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What Stays and What Fades

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There is wind and there is pain. There is the stolen fighter vessel, and laser fire overhead, and Cassian bleeding into unconsciousness in her arms.

There is a choice. There is one choice.

"Take him," she yells over the roar of starfighter engines. Cassian's body drags against durasteel; her bad leg cramps with effort.

Baze untangles himself from a set of twisted limbs to help. He cannot move his legs, and she can hardly walk, but the distance shrinks. They heave and shove and lift until Cassian thumps into place.

There is no room for her. There is barely room for him. She tugs her mother's kyber crystal from around her neck and tucks into into his hand.

"Go," she tells the pilot, who she does not know. She would trust each person on board with her life. She cannot trust them with their own, so she locks her gaze to the pilot as a last resort. "Go!"

He is a rebel. He knows Captain Andor; he does not know Jyn Erso, and for him, there is no choice. He nods. The vessel's doors slam shut.

She watches from Citadel Tower as the vessel leaves Scarif, the pilot's contact codes and frequency burned into memory. Her heart lurches as it drops, engine sputtering; her fingers dig into her palms even as it rises again. She holds her breath until it clears the planet.

In the end, her sacrifice means nothing. She loses them anyway.

--

Jyn is dreaming of the past again. She doesn't like it.

In her dream she clutches the transmitter with fingers gone numb, fingernails missing, and the taste of blood in her mouth. Each breath is a spike of pain. She should be resting, healing, but this is more important.

The pilot, who now refuses to give his name, says, They're safe.

Where? she asks. Speech claws at her raw throat.

Here, he responds, brutally cryptic, and Jyn teeters between fury and relief. Alderaan. A shift of the camera; she sees figures floating in a bacta tank. Those are the friends you saved.

Even on the most secure line Jyn could find, he will not say Cassian's name. Jyn would not either.

In reality, the conversation ended by mutual agreement, but here it dives straight into the end of her second transmission. She opens her mouth to ask something else, anything else.

The signal vanishes. All attempts to reconnect fail.

It is a day later that she learns of Alderaan's destruction, and for a moment, every excruciating minute of pain before is overshadowed. She feels like a blunt knife is carving out her heart. On Scarif she had not wanted to die, but she had made her peace with it. She cannot imagine surviving this.

Even if she has before.

Jyn jerks awake. As always, she opens her eyes to the knowledge it was not a dream.

--

She does not return to the Rebellion. Loss is an old enemy nipping at her heels, and she cannot stand the thought of someone dictating the boundaries of her grief. She has been through this before.

There is nothing waiting for her with the Rebellion but, at worst, suspicion. She's been through that before too.

Maybe if she had fought with it. Maybe if they had believed her. Maybe if the face of the Rebellion, to her, were not dead and gone. Maybe if she had lived a life where she didn't have to wonder maybe.

On Issor, which like all prosperous centers holds a considerable underbelly, a slicer recreates her as Brianna Sotar. It takes all the credits she won in games of Sabbac, along with a pledge for smuggled starship parts. A fair exchange.

"Liana Hallik is a wanted name in three star systems," the slicer informs her. His voice rings, metallic, his right arm made of plasteel. "Would you like me to scrub your face from the records?"

Liana Hallik is a safer name. Galen Erso breathed his last, weeks ago, but Jyn Erso stood in front of a hundred people and threatened the Death Star. Kestrel Dawn screamed in a Star Destroyer until she passed out then stole a ship to escape. The Empire will not forget. Jyn shakes her head.

She wins enough from another night of games buy a ticket out of Imperial territory.

--

She liberates both a ship and its cargo of weapons from a petty dictator and sells them on Nar Shaddaa, where commodities change hands so quickly, it's impossible to find the source. The ship may be stolen, but the parts are still good. She hears of the Rebellion mingled with names like Skywalker and Organa, and, strangely enough, Galen Erso, he was loyal to the Empire and look where it got him. No one mentions Rogue One. Just whispers of Jedi and the Death Star collapsing from within.

It is old news, but Jyn was not in a state to appreciate it until now.

"The size of a planet and he knew where to shoot. If that's not the Force, nothing is."

"Pah. I heard his people found the plans first."

"Guess the Rebellion had its own resources after all."

A lull of silence in the cantina as people turn to listen. Smoke curls in the air, so sickly sweet she wants to retch.

"Bodies to throw away."

Stay still. Don't react. This is no place to start an argument.

She breaks the glass of Naboo Firewater (which is almost certainly not from Naboo, with that sour sting) and shoves her neighbor to the ground. There is no honesty in her words, but there are in her fists. She had known a man, she tries to forget, who fought from the age of six, knowing the last person he killed would be himself. She would have died for him. Instead, she sent him to his death.

Her knuckles are bruised, after, and her lip split, but it is a small price to pay.

She buys a ship too small to brave the Triellus Trade Route, but good enough for her purposes, and leaves. When she is in hyperspace, Jyn toasts the occasion with a bottle of Correllian rum small enough to fit in her palm. She whispers the names that were forgotten. They drop like stones in her heart.

--

Jyn runs weapons. This sort of life, at least, is familiar, and her clients are not people who follow Imperial law. Sometimes they even knew her before, as Liana or Tanith. Kestrel, if they were particularly unlucky. Planning, execution, and retreat keep her too busy to think of much else. A blessing.

She runs, and if the weapons she ships end up in rebel hands, all the better. It is not her concern what they do with her shipments. She does not stay to see their plans succeed, although she does, on occasion, give them passage off-planet for a bartered favor. Wobani was not her first prison and will not be her last; she will need those favors in the future.

Sometimes, she even admits that she seeks the rebels out. She does not join them. But she helps.

--

It is only in the quiet of hyperspace that she lets herself remember a thing. The past always returns with a vengeance.

The memory of Cassian tracing his thumb over the back of her calloused knuckles feels as vivid as reality. It was the only time he had touched her outside of communication while under attack. Baze's hand on her shoulder in silent understanding, as though he too understood what it was to lose a cause, and then find it again. Bodhi curled up on their ship as his home burned to ashes, devastation lining his face. He had watched the city collapse and led them to Eadu right after.

Chirrut on the ground at Yavin IV, as Baze sifted through his weapons, quiet and pensive. I am one with the Force and the Force with me. Baze grunting, half-annoyance, half-laughter, responding, I didn't marry the Force. I married you.

If she thinks of Cassian more than the others. Sometimes, his face appears in the middle of a crowd, striking her still until she blinks and recognizes the mirage. It is not surprising. He had been the first she met, and the first she trusted, and then the first to betray that trust. She does not let herself consider anything more.

When she lands, she scrubs her memories from her face. Maybe even from the surface of her mind. Jyn is good at forgetting.

She is even better at pretending.

--

Some days, she thinks Rogue One is like the scars on the soles of her feet. When she first tried to walk one year ago, every step was agony. Now, she cannot feel the ground through the thick knots of scar tissue. Sensation is a memory.

But if she focuses, there is still the phantom touch of wire digging in until she screamed.

--

In what Jyn will later label as a moment of recklessness, even for herself, she accepts a client who wants her to deliver to Arkanis. Landing only tightens the muscles of her neck, her back, beyond anxiety; Imperial flags sprout from every surface as far as her eye can see. It would be ridiculous, this display ostentatious even for a planet of Arkanis's wealth, if it were not so dangerous.

Her client never mentions who she represented, but it is not difficult to figure out. Jyn has planned enough ambushes to recognize what she's brought. The only targets on Arkanis are symbols of the Empire.

The negotiations confirm her suspicions. A third of her clients pay, while the others divide into those who bargain (but eventually cough up) and those who steal. Rebels usually pay; their sources of weaponry this deep in Imperial-held territory are too few and far between to risk destroying one. Her client, who calls herself Ashla, pays.

She restocks with haste after delivering her cargo, and the woman running the workshop follows her gaze outside.

"It's not usually so... decorative," she says, "but the Flight Academy's graduation ceremony is today."

Jyn murmurs something unintelligible, but the woman seems only amused. Is this the event the rebels were preparing for? Surely not. To buy weapons so late, to set up traps within a few hours, would be impossible in a city so well guarded. She needs to leave.

The route she took to arrive is now crowded with humans and humanoids, and Jyn's unease grows. A quick glance up confirms it: air traffic has ground to a halt, but the buildings are teeming. Explosions here will injure hundreds. No one involved will be spared the crowd's judgment, if caught.

"Move," she mutters, trying to cut her way through. She nudges past two men crying with what looks like joy. There are guards closer to the street; she skirts around them. Above her head, TIE-fighters swoop through the streets, barely above reach of the buildings.

Then it happens. A far larger ship descends into view. In seconds, the crowd fall into stillness. She curses, reining in the impulse to run, but keeps moving further away. The faces around her seem stunned; this must not have been part of the planned celebration. Even the Imperial guards fidget; in the silence, she hears one muttering inside his helmet.

There's a flicker as it hovers in place, shielding battered by the rising wind. She looks over her shoulder long enough to blink.

A transport detaches from the bottom of the ship and sails smoothly towards a tall platform that Jyn had assumed would be for the graduates. She is only a hundred feet away, near the cordon that prevents the crowd from getting close.

When the door hisses open, ice plunges down her spine. No. Bantha spit. Emperor's death. Her luck could not be this awful. The rebels could not be this bold (though of course they would be) to target a Moff, much less the Moff of the Arkanis sector. To destroy a symbol is one thing; an Imperial officer of this ranking another. Between the Imperial hammer and the encroaching Hutts, the Rebellion would not be able to stand.

Jyn knows the shipment of weapons she bought. They would not be enough. She wonders how long the rebels have actually prepared. She wonders how many people the explosions will kill.

What Jyn does not know is this:

Above her head, from a building overlooking the transport's descent, Cassian Andor is sliding his blaster into sniper configuration and taking aim between Moff Alexander Julstan's eyes.

--

TBC