In war time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
Oh, how can, how can you ask me again
It only brings me sorrow
The same thing I want from you today
I would want again tomorrow.
She has already killed more than a hundred Nazis and has a five million-franc price on her head by the time he meets her.
In the Special Operations Executive files, her name is written down as Jyn Erso, but the Germans call her ‘The Ghost’ because they never know when she is going to strike - when or where one of their convoys will get blown up, their soldiers slaughtered, their gun factories reduced to smithereens. She has been recruiting and leading more than seven thousand maquis in the forest of Auvergne since ‘41 and he’s heard of her ever since he went undercover. He’s always imagined her as tall, somehow blonde, with red lipstick and curls like the girls in those Alliance propaganda posters.
What he didn’t expect to see is this: she’s short (much shorter than he is), definitely not blonde but brunette (she ties her hair into a bun at the nape of her neck), and green eyes that burn when she glares at him from underneath her fringe. She has on combat boots and black gloves that are frayed at the edges. A Sten slung over one shoulder. The hilt of a knife protruding from her belt.
And he is in his SS officer uniform, he realises too late.
He is also on his knees before her with his hands tied behind his back. One of her men (she’d called him Baze) has a gun trained to his temple.
So much for British hospitality.
“Jyn Erso,” he says, looking up into her face, half-lit by moonlight.
She frowns. She still looks young, he thinks. Definitely younger than him, but then almost everyone feels younger than him. It is not the years, but the things he’s done with those years.
“Who are you?”
"Cassian Andor. British Intelligence.”
The frown deepens. “Forgive me, Lieutenant.” (There is no mistaking the disdain in the way she utters his title; his uniform usually provokes this attitude from resistance fighters.) “But you don’t sound British.”
“Half British.” He dares to look her up and down. “But you’re not, I presume.”
“I have no knowledge of a British asset in the Nazi Auvergne unit.”
“My handler died a few weeks ago.” He can still recall the explosion, the taste of sulphur in his mouth, the dead eyes staring up at him. (But he mustn’t remember, mustn’t think.) “He told me to find you. He said you can get my messages back to England by Lysander because of your connections. I can’t travel far from the base, you see. My rank comes with certain responsibilities.”
“What a load of bullocks,” grumbles the man called Baze. He taps his gun against Cassian’s temple. “Let me shoot him in the head.”
The dark-haired, dark-eyed man behind Jyn chortles. “You think of shooting everyone in the head.”
“Starting with you, Rook!”
“Quiet!” she snaps, and both men fall silent at once. She takes a step forward, moving closer to him. “What guarantees can you give me? Andor, is it?”
“Contact Intrepid in Baker Street.”
Her eyes flicker at the name. But is it with intrigue? Distrust? He can’t quite tell.
“Stephenson knows about me. And Atkins.”
This time, her anger is obvious.
“I doubt that,” she says, lips curling. “She would have told me.”
“She would not and you know it. Forgive me, ma’am, but we both know how this works. Secrets don’t remain secrets for long if you tell everyone.”
“I’m not just everyone.”
He shrugs, doesn’t contradict her. She glares at him again and he can feel something - some foreign, strange, long-forgotten thing - stirs in the pit of his stomach.
“So,” he says, not looking away, “are you going to shoot me or not?”
Her gaze flickers to Baze, to the man Rook, and then finally to another one of her crew. The man she seeks is Asian by the looks of him. Chinese, if Cassian were to place a bet. He is leaning by the window with his eyes half-closed and his shaved head covered by a black fedora.
What a strange group, Cassian cannot help but think. A female British SOE agent, French resistance fighters, and a rag-tag group of bodyguards.
“Chirrut?” says Jyn.
The Chinese man called Chirrut smiles. The nod he gives her is barely perceptible. Somehow, it eases the tension from her shoulders. She turns back to Cassian.
“I’ll check with Intrepid.”
“Thank you,” he tells her, and then turns his head to Chirrut. “Thank you.”
Baze makes a sound between a grunt and a snort. The man called Rook just frowns.
“And if you will untie me,” Cassian says, “I have important information to give you.”
Her mouth tightens. “Baze?”
Baze grunts again, but he doesn’t make a comment as he frees Cassian from his restraints. Cassian gets to his feet, rolls his shoulders back to get rid of the knots there.
“A map, ma’am?”
One of her French fighters steps forward and spreads out a map of France on the table in the middle of the room. Cassian feels her eyes on his back as he approaches it.
“On the fourteenth, two weeks from now,” he says, pointing at a spot on the map, “a German convoy is going to be travelling through these parts.”
She comes to stand beside him and he notices how her head only comes up to his chin.
“A thousand or so.”
She frowns, staring at the spot he has pointed out. “What is their destination?”
Something he can’t quite read crosses her expression. She doesn’t look at him. Instead, she motions to Rook.
“Bodhi, see the Lieutenant out.”
Cassian scoffs. “Is this it, ma’am?”
She turns, looks at him, and his world turns bright for a moment too long.
“I will check your credentials with London, Lieutenant, before I act on your information. But if you’re not who you say you are, I’ll track you down and kill you myself.”
He doesn’t doubt her, of course. What man would?
His credentials check out like he had expected them to, and two weeks later, the reports roll in: the German convoy was attacked on their way to Calais. Prisoners taken, tanks stolen, and casualties littered the road into the town. A gruesome sight, they say. But then again,’The Ghost’ never does anything in half-measures.
She arranges regular meetings with him after that.
They meet in an abandoned cottage in the woods just behind the local whorehouse. She and her band of loyal bodyguards can reach it in the cover of darkness and he…well, no one dares question an SS officer about his personal business.
She doesn’t come alone. Not ever. Bodhi Rook always trails behind her, twitchy and on edge, his hand gripping his Sten a little too tightly. The Chinese named Chirrut keeps his distance. He always has the air of someone who is taking a leisurely stroll in the park rather than of someone who is meeting a spy in the death of night. His partner Baze, however, hates Cassian and makes no attempt at hiding it in the way he stares. He doesn’t say anything in front of Jyn, of course, but Cassian reckons she already knows.
She sits at the only table in the cottage with Bodhi looming behind her like always, his eyes constantly darting towards the door.
“What else can you give me, Lieutenant?” she asks him.
Cassian is in the seat opposite hers. He is smoking a cigarette. A luxury, perhaps, but a luxury he can afford thanks to his cover.
“First, I have troop movements from the south of France,” he says, drawing a piece of paper from his pocket. “For the Lysander. As soon as you can.”
“Is it already coded?”
She plucks the paper from his hand and stores it in her breast pocket.
He can’t help but smile. She cocks her head to the side.
“Well, the reward on your head, to be exact. The Nazis have increased it to six million-franc.”
Bodhi frowns, but Baze lets out what is unmistakably a whoop.
“Charming,” she says, smiling. At least he now knows that he is capable of making her smile. If only a little. “Anything else?"
“Ma’am, what do you want to know?”
A brief glance at Chirrut, then she says, “The weapons factory in Chaudes-Aigues.”
He nods slowly. Of course, he isn’t surprised.
“What do you want to know?”
“The number of guards. The defences. The shifts. Everything you can give me.”
“Not a problem, ma’am. Give me three weeks.”
He smirks. “Alright. Two. Anything else?”
“Just the factory, Lieutenant.”
She tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear and he can’t quite help himself.
“Ma’am, call me Cassian,” he says.
He sees Bodhi rolling his eyes, but he can’t care less. It is her he looks at, and she stares back at him, surprised.
“Alright then.” Her hand pauses in the space between them. “Cassian.”
His name rolls off her tongue and it sounds more pleasant than he thought it would. Satisfied, he puts out his cigarette on the table’s surface.
“Oh, and one more thing.”
“That girl you rescued from the village two weeks ago. She is a Nazi spy.”
He hears gasps from her French fighters. Chirrut, however, smiles.
“I did mention this possibility to my colleagues, Lieutenant,” the Chinese man says. “Melshi, it seems like you owe me a pack of cigarettes.”
Melshi does not return Chirrut’s smile. He glances at Jyn uncertainly. “She is just a girl, ma’am.”
“A pretty girl who is spilling all of your secrets to the Gestapo,” says Cassian, getting up from his seat and putting his cap back on. “I say execute her and be done with it.”
“Ma’am, none of us want to -”
“What? Shoot a girl?” Her gaze swivels from Cassian to Melshi, making the Frenchman recoil in fright.
“Ma’am,” stammers Melshi, slipping back into his native French, “I am not sure you should trust the information given to us by this man.”
Jyn turns back to Cassian and considers him for a moment, her green eyes sweeping over his expression. He feels a tingling at the back of his neck. An inconvenience, he thinks. Nothing more.
But her eyes remain on him as she addresses Melshi again in English.
“You will execute her tonight, Melshi, or I will put a bullet in her head myself.”
He thinks about her more than he should. More than he ought to, really. Sometimes he thinks it is because he has been a spy for too long. Maybe it is because he is lonely and he just doesn’t know it yet. He tells himself that he is being stupid. That he knows nothing about her. But he still can’t help wondering when his days are too quiet and his nights too long.
He knows for certain that she is English. She must also be from a well-off family because her French, unlike his, is flawless. Her German, however, is atrocious. She must not have any parents back home in England, he thinks. Otherwise, she would be a nurse with the Red Cross and not an SOE agent who parachuted into France with nothing but the clothes on her back, a wireless set, a knife in her boot and a cyanide pill sewn into the collar of her blouse. Her presence in France has bolstered the number of maquis from around three thousand to seven thousand. He knows that she had once killed a Nazi officer with her bare hands while she was raiding a Gestapo headquarters. She strangled the man to stop him from raising the alarm.
He imagines that there must be a lover or a husband somewhere, either imprisoned in Paris by the Gestapos or dead in the sands of Tunisia. Whoever he is, she has lost him. He recognises it in the way her eyes burn - how they burn with the need to win the war a bit more. How they are a little more dead than the eyes of those around her.
Those eyes are on him right now.
And for the first time, he realises that he’d recognised the loss in them because he sees the same loss every time he looks in the mirror.
She must have noticed the shift in his expression, for she asks him: “Cassian, what is it?”
He does not reply. The smoke from his cigarette billows in the space between them. He has already given her the message to send back with the Lysander and more information about the weapons factory. He almost squirms in his seat.
Her gaze strays from him and rests on Bodhi.
“I do not think that this is a good idea,” says Baze.
Rook glances at Baze with something like warning in his expression. The older man shrugs, resigned, and Bodhi nods at Jyn and gestures for the soldiers to leave the cottage. He is the last one to go through the door, but Cassian would bet his right arm that the man is standing close by, ready to burst in at any moment if Jyn calls for him.
When they are finally alone, he takes another cigarette out of his pocket. He lights it and hands it over to her.
“What is this?” she asks, staring at his offered hand.
“A cigarette. I thought it was obvious.”
She hesitates for a second, but then reaches out to take it. She closes her eyes briefly as she takes a long drag.
“Oh, how I’ve missed this.”
Again, another smile. The sight of it tugs at the corner of his own mouth.
“So, Cassian. What is it that you can’t tell me in front of my own men?”
He pauses. His hand holding the cigarette is inches away from his lips.
There are questions he would like answers to - all the things he has wondered about in those rare moments when his world goes silent. But like always, the war comes first. It must always, always comes first.
“An invasion is coming,” he says, his voice unbelievably steady. “The Germans know it is coming, but they don’t know where. Hitler thinks it is either Norway or somewhere along the Atlantic Wall.”
“Are you asking me where the second front will be opened, Lieutenant?”
He does not reply. He brings the cigarette to his lips, breathes it in.
“If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you,” she says eventually.
“I guessed as much. But, ma’am, I know something.”
“I am sure you know a great many things, Cassian.”
“But I am not certain if this piece of information has any relevance to the invasion.”
“London will be the judge of that.”
He can feel the tension in the room, the way her hand that is holding the cigarette is shaking a little more.
“This can’t wait. It must be sent by a wireless signal and not with the Lysander,” he says carefully, his voice as low as he can make it. “You see, there will be a visitor from Berlin.”
She sucks in a short breath. “Who?”
“Rommel,” he says, his eyes not leaving hers. “Rommel is coming to Pas-de-Calais.”
The silence that follows stretches on far longer than he thought it would. They stare at each other through the cigarette smoke, aware that they are both breathing hard with excitement.
Finally, she speaks first: “I will pass the message on to Intrepid.”
“Alright,” he says.
And then there is nothing more to say.
They sit like that for a while in the silence, smoking and listening to the way the other person breathes. He notes how her green eyes turn a little purple in the candlelight.
She finishes her cigarette first. She drops it to the floor and crushes it with the toe of her boot.
“Can I ask you a personal question, Cassian?”
The word no dances on his lips, but one look at her changes all that.
“Yes,” he says.
“Tell me, Cassian. Are you sleeping with any of the girls at the whorehouse?”
He feels as though he is hurtling towards the ground with no parachute.
She turns her head to the side, appraising him with a totally unfathomable look.
“You should,” she says finally. “To maintain your cover here, you should.”
But that night, when he is lying alone in his bed, he touches himself in the dark and it is her eyes that he sees and the way she turns her head and the way her lips wrap around his cigarette, and then he thinks he must be a fool for thinking at all.)
He thinks she knows too.
When they are alone in the cottage with Bodhi waiting outside, she looks at him like she knows.
She does not seem ashamed at all of the way she looks at him; her eyes roam every inch of his face and then up and down his body as though she is undressing him right then and there. But she doesn’t say anything. Never does anything. And he thinks he knows why.
“Your information is good, Cassian,” she tells him, again while smoking one of his cigarettes. “London has confirmed that Rommel is indeed travelling to Pas-de-Calais.”
“What are your orders?”
Of course she doesn’t tell him. She sprays her hand down on the table between them and stares down at her fingers.
“How long have you been undercover?” she asks instead.
“Do you remember your life before?”
“I do. But I try not to sometimes. It is easier that way.”
She looks up at his face and she almost looks a little sad. It makes his heart ache somehow, and he is surprised that his heart is capable of aching at all.
“Jyn, you must be careful.”
“They haven’t caught me yet.”
“I know, but there have been talks among my superiors. We have twenty thousand men. I think they’re planning something.”
“Twenty thousand Nazis, you mean.” She rolls her eyes and whatever sadness he saw in her disappears. “Let them come. I’ll kill them all.”
He smiles at that. How can he not?
But then he realises that he’s been afraid for her since the day they met.
From then on, their meetings become that - him being afraid for her and she being glib about it. He has fancied himself fearless before he met her, but now he thinks that his courage is nothing compared to hers. She blazes and shines like nobody he has ever met, and her men gravitate to her like planets orbiting the sun.
On his information alone, she and the maquis blow up the weapons factory at Chaudes-Aigues and raid two more German convoys. In turn, she sends his usual reports back to England through her contacts. She doesn’t read them; there is no point in trying because of the code he uses. Some days, he does not even have any vital information to share, but he goes to meet her all the same. She only brings Bodhi with her now and on these days, they just sit in the silence of the cottage, smoking and looking at each other from across the table.
The looking doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t necessarily help. But it is better than nothing at all.
“Do you miss home?” she asks him once.
He shrugs, not daring to tell her that he doesn’t know where home is.
“I miss being out of this uniform,” he says instead.
She cracks a smile. “I miss being in a dress.”
“You? In a dress?”
“I look amazing in a dress,” she says dryly. “There was a party that I went to when I was reading English at Cambridge. I wore a long yellow dress that made me look like a sunflower.”
“You read English at Cambridge?”
He files the information away for later.
She nods and brings his cigarette to her lips.
“I did a great many things before the war.”
She sounds sad again and he doesn't have the heart to ask her any more questions.
There is a knock at the door and it is Bodhi, telling her that their time is up.
He feels like their time is always up.
He knows about the attack too late and he cannot warn her.
Twenty thousand SS troops with artillery, tanks and aircrafts.
He should have known. He should have seen it coming. But somehow, he has caught only inklings of it, and not the whole plan.
He has to stand on a hilltop and order his men down to kill hers. The pitch battle lasts for two days, and when it is over, a thousand Germans lie dead in the field around the forest.
But her… her they cannot find.
He still goes to the cottage on the day of their scheduled meeting. He sits at the table by himself and just smokes and smokes.
He does not know how long he’s been sitting there for. He thinks again of explosions, of the taste of sulphur on his tongue, and he has to stop himself from seeing her dead on the ground with blood pouring from her side.
He has just finished his third cigarette when he hears footsteps at the door. He is on his feet immediately, his gun drawn from his belt.
“Who is it?”
The sound that escapes from his lips is half a sob and half a sigh. The door is pushed open and she struggles into view. She is injured, he notices immediately. Her right arm is bandaged, there is a small cut on her left cheek and she is learning heavily on Bodhi to stay upright.
“Jyn, you shouldn’t be here.”
But all he wants to say is, You’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive.
“Thank you for the warning, by the way,” she says with a thin smile on her lips. “Twenty thousand men. But no information on when or where. Very useful.”
“I’m sorry, I-”
“Bodhi, take me to the chair and get out.”
“I don’t think-”
“Am I your commanding officer or not?”
The man grimaces. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Here, let me,” says Cassian. He rushes over to her side and takes her arm. She leans her weight on him and her hair brushes against his cheek.
“I know, I know,” says Bodhi, rolling his eyes. Whatever the gesture meant, he does not care to elaborate and he steps outside just like Jyn has asked him to.
Cassian helps her over to the chair and she winces when she sits down in it.
“Well done, Lieutenant,” she says wryly. “You found out about Rommel, but not about something right under your nose.”
He realises that he is still on his knees beside her, her hand still clutching his arm. His chest tightens at the touch.
“There is no need to apologise.”
“It was my fault.”
“Undoubtedly. Just do better next time.”
“I’m willing to let Baze shoot me in the head.”
She chuckles. “He’d like that.”
“How many did you lose?” he asks, trying to swallow down the dread.
“A hundred men.”
His eyes grow wide and the heat inside his chest grows. “You are amazing, do you know that?”
“Why? How many did you lose?”
“A thousand?” She stares at him incredulously. “How?”
He hears himself laughing - a strange, joyous sound he thought he’d never hear again.
“I don’t know how. We had mortars, aircrafts, machine guns, and still…”
“Bloody Nazis,” she says, her laughter coming out in wheezes and gasps. “They can’t even catch one woman with twenty thousand troops.”
Her grip moves from his arm to his hand and they huddle together there, him on the floor and her on the chair, laughing until her laughter turns to tears and he has to hold her hand until the sobs subside.
Finally, when the world is calm again, she leans her head on his shoulder and her words are muffled by the fabric of his uniform.
“Pas-de-Calais,” she says. “The invasion. It will be at Pas-de-Calais.”
It is not Pas-de-Calais. It is Normandy.
His German superior is the one who brings the news. It turns out the Allies land on Normandy, and not Pas-de-Calais. Around one hundred and fifty thousand troops complete with aircrafts and gliders. He could laugh, but he doesn’t. Again, he should have known. They work for spies after all.
All along, Pas-de-Calais has been a ruse to trick the Germans. To keep up the facade, London has tricked them both too in case they got captured and were interrogated for information.
The next time he sees her, she comes to the cottage alone for the first time. Her limp is gone but the scar on her cheek has not healed. The betrayal, however, is written plainly upon her face.
“I thought they trusted me,” she says, her brows furrowing.
“Trusted you with what?”
She points to her collar where he knows the cyanide pill is hidden.
“What is the point of this then?” she asks, her tone heavy with irony.
“It’s a precaution,” he says, an excuse of some sorts. “You understand. You and I would have done the same.”
“For the greater good?”
“Everything we do is for the greater good.”
She flinches at his words, but in her heart of hearts, she must understand, he thinks.
The greater good is why he cannot dream of a life together with her after the war. It is why he can’t imagine strolling along the Thames with his arm around her or kissing her in daylight. The greater good is why he knows he will probably die here in France and why he will never see England or Mexico again.
The regret must have shown on his face because she stills, the fury slowly burning away from her eyes. And he knows that he can now say what he’s come to say and she won’t hate him for it.
“Listen, Jyn, you won’t see me for a while.”
“What do you mean?”
Something creeps into her eyes. Panic, he realises.
No, continue. You must continue.
“I got my orders,” he says. “We are marching in a couple of days.”
“No, Cassian, you can’t -”
He reaches across the table and grabs her hand.
“I need you to listen to me, Jyn. This is very important. Do you understand?”
She nods, but he can see her lips beginning to tremble.
“The Germans think that there might still be an attack on Pas-de-Calais. They’re not moving their troops from there to Normandy. Send a message to London as soon as you can. Tell them they have time, do you understand?”
“They have time,” she repeats, nodding as if she is in a trance.
“I will be travelling with a convoy of ten thousand men. Fifteen tanks. We are to join other convoys and stop the invasion from reaching Paris.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you know what to do.”
“No, no, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.” He squeezes her hand again. “You must do as you always do. Bullets. Bombs. Grenades. Everything you’ve got.”
“But what about you?”
He chuckles. “I will survive. I have luck on my side.”
“That’s not funny,” she says. The hardness is gone now. She looks at him, and for a moment, he can almost see the life he can never have reflecting there in her gaze.
“Come with me,” she says suddenly. “Cassian, come with me.”
“My orders aren’t done.”
“Damn your orders!”
He smiles at her anger. The possibility is just too sweet, too fragile, and he brushes a lock of her hair away from her eyes.
As soon as he utters his next words, he knows that there will be no going back.
“I can’t do it,” he says quietly. “I wish I could, but I can’t. Can you do it, Jyn?”
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I can.”
But she is lying and she knows it and he knows it. At the end of the day, not one thing they want matters in the grand scheme of things. There are roads he still needs to travel down, things he still needs to find out for the Allies. He could love her, he does love her, but love means nothing when it comes to duty.
So he brings her hand up to his lips and kisses it, lingering with his mouth on her palm.
“We would have made a great team,” he says.
Something breaks in her expression, and she leans across the table and takes his face in her hands.
“Damn your stubbornness,” she whispers.
“And damn yours.”
And this is when she kisses him. She tastes of his cigarettes and wine and a life beyond the fields of war. Their kisses are rough, hurried, and he believes that this is the way it should be - the way it will always be - between them. She buries her hands in his hair, under his shirt and when he picks her up in his arms, she wraps his legs around him and gasps his name against his lips.
When her back hits the wall, it doesn’t take long for them both to pull their trousers down. He enters her fully, swiftly, and she moans in his ear while he thrusts up inside her until she comes, and he thinks that this right here - with her - is all he will ever get to feel from here on out.
A while later, they lie tangled together on the floor - all limbs and sweat and pounding hearts. He must go soon, he knows, but he doesn’t want to move. She is curled up beside him and he still can’t quite believe that she hasn’t already disappeared.
He looks at her and studies how she breathes. He even tries to imagine - for a moment - her in that yellow dress beneath a twinkling Cambridge sky.
A moment longer. Somehow.
She is the only beautiful thing in this goddamned war and he doesn’t mind at all if she’s the one who’s going to kill him - if hers is the hand that’s throwing the final grenade. After all, there are worse ways to die and he has already experienced them all before she came into his life.
She takes his hand and lifts it up before them, seeing how their fingers lace together.
“I think you broke me,” she whispers. “So what now?”
He presses his lips to her temple. He can feel her heartbeat against his chest.
“Paris,” he says finally.
She frowns. “Paris?”
“One day. When she is free again. Meet me there.”
She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t lie, doesn’t agree, doesn’t even tell him that he’s wrong. And he thinks that he might just love her a little more because of it.
I might be gone a long time
And it's only that I'm asking
Is there something I can send you to remember me by
To make your time more easy passing?