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spes semper mihi adest

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Et res non semper, spes mihi semper adest .

My hopes are not always realised, but I always hope .

Ovid, Heroides, XVIII.

 

 

Jyn never works out why they don't just kill her and Cassian and have done with it. It's what Jyn would have done in their shoes. It's certainly what Cassian would have done. But instead they are dragged out of the lift they were found in, separated, and shoved in a brig. Cassian was bleeding everywhere; Jyn tried to fight back, but only landed a few punches and swipes before her head was knocked firmly against a wall.

 

Jyn has no idea where Cassian is, or why she can't make herself believe he's dead. He probably is; he was worse hurt than she was, and if he has been neglected as thoroughly as she has he will have died in hours. Jyn has been largely ignored, fed occasionally, searched but never given a prisoner number or a set of overalls. Nobody speaks to her or even looks at her: it's as if her capture was an afterthought, or an accident, with too much else going on to attend to dealing with her properly.

 

Jyn lets it happen. She's been a prisoner before; she keeps her head down and chooses one of her aliases to give them as a name, should they ask. It's lucky she doesn't look much like her father, except for the eyes.

 

The only conversation she has in the entire time she's there, she doesn't remember. She's sick, burning with a slow fever, and the terror of Darth Vader's presence makes her scrabble backwards into the hard plastic surface of the wall, baring her teeth.

 

"The kyber crystal," he says, holding the point of his lightsaber to her throat. Jyn's hands form claws. "The one around your neck. Where did you get it?"

 

"My mother gave it to me," Jyn says through gritted teeth. She's clammy and shaking and she doesn't want to die or to answer him, but she has no choice in either of those things. Unbidden, the memory of her mother clasping the cord around her neck and whispering to her, trust in the Force, soft and full of conviction with her wide eyes and trembling hands, floats to the front of her mind.

 

"Your mother believed in the Force," Vader says. Her skin is burning and she can't press herself back into the wall any further. "Though she was not a Jedi."

 

"Yes," Jyn says. She's sick enough not to question how he knows this, and too sick not to keep talking. Her nails are biting fruitlessly into her palms. "It didn't do her much good. They killed her anyway."

 

Vader stares at her, and Jyn wonders if he's really looking at her. There's less life behind that helmet than there was behind K2's optical sensors.

 

Then he leaves. After that there is a long period of delirium, in which Jyn dreams far stranger things than Darth Vader asking her about her mother, and then there are torture droids. But Jyn is fed, and given enough bacta to keep her alive.

 

Jyn does not die.

 

***

 

It's difficult to tell night and day somewhere where the light never really changes, and Jyn has no way of keeping time. She sleeps when she's tired, she eats when she gets food, she waits, and she waits, and she waits, and while she's waiting she thinks about how these cells are designed, and what she can do to get out of them. They're not designed to hold prisoners indefinitely; there are several flaws. You’d never notice them if you weren’t stuck there for a long time, if you weren’t intimately familiar with Imperial methods of imprisonment, or if you were being tortured more thoroughly than Jyn has been.

 

She’s just wondering where best to look for Cassian, and how long to spend searching for him before she should assume he’s dead, when there’s an enormous commotion and a large number of stormtroopers hurtle past. A klaxon’s going mad, and Jyn can hear modulated orders being shouted. Something about a Wookiee, though what a Wookiee’s doing out here, off Kashyyk, Jyn doesn’t know. She’s only met one. He trounced her at dejarik and she slept with his captain.

 

Can’t be the same one, surely.

 

Jyn’s thinking this as she picks at one of the flaws she found inherent to the cell with one of the flaws inherent to her captivity. She may be so lonely she itches, after so long without sentient company, but the fact that no-one has really seen or spoken to her for days has made it comparatively easy for her to make and hide a nice sharp probe. Using the probe, she has prised a small but important panel off the wall; now she can work on the circuits beneath.

 

Her cell door whooshes open, and Jyn slips out. The corridor’s so quiet it echoes and at the guards’ desk at the end of the corridor someone has foolishly dropped a nightstick. She’d prefer a blaster, but she’ll take what she can get.

 

Jyn walks quickly and quietly down to the end of the passage, scoops up the nightstick and gives the console a cursory glance. There’s a map of the ship she’s on, lit up with madly flashing lights as half the ship has an absolute fit over whatever sent the guards running off in the opposite direction. The map looks to her like a slightly odd star destroyer, and at the end of the day, those are all built on the same symmetrical pattern. Jyn knows a little from her own sources, and a little more from Kaytoo and a little from Cassian and Bodhi – enough to be able to guess where she is relative to important places. Like, for example, the dock where any covetable small spacecraft will be.

 

But where to look for Cassian?

 

Jyn grasps her necklace and stares at the map. She’s biting her lip bloody and she knows she has no time to stick around in the open like this.

 

I am one with the Force, the Force is with me, runs through her head, and for a moment Jyn thinks she’s saying it aloud – and then she realises that she is, muttering under her breath as Chirrut used to do, visibly driving Cassian mad. She stops herself.

 

Little sister, a laughing voice whispers.

 

Jyn damn nearly drops her nightstick.

 

But her feet are already turning to a path that seems warmer and clearer than the rest, and she pushes any concerns about hallucinations out of her head, and starts to run.

 

 

On the way Jyn surprises a stormtrooper and a young officer who is roughly as green as grass. Jyn can tell the officer’s inexperience by the way she tries to help the stormtrooper take Jyn down and only gets in his way; Jyn tangles them up in each other and cracks them both efficiently over the head. Jyn pulls the stormtrooper’s white plasteel armour over her clothes, stuffs his black underclothes and weapons into the bag the officer was carrying, and deprives both of their passes and their blasters.

 

 

Cassian is half-awake. His clothes are bloody and partly shredded, and beneath them and the bacta Jyn can see scars that are healing and the distinctive marks of a torture droid, which are not. He looks thin and sunken and sick and he needs a shave. He also looks quite surprised to see Jyn; for a moment she isn’t even sure he recognises her.

 

“Hello, Cassian,” Jyn says. Her tongue is crowded with words that won’t come out. She swallows them down. “Have a blaster.”

 

She offers him the lighter of the blasters she stole, and he takes it with a familiar, easy grip that reassures Jyn that he’s still in there.

 

 “If this is a dream,” Cassian announces, swinging his legs off his bunk and staggering towards Jyn, “it is a beautiful dream.”

 

***

 

Stealing the shuttle Jyn finds goes just fine, not least because someone is still raising hell very competently on the other side of the Death Star. Jyn only discovered their exact location halfway through her escape attempt, and she’s trying desperately not to think about it, because she needs to fly her stolen ship instead. She can’t fly if she collapses or vomits. But her clammy hands are trembling, and her breath is coming short; it’s possible that some of that is because her latest jail was the superweapon that burned Rogue One to vapour and – one way or another – took all three of her parents’ lives.

 

Cassian would probably argue that she can’t fly anyway. Her piloting very quickly convinces him that this is not a dream, beautiful or otherwise.

 

“Force preserve me,” he moans, clinging to the console and following the command sequence to go to hyperspace. “Never do that again.”

 

“You’ll just have to make sure you’re in good enough shape to fly, then,” Jyn says.

 

As soon as the shuttle punches into hyperspace, and the sky stretches out in flashing lines of blue almost too bright to look at, Cassian passes out in his seat.

 

***

 

Jyn doesn't take them to Rebellion space, firstly because she doesn't know where to go and secondly because she is Saw Gerrera's foster daughter and she has doubts whether the Rebellion will treat two escaped prisoners kindly. Saw would certainly have been suspicious of how they had escaped captivity, and what information they might have given up. Jyn knows very little of the Rebellion, so had very little to disclose; Cassian is another matter.

 

Jyn is Saw Gerrera's foster daughter and she knows what torture does to sentients. She must assume even Cassian told the Imperials something, and that some of it was true. She must also assume that the Rebels will think that too, and that they will not be pleasant and welcoming to either her or Cassian. She doesn't want to see him get hurt, finds herself snarling at the thought of it - and more than that, she doesn't want him to experience betrayal from the Rebel Alliance. He has spilled more blood for them than anyone she knows; some of it was even his own. And Cassian would pretend to understand when they came for him with a blaster, but it would break him beyond repair.

 

Jyn isn’t without resources. Lianna Hallik went to jail, but Lianna Hallik wasn't her only identity, and in the fourteen years she spent as a free agent, she made a few contacts that are all her own. She has favours to call in, and people who might be interested in kicking work her way; some may even have contacts with the Rebellion who could subtly sound out their reception back on Yavin 4. She's sure that Cassian will only be an asset to a smuggler and a grifter, but she knows him, and he'll be drawn back to the Rebellion like a lothcat to an unguarded campfire. She may as well know if he'll be welcomed or speared before he tries to go anywhere.

 

After an hour or so of cursing, trial and error, and diligent application of the pristine spare manual tucked into the back of the pilot's seat, Jyn manages to set course for a small planet in the Ileenium system.

 

Then she drags Cassian onto the floor, rolls up the stormtrooper's underclothes as a pillow, and leaves to strip off and check herself for a tracker chip. She doesn't remember having one implanted, but it doesn't hurt much; she remembers from the last time she had one put in. Kaytoo had cut Lianna Hallik's tracker chip out with great precision, and it had hurt a hell of a lot more than the insertion.

 

Standing under the unforgiving light of the small passenger bay, Jyn can see every inch of damage that's been done to her. She shakes.

 

It's not because she's been scarred or because her fingernails will grow back unevenly, or because she came so close to death.

 

It's because she's still alive.

 

 

Jyn allocates herself ten minutes to hyperventilate and tremble while she parses every square centimetre of skin, looking for tell-tale bumps or cool patches or pulses where there shouldn't be pulses, and then she goes and strips Cassian so she can check him too. He doesn't wake up, and he doesn't have a tracker either. It's like the Imperials picked them up in a fit of absent-mindedness and just decided they were too insignificant to waste resources on.

 

Good, Jyn decides, and smiles painfully. She's never been one to interrupt her enemy - and yes, the Imperials are now her enemy, she's done with 'I'm only doing this for my father' and 'this is revenge for my mother', she's writing her name on the Imperials' death warrant for once and for all - when he's in the middle of making a mistake.

 

 

Cassian wakes up after a few more hours. "Jyn," he croaks, and "water." There are emergency rations in the passenger bay, so Jyn brings him water, lifts him so he's propped up against her chest, and helps him drink. He's still heavy, and significantly taller than her, so it's not easy. But the way his head lolls against hers, greasy-haired and feverish, is undeniably real and undeniably worth it.

 

"We escaped," Cassian says.

 

Jyn nods, knowing he'll be able to feel her chin bob against his shoulder. "Thanks to a bunch of idiots and a Wookiee attacking the other side of the ship."

 

"Wuh?" Cassian says, through lips which are apparently thick and uncooperative with dehydration, in tones of great confusion.

 

"No," Jyn says. "I don't get it either. It happened."

 

She gives him some more water and then lays him back down.

 

"Where are we going?" Cassian asks.

 

"A planet I know," Jyn says. "In the Ileenium system. I know someone who'll buy this ship and the trooper armour I picked up. And maybe even give us a job."

 

Cassian frowns. There are new lines around his eyes and between his brows. "The Alliance."

 

"We'll try for the Alliance when you can walk without help," Jyn says. "Besides, you're the one who knows how to find them."

 

Cassian closes his eyes. "Been thinking about that."

 

"Have you," Jyn says, heart sinking.

 

Cassian doesn't say anything else. Jyn helps him into the main body of the ship, into the tiny cramped fresher, and out of his clothes and into a state of comparative cleanliness. She re-dresses him in the stormtrooper underclothes, which he hates, and stuffs a tube of edible protein in his mouth to shut his complaints up. He falls asleep on one of the lounges in the passenger bay; Jyn bundles his filthy, ragged clothes and as many of her equally disgusting outer layers as possible in the sonic shower, in the vague hope that this will work a bit like washing them with water they haven't got.

 

Then she goes and sits in the captain's chair, watching the stars melting into the streaks of hyperspace without seeing. Is this what Bodhi saw? she wonders. Is this what steadied his hands and eyes when he got behind a ship's controls? They always shook, otherwise. Or maybe it was just that she only knew him when he was taking leaps of faith, waiting for the fall.

 

Jyn picks up the manual again. Bodhi would shriek if he knew how little she knows about piloting spacecraft.

 

Its pixelated pages blur with her tears.

 

***

 

"I wanted to get to that beach," Cassian says, when he wakes and she's about to pass out; he's sitting up on his makeshift bed, staring at his mangled hands.

 

"What?" Jyn doesn't know how long she's been awake, but her eyelids are heavy, her eye sockets aching, and she doesn't think it's just from holding back tears. Bodhi would have yelled that this wasn't the time to cry, it was the time to learn how to fly this stupid thing before she got everyone killed, so she hadn't been crying.

 

She rubs her eyes and waits for Cassian to answer.

 

He looks at her when he does. His eyes are very liquid, the way deep black tar pits are; boiling, but silently, their deadly undercurrents invisible. "The beaches at Scarif. They were beautiful."

 

"Yeah," Jyn says, because he's not wrong.

 

"I thought, if I had to die anywhere, it would be good to die there. Just sit quietly on the beach with you. Let it happen."

 

"But we didn't die," Jyn says, sitting down hard on the other bank of seats. They are very square but soft enough, and Jyn aches to sleep.

 

"No," Cassian whispers.

 

There is a long pause.

 

"I should check myself for trackers," Cassian says, standing.

 

"I already did it," Jyn says, and her voice breaks on a yawn. "You're clean. We both are."

 

Cassian arches an eyebrow at her. She lies down and closes her eyes, so as not to meet his.

 

She might be imagining the soft pressure of his hand brushing her newly clean hair as she falls asleep. He doesn't say anything more.

 

***

 

Cassian helps her land the little craft - it must be a hopper, meant to go from star destroyer to star destroyer, or between planets and corvettes; it certainly doesn't take landing on rough ground well - and waits while she walks towards the farmstead she remembers. It's just on the edge of town; close enough to be part of the community, and far enough that any visitors who are criminal, peculiar, or both are easily ignored.

 

Jyn approaches warily. She does wonder if the management she knew are still in charge; it's been five years, and Amira and Matariki often sailed close to the ion storm when she knew them.

 

She gets confirmation that they are when she spots a plump, lilac Twi'lek woman feeding animals that look sort of like chicken but with sharper teeth, and when that woman stuns her with a blaster whipped from beneath her leather apron.

 

"Trudie," says Amira several minutes later, when Jyn's brain has stopped trying to buzz its way out of her nostrils. She is now lying on the dirt floor of Amira and Matariki's yard. "I'm so sorry - we weren't expecting you, and these are dark days."

 

That's how Jyn learns about the destruction of Alderaan.

 

She bursts into tears she cannot stop, great gulping sobs the likes of which she hasn't cried since she was sixteen. This is the end result of her father's decades of captivity; this is where Bodhi's daring, Chirrut's faith, Baze's trust and K-2's loyalty has brought them. This is what Cassian's friends laid down their lives to prevent.

 

It was supposed to be worth it, their sacrifice on Scarif, and for one mad moment Jyn wonders if this would not have happened, had she and Cassian made it to that beach and died, their faces turned to Scarif's death glow as Saw had turned his face to Jedha's.

 

Jyn cries so hard her ribs scream and her lungs are scraped raw, and Matariki comes running to either shoot or comfort someone.

 

"What have you been doing, Trudie Callista?" Matariki demands when she has sputtered to a stop, eyes and nose streaming.

 

Jyn blows her nose on her sleeve and doesn't answer. Both women are on their knees beside her. Amira is frowning and sitting back on her heels, one hand on her blaster; Matariki peering into her face, broad lower lip caught between straight, sharp teeth.

 

"I haven't brought it here," Jyn tells them. "I checked both of us. We're clear."

 

"We'll check that, if you don't mind," Amira says.

 

Matariki raises her eyebrows, ignoring her wife. "What have you brought here, Callista?"

 

"A friend," Jyn says, wondering if Cassian, too, has reams of aliases tucked into the back of his head, or if his informants never even know who he is. "And a stolen Imperial ship, which we're not being followed for, because I checked and my friend smashed the tracker beacon anyway. Oh, and some stormtrooper armour, if you're still melting it down to mend yours."

 

"I certainly am," Matariki agrees, tapping the greaves still fixed over her shins. "Decent-quality plasteel just gets more expensive. What do you want?"

 

Jyn hesitates. "A bit of time," she says eventually. "Not much. But... my friend is hurt. And we need to swap out that Imperial ship for something a bit less conspicuous. And then, well, if there's any errands you want run..."

 

Amira rubs a hand over her mouth. "I think we could come to an agreement of some sort. But not if your friend is also going to have hysterics all over my yard."

 

Jyn nearly laughs, and also nearly cries; she can't imagine Cassian in tears, but this might just do it. "I don't think that's likely."

 

Amira fixes her with a razor glare; Jyn is reminded of Baze. "What else do you want?"

 

Matariki taps her fingers on her blaster.

 

"If you know anyone at the Rebellion," Jyn says carefully, "or who might know someone with affiliations... it's possible there's a few people who'd be glad to know my friend is alive."

 

She leaves herself out of it, in the well-founded belief that not one member of the Alliance will care.

 

"You'll be lucky to get a message through before they're all dead themselves," Amira says bluntly. "Maybe your friend should stay dead."

 

"We'll see," Jyn says, and is hauled to her feet by Matariki. "I'd better go and give him the news."

 

***

 

Cassian rages more than he cries. Jyn doesn't understand the words he screams any more than she understands what drives her to take him into her arms and hold onto him tightly; all she knows is that he's hurting himself more, punching the walls of the ship, smacking the flat of his hands against the table bolted to the floor, and she has to stop him. And it helps her, too, somehow, to hold onto him like he's the last still point left in the galaxy, to curl her fingers into his shoulders and press his face into her neck. His tears are hot against her throat, and she can feel his teeth bared in a grimace of grief. He's shaking worse than he was when she broke him out of his cell, and he's holding onto her as tightly as she is to him.

 

He's still spitting out words. Jyn can't hear most of them and she only recognises the swearwords, but his tone needs no translation. Her own eyes are stinging and sore, but she cried out all her tears on Amira and Matariki's dirt floor, and she has nothing left to give. She runs her fingers through Cassian's hair and closes her aching eyes, croaking the soothing words that she dimly remembers her mother saying to her.

 

Little sister, something murmurs in the back of her mind, and it's no longer laughter, it's a gentleness and a sadness that makes Jyn angry, for she can almost hear Chirrut: I am one with the Force and the Force is with me. Jyn doesn't want to believe in the Force any more than Baze does.

 

Did.

 

Jyn curls up with Cassian on the floor of the shuttle and mourns with him.

 

***

 

Amira and Matariki ask even fewer questions than Jyn expected, even from a renegade Mandalorian and a master thief who used to be the most sought-after dancing girl on twenty planets. They accept 'Trudie' and 'Leon'; they pretend to believe the stories Jyn and Cassian offer them, and in return for work give food and shelter. Cassian's hands heal up while he helps Amira sift through information to find fat targets, and Jyn climbs all over the roof at Matariki's shouted orders, nailing tiles into place, hiding booby-traps under innocent solar panels. The craft Jyn and Cassian landed is quickly mended and sold, before the Empire have time to come looking for it: the longer it hangs around in one place the less safe it is. They're working on finding a ship to replace it, and in the meantime Jyn and Cassian make short trips in Amira and Matariki's hopper, carry out small errands, building up trust. No-one out here has ever seen a Mandalorian besides Matariki, so although Cassian's too pale and pointy and slight for your stereotypical Mandalorian, he passes well enough as an off-worlder half-Mandalorian cousin of hers. Jyn, meanwhile, just says she didn't like the position as ship's guard she took when she left the planet last time.

 

There's very little news. Everyone is quiet and subdued as the shockwaves of Alderaan's destruction echo through the galaxy. Half the Rebellion are probably waiting to die, if what Jyn saw of them in her brief tenure as a rebel is accurate; there's been no response to the feelers Matariki put out through her contacts, naming 'Leon Jerran' as a man the Rebellion might welcome good news of, but it's early days yet. Jyn almost doesn't want to know, is still nursing the raw patches the news of Alderaan's destruction left, is perversely determined to be blind to whatever happens next, good or bad: she wants the world to stop for a while, she wants a chance to regroup. But she knows Cassian is desperate for information. It's the sort of thing he does - picks at his own scars.

 

But even though Cassian is slowly working his way back into a network of informants that perhaps won't owe everything to the Rebellion, it's Matariki who first hears of the fall of the Death Star, sitting in the little turret with a satellite and communications array, picking up messages, and runs downstairs to share the news.

 

Jyn and Cassian are gutting a sable boar between them. Cassian brought it down, a better shot with a rifle, but he is not an efficient butcher and Jyn is. They have just got all four haunches into the kitchen when Matariki bowls in, knocks four platters, the table and most of Amira's bloody kitchen knives askew, and lays a nigh-on pornographic kiss on her wife, yelling in Mando'a and Basic and Huttese and several other languages Jyn doesn't even recognise about salvation and the last chance saloon.

 

It takes several minutes for them all to understand what has happened; it takes the longest to sink in for Jyn and Cassian, who stand there frozen for several minutes.

 

The Death Star is gone forever. It's less than stardust.

 

Jyn giggles. She can't help it. She claps both hands over her mouth and looks at Cassian, who is plainly dumbfounded - and then his dropped jaw slides into the brightest smile she's ever seen, and they're both laughing aloud. Jyn only means to hug him, but he picks her up off her feet and swings her round, holding her as tightly as he did the day they learnt of Alderaan's annihilation, laughing giddily into her hair. She is trembling, starlight thrilling in her veins; she's forgotten, or maybe she's never really known, what it's like to hope. One leg of the sable boar goes flying, and Cassian and Jyn leave bloody handprints on each other's skin and clothes.

 

Amira opens four bottles of something hideously expensive they make in Corellia and pay top prices for in Coruscant, and they all get very drunk indeed. If Cassian and Jyn forget to call each other Trudie and Leon, Amira and Matariki overlook it. If Matariki and Amira start talking about battles well won and an end of the Empire, Jyn and Cassian pretend they know nothing about their true political leanings.

 

Jyn composes, and Cassian encodes, a transmission broadcast on several Rebel frequencies they probably don't even use any more.

 

Thank you, thank you, Jyn says, her words half-slurred with an almost painful joy and a lot of Amira's expensive brandy. Thank you for making it worth it. Thank you for making their deaths mean something. Thank you for Chirrut and for Bodhi and for Baze and K2 and all the Rebels who died on Scarif. Thank you for us. Thank you. It was worth it, it was worth it. I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.

 

"Oh, no," Cassian groans, his clever fingers dancing over the keys as he encrypts the file, signs his work with an uncharacteristic flourish. "You're beginning to sound like Chirrut."

 

"There are worse people to sound like," Jyn says, sitting bolt upright on Cassian's lap, swinging her feet idly. She's humming a song Saw Gerrera's militants used to sing twenty years ago; the tune is bold and hearty, but if you sang it in a minor key, softly, the stormtroopers flinched and started firing at shadows you weren't in, too used to a young girl's voice singing their death song.

 

Cassian thumps a key to send the transmission and half-collapses back into the chair. He pulls Jyn with him, nuzzles his face into her loose brown hair, and chuckles.

 

"He did it, your father," Cassian tells her. "He really did it."

 

Jyn puts her arms around his neck. She knows it's illusory, but she hasn't felt this safe for a long time.

 

"I told you so," she says.

 

***

 

After the first few days, they sleep on pallet beds in Amira and Matariki's loft. It's comfortable enough. Before that, Cassian was sick enough to merit the guest bedroom, and Jyn found she couldn't sleep without being able to wake in the night and see Cassian, living and breathing.

 

The same is true of the ship Amira finds; the Imperial hopper pays for most of it but Jyn and Cassian will have to do a few jobs for Amira and Matariki to make up the difference. Of course, there's only one bunkroom, two rather threadbare bunks one on top of the other, but often one of them is not there when the other is trying to doze off. Cassian breaks first, pulling his sleep-sheets into the hold bay while Jyn does quality assurance and sets prices on their cargo. She has a good eye for detail, price and quality, and she haggles better than he does. Cassian drops the sleep-sheets on the floor, rolls himself up in them, and - without comment or apparent hesitation - goes to sleep.

 

After that, Jyn feels free to curl up in the co-pilot's seat and doze while Cassian is plotting a course, or forging papers, or generally working himself to the bone.

 

The ship has no name except the names they give it for their various errands, but Jyn thinks of it as Stardust, and when she says it aloud, Cassian knows what she means.

 

***

 

Their new ship is just about paid off when Matariki gives them a message from the Rebellion.

 

Thank you for your service, it says. We honour your sacrifices and we look forward to your return to duty.

 

Then there's a large information package.

 

"What the hell is this?" Jyn demands, sifting through it.

 

"A test," Cassian says, squinting at the files with a certain light in those big dark eyes, and Jyn can practically see the Rebellion sinking its claws back into him.

 

***

 

"Time for you to move on, then," Amira says, matter-of-fact. "It's been good working with you, you're very efficient. If you get bored of the Rebellion, remember we pay better."

 

Matariki blesses them both in Mando'a and makes pancakes for breakfast on their last morning.

 

***

 

They talk over the various hints and leads they found in the information package, and order them by priority. Some are not critical; some are based on tissue-thin intelligence. There is no overlap between these two sets.

 

Jyn didn't expect even this much of a welcome; Cassian, it's plain, is grateful for the chance to earn his way back into the Rebellion, to prove the usefulness he's proved time and again. It makes Jyn's heart ache for him, the hopeful curl to his mouth, the eagerness in his voice badly hidden. She knows why the Rebellion are testing them and appreciates the logic - Saw would probably just have shot them outright, and considered it more mercy than the Empire would have offered them - but to see them holding out thin scraps of information to Cassian by way of reward makes her want to spit. They should hang on his every word and drape medals round his neck.

 

For herself, Jyn doesn't care. She bites her tongue and watches Cassian trying to make something out of nothing, flimsi copies of their information pack spread over the table in their nameless craft.

 

"That one," Jyn says, tapping a flimsi Cassian's set aside as insufficiently urgent or important. "It'll get us back into the swing of things, and if we fuck it up, not much is lost." She pulls up a star map. "Also, once we're done there, we can go to Takodana. It's close, and it's handy for these two leads you like the look of. And maybe we can get Maz Kanata to fill in some of these gaps."

 

Cassian leans back in his chair and nods slowly. "It's a plan." The blue light of the star map throws his deceptively mild features into harsh light and shadow, and his eyes are very serious; it makes Jyn feel warm, somewhere just below her breastbone.

 

"It's a better plan than my last one," Jyn says.

 

"We'll take that chance," Cassian says quietly, almost like he's reciting, almost like he has her words off by heart. "And the next, and the next, until all the chances are spent."

 

Jyn is silent for a long moment, listening to both of them breathe, and then she says: "Let's go push our luck one more time."

 

Cassian smiles.

 

***

 

On the third of their little expeditions, the Imperials nearly catch up with them. They're not looking for Jyn and Cassian, or even Tanith and Jack, the names Jyn and Cassian are using at the moment, but they are searching the covered market. The market's in a series of steep, winding, rose-red canyons, shops chipped and blasted into the stone for miles up, rickety rope ladders and bridges clinging to the rock. Jyn and Cassian meant to sidle in the back to meet their informant, but 'back' is harder to define when nothing goes in a straight line, and all of the canyons double back on themselves.

 

Jyn, glancing back and tucking dyed blonde hair under the dull green hood of her short cape, spots the stormtroopers first. The troopers have just come out of a side alley; there's no time to warn Cassian, who hasn't yet reacted to the slight change in atmosphere as the locals notice the troopers and empty space opens up around them. There's a row of stalls between them and the troopers, and Jyn herself is partially hidden by a stall selling bolts of fabric and hangings, but Cassian is taller, more obvious, and less thoroughly disguised. His hair's shorter, he's shaved, and he's wearing a long, heavy duster coat unlike anything she's seen him in before: it's a fashion twenty years older than them. But if the troopers have seen a good picture of Cassian Andor none of that will be enough, and Jyn has to assume that good profile and full-face shots of them were taken while they were in Imperial custody.

 

She steps just ahead of him, catches his eye, and pulls him down into a kiss with one hand on the back of his neck. Cassian now has his back to the troopers, head bent and shoulders hunched so he seems shorter, and is entirely concealed by a large and tasteless hanging depicting the death of Queen Somebody-or-other of Naboo, dressed in flowing blue and looking improbably saintly.

 

"Troopers," she breathes, just before her lips meet his. "We're covered."

 

He nods minutely, and one hand slips familiarly round her waist, sliding under the pack she's carrying to the small of her back. His mouth is hot and he tastes like burnt caf, which is mostly her fault, since she was the one who was forging fake IDs instead of keeping an eye on the caf pot this morning.

 

"Well spotted," he murmurs in her ear when they break apart, and his smile is just as genuine as the slight pinkness on her cheeks. The troopers are well ahead, starting a small fight by kicking an old man around; Jyn feels anger spark in her chest, but subsumes it. She can't help him by upsetting the entire mission, she tells herself.

 

It's not easy.

 

Cassian turns them casually down a side-street, and they leave the troopers behind. For a little while, he twines his fingers with hers, swinging their hands idly as they walk; she retaliates by leaning into him and pressing her cheek against his shoulder as they stop to pretend to examine a stall of misshapen fruit. He takes her cue and plays it straight, calling her 'sweetheart' so sincerely anyone who didn't know him would be fooled.

 

Jyn isn't fooled, and she's trying very hard not to laugh.

 

"Can you imagine what Kaytoo would say to this?" she breathes, standing on tiptoe to whisper in his ear.

 

"Nothing polite," Cassian mutters back, grinning.

 

"Are you sure we're going the right way?"

 

"Certain," Cassian says, and it's at that point that their informant decides it'll be easy to menace a pair of humans apparently paying no attention to their surroundings. Jyn sees the flash of a knife moving and concusses him with a quick swing of her nightstick, and Cassian grabs him by the scruff of his extremely dirty neck and yanks him into a nice dark alcove.

 

They get the information they need, in and out in half a day. Jyn buys a meal on the way out, sharp bitter greens doused with soothing oil and some sort of citrus, soft puffy rolls and skewers of unidentified quadruped meat rubbed in spice and interspersed with sweet dried fruits marinated in something until they hydrated, sticky and burnt-skinned. Cassian has a sweet tooth; Jyn loves spicy food. Besides, this is a great place to turn suspiciously shiny Empire credits into authentically battered chits and coins, and record-keeping's not so hot in a place like this that the Imperials will be able to trace the credits from a major Rebellion raid on a convoy three systems away. Apart from anything else, the locals are not fans of the Empire any more than the citizens of Jedha were. Jyn, living among Gerrera's fighters, had a skewed perspective, but even Bodhi - nice middle-class boy from a nice middle-class family who kept their heads down and let their son's career speak for their loyalties - had endless stories to tell of Imperial injustice, of one law for the troopers and one for the locals.

 

Jyn saw resentment on Jedha when she was a child, and she recognises it here now.

 

The last meat skewer goes to the old man the troopers put their boots into. Jyn can't help the impulse to do at least that much, and Cassian doesn't mind, since they're on their way out.

 

"Here, grandfather," Jyn says, wrapping the skewer in the greasy flat leaf it came in and laying it in the man's lap.

 

"May the Force be with you," he croaks, making what's probably supposed to be some kind of ritual gesture with hands that are crooked, their joints swollen. Maybe that explains why the stormtroopers knocked him about. He's lucky not to be in a labour camp, if he's going around saying he believes in the Force in front of stormtroopers.

 

But there's nothing behind his words, none of the playful certainty or total faith Chirrut wore like a cloak, and if this was all Jyn had ever heard of the Force, she wouldn't believe in it either. She catches Cassian's eye, but neither of them says anything until they are back onboard ship. There's a lot of hurrying going on; the sun is dipping and their obnoxious informant told them there's a curfew at sunset. Jyn and Cassian link arms and meander, like they're tourists who are sure they'll never get into trouble with local law enforcement.

 

"I don't believe in the Force," Cassian says, watching as she goes through the take-off sequence. They'll be on the other side of the continent in two hours, supposing Jyn doesn't crash the ship. It handles very differently to the shuttle, and Jyn wasn't any good with that either. She's learning, though; having just the one of them flight-capable is a liability that itches at her.

 

"I know," Jyn assures him, when he doesn't say anything more.

 

"Chirrut was a lot more convincing," Cassian says, peering out of the windscreen. "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me. All that."

 

Jyn nods and touches her kyber crystal necklace. But Chirrut's mantra sounds thin and meaningless without Chirrut to smile at it, or Baze to snort.

 

***

 

Jyn dreams a lot now. She doesn't call them nightmares because they're not always nightmares. There's one that she likes, perversely, and thinks she must have got from Cassian's description of the beach they were trying to reach when the Imperials picked them up. The two of them are sitting on the soft white sand, embracing; Cassian has his head buried in her shoulder, and his blood is spreading across her shirt. Tall palms are shaking in the wind, and the sky is very blue, and a great and terrible light is coming from the horizon. Jyn wakes knowing both of them are dead, and feeling very much at peace. The plastic ceiling of her narrow bunk always comes as a shock.

 

Other dreams are crueller.

 

She sees Kaytoo melting down for scrap, refusing to cry out; Kaytoo jerking and convulsing over a bank of controls; Kaytoo sinking into salt water that will destroy his circuits, corrode away the personality he developed. Did you know that wasn't me? Jyn swims well but she can't lift so much water-sodden metal; she can't halt the machines that are taking Kaytoo apart. She treads water and beats at unresponsive control panels, her frail human hands splitting and seeping under the pressure, and she is not enough.

 

She sees Bodhi wrapped in inexorable tentacles, lying broken on the terracotta floor of Saw's headquarters, his eyes unseeing and clear fluid leaking from his ears and nose. Bodhi's ship plunging nose-first into the slick wet crags of Eadu, Bodhi felled by a bolt that shattered the shuttle windscreen and burnt the heart out of him in the pilot's seat; Bodhi shot point-blank by Imperials executing him next to Galen Erso, Bodhi shot in the back by a Rebellion intelligence agent who thought he was a weak link, Bodhi screaming into his comms unit for help that never came, Bodhi blown to dust and vapour by a grenade into the shuttle's belly. Jyn shakes him and shields him and pleads with Saw for him, and she is never heard. Saw looks through her, bolts pass through her, and Jyn doesn't see the end coming any more than Bodhi does.

 

She always sees Chirrut and Baze together. There's never more than moments between their deaths. Crushed by an AT-AT, shot down by stormtroopers, blown up by grenades, lost in the destruction of Jedha's sacred city, they are never apart. Seeing Baze's face as blaster fire halves Chirrut in front of him, hearing Chirrut shout for Baze who will never respond in life, Jyn doesn't think that is mercy. She screams for Baze to turn around, yells for Chirrut to fight it, but Baze never hears or sees her, and Chirrut looks straight at her with that mischievous, cryptic little smile on his face. All is as the Force wills it, he says. Little sister.

 

Jyn dreams of her mother, cut down by Krennic's men among green paddy fields and loose black rock, and her father, felled by strafing fire on Eadu. She dreams of Saw, steadfast and courageous among the falling stone of Jedha, and sometimes she dreams of Cassian shooting Krennic in the back, and from those dreams she wakes smiling vindictively, the tears on her face already dry.

 

Sometimes, she dreams of a woman with no face but faith, and the words: My mother believed in the Force, but she was not a Jedi. It didn't help. They killed her anyway.

 

Sometimes it's a girl's voice, and Jyn can't imagine herself ever sounding so innocent but there's no-one else it can be. Sometimes it's a boy's, and Jyn thinks she must have made that up.

 

Jyn always wakes from those dreams more unsettled than from any of the others. She has one tonight - an extended replay of the maybe-fates of Rogue One, followed by the faceless woman who might or might not be her own mother - and when her eyes blink open the lids are stuck with tears and her face aches. Jyn washes her face, and sits quietly on her bunk listening to herself breathe and fidgeting with the kyber crystal around her neck until she feels less jittery.

 

Then she gets up and goes into the main body of the shuttle, scrubbing her hands on her sleep trousers. Cassian is sitting in the captain's seat, which is too wide for him - they're both still trying to replace the weight and muscle lost in the near-starvation of Imperial captivity and the sickness that followed - fiddling with part of the temperamental radio set-up.

 

He looks up when she appears: she made enough noise for that. "I thought you were sleeping."

 

"Yes. Badly."

 

Cassian nods, and says nothing for a bit. Jyn passes him a soldering iron, abandoned on top of the environmental controls, and points out a bit he missed. Cassian promptly burns himself.

 

"You're going to strangle yourself sleeping in that thing one day," he says.

 

It takes Jyn a moment to realise he means the necklace, which is hanging outside her shirt. "I've never taken it off," she says, and then adds: "Voluntarily."

 

Cassian nods without looking up. Jyn sits down on the arm of the co-pilot's seat and puts her feet on the arm of the pilot's seat, and stares aimlessly out into the stars. They have a plotted course set; there's no need for Cassian to be awake.

 

"I wish we knew what happened to them," Jyn says.

 

"We do," Cassian says. "They died."

 

"Everyone thought that about us and we didn't." Jyn sighs, shifts. "I dream about all the ways they could have died. Some of which are - are obviously wrong."

 

Cassian addresses the recalcitrant half a radio. "It's called survivor's guilt, Jyn."

 

"Try and tell me you don't wonder, sometimes."

 

"I don't," Cassian tells her, smoothly and sincerely and totally untruthfully. She can tell.

 

"Liar," Jyn says, without any particular heat.

 

Cassian tosses the soldering iron into a toolkit and looks at her like he's frustrated. She doesn't back down, and after a few moments his shoulders slump.

 

"I keep my ear to the ground," he concedes. He taps the radio. "I'm always listening out for them. I know there's nothing to hear."

 

Jyn catches her breath. The crystal is very cool in the palm of her hand, the cord cutting into the back of her neck as she pulls on it.

 

"Yes," she says eventually.

 

 

"Do you ever dream of a beach?" Cassian asks her some hours later, when they're in orbit above a small mid-Rim planet, waiting for clearance to land at its capital.

 

Jyn covers a yawn and nods.

 

"It's a good dream."

 

"Yes," Jyn says, and leans against the back of Cassian's chair, her hand on his shoulder.

 

His hand moves up to cover hers, and holds on. He's much warmer than kyber crystal, and in many ways, he feels a lot more real.