The Neighbours

Normally, I don’t go in for “alternate universe” fiction, where people randomly deposit their favorite movie/book characters into the real world and then usually proceed to trash them.  This story, however, is an exception.  It’s not even mine, technically.  Someone read it to me and it was so stinkin’ cute that my mind just wouldn’t leave it alone.  The original author’s username is “guineapiggie” and if she ever reads this hopefully she won’t mind too much what I did with her idea…

I did edit the original story somewhat (mainly for language) and I’ve given it a bit more of a Catholic slant in places because it works and since I am Catholic I know what sort of stuff happens in this context.  It’s also more than twice as long as it was originally; my part starts with Chapter 5.

While you’re at it, chew on this:  Cassian is a real name – it comes from St. Cassian, a 4th century martyr.  The character’s name seems to have been finalized even before director Gareth Edwards approached Mexican actor Diego Luna for the part in Rogue One, but if this is purely coincidence, it is freaky weird:  St. Cassian happens to be the patron saint of Mexico City!

Oh, and if you can manage not to fall in love with tiny five-year-old Verónica Andor then I’m afraid you have something hard and knobby and insensible instead of a heart. 

Based on various cultural aspects referenced, I picture this story taking place in London, England.


Chapter 1

They say human beings are capable of learning from past mistakes.  They assume that just because your brain retains the memory you will stop doing what you’re doing and think of a better way to go about it.

When Jyn was five, she burned her hands on the hot stove four times in a row, which should be proof enough that her brain is not, in fact, wired to protect her from repeating past mistakes.

She knows that if she goes to the supermarket without bringing a sturdy bag, she should just buy a blasted plastic bag.  But these things cost unnecessary money (5 p), and why would you pay for a plastic bag when you get the plastic bags in the fruit and vegetable aisle for free?

Because if you stuff your entire shopping into these flimsy things, they will inevitably tear and spill the entire content all over the staircase literal feet away from your front door, that’s why.

Jyn never learns from past mistakes.

“Oh, bloody…” she hisses as two glass bottles bounce noisily down the stairs, followed by two packs of yogurt, apples, milk, lemons…  “Crap.  Stupid blasted bag.”  She scrambles after her groceries, an imaginative range of unbecoming expressions spilling from her lips – and nearly collides with a tiny person on the landing.

The girl looks at her with dark, curious eyes for a moment, then crouches to pick up the apples around her feet.

She extends them to Jyn with a mischievous little smile and says, very softly like someone was listening: “I heard that.”

“I – what?” Jyn says, eloquently, and takes her two apples.

The girl’s eyes shine up at her.  “You said bad words.  You’re not supposed to.”

“Uh.”  Well, crap, Jyn thinks, and commends herself for not saying that out loud as well.

“I won’t tell,” the girl whispers and grins at her.

Jyn blinks at her in confusion, then goes for a tentative: “Thanks?”

She is startled by steps coming up the stairs.  A man with a messenger bag, a battered jacket, and a rather miserable look on his face comes into her field of view, calling up to the little girl in a foreign language that could be Spanish.  Then his eyes come to rest on her and he frowns a little.

Jyn becomes aware of how she’s kneeling on the landing, coat open, hair its usual mess, surrounded by groceries and bottles, awkwardly holding an apple in either hand.

Somehow, she had always known she was not going to make a great first impression on her neighbours, but she imagined something like turning the music up too loud or spilling coffee on someone’s doormat.  Not mouthing off extensively in front of a pre-school child and then…well, this.

“Are you hurt?” the man asks slowly, and Jyn realizes he thinks she toppled down the stairs along with her groceries.

Before Jyn can say a word, the little girl turns to him – her father, probably; Jyn thinks she heard the term papá somewhere in there and he has the same deep dark eyes – and his frown evens out just a little.

“I’m fine,” she feels compelled to say either way, and gets to her feet.  “My shopping bag tore, that’s all, I, um…”

He bends down and hands her a bottle that has rolled all the way across the landing onto a battered brown doormat.  A wedding band glints on his left hand.  Definitely her father.  Great.

“I’m Jyn,” she says stupidly to fill the awkward silence.  “I just moved into a flat upstairs.”

Jyn firmly believes in greeting new people by shaking their hands instead of taking a bottle of Jim Beam from them in front of a little girl, but alas, you can’t have everything.

“Nice to meet you,” he says and it sounds scarily sincere, and she thinks his lying is a whole lot smoother than hers.  “Cassian.”

He gently nudges his little daughter, who throws her another conspiratorial little smile and says: “My name is Verónica.”

“Yeah.  Pleased to meet you both,” she replies, stuffing the bottle and the apples into the (thankfully very large) pockets of her coat, “I’m just gonna go and collect my…my groceries now.  Bye.”

She scrambles to gather up the other items scattered over the staircase, cradling everything awkwardly in her arms, and hurries up the stairs to the safety of her tiny flat.

Well, that wasn’t awkward at all.


Chapter 2

The girl sits on the last step, hugging her knees, and is humming to herself softly.  This time, her hair is in two neat little braids with bows tied around the ends, and Jyn can’t help but think she looks absolutely adorable.

“Hi Verónica,” she says, adjusting the strap of her sports bag on her shoulder.

“Hello,” the girl chirps and throws her a fleeting smile, then goes back to her humming.

“Where’s your mum?” Jyn asks, which she deems an innocent enough question given the fact the girl is sitting in the hallway after eight o’clock – until the little girl replies in a cheerful tone:

“Mamá is with the angels.”

Well, that was putting your foot into it.

“Oh,” she mutters, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.  She likes it there,” the girl says.  “Only it makes papá sad sometimes.”

Jyn struggles for something to say, and ingeniously comes up with: “Yes.  My mum is with them, too.”

The girl smiles.  “That’s nice.  They can play together.”

“Yeah,” Jyn mutters and shakes her head a little.  “Where is your papá?”

She giggles.  “He closed the door and now we can’t get in. He is going to Uncle Kay to open the door.”

Jyn takes a moment to process that.  “He locked the key inside?”

The girl keeps giggling, like her father’s mistake is the most hilarious thing in the world.  Jyn can’t even count the times she has locked herself out of her flat already, and she’s only been living in the building for a month and a half, so she can’t quite understand that amount of amusement.

“Aren’t you scared, sitting here alone?” Jyn asks and has no idea why.  She shouldn’t be talking to this child, given her track record with kids.  The poor thing will probably start crying less than a minute from now, for some reason or other.  They always do.

Kids are hard.

She wishes Bodhi was here.  He’s great with kids, always was; he always makes them laugh.

“No,” Verónica says with a little shrug.  “Why?”

“No reason,” Jyn mutters.

“You can sit here with me if you’re scared,” the girl says sagely and pats the worn concrete beside her, and Jyn is so flabbergasted she actually sits down.

“Why are you out so late?” she asks after a while.

“Papá has to work late sometimes.  Then I have time to draw.”  She gets a neatly rolled-up sheet of printing paper out of her small backpack and hands it to Jyn.

“Oh.  That’s pretty.”

“You’re holding it wrong,” Verónica says, and Jyn blushes a little.

“Oh, right.  Yeah, obviously,” she stammers, quickly turning it on its head, but is interrupted by a quiet voice from the landing below.

“Don’t feel bad.  I looked at it upside down, too.”

Her neighbor looks even worse for wear than the last time – a lot of which might have to do with the fact that he’s absolutely drenched, dark hair plastered to his head, water dripping into his tired eyes and down his nose. But there are dark circles underneath his eyes that almost look like bruises in the brutal neon light of the hallway, and she’s never seen someone’s smile look so tired.

It’s still a very nice smile, though.

He triumphantly holds up a key and makes his way up the stairs, reaching for his daughter who squeals and jumps to her feet to save her drawing from the water dripping from his jacket.

He laughs a little and throws her the key.  To Jyn’s mild surprise, she catches it and makes her way towards one of the doors – Jyn recognizes it as the one where her liquor rolled the last time they met.

Still with that worn smile tugging at his lips, he holds out a hand to pull her up.

“You didn’t have to wait here with her,” he says, somewhat hastily, while she lets herself be pulled to her feet, “I was only gone a few minutes.  I wouldn’t have left her alone but it was raining and I was just across the street because I couldn’t call my friend who has the key because my phone is in the apartment and – ”

“Calm down,” she says, smiling a little, and wonders absent-mindedly why this man trying to reassure her he’s a good father to that little girl makes him more attractive to her.

Oh brother.  Are these hormones?  Is she turning into one of those hormonal mid-twenties women who never shut up about the miracle of life?  She shouldn’t be. Clearly, she’d not be passing on favourable genes as far as things like charisma and social skills go, and anyway she’d be a terrible mother and –

Also, her brain remarks, far too late but with emphasis, that they are standing absurdly close and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by that at all.

“We just got to talking.  She showed me a nice picture of… something – ”

The girl says something in Spanish, and her father rolls his eyes.  “English, Vero,” he chides gently and adds towards her in a conspiratorial murmur that Jyn suddenly realizes his daughter gets from him: “She says it’s a dog.  I don’t see a dog anywhere in there, though.”

Jyn grins despite herself.  “Maybe it’s modern art.  You know, the idea of a dog.”

He laughs, shakes his head, and finally makes his way up the stairs, which feels to Jyn like an oddly sudden removal from her space.

“Thank you for waiting,” he says, turning around to her while he unlocks the door, and Jyn thinks people don’t look at strangers the way this man seems to look at strangers.  (Well, the way he looks at her.)

“No bother.  It’s a very pretty dog,” she adds into Verónica’s direction, who beams down at her and disappears inside.

Cassian clears his throat and says something to her, upon which the girl reappears to wave at Jyn.  “Goodbye.”

“Goodnight,” she says, feeling a little smile tug at her lips for some reason.

Her neighbour shakes his head a little, mutters something under his breath, then gives her a little military-like nod.

“Goodnight, Jyn.”

The door had closed behind them before Jyn got over the shock that he remembered her name.


Chapter 3

They say human beings are capable of learning from past mistakes.  They assume that just because your brain retains the memory that you will stop doing what you’re doing and think of a better way to go about it.

When Cassian was six, he got into a fight with a boy over an insult to his mother four times, gained a black eye each time and, despite being told he should be the bigger person, kept coming back for more.

This should be proof enough that his brain is not, in fact, wired to protect him from repeating past mistakes.

Half a year of running into each other on the staircase has passed.  It’s been a distressing six months, because perhaps that doesn’t sound like a very intense kind of encounter, but Cassian begs to differ.

The day something finally, finally happens is the third time in a week Vero is running late for pre-school because he thought forty-five minutes was enough time for them both to get ready.  Which it isn’t.

Incidentally, it is also the second time he runs into Jyn outside the door – physically barrels into her this time on the icy pavement, which knocks them both off their feet.

He is using words under his breath that he unfortunately picked up at the police academy, Jyn and Vero are both laughing, and for a tiny moment Cassian is tempted to just go back to sleep, then and there.  The day is clearly a bust already.

“You’re not supposed to say that, papá,” his daughter chides, looking down on him, and he groans a little.

Jyn is on her feet long before he is, and helps him up.

“You see?  I told you.  If you raise her too well, it’s going to come back to bite you in the – ”  She stops herself in time, which is a rare occurrence.  “ – you know where.”

“I’m sorry,” he mutters, shaking his head, “I wasn’t… are you okay?”

“Fine,” she says with a little smile.  There’s a bit of snow in her hair.

She looks gorgeous.

Pull yourself together.

“Sorry,” he repeats stupidly, “I overslept, we’re late, I didn’t see you there.”

However I managed to not see you.

Verdad, he’s really not very awake yet.

“I said I’m fine,” she says, then adds with a mischievous little glint in her green eyes: “You can buy me a coffee sometime to make up for it.”

“I’d like that.”

Oh brother, did he really just say that?

“Good.”  Her smile widens a little.

“Good.”

“You said you were late for something…?” she asks, still grinning.

“Yes, we are,” he says flatly, shaking his head in a vain attempt to clear it.  “Blast.”

“Papá!”


“Why are you smiling, papá?” Verónica inquires , feet dangling from the seat, after they miraculously still got on the right bus

“Why shouldn’t I be?” he asks, grinning down at his daughter.

“Because you don’t smile in the morning,” she replies matter-of-factly, and he chuckles a little and runs his fingers through her curls.

“I do sometimes, you know.”


Chapter 4

“Can you read me a bedtime story?”

“I’m sure your papá can.”

“He’s on the phone and he says it’s important.”  Which is why she is still here, actually, because he is trying to find out if he can get anyone else to pick his daughter up during his late shift tomorrow.

Jyn looks up from her textbook to find Vero, already in pajamas with hair braided and ready for bed, and wonders how much point there is in explaining to her that she has to sit an exam in two day’s time.

Little to none, she decides, and puts down the textbook with a little sigh.  “Okay, but just one.  Do you have a book you want me to read?”

“No,” Vero says and settles onto the couch next to Jyn.

Awesome.  “Um… you had a fairy tale book somewhere, right?”

“I know all of those.”

“How about the book you got for your birthday?”

“We finished that.”

Jyn frowns.  “You had like a hundred pages left a week ago!”

There’s a shrewd little smile on Verónica’s face.  “Yeah, but Uncle Kay had to look after me all weekend.”

Blast that man, Jyn thinks.  Cassian’s best friend is a jerk with a steel rod for a spine (not to mention that he’s 6 foot 5 if he’s an inch), but he’s wax in Vero’s hands.  He would probably read that whole book to her in one night if she told him to.

Her eyes glance over to the bookshelf – travel books, a dictionary, history, a few Spanish books…

She thinks back to her own bookshelf, briefly entertains the thought of reading her bloody War and Peace – at least that would make her sleepy – then sighs and gives up.

“What are you reading?” Vero asks.

“A very boring book.  It’s terrible,” she tries, but Vero smiles.

“Can you read from that?”

Jyn sighs.  “Okay, fine.  I’m gonna tell you something about amino acids, how does that sound?”

“What’s that?”

Jyn tells herself it doesn’t matter what she reads the girl, so she finds a page with a lot of diagrams and launches herself into an absolutely not child-oriented lecture about biology.

She never related to the phrase too tired to care more than when she got involved in this family.

At some point, Cassian shows up with a cup of tea in hand.  He leans against the doorway and watches them with a little frown.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m giving your daughter a biology lesson,” Jyn says absent-mindedly and only looks up when he spits out his drink.

“You what?  She’s five years old!”

“We couldn’t agree on a book and she asked about mine,” she replies with a frown, “so I’m telling her about proteins.  I know it’s not ideal, but I wasn’t aware you could be too young to hear about proteins.”

He shakes his head, still coughing and blushing slightly for some reason, and mutters: “Right.  Sure.  You do that.  I’ll go clean this up.”

Jyn and Vero both frown after him, then share a questioning look.  The girl shrugs, and Jyn resumes her lecture.


When he comes back into the room twenty minutes later, the riveting read has not just put the child to sleep in the crook of her arm, but Jyn is curled up on the sofa, fast asleep, the heavy textbook threatening to slide off her knees.

Cassian grins, carefully puts the book on the coffee table, then picks up his daughter and carries her to her room.  She doesn’t wake once and Jyn doesn’t stir.

He gently closes the door behind himself and shakes his head.

“Proteins,” he mutters to himself, throws one last look at the files piling up on the kitchen table, then stretches out on the couch as well he can without waking its second occupant, and falls asleep almost instantly.

Just five minutes.


Chapter 5

When Jyn finally wakes up (at 1:34 am) it is to find her arms empty and Cassian sound asleep at the other end of the couch with her babysitting money beside him on the cushion.  Then she really wakes up, gets up, and prepares to beat a hasty retreat, sliding the bills deftly out from under his fingers.  She is almost out the door, biology book in hand and her backpack over her shoulder, before she remembers that the whole reason she had fallen asleep on the couch in the first place was that she had been waiting for him to get off the phone and tell her if she needed to pick up Verónica tomorrow – now today.

Ugh.

She bites her lip, glancing back at Cassian’s slack face, and decides to hope that he has an alarm set on his phone.

She closes the door as quietly as she can and heads for the stairs.

If she thinks of it, she’ll text him when she gets up so he won’t be late.


As it works out, he texts her first.  Since she is still curled up in her own bed after hitting snooze twice, she assumes his alarm is set even earlier.  No wonder the man always looks exhausted.

Sorry about that.  Can U still get V tonight?  CA

Yes.  Did U put her to bed?  JE

Biology must have been fascinating.  CA

So not.  JE

Useful future weapon.  CA

Even takes out bystanders.  JE

I should be off at 11.  Thx.  CA

She groans and hauls herself upright.  “Come on, brain.”


She is only slightly more awake by the end of the day, after three coffees and a 4 pm espresso.  She navigates the bus system out of habit, almost missing the stop for the daycare, and drags herself the two blocks to the facility.  Tonight, she has a feeling she isn’t even going to attempt biology.  She might just crawl right into bed with Vero and sleep until Cassian gets back, then try to wake up early and review before class.

The idea is sounding better all the time, except for the waking up early part.

Verónica is waiting for her, her tiny backpack parked beside her on the brightly colored chairs in the lobby, the last child in the building.  The matron is lingering by her desk, clearly anxious to leave.

“Jyn!”  The little girl launches herself into her arms and for just a moment her tiredness lifts.  “Are we going to get pizza again?”

It is their secret treat, one she suspects Cassian has figured out some time ago but has said nothing about.

“Not this week – next time.  Your papa said there are things we need to eat at your house.”

Vero delivers an exaggerated sigh.

Jyn matches her pace to the little girl’s as they stroll hand-in-hand back toward the bus stop.  Vero asks no questions about proteins or amino acids, instead chattering about what she has done in school and what pictures she has drawn at daycare with the other children.  Her neat pigtails bob in Jyn’s peripheral vision and once again she marvels at Cassian’s careful handiwork.

They wait for the signal at the crosswalk between blocks, Jyn keeping a habitual wary eye on the thinning pedestrian traffic as the sky darkens, and start across.  Vero skips at her side, trying to jump from one white bar to the next and only occasionally making it all the way, giggling.  Jyn has just looked down to help launch her to the next bar when she becomes aware of the screech of brakes.


Instinct is blind but at the same time all-seeing.

She sees the car sliding, skidding sideways in the near lane.

Vero is light as she snatches her off the ground and swings her as high into the air as she can.

The hood of the car slams into her thighs.

As she hurtles toward the unforgiving pavement, she shoves the tiny girl away from her, up onto the flat hood of the car toward the windshield.

The last things she hears before her head cracks against the asphalt are the growl of the car’s motor as it looms up over her chest and Verónica screaming.


Chapter 6

Cassian is on duty in the pediatric wing when he gets a page that he is needed as backup in ER.  He gives an ETA and heads wearily across the building, not for the first time fighting down the reluctance that rises up in his gut whenever he hears that word.

Working at the hospital brings back too many memories, too many hard emotions, but he is here for Verónica’s sake because life as a narcotics officer is too uncertain for a single parent with a child.  It had been bad enough for a married man with a family.  He pinches the bridge of his nose and leans his back against the wall of the elevator, stealing a few seconds with his eyes closed.  These extra shifts are killing him, too.

Only until we can hire more personnel, they’d told him seven months ago.  Before he’d met Jyn.  He is more grateful than he has any right to be that she can be there for his daughter when he is gone, in spite of her rough edges.

They’ve had coffee exactly twice.

He sighs.


The ER waiting room is crowded, ripe with local smells that kick at deep, paranoid instincts.  Vomit.  Blood.  Cold sweat.  Fear.  Panic.  He passes the outskirts of the crowd to join the bulky figure of Ken Stevens where he is firmly containing the excited floundering of a young black man while a friend, equally young but less vocal, is following his directions to press a towel over a nasty gash on the struggling man’s forearm.

Knife, attempted stab deflected into a cut….

Cassian can visualize where his assailant had stood and his approximate size without consciously thinking about it.  He’s seen too much of this.

“Ken, right behind you,” he says clearly before stepping up beside the gray-haired ex-cop.  The man is built like a bulldog, with all the reflexes that come from thirty years on the job.  Ken grunts an acknowledgement and Cassian reaches through his arms to take their patient from a different angle, narrowly avoiding a knee in the leg.

“They say they’ve got a room nearly ready, then they can sedate him,” Ken murmurs.  “He’s high as a kite.”

Cassian nods, adjusting his grip on the young man’s torso.  His thin exercise shirt is drenched in sweat and spattered with blood and mud.  Definitely a gang operation.

“Busy day?”

It’s easier to talk over these things, to pretend everything is perfectly normal.  If they both remain relaxed, their patient has more of a chance of calming down as well.

“Not the half of it,” Ken rumbles.  “Coffee barely cut it.”

“Doughnuts?”

“Long gone.”

Cassian smiles faintly, his eyes wandering over the other patients, the hustling nurses and aides and the occasional doctor in a white coat.  So much pain, so little anyone can do about it.  The wail of an ambulance siren wavers in the distance, growing loud and urgent instead of fading away.  Incoming, not outgoing.  More trauma.

The ambulance coasts past the glass doors to stop before the unloading bay just outside his line of vision but he can still hear it, the shattering roar of the motor, the coordinated shouts from the EMTs.  The siren cuts, finally.  Feet hustle over tile and now he can see them again through the interior doors to the corridor, bulky men herding a traumatized middle-aged woman carrying a young girl, turning back to watch the rest of the crew as they lift a gurney out onto a cart.  The little girl looks painfully like his own daughter and he turns away, forcing himself not to look, to stay calm.

Jyn has Verónica; they are safe at home by now.  They’re probably reading biology again, for goodness sakes – he shouldn’t linger over the image of Jyn fast asleep on his couch with his child’s pajama-clad figure snuggled under her arm….

“Papa!!!!  Papa!!!!!!!!”

No. 

The scream is more familiar than his own voice.  His baby is leaning far out of the stranger’s arms, stretching both arms toward him through the glass, and there’s blood

“Vero…!”

A big hand sweeps him free out of the huddle of panicked druggie.  “Yours?”

He can’t even answer, fear choking his throat.  He manages to nod.  Ken jerks his head toward receiving.

The woman runs Verónica to meet him at the glass doors and he is barely conscious of getting through them before he has her, tight and strangling, her tearstained face wet against his neck.  “Are you okay, are you okay, are you hurt, Vero I love you, it’s going to be okay – ”

The woman presses a hand over her mouth to compress a sob and he still can’t place her.  Vero’s tiny hands are knotted in his hair and he gulps in her scent, her kiddie shampoo and pink shirt and sweaty curls and he tries to calm the gasping terror thumping in his chest because she’s OKAY, she’s fine, scared but unhurt because otherwise they’d have her on a gurney, only –

They’re wheeling the gurney through the doors, crowding him out of the way, and he looks down in time to see a spray of dark hair across its surface and suddenly Vero’s whimpering in his ear makes sense because she’s saying “car came and Jyn” and that means…

“JYYYYN!”

“Papá!!”  Vero is crying uncontrollably into his shoulder but he has to see past the tubes and the oxygen mask and there is blood everywhere and it’s her blood and two burly EMTs are holding him back as the rest of the team races away down the tunnel with the gurney and he can’t, he can’t – breathe.  BREATHE.

“Vero, she’s going to be okay, she’s going to be okay, I promise,” he says even though he shouldn’t, locking imploring eyes with the EMTs.  Please tell me she’ll be okay, please.  He can’t do this twice, can’t, mustn’t remember Maria Luz’s bloody face on the gurney and the bleak compassion in the doctor’s tired eyes.  The nearest man glances down at his wedding band, in plain view on his daughter’s trembling back, and hesitates for only a moment.

“Sir, it looks bad, but she’s fairly stable and we were able to slow the bleeding in transit.  They’re taking your wife right into surgery.  She’s strong and healthy and she’s young….”

So was Maria Luz.

“Can we – ”

The man turns him toward the lobby, blocking off the tunnel.  “We can go to the waiting room, sir – they’ll want to check out your daughter for blunt force injuries and any signs of a concussion, just in case…”

Cassian lets them lead him, clinging to Verónica because she is all he has, all that he can protect.


Chapter 7

10:36 pm, the clock next to the black face of the TV reads.

The recovery room is dimly lit, darkness and city lights scarcely visible past the glare on the window.  Cassian sits slumped in the armchair they had squeezed in beside Jyn’s bed,  Verónica a warm weight on his chest.  They had given him blankets and she is swathed in them from head to toe against the damp chill, her arms still securely around his neck.  It had taken her a long time to fall asleep, to relax her sobs to little uncertain sniffles, and she’d barely been willing to leave his arms long enough to use the toilet.

They had sat in the surgical waiting room for hours.  He had ached to pace, to move, but his daughter had needed him more and he had walked her slowly up and down instead, murmuring Spanish and English into her ear until his arms had gotten tired and he had sat, cradling her in his lap.

The woman who had carried Verónica in had turned out to be the driver, and she had been a wreck.  American, two years’ driving experience on English roads, and she had made a distracted turn in an unfamiliar neighborhood, slamming on the brakes only when it was too late.  Jyn had thrown Verónica up against the windshield and taken the brunt of it instead.

Passersby have testified that his daughter had been walking on the side closest to the car and he knows, deep down in the sick pit of his stomach, that Verónica would be dead if Jyn hadn’t done what she did, that he would be a broken shell right now rather than holding his baby close, safe, but he still aches to see her lying so still and unnaturally quiet in the sterile white bed.  A heart monitor beeps softly, slightly faster than the ticking of the clock; her pulse is mostly steady.

Ken had stopped by the waiting room to drop off a coffee, a burger, a childsize cheeseburger, a juice carton, and a basket of hot chips, his massive hand dwarfing Verónica’s head as he patted her comfortingly and told her what a brave young miss she was.  His squeeze to Cassian’s shoulder had been firmer, warm and solid, as he’d told him not to worry about his shift.

The woman had apologized to him over and over again, her tears genuine, and he had not had the heart to be angry with her.  It had been a mistake, an accident in the truest sense of the word.  Before she had gone with the policemen the woman had given him her number and begged him to call her if there was anything she could do, anything at all.  She had said she would be praying for Jyn and her words had jolted him, reminded him that there was that.  After she left he had coaxed Verónica to pray, choking over the Spanish words that he had grown rusty on.

Ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte….

Not yet, he had pleaded silently.  Please not yet.

When the doctor had emerged, shrugging on his white coat over his scrubs, the first thing he had done was smile at them.  “Your wife will be just fine, Officer Andor,” he had said, and Cassian had found he couldn’t get out of the chair, couldn’t do anything but rock Vero back and forth in time with his shaky breathing.

They had been allowed in then, to see her, and he had wanted to go in alone first, unsure if his five year old daughter could handle the immediacy of it, but Verónica had refused to let go of him, even if she had consented to walk on her own feet.  They had stood awkwardly by the bed staring at the tubes and wires and braces until Vero had tugged at his hand.

“Kiss it better, Papa,” she had said in a voice so much like her usual self that he had choked up even as his cheeks had heated.

“Vero – ”

He had kissed her miraculously few bruises and scrapes in the waiting room more than once on her demand, but this – there was no way he could do this.  There was no way he was going to do anything that even remotely looked like molesting a sleeping woman, even at the totally innocent prompting of a five year old.

“Make Jyn better,” Verónica had insisted, more brightly, standing on tiptoe herself to prop her elbows on the bed.  She had given the tape bandage holding an IV line in Jyn’s forearm a smacking kiss.

Then again, there had been no way he was going to get out of it.

Cassian had stooped, tentatively, looking for a spot that was as close to harmless as possible.  Jyn’s lower lip was swollen, probably from where her teeth had been driven into it, traces of dried blood lingering in the corner of her mouth.  Her cheeks were nearly bloodless.  Scrapes decorated the side of her pale forehead, spreading into her hairline.

She had looked so…small.  He had bent the rest of the way and lightly kissed her forehead.

“Jyn – ” he had swallowed and tried again, “Jyn’s hurt in lots of places, Vero.  We have to be careful not to make it worse.”  His daughter had scooted along the edge of the bed and then hopped, unsuccessfully trying to reach Jyn’s cheek.  “Hey, hey, be gentle.”  He had lifted her just far enough that she could brush her lips against her target.  “We have to let Jyn rest now.”

That had been nearly two hours ago.  Vero had fallen asleep close to nine.  Nurses’ aides check in every half hour, routinely startling him, but no one has said that he needs to let go of their patient’s hand.  They had brought him paperwork to fill out and he had done the best he could, realizing as he did so how many holes there were in what he knew of her.

Next of kin.  Parents. 

Please wake up, Jyn.  The doctor had said something about a concussion, about possible disorientation.

It is cold in the room even in his uniform jacket and he worries about her in the thin print hospital gown and thin sheets.  There is only a light fuzzy blanket spread over them.  He wishes he could wrap her up and hold her like Vero.

Her hand is so small and limp in his.


11:02 pm.

Cassian fights sleep valiantly.

He is almost ready to turn on the TV just for the distraction of it, for some sort of noise and motion to keep his drooping eyelids up.  He is getting stiff and his shoulder complains about reaching across to the bed, but it is a ridiculously small price to pay.

He feels her hand twitch first.

“Jyn.”

He struggles up in the chair, easing Verónica’s sleeping form over a little so he can lean forward.  “Jyn, it’s okay.  It’s okay.”

Her fingers curl languidly around his.  Unquestioning.  She takes a deeper breath, making the sheets rise and fall and her tubes and wires swing gently in the space beside the bed.

Cassian drags the chair closer.  He doesn’t know how much she will be able to see, as dark as it is; if she is concussed her sight is going to be off at least a little.  He debates, briefly, whether he should call the nurse.

Not yet.

“Can you hear me?” he asks softly.  Her eyelids flicker.  Somehow he’s never noticed how long her lashes are, how they sweep down over her cheeks.  They rest, then flicker again.  He can’t remember if anyone had said she was on painkillers, but she has to be.  They would add to the grogginess.

“No pizza,” she mumbles.  He nearly laughs, but it sounds slightly like a sob.  Verónica had told him about how pizza had been postponed.

“Jyn, I don’t care if you want to eat pizza every day of the week.”

She frowns, her eyes still determinedly shut.

“Cas-sian?”

“I’m right here.”  He lifts her hand, ever so carefully, and tucks the back of it against his cheek.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

She exhales contentedly, relaxing into the mattress.  Her fingers wander briefly around his.  “Cassian.”  It sounds vaguely like a question is going to follow, but it doesn’t for a while.

“What time is it?”

He twists to look at the clock again.  “Eleven-o-eight.  PM.”

The frown returns.

“Gotta go home.”

He shakes his head, forgetting that her eyes are closed.  “It’s okay, Jyn.  Just rest.”

“Gotta…”  Her voice trails off.  With a scrunch her eyes crack open again, suddenly more alert.  “Where’s Vero?”

“She’s asleep, right here.  She’s fine.”  His voice falters on that part.  He bites his lips.

“Fine…”  A pause.

“Fine!”

The heart monitor spikes sharply, its beep rising in tone, as she abruptly thrashes awake.  “Vero – Vero…”  She casts around wildly as he rushes to calm her down, dropping her hand to force her shoulders back onto the mattress.

“Jyn,” he commands.  “Jyn, look at me.”

Her focus is off but she tries, squinting at him in the dim light.  “You were hit by a car.  You saved Verónica, she’s fine – just a couple scrapes and bruises.  She’s fine.  She’s right here in my lap.”  He brings her hand over to touch the bedraggled pigtails.  She tries to move her arm on her own and it wobbles, sinking before she figures out how to move it.

“Vero,” she breathes.  Her hand lingers on his daughter’s blanket-covered back.

“She’s okay,” he assures her.  “A bit shaken up, that’s all.  She’s okay.”

Jyn lets her hand fall.  It lands on his knee.

Her eyes drop.  “I – I’m sorry,” she whispers.

“Jyn – ”

He is so flabbergasted he can’t silence her.

“I should have been paying more attention…”

“Jyn.”  Her eyes finally creep back to him, heavy with guilt.  He shakes his head deliberately.  “You saved her life.”  His voice is going rough, so thick he can hardly get words out.  He swallows, takes a deep breath.  “You nearly got yourself killed, to save her.  You – ”

He can’t say any more.  Her hand still rests on his knee and he takes it, presses it hard against his lips.  Not exactly a kiss, but close.  With his eyes closed he can pretend there aren’t tears in his eyes.


Chapter 8

In a vague, detatched sort of way, Jyn is aware of pain.  Of discomfort, and stiffness.  Restraints.  Her one brief effort to sit up has proved just how little she can move.  She can’t tell if the darkness is her eyes or just that the lights are turned down.

She is starting to figure out that she is not lying in Verónica’s bed in the Andor’s flat – in fact, she is pretty sure she is in the hospital.  The emergency room.

And Cassian, Verónica cradled in his arms, is crying silently into the back of her hand.

The end of his nose is cold.  His well-past five o’clock shadow is rough past the ends of his mustache.  His mouth works against her skin, nearly…desperate?  She can’t quite watch him; can’t quite look away.

“Thank you,” he chokes out, half muffled against her.  “Thank you.”

For some reason she is nearly crying herself.  He looks a wreck, but not half as bad as she must since she is the one who was hit by the car.  He is still in his uniform, gray shirt with the collar undone and a black tie loosened nearly to necklace-length.  She has never seen his work jacket, black with the hospital logo and “SECURITY” in yellow letters on the sleeve.  It makes him look more military/police and less like a day laborer.  Probably why he always finishes changing at work.

She has never seen him look afraid before.

Jyn tries to squeeze his hand but her grip is ridiculously weak.  He must feel it, though, because he squeezes back, and gradually his shoulders stop heaving.  He takes a deep ragged breath.

“My…my wife, Maria Luz, she was killed in a car accident.”  His voice goes soft, nearly inaudible at the end.  Jyn remembers the name, vaguely, and a picture that is part of the little shrine in Verónica’s room, tucked in behind a small statue of the Virgen del Guadalupe.  Vero’s curls match her mother’s.  Cassian struggles to compose himself.  “I – it brought it all back, and you – I – I never got to say goodbye to her,” he whispers.  “A drunk driver T-boned her as she was going to a doctor’s appointment.  They pronounced her dead in the emergency room.”  He sniffs, scrubbing his sleeve across his nose.  “Vero was two.   And…and they found out she was pregnant, only a few months along.  There was no way to save the baby.”

Jyn is really crying now, hanging onto his hand, and he shifts Verónica to rest against his right shoulder so he can reach across to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“I couldn’t lose you like that, I couldn’t.”  He palms away his own tears, finally fishing a tissue out of a pocket somewhere and blowing his nose.  “Here, sorry.”  He offers her one, too, and holds it to her nose in a way that suggests he’s done it for his daughter hundreds of times.  She feels silly blowing into it but she really can’t manage it on her own.

“Good?” he asks.  She nods.  He takes her hand again and he might as well be holding her in his arms next to the sleeping Verónica.  They smile at each other, a bit shakily.

“How bad is it?”

“Your right foot is broken – it’s in a cast.  Greenstick fracture in the left femur.  Lots of stitches and super glue; you had a nicked artery in your leg and they had to give you at least two units of blood.  Then there’s a sprain in your left shoulder.”  His smile turns wry.  “And heavy bruising, lots of it; maybe a concussion.  You’re going to be on crutches for a while and it’s not going to feel good”

“Ugh.”  Cassian’s smile is still fragile, though, so she doesn’t grumble too much.  On a sudden thought she groans in despair.  “I have a Biology exam tomorrow.”

He actually laughs, softly, shaking his head as he settles back into the chair and arranges his sleeping daughter more comfortably.  “I’m sure you can get a doctor’s note.”

She snorts.  “Vero probably remembers more of what I read last night than I do.”


 Chapter 9

They keep her in the hospital way longer than she thinks is necessary.  Then she has therapy.  At least they let her make up her exams remotely, from her bed.  Cassian literally hovers, dropping by at odd moments throughout each day, bringing Verónica to visit her along with clothes and things from home and running odd errands.  Even Kay stops by on occasion.  More often than not, Cassian’s fellow officers bring food, including a giant of a man named Ken who wears a broad gold wedding band and pats Vero on the head with an enormous hand every time he leaves.

Cassian also brings her flowers.  Thoughtful flowers, that last longer than a few days.  The first time he does she bursts into tears on him because no one has ever done that for her, and he ends up holding her for real even though she can barely sit up in bed.  She decides they should have tried it a long time ago.

She has a fit of hysterical laughter that hurts way too much when he finally has to admit to the flabbergasted nurses that they’ve got it all wrong and that they’re not related at all, and while she pities them the flurry over broken medical confidentiality disclosures she has to assure them repeatedly that it’s okay.  Cassian’s blushes and assumed clueless stammering are an acting job that deserve an award.

Verónica spends her time waiting for her father’s shifts to end drawing pictures to decorate Jyn’s room and riding her bed up and down through all possible configurations.

When she finally gets to go home she finds that the stairs up to her flat are the equivalent of Mount Everest, and Cassian ends up carrying her over her own doorstep while Verónica gleefully manages the keys.


Two weeks after she gets out of her casts, but not quite before she ditches her crutches, Jyn hears a knock at her door in the middle of the afternoon.  She has been using personal days to handle checkups, since it takes forever to navigate public transport with crutches, and she’s gotten back surprisingly early from today’s.

She hobbles out from the kitchen to answer it, mentally ticking through a list of who it could possibly be at this time of day and coming up with options like the mailman with a package (even though she doesn’t remember ordering anything), Jehovah’s Witnesses, or school kids soliciting for a fundraiser.

Instead, it is Cassian Andor.  She blinks.

“Is…everything okay?”

He is wearing a slightly nervous smile.  And a clean, casual shirt.  And…Verónica is nowhere in sight.

“Is…Vero…?”

“Kay has her.”

“Oh.”

“Do you have a minute?”

“Um, yeah.  Sure.”  She backs away from the door, adept now on her crutches, to make room for him to come in, sweeping grocery bags – real ones – out of the way with the plastic feet.

“Jyn – ”

“Yeah?”

She twirls back to face him and instead of looking up finds him kneeling on her floor with the door still standing open behind him.

“You – ”  She can’t get anything else out.  He reaches up and curls his hands around the front bars of her crutches.

“Jyn.”  He swallows.  “I – I need to tell you something.”

An enormous lump is forming in her throat, threatening to make her cry hysterically.

Cassian’s dark eyes are vulnerable and very, very gentle.

“I…love you, and…I would like nothing better than…if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife.  And Verónica’s mother, and…and of any other children we might have, someday.”  The corners of his mouth lift in a sheepish smile.  He shakes his head slowly.  “I can’t think of anyone better.  And…and it’s almost more than I can bear to watch you go home by yourself anymore, so, well, I’d like to do something about it.”  He abruptly blushes and rushes through “I mean, not until after we’re married, of course…well, you know…”

Jyn is hanging over her crutches, nearly ready to dive headfirst into his arms, but he isn’t quite done yet.  He fishes into his pants pocket and withdraws a bow of bright, bright pink ribbon that flashes when the knot catches the light.

“The ribbon is from Verónica,” he admits, grinning, “but this part is from me.”  He pulls the ends of the bow until it comes undone and slides the ring down into his hand.

“Will you marry me?”

And then, well, she says yes.  Very emphatically.  And she maybe lets slip a few words that she is glad, in retrospect, Verónica is not there to hear, but for goodness sakes she is getting better.

At least most of the time.


Jyn is a bit taken aback when she finds out they actually have to take marriage prep classes – like, Cassian has been married before and she works in the medical field – but it turns out to be okay.  Somehow the idea that these people she doesn’t even know are invested in making her marriage work is oddly touching.

She is taken aback again when she finds out she actually has to sign legal paperwork stating that she will raise Verónica and any other children they have Catholic, but quite honestly she has no objections whatsoever to continuing whatever Cassian has been doing.

There is a lot of stuff to cover and it is all new and a bit overwhelming, but she plows through it because at the end of the day it is all worth it, so worth it she can’t even find words.


They finally get to set a wedding date (it’s really only two months away because there’s no point in dragging it out) and she manages to find a dress that meets all the requirements in a department store.  No way is she going to even try dragging around an enormous pouffy concoction with a train, and neither can she afford it.

The dress is tea-length, with fluttery sleeves and a boat neckline, and she wavers between a hat and a veil for about two hours before deciding on the veil.  It’s short, skimming the points of her shoulder blades in the back, and tiny beads sparkle around the edge.

For Verónica the three of them go together and find a stiff princess-worthy dress in pale pink taffeta with stuffing in the skirt, which sends the little girl into squealing fits of delight.  It costs almost more than hers does but neither she nor Cassian cares.

She decides not to inflict a pink tie on him and settles on a pink boutonniere instead.


Kay and Bodhi and the Stevens help them move her things downstairs, leaving only the barest essentials in her flat.  They have timed the wedding so her lease expires the day after they get back from the three-day honeymoon they’re taking, so they will have a final day to strip the place for the next occupant.

Bodhi is no more immune to Vero’s charms than Kay is, becoming Cassian’s daughter’s willing slave in a matter of about three minutes.

The little girl is ecstatic at the idea that Jyn is coming to sleep over with them forever.


The night before the wedding, Cassian says goodnight to her at the foot of the stairs to her flat, lingering a little longer than usual, and when he hugs her she finds herself with a closeup view of his left hand.  It takes her a moment to realize that there is a band of lighter skin where his wedding ring usually is.

“You took it off,” she murmurs, not quite sure what that means.

“After the rehearsal, it seemed…”  She feels him shrug.  “It was time.  They’re both tucked away, for Verónica.”  A faint huff of rueful laughter stirs her hair.  “I feel like I’m missing something.”

She laughs with him, and he releases her, his hands sliding down her arms to take her hands.  “It was my promise, to Vero, to Maria Luz’s memory – that…I would be faithful to her until another woman put her ring there.”  He smiles quietly, looking down at their joined hands, gently nostalgic but content.

“I never thought anyone would, Jyn…until you.”

She hugs him, then, carefully, and he exhales against her shoulder with a little sigh.  He pulls back first, kissing her forehead, and backs toward his own door.

“See you tomorrow, then?”

They both burst out laughing.


Chapter 10

The morning of the wedding, the hairdresser she decided to splurge on arrives at Jyn’s flat at 7 am sharp.

Kay brings Verónica up to her door at eight, loudly informing her that it’s “safe” and that Cassian is downstairs out of sight and earshot.  The little girl pops through the narrow opening like a rabbit, nearly slamming the door on his long fingers.

“Oow!” Kay yells, for dramatic effect, completely unharmed.

Vero is totally charged on the “girls-only” part of this business, plopping down on Jyn’s bed to watch with rapturous attention as the stylist works her magic with curling irons and pins and hairspray.  The updo is nothing fancy, but it is elegant and that’s something she can never seem to manage on her own.  Her soon-to-be-daughter’s curls need less attention, and they are both dressed and ready by 9:30, when the Stevens arrive to pick them up with their car.  Gail comes up to ooh and ahh over their dresses while the hairdresser puts the finishing touches to Jyn’s veil.

They had figured that two dressed-up guys on the tube don’t scream “WEDDING” like a woman in white with a bouquet.

Jyn and Vero take the back seat, the flowers balanced between them, while  Ken drives and Gail shares stories from their wedding twenty-eight years ago.

Jyn isn’t exactly nervous – just sick to her stomach.  Nothing to worry about, at all.

Vero smooths out her skirt all around her as if it is the most important thing in the world and that makes her relax, just a little.


Bodhi gives her away, since he’s the closest thing to a brother she has.

“Papá is here too!”  Vero exclaims before heading up the aisle in front of them, and he nearly chokes.  They are both still stifling giggles when it is their turn.

Jyn has never seen Cassian stand straighter.  He looks drop-dead handsome and the long walk seems to be over in seconds after he finds her eyes and smiles.  His hair is combed back, he’s neatly shaved, and his tie is actually where it’s supposed to be.  She forgets to be nervous.

Bodhi gives her a quick, awkward hug, pats her on the back, and steps aside to let them continue together.  Cassian’s hand is warm and strong around hers.


She’s heard his full name before, at the rehearsal, but it still sounds strange.

“I, Cassian Jerome Andor, do take thee, Virginia Lynn Erso, to be my lawful wife…”

They had teased each other about the names then.  “Be glad it isn’t Geronimo!”

He had gaped when he first heard hers, had chuckled all through the long story of how she had battled to shorten it down to Jyn in middle school to escape the hated “Ginnie.”

Kay and Bodhi stand behind them with Verónica, while the couple who are acting as the official witnesses stand beside them.  It is a very small wedding, really – the Stevens, minus their teenage kids; a few of Cassian’s co-workers and a handful of hers.  Neither of them has much by way of family, but it’s okay.  One of Kay’s co-workers acts as their photographer, clicking away quietly from the side.


Then it’s all over and they’re walking down the aisle together with her arm pressed tight against his side, and as the vestibule doors close behind them they share their first kiss as husband and wife.

It’s glorious.

Then they have to do pictures, and the one Jyn decides she likes the most is one that happens very impromptu on the steps outside when Cassian sweeps her down and kisses her while one of her feet kicks out for balance, and Vero is standing right past their heads squealing with both hands clapped over her mouth.

They have a luncheon in the back room of a Mexican restaurant that has a tiny dance floor, and after the first dance which is short because Jyn can’t dance much there is a rather unorthodox Father-Daughter dance during which Jyn decides she is one of the luckiest women on earth as she watches her husband glide over the floor with Verónica balancing on the toes of his shoes.  After a few minutes he waves her over with a smile and a lift of his eyebrows, swings Vero up to his hip, and then the three of them sway slowly to the music, together.


When they get back from their short honeymoon, and before they pick up their daughter from Kay’s, Cassian carries her into their flat and sets her down in the middle of the living room.  Her things are here too, now, side-by-side on shelves next to his and Verónica’s, and the formerly minimally furnished flat of a lonely man with a motherless child feels warmer, softer somehow, and safe.

“Welcome home,” he murmurs, his hands on her waist and his forehead leaning against hers.  His wife’s hands are laced together behind his neck.

Jyn doesn’t answer him with words.

The End

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s