Cassian had spent a year hopping from one planet to the other, mostly in the Outer Rim, resuming his job as a sniper and informant. But things were not the same as usual. He had never had problems with killing before Scarif. He had been bitter, locked within his desire for revenge, for everything the Empire had taken from him. But then he had tasted a tiny pinch of hope and he could not act now as he had done before.
He refused to speak about it to anyone (and certainly not Draven) but he suffered from persistent nightmares after each kill. It was not the classic ‘victim comes back to haunt you and ask why?’ some of his comrades had described, though.
Sometimes Cassian was back on that beach, watching the shock wave from the giant laser beam coming closer and closer, only to rip Jyn from his grip, disintegrating flesh and bones, leaving him alone with nothing but white, gleaming dust sliding between his fingers.
Other nights he would dream he was called to the medbay to meet with Jyn after she was released from an examination and he arrived right on time to see her emerge from the room, her face white as snow, drenched in blood from the waist down. Or he would enter the medbay to find medics and droids gathered around her still form, either trying to sew her up or to pull something from her body. He could never get close enough to know. But the shrill sound emitted by her monitor as it flat-lined followed him even during his waking hours.
He finally brought himself to discuss his troubles with another member of the Alliance after another sleepless night spent shivering under his blanket.
Though still a bit on the idealistic side, Luke Skywalker had become quite skilled at listening to people and thus, many of his colleagues considered him either as a confident or their unofficial shrink (a kind of professional the Alliance was sorely lacking). If anyone had noticed that Wedge Antilles got more sessions than the rest of his squadron (proudly named after the Rogue One team) put together, they did not comment on it, and Cassian respected that.
So when Captain Andor required his help, Luke - of course - agreed to do whatever he could.
He listened patiently as the other man described the set of bloody pictures that kept him awake at night, then sighed.
“I think I know the root of you problem, but there's not much I can do for you, unfortunately,” he admitted.
“Tell me anyway,” Cassian replied.
“Put your blaster away first,” Luke advised.
The Captain's eyebrows rose on their own accord.
“Some people seem to act weirdly when you inform them they've fallen head over heels for one of their teammates,” the younger man deadpanned.
“I'm not in love with Jyn Erso,” he assured. “Hell, I've barely known the girl for a week!”
“Yeah, right,” Luke retorted. “That's why you suffer so much from isolation when it did not bother you before and you constantly have nightmares about the woman being injured or in danger, and slipping away from you the second you thought you had her back on your life.”
“Fuck you and your Jedi stuff,” Cassian groaned, hiding his face in his hands.
Was he truly so transparent?
“Did not even need to switch it on,” Luke said in a cheerful voice. “I don't know if it will help,” he went on more seriously, “but the Alliance has recently contacted several groups of freelancers: smugglers or saboteurs. Your Jyn could work with one of those cells, that would be quite her style.”
“I suppose you're right.”
“Of course I am,” Skywalker replied in a falsely haughty voice, making them both laugh.
Later, as he admitted the discussion had made him feel better, Cassian realized he had not even reacted when Luke has labeled Erso as 'your Jyn'.
Another year went by with mitigated results for the Alliance. They won some minor battles, lost others... and were constantly on the run. Cassian had added four more notches to his tally and did not feel particularly proud about it. He had not seen Luke nor the rest of Rogue Squadron for months and admitted that he missed them. One he did not miss, however, was the arrogant Corellian smuggler that Princess Organa had apparently acquired on the Death Star along with Skywalker. The man was useful, for sure, but he had absolutely no respect for the rules nor for most of the people in the Alliance. Deluded fools, he called us. As if he was not a fool himself for believing that luck will always be on his side and the Empire will never get his hide. Or Jabba.
On a more personal note, Cassian was no closer to find Jyn Erso than the previous year. He had heard some rumors about one Lyanna Halik, some months ago, a girl who had joined a freelance group that regularly attacked isolated stormtroopers, stripped them of their weapons, ammunition, explosives and rations, before vanishing again. The Alliance had tried to contact them but so far, without success.
He refused to find a new confident, considering that everybody was too busy to waste time listening to his private troubles. He still slept less than he needed, he was more withdrawn than ever, and in pain. Any 'distraction' was welcome, even an injury (he got more of them in twelve months than during the rest of his career in the Alliance, Scarif included, and the medic couldn't believe it as it's kriffing hard to top six broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a blaster wound and four cracked vertebra in one go!)
In short, he was acting self-destructive, bordering suicidal, and after another incident, Mon Mothma finally ordered him off the field.
“Ma'am,” he tried to argue, “I'm not made for a desk job. I'd more useful gathering intel and -”
“You will be of no use, Captain, if you get yourself killed,” Mothma interrupted sharply. “I know you are still grieving but it is not a reason to put yourself willingly into harm's way as you do!”
Sensing that he had gone too far even for the usually composed woman, Cassian relented. The following three weeks were thus spent sorting files and applications.
When he was summoned again by Mothma, the Captain first thought he had made a mistake but when he considered the tired, sad face of his commander, he braced himself for the worst.
“Please take a seat, Captain.”
He obeyed wordlessly.
“As you may remember, we made contact with several independent teams of saboteurs during the past year. One of them called for help, or rather, the only one who managed to escape arrest and detention called us in order to free his companions.”
Cassian nodded nervously.
“The operation was, thankfully, a complete success. We retrieved our friends and managed to either steal or destroy the items they were producing for the labor camp. However, they will all spend some time in the medbay to recover. They were particularly... mistreated.”
Cassian pinched his lips in disgust. Not only had the Empire enslaved fellow fighters, they had of course been tortured beforehand.
“And you're telling me because...?”
“Jyn Erso was... still is a member of this group. She's being examined by our medics as we speak.”
He had jumped to his feet and headed towards the door before completely realizing what he was doing. He belatedly remembered his courtesies.
“With your permission, Ma'am...”
“Just go,” Mothma told him with an indulgent smile.
He did not need to be told twice. He ran to the medbay, probably bumping into several crew members as he went but for once he did not care.
Stopping in front of the infirmary doors, Cassian waited for a droid to direct him, pacing nervously. As soon as the 2-1B appeared, he questioned him:
“Can I see Jyn Erso? Please?”
The droid shook its head.
“Sergeant Erso is still in surgery. She should leave the operation room within the next fifteen minutes,” it replied before going back to its tasks.
Cassian was left reeling. Surgery? Why surgery? Cuts and broken bones did not request surgery; they had bacta and fracture-reducing gel for that. Organ damage? Open wounds? How long had she spent in jail this time?
He had never seen himself as particularly imaginative out of his field of expertise but his mind was now providing him with grisly pictures he could not stop. He was down to biting his nails when another droid left the operation room, carrying... something wrapped in a bloody towel. It was tiny, and did not move. Cassian felt bile rising in his throat as his nightmares came back full force.
A Devaronian medic emerged from the room and found him slumped on the floor, his head against his knees.
“Captain Andor? Miss Erso is out of surgery now. She should wake up within an hour or so. If you wish to stay with her...”
The medic led him to a bed separated from the rest of the room by thick curtains. The first thing that struck him was how peaceful she looked. Even with bruises still coloring her left cheek in mottled green and yellow and a cut on her right cheekbone, her features made harsher by the lack of proper food, the anesthetic gave the impression she was merely taking a well-deserved nap.
Cassian sat on the chair the medic provided him and carefully picked Jyn's hand. It did not seem damaged apart from scrapped knuckles so he began to rub her fingers, wondering when, exactly, he had fallen so hard for that stubborn little rebel. Perhaps when she had challenged a room full of officers and senators all older and more powerful than she would ever be to convince them that attacking Scarif was their only option. He had basically screwed Daven's orders right after her speech, gathering a team and going with her. The General had been furious, of course, but Cassian remembered the tiny smile playing on Mothma's lips as she had smoothed Daven's ruffled feathers.
He must have been dozing for a while, after crashing from his adrenaline high, because he opened his eyes to a grinning Jyn who waved at him as he straightened on his chair. The sight was so unexpected he could not help laughing a bit.
“Been waiting... for ages... to do that," she coughed. "You're... a heavy sleeper.”
He reached out to put a lock of hair back behind her ear.
“Haven't been sleeping very well for a while,” he admitted. Then he added quickly, before he lost his courage: “I missed you.”
Her eyebrows jumped towards her hairline at his confession.
“Eh, would you... look at that... Captain Andor... has a heart,” she smirked, and Cassian had probably the most crestfallen expression on his face, as she reached and gently brushed his arm with the tip of her fingers. “I missed you as well. It's just... I'm surprised... you would say it.”
“Why did you leave?” he asked after a moment of peaceful silence, and braced himself for the answer.
“It's always the same; everybody leaves. First my mother, then Saw, then my father... Our team. They all left me, one way or the other. And now they’re all dead. So I decided to leave first, because I refused to bury you as well. That should have saved me from another heartbreak.” She paused, staring at the ceiling. "It did not.”
Her gaze shifted back to him.
“I kept wanting to come back, but didn't know how. After all, Scarif was pretty much 'exceptional circumstances' and I had no idea... if you wanted me back or not. Apparently, you do.”
He could only nod enthusiastically at that. She brushed his cheek with the back of her hand before falling back on her pillow with a yawn.
“ 'm sorry... 'm so tired...”
“So sleep, then.”
He left the medbay with a smile more or less glued to his face and nothing could wipe it off.
Not even the return of the obnoxious smuggler made Captain that trailed behind Organa from another mission. On any other day, Cassian's mood would have soured just at seeing Solo, but not this time. He felt like the luckiest man alive.
Mon Mothma rolled her eyes at his behavior, but did not reprimand him. There were so few opportunities to celebrate. And she suspected some participants in betting pools would be collecting their money soon.