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Another Word for Hope

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Maybe they run.

Maybe there was no way up–or maybe they fell. The climb was hard enough, and Krennic wouldn’t stop shooting, and they can’t get up to the coms tower, so they climb down. Jyn and Cassian together, scrambling lower and lower through the endless tower of data files until they reach the ground, find one last open door and slip through. K2 had said their fastest route had enough stormtroopers to kill them thirty percent of the way in, but droids had been known to make mistakes. From time to time.

Maybe they make it through. Impossibly, improbably, darting out of the base of the tower like they are fleeing fire or flood, like the entire weight of the Empire is bearing down on them. They cross the beach like lightning, turning sand to glass beneath their feet as they bolt, ducking laser fire, firing back at what they can barely see through the smoke and dust. They pass Chirrut and Baze, still sprinting toward the ship they know Bodhi has kept running for them. Chirrut lunges, dodges, slams his lightbow into a stormtrooper so the shot aimed for Jyn goes wild.

Maybe they fight.

Maybe they keep running, through the debris left by the rebels’ thermal grenade offensive and the Empire’s AT-AT counterattack. Cassian slips on a piece of twisted metal and Jyn stops, one hand still clutching the precious drive, the other reaching down, hauling him back to unsteady feet.

“Go on without me,” he says, teeth gritted through the pain, “Jyn, just go. I’ll never make it.”

And she just glares at him, that defiant glare that had told him that–even in handcuffs and dragged before Mon Mothma herself–this was a woman who had never been as defeated as she thought she was. As she claimed to be. Like a forest fire through his heart, she swept into his life and stoked a dying ember. She said again and again that this wasn’t her fight, but he’d seen the way she looked at Saw Gerrera when he told her to fight. The old rebel had chosen his successor well. He’d known before Jyn did that his mantle was hers to take up, that this fight was more thoroughly hers than perhaps anyone else’s. That she inherited it not only from him, the man who raised her, but from her father as well, the old engineer passing the message, the fatal flaw, like a torch.

Maybe they fight.

Maybe Jyn fights, though she never thought she would. She hauls Cassian up, slinging his arm over her shoulder and dragging him forward, one step at a time.

“I’m not leaving you,” she grits out, and he hates himself for how glad he is, for the warm feeling spreading through him from the heart he thought long dead and cold. Mere ashes of duty and following orders where there had once been the fires of purpose and passion. The Rebel Alliance had made him do things he could never have imagined, but here she was, believing in him anyway. Not leaving him. Hoping they’d make it together.

So he lifts his blaster, even as his leg trembles beneath him, and picks off stormtroopers who think that this woman and her wounded burden are an easy target. She helps him limp down a trench carved by a dying AT-AT and climbs up the other side to drag him up after her. He almost tells her to leave him again, that the plans are more important than him, that she has to get the plans to Bodhi to transmit. But the look of sheer determination is burning on her face, and he knows she knows, and she’s going to save him anyway. Because he deserves to be saved.

He doesn’t know if she’s right, but he hopes she is.

Maybe they fly.

Maybe the last few meters are exhausting, their blasters running low on charge, Jyn’s last thermal grenade thrown backwards at a group of five stormtroopers to blow them to hell, Cassian’s leg shuddering with pain as he aims and misses the last soldier between them and the ship. It’s battered, scorched, and scratched, but still in one piece, the ramp open and waiting for them, just steps away. The sight of it is like a shot of pure adrenaline, a spike of heart-pounding hope that has Jyn almost in tears. It’s so close, and this one man, this last trooper stands in their way. He doesn’t know that if he kills them, he’ll be the Empire’s greatest hero. This nameless, faceless hero.

Jyn feels Cassian slide a little, tries to hoist him higher on her shoulder, on her hip, tries to keep him on his feet for just a little longer. The data drive is slick in her numb fingers, and she doesn’t know if it’s blood or sweat or tears, she just hopes she doesn’t drop it. They’re so close. And time seems to slow as Cassian, somehow, finds the strength to aim again, to fire again, one last shot. She sees the bolt, the red streak of light slam into the stormtrooper’s left arm, but that’s not right–Cassian had been aiming right–and the trooper spins around, blaster pointing back toward the ship where Bodhi stands on the ramp, stolen blaster clutched in two shaking hands.

Cassian’s shot catches the stormtrooper between his shoulder blades and he drops, and time speeds up again and Jyn lurches forward, dragging Cassian past this last obstacle, kicking the blaster away from lifeless fingers as she passes the man who will never be a hero now. Cassian unhooks his arm from around her as they reach the ramp, and he sinks down next to Bodhi, leg stretching before him even as he reaches up to take the blaster from the pilot’s trembling fingers.

“You did good, Bodhi,” he says, his deep, reassuring voice full of a softness despite the pain in his leg. “You did good.”

“I’ve never shot anyone before,” Bodhi says, voice quiet and small in the deafening noise of the battle still raging outside their thin metal hull. “I–I never–”

“It’s okay,” Jyn says, and presses the data drive into his hands, wrapping his fingers around the fragile plastic and metal contraption that contains every bit of hope the Rebellion still has. “Bodhi, come on. Job’s not done.”

And he turns, still shaking, wiping a hand across his brow where his goggles normally sit, and finds the slots and cables he needs to plug the data into the ship and transmit it to the Rebellion, so many miles above them.

Maybe they live.

Jyn collapses next to Cassian on the ramp, taking Bodhi’s blaster from him and covering the open door. Baze appears out of a cloud of dust like in an adventure holovid, Chirrut cradled in his arms, clearly injured, clearly breathing. Jyn scrambles to her feet, darting from the relative safety of their tiny cargo ship to help, shooting two troopers chasing the old Guardians. She backs up with them into the ship, and Baze lays Chirrut on the floor as gently as if he were laying him in a feather bed. His hand caresses Chirrut’s face once, carefully, as if he’s worried his warrior hands will break the man further, but Chirrut just reaches up and presses Baze’s hand between his. They don’t need words to communicate.

Cassian pulls himself across the floor, dragging his leg behind him, yanking a first aid kit off the wall as he passes it, sliding it forward toward Chirrut. He rips bandages out of the bin and searches for the Guardian’s injuries, patching him up while ignoring his own leg. Baze takes the bacta patches from his shaking hands and gently puts one on Cassian’s leg while the captain continues to tend to Chirrut. Bodhi’s voice is a constant stream of quiet noise in the background as he pages the Rebel fleet again and again, guiding the transmission to them. Jyn sits at the door, blaster ready, picking off anyone who threatens to come too close.

Maybe they live.

The plans get sent. Barely. The data drive is fried, its final act in life to expel its secrets into the ether before it smokes slightly in its port and Bodhi has to rip it from the socket before it sends out a jolt that would disable the ship. He holds it up, melted and red with blood and sweat and Jyn looks up crestfallen, not understanding, before Bodhi smiles.

“It sent,” he clarifies. “But they have the only copy now.”

There’s a ripple of relief through the ship as each one of the rebels lets out a sigh and collapses slightly further into themselves, letting some of the exhaustion creep to the surface as the adrenaline starts to bleed away.

“We did it,” Jyn whispers. Bodhi nods. “We did it,” she repeats, and suddenly she’s smiling–no, grinning–like sunrise, like stardust. Cassian watches her face transform from worry to pure joy so quickly, and he can’t help but feel comforted that now, of all times, surrounded by stormtroopers and the Empire’s machines, she can find the time to smile.

Maybe they live.

They want to wait, they want to stay, to pick up any stragglers, and survivors. Their original strike force, the volunteers, the first ones on the ground must all be gone by now. But they hope. They always hope. And though there are no comm frequencies picking up any of them, and though the Rebel reinforcements are pulling out, the few remaining fighters covering their retreat, they wait. Though they hear the shield coming down and the fleet preparing for hyperspace, they wait. Though comms traffic devolves into terror and shouts of warning as Vader’s destroyer appears to break up the last dregs of the fleet, they wait. And they hope.

But they are eventually forced to admit that this hope is too faint to hold on to any longer, and Jyn closes the ramp as Bodhi straps into the pilot’s seat and prepares for take off. The copilot’s seat looks empty and forlorn without K2, but the droid could never have climbed down the tower, even if he hadn’t been shot to bits by Krennic. But nothing comes without sacrifice, and if the losses of Rogue One could be so small, it is a miracle. Not a happy one. But still.

Maybe they live.

They have to take the long way back–their hyperdrive is damaged, their ship scorched and trembling, not unlike its crew, and they’re lucky that Scarif is close to a system that Cassian knows well, and a mechanic who owes him a favor. It takes some time, and a lot of healing for both people and ship, but they make it back to Yavin 4. They land in the midst of a celebration, not quite a week after the Battle of Scarif, the remnants of the Death Star still exploding like fireworks in the sky above them.

“Stardust,” Jyn says, looking up at it with shining eyes, Cassian’s arm back around her shoulders–in comfort this time, not pain. She looks around the base, the hangar where they planned their last desperate hope, and turns to him. He leans down and kisses her, finally, gently, the dim ember in him burning like a warm, comfortable hearth.

He smiles. “Welcome home.”