy Quarter; remembered the weight of her above him after she’d tackled him to the ground, her arms crossed over their heads, the explosion still ringing in his ears. She hadn’t even thought about it.
And he fired.
The rest happened in slow motion. The man in white crumpled, then fell. A rush of sound swept over the platform; ion cannons, ships knifing through low atmo, before muffling to silence. She saw him, she looked at him, right through him, and her hard expression softened into something he had never seen before.
He’d never been smiled at like that in his life.
Jyn had no time to marvel; she rushed forward just as Cassian pitched toward the platform, catching him only at the last moment and bracing his weight against hers. He was heavier than she thought he’d be, but warm and solid, beautifully alive. His skin was sallow, covered with a fine sheen of sweat, and blood tracked down from the corner of his mouth. She remembered, then.
“Let’s go,” she told him.
His eyelids fluttered. “The plans?”
“I’ve transmitted them. I’d just finished when he showed up.” A nod at the prone body behind them. Her smile shook a little.
It was stupid to hope, stupid to expect any different, not when they’d gone so long without contact from the rest of the squad, but looking up at Cassian, spiteful determination settled in her chest. It wasn’t fair to rob him of what he’d fought so hard to see; unjust that he should give everything for peace and never know it himself. The gate was open; if they hurried, they might still be able to escape.
“Come on,” she said, touching his face, trying to bring him around. “Stay with me.”
He sucked in a wet gasp, sagging hard against her, before she felt him tense and steady, new focus in his eyes. “Always.”
How can you say things like that and mean them? She couldn’t stand him sometimes; a liar until he wasn’t, and good luck trying to tell the difference. Hysterical laughter caught in her throat. Stupid to think about it now, with battle raging around them.
They staggered into the auxiliary turbolift, Cassian slumping against the wall as she punched in the ground floor on the flickering console. He could barely stand. She wanted to ask him how he’d climbed twelve stories with such serious injuries, but she supposed she already knew, this one truth if nothing else; he never thought about himself.
With a bang and a screech, the lift lurched downward, and she threw her arms around Cassian before he could fall. “Hold on to me,” she said, uselessly; they were already so close, near enough that she could feel his breath against her temple. Despite his pain and fading grasp on consciousness, his arm was solid around her, steady. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d really held someone like this, or been held. She flushed; stupid to get bent out of shape over an unconnected thought, madness summoned by adrenaline. You never knew what shock would do to your brain.
Light swelled, spilling over his gaunt features, before they slipped into darkness again. But she felt his stare, like heat on bare skin after a lifetime spent in the cold, and wondered distantly how he could touch her without his hands, only a look. Their breathing entwined, painfully loud in the close space. Through his shirt, she felt the warmth of him, his narrow waist; lean-muscled from a lean life. She knew so little about it.
Don’t look at me like that. She couldn’t form the words.
Static on the comlink startled them both; Cassian winced as she jostled, and she grit her teeth, steadying her hold on him. She needed to be more careful; he was already so hurt, she didn’t need to make it worse with her carelessness.
“Bodhi?” she whispered, too exhausted to press.
A long, crackling silence. Then: “I’m here.”
She closed her eyes. “Bodhi?”
Cassian’s arm tightened around her shoulder, and his ragged breath hitched in the taut silence. Another rumble shook the earth. Too long. She had accepted their situation when Bodhi spoke again. “Our ship ---oyed. Rep – transport is going to ----- on their way. The way to tower beachf--- is clear. Sortof, anyw— You got to hurry though. P-please hurry. They’re pulling troops out.”
Understanding dawned; there could be only one reason why they’d withdraw personnel.
“It’s too far,” Cassian whispered, sagging against her. He’d put it together first. “You –“
He continued stubbornly, trying to wrench free. “You can make it if you –“
“Don’t fight me,” she shot back, and firmed her hold on him. He was trembling, or it might have been her own shivering hands, shuddering bones. “You’ll only make this harder.”
He shook his head. “Jyn …”
“You’re really going to do this now? Seriously?” Something fierce rose in her chest, coiled around her heart. “I’m not leaving without you. So every moment you spend trying to be a big martyr is a moment we could have used getting to Bodhi.”
The martyr comment clearly annoyed him. “I’m not trying to be a martyr, I’m being realistic. You know I won’t be able to make it that far. We take long enough and they’ll leave you.”
“They’ll leave us,” she snapped. Why don’t you ever think about yourself?! She needed to try a different strategy. “You said you’d stick with me. All the way, remember? Because I remember.” Her voice shook with emotion she didn’t understand. “You’re going to ditch me so soon?”
She knew she had him; he couldn’t disagree without being a hypocrite, or let her waste any more time. “Jyn …” he sighed, a concession, almost in awe.
Stop saying my name like that. She secured her grip around his waist before setting out at a desperate pace, and he kept up as best he could, though with each step a hiss of pain escaped between his clenched teeth, a muscle flickering in his jaw. She was breathing hard too, panic pushing her pulse up her throat, but purpose centered her thoughts. She wasn’t about to let him die, not when there was still a chance to live, not after he’d saved her so many times.
Together, they limped out into the blistering sunlight.
Bodhi Rook knew he was dead.
They were all dead, really; it had just taken him a little longer to wrap his head around it. Yet there was a dumb, animal part of his brain that couldn’t help but to hope, despite every awful thing he’d seen today, because hoping felt better. Maybe Jyn and Cassian would get here soon, maybe the lull would hold, maybe the push on the west beach would keep the Imperials pinned down, maybe the confusion above would distract any pursuing forces, maybe they really would make it back. A pile of maybes, sturdy as a sandbank.
Stupid, he thought as he stared at the Alliance soldier next to him, spraying blaster fire over their cover. A returning volley smashed the plasteel, showering him in sparks. No one else had expected to survive this mission. It made him feel childish, ridiculously out of place. He wasn’t brave like them; he wanted to do the right thing, but lacked the nerve to follow through.
Yet he hoped. The gate had been destroyed; maybe they could make it. Maybe.
A pair of fighters screamed past overhead, spewing cannonfire. Debris streaked across the sky, adorned every few moments by a burst of orange and red. He tried not to think about how many people had died in the last five minutes. He tried not to think about Baze and Chirrut.
The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force. It didn’t sound right when he said it, even in his head.
“Two minutes!” squawked a voice on the comm. Bodhi nearly dropped his stolen rifle. “Be ready to move!”
A block of ice froze in his gut. Jyn and Cassian. He’d tried to raise them twice in the last hour but there had been nothing, no reply, not even static. They were probably dead, he coached himself. This was an island full of people who wanted to kill them. It was an obvious conclusion, yet still he hoped; if anyone could make it out of a place like that, it was Jyn and Cassian.
“They’re still coming,” he insisted to the transport pilot. “They have the hard copy. Just in case, right?” It sounded stupid even to his ears.
“Are you ---azy? We have to get out of here now!”
“I know –“
“Have you looked up in the last hour?”
He had been avoiding it, but he did so now. A gunmetal moon rose from the hazy clouds, nearly faded into the blue, much too close. His breath stalled; they had far less time than even their most pessimistic contingencies allowed. He remembered the crumbling stones of Jedha, the earth disintegrating right under their feet. He’d seen this monstrosity up close, yet even then he still couldn’t help hoping he was wrong. Like an idiot.
Where are you guys?
A swarm of Imperials crested the hill half a kilometer away, chrome blazing in the sunlight, and sprayed their position with blasterfire. Shouts, orders; a grenade whistled overhead before smashing into a cargo pod, blasting it to smithereens, raining their cover with stinging smoke and debris. That was the thing about a battle, Bodhi thought distantly – you could plan all you wanted, but in the middle of the confusion there wasn’t much you could do but keep your head down and hope.
You could fight, a sly little voice said. That’s what Jyn and Cassian would do. Another grenade struck true this time, a chorus of screams shattered the air, then the boom. Something fleshy splattered his cheek; the sounds faded, overridden by the ringing in his ears. Acrid smoke filled his nostrils, choking and thick. You could die.
The smoke will make it hard for the Imperials to see, though. That was lucky.
The woman next to him howled something into her comm; sand spattered his face and neck. Explosions popped in the distance, rumbling on the horizon. A streak of red and silver soared overhead, engines screaming. Our transport, Bodhi saw, then understood moments later. Only way out now. Jyn and Cassian weren’t coming – they were probably already dead, and Bodhi was the idiot who couldn’t just accept the truth, even in the middle of a battle none of them were likely to survive. If they weren’t killed by the Imperial squads rushing their position, then it’d be the Death Star, or a Destroyer in pursuit once they broke atmo.
The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force.
He rose into a half-crouch and scrambled awkwardly across the beach, hands raised over his head like he could bat aside oncoming blasterfire. Stupid. There was no accounting for dumb instinct. He’d splashed clumsily into the water when something caught the corner of his eye. He cursed the rush of hope that nearly choked him, fought it with cold pragmatism; it was an Imperial squad cutting them off from behind, an AT-AT with cannons trained on them, tiny as ants, the Emperor himself come to kill them all with a wave of his hand.
A shuddery breath rushed out of him when he heard his name, and saw her wave. It was Jyn and Cassian, hobbling out of the tree line. “Cover them!” the squad-leader screamed when she saw. “Take out those grenadiers!” So slow, they were moving so slow, the Death Star would fire any minute now, or one of those Imperials would blow their transport out of the air with a grenade. Why are they moving so slow? He realized in a flash of instinct – one of them must be hurt.
Without thinking, he splashed out of the transport (like an idiot) and slogged over to them. His heart raced, but it didn’t make him feel shaky and weak like it usually did. The smoke’s clearing, he thought, oddly calm. We need to hurry.
They looked like they’d been through the guts of reactor core; their faces were flushed red, streaked with grime, and Cassian’s was bloodied. His eyes fluttered closed, barely conscious, and she slumped beneath his arm, clutching her side with a sooty hand. They staggered into the surf just as Bodhi reached them. “Help me with him,” Jyn wheezed.
She looked like she could barely stand, let alone carry a grown man. Quickly, Bodhi slung one of Cassian’s arms around his shoulder and half dragged, half-carried him to the shuttle. “Jyn,” Cassian mumbled, head lolling, when Bodhi hauled him inside.
“She’s coming,” Bodhi said. “Hang on.”
He’d no sooner replied before he dove out into the hail of blasterfire again, pushing past another squad of soldiers as they rushed on board. Jyn crouched in the surf, gasping, and he settled an arm around her. “Come on,” he urged, gently. Shots whizzed over their heads. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Baze?” she whispered. “Chirrut?”
He couldn’t speak; the words wouldn’t dislodge. He shook his head.
The shuttle was halfway to liftoff when the pair of them staggered onboard, and before long they were flying, and he always felt best flying; the shiver of engines beneath his feet, a rumble he felt down to his bones. Even pitching about, with pilots white-knuckled on the controls, calling for someone to cover their escape, things was better in the air. Anything was better than the beach.
Cassian had lost consciousness. Jyn groped for his hand, slumping at his side, and Bodhi hovered over them, anxious and aching and utterly useless. He’d gotten out with only bangs and scrapes – it wasn't right that they should be so hurt, when they’d done so much. He’d done hardly anything at all.
The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force.
Just as they broke atmo, a lance of green light pierced the sky.