A labored, rasping wheeze that could not be healthy.
A sound like a chest collapsing in on itself in exhaustion.
It took him longer to realize that he was the one breathing through the thickness in his head and the paralysis in his chest where his lungs should be. The disembodied breathing took on a body – his body – and with the body it rediscovered pain.
Cassian Andor had been in pain before.
The cold touched his unsteady consciousness next, bringing slight clarity to his head and exquisite detail to every bruise and laceration beneath his body. Rough-edged thin metal surfaces, designed for heavily booted feet, pressed relentlessly through his thin shirt and pants and gave him no rest. He drew his right arm – the uppermost one – closer to try to push his head up but there was something heavy in his hand that went clink-clink-clink across the grating and scraped awkwardly when he skinned his knuckles on the metal treads. It was –
His sight blurred disconcertingly when he opened his eyes, gray objects wobbling into nebulous doubles that mocked his efforts to focus. He remembered that it was a blaster before he actually saw it clenched in his hand.
He had fallen.
“Jyn,” he gasped, the sudden lift of his head bringing the hungry darkness to engulf his vision again and with it a spasm in his back so fierce that he couldn’t even scream. He hung desperately to the memory until the pain eased a fraction and he could breathe again.
Jyn was safe. She had climbed to the back of the tower.
There had been black death troopers.
An officer in white.
The coals in his gut were proof that the officer still lived. Cassian eased his right knee up until he could put the sole of his boot flat on the grating. Gravity opened its arms to take him, requiring only a tiny push with the blaster barrel to drop him onto his back on his pitilessly uncomfortable bed. Bone grated in his left hip, wrenching an unintentional cry from his lips as he landed, his blaster draped across his stomach. He pressed his forearm against the burning and forced his eyes wide to look up into the indistinct darkness.
The data bank loomed into endless space. Girders rose in measured ranks above the railing of the platform where he had landed more by chance than design. He had hit – two of them? His ribs remembered a cruel fantasy of rescue and cold dread.
The tower was deserted.
The officer – maybe even Krennic, on the trail of Galen Erso’s deception – would have guessed their destination. He would be going to the top of the tower and he would get there before Jyn could, climbing, because he would know the way.
Cassian holstered his blaster and reached for the lowest bar of the railing beside him. Icy metal numbed his fingers, his sweaty palm barely warming it and the moisture compromising his grip. He almost couldn’t bring his other hand up beside it. There was something wrong with his left elbow, and the shoulder was angry and swollen, but the hand still worked even if it could take little weight. He focused on the strength in his forearms and biceps and pulled.
Muscles that should not logically have been connected to his stomach cried out against the effort of lifting himself. His head alone was a monstrous teetering weight. He rested for only a moment sitting up, clinging to the second bar with his head balanced against his arms, before crouching on his right leg and steeling his will for the excruciating trial to come.
Jyn needed him.
He stood, and hung doubled over the top rail as sparks brighter than particle bolts exploded before his eyes. The last time he had been hurt this bad, K-2 had carried him, and that had been bad enough. He gripped the rail with both hands and dragged himself along it, pushing with his better leg to move himself along. His left leg hung beneath him, the toe of his boot barely scraping the grating, unable to support him for more than the barest step. He had to save it for places where there was nothing to hang on to.
His peripheral vision was off but the platform was not large. It curved behind the bank they had climbed, curved back to service the bank positioned behind and half to the side of it, and terminated at a low-security maintenance entrance. The door slid open at his first press of the button to reveal a grimy utility turbolift. Only –
There was a step. A perfectly normal step that he could not possibly jump up on less than a whole leg. His back would not let him straighten fully and landing on his head could send him out again for hours Jyn didn’t have. With a silent prayer that no one would call the lift and trigger the automatic doorlock, he lowered himself inch by painful inch to his knee and crossed the threshold at a hobbling crawl. Halfway to the controls at the far side of the door his left arm gave out, sending him to the floor hard on his left side.
Alone in the middle of Scarif Citadel, he shed silent tears of despair as his body locked in agony. Again. Cassian twisted his forehead into the cool, gritty bulk of the lift floor and clamped his lips shut over the moan that came through regardless. He could not even beg for death because it was already driving its bitter fist deep into his stomach.
“Jyn,” he forced between clenched teeth. Green eyes. Taking down troopers like rubber dolls. “Stardust.”
He could not die yet.
The left side of his face felt puffy and lopsided when he raised it from the floor. He slid a handslength, sucked in a breath, and slid again. Propped his knee under himself and swung a wild arm up at the controls. The soar of the lift nauseated him all over again and he caught himself on the wall this time, his head sagging between the exposed ribs of the support structure.
Light flickered, momentarily startling him, through narrow horizontal viewports at eye level that he hadn’t noticed earlier. The control console had been nearly halfway up the tower based on the plans K-2 had forcibly extracted from his deactivated twin, still a long ride from the top, but the steady blink of the shadows warned him of the speed at which he was approaching his destination. The power flickered, slowing the lift with a series of jolts but not stopping it.
He had to be ready.
The pain was familiar when he stood this time. There were plenty of things to hold on to. He wedged his back against the wall, drew his blaster, and consciously steadied his breathing. He had a clear view of either exit and forced his aching brain to attempt to analyze which side the dish console would be on if the turbolift even opened directly onto the platform. If there was an independent console. If the console was not inside the building somehow.
If Jyn was even still alive.
His breathing chose that moment to snag on his sternum and he clung to the grip of the blaster so hard his arm shook. Expect the worst, old training punched under his ribcage. She will be dead. She is dead. It’s too much to think you’ll save her and the Rebellion. The file is what matters. Send the file. Don’t look for people until the job is done. He shut his eyes.
I know because it’s me.
This mission had become person and plan and objective all in one a long time ago.
The left door opened automatically as the lift trundled to a halt, letting in a blast of balmy air and sunshine of all things along with the acrid smell of charred permacrete. Cassian haltingly limped out into the shadow of the giant satellite dish, squinting after the semi-darkness.
“…rebel base. All your ships in here…”
The wind snatched away the harsh voice before he could locate it but there was only one place to go. Smoke obscured the far side of the platform in billowing gray curtains between the massive pillars of the support structure and he ran in spite of the pain stabbing from his hip up into his spine, lurching into the clouds of vapor at a speed that wasn’t prudent with urgency ringing in his ears and his throat shutting down in a desperate need to see, to know –
“…I lose nothing,” the word stretched to an eternity and still he wasn’t fast enough, “but time.”
His blaster was too heavy for one hand and he was not going to make it.
“You, on the other hand…”
He saw white through gray and blue even as his momentum pitched him forward too fast for only part of a good leg to keep up with.
“…die with the Rebellion.”
Cassian whipped up his blaster in both hands and fired as he fell, only barely managing to catch himself against one of the colossal pillars as Orson Krennic crumpled to the platform like a discarded sheet of flimsiplast in front of him. He sagged against the pillar to catch his breath and propped his useless elbow against his side to keep his shaking hands steady on his blaster.
Only when he was sure Krennic wasn’t moving did he look up.
Jyn Erso stood poised to flee on a sagging catwalk that had been blown to twisted metal scrap. Staring at him. Her cheeks were dirty, her hair was a windblown mess, and her mismatched utilitarian outfit was significantly more battered than he remembered, but she was alive.
His heart pounded so hard it hurt. Jyn. He could only breathe.
Jyn’s eyes left him to refocus on a console he had not even seen. The file, he’d already forgotten the file. She flew up the remains of the grating without a second glance and hunched over the controls with single-minded concentration. He shifted to put his aching back against the round pillar, taking some of the weight off his unsteady legs, and maintained his grip on his blaster. It was surreal, to just stand and wait for her, to cover for her with no enemies to kill and time to just process this moment that they had given so much to reach. It was unnaturally quiet. Only the gentle tropical wind currents eddied around this place so far removed from even the battle below.
No one came to stop them.
A lever slid and clicked into place, the rising hum of the computer coming to life over the static in his ears.
“Transmitting,” the pleasant mechanical voice announced. “Transmitting.”
Jyn’s incredulous smile pulled him like a child’s and he smiled back with the same wonder. She glanced up at the screen one last time. He could not see the bars loading but Jyn’s expression said complete and there was nothing more they had come to do.
Then she came to him, her hands gentle on his arm and her smile slipping as she saw him up close, and black spots danced before his eyes.