“Do you think,” Cassian murmured, “anybody’s listening?” As if it could actually be mildly funny that they might have gone to all this trouble for nothing.
Jyn cocked her head to the side, angling a look up at his battered face.
“I do.” It was a strange conviction, but she was surprisingly convinced. Happy, even. “Someone’s out there.”
Cassian’s cheek pulled upward, indicating a smile she couldn’t quite see. He settled a bit lower over her shoulders, concentrating on the effort of walking. Hobbling, really, if it could even be called that. She braced determinedly from beneath, counterbalancing each stagger as he lurched precariously forward with every other step. They did not fall. Jyn was stretching to smack the elevator controls, juggling to support Cassian at a distance, when the shadow cut off the light.
The back of the platform was already in the shade of the massive satellite dish, surrounded on every side by blue sky that stretched in a flawless arc, marred only by the rising smoke from the battle that had gone quiet. The blue was blocked to the right.
Cassian bowled her into the wall, his blaster drawn before her foggy brain processed the cause of the shadow. An Imperial shuttle. Not the clunky old Zeta-class Bodhi had flown from Yavin IV but a much sleeker Delta model that could only mean one thing. Cassian was curled protectively around her, his days-old beard rough against her ear.
“The elevator,” he panted. “I’ll cover you – hurry!”
She was already fumbling with the door controls, his weight against her back leaving her no room to work. The Delta was hovering, its loading ramp unfurling like a black carpet of death.
Cassian braced his blaster on her shoulder, sighting for plastoid-armored legs, a target –
Jyn’s comlink buzzed.
“What are you doing?” Bodi was all but shrieking. “Come on!”
“Wait – wait that’s you?” Jyn squealed. The elevator doors rasped briskly open. Cassian’s grip on her arm faltered instead of shoved. He squinted into the yawing hatch.
“No troopers,” he gasped, suddenly elated. “Let’s go!”
Jyn pushed off from the controls and wrapped both arms around his waist. He hung on with one arm and holstered his blaster with the other, urgency driving him forward faster than before. The Delta eddied in an updraft, the ramp scraping the platform edge and then bouncing slightly away from it, an insignificant gap in any other circumstances but now a terrifying uncertainty. Cassian was tensing, his body rigid, his grip on her shoulder downright painful. Five steps to go. Three.
“Jyn, go without me,” he ordered, throwing free of her with a sudden desperate effort. “I’ll only drag you down you have to go.”
She fought with him, equally desperate, hanging onto him with everything she had left. “Don’t you dare.”
“Go!” He tried to push her away.
“We don’t leave without you,” she gritted out, wrestling a better hold on him. He was nearly in tears.
“Jyn – ”
“Hurry up COME ON!” Bodhi screamed, this time his actual voice from within the shuttle. “JUMP!”
Jyn glared into Cassian’s eyes. Saw defeat set in. He faced forward, resolved. His arm locked around her shoulders and they ran.
It was a staggering spurt but it was enough. Their feet clanged on the corrugated ramp. Cassian tripped. Jyn lunged forward and slammed one hand onto a support, her other hand knotted in the back of his shirt.
“Close it!” she screamed, feeling Cassian inexorably sliding, feeling gravity tearing her down the middle as the shuttle lifted. The ramp whined excruciatingly up to level, started to tilt them ever so little into the shuttle instead of out into open air. Jyn pushed up to her hands and knees and tugged and pulled and pushed with her feet and finally, as the shuttle gained speed and altitude with a sickening swoop, she and Cassian tumbled in a heap onto the hold floor.
“You all right?” Bodhi’s voice was coming from the sound system, not his actual presence.
“We’re in. I’ve got him.” Jyn let go of Cassian’s shirt and propped herself weakly on her elbows, her head hanging over her hands. Beside her, Cassian tucked his legs in and settled gingerly on his better side as the hatch locked into place. The ship gained speed.
“The Imperials are all evacuating. Do we head back to the Rebel base? There are fighters all over up there and they’ll figure out something’s not right as soon as we head away.”
“Jump out,” Cassian commanded with sudden urgency. He raised his head. “Somewhere out of the way, pick it randomly, hit it. Then we’ll choose.” He dragged in a heaving lungful of air. “We can’t let them track us!”
“Uh – out of the way….short jump…” Bodhi gulped, then sounded like he was scrolling frantically. “Vector 8, intersection – hang on!”
Jyn felt the floor slide beneath her as the Delta purred up to lightspeed, the G-compensators smoothing the jump but not enough to stop Cassian’s moan, soft as slivers of fiberglass. His head sank back to the floor, fragile and sick. She sat up, bending over his hunched shoulders where he lay curled tightly on his side, eyes shut in a gray mask. He was shaking uncontrollably, both forearms pressed tight against his midsection.
It was such an inadequate thing to say. She looked hurriedly around the stark hold, as if there would be blankets or something just lying around. Of course there weren’t. This was where the stormtroopers rode. She bit her lower lip.
Hurried steps on the ramp brought Bodhi, wild-haired and still with his goggles plastered to the top of his head.
“Hey – um – you – he’s all right?” His fear was suddenly wide-eyed and palpable again.
“What’s in the main cabin? Seats? Cushions? Thermal blankets? They’ve got to have a med kit, you’ve got to find it.”
“Med kit.” Bodhi swallowed. “Okay.” He darted one more scared glance at Cassian on the floor and disappeared. Jyn found herself rubbing her hand carefully over the spy’s uppermost sleeve, as if she could smooth warmth into him, ease the pain. The fabric was still rolled up past his elbows, revealing dark hair that curled ever so slightly. She thought that if she could roll the sleeves down it might help somehow with the wound he was covering, but didn’t know how to ask. He seemed to be consciously trying to relax; his breathing gradually evened out but it still sounded painful. Uncertain. He opened his eyes when Bodhi came back, flicked them up at her briefly before slipping out of focus.
The pilot draped a gray thermal blanket over the spy’s back and spread it awkwardly down to his knees. It was short, meant for use in a seat. Cassian’s fingers twitched at the edge of it.
“There is a safe house,” he said with an effort, “on an inhabited moon in the Doriath system. You have to disable the homing beacon and nav tracking before the next jump.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “The route is erratic; four random lane and vector changes. You have to make the jumps fast in case anyone is watching at the intersects.”
Bodhi nodded like a bird flapping its wings. “Right – right. You – and you can tell me the coordinates?”
Cassian closed his eyes and nodded. Jyn looked at the pilot over his head, seeing her own worry mirrored there. “Wreck the navigation recall systems now and he can tell you the route once we’re sure it can’t be traced.”
“Mm.” Bodhi scrambled to his feet, looked uncertain once more, and clattered up out of the hold. Jyn pulled the med kit he had brought closer and began digging through it.
“I wonder how long it will take them to blow it up.” Cassian’s voice was so faint she didn’t place it for a moment.
She managed a tight, twisted smile. “Hopefully before its commander figures out where we’re going.” There was a ghost of a smile in his exhale.
“Where should I start?” She could sound businesslike when she had to; could look at wounds even if she’d never been much good as a medic. Everything in the kit had directions printed on it. She could figure that much out.
Slowly, like peeling away the tough skin of a fruit, Cassian moved his arms.
Jyn clamped her lips shut. It wasn’t as if the circular blast mark was so bad to look at in itself. All blast wounds looked about the same: charred in the middle and a painful red around the corona. It wasn’t nausea immobilizing her. She ripped open a package of bacta patches, hating her clumsy fingers for being suddenly uncoordinated.
Dread was the lock clamping her chest now.
He was gutshot a handsbreadth above the belt from close range.
She swallowed and scooted closer on her knees, one of the oozy pale green patches in one hand, and reached for his shirt. He tried to help her, worked the sturdy fabric free of the bulky officer’s belt and the Imperial regulation drab uniform pants. He tried to hide the worst of it, tried to disguise the hiss and flinch as the material pulled away from his skin. She spread the patch on and made sure it was sticking. His fingers clenched around her wrist, unbearably tight, but she didn’t blame him and he wasn’t trying to stop her, just trying to handle it. She pulled the tail of the shirt down over his belt and he sighed into the blanket, easing over onto his back. He didn’t quite make it; he couldn’t quite prop both legs up to roll. She lifted his knees and helped him. Tucked the blanket lopsidedly around him and folded another one into a pillow, even though there were surely more things to wrap and clean and splint.
At the very least she should get the thick blocky metal belt off him, but there was no way she could lift him enough without hurting him worse. Maybe when Bodhi came back. His hair was stuck to his forehead in dark strings and she moved instinctively to brush them aside, then stilled. It certainly wasn’t necessary to move them. She wanted to. She was embarrassed that she wanted to. She slumped back on her heels and winced right back off of them, shifting her weight to the side. She doubted there was much she could do for that, either, other than hunt for a pain med.
Stupid, you should have gotten those first. She read the directions and broke three out of their molded spaces, cataloguing how many were on the sheet and ignoring how the blisters on her fingers stung. Who knew what supplies the safe house would have access to. They might have to last a long time.
“Sorry, I didn’t think of these before. There’s two.” She coaxed the yellow dots carefully between Cassian’s lips, watching to make sure he had them with his tongue and did not choke. He worked them back, grimaced as he swallowed. She popped her own and swallowed likewise. Bodhi had brought a small stack of the gray blankets; she put another one on Cassian’s torso and one over and around his legs. The cold was soaking through her canvas pants like water, so she rolled her sleeves down and doubled a blanket to sit on, close to Cassian.
Bodhi came back before too long, his hands dirty and flecked with spark burns. He was limping, she noticed now, so she gave him a pain med too. He explained where they would be coming out of hyperspace in a few more minutes, and Cassian gave him coordinates for the first jump toward the safe house. When the pilot asked for the next step, he refused.
“When you need it.”
Bodhi and Jyn both opened their mouths to argue, then looked at each other and closed them. There was still a probability that they would be captured before they had completed the route. Of course, being the paranoid Intelligence officer that he was, Cassian Andor was keeping them on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Even though either of them could have currently strangled him with one hand.
Sometime after they had made the second jump on their proper course, Jyn realized that Cassian was setting goals for himself.
He had admitted to being uncomfortable on the floor, so after the ship was locked into the first lane’s coordinates Bodhi had helped Jyn haul him upright and they had moved him up to the main cabin. Jyn had been extremely glad to find out that the former Imperial was stronger than her, and that since he was taller than Cassian it put leverage on their side instead of against them.
They had parked him on an adjustable bench built into an alcove. It was in three moderately padded sections, one forming the back, one forming the seat, and the third forming a footrest. The controls indicated that it was possible to flatten the entire thing out to make a bed, but Cassian had insisted that he preferred to sit. Lying prone made breathing too difficult. Jyn was sitting beside him with the bench slightly reclined. They’d gotten the heavy belt off and rolled his sleeves down; activated flexible synthetic freezer batting and wadded it around his midriff for the massive bruises forming over his ribs and his spine. Optimal timing was programmed into the soft fibers: nineteen minutes on, twenty-two minutes off. The spy had let her put a brace on his knee and had sat patiently while she daubed disinfectant on his face, eyes closed. He had to have broken or cracked ribs and damage to other bones as well, but in response to questions he had simply murmured “Leave it.” Jyn suspected it would hurt him more for them to try to help with anything else. He had been done in after they moved him, his head hanging and each breath coming as a quivering moan that was torture in itself for his friends.
They were his friends. That was the strangest part. They were going into hiding together. And Cassian was setting himself one goal at a time to hang on to.
Bodhi sat with them for a while after they made the third jump, fidgeting with his hands. “How much longer?”
“Two hours, standard. The last jump is the longest.” Cassian was shivering less, on the off cycle of the cold pads, piled with blankets after Bodhi had adjusted the main cabin temperature controls. He was fighting to stay alert, struggling between spells of dizziness and blackouts.
Jyn could tell that Bodhi was growing increasingly anxious to know the coordinates for the entire route in advance. He left to continue eavesdropping on Imperial comm channels to see if anyone seemed to be following them.
So far, nothing, but they had two hours left to go.
Two hours that everyone on the ship was beginning to realize that Cassian Andor might not have to spare.
Jyn was basically ignoring her ankle, reluctant to take another pain med when the first was still supposed to be working. Her leg was numb. A weight on the footrest. Cassian was slouched beside her, in and out of consciousness. Mostly out, now. He had given Bodhi the final coordinates, passwords, codes for getting in touch with the onsite personnel at the safe house. Bodhi walked with more of a spring in his step and Cassian slipped further and further away from his burden, his goals complete.
It made Jyn ache.
It was strange, what you noticed about people when you actually had the time and nothing else to do, on the last leg of a journey. Like how Cassian didn’t speak Basic in his sleep. Words slipped out that she couldn’t begin to understand, the mother tongue that shaped his accent, his voice but not the words she wanted to hear. Strange how she’d never really thought of him as bilingual at least.
Then there was his nose. It had obviously been broken, she had figured that out the first time she’d seen him in daylight, and someone had reset it in a definite ‘S.’ Probably K-2SO, on closer observation.
How his coloring was dark but he wasn’t really tanned, as if he always walked in the shadows.
How thin he was, over the muscle, and how his hands twitched in his dreams. She laced her right hand through his left one, frowned at how cold it was in spite of his fever. His grip tightened loosely in response, automatic.
She didn’t want to mourn him. Didn’t want him to be one more face in her head, like Saw and her father and Chirrut and Baze and all the volunteers who were surely all dead too. It sounded like it, from what Bodhi had gotten out.
She was too tired to think about the Death Star.
Cassian’s voice was a whisper, a hand over carpet, a sigh and a question in one. She squeezed his hand and leaned over so he could see her. His eyes were dark in the artificial light, as vast as space.
“I – ” There was something worse than pain there, a peace that chilled her. Resignation. “I’m not going to make it.”
She shook her head. “Oh no you don’t – ”
“You should have gone without me.”
“You – you said you were sticking around,” she argued, doing her best to provoke him, to make him fight because it was the only way she knew. “You promised – ”
“You wouldn’t have had to watch, that way,” he apologized over her without raising his voice. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve seen people die before,” she snapped. She intended to snap, but it came out soft, hushed. “I can handle it.”
“It would have been all right,” he whispered. He was trying so hard to focus on her face and apologize to her, and he was fading like a glowcan that had no more energy to be shaken into it. His hair was falling over his forehead again, and this time she reached over to smooth it aside, lingering longer than she had to. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, quieter. He stroked his thumb across the back of her hand as if he didn’t realize it, reversed halfway, looking down at nothing now.
Jyn hesitated. His eyelids were half shut, his mustache drooping to match. Lethargic, too exhausted to even will to hang on. He had to hang on. Jyn slipped her hand out of his, propped her elbow against the back of the bench, and kissed him before she lost her nerve.
He went still under her touch, so still that for a moment she was frightened. Then his hands faintly cupped her shoulders and drew her in a little, changing some tiny angle and making it suddenly his gift to her, however weak he was, however long he had – there were no fireworks, no mad caresses – only Cassian, and that was all she could ever have wanted.
Bodhi flickedly idly through the security screens, wondering if there were any additional systems he could disable that would further guarantee their disappearance. Images of different sectors of the ship paraded past – did the Imperials seriously record everything that happened onboard? – and he considered going through cutting the wiring for the individual cameras. That should use up the rest of the trip. He felt guilty leaving Jyn to look after Cassian but there was honestly nothing useful he could do further. He scrolled to the screen for the main cabin as he had done periodically throughout the trip, saw them still sitting where he had left them. No change…. He blinked, squinting at the screen, then jerked back, the familiar sting of sorrow tightening in his chest. He really shouldn’t be watching but he couldn’t help it.
First kiss, the memory that Bor Gullet had defiled, the memory that was still bittersweet. She had married Polades, the dashing one who had bragged that he could have been a fighter pilot, and he had gone to their wedding, still sad, only to see a girl he really had never known. He saw heartbreak in the line of Cassian’s fingers and saw himself drinking, alone, but maybe it wasn’t really heartbreak because they both looked…
Bodhi didn’t know how to describe how they looked.
He softly closed the screen.
On an intrusive thought Jyn pulled back, her forehead suddenly wrinkling warily. “You’re not married or anything, right?”
Cassian’s eyes widened. His mouth formed a faint, adorable ‘o.’ Jyn blinked. Cassian dropped his head forward in a bashful, unexpectedly boyish grin. He shook his head, his lips working to compress tiny breaths of laughter.
“No.” His eyebrows rose as he tried to turn his mouth down, failing miserably. “Never.” He could barely keep his eyes open but at least she had made him smile.
Jyn was blushing. “Good.” She looped her fingers through his again, content.
“But Jyn – ”
The apology was back, brimming with a new sadness.
“I know,” she soothed him. She kept her hand on his shoulder, staying close to his side, and spread the forgotten blanket over their knees. “I know.”
When Bodhi announced that they were coming out of hyperspace in a minute and a half she wrapped her arms around Cassian’s torso, hoping to help brace against the shift in G-forces that caused his insides to shift painfully with every transition. They were keeping him leaning back to help with potential seepage, but there was no way to know if it was helping. Her shoulders were stiffening up, protesting the movement; he barely managed a flicker of the eyelids in response.
“Try for me,” she whispered, their heads resting together. He felt detached, as if he could keep her from caring by sagging in on himself, but she wasn’t letting go. All her life had gone in eights – eight years with her parents, eight years with Saw, eight years alone, catastrophically alone. If anything, he had only been lonelier, with only an obnoxious droid to share his thoughts with, and now even the droid was gone. The next eight, more than eight, had to be better. Could be better.
It was raining onworld when they touched down at the Rebel contact point, dark and raining. It seemed like every time they went somewhere it was dark and raining. Bodhi went out to meet the leery squad-pretending-to-be-civilians sent to meet them, brought them up into the main cabin. The leader’s tension visibly eased when he saw Cassian in the flesh, clearly not under duress; he barked orders into a comlink and in only a few efficient minutes medics had shouldered their way in with a stretcher, extricating the spy from Jyn’s arms and strapping him in for transport. She shivered, suddenly cold, and Bodhi wrapped another blanket around her shoulders. Together, they limped along with the squad as the medics rushed off with Cassian, shielding him from the driving rain with blankets. Jyn tried to hold her own over her head but it was nearly useless. Bodhi was talking hurriedly with the commander, detailing what he had done to scrub the ship, and he in turn was assigning men to dispose of the shuttle. Even before they reached the onworld transport that would take them to the safe house the Delta was lifting off, its wings spreading gracefully down and out before the reactors flared and it disappeared into the rain.
They insisted on staying as close as possible to Cassian. This meant on the other side of a transparisteel wall looking into a cramped compartment where a soft-voiced droid and medical personnel were working with grim urgency. The droid wasn’t grim – just mechanically blank, which was worse.
Jyn’s knowledge of interior anatomy was extremely basic at best. She pretended not to flinch as the med team stuck tubes into him and fitted him with an oxygen mask and unpacked a tray of sharp instruments. They were still working when the transport stopped, which was fairly quickly, and after only the briefest of consultations they rushed the stretcher off the freighter into the yawning tunnels of the underground complex. They didn’t volunteer a single detail.
When Jyn made to follow them, her leg promptly gave out. Bodhi only half managed to catch her, hampered by his own bad leg. Then everyone suddenly seemed to realize that they had three medical cases instead of only one and they were bundled off into separate rooms for treatment.
Jyn was determined to see Cassian as soon as they were done with her. She really was. But either they had drugged her while she wasn’t looking or her body simply shut down, because the next thing she knew after having her ankle set and bacta-swathed and her sprained shoulders massaged with numbing gel and wrapped tight was that she was waking up in a bed. It was a real bed. Not a cot. Not a pile of blankets in a corner. She was so stiff she could barely move. Sitting up took a long time maneuvering. She sat creakily and wondered if she could even make it into the hall on her own. She was still wondering about it when she saw the crutches beside the bed.
The hallways were dark and deserted, with no light shafts and minimal artificial sources. She had no idea where to go, no idea how long she had been asleep. She tried each door she came to, hoping that her friends might logically be in the same wing, but the rooms were empty except for strangers’ belongings. Just when her shoulders had about had enough, she encountered a droid, which informed her that they had just received news that the Death Star had been destroyed.
The news hit her harder than the pain had. She staggered against the wall, clung to her crutches to keep herself upright. The droid did its best to fill her in on details, but they were maddeningly scanty. Human and alien personnel began to trickle back through the hallways, buoyant with relief, and she finally roused herself enough to ask one where Cassian and Bodhi were. The pilot was all the way across the base sharing bunk quarters with the skeleton space crew, but Cassian was only around a corner and down a branch hallway. Apparently they had squeezed them in wherever they would fit, so she had ended up farther from the med center as the less urgent case.
She noticed that the staff carefully referred to him as an “Intelligence operative.” They only call you a spy when you get caught by the other side.
She hobbled after the aide.
When she maneuvered into the tiny windowless room Cassian’s face was turned toward the gray wall and it seemed like he was asleep. Or dead, a scared clutch at her heart suggested, but he was connected to several tubes and wires and she was sure there was a monitor in there somewhere. She was surprised they didn’t have him in a bacta tank, honestly, but the majority of his injuries were internal, so maybe that wouldn’t have helped much. She was selfishly glad he wasn’t shut up behind a divider.
She perched awkwardly on the armless chair beside the medical cot and balanced her crutches against her shoulders.
He was thinner than before, if possible, his cheeks gaunt and his long stubble growing into a short beard. The white collar of some sort of sleeping robe peeked out under the utilitarian covers, its cleanness only adding to his pallor and contrasting with the black and purple bruises that had had time to form along the side of his face. His eye socket was lightly swollen, his cheek puffy.
He stirred, shifting with a little groan in the bed, and she leaned closer.
His eyes slowly scraped open. Focused. They knew her.
“Jyn.” His accent slurred it, caressing the soft thick syllable with his tongue.
“It’s gone,” she whispered.
Why she had to whisper, she wasn’t quite sure. “It’s done. We just got the news that the Rebels have blown up the Death Star. They found the exhaust port in the reactor.”
A tension she hadn’t even known was there drained from his body. “The plans.”
“They got them.” She was smiling, now, touching his arm where it lay outside the gray blanket. “They were listening.”
Cassian smiled, or rather, his lips moved ever so slightly in a way she could recognize as a smile. His hand twitched, seeking, and she wrapped it in both of hers. They sat in companionable silence. Hurting. It was a good hurting, though. It had been worth it.
“Th’ll have to move Base,” he mumbled sleepily. “Empire…strike back….” He was still hardwired into the pulse of the Rebellion that had given him to her, still a projector and a planner. Still shielding the idealists at his own expense.
“They’ve already moved it. It’ll be okay.” She was talking a little louder now for his benefit, not sure how well he heard. “They’re keeping it a secret.”
He seemed to understand, to relax. She hitched the chair closer, intending to lean her elbows on the bed, and it screeched against the floor. Cassian opened his eyes, looking up to find her close. There was only sincerity in his steady gaze.
“Your father would have been proud of you, Jyn.”
It was the truth that made it all real. Paradoxical as it was. Hope from destruction, from the ashes of a life’s work. She smiled.
She wrapped an arm carefully across his chest, watching to see if he minded, and put her head down in the space above Cassian’s shoulder. He sighed, contentedly, and turned his cheek against the top of her head.
And she found that she didn’t need to say anything.
And then they lived happily ever after.
Like, as in got married, had six kids, and lived somewhere so far away that when the First Order finally came around, they really didn’t care. Maybe reprogrammed another droid. Were happy. Slipped out of the Star Wars orbit of destiny and destruction and had normal lives.
Got the alternate ending out of my system.