As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
Cassian Andor is a threat. Cassandrian Aach, however, is a nuisance.
This is an important distinction.
He’s returned to the conscious world to find his hands and feet bound with remarkable precision. The floor is cold and wet with dirty, melted snow where he’s been tossed into so unceremonious a heap. His left shoulder is numb where’s he’s been lying on it, and he can feel the pull of dried blood on his cheek when he blinks.
In his line of sight are a pair of worn tauntaun-skin boots, and he finds that they are attached to the singular guard stationed over him. Over his shoulder, the immemorial blue of hyperspace streaks by.
“Hey,” he croaks at the guard, rolling out the usual crispness of his syllables into something a little softer, a little more provincial. Cassandrian is not quite Cassian. He curls in on himself, works a little fear into his eyes. Only one guard is a good sign, he figures—Captain Cassian Andor would warrant considerably more firepower, and a direct current to the nearest Empire base. Corporal Cassandrian Aach, however, is a no one. A few credits toward any semi-adept bounty hunter looking to turn over someone to an increasingly desperate Empire.
The longer he remains Cassandrian, the better.
The guard ignores him, and Cassian shifts slightly on the floor. The scandocs identifying him as Aach are missing from his inside pocket, and he can’t recall how similar he looks to the facial scans anymore. Regardless, someone will eventually run him through the system, and the face of Cassian Andor will raise half a dozen red flags across the civilized galaxy. He makes a decision and begins to squirm, until a boot reaches out to nudge him, hard, in the ribs.
“Quit moving,” the guard growls.
“Then help me sit up,” Cassian snarls, but makes sure to let his voice shake on the last syllable. Somewhere, deep down in his gut, there is probably real fear; he allows just an iota of it to peek through, for the sake of Cassandrian.
The guard sighs his way to his feet, then reaches down to yank Cassian up by the collar of his shirt. Cassian tenses every muscle in body, then surges forward with a weak head butt. It’s amateurish and sloppy and earns him just what he desires. A fist slams into Cassian’s cheek, but he doesn’t abate his pathetic attack until the guard has him on the floor again and a few more punches have connected with the skin and bone of his face. He takes the beating, and eventually goes limp. The guard mutters something about rebel scum and leaves him to suck in painful breaths on the muddy metal plating.
His left eye is already beginning to swell shut when his thoughts finally turn toward Jyn. The image of her has been stewing in the back of his brain; a white noise crowding in around his consciousness. Take the shot echoes around inside his mind. He’d heard the order over his comm link, as clear as she surely had as well. One of Draven’s communications officers, but no doubt originally from Draven himself. The protocol is clear.
But no shot had rung out across the frozen valley as his captors had dragged him off, out of range of her sniper rifle. He should be dead, and the Rebellion’s secrets with him. But, instead, he’s en route to the Empire, and very much alive.
She’s saved him and condemned him all at once.
He pictures her gaze, deep and green and resolved, as he tastes the warm, metallic ooze of blood on his teeth.
Piloting the U-Wing on her own isn’t as difficult as she thought it might be; this is a problem.
If her hands are not otherwise engaged, they begin to shake.
A message comes in from Rebel Intelligence, and she hungrily sets to decoding it. In the black, now, she has to be cautious—a back door in the planetary defenses had allowed her to use a real comm link on the ground, but this is Imperial space. The viewport is empty, save the stars and the inky black, but she is not alone.
Do not pursue, the message reads. Return to base ASAP.
She doesn’t want to obey, doesn’t want to give these people the satisfaction. These people who had been so eager for her to pull the trigger. It bothers her that she couldn’t do it. It bothers her that she should ever have had to.
Cassian will suffer, because of her.
But the smuggling ship he’d been dragged to had broken atmo long before she’d been able to sprint back to the U-Wing. By the time she’d been operational, the ship had either gone dark or escaped off her radar. She has no choice but to return to Draven’s fury and the impotence of Alliance High Command. She has missed her opportunity to save Cassian on her own, and the farther he travels away from here the more difficult a rescue will be. The more likely the Council will be inclined to cut ties and let Cassian live or die on his own.
She looks to Cassian’s empty seat and feels something cold spread across her chest, something she doesn’t have time for. She waits for rage to consume her instead, for the heat of it to push away all else. He didn’t survive Scarif only to die in an Imperial cell, outside of her protective grip. He didn’t commit his life to the Alliance only for them to cut him loose the moment it’s convenient.
Her fingers curl around the controls, knuckles going white. The ship is silent around her; she realizes she’s grown used to the presence of another, the steady rhythm of his breathing filling in the gaps. She thinks, unwillingly, of this morning. Not so long ago in hours, but ages have passed since she looked up from shoving a blaster into the holster on her hip and found him gazing at her, eyes soft. Lips parted, like maybe he had words waiting somewhere inside him. Their eyes met, but neither had said a thing.
There seems to be a lot going unsaid between them lately.
She pushes the controls forward, until the stars streak into blue nothingness around her.
His face has swollen and purpled satisfyingly—he catches a reflection of himself in a viewport and hardly recognizes the mass of bruise and blood atop his neck. His nose has been knocked crooked again, and the ache of it is overshadowing the more shallow pains across his cheekbones and orbitals. He focuses on the sound of each of his own rattling breaths, and steels himself for what lies ahead.
The bounty hunter meets him and his escort of deplorables in a hangar in a port he’s not familiar with. It’s only been a few hours, he thinks, but he feels disoriented. The whole situation hangs a by a string—Aach is not his strongest alias, and eventually he will be recognized, bruised or not. His window for escape is limited.
Jyn slips into his thoughts, again, of her own accord. Please don’t come after me. He’s not sure if he’s praying to her or the Force or his own meager reserve of luck.
“What’s happened to his face?” the bounty hunter asks, hand on the gun at her hip.
“He struggled,” one his captors offers, with a shrug.
“Rebels always do,” the bounty hunter sighs. He can’t see her face behind the mask, but he thinks she might be sneering.
A gun nudges him in the back, and he steps forward, unswollen eye swiveling the space around him for exits. His choices are steadily narrowing; once he’s in the hands of the Empire, he may have none left but the cyanide capsule in his molar.
But everyone around him is heavily armed, and cover is limited. His feet are bound so he can’t do much more than shuffle. Then the bounty hunter has her hands on him, and the strength of her grip suggests something formidable beneath her baggy jumpsuit. He’ll have to catch her by surprise—not now, though, when the room is tense and quiet for the exchange.
“Alright, Corporal Aach,” she says, the hand on his elbow painfully tight as she leads him toward her private craft. His original captors fade behind him. “Off we go.”
Inside her ship, she clips him into a complex, sturdy looking railing, and then tightens the individual restraints on his feet and hands. He disguises his calculating gaze with Cassandrian’s fear, and lets his eyes roam the small space. He’s only a few feet from her pilot’s chair, and can even see out the viewport beyond it. Equidistant in the opposite direction is the door release for the aft exit.
The bounty hunter slings her rifle off her shoulder and into a mount on the wall over her seat. She’s not looking at him, but something about her silence does not seem stalwart. Voice as hesitant as he can make it, he asks, “What do I call you?”
She pauses in her preliminary start-up checklist, but doesn’t look back at him. The heavy helmet covering her neck and shoulders obscures all expression. “You don’t call me anything, Aach,” she replies, cheerfully flipping a switch on the dash in front of her. “Also, if you try to escape, I will remove your kneecaps. The Empire wants rebels alive, not necessarily intact.”
The artificial gravity kicks in a half second after they break atmo. For the briefest of moments, he’s weightless, but a moment is all it takes for the opening to present itself. He shifts his feet, slightly, and wriggles half his foot out of the restraints. The gravity returns, and he’s confident he can slip the rest of his foot out quickly. Be on his feet in even less time. His legs are uninjured; all it may take is a good kick to incapacitate the hunter. One fighter with a sharp stick with nothing left to lose can take the day. The words, in Jyn’s quiet tone, ricochet through his mind. She, of all people, would know the value of a split second.
He sits back, and waits for his chance.
Entering the airspace around Home One does not provide any succor; instead, she becomes even more acutely aware of how she’s left Cassian behind as she is beckoned into the airlock of landing bay three. This is not her home. Not if he’s not here.
It’s a thought she would’ve shied away from, before. Now, she holds onto it for a few long seconds, afraid it’ll be dragged from her just like Cassian himself.
She steps down from the U-Wing and finds Draven waiting for her, eyes impassive.
“Sergeant Erso,” he says crisply, already turning away. “We have much to discuss.”
She wants to strangle him. Her fingers close around the grip on her blaster, but she trots after him obediently, back stiff with rage. The bustle of the hangar fades behind her. In the bowels of the massive ship, she follows the familiar path toward the Intelligence hub on the lower decks. Dark and out of the way—appropriate for spies, she thinks. She supposes one day she’ll have to start counting herself among them.
She looks around the familiar space, and feels something ache in her chest when Cassian is absent from his usual spots. He’s not leaning against the wall with a faux nonchalance. His eyes are not surveying the room with practiced scrutiny. She pushes down the ache, lets the fire consume it until she can raise her chin and meet Draven head on.
They’ll be a court martial, at the very least. She disobeyed orders when she couldn’t pull that trigger. Draven will find a way to punish her for this, surely. Count on the Alliance to waste time assigning blame rather than organizing the rescue of the man she’s left behind. Her skin itches with impatience.
“Debrief, Sergeant,” Draven commands efficiently, reaching for a datapad. One of his aides scuttles around behind him. A steel eyed captain watches from the other side of the room.
She swallows. “Captain Andor was snagged by an Imperial-sympathetic gang on Denon. He was operating under the name Cassandrian Aach at the time so to not attract too much attention. The gang claimed to have information relevant to the Rebellion; I was meant to be covering the Captain from a distance while he extracted said information.”
“Do you believe his identity has been compromised?”
“The operation was ragtag. There would have been more of a force if they knew who he really was.” Her voice is even, even as the hand she has curled into a fist at her side shakes.
“Was Captain Andor injured?” Draven asks, eyes drawing up to meet hers. “After your shot missed?”
There’s silence for one long moment. Draven’s expression betrays nothing, but there’s no question that he knows the truth—she never pulled the trigger. Maybe he’s thinking the same she is: that a court martial would only waste time. Maybe Cassian is worth more than just another asset in the field.
“He took the butt of a rifle to the head, but was otherwise uninjured,” she says, finally, eyes narrowed. “It was not life threatening.”
Draven nods inscrutably. “There’s a promising lead on a bounty hunter in the vicinity of Captain Andor’s last known whereabouts. However, a rescue mission of any scale will require approval by High Command.”
“There’s no time for that,” Jyn growls, beginning to pace. “His identity will not hold up indefinitely.”
“At which point I have complete faith in Captain Andor’s ability to handle the situation,” Draven says, with a look to her that seems to add, unlike you.
And she knows what manage means, too.
It means cyanide.
“If Command determines that Captain Andor is an asset worth retrieving, then a strike force will be deployed to remove him, assuming he is in a position we are capable of infiltrating.” Draven won’t look at her, now; she knows what’s coming. “I think we can agree that you being a part of any such strike force would be unwise.”
On some level, she knows he’s right. If Cassian had been paired with anyone else on Denon, he would be dead. Someone else, who had not held him in their arms on a beach in what they thought would be the last moments of their life, would have been able to pull that trigger. There would be no security breach. Cassian would not have suffered.
He would still be gone.
Still, she shakes her head vigorously. “No, I’m going.”
Draven sends her an unimpressed look.
“I won’t miss again,” she hears herself say, and thinks something else entirely. She’ll protect him, this time. There are things she has to tell him. Things that have been stirring in her, since Scarif. The words are unfamiliar, but in his absence they’ve begun to take shape. She didn’t pull the trigger; she’s beginning to think she knows why.
She pictures him as best she can, somewhere out in the galaxy. Swathed in the darkness she’d left him in.
The fire inside her rises.
the first line is from Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est."
sorry for the wait, it's been a wild couple of weeks. Thanks for sticking around!
the first line is from Neruda's Poema 20
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.
It doesn’t go as smoothly as he plans.
His moment arrives; he slips his feet all the way out of their restraints just as the bounty hunter rises from her seat, but before she can grab her rifle. They’ve landed somewhere, but he gives that detail no thought whatsoever, and choses to focus, instead, on this moment and this moment alone.
She’s faster than he expects. Time speeds up to her advantage. He lands a solid kick to her chest, but he can feel the protection of body armor beneath his foot when it connects with her ribs. She stumbles, and he sees an opening for another blow, but his hands are still bound to the wall and he can’t reach. He manages to catch her ankle, just barely, and she hits the ground hard. Blood trickles from his wrists where he strains against his bounds again, but she scrambles out of his reach and snags her blaster off the wall.
In the split second between when he finds the barrel pointed at him and the sound of the blaster going off, something like regret washes through him.
Then he’s on the ground, and the scream that echoes through the ship might be his. The pain clogs his senses, turns his vision cloudy. He sweats and shivers in the space of second, blood pumping furious and loud in his ears.
“I warned you,” the hunter sighs, catching her breath.
Finally, he manages to focus his eyes, and finds that his left knee is a grotesque conglomeration of blood and bone and burnt flesh. He closes his eyes, breathes through his nose, urges his stomach to stop churning with the pain.
Could be worse. An abstract thought, but one that has always been a useful mantra, these last twenty years.
He thinks of a white sand beach. Of death on the horizon. Sometimes he’s not sure if that’s worse, or if it’s better.
It’s not long before he hears a pair of crisp boots echoing closer, and then two uniformed bodies are looking down on him, a man and a woman. Imperial gray fills his vision.
“Docs?” one of them asks. Cassian wonders briefly if they’re actually addressing him.
But it’s the bounty hunter that hands them over. “Corporal Cassandrian Aach. Of Dantooine.”
“Corporal,” scoffs the woman. “The notion of the Rebellion having any sort of organization worthy of military ranking has always baffled me.”
“Holds up,” the other Imperial says, ignoring her in favor of the docs. The rank on his breast might be captain. “I’ve heard of rebel activity on Dantooine, back in the day.”
“A facial scan will be useless with his face like that,” the woman remarks. “Fingerprints?”
“All the rebels burn theirs off,” says the captain. “We’ll skip the facial. He’s not worth the time.”
Cassian extinguishes the sigh of relief before it makes it out of his chest. The dull throb in his head, at least, is not for nothing.
“Something will have to be done about the knee, though,” the captain continues. “He can’t bleed out before we interrogate him.” He snaps his fingers and calls to someone out of Cassian’s line of hazy sight. “Get a few medidroids down here.”
“Careful, he’s a feisty one,” says the bounty hunter, with a nasty chuckle. “Tried to kickbox me to death a minute ago.”
For a moment, the captain studies him, and Cassian’s heart speeds at the thought of what the maneuver may have given away—would Corporal Aach have had the nerve to take the opening he’d been presented? Or had Captain Andor poked through too obviously?
But then the bounty hunter is complaining about her fee, and the captain’s attention shifts. Cassian is carried off, swallowing back the pain, to the sound of the captain’s exasperated reply. “You agreed to two hundred credits for—”
Something jostles his leg, and agony rips through him, from the crown of his head to the tips of his fingers. He passes out.
She knows her limitations; specifically, that she has none.
On the other side of the door, Alliance High Command has convened for a meeting she is not invited to. So she waits, turning her blaster over and over in her hands, and makes her own decision.
Command’s decision is ultimately only marginally relevant. To her, at least. Whether they authorize a rescue or not, she will mount her own. She had missed her initial window, back on Denon, to rescue him herself, but regardless of that mistake she will get him back. An Alliance approved mission gives her a higher chance of survival, with Rebel back-up and resources, but survival is not necessarily her highest priority. Not anymore.
It takes her a moment to realize Bodhi has sat down beside her.
He’s wearing his orange flight suit, and his sweaty hair is still matted from the helmet. He must have just got back in from a raid, she thinks. “Have you heard?” she asks, voice quieter than she intends.
He nods wearily, eyes on his hands. He doesn’t offer any sort of platitude—he’ll be okay, he always is—and she’s thankful. Instead, he says, “Baze and Chirrut just got back.”
They’ve been off with the Skywalker boy, the Jedi. Chirrut because of his knowledge of the Force and Baze because he goes where his husband goes. Bodhi, though, does not have the blissful smile on his face he usually does when mentioning Skywalker.
“I’ve talked to Baze,” he says, dark eyes finally coming up to meet hers. “We’ll be with you, whatever you decide. For you and for Cassian.”
She bites down hard on her bottom lip, and feels his arm come up to encircle her shoulders. It hits her, now—the protective coating of rage she’s painted herself with begins to crack. She’s left Cassian behind. It’s her fault. He’s come back for her more times than she can count, and she’s left him.
“Thank you,” she tells Bodhi, head on his shoulder.
He gives her hand one brief, tight squeeze and says, “It’s not your fault,” like he’s reading her mind.
The minimum amount of first aid has been applied to his knee, and though he seems to be no longer in danger of bleeding out, the pain is still clouding his senses uncomfortably. He cannot stand on it, can hardly straighten his leg in front of him without pain lancing through him. The lack of mobility generates a continuous, rolling unease in his gut—even here, he’s still thinking of escape. Of split second opportunities.
And here is formidable, indeed. Even in the low security cell allotted for Aach, there’s at least three stormtroopers posted outside his door at all times, rotating in and out at thirty minute intervals. He thinks it must be some sort of prison ship, but he can’t be sure. All he knows is that his cell is cramped and bare and uncomfortably warm. He strips down to his undershirt and wonders, with mild concern, exactly how close to the reactor core this cell block is.
They don’t come for him immediately. Probably a psychological tactic—allow him to fester in his own fear for a while. Cassandrian’s fear, that is. Cassian’s mind wanders. He’s thinking of Jyn, again. Of take the shot. Of the pleasure of having her by his side when he plunges into a new mission. Something like doubt, though, stains his mind.
If the roles had been reversed, he thinks, he’s not sure what would’ve happened.
Would he have been able to pull that trigger, if Jyn was being dragged off to torture and death? Would he have had the strength? Regardless of the rationale, of the notion that he might have spared her worse pain or that at least the Rebellion’s secrets would be safe, he’s not sure how he would live afterwards. He’s not sure that, this time, the cause would be enough for him to pull the trigger.
It’s the uncertainty that bothers him. He’s never been so in the dark about his own motives.
Sweat trickles down his neck, and it’s not from the heat. Maybe the fear inside him isn’t just Cassandrian’s. He flattens himself against the floor, takes a few long breaths. They’ll come for him, soon. And his resolve must be impenetrable when they do.
Jyn thinks, sometimes, that her life has just been one long, slow bloodlet of all she holds dear. A gradual loss of every belief, every person, who ever held her close. Perhaps she was not made for longevity. Cassian had become a part of her, attached at the hip, and this is the price she must pay for such a misstep.
Even if High Command has just approved his rescue.
Now, pouring over the schematics of the Imperial prison ship they’ve identified as his most likely location, anxiety pools in her gut. It’s worse than she thinks, even with Rebel back-up. They’re not even sure he’s there; they’ll be improvising from the moment they get inside. It’ll be a minor miracle just to get that far.
The Pathfinders, along with Jyn, Baze, Chirrut, and Bodhi, will be deployed. There’s a tension in the room—a collective thought no one will voice. The odds are overwhelmingly against them. Jyn, though, knows a thing or two about suicide missions. And she’s tired of being the lone survivor of every relationship she’s ever had.
She had been ready to die with him on Scarif. Maybe she’s ready to die with him again. As long as they’re together.
Sometimes, that’s all that seems to matter.
Baze points to an airlock on the port side of the ship, just out of range of the cannons, and Melshi nods his approval. Kes Dameron talks chaos once they get inside. Shara Bey and Bodhi decide on the most expedient route through hyperspace on the way there and the most convoluted on the way back, should they be followed. The momentum of the room begins to catch in Jyn’s bones. We’re coming for you, she thinks. We’re almost there.
All sense of time has drifted away, as well as what remains of Cassandrian Aach. The facade has dropped, even if his captors don’t know it. It is Cassian that will survive this, his resolve and his strength. There is no more hiding behind anyone else.
Eventually, though, his captors will realize who they’re dealing with. They will wonder why an inexperienced corporal is holding up so long without cracking open entirely. Cassian has fed them bits and pieces of information, untrue but just plausible enough to make them wonder. Now, though, he doesn’t trust himself to lie, now that all his finger and toenails are gone. Now that his skin is criss-crossed with the burns of an branding iron. They break his bones and then heal them with bacta, haphazardly, so they can break them again. His secrecy seems to egg them on, like they sense that there is something beneath the surface. Like Corporal Aach is more than he seems.
But they have yet to put two and two together; no one scans his face.
“Where is your current base of operations?” his interrogator demands. It’s a different one everyday, or maybe he just has lost all ability to recognize faces.
Cassian sucks in a long, rattling breath. “Corporal Cassandrian Aach, ID number 2376—”
His wrist bone snaps between a droid’s claws, and he interrupts himself with a scream.
“What are the planetary defense codes for the Alliance’s supply worlds?”
“Corporal Cassandrian Aach, ID number 23765—”
The skin on his neck sizzles and cracks where the white hot iron connects with his flesh.
“It doesn’t have to be this difficult, Corporal,” says the Imperial, with a sigh. “What’s the point in holding out? You know they won’t come for you. That is not the nature of this war.”
He’s not wrong. Cassian has been captured before, though never for this long, with this weak an identity. The Rebellion has never come for him—it was always his own wits that got him out. At some point, he’ll have to acknowledge that there’s no wriggling his way out of this one, not in the state he’s in. Maybe they’ll grow bored and kill him before he has to admit it. Maybe they’ll kill him before he has to come to terms with the cyanide in his tooth.
In the periphery of his senses, he hears them discuss him, between sessions. “His response does not match the responses of others I’ve worked with of his rank and experience,” someone is saying. “He’s been conditioned.”
“How do you know he isn’t just a freak of nature?”
The voices fade after that, or maybe it’s him that begins to slip away. He’s lying limp on the floor, eyes closed against the bright fluorescence of the light above him. Eventually, footsteps and voices echo closer again, and he struggles to keep himself alert.
“His face has healed enough for a scan,” a voice commands. “Let’s cover all our bases.”
Cassian hardly has the strength to be alarmed. Before he can react, a hand is gripping his chin, holding his head still while something flashes over his eyes. He thinks, detachedly, that he’s been doing this too long—the professional lifespan of a spy, of a face and an identity, is only but so many years. Cassian Andor has spent too much time slipping on and off the radar to hide any longer.
“Run it through the main database on Deck Seven,” the voice orders, again. “I don’t want this cocked up.”
Cassian tries very, very hard to stay conscious.
They close in on their target, and the air in the shuttle grows tense. Shara and Bodhi are the only ones capable of speech, exchanging brief, concise pilot jargon with each other as they pull out of hyperspace. Finally, Melshi gets to his feet.
“Our greatest asset is speed,” he says. “It’ll take them time, on a prison ship this large, to muster any significant force. The first wave will just be whoever’s on duty, and we’ll be able to divide and conquer. So we have a window to get in and get out before they scramble everything they’ve got.”
He starts dividing up tasks. Half the strike force, along with Baze and Chirrut, will hold the shuttle and protect the pilots. Melshi will lead the team that extracts Cassian, with Jyn and Kes and a collection of other Pathfinders following him. It sounds perfectly reasonable when laid out like this; she almost forgets that it’s a truly ridiculous mission.
“The most important thing: hold this ground,” Melshi says, gesturing at the floor of the shuttle as he loads himself down with grenades and extra blaster packs. “If we have to pull back, we will, and I want to have way off if we do.”
He doesn’t look at Jyn, but she hears the implication. Regardless of the mission objective, one man is not worth the lives of an entire strike force. Jyn hardly cares. She’s not pulling back until she has Cassian with her, even if it’s just the two of them.
She grips her truncheons, adjusts the blaster on her hip. There’s a pair of brass knuckles in her vest pocket and three grenades strapped to her belt. She’s taken worse risks with less. For worse reasons, too.
Kes crosses the hold and steps up into the cockpit to kiss his wife, just before they reach the airlock. They lock fingers, briefly. Jyn tries not to look.
There’s a click and a hiss when they dock. They’re on their feet, all of them, simultaneously. Perfectly still. Melshi growls out, “Let’s move.”
Then everything is chaos, and she slips into it effortlessly.
It takes him a shamefully long time to realize that something is wrong, that the air is disturbed by perturbation. They’ve deposited him in his cell, left him to stare at the ceiling and rot. An agony burns through him with every breath, but he’s distracted from it for a moment by the sound of running footsteps outside the door, by the flash of white as stormtroopers sprint past the tiny window. He drags himself toward the view, claws himself into an unsteady standing position while leaning against the door. His left knee is still unusable, but the adrenaline rising him in is improving his chances of being able to run, one-legged or not. Something like hope itches beneath his skin.
He strips off his belt with shaking, bloodied hands, pulling back the leather to reveal the lock picks stitched into the fabric. Glancing out the window again, he finds that the troopers are no longer at their post. Whatever is going on is big, he realizes. Bigger than any singular prisoner.
Perhaps his moment has arrived.
The pain grays the edges of his vision the longer he’s on his feet. He gets the door open and stumbles into the corridor, one hand reaching out to steady himself against the wall as he begins a halting shuffle toward the intersection down the way. He’s not in as a good a condition as he’d thought a few moments ago. But the troopers roaring by in the corridor ahead ignore his presence entirely. Waves of nausea roll through him as every nerve in his body is flooded by pain with each step he takes. A dozen open wounds throb with each shuddering breath.
He’s not sure where he’s going—if it’s toward the chaos, or away. He just keeps walking, keeps breathing. It’s all he’s got left.
Until, suddenly, there’s someone in front of him.
A familiar silhouette.
Truncheons extended, she fells three stormtroopers in the space of second, the last blow whirling her around to face the hallway he’s standing in, slumped against the wall.
“No,” he gasps, feeling himself slip toward the floor. “No, you’re not here. You can’t be here.”
He squeezes his eyes shut, blocking out the impossible image—he’s dying. This is what happens when you’re dying. He rubs furiously at his eyes with weak, dirty hands, but when he looks up again, she’s still there. Bending over him, eyes searching his desperately. That green resolve, again—no longer a memory, but real. Take the shot. Her gloved hands wrap around his.
“I’m here,” she breathes.
“You shouldn’t be.”
“I came back for you.” Her hands are roaming over him now, coming away bloodied. She pushes the hair out of his eyes, brisk but tender. She’s never touched him like this. Despite the urgency pervading her every movement, there’s a softness in every brush of skin against skin. “We need to get out of here.”
Behind her, he registers Melshi and Dameron providing cover. She shouts over her shoulder for Kes, and he bounds over to help pull Cassian to his feet. He’s compartmentalized the majority of the pain, but his exhaustion is gnawing at him; when they haul him up he can’t hold in the cry that tears from him. Jyn’s arm goes around him as his vision whites out for a few long moments, and then they’re on the move, stumbling along through the haze of battle. He sees a tall Imperial droid pass by with a squadron of troopers and thinks, with an ache, of Kay.
Something about this is familiar, he thinks. His weight resting on Jyn, the pain flashing through his bones. But there’s no ocean. No swaying palm trees. Just sterile corridor after sterile corridor.
A blaster bolt flashes past his face, singeing the skin just above his brow. No, this is not Scarif.
There is no horizon rushing up to greet them, golden and warm.
Dameron is limping now, barely able to return fire. A gaggle of stormtroopers is closing in on them, and even through the milieu of action and secondhand panic Cassian can’t bring himself to stumble forward any faster. Jyn is hefting more and more of his weight with each step, and he’s slowing her down.
“Jyn—” he starts to say, but his voice is barely a rasp. Maybe she doesn’t hear him. A scalp wound is pouring blood into her left eye but she doesn’t seem to notice.
A jagged wedge of pain shoots through him with every step. His eyes are unfocused, his thoughts beginning to circle around each other uselessly. He perceives himself being shoved forward, feels himself fall across a threshold and connect with the floor paneling. He lands on a dozen unhealed wounds in his left side and wonders, briefly, why Jyn has let go of him. Why he can’t see her anymore.
Then everything is submerged in unquiet darkness.
No one says it, but the truth is undeniable—he looks bad.
They manage to lay him out on a bench once Bodhi and Shara have them disconnected from the airlock, plunging into hyperspace just ahead of the TIE fighters on their tail. She and Baze set to work, stripping back clothing to get a look at the extent of Cassian’s injuries. Behind her, Melshi is trying to do a headcount, and Kes is tying a tourniquet around his leg. Chirrut, seated next to Cassian’s head, is praying, his voice a comforting drone that cuts through the chaos.
Cassian’s eyes are closed, his head lolling back, but she can still hear the wet rasp of his breathing. She latches onto the sound while she douses him in antiseptic. Baze sets a bone in Cassian’s wrist with an abrupt crack, and finally Cassian’s eyes snap open.
“Jyn,” he gasps, reaching out blindly. She grabs his hand in both of hers before he can do any damage to himself.
“I’m still here,” she says, willing her voice to be level.
His eyes lock onto her, and some of the tension seems slither off his shoulders. “How bad is it?” he breathes, trying and failing to lift his head up high enough to have a look at himself.
She bites down hard on her bottom lip, and lets her eyes roam across the array of burns and bruises and brokenness before her. Some of it’s infected, surely, or close to it. His left knee, especially, is difficult to look at it, even with twenty years of practiced stoicism under her belt.
“It’s nothing,” she replies. “You are being so overdramatic.”
He laughs, but no sound comes out. The smile on his lips is weak. “Jyn,” he says, languidly, like he’s tasting every letter on his tongue. Relishing the feeling of saying it aloud.
His head lolls toward her again, eyes soft. Voice softer. “We have so much to talk about.”
“Once you’ve rested a little,” she agrees.
“I feel fine.” He points a shaking finger at her hairline, at the blood dripping into her eyelashes. “Your head—”
“You’re in shock.” Her thumb caresses the back of his hand, but he’s already fading off, the ghost of a smile still on his lips as Baze wraps his knee in bacta and analgesic patches.
They roll him onto his side to get a look at his back, and the way he instinctively curls in on himself, even in unconsciousness, sends an ache through her chest. He looks smaller, this way. She waits until they’ve cleaned the wounds on his back, until Baze turns away, and then leans down to kiss his hair, just above his ear. It’s too soft of a gesture for the eyes of others. Too soft a gesture for Jyn to have any expertise in, and too soft for a place like this.
Cassian doesn’t stir.
Time slips away from him in sloughs. He awakes in bacta, then in bed, then in bacta again. If he were less sedated, he would be unnerved by the lack of control he has over his own self, in this state. As it is, though, he passes between hazy dreams and equally hazy consciousness, and doesn’t think much of either.
One dream, though, seems to play on repeat behind his eyelids. It’s a memory, he thinks, when he manages to think at all. A memory from Hoth, long ago. Jyn with shorter hair and harder eyes. She’d forgotten her gloves while out on patrol, and wouldn’t accept his. Afterwards, in the quiet, he’d held her hands and blown hot breath against her skin until they’d warmed. They had been hunched together, close, foreheads almost touching. Her eyes had stared back into his for what might have been an eternity. Neither had said a word, then. And now.
Neither of them ever seems to be able to find the words.
The dreams are not always so halcyon. Sometimes there is a beach, with a scorching horizon. Sometimes there is a cell on a prison ship, but he’s on the outside of it looking in on a familiar silhouette. Sometimes he’s looking at that same silhouette through the lens of a sniper rifle. He always wakes up before he decides whether to pull the trigger.
Eventually, he finds himself in a consciousness that has a little permanence. He’s in a bed. The room is full of light, but the air tastes like ashes. And there is someone by his side.
Their eyes meet, but it takes a moment for his to focus. She manages to compose her face in the split second allotted, wipe everything from her gaze that might betray her. Still, he looks at her, looks through her—something inside her seems to crack. She reaches for his hand, to reassure herself of her own presence as much as his.
“Jyn,” he sighs, voice raw.
“Cassian.” She urges the edge of her mouth to curl up. She’s not sure she’s quite successful.
Maybe it’s easier if she says nothing. It’s not a problem if they don’t acknowledge it. Any of it—the shot she didn’t take, the feeling in her chest when she’d found him on that prison ship, broken and bloody, all the myriad encounters over the last few years that have left her breathless and uneven. Maybe if they never speak of it, they’ll survive it.
We have so much to talk about. She sighs, remembering his words.
Her hand grips his tighter.
“Thanks for coming back for me,” he rasps. It’s not a concept that’s particularly familiar to either of them.
“I’m sorry,” she replies. She bites her bottom lip and directs her eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry I left you in the first place.”
“Jyn,” he breathes again, but this time she hears his voice break, and her head snaps up. He’s pressing his lips together like the force of the words behind his lips is far too strong, too volatile. She aches for him to say them, though, to let them out into the air between them.
Unexpectedly, she finds herself standing.
“Please stay,” he says, finally, voice small. She shuffles closer to him, and he threads an arm around her waist. His face presses into her side while her hand comes to rest against his cheek, in his hair.
“I will,” she murmurs, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. The gesture still feels too soft, but perhaps softness is growing on her. “I always will.”
This universe is a strange one.
The five of them have staked out a corner as unofficially their own, and no one else in the canteen questions it. They eat every meal together, crammed shoulder to shoulder around the flimsy table. Cassian’s fingernails grow back. His wounds turn to scar tissue—healed, but not forgotten. It’s all he can ask for, and probably more than he deserves.
This, too, is more than he ever thought possible. There’s a vibrancy he never expected between them. Chirrut is telling a story, and Baze must already know the punchline because he’s chuckling, low and deep. Bodhi, poised over his food, is following the story with bright interest. These are the people that came back for him in a way that no one ever has.
Jyn is looking at Cassian, her hand resting on his thigh under the table. She’s looking at him like she’s seeing right through him. It’s not as unnerving as it once was. The uncertainty is gone, and it’s a relief—he knows, now, that neither of them will ever be able to pull that trigger. Neither will ever be able to take the shot. Especially not now that he knows what she looks like in those nebulous predawn hours, her body close to his, their warmth breaths colliding.
So they can’t go on missions together anymore. They will not be able to die like they were meant to on Scarif—intertwined, holding all that is dear in their embrace. He will die alone, as he always sort of suspected he would.
This life, he thinks, will be worth such a death.
He looks at her, looks at the others. There are something like a family, here. How unfamiliar, he realizes. How radiant.