Galen Erso's daughter. Wobani Labor Camp. Liana Hallik.
The news came from another Fulcrum operative whose name Cassian did not know, at so opportune a moment he wondered if someone's unseen hand was at work. Other Rebels would have called it the Force. Cassian called it a trap in his head and refused to think otherwise until he had been proven wrong.
He was proven wrong, though, and Jyn was en route to Yavin IV. As the senior intelligence officer tasked with reaching Saw Gerrera, Cassian was to be present at her debriefing. He'd been handed a thick dossier with aliases, names of contacts, previous sightings, and spent the morning going through it all--Cassian liked to be prepared. It was too easy to stumble when he wasn't.
Street fighter; thief; smuggler. She had worked with Saw Gerrera for years until vanishing, and on her reappearance had shown no loyalty to either side, though by virtue of her profession, was no friend of the Empire. Cassian relied on her kind every day to bring him news, though they were not usually Imperial prisoners nor children of valuable Imperial scientists, and because of that, he knew what to expect. She would co-operate for her freedom, would shoot them in the back if she needed to but wouldn't betray them unless necessary; if she sympathized with the Alliance, it was only as far as avoiding Imperial patrols.
Meeting her did not change his mind. She had the stubbornness of youth, blinked a little too fast when speaking of Saw Gerrera, and had left the Alliance without a second thought. She wanted her freedom without fighting for it, and trust without earning it.
Having her on the mission was a terrible idea (and so was letting her keep the blaster, as K-2SO helpfully pointed out multiple times). Unfortunately, there was no other choice.
Outside the influence of Yavin IV, Jyn seemed to relax. It wasn't so much seeing a different person as a different facet of personality, without the need to convince Alliance Leaders that she wouldn't break under anything. Bravado softened. K-2SO had a way of bringing that out in people Cassian was uncertain of; he was sardonic enough they would reply in kind, without watching words as carefully. When Jyn heard K-2SO bring up her blaster, again, her only response was, "I need it more than you do."
And then she'd closed her eyes, no doubt used to sleeping rough and among people she barely trusted. Cassian glimpsed her face as her breathing evened. Her brow was furrowed, lips turned down; she did not look any younger, or any freer, like slumber wasn't enough to walk away from the weight on her shoulders. He understood the feeling.
She woke once en route to Jedha with a sudden rustle of clothing and a sharp indrawn breath, loud against the mechanical hum of the ship. When Cassian turned at the sound, her eyes were wide open, and her body tensed -- not as if for battle, but like she was bracing against pain. Her hand went to her throat, gripping what had to be some sort of pendant so tightly her fingertips had gone white.
"What were you dreaming of?" Cassian asked, before he could help himself.
Jyn stilled. After a moment, her fingers uncurled around her pendant; it dropped out of sight. He had expected her to clench her fists instead, or show some sign of aggression, but she laid both hands against her knees and didn't look at him, pensive and distant.
"How far off are we?" she asked, instead of answering his question, which Cassian thought was fair. He wouldn't have confessed his nightmares if she'd asked, either, unless it made her more sympathetic to the Alliance. Probably not even then.
"Four hours," he said. He couldn't help but trace the line of her neck as she cracked her head side of side, stretching, which was a bad idea by any definition of bad. Cassian spoke quickly to cover it up. "You should rest while you can."
She looked at him then. Her eyes were not like her photo -- there were creases tucked in the corners, the first impression of faint dark rings. They followed the movement of his face with such intensity, Cassian felt the shock of it against his skin. He was not sure what she saw; he was not sure he wanted to know. Then she wasn't looking at him at all, but past his shoulder, at the lines stars formed in hyperspace.
"I dreamed of the past," she murmured. She closed her eyes again, shoulder braced against the side of the relay device, and she was not quite the person in the folder any longer.
But it was landing on the moon that made Cassian wonder, for the first time. They had settled near giant boulders that would mask the sight of the transport, but allowed easy lift-off. Her face changed on catching sight of the Imperial warship, not to dread, or even bemusement, but to surprise. Later, taking the hidden paths up into Jedha City, she said, "It's smaller than I remembered."
"The ship?" he asked, though he knew it wasn't what she meant.
"The city," she said. She touched her blaster, which Cassian had realized after a search of his bags was his, and looked straight ahead.
And the skirmish breaking out left no room for denial.
A child's cry split the air, and Jyn did not hesitate. She had sprinted onto the battlefield before Cassian could react, like it was instinct, like she could not consider any other action. Explosions shook the air; when Jyn fell, she curled her body around the girl. When the girl's mother took her gratefully, Jyn did not wait to hear it.
He saw Saw Gerrera's fighter aim where Jyn had taken shelter. For Cassian, it was not instinctive; that was not the problem. He thought for a split-second of what he could do, and the only path forward needed her alive. He took the shot.
The problem was this: their eyes meeting across the fighting, the frisson of understanding that shot through him like a spear, the way adrenaline made his pulse roar in his ears, made his heart thump ever harder as Jyn darted out of her hiding spot and they sprinted together from the fight. The way his stomach leaped, and then relaxed, in the brutal efficiency of her fighting, the graceful lines of her body. The feeling of escaping with someone, rather than alone, after a mission went south.
Jyn was a soldier, and she had a cause. His mistake was dismissing it because that cause was not the Alliance, because it was buried until circumstance forced it up, and that circumstance was any innocent in danger.
He knew, in a way he hadn't before, that she would shield her father with her life.
Setting down his blaster was one of the hardest things he had ever done, which was a revelation in itself. Cassian had done many things he did not like to remember in the name of the Alliance. But Galen Erso's superweapon was already built; his death did not serve the Alliance as his life would. Cassian had known this even as he stalked out into the Eadu's downpour, Jyn's eyes burning a hole into his back, but until the moment he had Galen Erso in his cross-hairs, Cassian had thought he would follow through with orders anyway.
The thought was discomfiting.
The thought needed to be saved for another time.
Another look through his macrobinoculars and, Force save her, Jyn was creeping onto the facility's landing pad. His heart raced wildly for an instant, and he could not help but think, Of course. Jyn was reckless when following her convictions. She would never accept orders she disagreed with, which he'd thought made her dangerous to others, and now made his stomach churn thinking of the danger to her. He tamped ruthlessly down on the emotion--it would get them both killed.
When laser fire rained onto the landing pad, Cassian began running. It was the second time in the last twenty-four hours he'd had to drag her away from someone she loved; even under fire, he was acutely aware of this. But he had no choice, if she were to live.
Not all of us have the luxury of deciding when to care, he would snap before he could help it, half an hour later, when they were safely back in hyperspace. Fury rolled beneath his skin, the culmination of his fear, his frustration, the pool of guilt, the accusation in her eyes. There was no escape from this prison.
Now, traveling back to Yavin IV, the fury at her accusations in the past, the thought could not be saved for another time. His orders had saved no one; neither had he.
Jyn, he thought, had a way of getting to the heart of the matter, something Cassian had lost along the way.
In her own way, she was an idealist.
Cassian had a problem with idealists: he could not stop following them, if he tried.
The next time they left Yavin IV -- the last time, though Cassian would not know this until later, kneeling on the beach and watching the horizon fill with light -- Jyn did not sleep. She perched behind K-2SO, watching the stars stretch from pinpoints into lines
The flight path to Scarif would take hours, but they were all too keyed up to rest. It was the last chance for quiet, all preparations made, so Cassian moved to the back of the ship's cockpit, sat with his back against the wall, and for once, indulged the compulsion to watch.
She sat with her elbows on her thighs, leaning forward, the tips of her fingers brushing against her lips. The harsh light of hyperspace rimmed her silhouette, from the blaster strapped at her thigh, to the twist of her hair at the nape of her neck, to how she'd tilted her face up. He had caught a glimpse of her face climbing up from the cargo hold. She'd looked like the universe was opening up, and in doing so it filled her with determination.
Even now, or perhaps especially now, he wanted to touch her. He wondered if she felt his eyes the way he felt hers, the way her scrutiny had begun to make his skin burn, the edges of his control fray -- like his muscles weren't sure whether they wanted to relax, or reach for her.
Perhaps she did. Jyn turned around, and the corners of her eyes creased with a smile. A few moments later, she was sinking down across from him, back pressed against the opposite wall, so they were face to face. There was a good foot of space between where their legs were stretched, which was as much a relief as it was torment. He wasn't sure what he'd do if she were within reach; didn't want to, with K-2SO and Bodhi not ten feet away.
"I never said thank you," she murmured, barely audible over the hum of the ship's engines.
"You did not need to," Cassian said, just as quiet. "You fought to go on this mission. We are glad you gave us the opportunity to come too."
The laugh lines around her eyes deepened and her lips curved up. Jyn's smiles were rare, only appearing after surprised joy, as if she had learned to hide them in her heart, and they were devastating. He had been safer before he felt how they made every inch of skin tighten until he thought he might burst out of it.
She didn't look away. "Maybe. But it's not easy to disobey orders. You must have."
"And it is not easy to risk your life, even for a cause you believe in," he answered. An acknowledgement of past actions, as she had given him. "You have never hesitated."
Jyn closed her eyes. He had not been aware that he was leaning forwards, drawn like a moth to flame, until she was no longer watching him.
"I think," she said softly, "I hesitated my entire life. Until two days ago. Until now. Saw Gerrera trained me to fight, then left me, but I could have fought again. I have always hated the Empire, and I've always known how to fight. It's time to stop running now." Her fingers clenched, then loosened, strong from so many years living by her wits and her fists. Cassian had the sudden urge to lift those hands and kiss each callous, the tip of each graceful finger.
He had thought the same of her, before, her dossier open and spread across his desk: a smuggler always running, a criminal who stole for herself, and nothing more. She had changed in the last two days, her edges worn by grief and friendship in turn, but he had too, and he thought now that though she was both, she was more. Now he saw someone who had fought for a cause, and then lost it -- he could not imagine how that would feel -- and had found it again. Now he was following her into battle, an infiltration that would be a terrible idea, but the only choice they had.
"You think we'll make it?" he prodded, to get her to look at him again.
"Of course," she said, and it was not a lie. Cassian could only believe it too.
He could cross the space between them, press their cheeks together, as he wanted, hold her in his arms, as he wanted even more. It would make the rest of the world fade away, if only for an instant. Welcome home, he had said. He hadn't meant it only for her, though he'd known her for scarcely three days, and most facts he knew of her life came from the dossier.
"Thirty minutes from Scarif," K-2SO said from the pilot's seat. "I suggest you recheck your bags, Cassian, in case someone else has decided to take your blaster too."
Jyn's eyes flew open, and she smiled again, and Cassian locked his muscles in place to keep from going to her.
The fourth time Cassian changed his mind about Jyn, he did not realise it. Before, every flare of attraction had struck him as dangerous, an impossible want when she was not part of the Alliance, when her loyalty was her own.
Now he no longer questioned each brush of emotion, though it was far more dangerous still. It ran too deep, too long, too constant, and he could not remember a time before it was there, though it had not been so long ago.
And one he doesn't:
Taking the elevator down Citadel Tower was considerably easier than the perilous climb to its peak, but there were some similarities. She had consumed his thoughts both journeys, for one. When he'd woken, ribs stabbing with every breath, right leg throbbing dully, he hadn't thought of the Death Star plans, but of Jyn, of Krennic moving after her, the hatred on Jyn's face, and how she could not bear to leave anyone behind. And now the transmission had reached beyond the planetary shield, their part of the job was over, and she was right beside him. He had done many things he was not proud of; this, though, this mission he embraced.
The elevator's doors closed, leaving slits of light and shadow playing across her face, the curve of her brow, the smoothness of her cheek. His arm was slung across her shoulders, keeping him upright. He had the strength to stand, shoulder braced against the wall, but he didn't move away, and Jyn didn't either.
Jyn's pupils were huge in the darkness, and with their faces so close, success so recent, and death so near, Cassian could not resist.
She got there first. Her lips brushed against his before he had decided to move, and he had thought about this so many times, had burned so hot with the thought, that the gentleness was a surprise. They stayed there, lips brushing again and again, the faint friction unbearable as desire rose within him to a fever pitch, breaths fast and shallow.
Her hand rose to grip the hairs at the nape of his neck, pulling just enough to sting, and Cassian's mouth opened in a low moan. Her tongue dragged wetly against his bottom lip before brushing against his tongue, and he felt the shudder that went through his entire body. His hands rose to cup her face, but he couldn't pull back, only return the favor as her mouth opened beneath his, impossible warm and soft. She tasted clean and fresh, like spring water, like the first breath of air after drowning, but he was drowning still, lost in it.
"Cassian," she breathed against his lips, and she pulled back enough that he could see her face. She was smiling again, wide, unfocused, an incandescent joy that mirrored his. He traced the smile with his eyes, and then his fingers, and she shuddered.
He could have stood there forever, or at least until the pain in his ribs became overwhelming, but the lift was shuddering to a stop. Reluctantly, he turned to face their exit. There would be time for celebration later.
The doors opened onto Scarif's beach, the horizon bright with light.