It wakes with no memory. The first thing it sees is a black surface that resolves into the gaze of some metallic creature. Several such things are crowded around until it flinches and they all scatter away.
In the cool air, it sits up slowly and looks down at itself for the first time. There is recognition, half formed concepts of limbs and objects and textures. It breathes steadily, with no fear or distress, and touches one hand to its other arm.
Flesh hand to gleaming steel and intricate circuitry visible through a sort of organic mesh. It traces the diagonal seam that runs from one shoulder right across the torso below one naked breast to its waist, the seam where flesh meets metal and becomes mesh with all its glittering moving innards and limbs half cased in steel.
There’s movement on the edge of its vision. Flesh creatures in white coats staring at it, all ranged against the walls of this black and white room. It recognises wariness, even fear. Recognises the difference between those creatures and creatures even more metallic than itself.
It is both and neither, comes the realisation. Part flesh and part machine.
A door slides open and a man in white appears. Already it’s realising there are things it knows -- colours, differentiating between genders, what doors are. What flesh is. Its brain is evolving, processing information faster than it needs.
He stares at it, in the grip of some strong emotion it can’t name. Or is it too many emotions?
Too much stimuli, too much it can’t process.
It lies back down and looks up at the ceiling. Black steel and white edges.
The man tells the others to leave. On the table, it touches its arm again. Skin against steel, learning, maybe understanding. This is what life is.
“What do you remember?”
The man’s face is unreadable now. But it knows the colour of his eyes. Blue grey, and stormy.
“Nothing,” it says. Already lying because a storm brews in its mind, a storm of lightning and darkness rolling in over crashing seas.
“You must not lie to me.” He is not angry, a ruthless calm. “Do you know who I am?”
“No. But I know you are a man. I know this is a room.”
It sits up and turns to face him, so fast he takes an involuntary half step back. This pleases it.
“I know I am not like anyone else.”
His mouth quirks, a very cool smile. “Ah, but you’re wrong already. There are several others like you.”
But it believes him, despite the conviction that burns inside.
He takes a breath in and lifts a hand slowly towards its face, like he’s somehow asking permission. It waits, unafraid. And he touches the back of his gloved hand to its chin, strokes the curve of its jaw. Emotion again, so much of it radiating off him like heat, like some sort of urgent message he wants it to understand.
“What is your name,” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
The blue grey eyes narrow, emotion overtaken by a sharp intelligence. “But you know there’s a you. An ‘I’.”
“Where?” He seems to draw closer then, his curiosity like a flame, scorching and somehow very attractive. “Where does this ‘I’ live?”
It puts one fingertip to the corner of an eye socket, metal nail against thin skin and hard bone. “Here.”
The I-ness of it crackles like electricity behind its eyes.
“What is my name,” it asks, still fearless.
Some minute expression contorts his face, thought flashing fast and complex. It recognises machinery of a different kind, a cruel sentience that has the capability to rearrange its world without asking permission.
It learns in that second not to trust.
“Do you want me to choose one for you? Or would you rather name yourself?”
It considers. “Give me a name. I will choose.”
This makes him grin, suddenly charmed and charming in return. “Jyn,” he says and then pauses like he’s startled himself. Something hard in his expression, he tells her firmly. “Jyn Erso is your name.”
For the first time, it feels a flicker of its own expression. A raising of its brows, like it’s learnt defiance and irony from him already. “Is it? I will decide.”
Now his smile is warm and beautiful, so much tenderness in the curves and contours of his tapered face, in the gleaming affectionate eyes. “Naturally.”
Two weeks in the black and white room where it keeps count of the days, and lets the women in white robe its metal limbs in flesh. It feels no defiance with them, more a vague curiosity and a sort of understanding that they follow orders and maintain a certain level of interest in its development. It demonstrates language which pleases them. It does not ask how it knows language without being taught. It mimics expressions and displays emotional responses enough to satisfy them.
They never use a name. It is their sole subject.
The man in white visits every day. Alone, they sit and talk. He tells it his name is Krennic.
“Who am I to you,” it asks. That feels like a bold question but if he’s surprised, he blinks that away fast.
“A weapon.” His smile burns with a certain pride. “You are a Death Trooper, an elite soldier.” And something subtle and pleased flickers across his expressive face. “You’re my personal bodyguard. My protector.”
It smiles back at him, feeling a purpose settle on its skin, permeate through to the core. But it makes no promises, watches him from behind its eyes as he talks about missions and worlds to conquer, about projects and star destroyers. The life he constructs is beyond the white door, is entirely his creation. And it senses already just how much power he wields over it.
When all the metal is concealed by white and pink flesh, implanted with dark fine hair, it inspects itself and asks for clothes. The women in white coats lay out a uniform but it reaches for the black leggings and singlet. It knows that it is female bodied like they seem to be. But the femininity seems irrelevant. It is far more interested in the fighting capability of this body, and in what lies beyond the white door.
At the end of the two weeks, the door slides open to reveal the Director of the Imperial Army. It's been told that’s what he is. And he steps forward in full official regalia, not just the familiar white jacket and dark trousers and dark gloves, but today with a white cape that sweeps out from his shoulders, dramatic and majestic. He is not quite the man who has visited all these days. He is more.
It stands to attention in its new clothes, dark hair coiled back, feeling the flesh knitting ever closer to metal and mesh. And he inclines his head with a certain approval, flicking a glance to the side where a med tech steps aside to reveal armour laid out on a counter. Sinister gleaming black armour that it is drawn to without a word said. In silence, it slips on one piece after another, finding the fastenings and controls. The armour plates up, protects the human flesh, and it flexes its steel bones in the hard gloves. When there is only the helmet left, it picks that up and turns to him. With all ceremony, it releases the side catches and lowers the fierce angular shape over its head.
The electronic displays take a moment to calibrate, glimmering blue numerals and sharpening every edge and detail. And he steps forward, his eyes very blue.
“There. How do you feel,” he asks, that strange blend of curiosity and concern in his voice.
“Like a weapon.”
His smile glitters.
No one outside the med lab is ever to see it out of armour. The Death Troopers are housed in their own quarters, each in their own small room, and they all keep a polite distance from each other. In their private training area, it watches its reflection in the transparisteel as it walks across the matte floor. Black floor, grey slanting walls, and it is a tall sleek creature of black angles and silent menace.
The electronic display recognises the location and offers a training exercise. It blinks acceptance and moves through the positions, cautious at first and then faster and faster, pushing this body of steel and strength and grace until it is whirling and slicing through the dark air, glorying in pure physicality. From a rack of weapons on the wall, it snatches up a baton, flicks it to readiness in three quick gestures, and whirls on through the exercise, slashing and ripping up the silence. It needs an opponent, something flesh and intelligent that it can test itself against, that it can tear apart because it can.
That thought brings it slowly to a stop. Before the mirror, it unlatches the helmet and, baton still in gloved hand, lifts the thing off in one careful motion. Dark fine hair pulled back, a face of pretty shapes, pink wide mouth and big eyes of a complex greenish colour. Fierce.
“Jyn Erso,” she says and names herself.
But it’s the only name she’s ever heard. From him, no less. She need not wear it forever, she may discard it tomorrow.
“Jyn Erso,” she says again, softer, and steps closer to the reflected girl in armour. Hard gloved hand against the glass, the girl peers back at her. And she wonders. Why that name? What story lies behind it?
The Death Troopers train together. She never sees them unhelmeted, communicates with them through the electronic voice distortion of the helmet. And truth be told, she’s not particularly interested in them or their stories. Her focus narrows on herself and the man in white with lies glittering around him.
But the Death Troopers hone her skills. In a matter of a week, she becomes far more lethal, almost at their level. Except she notices something she has that they don’t -- guile.
They follow orders, move through the exercises, behave exactly as mute weapons of the Director. She sees five different variations to each technique they use, and the few times she uses that cunning on them, they topple. It’s not good, she tells them, that they can be bested by such slight deviations. By the end of the week, she’s teaching them how to anticipate and block trickery in combat.
She doesn’t teach them everything. And she wonders sometimes how she knows.
In the second week of training, she is summoned to the Director’s office. This is the start of her duties as his personal Death Trooper, his guard at all times. “Really, it should be a roster,” he tells her, sitting casually on the side of his desk, stripping his gloves off. “And maybe it will be. It’s probably not wise having just one person to guard me. We can’t have you identified and targeted.” He regards her with some thoughtfulness.
“No one will know. I could well be any of six. We all look alike in the armour.”
He grins at her, clever and lively. “Yes.”
Now she sleeps in the Director’s residential quarters, in a little room that’s more of an alcove by his walk-in closet. It does not surprise her at all that he needs quite so much space for his clothes and boots and capes. She doesn’t mind the smallness of her accommodation. If anything, it feels protective, her own little sanctuary from her function and the constant activity of the massive ship. He never intrudes.
Rather, she goes everywhere with him, a silent gleaming shadow at the edge of his cape. Sometimes with another Death Trooper, sometimes her alone. And she watches him, the way he performs the rage and the ambition, the seething energy barely controlled. He is always immaculate in public, the silver hair combed just right in that subtle curve, the blue eyes cool and always calculating, always noticing.
He adjusts his gloves after making an offer to some hapless pawn that is no choice at all, and she watches through the helmet as his victim fumes in the agony of self-hatred. He travels the Imperial systems and supply planets, moving the apparatus of the Empire to serve both its needs and his own agenda. And she watches as he orders the annihilation of human labour he no longer needs, the extermination of species he can’t turn to his own ends.
There are assassination attempts at council meetings and gala functions, the occasional break-in at palace accommodations. Several times she has to break the arm of some zealot trying to save the galaxy by targeting the Director of the Imperial Army. It becomes a point of pride with her, to be able to scan the crowds for possible threats and anticipate the attacks. Sometimes she even lets them get close enough to see the fever of success in their eyes, to touch the hem of his cape before she snaps their neck. More than once the Director turns sharply to find a corpse at the gleaming tips of his boots. He never speaks to her in public but sometimes there’ll be the glint of appreciation in the blue eyes before he turns back to whatever conversation was interrupted.
In private, in his office or his residential quarters, she sees him quite different. He sheds the coldness and the arrogance as easily as he sheds the cape and jacket. And he talks to her. About everything, about the planets they visit, the bureaucrats, the frustrations of Imperial dealings. At first, she doesn’t respond, unsure as to what this ease means. But then he talks about missions and tactics, and she responds despite herself, drawn into the conversation. His intelligence is a bright ever moving thing, crackles like energy around him, out of the gleam of his eyes and the tilt of his smile. Soon she’s helping him work out attack missions and planet raids, her own mind moving quick around his.
He never touches her but she watches from her narrow bed in the alcove when he undresses in the low light. His skin is pale like hers but somehow more complex, and she realises one day when they’re arguing over plans that the freckles on his face must extend down beyond the notched white collar. From her cool bed, she watches him hang up the dark trousers, nude and strangely beautiful for his vulnerability.
When darkness falls in his bedroom, she touches herself, wondering if her skin feels like his, if his flesh yields like hers does, if his bones feel as hard. More curious than anything, she slides her hand under her top, starts to explore the curves and slight weight of her own breasts. Thinks of the women in white coats, and how their bodies differ from hers, one heavier, another curvier.
Another night, she waits til his lights go out and then she eases her clothes off. Spreads her legs and touches this female body that is and isn’t hers. Startling softness, shocking wetness, and she thinks he can smell it on her fingers the next day. She wonders if he hears her little gasps as she learns her body in private. He never says but sometimes she thinks there’s a certain way he looks at her over the star maps, a certain hot awareness that makes her breath catch.
When she knows they won’t leave the office or living quarters, she wears dark cargo trousers and tops with cowled hoods she can easily pull up over her hair. They eat together, watch old holodramas and comedies. He gives her Old Republic books to read, asks her what she thinks of them. And he laughs with her, makes his sarcastic little jokes that have her smiling inside and sometimes directly at him.
He treats her like she’s human, and she starts to believe. She laughs back at him, gives her opinion freely, forgets too often that he is capable of deceit. No, rather she learns that everyone is capable of that. He is no different. Her guard around him lowers, blasted by his warmth and his humour and his intellect. And one day when he turns on his bootheel, the cape flaring out around him, she realises this sensation in her chest is a deep and terrible fondness for him and all his absurd wonderful ways.
It doesn’t scare her as much as it should. The wariness is still there but it’s banked, put to one side as she cautiously explores this feeling, as she watches him with a different softer speculation. Then one day he says something utterly adorable about an army of duck-sized horses, so irresistible that she laughs and kisses him over the green lines of the star map. He responds with so much heat, the dizzying taste and wetness of his mouth, the grasp of his hands, that she climbs into his lap and rocks down against him, puts her hands in his hair, and comes gasping and shaking and pressed to him.
She flees the room immediately after.
They don’t speak of it. She returns to her armour and her silence. He treats her the same as he ever did. At night, she touches herself, makes herself come again and again, biting the moans back, and she knows he’s listening to her from his bed, maybe touching himself in return. Sometimes she thinks she hears him stifle a sound. But she’s never sure.
Then about a week or so later, he appears in the glass of the training area. She straightens up from her katana pose, breathless and sweating with exertion. “Did you want something,” she asks, slightly terser than usual. Her blood thrums at the sight of him, even her cunt -- she’s learnt the word now -- tightens in her clothes.
He prowls behind her, no cape today, just jacket and trousers and boots. And those gloves he tugs at as he paces and watches her, unsmiling, dangerous in his own right.
“Come on,” she challenges. “When was the last time you sparred with someone?” She turns, light on her heels, and drops into position, fists up. “Show me what you got, old man.”
He laughs shortly, eyes bright. “You insolent whelp.”
But he strips the jacket off, leaves the gloves and boots on. She knows what he looks like naked and still the sight of his shoulders, smooth sculpted and bared by the sleek grey tank top, makes her mouth go dry.
She learns very fast that he fights dirty. It makes her laugh, dodging his punches and sly foot jabs. He has no scruples about what part of her body he attacks, and she doesn’t hold back on account of hierarchy. He lands a few punches, she catches him with a glancing blow off his cheekbone, snapping his head back. And maybe she leashes her strength just a little after that, remembering that her bones are steel, remembering that she is not all flesh and blood like him.
But oh, it’s exhilarating. The sight of him with glittering eyes and hair flopping forward, silver and fine, his smile a little insane. He lunges at her and, on a whim, she lets him take her down, thrilled by the hot hard weight of his body. She hooks one leg over his, and he knows instantly what she’s done. His breath on her mouth, hot blue eyes that gleam so much wickedness. His cock is firm against her, through the thinness of her leggings and the fine material of his uniform trousers. She could rub herself up against him, wants to suddenly, shameless and demanding. But he gives her a sly little smile, and pulls back, yanking her upright.
“Come on, you can do better than that.”
Now he taunts her as they fight, outrageous as they move fast and lethal across the black floor. She laughs and taunts right back, following each insult up with a strike. She takes his legs out from under him, rubs her curves over him as they tussle, and he groans a little, tries to bite her arm. He’s so hard now, as hard as she is wet and throbbing. When he takes her down again, heavy on her back, his gloved hand slides right over her breast, almost drags the material of her singlet off her tight nipple. She moans and bucks her hips up under him, thighs spread, so wet she can almost smell herself. He gets his hand in her hair, pulls her head back with such brutality she wants to laugh and cry and come so hard on his cock.
“That the best you can do, Death Trooper,” he whispers, and grinds against her ass.
She throws him off, unleashing all her metal strength, and has him pinned to the ground, her arm across his throat, before she realises how pretty he looks like this, all fluttering lashes, his finely cut mouth open and gasping. She leans into it, testing, and sure enough he reacts with the same helpless excitement, moans and yields to her.
She could so easily kill him. Right here, right now. Any time at all.
That turns her on even harder.
Tucking the thought away for future consideration, she lifts her arm and watches him focus on her, watches as she fits her hands carefully around his throat.
“This,” she asks softly.
He swallows against her grip, so excited she feels it like heat off his skin, in the glitter of his eyes. “Yes. Yes. Please.”
It’s not something she’d considered in the few months of her experience. But oh it’s delicious, to have this power over him, so overt and acknowledged. To straddle him like this, her aching cunt in thin material rubbing over the firm breathing muscles of his abdomen, to lean forward and tighten her hands with steady intent around his throat. To hold his breath, his life between her steel nails and metal bones.
She watches him with hungry eyes, watches as she squeezes and his face reddens, breath fast and rapid. Sweat sticks his silver hair to his temples, across his lovely brows. She throttles him and he starts to fuck up against her, his gloved hands fastening on her upper thighs. She rides his abdomen with her cunt, wants to be riding his cock but not yet, not yet. For now he fucks the hot gleaming air of the training room, his breath coming shorter and shorter as she squeezes harder and harder, merciless, his life in her hands.
Her nails dig in, draw tiny beads of blood on the skin of his neck, and she leans down, breathing his air, taking what little air he has left. One day she’ll take all his air and he won’t stop her.
They fuck against the matte floor, disjointed, not quite connected like they could be. He’s twisting against her weight, his hands scrabbling against her grip, so close to coming, so close to dying. She knows she could take one hand off his throat, reach it behind her to take hold of his cock, maybe take it out of the dark trousers. But she won’t. This is what he wants, this is what he gets. So she scrapes her steel nails against his neck, tearing little bits of skin off, tiny livid scratches of blood, and he moans as his hips move faster, as her cunt clenches wet and warm. She chokes him hard, her tongue flicks out against his open red mouth, and he’s coming without warning, with an utterly anguished groan, his spine arching under her, beautiful and bowed up, a gorgeous twisted thing at her mercy.
They don’t speak about that, either. She leaves the room, locks herself in the adjoining refresher to suck the tiny traces of his blood off her nails, coming so hard she nearly cries out.
At the security council meeting later that day, she stands behind him in her armour, half crazed with lust, hyper aware of everything around her, around him. Maybe it’s her imagination but his voice seems to shake a little every now and then. Maybe he feels the desire radiating off her.
That night, they return to his quarters that somehow seem claustrophobic now, the air thick with tension. She strips off in her alcove and gets into bed, naked beneath the light sheet. Wanting, willing him to appear at the half hidden doorway. But he undresses out of her sight, his movements quick. And the lights go out to a heavy silence.
A whimper in her throat, she turns and presses her face hard into the pillow. Angry now as she reaches down between her legs, fingers through the soft damp hair to the ache of her cunt. Lying like this on her side, she can imagine him standing at the doorway, a glimmer of pale skin and silver hair in the dimness. Watching her make love to herself, the sheet slipping off. Watching her fuck her fingers into herself, hips moving like his did, moaning wet into the pillow, moaning and fucking until she comes for the second time in so many hours.
There is nothing but darkness when she turns back, limp with exhaustion. And she wonders why. Why all the concern, the warmth, the humour, treating her like she is so precious to him. Why he isn’t balls deep in her right now.
She could ask. Maybe she will.
Maybe she should be thinking about other things, focusing on herself instead of him. But by now he’s taken up so much of her world, he occupies it front and centre, and she’s not even certain she wants it any other way. On some fundamental level, even through the sex drunk haze, she’s disturbed by that realisation. How far her initial distrust seems now.
They make landing on Eufornis Major in time for an Imperial gala. In a grand old ballroom, she stands behind the Director of the Imperial Army and watches as he charms and subtly bullies any number of allies and delegates, people who regard him with a sort of mute terror or outright dislike. And now there are women she notices, languid silken creatures and tiny coquettes who flirt with him, try their wiles. When before she had watched them with some amusement, now that she’s tasted him, now that she has his secret weakness coiled in her memory, she looks at these women not exactly with jealousy but a dark furious speculation, reminded of her difference.
Should she slip into some silken confection and make her way to him, offer herself up like some human delicacy he can devour? Is that what’s expected of her? No, it can’t be. He wouldn’t have -- he never would have responded if that was ever the case. If he didn’t appreciate her for what she is.
It seethes in her all evening, the awareness of her nails and her bones, the glittering circuitry of her insides, of the minor repairs she no longer needs because her flesh has taken entirely to her skeleton. He flirts right back with these women, she knows this is required of him. Also knows that he has never, in the time she’s guarded him, either brought anyone back to his quarters or spent time away from her, time that he could have spent fucking someone. But now the thought is planted, she fears it will happen and she’ll have to stand by and watch it happen.
When they make their way back to palace accommodations well after midnight, she heads directly to the antechamber where a camp bed has been made up for her. The Director has his sumptuous rooms with tall windows and crimson draperies looking out on manicured gardens, the suite that’s been checked by the other Death Troopers. Furious at her own volatile emotions, she’s pulling off the last of her armour when a thud comes from the main bedchamber, and she’s running already, grabbing up the closest weapon to hand.
Some desperate insurgent crouches in the window, levelling some sort of rifle and hissing dogma at Krennic who lounges in tank top and trousers on the bed with an expression of faint boredom. She registers this all in a second before the flung dagger catches the man in the eye and topples him back off the sill. “Waste of a perfectly good dagger,” she snarls, looking out the window and up at the roof, checking all the sightlines. There are bound to be accomplices, no idiot like that acts alone.
“Wait here.” She hurls Krennic’s blaster at him, and makes it all the way to the door of the palace suite before remembering she’s not in armour and therefore not allowed out in the palace grounds. Behind her, she just knows he’s doing that very smug licking of his lips as he inspects his custom blaster.
But the other Death Troopers are already pounding up the corridor, armoured and weapons charged. She sends them to search the roof and gardens, and slams the door shut, storming back to the bedchamber.
“What is wrong with you!”
“Me?” An expression of magnificent surprised innocence. The tiny healing scratches on his neck are dark against his skin. “How is any of this my fault?”
She snatches the blaster from him, practically vibrating with rage. “This is not supposed to be on the other side of the damned room, this is supposed to be near you at all -- how am I --”
“Isn’t that your job,” he says silkily, eyes bright and unsmiling in the moonlight from the open window.
She kisses him -- attacks him, more like, with all her anger and all her lust, savage mouth and hard hands. He grabs her face with both hands, pulls her into his lap so fast they topple onto the bed, the blaster sliding to the floor as they’re kissing fierce, tangling limbs and bodies pushing at each other. His mouth is so hot, his tongue bold and wet right into her mouth. None of his coolness, none of that restraint. She rubs herself against his chest and hips, shameless and moaning into his mouth, biting at his lips. He takes hold of her ass, pushes his cock up against the juncture of her thighs, kissing her back with hot breath and so much demand of his own. She feels claimed, finally physically taken control of, like he was ever her master.
That makes her rear up. “Why Jyn Erso?”
“What?” He scowls up at her, breathless. His hands are automatically moving towards her breasts, she sees that, the way he makes himself stop and clasp her ribcage.
She focuses down on his face, on the glistening red of his mouth, so inviting. “Why that name? What does it mean?”
His intelligence like a snake behind his eyes, he lets her see his displeasure. “Is this really when you want to talk about this? Right now?”
She considers for a moment, blood pounding in her veins.
“No,” she decides and goes back down to his mouth.
That first time is terrifying and overwhelming. She doesn’t actually realise it is her first time until he pushes his cock into her, and she freezes at the hideous newness of the sensation, the terror of physical invasion, of feeling like her body can’t take this, isn’t meant for this. And he, for all his unleashed ferocity, realises this immediately. Atop her, he stops and puts his hands carefully around her face, his eyes dark blue and concerned. Her fingers trembling a little, she’s trying so hard not to dig her nails into his upper arms, trying to breathe through the panic, waiting for her body to get used to this.
His mouth comes to hers, soft reassurance, tender in a way she’s never seen from him before. He kisses her slow, over and over again, deepening and exploring her mouth, coaxing her return into pure sensuality, until she’s kissing him back and moving her hands through his hair, moaning up into his mouth, her naked breasts and tight nipples pushing into the firm caress of his palms. And then she’s moving against him, gasping a little and then gasping some more as he moves inside her. Breath and hair and glinting eyes in the hot darkness between them, it’s terrifyingly intimate and so very addictive. Suddenly she wants it all, all of him, all of this experience that’s like nothing she’s known in her short life so far.
He puts his fingers into her mouth and fucks her relentless, watching every expression in the shadow of this bed that isn’t his. He doesn’t stop, she doesn’t want him to, caught by the heat off his bare skin, by the fierce hard rhythm he sets and she meets, by the sensation of his cock hard up inside her, rubbing wet soft places she’d accidentally found, flicking sensation like electricity through her. She sucks on his fingers, bites down until he snarls softly at her and kisses her mouth hard. He pulls her legs around him and puts a finger into her cunt right along his cock, finds that spot that makes her want to scream, utterly overtaken by him and this thing they’re doing in the moonlit dark. He fucks her until she does scream, his hand clapping over her mouth. It enrages her but she loves it too, startled into awareness that they’re not alone in this great palace, that there are people on the other side of the wall. But then she’s too busy coming, gabbling nonsense against his palm as pleasure breaks through her blood and flesh, twisting her up against the weight of him. It strobes like lightning, a series of so bright electronic pulses embedding her in flesh, flinging her mind so high she’s terrified and exhilarated.
It takes forever to come down. She’s shaking all over, disturbingly on the verge of crying into his shoulder. It had never occurred to her that touching him could lead to this, that her fondness could result in this sensory devastation.
He murmurs something to her, lips pressing against her hair, against the corner of her eye. Maybe it’s comfort, she can’t tell, but right now she can’t even bear that. Pushes him back in a rush of cool air and sudden self-consciousness of her nakedness. She grabs her clothes and stumbles into the antechamber, shutting the door behind her.
He won’t intrude, that’s for certain. Even if he worries, he’ll respect her privacy. So she puts her clothes back on, needing the dulling of her senses. And she curls up in the camp bed, thinking too hard and too fast, still shaking a little. It wasn’t a mistake, she knows that. She doesn’t regret one second.
But now she needs to know.
Another Death Trooper takes over her duties for the next few days. She moves in the anonymity of her armour, a distance from him. He makes no attempt to speak to her, she is not summoned.
When they return to the ship, she goes with the other Death Troopers for the regular checkup. Any slight bruises have faded by now, and the women in white coats aren’t so invasive as to detect any change in her genitalia. She leaves the medlab, heading straight for the private holonet terminals in the Death Trooper quarters.
The information is unnervingly easy to access. Clearly it was always there, within reach. All she had to do was type in her name, the name he gave her. And a history unfolds before her. A history of the girl in the mirror, with her big eyes and pink mouth and all her vulnerability behind the fierce gaze.
She has no memory of this girl at all. It’s like reading someone else’s story. And yet somehow it breaks something in her.
He had destroyed her family. Killed her mother, stolen her father. She had been taken in by a soldier -- a zealot, no less, oh the irony -- who raised her and made her into a warrior without allegiance, skilled and ruthless.
Jyn Erso died in an insurgent bombing. Her body was never found, presumed destroyed in the blast. But Imperial records show that her corpse was acquired along with those of several other random fighters across the galaxy, a squad of half mutilated bodies assigned to the Death Trooper project under the aegis of Czerka Arms.
She was supposed to be dead. He had stolen that from her too.
She knows she could confront him with all this newfound knowledge, throw it in his face. But for what? What would be the point?
Is she even a she anymore? The it-ness creeps back like metal liquefying and moving under skin.
Neither flesh nor machine.
It leaves the Death Trooper quarters, leaves behind the armour and the weapons. A shuttle goes missing from the bay, later found wrecked on some Mid Rim planet. By then, it is a shadow in the flickering chaos of the galaxy. It thinks very little, it thinks too much. It listens to conversations and reacts to whims, lets chance push and pull it across planets and systems. For a few weeks it works on a salvage crew combing through the wreckage of a star destroyer. The scavenger droids take no notice of it, grind on through their work.
She is not like them.
A couple of weeks she tends a bar on Nar Shaddaa, liking the smog and the filth, the unfettered violence of the slum streets. The sex workers befriend her, tell her there’s easier work to be had. Or perhaps it isn’t easy in comparison? She can’t bring herself to try, preferring instead to break up the fights, to use her body that way.
One of those brawls has her slashed down across the chest, pain bright red, startling. Later, in the grimy room above, she peels off her bloodied top before the murky transparisteel, peers at her reflection by the fluorescent light blinking overhead. It’s a deep vicious gouge with some serrated blade, the edges ragged, exposing the meat of her right breast and the glimmering circuitry below her ribs.
She peels off that flesh too. Dizzied by the pain. Glorying in it.
Once she starts, she can’t stop. With her metal nails, she tears the skin away, takes it off in shreds and long strips, weeping a little at the agony. When her nails won’t cut into sinew, she takes up the knife. All the human flesh that was never hers to begin with she hacks away, lets it fall in a mess of gore and so much blood around her. The smell is sickening but right, so right. A sort of purification as all her metal and mesh comes to light. That diagonal seam is filthy now but it won’t be for long. She hunches over, near fainting. That will pass too.
When she’s cleaned up and dressed, no one is the wiser. She looks the same as she ever did, the same tall lithe girl in dark trousers and cowled top, weapons strapped to her legs, pulling the hood over her hair. But she feels it now, feels right in her metal body and glittering insides concealed within the clothes.
She is not like them, any of them.
In the rain on Eadu, she crouches by a stack of cargo containers and watches her father -- Jyn Erso’s father -- talk in an urgent whisper to a pilot. Waits for some sort of emotional reaction within, some sort of recognition.
There is nothing.
She only knows what she’s read. That Jyn Erso was a small fierce girl warrior, forever searching for her father, forever mourning the family that was taken from her.
This Jyn Erso though? This name that she wears so lightly it may as well not be hers -- maybe it’s guilt that she doesn’t feel more. Maybe she should feel a connection to the name, to the history.
Her connection is back in the Empire, the man in white who kissed her with such tenderness and told her his name was Krennic instead of what he was. Who gave her this name even though it would lead to chaos and abandonment, to the exposure of his own schemes.
If she had done the search when all this began, when she first knew her name, none of this would have happened. She never would have kissed him, never touched his skin, never known the heat of him inside her. She never would have felt this awful softness and now this awful anguish, hating herself and everything. She would have left him immediately and never known any of his tenderness.
She does consider her manipulation at his hands. Recognises it when the news breaks that the Director of the Imperial Army has been injured in some rebel attack. It’s one more setup, one more amoral calculation to bring her back to him.
She goes, anyway. To see for herself, to look him in the eye and spit her hate at him. For the death he’d stolen from her, for this half life he’s given her instead, this liminal existence that ties her to no one.
To ask him why.
It’s easy to regain access to the ship. She finds some petty officer to threaten into allowing her onto a returning shuttle, and then she has to disarm and incapacitate a few troopers on her way through the corridors to the Director’s residential quarters. The ship has been damaged in the rebel attack, and most of the crew seem far too occupied with that to notice one more person.
He isn’t nearly as wounded as the reports made out.
“Leave,” she says tersely, and the med techs scatter, the droids on their heels. She taps in the locking code to seal the quarters so they won’t be disturbed. He says nothing, watches her from where he sits on the table where they’ve planned and argued and discussed so much. Bare chested, one arm wrapped in a white bandage, and his face all scraped up and bruised on one side, the silver hair in disarray.
Putting back her hood, she takes a few steps forward into the centre of the white room. “I haven’t come back to you.”
“Haven’t you,” he says coolly. Her temper sparking, she has to count a couple of beats before she can speak further.
“I know what you did. To my family, to my --”
My. She hears that word, it sinks into her, soft and hooked.
“What I don’t know is why.” She moves closer, locked to his watchful blue grey eyes. “Why did you bring me back? Why choose me?”
“Don’t lie,” she says softly. “I’ll know.”
His lashes lower, not in deceit but thoughtfulness. She recognises it and waits, her fingers curling into her hand, against the urge to reach out and touch him. It’s been forever and not long enough away from him, she’d forgotten how breathlessly beautiful he is. Now that she’s seen so much of the galaxy on her own, he is still the most beautiful thing in it.
“You were supposed to be my secret weapon.” His voice is level, eyes clear and direct. “No one was ever to know I had Galen Erso’s daughter in my employ, sworn to protect me and me alone. Not,” he says evenly, “until I chose to reveal that to him. Until it was exactly the right moment.”
Her gaze narrows on him, sensing more.
“But,” his tone shifts into some flippancy, a sort of disguise she recognises, “you didn’t quite work out that way. You …” He reaches out a hand, very carefully, watching for her reaction. She lets him touch her fingers, lets him ease her forward a little. “You proved much, much more useful than I anticipated.”
It’s not lewd, the way he says it, a disarming sincerity in his eyes. Still she takes in a soft breath that parts her lips, that makes him look there with some heat. And she takes her hand from his, reaches up and behind her to pull off the cowled top. Her hair falls dishevelled to her shoulders but he’s already looking where she wanted, at her bared chest of flesh and metal. She unsnaps her trousers and pushes them down to catch at her boots. Expressionless, he looks at her legs half cased in steel, at her mesh cunt and the glittering intricacy of her torso, and then at her face.
“I am not your weapon,” she tells him.
His eyes flicker. “I know.”
She puts her hand around his throat and squeezes just once, reminding him. “I am my own weapon.”
“I know,” he manages, his skin turning faintly pink over his cheekbones.
She leans in until she’s breathing his air. “I can leave you anytime I want. I can kill you. Any time I want. Do you understand, Krennic?”
His smile is sudden and brilliant, utterly insane like the electricity that leaps inside her. “Yes.”
He fucks her, face pressed against the durasteel wall, his breath unsteady and terribly excited, so hard and fast she knows he’d be hurting a woman of flesh. But she takes it, glorying in his violence. He has one hand around the metal curve of her breast, the fingers of the other plunged up the slick organic mesh of her cunt, right against the heft of his cock invading her, driving her harder against the wall. She laughs, happily trapped, knowing she can break free at any time, knowing she can break him.
Maybe she will allow the women in white to re-flesh her. Or she may not.
Either way, she knows what she is now.
A choice reborn.