It was strange, how beautiful it was.
When Cassian had allowed himself now and then to waste time envisioning his probable early death his overexposed imagination had always come up with far uglier and uncomfortable scenarios. Electrocution in an Imperial prison bank. On a torture crib. Systematically dismembered, screaming, by some being larger, hairier, and more dangerous than K-2. Or just at the unlucky end of a blaster bolt in some miserable hole of a backstreet, gunned down as he had gunned down so many others.
He would have deserved any of those deaths, really.
He was shaking bad, but it was exhaustion and pain and shot nerves, not fear. He had always known death would come any ordinary day and he had never expected to have even this small luxury of time to see it coming. To know that he had only so much time, and that what he wanted most was only the here and now.
To be strong for her, because she had maybe thought there would be an after, even if he had given up on one in the moment between when the blasterbolt to his gut had knocked his grip loose from the data tower and before he had crunched with sickening force into the first beam. He had dragged what was left of his body to the top of the already obliterated tower for Jyn Erso and for the Rebellion.
But as the pain had ripped him apart it was her name he had gasped and panted like a mantra, her name he had moaned between his teeth as he crawled, dying.
Because he had to save Jyn, and Jyn would save the Rebellion.
For some reason, he couldn’t stop smiling. He really couldn’t, even though his cheek and jaw ached; his chest felt light and open for the first time in so long he couldn’t remember, the sun was shining, the wind was lifting his sweaty hair and drying his soaked shirt, and there were no stormtroopers. He had known he was dying since he regained consciousness on the maintenance platform halfway down the data bank, but the death blazing up into the new horizon was definite, and he knew he would live long enough to meet it. He was content with that.
He glanced over at the woman kneeling an armslength away in the sand, her face strangely softened by the golden light and the grim dark hopelessness gone, although a shadow of it lingered in the bleak resignation twisting her mouth.
Jyn half-rolled her eyes at him, as if she couldn’t believe the grin on his face.
“Your father would have been proud of you, Jyn.”
He meant it.
Her smile widened, trembling a little, her eyes reflecting the rolling glare of the clouds like dark mirrors, but the sick twist of her lips eased. She somehow seemed closer, vulnerable, and when her small strong hand fumbled into his ash and blastwound-smeared one he gripped it tightly. Secure. Not cold, with warmth soaking through the damp fingerless glove and her fingertips digging into the back of his hand. Together, they looked out at death.
It would be on them soon.
Cassian pushed himself up from the sand, bracing against her strength. She glanced askance at him, eyebrows drawing together, but he said nothing, asking her only with his eyes. Chirrut had been right, about his prison. About carrying it with him, inside his head. They both had prisons, like that. But somewhere between the data bank and the satellite transmitter on the top of the Scarif citadel, his prison had cracked, then broken, then fallen away in big clattering chunks, letting the wind in and setting him free. Maybe the fall had done it, the blow to his head. Maybe knowing he was going to die had done it. He really didn’t care.
He had watched Jyn’s prison break in the elevator, by the glimmer of intermittent snatches of daylight, and he did not want to die sitting down.
Together, they tottered to their knees, not quite making it to their feet, clinging to each other tighter with every painful lurch even as the sand shivered away the imprints of where they had fallen. By the time they were upright she was tangled in his arms, burrowed into his neck, her smooth cheek ground into his overgrown stubble and the barely scabbing scrapes from the grate.
Jyn couldn’t close her eyes. Twenty-three was too young to die, too young to watch worlds burn, too young to have no after, no time for awkward words that she had never been good with anyway. Cassian never flinched. She had to be hurting him. She had to be, but he just crushed her tighter into his broken body with a grip like durasteel, as if he was whole and they were somewhere else and there was a future where they would have time to figure out how they had arrived here, with no room to want anything else.
Others would have a future – millions of beings who had never thought they would know hope, children who would be born never knowing war, men and women who would find words to say what her contracted throat didn’t need to get out. A future that she would never see.
Unbelievably, Cassian was stroking her hair, caressing it even farther out of the tight little bun, out of the control she had never had over it. She never, ever, wanted him to stop.
They had both lost everything, absolutely everything, and here at the end it didn’t matter because they had peace.
The wind blasting through their hair and the sand under their feet.
And like this, with Cassian Andor’s arms locked around her, it was…
It was all right.